How Palestinian Narrative On Nakba Defeated Israeli Negationism – OpEd


The next Nakba Day, on May 15, 2023, will be the first to be officially commemorated by the UN General Assembly. This decision by the world’s largest democratic institution is significant, if not a game changer.

For nearly 75 years, the Nakba, the “catastrophe” wreaked by the ethnic cleansing of Palestine by Zionist militias in 1947-48, has served as the center of the Palestinian tragedy, as well as the collective Palestinian struggle for freedom.

Three decades ago, after the signing of the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinian leadership in 1993, the Nakba practically ceased to exist as a relevant political variable. Palestinians were urged to move past that date and to invest their energies and political capital into an alternative and more “practical” goal — a return to the 1967 borders. In June 1967, Israel occupied the rest of historic Palestine — East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza — igniting another wave of ethnic cleansing.

Based on these two dates, the Western cheerleaders of Oslo divided Palestinians into two camps: The “extremists” who insisted on the centrality of the 1948 Nakba and the “moderates” who agreed to shift the center of gravity of Palestinian history and politics to 1967.

Such historical revisionism impacted every aspect of the Palestinian struggle: It splintered Palestinians ideologically and politically; relegated the importance of the Right of Return for Palestinian refugees, which is enshrined in UNGA Resolution 194; spared Israel legal and moral accountability for its violent establishment on the ruins of Palestine, and more.

Leading Nakba historian Salman Abu Sitta explained in an interview a few years ago the difference between the so-called pragmatic politics of Oslo and the collective struggle of Palestinians as the difference between “aims” and “rights.” Palestinians “don’t have ‘aims’ … (but) rights,” he said. “These rights are inalienable, they represent the bottom red line beyond which no concession is possible. Because doing so will destroy their life.”

Indeed, shifting the historical centrality of the narrative away from the Nakba was equivalent to the destruction of the lives of Palestinian refugees, as has been tragically apparent in Gaza, Lebanon and Syria in recent years.

While politicians from all relevant sides continued to bemoan the “stagnant” or even “dead” peace process — often blaming one another for that supposed calamity — a different kind of conflict was taking place. On the one hand, ordinary Palestinians, along with their historians and intellectuals, fought to reassert the importance of the Nakba, while Israelis continued to almost completely ignore the earth-shattering event, as if it was of no consequence to the equally tragic present.

Gaza’s Great March of Return in 2018-19 was possibly the most significant collective and sustainable Palestinian action that attempted to reorient the new generation around the starting date of the Palestinian tragedy. More than 300 people, mostly from the third or fourth post-Nakba generations, were killed by Israeli snipers at the Gaza border fence for demanding their right to return. The bloody events of those years were enough to tell us that Palestinians have not forgotten the roots of their struggle, while they also illustrated Israel’s fear of Palestinian memory.

The work of Rosemary Sayigh on the exclusion of the Nakba from the trauma genre, along with that of Samah Sabawi, demonstrate not only the complexity of the Nakba’s impact on the Palestinian collective awareness, but also the ongoing denial — if not erasure — of it from academic and historical discourses.

“The most significant traumatic event in Palestinian history is absent from the ‘trauma genre,’” Sabawi wrote in the recently published volume, “Our Vision for Liberation.” Sayigh argued that “the loss of recognition of (the Palestinian refugees’) rights to people and statehood created by the Nakba has led to an exceptional vulnerability to violence,” with Syria being the latest example.

Israel was always aware of this. When Israeli leaders agreed to the Oslo political paradigm, they understood that removing the Nakba from the political discourse of the Palestinian leadership constituted a major victory for the Israeli narrative.

However, thanks to ordinary Palestinians — those who have held on to the keys and deeds to their original homes and land in historic Palestine — history is now finally being rewritten, back to its original and accurate form. By passing Resolution A/77/L.24, which declared May 15, 2023, as “Nakba Day,” the UNGA has corrected a historical wrong.

Israeli Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan rightly understood the UN’s decision as a major step toward the delegitimization of Israel as a military occupier of Palestine. “Try to imagine the international community commemorating your country’s independence day by calling it a disaster. What a disgrace,” he said.

Absent from Erdan’s remarks and other responses by Israeli officials was the merest hint of political or even moral accountability for the ethnic cleansing of more than 530 Palestinian towns and villages and the expulsion of more than 750,000 Palestinians, whose refugee descendants now number in their millions.

Not only did Israel spend decades canceling and erasing the Nakba, but it also criminalized it by passing what is now known as the Nakba Law of 2011. But the more Israel engages in this form of historical negationism, the harder Palestinians fight to reclaim their historical rights.

May 15, 2023, UN Nakba Day, represents the triumph of the Palestinian narrative over that of the Israeli negationists. This means that the blood spilled during Gaza’s Great March of Return was not in vain, as the Nakba and the Right of Return are now back at the center of the Palestinian story.

Ramzy Baroud

Ramzy Baroud ( is an internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of His book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza's Untold Story (Pluto Press, London), now available on

One thought on “How Palestinian Narrative On Nakba Defeated Israeli Negationism – OpEd

  • December 17, 2022 at 1:00 am

    “ethnic cleansing of Palestine by Zionist militias in 1947-48,”

    Kind of forgot to mention that Israel is a country, supported by the U.N. and on the day of its declaration, 7 Arab armies invaded with the clear and purpose goal of completing Hitler’s work and that Israel was fighting them, AND the Arab population in British Mandatory “Palestine” who rose up against the Jews in everywhere.

    But how easy it is to “forget to mention that small fact”. Not really surprising considering your name.

    In truth, the “Nakba” is the Palestinian mourning of not being able to exterminate the 600,000 Jews who were living there under British rule, and were granted a country by the U.N. — just like the Arabs were— only the Jews accepted a future “Palestine”, but the arabs could not accept an “Israel” — hence the war, which they lost.


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