I am of the generation of children born during the first Intifada. My grandparents are from the city of Jaffa, on the Mediterranean Sea, now a part of present-day Israel. I have a sharp recollection of the stories my grandmother used to tell me about the homeland: the fresh sea breeze and the scent of the orange trees blowing in the wind. There was nothing quite as provoking as the image of the trees standing tall, free. Jaffa oranges continue to maintain its fine international reputation today. Developed by Palestinian farmers in the mid-19th century, the variety takes its name from the city of Jaffa where it was first produced for export. Jaffa orange or Jaffa cake (introduced in the UK in 1927 and named after Jaffa oranges) have become my go-to solution whenever a person I meet does not know where Jaffa is. So far hardly anyone does not recognise both.
Growing up as a refugee in Gaza, I burnt the images of Jaffa that my grandmother shared with me into my mind, always telling her that I wanted to see the land. She, like the strength of the trees, reminded me to never submit to powerlessness, especially in the face of injustice. She was my first teacher, an inspiration that I still learn from and with.
My grandparent was forced out of Jaffa in 1948. Israeli attempts to erase and displace Palestinians started long before May 1948 (when Israel declared itself an independent state). My grandmother was one of at least 750,000 Palestinians violently expelled from their homeland (around 75% of the population) between 1947 and 1949. As it was made clear in my conversation with family, this was not a by-product of the 1948 war. It was a deliberate act of ethnic cleansing, intentional and planned.
Palestinians call this violent expulsion nakba (Arabic for ‘catastrophe’). The term nakba was used first by Israelis, in leaflets dropped by the Israeli military over Palestinian villages they threatened with obliteration. Today, Israel continues to systematically force Palestinians out of their homes and oppress them through the cruel apartheid system. In the words of Palestinians, this represents an ‘ongoing Nakba’. As I write this piece, the Gaza Strip is experiencing an Israeli aggression while commemorating the third anniversary of yet another aggression (2020) which killed 250 and injured 5,000 Palestinians. 1.4 million of the 2.1 million residents of the Gaza Strip are refugees from areas on which Israel was established. They share a total area of 365 km² (141 square miles), besieged by Israel in an open-air prison, controlled and surveyed constantly, and reduced to disposable bodies.
Palestinians continue to demand their right to return home and live freely, with dignity and justice. Once the 1948 major war was over, Palestinians attempted to return home. Around 6,000 Palestinians attempted this return, unarmed. Several other attempts were made afterwards. Israel has responded to these calls (and attempts) with violence, including murder, oppression, and more systematic (and physical) barriers.
As we commemorate the 75th anniversary of the nakba, it is important to acknowledge historical injustices that Palestinians continue to experience. It is equally important to understand the ongoing violence of Israeli apartheid — nakba is not only a one-time single act of violence but is a term with wider impacts of continuous attempts to destroy all elements of Palestinianism. These attempts at erasure continues to create multi-generational and multiplied traumas to the Palestinian people, who continues to be isolated by the international community.
Palestine reality looks bleak. Justice is absent. Violations of Palestinian basic rights are constant. Israel continues to enjoy full international impunity. Palestinians resist. They demand our support. The first step is the need to begin to re-imagine a future of return, to see all Palestinians, in home and in exile, as part of Palestine optics, equals in rights and duties.
We have a role to play in making decolonisation a reality, not a metaphor, through a safe and just room for all. As it currently stands, Israel’s colonial system of control and the unequal power dynamics, supported by an international system of impunity, prevent justice in Palestine. It is time we double our efforts in support of dignity and right of return home. Justice is the base of this. Because no justice, no peace.
What can you do to bring us closer to justice in Palestine?
It is important to be aware of the nakba narrative. Get informed and stay informed. More important than being aware of nakba is to centre the voices of those who experienced it, the Palestinians. You can read more about nakba here.
Amplify the voices and narratives of Palestinians, especially on the ground.
Share the Palestinian reality on your social media accounts, have conversations with family, friends and colleagues about the situation in Palestine, and spread the word.
Some social media accounts you may want to check out on Twitter include @RZabaneh, @Belalmd12 and @Omar_Gaza. On Instagram, you may want to check out @theimeu, @eye.on.palestine, @jewishvoiceforpeace, @palestinianyouthmovement, @mab.national, @mohammedelkurd and @muna_kurd.15.
Lobby your MP, councillors, and decision makers to make sure Palestine remains a key issue in their discussions. Ensure Palestinian voices are integral part to those discussions.
It is important to highlight the following, as written by Edinburgh-based Lighthouse bookshop, as I conclude this piece:
“As you raise awareness of atrocities in Palestine and Israel it is vital not to conflate the Israeli state and settler colonialism with Judaism. Be mindful of the content you share — it is not acceptable to fight one oppression with another and antisemitism is never acceptable.
“More people are being hurt, killed or silenced in this conflict every day and Palestinians need you to stay tuned, to keep caring and sharing today, tomorrow, next week, next month, until the occupation is over.”
Malaka is a Palestinian resident in the city of Dundee, Scotland.