On the 75th anniversary of the Nakba, we give a brief overview of the events that took place – an important part of the historical context for the ongoing conflict and currently escalating tensions. For more detailed articles and analysis, including on the Palestinian struggle and the political situation in Israel, visit internationalsocialist.net
The Nakba, a word which is translated into English as ‘catastrophe’, is commemorated on 15 May. It is a day which marks the great disaster that befell the Palestinian population during the 1948 war and whose consequences resonate to this day.
What was the Nakba?
In November 1947, only about a third of the population of historic Palestine were Jews, who at that time were spread over 14% of the country. When the British mandate ended, as part of imperialism’s “divide and rule” policy, the UN’s Partition Plan stipulated that the Jewish population would receive 55% of the territory. The Arab-Palestinian population in the country understood that such a ‘solution’ would mean the forced displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, and therefore opposed it.
Interviews with Palestinian refugees, the documentation of UN observers and evidence such as documents and photographs that have been uncovered in Israeli archives show the reality and the extent of this “catastrophe” for Palestinians. Expulsions took place in most Palestinian villages, with over 500 destroyed as a result of direct attacks by the Zionist paramilitary organisations.
The studies of the historian Benny Morris indicate that 85% of Palestinian villages were emptied of their inhabitants in this way. In many cases, even after the village surrendered, residents were shot to death. The number of victims in each village ranged from 50 to 200 people. The survivors were often forced to flee to nearby locations until they too were attacked. Some residents were loaded onto trucks and expelled to neighbouring countries. In total, it is estimated that over 700,000 Palestinians were made refugees through the Nakba – with many Palestinians’ lives still shaped by these events. Even to this day, families are still stuck in refugee camps living in terrible conditions.
Like other countries in the Middle East, a region with a strategically vital position in the world and abundant with national resources, historic Palestine was subjected to imperialist rule.
In the run up to and during the Second World War, the intensification of the persecution of Jewish people, the rise of fascism, and the horrific, industrialised slaughter that saw at least six million Jews murdered in the holocaust had a huge impact on consciousness. It also posed a contradiction between the practical necessity of emigration for millions of Jews, and the lack of options in terms of where to go. Countries like the US, for instance, had imposed limits on Jewish immigration.
British Imperialism adopted a ‘divide and rule’ strategy, essentially pledging the same, relatively small piece of land to two different peoples, playing both national groups off against each other in order to secure their own interests in the region. However, as was argued by Trotskyists at the time, the right for self-determination cannot be fulfilled through oppression and at the expense of other national groups. Unfortunately, the national tensions were further escalated by the proposed partition plan of 1947.
Partition plan was a trap
As Marxists warned in advance, the partition plan was ‘a bloody trap’ for ordinary Jews and a disaster for the Arab masses. It was intended to serve the geopolitical interests of the imperialist powers, at that time with the collusion of the Stalinist regime in the Soviet Union. The plan wreaked havoc on the Palestinian and Arab masses, and as a result inevitably led to a historic escalation in the bloody national conflict.
But we can also see the potential for an alternative that was glimpsed in the period that preceded the war in 1947. At this time, many Jewish and Arab workers identified their common class interests while fighting shared struggles to defend and improve their living conditions. This was especially reflected in a series of joint strikes, culminating in a powerful general strike in 1946 involving 30,000 Jewish and Arab workers. This saw slogans such as “Unity of Jewish and Arab workers is the way to victory!” taken up by the strikers.
This demonstration of power highlighted the potential for the development of class struggle to cut across national tension. The leadership of the Zionist movement has always seen this trend as a threat to the national project it has promoted. Nationalist elements in the Palestinian leadership also feared the undermining of their authority and power among the people they claimed to represent. The plan of imperialist partition, the war, and the new situation this created, dramatically cut across this trend toward joint struggle.
But the revolutionary movements in 2011 known as ‘the Arab Spring’, which reverberated through the whole region, including amongst ordinary Israeli Jews, highlighted the potential for struggle on this basis to be reignited. It exposed that a nation is not one homogeneous bloc of people with identical interests. Rather, it includes exploiters and exploited with completely opposed class interests.
Struggle around common class interests
The path of joint Jewish-Arab struggle to improve living conditions and against the British occupation could have offered a way out of bloodshed. But on the basis of a capitalist economy that guarantees exploitation and poverty, and under imperialist rule, the escalation of the national conflict was ultimately inevitable. The tragedy of the Nakba and the continuing oppression and dispossession of the Palestinians, significantly intensified by the 1967 occupation, could have been prevented.
The ongoing struggle for Palestinian liberation requires a programme to fight for and win justice for all the victims of Israeli capitalism and imperialism, while also pointing towards a genuine solution to the conflict. Facing Israeli capitalism, and its reliance on security and existential fears among millions of the Israelis, there’s also a need to advocate for equal rights for both national groups, including self-determination.
That’s why ISA stands for an independent, equal socialist Palestine, with its capital in East Jerusalem, alongside a democratic, socialist Israel, with equality for all minorities, as the alternative to Israeli capitalism and Zionism. A coordinated struggle for a new social system, for socialist change, could enable, via democratic planning and shared resources, the uprooting of poverty and inequality, the building of trust among ordinary people, a return of refugees who would so choose, and high living standards for all.
As part of a regional and global perspective for a ‘socialist spring’, true national liberation and peace could be established. The recent developments, in the context of trends of revolution and counter-revolution regionally, lay the ground for opportunities to build new organisations of struggle and the vitally necessary left, socialist forces to offer a strategy to overcome Israeli capitalism and its occupation.