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This week marks the 75th anniversary of the Nakba, or the “catastrophe” in Arabic. It refers both to the events starting in late 1947, when Zionist militias expelled over 700,000 Palestinians from their homes, and the ongoing destruction and occupation of their lands. Today, Palestinians continue to commemorate the Nakba by reclaiming their history, resisting the occupation, and calling for their right to return.
We start today’s show with a story about how the desperation of life in Gaza under the Israeli blockade is forcing Palestinians to leave by sea. Then, we’ll learn more about the history of the Nakba and the role that foreign powers like Britain and the United States have played.
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Featuring Music Credits Credits
Lucy Kang: On today’s Making Contact, we commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Nakba when more than 700,000 Palestinians were violently displaced from their homes.
Nakba means “catastrophe” in Arabic, and it’s generally understood as the events that started in late 1947. But the ongoing Nakba also refers to the current displacement and oppression of Palestinians that continues today.
In the first half of our show, we have a story from Gaza. Over 2 million Palestinians live there. And they are essentially trapped. A blockade imposed by Israel since 2007 places harsh restrictions on movements of people and goods by land, air and sea. Conditions are so bad that some Palestinians are setting off in boats in the hopes of reaching Europe. Gaza-based reporter Rami Almeghari brings us this story:
Rami Almeghari: Zaid Allouh is 28 years old. I spoke to him inside his home in the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahya. He looks cheerful, despite the heaviness of the story he tells me.
Zaid graduated six years ago from university. Yet, he ended up a local farmer, providing for his three children and wife.
In the past three years, he has attempted to migrate three times from Gaza to Europe, in the hopes of seeking a better living.
But the crossing is dangerous. And the Israeli navy patrols the 25-mile Gaza coast and restricts access to the sea.
Zaid first tried crossing through Turkish waters to Greece with the help of smugglers in 2018. He was hoping to get to Germany or Belgium, where he has relatives. He found himself in a boat with 44 other migrants.
Zaid Allouh VO: And suddenly a Turkish naval police force spotted our boat. The Turkish naval boat shone a light on us and they also covered our small boat with a large net. We were in the Izmir Turkish area, close to Rodos island in the Greek territories. When we were caught, the Turkish authorities placed us in custody in Istanbul. And it was severely cold in the middle of December, back in 2018.
Rami Almeghari: Zaid made another attempt in 2022, this time trying to cross through waters controlled by Libya.
Zaid Allouh VO: It was a journey of death. The boat went further, and I think we were close to Malta Island. The smuggler was Libyan and left us in the ocean with an Egyptian boat captain, along with several Egyptian migrants. The captain had to make some phone calls after the boat’s engines broke out abruptly. He was told that our boat was close to Malta but we could not get off the boat and swim as our Egyptian fellow migrants feared the Malta authorities would extradite them to the Egyptian authorities. By then, the naval Libyan forces arrested us and sent us to a prison, set especially for migrants, where we spent 13 days, until the Palestinian embassy in Libya helped release us, the Palestinian migrants.
Rami Almeghari: Despite the horrors he encountered, Zaid still wants to migrate and seek better living conditions for his small family.
Zaid Allouh VO: I swear that I am ready to migrate once, twice and twenty times. Ask me why? It’s mainly because I am never able to ensure a good living for my family and myself. I have been working here as a farmer. This winter, I only work 10 days a month, and it is never enough to meet my family’s needs. As for jobs through government-run institutions here, I can say the government offers jobs only to those who support it or belong to it, unfortunately.
Rami Almeghari: Over half of Gaza residents are living in poverty. A majority of the population relies on regular food aid provided by the United Nations. Gaza residents also lack access to water, electricity and critical medicines.
A 2020 United Nations report warned of the “near collapse of the regional Gaza economy” due to the extreme restrictions on the movement of people and goods under the blockade.
The unemployment rate among Gaza residents stands now at over 40 percent.
Mohammad Abu Jayab is an economic expert based in Gaza.
Mohammad Abu Jayab VO: Extremely unfortunately, long years of siege, wars, destruction, negligence, lack of both compensation and protection policies for the industrial and agricultural sectors have all led to a great deal of stagnation and decline of those sectors. If the sectors, in question, are not being revived and get protected by the government, the unemployment crisis will not be solved.
