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73 Years of Struggle: The Ongoing Palestinian “Nakba”

israel palestine

Roar writer Shaheena Uddin breaks down the decades-long struggle between Israel and Palestine, up to the events of May 2021.

On May 15, 2021, Palestinians marked 73 years of “Nakba“, meaning catastrophe. Specifically, Nakba refers to the continued removal of Palestinians from their homes and the 54 years of ethnic cleansing and violence committed by the state of Israel. To understand current affairs in the region, we have to go all the way back to the beginning.

A brief history

Palestine was controlled by the Ottoman Empire until its defeat in the first World War. Britain had no official mandate over Palestine until the League of Nations afforded it one in 1920. Nonetheless, Britain still issued the 1917 Balfour Declaration during World War One. This declaration promised the “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”, whilst also promising to protect the Palestinians already living there. In the aftermath of World War Two, many Jewish Europeans, left stateless, relocated to the territory in a process that displaced existing Palestinian residents.

The many promises made to both the Israelis and Palestinians in the Balfour Declaration were short-lived and only furthered tensions between the two groups. Many Palestinians considered it to be a great violation, and that their native land was unrightfully given away by powers like Britain.

The land was officially and historically Palestine up until 1948, when the state of Israel was established. In November 1947, the United Nations passed the Palestine Partition plan after Britain gave up its mandate. This was developed as an official plan to solve “the Palestinian problem” by expanding Israeli occupied territory by almost ten times, from 5% to 56%. This plan was rejected by the Palestinians on grounds that the UN had no right to divide and give away their land.

The highly debated 1993-5 Oslo Accords then attempted to instil peace between both Israel and Palestine. Yet the aftermath of the Oslo accords caused anything but. The premise of the agreement was that both sides, the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) and the state of Israel, would recognise each other’s right to exist and would resolve their conflict in the pursuit of peace. By 1998, it was clear the Oslo accords had failed; both Israelis and Palestinians accused each other of violating the agreement. ­­

It is also vital to understand how Israel played a large part in creating Hamas, as explained by the Washington Post. This is not dissimilar to how the United States helped to create the Taliban by arming the Mujahideen in Afghanistan.

The full depth of this history cannot be explained in a brief summary. For more information, you can read a historical timeline of events or watch a short, informative Crash Course video.

The Ongoing Palestinian Nakba

In 1948, when the ongoing Nakba began, over 500 cities were ethnically cleansed, 15,000 Palestinians were killed, and 750,000 were expelled from their homes under Plan Dalet. This settler colonialism led to Palestinians becoming one of the world’s largest refugee diasporas to date; one-third of the world’s refugees are Palestinians.

During this year, another atrocity known as “The Deir Yassin Massacre” took place, in which 100-250 unarmed Palestinian civilians (including men, women, children, and the elderly) were killed in the village of Deir Yassin. Since then, Israeli forces have annexed and colonised approximately 85-100% of all historically Palestinian land. The only remaining land left of historic Palestine is that of the Gaza strip and small portions of the West Bank, which is under Israeli control. In 1967, however, Israel began to allow Israelis to move into the West Bank and establish what the UN refers to as illegal settlements within the West Bank, resulting in the “Six Day War”. In the aftermath of the conflict, Israel occupied West Bank, Gaza, Sinai, and the Golan Heights.

The West Bank was also divided into three areas of control: Area A – Palestinian, Area B – Palestinian/Israeli and Area C – Israeli. The Israeli-occupied Area C is the largest area in the division, making up 60% of the West Bank. It is also strategically placed so that it has the most access to the land’s agriculture, water, and resources compared to the Palestinian territories.

The Israeli settlements are fully protected by occupational forces. This has included the use of heavily guarded watchtowers and barbed wire to keep Palestinians in line. The occupied settlements also resemble the size of cities, with some population densities reaching around 60,000-75,000 Israeli settlers.

The state is also built upon colonialism and racial segregation, leading some scholars to refer to it as an “apartheid state”. Palestinians are separated from the Israelis population via a “separation wall”. The Palestinians are also treated very differently from the Israeli settlers, who enjoy extra privileges and comforts the Palestinians are barred from.

Artwork on the wall that separating Israel and Palestine. @Unsplash by <>

In 2014, according to a BBC News analysis, 475,000 Palestinians were living in emergency shelters or with other families, 17,200 homes were destroyed or severely damaged by Israeli attacks, as well as 244 schools destroyed.

In 2020, there were approximately 600,000-750,000 Israeli settlers living in at least 250 settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. All of these settlements are considered illegal under the international law of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

International stances

The United Nations has officially considered Israeli settlements illegal since 2016. This motion was adopted after 14 delegations voted in favour of Resolution 2334, with noticeable international superpower the United States abstaining.

The US has been a long-time ally of the Israeli government, funding Israel with a total of $146 billion in weapons and missiles to date. Each year the US provides $3.3 billion of “security assistance” and $500 million for “US-Israel missile defence cooperation”. On May 17 2021, President Joe Biden approved a $735 million sale of weapons directly to Israel.

