Palestinians refer to it as “Al Nakba”, which literally translates as “The Catastrophe”. It refers to the mass exodus of at least 750,000 Arabs from Palestine. Although most believe this event began in 1948, in fact, Al Nakba began decades earlier and it is still going on, and the Nakba will continue as long as the Zionist regime is occupying the land of the Palestinians.
Expelling people from their homes and preventing them from returning is a war crime. 
Israel didn’t just commit a war crime in 1948, rather it continues to commit war crimes to this day, says Salman Abu Sitta, author of Atlas of Palestine. Head of the Beyond the Sea Community in Italy, Patrizia Ceccone, also says: “Nakba Day means the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians by the Israeli regime, a reality that continues every day in occupied Palestine.”   The renowned anti-Apartheid leader in South Africa, Allan Boesak, delivered a keynote address on Saturday in which he underscored the double standards of Western governments and media in reporting about Palestine. He questioned why Holocausts, massacres, and colonial crimes in Africa are never given the attention that the killing of Jews in Nazi Germany enjoys. 
He further held to account the hypocrisy in reporting the conflict in Ukraine, while the Palestinian plight is silenced.
In 1799, during the French invasion of the Arab world, Napoleon issued a proclamation offering Palestine as a homeland to Jews under France’s protection. This was also a way to establish a French presence in the region. Napoleon’s vision of a Jewish state in the Middle East did not materialize at the time – but nor did it die. In the late 19th century, the plan was revived by the British.
Following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War I and the establishment of the Palestine Mandate, the British colonial power began implementing its plan of creating a Jewish state on Palestinian land. At the same time, the Zionist movement was lobbying Western powers to support the mass migration of Jews to Palestine and recognize a Jewish claim to the land.
In 1917, the Balfour Declaration declared British support for a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine, and that’s how the Day of Nakba officially began.
The declaration was made in a letter written by Britain’s then-Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour, to Baron Rothschild, a leader of the British Zionist movement. The letter was endorsed by Britain’s then-Prime Minister David Lloyd George, who became a Zionist in 1915.
 The letter stated the British would “use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object”. For Zionists, this was a clear victory.
The influx of Zionists to Palestine, supported by the British, was met with fierce Palestinian resistance. The purchases of land by Jews for Zionist settlement displaced tens of thousands of Palestinians from their homes. The entire process was facilitated by the British.
While the Palestinian leadership in Al-Quds insisted on continuing negotiations with the British to resolve the simmering tensions, Izz Al-Din Al-Qassam, a Syrian leader living in Haifa since 1922, began calling for resistance against the British and the Zionists.
In 1935, Al-Qassam was surrounded by British forces and killed along with some of his men. His resistance inspired many Palestinians. By 1936, an Arab resistance erupted against British imperialism and Zionist settler colonialism.
By 1939, the British had smashed the resistance. The Palestinians found themselves fighting two enemies: British colonial forces and Zionist militia groups.
Although the British had backed mass Jewish immigration to Palestine, the colonial power began to limit the number of Jews arriving in the country in an attempt to quell Arab unrest.
The new limit on immigration upset the Zionists. They launched a series of terrorist attacks on British authorities to drive them out. Therefore, the Nakba that Britain planned for the Palestinians by using armed Jews stood against that country.
The Zionists continued to further advance their dream of creating a Jewish state on Palestinian land. Meanwhile, it became obvious that the Palestinian resistance forces were outnumbered and outgunned.
The Zionist strategy of expelling Palestinians from their land was a slow and deliberate process. According to Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, Zionist leaders and military commanders met regularly from March 1947 to March 1948, when they finalized plans to ethnically cleanse Palestine.
As Zionist attacks on the British and Arabs escalated, the British decided to hand over their responsibility for Palestine to the newly founded United Nations.
In November 1947, the UN General Assembly proposed a plan to partition Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab one. Jews in Palestine only constituted one-third of the population – most of whom had arrived from Europe a few years earlier – and only retained control of less than 5.5 percent of historic Palestine. Yet under the UN proposal, they were allocated 55 percent of the land. The Palestinians and their Arab allies rejected the proposal.
Zionist message is simple: Leave the land or be killed
The Zionist movement accepted it, however, on the grounds that it legitimized the idea of a Jewish state on Arab land. But they did not agree to the proposed borders and campaigned to conquer even more of historic Palestine. By early 1948, Zionist forces had captured dozens of villages and cities, displacing thousands of Palestinians, even while the British Mandate was still in effect. In many cases, they carried out organized massacres. The Zionist movement’s message was simple: Palestinians must leave their land or be killed.
As the date (May 14, 1948) selected by the British for their Palestine Mandate to expire approached, Zionist forces hastened their efforts to seize Palestinian land. In April 1948, the Zionists captured Haifa, one of the biggest Palestinian cities, and subsequently set their eyes on Jaffa. On the same day, British forces formally withdrew, and David Ben-Gurion, then-head of the Zionist Agency, proclaimed the establishment of the state of Israel.
Overnight, the Palestinians became stateless. The world’s two great powers, the United States and the Soviet Union, immediately recognized Israel.
As the Zionists continued their ethnic cleansing campaign against the Palestinians, war broke out between neighboring Arab countries and the new Zionist state. The UN appointed Swedish diplomat, Folke Bernadotte, as its mediator in Palestine. He recognized the plight of the Palestinians and attempted to address their suffering. His efforts to bring about a peaceful solution and halt to the ongoing ethnic cleansing campaign ended when he was assassinated by the Zionists in September 1948.
By 1949, over 700,000 Palestinians had been made refugees and more than 13,000 had been killed by the Israeli military. The UN continued to push for an armistice deal between Israel and those Arab countries.
Bernadotte was replaced by his American deputy, Ralph Bunche. Negotiations led by Bunche between Israel and the Arab states resulted in the latter conceding even more Palestinian land to the newly founded Zionist state. In May 1949, Israel was admitted to the UN, and its grip over 78 percent of historic Palestine was consolidated. The remaining 22 percent became known as the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees remained in refugee camps, waiting to return home.
While the Zionist movement sought first and foremost to remove Palestinians from their land, it also tried to erase Palestinian heritage and culture. The overall objective was nothing short of an attempt to wipe Palestine off the world map.
Where are Palestinian refugees today?
There are some six million registered Palestinian refugees living in at least 58 camps located throughout Palestine and neighboring countries.
The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) provides assistance and operates hundreds of schools and health facilities for at least 2.3 million Palestinian refugees in Jordan, 1.5 million refugees in Gaza, 870,000 refugees in the occupied West Bank, 570,00 refugees in Syria and 480,000 refugees in Lebanon.
The largest camps in each are Baqa’a in Jordan, Jabalia in Gaza, Jenin in the occupied West Bank, Yarmouk in Syria, and Ain al-Hilweh in Lebanon.
More than 70 percent of Gaza’s residents are refugees. About 1.5 million refugees live in eight refugee camps around the Gaza Strip.
According to international law, refugees have the right to return to their homes and property from which they have been displaced. Many Palestinians still have hope of returning to Palestine.
The plight of Palestinian refugees is the longest unresolved refugee problem in the world.
The Palestinian Nakba did not end in 1948. In the history of Palestine, every day can be named Al-Nakba Day. The ethnic cleansing of historic Palestine is still happening. The emotional impact of Al-Nakba is still felt today, as Palestinians continue to fight for their right to return home and reclaim what was taken from them.
By: Sadra Torabi
First published in Tehran Times