Rami Almeghari: Israel can block all kinds of supplies and raw materials from Gaza if they could be used in military activities. So things like construction materials can be very hard to get. Only one commercial crossing is open, which can be shut down by Israel at any time.
Before the blockade, around 160,000 laborers worked in the industrial sector. But now, that number is down to just 20,000 to 30,000 laborers.
However, the Israeli-imposed blockade remains a root cause of the high unemployment rates in Gaza.
One key difference for Palestinians living in Gaza is that Hamas controls the local government here, while Fatah is in power in the West Bank.
The political stalemate between Hamas and Fatah remains a major obstacle towards economic development across the Gaza Strip. A series of Hamas-Fatah unity deals have so far failed, hampered by pressure from Israel and the United States. The United States has imposed sanctions on Gaza because it designates Hamas as a terrorist organization.
Naser Alsaweer is a veteran political analyst based in Gaza.
He says the political situation between the parties must be resolved to stem the rise in desperate and risky migration attempts.
Naser Alsaweer VO: Only by doing so would they both find new good prospects for youth, who are being forced into illegal migration through oceans, where they encounter fatal deaths.
Rami Almeghari: Meanwhile, at least dozens of Palestinian men from Gaza have perished or gone missing from these migration attempts, leaving behind families struggling with their loss.
Jameela Baroud lives in Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza Strip, one of several camps here. The Nuseirat refugee camp is one of the most crowded areas of Gaza. Residential buildings are very close to each other.
Jameela lives on the first floor of a three-story home shared with the families of her brothers-in-law. Jameela’s husband, Abu Alaa, has been missing since 2019. And the family is still unaware of his fate.
Jameela says that her husband worked as a carpenter and his workshop lost a total of 15,000 U.S. dollars, before he decided to migrate to Europe through Turkish waters.
Jameela Baroud VO: Can you imagine? I am only 42 years-old now. And four years ago, when he migrated, I was 38 years old. My son, who was in the last year of secondary school, could not graduate because of sorrow over his missing father.
Rami Almeghari: She says her daughter was married only a year after her father went missing.
Jameela Baroud VO: It was an extremely sad moment for me during her wedding. And despite the fact that she was surrounded by her cousins and uncles, her father’s absence broke my heart.
Also, I have a second son at the secondary school now and I am very concerned about him. What kind of situation is this? I feel totally tired and down, with my husband being gone.
Rami Almeghari: In the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis lives another family struggling with the loss of a loved one.
73-year-old Om Nasr Allah Alfarra says she lost her son Nasr Allah in November of 2021. She says he was found dead off the shores of Turkey.
Her husband Abu Nasr Allah died the same month from a stroke. She says his grief over the loss of his son contributed to his death.
Om Nasr Allah Alfarra VO: Nobody is more precious than a son. I do still remember his kindness and generosity to me. He was extremely kind.
I remember that he used to bring food to me during the holy month of Ramadan. What should I expect except a deep sorrow these times, after I lost him and his father in one month? Can you imagine? In one month. I constantly pray that both of them will go to paradise and eat from its fruits.
Lucy Kang: That was a story by reporter Rami Almeghari from Gaza.
Amy Gastelum: We’re jumping in to remind you that you are listening to Making Contact. If you like today’s show and you want more information, or if you’d like to leave us a comment, visit us at radioproject.org. Okay, now back to the show.
Lucy Kang: In the first half of today’s show Rami Almeghari shared stories of young people who have fled, or died trying to flee, the desperation of life in Gaza right now. Palestinians in the occupied territories face systematic oppression tantamount to apartheid. And under Israel’s current far right coalition, Palestinian communities face escalating violence, land theft, and human rights violations.
But how did things get to this point?
To get a sense of this history we’re going to take a deep dive back into the Making Contact archives to bring you this clip from 2016, with host Marie Choi.
Marie Choi: To learn more about the Nakba, I visited Rabab Abdulhadi, professor of ethnic studies and the senior scholar of the Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Initiative at San Francisco State University.
