It’s the 75th anniversary of the ‘Nakba’ – Britain needs to acknowledge its role

Leanne Mohamad

The Independent  /  May 15, 2023

Britain’s role in Palestinian displacement is not restricted to its actions in the 20th century.

Today, on the anniversary of the Nakba, or “day of catastrophe”, we commemorate the marking of 75 years of a continuous trauma Palestinians are still living through.

I think of my grandparents, who in May 1948, were forcibly displaced from their home in Haifa, Palestine by Zionist militias, and made refugees in Lebanon.

My grandparents, like the hundreds of thousands of other Palestinians who were exiled in the Nakba, thought it would only be a few days, maybe weeks, or at most a few months before their return. But three quarters of a century later, they still live in Burj al-Shemali refugee camp in South Lebanon, waiting to exercise their right of return.

The Nakba saw the beginning of an ongoing process of dispossession, violence and settler-colonialism that is deeply felt to this day. It was the forced displacement of Palestinians that formed the foundation for the Israeli state. And to this day, the UK government refuses to acknowledge this reality and remains complicit in the oppression Palestinians are facing, just as it was 75 years ago.

On this day, it is important to remember Britain’s historic role in the catastrophe that was imposed upon the Palestinian people, my family included. Britain should acknowledge its complicity in Palestinian oppression, dating back to the Balfour Declaration of 1917.

It was not an innocent bystander; its foreign policies laid the groundwork for the Nakba and its impact today.

Britain’s role in Palestinian displacement is not restricted to its actions in the 20th century.

It is crucial that the UK government reassesses its approach to Israel and ensures that it does not enable or condone violations of international law and human rights abuses.

Despite foreign secretary James Cleverley’s repeated statement that Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, are “illegal under international law,” the UK government has not only protected those directly responsible for the ongoing colonization of Palestinian land, but defended Israel’s actions, offering diplomatic support, and impeding efforts to hold Israel accountable.

The Nakba was not a singular event of expulsion, but an ongoing process, and it’s the reason that I, as a British-Palestinian, was born and raised in the UK.

The task of educating others on the Nakba, in the face of Israel’s attempt to erase our history, is one that we have inherited from our grandparents. As a third-generation Palestinian living in the diaspora, this is a duty, and these stories will never stop being told.

Two years ago, Israel began yet another large-scale military aggression on the Gaza Strip and this past week, we witnessed renewed Israeli attacks on Palestinians in the same region.

May 2021 saw some of the worst violence that Palestinians have faced in recent times, and also brought about the largest pro-Palestine protest in British history. There, I told the story of my grandparents to over 180,000 people chanting their words of support and waving their Palestine flags back at me.

My grandparents’ lived experiences mirror those of millions of Palestinians who are unable to return to their homes. The unity we saw on that day gave me reason to believe that we are the generation that will be able to give our grandparents a free Palestine and their right to return home.

Each day we see the violent effects of the failure to address this historic injustice. For Palestinians, the Nakba is our open wound that hasn’t healed, and the generational trauma we have endured for decades is ongoing.

On this important anniversary, at a time of accelerating Palestinian dispossession, it is more vital than ever that we remember the Nakba, not only to mourn but to resist it.

Leanne Mohamad is a British Palestinian human rights activist based in London