Quick facts about the Nakba

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Haganah fighters expelling Palestinians from Haifa, May 12, 1948. (photo: AFP / Getty Images)

Today Palestinians in Gaza will take part in the March of Return to mark the 70th anniversary of the Nakba, when some 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from the newly-created State of Israel.

By Institute for Middle East Understanding | May 13, 2015


  • The “Nakba” (“catastrophe” in Arabic) refers to the mass expulsion of Palestinian Arabs from British Mandate Palestine during Israel’s creation (1947–49).
  • The Nakba was not an unintended result of war. It was a deliberate and systematic act necessary for the creation of a Jewish majority state in historic Palestine, which was overwhelmingly Arab prior to 1948.
  • The Nakba’s roots lay in the emergence of political Zionism in 19th-Century Europe, when some Jews, influenced by the nationalism then sweeping the continent, began emigrating as colonists to the Holy Land, displacing indigenous Palestinians in the process.
  • The Nakba did not end in 1948. It continues today, in the form of Israel’s ongoing appropriation of Palestinian land for Jewish settlements in the West Bank and for Jewish communities inside Israel.

Tomorrow, Palestinians in Gaza will take part in the March of Return to mark the 70th anniversary of the Nakba (“catastrophe” in Arabic), when some 750,000 Palestinians were ethnically cleansed to make way for a Jewish-majority state of Israel. Many of the participants will be Nakba survivors and their descendants, who have been denied their internationally-recognized legal right of return to the lands they were expelled from during Israel’s establishment.

Here are some quick facts about the Nakba.

General Facts and Figures
  • The Palestinian “Nakba” (“catastrophe” in Arabic) refers to the mass expulsion of Palestinian Arabs from British Mandate Palestine during Israel’s creation (1947–49).
  • The Nakba was not an unintended result of war. It was a deliberate and systematic act necessary for the creation of a Jewish majority state in historic Palestine, which was overwhelmingly Arab prior to 1948. Internally, Zionist Jewish leaders used the euphemism “transfer” when discussing plans for what today would be called ethnic cleansing.
  • The Nakba’s roots lay in the emergence of political Zionism in 19th century Europe, when some Jews, influenced by the nationalism then sweeping the continent, concluded that the remedy to centuries of anti-Semitic persecution in Europe and Russia was the creation of a nation state for Jews in Palestine and began emigrating as colonists to the Holy Land, displacing indigenous Palestinians in the process.
  • In November 1947, following the horrors of World War II and the Nazi genocide of European Jewry, the newly-created United Nations approved a plan to partition Mandate Palestine into Jewish and Arab states. It allocated approximately 55% of the land to the proposed Jewish state, although Zionist Jews owned only about 7% of the private land in Palestine and made up only about 33% of the population, a large percentage of whom were recent immigrants from Europe. The Palestinian Arab state was to be created on 42% of Mandate Palestine, with Jerusalem becoming an international city.

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