She grew up in Nablus, the second largest city in the West Bank. It’s the place that many Palestinians fled to during the Nakba. Professor Abdulhadi began by explaining what happened in 1948.
Rabab Abdulhadi: It was a mass expulsion of a whole population. 800,000 Palestinians were all expelled, became refugees overnight. First before Israel, the Zionist militias, the Haganah, the Stern, the Lehi Gang, all of them basically had the plan to push Palestinian, call it the Dalet Plan.
Rabab Abdulhadi: That in the north of Palestine, the Zionist militia surrounded the west, the east, and the south. In the middle of Palestine, they surrounded the north, the west and the south. And then the southern part of Palestine, they surrounded the west, the north, and the east.
So Palestinians could only flee to areas where there is surrounding Arab countries. So this is what created the Gaza Strip, because that’s the southern part of Palestine. [Village names] they all went to Gaza. The middle went to the West Bank, right, to Nablus, Ramallah and so on. And the north went to Lebanon.
Lucy Kang: To this day, Palestinian refugees are still concentrated in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and Lebanon, as well as Jordan and Syria.
Plan Dalet was created by the Zionist political and military leadership. Israeli historian Ilan Pappé has dug into its archives and argued that it constituted “the master plan for the expulsion of all the villages in rural Palestine,” in what he and others call ethnic cleansing.
Before and during this time, Zionist militias perpetrated massacres against Palestinian villages. The most infamous took place in Deir Yassin.
The Deir Yassin massacre is seen by many as a pivotal moment in the Nakba. It took place weeks before the creation of the state of Israel. The fear and terror prompted thousands of Palestinians to flee.
Rabab Abdulhadi: They massacred people, the Deir Yassin massacre is well known, April 9th, 1948. Menachem Begin said without Deir Yassin, Israel might not have been founded because they massacred people and then they paraded their bodies.
And now Israel declassified their archives. The archives are coming out and saying, Israeli military commanders themselves and the commanders of Zionist militia before Israel was founded before 1948, they all acknowledged that they actually drove Palestinians at gunpoint.
Marie Choi: The state of Israel’s official account of the Nakba differs dramatically from what we just heard. For years, the different accounts lived alongside each other until the 1980s when Israel declassified a trove of military documents. From that period, the declassified military documents and the firsthand accounts from the Generals of Zionists militias confirmed the facts that Professor Abdulhadi shared.
Lucy Kang: A lot of the documentation around the events of the Nakba are still classified or censored by the Israeli government. For example, a censored account by former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak (“Yit-ZHAK”) Rabin was leaked to the New York Times. It describes the forced expulsion of 50,000 Palestinians from their villages. It was so cruel that apparently some Israeli soldiers refused to participate and had to be later subjected to “prolonged propaganda activities.”
Marie Choi: After pushing Palestinians off their lands in the heart of Palestine, what remained was under the control of neighboring countries. The West Bank was formally annexed to Jordan, and Gaza was controlled by Egypt.
On June 6th, 1967, the Israeli military invaded Jordan, east Jerusalem and Gaza. This is referred to in most US history books as the Six Day War. The Palestinians call it the Naksa, it means the “calamity” or the “setback.” And it marks the starting point of the military occupation of Palestine that continues through today. Professor Abdulhadi was 10 when she saw the Israeli troops invade Nablus.
Rabab Abdulhadi: Under Israeli occupation, so I witnessed the 1967 occupation. Actually everybody in the building, we hid in our, my parents’ dining room because it’s supposed to be the best shelter. My dad was the head of civil defense of the neighborhood, right?
And so we hid there and we all thought that the military advancing from the east was Arabs coming to liberate us and it was the Israelis and they shot one of the neighbor’s sons who he went around to cheer. And they shot and killed him. Then it was complete curfew. Like nobody, nobody could do anything. Nobody could go anywhere.
So there is this kind of like the, the totalizing effect of colonial power. You know, the colonial military power. And the anger you feel inside about, you know, that’s not okay, that you want to do something about it.
Marie Choi: You know, a lot of people sort of understand Nakba and the continuing occupation as part of settler colonialism. Explain what that is.
