Palestinians in Gaza suffer the largest exodus since the Nakba 75 years ago | International

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The Nakba (“catastrophe” in Arabic) – the keys to the houses forcibly abandoned 75 years ago, the caravans of more than 700,000 refugees harassed by Israeli troops – is as much or more part of the Palestinian identity than the Dome. the Rock of the Al Aqsa Esplanade in Jerusalem. The forced displacement of hundreds of thousands of civilians from the north of the Gaza Strip, following the ultimatum issued on the 13th by the Israeli army, has returned to the Palestinians the memory of the disaster of dispossession and uprooting, in an exodus of magnitude biblical that is still experienced as a collective trauma.

Palestinian historian Johnny Mansour, 62, warns: “The eviction ordered by the army last week, under the pretext of protecting the safety of civilians in the face of an intense war campaign, is an operation of ethnic cleansing that affects hundreds of thousands of civilians.” Mansour is based in the city of Haifa (northern Israel), where the exodus of 1948 was less intense than in other regions that were completely emptied of their Arab population. “What is happening in Gaza is a second Nakba, the largest since 1948 and with the same plan. If the houses of the displaced are destroyed now during massive bombings and a military land invasion, there will be no opportunity to return,” argues this university professor, of Israeli nationality and Palestinian nationalist militant, specialized in the Middle East conflict.

A family leaves Gaza City with all their belongings on October 15. MOHAMMED SABER (EFE)

The UN, through its Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), raised on Thursday the number of internally displaced civilians in the Strip to one million since the start of the current conflict, on the 7th. More than 500,000 of them have sought refuge in facilities of the United Nations Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA), which estimates that some 600,000 people have already crossed the Gaza Valley, the southern limit of the capital of the enclave established in the ultimatum of the Armed Forces of Israel. Of them, 400,000 are currently overcrowded in areas close to the border with Egypt. If the UN already declared the Palestinian enclave uninhabitable in 2020, the war and the strict blockade have further aggravated the situation.

“Since independence, in 1948, there had not been a population displacement within Israel for security reasons on the scale of what we are seeing now, with entire cities evacuated, such as Kiryat Shmona, near the border with Lebanon, with more of 20,000 inhabitants,” explains Meir Margalit, 71, an Israeli historian aligned with the pacifist left and former head of Palestinian affairs at the Jerusalem City Council. “But that is nothing compared to the exodus that is taking place in Gaza. "There are only a few tens of thousands of evacuees here, and if they don't go to relatives' homes, they stay in hotels at the State's expense." Margalit speaks on the phone while heading to the city of Ashkelon, one of the hardest hit by rockets fired from the Strip, to collect personal effects of her son, who evacuated that border area along with his family after the Hamas attack that day. 7.

A group of people left their homes in Khan Younis after an Israeli bombardment on the 9th.
A group of people left their homes in Khan Younis after an Israeli bombardment on the 9th. IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA (REUTERS)

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“In Gaza there are now a million people almost out in the open. “That is a crime against humanity,” emphasizes this expert on the Palestinian issue, author of the book Jerusalem, the impossible city. “In addition, this exodus is of no use to Israel, since it will not be able to put an end to Hamas forever and return control over the Gaza Strip to the Palestinian Authority,” he warns. “What Israel is preparing is only part of a revenge, something that always ends in a vicious circle of violence.”

―Are we attending another Nakba?

―In 1948 the Palestinian population was forcibly displaced and then not allowed to return to their homes. The people of Gaza are supposed to return to their homes when the current war ends, if Israel keeps its promise not to remain on Palestinian land, unlike what it did 75 years ago. I don't think this Government is stupid enough to get into that swamp: it would be a Vietnam for Israel.

war crimes

After the Prosecutor's Office of the International Criminal Court (ICC), based in The Hague, opened an investigation into war crimes in Palestine in 2021, directed both against Israel, for the massive bombings in 2014 on the overpopulated Gaza, and against the Islamist militias, for the indiscriminate firing of rockets towards residential areas of Israel, independent investigations have already been launched within the territorial enclave. “We work between three fires: that of the occupation and the blockade of Israel; that of the Palestinian Authority, in the West Bank, and that of the Islamist movement Hamas in Gaza,” warned Raji Sourani, director of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, a Gazan NGO, financed by international donations, with the mission of documenting war crimes. to put them at the disposal of international justice.

