Al-Nakba – Episode 4
“The Nakba did not begin in 1948. Its origins lie over two centuries ago….”
So begins this four-part series on the ‘nakba’, meaning the ‘catastrophe’, about the history of the Palestinian exodus that led to the first Arab-Israeli war in 1948, and the establishment of the state of Israel.
This sweeping history starts back in 1799 with Napoleon’s attempted advance into Palestine to check British expansion and his appeal to the Jews of the world to reclaim their land in league with France.
The narrative moves through the 19th century and into the 20th century with the British Mandate in Palestine and comes right up to date in the 21st century and the ongoing ‘nakba’ on the ground.
Arab, Israeli and Western intellectuals, historians and eye-witnesses provide the central narrative which is accompanied by archive material and documents, many only recently released for the first time.
In early 1948, Jewish paramilitary forces began to seize more land in Palestine. By the end of July, more than 400,000 Palestinians had been forced to flee their homes, and their plight as refugees had just begun.
In May of that year, Swedish diplomat Count Folke Bernadotte had been appointed as the UN Mediator in Palestine. His mission was to seek a peaceful settlement.
The Count surveyed devastated Palestinian villages and visited refugee camps in both Palestine and Jordan. The scale of the humanitarian disaster became apparent, as he witnessed cramp living conditions, long queues for basic food and scarce medical aid.
Count Bernadotte was no stranger to human disaster; with the Red Cross he had rescued over 30,000 prisoners of war from Nazi concentration camps. Now he advocated the Palestinian’s right to return to their homes.
In a report dated 16 September 1948, he wrote:
“It would be an offence against the principles of elementary justice if these innocent victims were denied the right to return to their homes, while Jewish immigrants flow into Palestine, and, indeed, at least offer the threat of permanent replacement of the Arab refugees who have been rooted in the land for centuries.”
The Count’s first proposal argued for fixed boundaries through negotiation, an economic union between both states, and the return of Palestinian refugees – the proposal was turned down.
On 17 September, the day following his UN report, Count Bernadotte’s motorcade was ambushed in Jerusalem. He was shot at point blank range by members of the Jewish Stern gang.
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