The second Nakba: Marking 50 years of Israeli occupation

The second Nakba: Marking 50 years of Israeli occupation
Comment: Nineteen years after the Nakba catastrophe, Israel carried out a second wave of expulsions of Palestinians in June 1967, now half a century ago, writes Munir Nuseibah.
7 min read
06 Jun, 2017
Israel focused its displacement activities in certain areas of strategic importance [AFP]

Followers of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict are aware of the term "Nakba", which literally means "catastrophe" and refers to the war that took place from 1947-1949 and resulted in the uprooting of more than 80 percent of the Palestinian population that had for centuries inhabited the area on which Israel was.

While the Nakba represented a catastrophic historical event in the collective consciousness of the Palestinian people, it was followed just 19 years later by another horrific war which resulted in the displacement of a quarter to one third of the Palestinian population.

This additional event became known as "the Naksa", which can be translated as "a serious quick escalation of an earlier catastrophe".

The Naksa happened in and after a war that took only six days, between Israel on the one hand, and a number of neighbouring Arab countries on the other. It resulted in a relatively easy victory of Israel and the occupation of territories that had been under the sovereignty, or administration of its neighbouring states.

A demographic war

Although the hostilities of the war itself were quick and relatively contained, those displaced in the occupied Palestinian Territories numbered hundreds of thousands.

This disproportionately large displacement can be understood only by explaining the ideological background that has, since the Nakba, been informing military, legislative and administrative Israeli operation.

As found by a long line of Israeli historians who researched Israeli archives covering the Nakba period, and others who researched early Zionist leaders' legacy, the displacement of the Palestinian people away from Palestine was seen as part of the solution to the Jewish problem.

The displacement of the Palestinian people away from Palestine was seen as part of the solution to the Jewish problem

Since Zionists wanted to create a Jewish state in an area where Jews were a minority, tilting this demographic balance to favour Jews was only possible by a combination of colonisining, and of moving Palestinians out.

When the war took place in 1967, Zionist leaders saw this as an opportunity to make some demographic changes in the occupied territories. During and immediately after the war, some quarter of a million to 420,000 Palestinians were displaced from their homes. This happened through war operations and was cemented by making some regulatory interventions that prevented the displaced persons from returning to their homes.

Latrun and East Jerusalem as strategic areas

During the war operations, Israel focused its displacement activities in certain areas of strategic importance. One of the most significant was the eviction of three villages near the central Latrun area at the western edge of the West Bank, close to the Israeli border, which resulted in the displacement of 10,000 civilians.

On the map, Latrun protrudes like a finger from the West Bank, which Israel failed to occupy in the 1948 war. The villages in the Latrun area continued to be populated until the 1967 war, when Israel forcibly expelled the whole population and demolished every single building.

Palestinian refugees clutch a document stating their ownership of
properties now in Israel [AFP]

The lands that belong to the Latrun villages were later turned into what is called Canada Park, and an Israeli settlement was also built on part of the lands. In addition, Israel built part of its railway line on another part of the lands from which the refugees were displaced.

The evictions of the areas at the edge of the Israel-West Bank borders included other villages and towns. The villages of Bayt Marsam, Bat 'Awa, Habla, Jiftlik and Al-Burj were all destroyed, together with a significant part of the town of Qalqilyah. Similarly, as soon as Israel controlled the Jerusalem area, it evacuated the Arab residents of the ancient Al-Magharbeh Quarter in the old city, and demolished all of their houses.

This residential neighbourhood had been inhabited by Palestinian families for centuries. Israeli officials saw the war as an opportunity to "clean" the area, and open up the space in front of the Western Wall, a Jewish holy site in Jerusalem.

Similarly, 4,000 Palestinians were evicted from the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem, but the houses were not demolished and the displaced Palestinians were replaced later by Jewish inhabitants.

The other side of the Jordan River

Another area of strategic importance was the Jordan Valley, on the border between the West Bank and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. During the war, Israel displaced 88 percent of the population of that area. The first to be driven out of the area were refugees who had been displaced from what became Israel in the aftermath of the 1948 war.

The residents of three refugee camps in the area were all expelled or fled to Jordan, in addition to half of the native population of the area.

'When someone refused to give me his hand [for finger printing] they came and beat him badly. Then I would forcibly take his thumb, immerse it in ink and finger print him' - former Israeli soldier

Also in the aftermath of the war, Israel managed to get rid of 200,000 Palestinians by organising buses departing from Jerusalem and other parts of the West Bank to the borers with Jordan, and forcing those going there to sign a document declaring that they are leaving the country voluntarily. While some of the residents did leave voluntarily, a former soldier explained that a significant proportion were forcibly deported. He mentioned:

"Although there were some deportees who left voluntarily, many were simply expelled. We forced them to sign. I will tell you how exactly this was conducted: A bus was arriving and only the men were getting off... We were told that these were saboteurs... and it would be better if they were outside the state. They did not want to leave, but were dragged from the bus while being kicked and hit by revolver butts.

"By the time they arrived with me, they were usually already completely out of it, and didn't care much about signing. It seemed to them part of the process. In most cases, the violence used against them was producing desirable results from our point of view. The distance between the border point and the bridge was about 100 metres and out of fear they were running across the border. Border guards and paratroopers were always present.

  Read more: The Nakba: 69 years old and still destroying lives

"When someone refused to give me his hand [for fingerprinting] they came and beat him badly. Then I would forcibly take his thumb, immerse it in ink and finger print him. This is how the refuseniks were removed... I have no doubt that tens of thousands of men were removed against their will."

This operation, according the researcher Nur Masalha, has not received much attention, probably because it did not involve dramatic military operations and evictions like in the Latrun villages or Qalqilya. However, it did come more into public eye and start to receive attention when Haim Hertzog - who organised the operation after the war - proudly announced in 1991 that he managed to quietly transfer 200,000 Palestinians by using this method.

'Thinning out' the Palestinian population

In conclusion, we can see that the Israeli occupation forces acted upon the desire to, as Masalha expresses it, "thin out" the Palestinian population in the occupied territories. This has resulted in a large number of refugees and internally displaced persons. After the displacement took place, Israel cemented it with some regulatory measures that resulted in their continued exile.

These measures included first preventing all those who were absent when the war took place as well as those who became refugees or displaced beyond the borders of Palestine from their right to live in their homes.

They did so by introducing new residency statuses for East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip and giving it only to those counted by the census that Israel itself took in the occupied territory. This intentionally excluded those who were displaced and those who happened to be abroad at the time.

No just peace can come about without resolving the plight of the refugees of both 1948 and 1967 wars

Furthermore, the Israeli military government in the West Bank and Gaza issued military orders according to which it considered any unauthorised entry to the occupied territory illegal, and punished this action by a number of measures including deportation.

All these policies resulted in a continued displacement of these individuals and their families, most of whom have been unable to return to Palestine until today. In addition, many more Palestinians joined these victims after suffering Israel's continuous displacement measures, known locally as the continuous Nakba. Such measures include residency revocation, restrictions on child registration, home demolitions, and many others.

No just peace can come about without resolving the plight of the refugees of both 1948 and 1967 wars, as well as those who were displaced by the Israeli regime after that.

More importantly, peace can only be established and cemented by tackling the Israeli ideological motivations for creating such a displacement problem.

Munir Nuseibah is a human rights lawyer and academic based at Al-Quds University in Jerusalem, Palestine.

This is an edited translation of an article originally published by our partners at Orient XXI

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.