Israel coined the term “Nakba” and is still implementing it

Home demolitions carried out today are a continuation of the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine.

Mahfouz Abu Turk APA images

In the July lull between the two truces of the 1948 war that involved Israel and troops sent from neighboring Arab states to try and salvage Palestine, another stage in the ethnic cleansing operation of the country was completed.

While in April 1948 the urban space of Palestine was almost completely destroyed by the Zionist forces, pockets of the rural areas and three towns, al-Lid, Ramleh and Nazareth were still safe, but not for long.

Within the ten days of the lull (known in Israeli historiography as the “ten days war”), more Palestinian land was occupied and more people uprooted. The newly-born Jewish state promised the UN mediator at the time to cease fighting and explained that the July operations were just minor cleansing of pockets of resistance.

The UN did not buy the lie, but was already then a helpless and hapless organization. Only the city of Nazareth was spared and it is not very clear why. Zionist leader and Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, who was very keen to depopulate it not only from its original inhabitants but also from the tens of thousands of refugees who found shelter there since May 1948, in the very last moment was convinced by someone to leave it intact.

But everywhere else the magnitude of the ruthless depopulation began to transpire clearly — before another two months passed it would be completed with the final destruction of the Palestinians in the Galilee and the Naqab (Negev) — respectively in the far north and south of Palestine.

Israel warned of “catastrophe”

Long before the Palestinians themselves understood what was the essence of the Israeli master plan to expel them, and the far-reaching implications of the country’s ethnic cleansing, the perpetrators themselves found an adequate term in Arabic to describe it: Nakba (catastrophe).

The term was mentioned for the first time not in Arab or Palestinian sources but in Israeli military intelligence sources. It appeared in leaflets the Israeli air force distributed during those ten days in July on the eve of a very singular attack on a village or a town.

The leaflets demanded in the main the “peaceful” eviction of the village and its surrounding areas. If not, the leaflets warned, the village would be severely punished. We do not have all the leaflets but here is the one rained on the huge and beautiful village of al-Tira near Haifa in the middle of July 1948:

“The sword will cut your throats without pity or compensation. If you insist and continue with your wrong doing … you should know that our airplanes, tanks and artillery will grind your village to dust, shell your houses, break you back, uproot you from your land … and your village will become a desert. Oh the people of al-Tira, if you wish to avoid a Nakba [sic] … surrender. The victorious Israeli army has already demolished the criminal hotbeds of Jaffa, Acre, Tiberias and Safad. It has occupied tens of villages in the south and the north, and this triumphant army will destroy you in several hours.”

Destruction and expulsion was a nakba in the eyes of the embryonic Israeli intelligence preparing the campaign of propaganda and intimidation against the native people of Palestine. Throughout the years, until this very day, the Nakba has continued by other means, this we know.


But in this summer of 2012 when our attention is focused on Syria, Egypt, Iran and the financial crisis — we are creating by this distraction from Palestine another lull in the never ending ethnic cleansing of Palestine. A dire situation helped also by the paralysis of Palestinian politics and the apathy of the international community.

The target of the new ethnic cleansing is, among others, the Bedouins of the Naqab. Next month, the Israeli authorities are going to begin to implement the Prawer plan for the dispossession of the Bedouins of the Naqab (named after Ehud Prawer, the deputy head of the Israeli National Security Council and head of the team of experts preparing it).

Until it was finalized and authorized in September last year by the government, the Israeli strategy to dislocate the 70,000 Palestinians from the south of the country was through strangulation: denying them electricity, water, education and access to any elementary infrastructure. A policy that by itself, had it been committed anywhere else in the world would have been condemned as a crime against humanity. But it has failed so far and did not deter or break the spirit and steadfastness of the Bedouins.

Hence the Prawer plan’s more active approach: it aims to destroy physically and by force the 35 villages in which these 70,000 people live. The early stages of this plan were already executed between last September and today: already 1,000 houses were demolished. The next stage would be far more comprehensive and deadly as a special police force has been established for its execution.

