As a child, I waved a blue and white flag on May 15 to celebrate the 1948 creation of the state of Israel. This year, I will be holding a black and white poster with the name of one of the more than 100 people killed — so far — in protests against the displacement and damage Israel has wrought on the Palestinian people since that date.
To Palestinians, the events of 1948 are known as the “Nakba,” or catastrophe. In 1948, roughly 750,000 Palestinians were expelled or fled from their homes in what is now the state of Israel, some literally driven into the sea. They carried their keys, thinking they would return.
Over 400 villages were destroyed. Some of these have been renamed, some have been literally buried. In Israel, efforts to remember the Nakba are also being buried; in 2011, Israel’s government passed a law revoking state funding from any institution that commemorated the Nakba.
This year marks 70 years since the Nakba, but the catastrophe is ongoing. Most of those refugees from 1948 did not return, and in 1967 a new wave of refugees joined them. Today, over 5 million Palestinian refugees are registered with the UN. Israel, while welcoming Jewish refugees, denies the rights of the refugees it created.
In Gaza, those refugees are most visible. Over 2 million people live in its 140 square miles. The territory is under complete Israeli control, and neither people nor goods may enter or exit without Israeli approval. Its inhabitants are so regularly subjected to massive bombing campaigns by the Israeli military that psychologists have stopped using the designation “post” in describing the Traumatic Stress Disorder experienced by Gaza’s children.
Some combination of this desperate situation and the Palestinian resiliency known as “sumud” — steadfastness — led to the massive civil organizing that we are witnessing in the Great March of Return. Since March 30, Gazans of all ages and genders have been demonstrating inside the heavily militarized border with Israel. Since then, the world has watched as the Israeli military has gunned down protesters from the other side of the fence. Among the 49 murdered so far were two journalists and four children.
Children, who have only their grandparents’ stories of the Nakba, are the biggest victims of ongoing Israeli oppression. Israel is the only country in the world to use military tribunals to regularly prosecute children. In the West Bank, children as young as 12 are taken from their beds in night-time raids, and held without access to parents or lawyers. Roughly 500 to 700 children a year are tried in these military tribunals, where the conviction rate tops 99 percent. A separate civilian justice system exists for Jews in the West Bank.
The legacy of the Nakba is indeed a catastrophe. And while Palestinians are dying to bring our attention to this catastrophe, U.S. tax dollars continue to fund the Israeli military.
Arizonans have contributed $392 million in federal taxes to Israel over the last decade. Tucson has welcomed Israeli tech companies for help militarizing our own border, and made a home for a company that sells armored bulldozers used to demolish Palestinian homes.
This May 15, Tucson members of Jewish Voice for Peace will stand in solidarity with Palestinians. But every day, people worldwide take action through the non-violent tactics of boycott and divestment to pressure Israel to end its occupation, recognize the rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel, and respect the right of Palestinians refugees.
The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (www.bdsmovement.net) offers a way that everyone can help put the Nakba in the past.