May 15 2017 marks the 69th anniversary of the Nakba, when half of the Palestinian population was expelled or massacred, and half of the Palestinian cities and villages were destroyed by the Zionist militias, to make way for the establishment of the Jewish state of Israel.

The Nakba is not a distinct event in history, but the ongoing oppression of millions of Palestinians throughout historic Palestine, as well as in exile. After 69 years, Palestinians continue to experience violations of human rights, of international law, and crimes against humanity in their daily lives. The Palestinian population today lives under military occupation and control, systems of apartheid, institutionalised discrimination, and denial of basic rights.  

Although the Zionist colonisation of Palestine started in the 1880s and continues until this day, the Nakba - or rather the events of 1948 - represent a primary determinant of today's reality.

Nakba Day is critical not only because the Nakba is ongoing and is a daily reality for Palestinians, and not only because there was never accountability or repatriation, but also because the Nakba is a fundamental aspect of the ongoing occupation and ethnic cleansing of Palestine. Achieving justice and peace is only possible when there is acknowledgement and responsibility for the Nakba.

The atrocities committed against the Palestinian population in 1948, and the effects of the Nakba represent three fundamental issues defining the overall Palestinian struggle today; facts, accountability and equal rights.

Rewriting history

In 1948, the Zionist paramilitaries had one objective: To remove the native Palestinians through expulsion, extermination, and destruction. Since then, the systematic process of ethnic cleansing has evolved into rewriting history, and completely erasing any reference to Palestinian identity. 

Such attempts include Nakba denial, renaming conventions (of cities and villages and referring to Palestinians as Arabs), demoting the Arabic language, dismembering the Palestinian identity into geopolitical Bantustans and military repression, among others.

Nakba denial has been one of the most prominent methods of erasing the history of Palestine and the rights of Palestinians. Even use of the word "Nakba" in school textbooks belonging to Palestinian citizens of what-is-now Israel, was banned, condemning Nakba references as "terrorist propaganda". 

The Nakba Law in Israel imposes sanctions on institutions that finance Nakba activities. This pattern of Nakba denial and distorting the narrative culminates in a recent bill to criminalise commemoration of the Nakba.

The Palestinian narrative of their own experiences is dismissed, disputed and rejected as anti-Semitic, and Palestinians are even accused of being responsible for their own expulsion.

While Israel erases the Nakba from its history, memory, and education, the facts remain undisputed. Evidence collected from UN observers and Israeli soldiers themselves (who in their eighties decided to speak), confirms the role of Zionist militias in massacres, displacement and destruction during the Nakba.

However, despite the evidence, the world's continued indifference to the Palestinian Nakba and suffering, serves as a green light to Israel, indicating that such crimes will be tolerated. It is also a significant blow to facts and evidence-based international policing.

The body of evidence since 1948, and the facts on the ground could not be disputed, were they to be presented in a court of law. Yet, the international community's support for, and protection of Israeli crimes persist.  

Accountability and the art of diversion

Just as Israel and contributing nations were not held accountable for the Nakba, Israel continues to enjoy full impunity for its ongoing violations of human rights and international law. Instead of taking responsibility for the ongoing Nakba of the Palestinian people, Israeli Hasbara artfully diverts the narrative time and again.

Immediately following the Nakba, an international discussion to reach an agreement on the return of Palestinian refugees was overtaken by Israeli focus on the status of Jerusalem. Diversionary tactics by Israel have become the norm; for example changing the conversation from Palestinian rights and freedoms to Israeli security.

When the spotlight was on Israeli settlements, the narrative was refocused on the so-called Palestinian "incitement of violence". More recently, as US President Trump took office, a new twist was thrown into the mix, that of "paying Palestinian terrorists" which refers to the Palestinian Authority welfare system that supports Palestinians families whose breadwinner has been killed or imprisoned by Israel.

Successive Israeli governments have mastered evading accountability and shifting the blame, with new talking points that enable them to redefine the parameters of the discussion, and hence define the basis of human rights.   

The claim by Israel that the Nakba is irreversible and must be accepted, is yet another tactic to evade responsibility. Echoing that claim equates to direct support for crimes against humanity. 

Accountability should be held not only by Israel, but by all the countries that facilitated the Nakba, as well as those that provide the political, economic, military support, and moral justification and immunity to maintain practices of apartheid and human rights violations.   

Right of return

One of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian refugees - as granted by international law and UN resolutions - is the right of return.

International law grants all refugees the right to return to their homes and to properties left due to conflict, even if sovereignty has changed. Referencing the Palestinian refugees in particular, UNGA Resolution 194 passed in December 1948, and UNGA Resolution 3236 passed in 1974 grants Palestinian refugees the "inalienable" right to return to their homes and property. 

Admission of Israel to the United Nations was even conditioned by compliance with 194. Needless to say, Israel never honored this condition. 

This violation represents the beginning of the double standards in dealing with Israel and its adherence to international law. Sixty-nine years on, Israel continues to violate human rights and its own agreements with total impunity.  

The right of return also exemplifies the lack of equality for Palestinians. Jews from around the world are granted Israeli citizenship upon entry, while almost 8 million Palestinian natives of the land who were forcibly removed and continue to live in refugee camps today, cannot even visit. 

The denial of equal rights for Palestinians is prevalent and persistent, from access to water and freedom of movement, to the right to security and statehood.  

Nakba Day epitomizes the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people to national memory and identity, equal rights and freedoms, and acknowledgment of their continued suffering.

At a time when the world is pressuring Palestinians to forget the Nakba, those responsible must instead remember, recognise, and assume accountability for the crimes committed in 1948, in order to move toward a just solution, and lasting peace.