50 Years since Al-Nakba (The year 1998 marks fifty years since al-nakba, the dispossession of the Palestinian people in 1948. This is the focus of the April and May 1998 issues of Palestine & The UN.)

50 Years of Historic Injustice

The pain, loss and suffering of the Palestinian people over the past five decades are not simple to convey in the few words of a news article. Yet, to commemorate fifty years since al-nakba, it is indeed necessary to reflect upon our history - the history of a dispossessed people who for half a century have suffered enormous national, social, economic and psychological damage and loss. This is particularly important in order to understand the present and look with a view towards the future.

The Palestinian people have suffered a historic and grave injustice in an unprecedented way. An entire people were denied an existence, deprived of their national rights, with half of them uprooted from their lands, homes and properties, while the other half remained exiled in their own homeland under a hostile government or became subject to Arab administration in what was left of Palestine. Yet, those who had been relatively more fortunate in 1948, came under the heinous Israeli occupation in 1967, which ensured that not a single Palestinian was spared agony, despair and misery, all suffering the burdens and pain of a collective and historic injustice.

One hundred years ago, a simple and peaceful Palestinian people unknowingly became the subject of a scheme based on the premise that the Palestinian people did not even exist. Foreigners began coming to Palestine en masse to settle in the country, which in the beginning was met with little resistance from the Palestinian people. Later, it became more and more clear that those foreign Zionist immigrants claimed that the land belonged to them, as it had belonged to Jews thousands of years ago.

The start of Jewish immigration into Palestine was followed by the First World War, the British occupation of Palestine, which ended Ottoman rule, the Balfour Declaration and the mandate of League of Nations, which aimed, inter alia, at the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine in total disregard of the Covenant of the League and the rights of the Palestinian people. Then came the Second World War and the horrific Holocaust against the Jews in Europe, which was followed by the adoption of General Assembly resolution 181 (II), partitioning Palestine into a Jewish State and an Arab State, with Jerusalem as corpus separatum (under an international regime).

Due to limited sophistication and availability of means, combined with continuous and complex developments on the international scene and the strength of the opposing forces, the Palestinian people, despite their stubborn and ceaseless resistance, kept losing ground to the intruders, and were ultimately the ones to pay the tragic price for the crimes committed against the Jews. The Palestinian people themselves became the victims of another crime in history. Their entire society was destroyed, with many fleeing to surrounding countries with the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 and the Arab-Israeli war that ensued. For years to follow, the threat to the national identity of the Palestinian people was ever present, and the potential for regaining their rights was the target of continuous opposition.

Then, as a result of the 1967 war, the West Bank and Gaza Strip fell under Israeli occupation. Many Palestinians again fled during the war, and the third chapter in the history of the suffering of the Palestinian people began. In addition to the misery and oppression that befell them, individually and collectively, as a result of the occupation, the unthinkable began to happen again. The occupation led to the second invasion of the foreigners coming into the area, taking over the land, confiscating property, abusing natural resources, building hideous fortress-like structures, and terrorizing people in a second wave of settler colonialism of the Palestinian land.

Against all odds, however, the Palestinian people did not disappear. They have managed to survive, to maintain and strengthen their national identity, improve their means to make a living and have continued to struggle to regain their national rights. Against all odds, the Palestinian people established a unified representative organization, the Palestine Liberation Organization, embodying their national identity, and waged a revolution, sustained by armed struggle and continuous resistance, put their cause on the agenda of the international community, and waged an intifada against the Israeli occupation. It is no longer possible for anyone to deny the existence of the Palestinian people and their legitimate rights. Yet, many have in fact tried to manipulate those rights, minimize them or subjugate them to Israeli interests and those of other parties. Such attempts have not succeeded, and it is now clear that stability and peace in the region will not be attained unless the injustice perpetrated against the Palestinian people is reversed and their rights are realized.

For this to happen, the right of return or compensation for every Palestine refugee must be effectuated, and the national rights of the Palestinian people, like those of any other people, must be recognized, foremost of which are the right to existence and to self-determination without external interference. Further, in order to achieve a genuine healing of wounds, an Israeli apology is a necessity. Israel must bear responsibility and apologize to the Palestinian people for all the atrocities it has committed against them over the past half of a century.

How can this be translated in practical means into political solutions? In the past, the Palestinian side proposed the option of a democratic state in which Muslims, Christians and Jews could peacefully live together, similar to the peaceful settlement achieved in South Africa. Unfortunately, that idea was vehemently rejected, on the basis that it did not allow for the existence of a Jewish State. The Palestinian side then proposed a compromise of dividing the land, albeit with an unfair percentage for the Palestinian people, taking into consideration the de facto situation that existed until 1967, and which would do the same with regard to the Holy City of Jerusalem. It is upon this basis that the Palestinian State, with East Jerusalem as its capital, would be established alongside the State of Israel.

The problem now is that, while the Israeli side claims to wish to achieve peace, its policies and actual practices and measures are virtually closing any window of opportunity open for the attainment of a peaceful solution to the problem. Moreover, most of the time the Israeli side appears to be searching for a solution to its own internal problems, stemming from the contradiction between its designs over the land and its wish to get rid of the Palestinian people, rather than aiming for solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and truly striving for genuine coexistence on equal footing between the two sides.

The Palestinian people have suffered immensely, and they have made so many sacrifices. Nevertheless, they are ready to make historic compromises in order to realize and exercise their inalienable rights as human beings and as a people with pride and dignity and to finally live in peace. Such a compromise clearly, then, will never entail acceptance of the negation of their rights, and they will never settle for less than justice, albeit a partial justice, after suffering half a century of injustice.