Nakba redux? Israeli bombing portends displacement of Palestinians

New Delhi: Gaza is being relentlessly and inexorably bombed round the clock for nearly a month, and apart from the appalling level of human victims, the infrastructure of the confined coastal strip – apartment buildings, schools, markets, hospitals, and even mosques and churches – are being smashed. Even if by some miracle there is a ceasefire, how will the two million Palestinians live?

The situation in the occupied West Bank, where Israeli settlers have ramped up attacks on Palestinians, imposing lockdowns, displacing families, destroying their farms, and generally making it difficult for them, as per reports, is receiving less attention globally.

Is this right to defend, as the Israeli government — and its unqualified backers in the US and Europe — contend, or the next step towards this goal — reaching a final solution of the Palestinian “problem”, by evicting them in toto from the boundaries of historical Palestine itself?

It won’t be for the first time, for the very founding of Israel in 1948 was overshadowed by the Palestinians term ‘Nakba’ or the enforced displacement of nearly 700,000 of them, the related depopulation and destruction of over 500 Palestinian villages,subsequent geographical/historical erasure of their settlements, the denial of any right of return, and the creation of Palestinian refugees.

Palestinian refugees in various neighbouring Arab countries – Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, and Syria – are still stateless and those who managed to stay in Gaza, and West Bank, which came under Israeli rule after the 1967 war, are under relentless pressure, a pressure present even before Hamas’ October 7 terror attack, which amplified subsequently.

There have been reports of proposals that the population of Gaza will be relocated into Egypt’s Sinai and that of West Bank into contiguous Jordan. But this is a non-starter for no less than the express opposition of two countries concerned about any such move, given the memories of the Nakba 75 years back and its consequences.

The movement of Palestinian refugees, created overtly and covertly even before the formation of the Israeli state and only accelerated in 1948, has not had a very salutary effect on the neighbouring Arab countries, especially Jordan and Lebanon.

After the 1948 war, Jordan, which held on to the West Bank and East Jerusalem, had a series of running problems with Palestinians for the next two decades at least. King Abdullah, its first ruler, was assassinated on a Jerusalem visit in 1951 by a Palestinian man, though it was suspected that the conspiracy ran much deeper.

Since 1967, and the loss of West Bank, Jordan hosted PLO, whose raids into Israel drew retribution on it, and the increasing presence of Palestinians started creating a threat to the Jordanian state itself under King Hussain. Matters came to a head in September 1970, when the Jordanian Army moved against the Palestinians, who were perceived as a major threat to the state, following the diversion of hijacked aircraft to the country.

Among the commanders of the Jordanian Army confronting the Palestinian guerrillas was a Pakistani Army Brigadier stationed in Jordan for three years then as head of a training mission – Mohammad Zia ul-Haq.

A ceasefire and settlement was soon ensured by the Arab League at a stormy meeting in Cairo – but had a major collateral casualty – Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, who succumbed to a major heart attack a day after the summit’s end.

Another offshoot of the Jordanian episode was the emergence of Palestinian militant outfit, Black September, whose actions would be seen at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich.

The PLO leadership then moved to Beirut, where their presence, as well as of the Palestinian refugees of 1948, threatened to upstage Lebanon’s fragile constitutional settlement, derived from a census under colonial French rule that apportioned top posts on a religious quota – the post of President would go to a Maronite Christian, of Prime Minister to a Sunni Muslim, and that of Parliament Speaker to a Shia Muslim.

There have been many changes and challenges in Lebanon since then: the decade-and-a-half-long Civil War which also drew in the Israelis and the Syrians, and indirectly the Iranians and the Saudis; assassinations; massacres (including of Palestinians in their refugee camps in Beirut under Israeli watch) and ethnic strife; the emergence of Hezbollah, which transformed from an anti-occupation militia to a serious political player. However, no side has actively sought a new census which could force a revision of the existing settlement.

Given this background, it is largely evident that none of the Arab states, particularly around Israel, would be willing to absorb seven million Palestinians from Gaza and West Bank.

That leaves the Palestinians at a second crossroads in 75 years. Is anyone heeding their plight at all?

(Vikas Datta can be contacted [email protected])


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