For the people of Palestine, the trauma of 70 years ago never ended.
Violence is intensifying in Gaza as the United States opens its new embassy in Jerusalem, a convergence of current politics and long-simmering tensions in the region. Israeli forces opened fire on demonstrators, killing dozens and wounding hundreds more, Palestinian officials said.
May 14 marks the 70th anniversary of Israel’s founding; May 15 is a day Palestinians know as their nakba, or “catastrophe,” the traumatic expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes in 1948 by Israelis. This event both defined their future of statelessness and occupation, and now forms the basis for their distinct national identity. Many of the chief consequences of the nakba, including the displacement of most Palestinians from their ancestral lands and ongoing statelessness, remain unresolved to this day.
This helps explain the enduring violence between Israelis and Palestinians, which flared up most recently on the border with Gaza. Beginning on March 30, a series of Friday protests billed the “Great March of Return” have seen thousands of mainly unarmed young men confront Israeli forces and border guards. They are blocking these men from the nearby villages, located in what is now Israel, from which many of their families were displaced in the 1940s. At least 37 protesters have died, and over 4,000 injured, in the unrest. These demonstrations, which will culminate on the 15th, combined with the opening of a U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, may well become yet another historic flashpoint. And even if the worst does not come to pass this time, sooner or later, it will. Until we come to grips with the political and cultural legacy of the nakba, calm, stability, and normality will elude Israel and the rest of the Middle East.