With each renewal of hostilities between Israel and Palestinian armed groups, the world news is flooded with stories about refugee camps, statelessness, and the Nakba — the now settled term for the Palestinian narrative about the origins of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This term is usually interpreted as the word referring to the Palestinian catastrophe of 1948, in which the creation of the State of Israel caused the destruction of traditional Palestinian society, the loss of Palestinian lands, and the displacement of 700,000 Palestinians from their homes. The term has become a storehouse of historical memory, structural guilt, and calls for justice.
In fact, there is no doubt that this term is one of the most important successes of Palestinian activism. Not only has it managed to enter most European languages, but it has managed to establish itself as evidence of the destruction not only of Israel, but of capitalism, colonialism and racism as well. Sometimes its mention brings with it a wide range of associations and allusions, among which are crimes against the environment, women and indigenous people, committed by Western men, and into which Zionist Jews are included.
However, at some point, the Nakba, as a word and concept, existed before these broader connotations. In fact, before the Nakba became the founding myth of Palestinian nationalism, before it became a progressive call for human rights, justice, and equality, it was meant something very different. It was not intended to refer to Palestine as a lost land nor to Palestinians as a displaced population in need of basic human rights. Its goal was nothing less than to form the vanguard of the Arab Revolution, and then the global revolution as well.
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Hussein Abu Bakr Mansour is a writing fellow at the Middle East Forum and director of the Emerging Democratic Voices from the Middle East program at the Middle East Truth Foundation (EMET).