Rabab Abdulhadi: Well, settler colonialism is very different than classical colonialism in the sense that European colonial projects, whether it is by England, France, Spain, um, Italy. They went to various places in Asia and Africa first, right? And they ripped off the resources, the raw material, the diamonds, the mines, the agriculture, the tea. That’s why there is the East India Tea Company in India and so on. And they’ve done that. All right? All the US later projects of colonialism around 1898, the Philippines, Guam, Puerto Rico. That project involves going there, controlling. It’s a total system. Also, it’s military, it’s social, it’s political, it’s economic. If you look at the Algerian experience, for instance, that’s a colonial project.
Settler colonialism is where members of those colonial nations go and actually settle and wipe away or try to wipe the Indigenous people. So we see this in the Americas, by the way, both north and south. We see that in New Zealand. We see that in Australia, we see it in South Africa. So this is projects where the complete replacement or making, in the words of Fanon, the people who are colonized subhuman, kind of like non- being, they don’t exist. They don’t, they’re not there. They don’t factor in the whole equation.
Settler colonialism seeks to do that and there are multiple variations of it, and it has to do with also what is the goals of each project. So in the Israeli Zionist settler colonial project, it’s really erasing any traces of Palestine, and it is necessary for the Zionist settler colonial project to erase. So this is what happens with the settlers. So it’s very different than the colonial project. I think it’s important to think about that because it is not a classical case of colonialism where you can just say you need to leave and just anti-colonial struggle.
And, and so you need to think about different ways in which some of the people ended up there. And so, and the Palestinian Movement historically has said that. Yes, this is our, our land. This is the land that is legitimately ours. The people who are there, if they are willing to live with us in equality and injustice and in respect, they become citizens of Palestine.
Lucy Kang: Three quarters of a million Palestinian people were displaced in the Nakba. One of them is Hasan Hammami. He spoke in 2021 at an event about the Nakba and its impact organized by the Foundation for Middle East Peace and Project48. Hasan says before the Nakba, he lived a charmed life in Jaffa, Palestine.
Hasan Hammami: This charmed life that I was describing started getting shredded one piece at a time. The very first, very first, uh, massacre took place in December 1947. And it was al-Sheikh and Hawassa village massacres.
There was another one, Sa’sa’. In February, there was a third one. And then, and then we had the big event, which was Deir Yassin. And everybody got scared out of their mind because we were defenseless, literally defenseless.
We were scared out of our minds. So when Jaffa was bombed right in its heart, people were actually in a panic. We were in a panic. And there was no sense of any capability to defend ourselves because we were getting bombed, literally 24 hours a day, seven days a week, constantly.
So we had to pack everything up and go down to the port with four or five suitcases and a few precious things. And we got into one of those boats, which were huge cargo boats, which are rowed by hand that used to carry boxes of oranges to, to the ships. And it carried us to this, the only boat, which was a handbuilt sailing cargo boat. And there were nearly 3,000 people on it.
We were in this boat for three days. Usually the trip from Jaffa to Beirut in the ship usually takes maybe about 10 or 12 hours. This was three days because it was a cargo sailing boat. It was used to carry cargo. It ran out of water after six hours, so there was no comfort, nothing. Whoever was sick had to take care of the throw up.
We arrived in Tyre, in Sur, in Southern Lebanon. And we were welcomed by people who, you know, literally were embraced us. That was the last time I saw Jaffa at age 15.
The next time I saw Jaffa, I saw it in 1993. And my revisit to Jaffa was like, I was plugged in, not physically only, but in memory and where the places are. Every street, every corner, every school, every beach. And the thing about, about my memory of Jaffa is, is that it is essentially my roots.
For me, that was a constant struggle to try and be recognized as a stateless person or as a person who’s being denied that there was ever a Palestine. But there was this, my roots, my life. That trauma, that catastrophe that took place continues to take place in a variety of ways. We all see it.
Today, myself and my eight siblings live on four continents. Part of the Nakba is that we can’t celebrate, we can’t just walk and see each other. So here we are, the generation of Palestinians that I came from are spread out. We have lost our unity, our physical geographic unity. But we haven’t lost our passion. We haven’t lost our desire for justice, for peace, for equality.