For Israel, the massive displacement of the Palestinian population in the so-called War of Independence (1948-1949) was the consequence of a conflict that arose due to the attacks against the newly founded Jewish State launched from neighboring Arab countries, which refused to recognize the partition plan approved by the United Nations in 1947.

“The Nakba was a catastrophe for the Palestinian people, caused by the offensive of the Haganah, the militia of the Zionist movement, which forced the exodus of some 750,000 refugees (more than half of the Palestinian population at that time) to neighboring countries. The lands and homes of fleeing Palestinians were confiscated and more than 500 towns were razed. They lost everything,” Professor Mansour points out in an exchange of messages.

“But the exodus also occurred, within historic Palestine under the British mandate, to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip,” he specifies. In the southern coastal enclave, between 70% and 80% of its 2.3 million inhabitants are refugees still surviving the Nakba or their descendants, and come mainly from the south of historic Palestine.

The memory of the origins

Almost everyone in Gaza shows up remembering where their family originates from in the current State of Israel. “I come from a town that disappeared between Ashdod and Ashkelon (on the coast, north of the Strip) that was called Hamama, which means 'dove' in Spanish,” explains Kayed Hamad, 60, a translator who has collaborated with correspondents of this newspaper for two decades. “I fear another Nakba. But I'm not going to move, I don't want to repeat the same mistake my parents made in 1948. Wherever we go, Israel will chase us,” he explains via WhatsApp voice messages from the capital of Gaza.

Professor Mansour maintains that “the Nakba It is not a historical event from 1948, it is something that continues in many directions. "It is happening now in Gaza, but also with the discrimination that Palestinians in Israel suffer, with the attacks by settlers on the inhabitants of the West Bank." The Strip has not stopped suffering conflicts for 75 years. In 1956 (Suez Canal crisis), in 1967 (when it was occupied by Israel), and in 1973 (Egyptian reconquest of the Sinai). After the departure of Israeli troops in 2005, it has suffered five more wars so far.

Almost two decades after the Nakba, another 115,000 Palestinians followed the same path of exile in the Naksa, the defeat or setback, in the so-called Six Day War in 1967, in which Israel militarily occupied the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. Today some seven million Palestinians still live within the so-called historic Palestine: Israel and East Jerusalem (two million), the West Bank (about three million) and the Gaza Strip (more than two million), and another six million abroad. , mainly in the Middle East, of which around five million are registered by UNRWA in neighboring countries.

The Jewish historian Margalit reflects out loud: “Benjamin Netanyahu's government now only seeks revenge, without evaluating the consequences of decisions such as the massive displacement of the population in Gaza. Being Jewish and having suffered the Holocaust does not give us permission to do whatever we want.”

The Palestinian historian Mansour quotes Abdel Fattá al Sisi: “The Egyptian president has replied to Israel that if it wants to offer refuge to those displaced by this war, it should welcome them in the territory of the Israeli Negev instead of trying to send them to the Sinai Peninsula. ”. Cairo does not want a repeat of the mockery of the 2008-2009 war (Operation Cast Lead), when thousands of Gazans settled in the Sinai after Hamas tore down part of the border fence.

With all borders sealed, Palestinians in Gaza cannot leave the Mediterranean territory. Many also do not want to return to areas that are being bombed and will soon be occupied. “What is happening in Gaza is a genocide,” says Mansour. “With the overcrowding that the Strip suffers, it takes one bomb per person.”

A girl peeks out of a tent in a refugee camp in Khan Yunis on Friday.
A girl peeks out of a tent in a refugee camp in Khan Yunis on Friday. IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA (REUTERS)

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