The United Kingdom also funded a total of £146,000 in Israeli aid between 1964-1999, published by the Department for International Development in response to a Freedom of Information Request. 118 UK universities, including King’s College London, are alleged to have collectively invested over £453 million in companies complicit in Israeli violations of “international law, military weapons and illegal settlements”.

Sheikh Jarrah (2009 to present)

Sheikh Jarrah, under international law, is a Palestinian neighbourhood in occupied East Jerusalem. The Israeli Supreme Court has been forcing Palestinians out of their homes to make room for Israeli settlers to occupy them instead. The court ruled that six Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah have to leave their homes this May, joined by a further seven in August. Four Palestinian families are currently awaiting a court decision.

In 2009 alone, over 50 Palestinians were forced out of their homes in Sheikh Jarrah. This settler colonialism has forced over 200 Palestinians out of Sheikh Jarrah and into homelessness. Theft of Palestinians homes is enforced by Israeli soldiers threatening Palestinians with guns. If they show any form of resistance they are escorted off their own land.

Israel, which claims ownership of Sheikh Jarrah, has declared its intention to evict the entire neighbourhood of Palestinians. Yonatan Yosef, a key spokesperson for Israeli settlers in Sheikh Jarrah, outlined the nation’s goal in a recent interview: “We take house after house… We are not finish the job, we are going to the next neighbourhood, and after that, we’ll go more. Our dream is that all East Jerusalem will be like West Jerusalem. Jewish capital of Israel. I see this as a continuation of the Zionist project. The return to Zion. Is it at the Arabs’ expense? Yes. But our government institutions were also built at the expense of Arabs who lived here. And so was the state itself.”

Many of the appeals from the Palestinians to negotiate with the settlers have also been rejected by the Israeli Supreme Court.

In protest against this house theft, hundreds of Palestinians peacefully gathered in the streets of Sheikh Jarrah in solidarity with the six families who were being forced out of their homes. These non-violent protests included chanting, breaking fasts in Ramadan and praying. This was met by violence from the Israeli settlers of Sheikh Jarrah, as well as from the Israeli police who instigated fights, arrested protestors, broke into Palestinian homes, and sprayed the peaceful Palestinian protestors with skunk water (a chemically enhanced type of sewage water).

Palestinian writer, poet and activist Mohammed El-Kurd has spoken out against the injustices in recent CNN, NBC, and Democracy Now interviews. When asked whether he supports “the protests, the violent protests, that have erupted in solidarity with you and other families in your position right now?”, El-Kurd responded: “Do you support the violent dispossession of me and my family?”.

You can read more about Israeli plans for settlements in Sheikh Jarrah in a 2010 paper published by the Jerusalem Institute.

Masjid Al-Aqsa Attacks (2021)

The Temple Mount – the golden Dome of the Rock mosque in the old city of Jerusalem, Israel @Unsplash <>

On May 10, the last Friday of Ramadan, one of the most sacred days in the holy month for Muslims, Israeli forces stormed into the holy site Al-Aqsa Mosque. They attacked worshippers, throwing stun grenades and shooting rubber bullets inside the place of worship. Several clips of video footage, filming the attacks, have since emerged and gone viral around the globe following the incident.

Continued Air Strikes & Bombing

A 2015 UN report predicted that Palestine would be “unliveable” by 2020. A year later, in 2021, Gaza has been described as “the world’s largest open-air prison” with over than 5000 inhabitants per square kilometre. As bombs began to go off across the region in May of 2021, this proved deadly. According to a report by the Palestinian Ministry of Health, the death toll in Gaza has reached 198, including 58 children, 35 women, and 1300 further injured.

As reported by Hanan Ashrawi on Twitter, “Official sources: #Israel has informed Int’l orgs that it intends to blow up two schools: Al-Buraq & Al-Aqsa. These were among centres being prepared to shelter families whose homes were bombed. Nowhere to go. #IsraeliCrimes. @IntlCrimCourt“.

Many, such as US President Joe Biden, have argued the counter case that “Israel has the right to defend itself” from terrorist organizations like Hamas.

Hamas is described by Brittanica as a “militant Palestinian nationalist movement” founded in 1987 with the aim of creating an independent, religiously oriented state in historical Palestine. Since then, senior Hamas leaders have expressed readiness to entertain the two-state solution. Despite this, the group periodically comes into armed conflict with Israel. The international stance on these conflicts is mixed. In the most recent altercation, the UN “[called on] Israel to exercise maximum restraint [and urged] Hamas to stop the indiscriminate launching of rockets and mortars”.

UN documented data from statista <>

The infographic features statistics documented by the UN, juxtaposing the disproportional impact on casualties of the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) compared to Hamas.


On May 20, 2021, the Israeli government agreed to a ceasefire. This ceasefire did not stop them from bombing Palestinians until the very last moment 23:00 GMT. 12 hours after the announcement, Israeli forces broke their agreement and stormed into Al-Aqsa again. Video footage of this happening can be seen here.

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