Lucy Kang: The state of Israel is built on the violent expulsion of the Palestinians who used to live there. By 1949, over 500 Palestinian villages were destroyed. New Jewish settlements were erected on the sites of these razed villages. Israel now occupies the entirety of historical Palestine and continues to illegally build Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian territory.
Millions of Palestinians remain stateless today and have not been allowed to go back to their homes. They are calling for the right to return to their ancestral lands, a right which has continually been denied by Israel.
To understand what’s happening now, we need to look back at history. And it’s not just a history of Palestine and Israel. Other countries have been playing a significant role for more than a century.
Rashid Khalidi is the Edward Said Chair of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University. I’ll be drawing from a KPFA talk in 2021 about his book The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine. He talks about British support for the Zionist movement, which emerged in the late 19th century and sought to create a Jewish state in the land of Palestine.
Rashid Khalidi: And so what I argue is happening in the case of Palestine is that what develops into a national movement, Zionist movement, gets the support of the most powerful empire on earth, the British Empire.
And with that support succeeds in essentially supplanting the indigenous population of Palestine with an entirely new population, most of which is coming from Europe refugees, from European persecution of Jewish communities, and later on, refugees from the Holocaust.
Lucy Kang: For centuries, Palestine was part of the Ottoman Empire. Most of the people there were Muslim Arabs, and Jews and Christians also lived there. After WWI and the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, Palestine was occupied by the British. In 1917, the British officially declared their support for the Zionists and supported the migration of Jews to Palestine.
Rashid Khalidi: The British had decided for strategic reasons they absolutely had to control Palestine. And this was a means to that strategic end.
Lucy Kang: But after WWII and as British colonies around the world began to fight against colonial rule, Britain decided to withdraw its control over Palestine. But by then the United States and the Soviet Union got involved.
Rashid Khalidi: After which the British threw the whole issue into the hands of the United Nations. The United States and the Soviet Union bully through the Partition resolution, twisting arms, bribing, threatening, small countries in the general assembly to vote in favor of the partition resolution, which gives most of the country inhabited by an Arab majority to the Jewish minority.
Lucy Kang: The UN Partition Plan called for two sovereign states in the territory, a Jewish one and an Arab one. Fighting broke out between Arab and Zionist forces after the UN announced the Partition Plan. Today, many parts of the world continue to face conflict rooted in how lands were carved into new states by departing colonial powers like the British.
That brings us to the role of the United States and its support for the Israeli government, even in the face of ongoing oppression of the Palestinian people. By the 1970s, the United States was providing critical military and financial support to Israel.
Rashid Khalidi: Israel, of course, was supported by the United States in 1947, 48. But the big money, the billions, only come in the 1970s: the top of the line of equipment, the Phantoms, and then later on the F-15s and the F-16s only come after.
Lucy Kang: Out of all the countries, Israel has received the most U.S. foreign aid since World War II. Currently, the United States gives Israel $3.8 billion a year in military assistance.
Rashid Khalidi: There is no sense of equality in anything the United States says or does, as between these two peoples. The idea that because Israelis have, for example, a law of return, Palestinians should have a right of return is unacceptable in American political terms on both sides of the aisle, at least as far as the party leadership are concerned.
And that’s strategic, that’s an understanding of Israel as doing things that serve American imperial and regional interests. What we’re talking about is hard, cold, strategic interest.
Lucy Kang: To close out our show we want to return to Rami Almeghari. He reported the story on migration out of Gaza that we heard at the beginning. I talked to him as this story was being produced. And he told me about how hard it’s been to live under recent airstrikes in Gaza. And in the West Bank, more than a hundred Palestinians have been killed in clashes with Israeli forces already this year.
Rami is a journalist, a Palestinian refugee – and a poet. We’ll end today’s show with a short poem from him:
Rami Almeghari: I can only smell death,
I can only hear wrath,
No clean air to breath,
No room but for dust.
Bread is the only thought,
I had to board a boat.
Many do not have the thought,
They have an open road.
It is not my fault,
It is the old plight.
I was born free,
You made me blind.
I have only one dream,
Catching up with my pride.
And that does it for today’s show. If you’d like more information, visit us at radioproject.org or find us on Twitter or Instagram.
I’m Lucy Kang. Thanks for listening to Making Contact.