This is a test for a far more important Israeli master plan devised back in 2001 by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and perfected by a successor, Ehud Olmert, in 2007.

A unilateral — and if possible with at least a tacit Palestinian Authority agreement — scheme for the final demarcation of the 21st century state of Israel. The components of this strategy are a ghettoized Gaza Strip, annexation of Area C of the West Bank (a zone defined by the Oslo agreements, comprising more than 60 percent of the West Bank) to Israel, and the creation of a Palestinian Bantustan in the rest.

It also includes the ghettoization of the Palestinians in the Naqab; the strangulation of the Palestinians in the Galilee by an intensive construction of new Jewish settlements there; and the injection of Jewish population into the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem, Jaffa, Haifa, Acre, Ramleh and al-Lid (accompanied by the instalment of a new and complex web of roads and highways inside these areas).

Nakba 2012 — in contrast to Nakba 1948 — is done through municipal master-planning, administrative regulations and special police forces. It is incremental and bureaucratic and hence off the radar of a world that anyway does not seem to care much.

But for various reasons this more subtle criminal policy cannot be fully executed in the Naqab. This particular juncture is a chance to expose it worldwide as well as bring home the message that those who invented the term Nakba are still determined to fully implement it.

The author of numerous books, Ilan Pappe is professor of history and director of the European Centre for Palestine Studies at the University of Exeter.




Dr. Pappe,

You mentioned one of the leaflets here in this article as one of those dropped near Haifa. Do you have an image available that you could add to this article? That, I'm convinced, would be the only way this excellent piece could be improved. Thank you for always bringing out insightful and useful historical research.


Kevin Bushnell


Dr. Pappe,

My grandfather was kicked out of Tira by the Yushev forces, do you happen to have that leaflet? I would sincerely appreciate that part of my family history.

Thank you,



Ilan Pappe writes:

"Only the city of Nazareth was spared and it is not very clear why. Zionist leader and Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, who was very keen to depopulate it not only from its original inhabitants but also from the tens of thousands of refugees who found shelter there since May 1948, in the very last moment was convinced by someone to leave it intact."

An account of this is given in the book "Blaming the Victims: Spurious Scholarship and the Palestinian Question," in the essay, "Truth Whereby Nations Live" by Peretz Kidron.

"In his essay Truth Whereby Nations Live, Israeli journalist and translator Peretz Kidron tells of his collaboration with the Canadian Ben Dunkelman in 1974 ghostwriting the latter's autobiography Dual Allegiance. Dunkelman had fought for Israel in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War as a commander of the 7th Brigade, the country's best-known armored brigade. He had participated in Operation Dekel, leading the 7th Brigade and its supporting units as it moved to capture the town of Nazareth between July 8 and 18, 1948. Nazareth capitulated July 16, after little more than token resistance. The surrender was formalized in a written document that agreed that the inhabitants would cease hostilities in return for promises that no harm would come to the civilian population. A few hours later Dunkelman was given an oral order to evacuate the civilian population of Nazareth which he refused to obey. Dunkelman had told Kidron that he believed the Arab inhabitants in Nazareth were not forced to evacuate because of his refusal to follow that order. In the end, Dunkelman decided not to use this episode in his autobiography, but Kidron felt that this was important evidence that Israel had forcibly expelled the Palestinian Arabs, and he made a copy of it."


Thank you for this illuminating piece. I continue to be amazed at how Israel's land grabbing and ethnic cleansing, dressed up as national security and fighting terrorism, is accepted wholeheartedly by the global public. Key to this is the expert use, by Israel, of narrative. The world has swallowed Israel's story whole. It is depressing.


I use to believe the Isreali story but after watching what and how they have treated the Palestinian history and the truth of historians of which I am the truth cannot be covered up. The birth of Isreal should just be a state with everyone having equal rights. The palestinians should be allowed the right of return and it should just be "one state". You need to go back to before WWI and what happened after the war was over and how the middle east was carved up into states that did not exist and which the western powers English,French carved up the ottoman empire without recognizing the ethnic peoples and cultures that had existed for centuries.