In the Palestinian memory, May will always be associated with the Nakba.
The ethnic cleansing of the native Palestinian population from their homes and lands in 1947-49 was foundational to the creation of Israel.
It was only with the forced expulsion of 750,000 to 1 million Palestinians – as well as the killing of thousands of others, many in tens of massacres across Palestine – that the emerging Zionist state could secure a Jewish majority.
But clearly the colonial state is not yet feeling either satisfied or safe. On the contrary.
This month, May 2023, 75 years after the Nakba, Palestine has endured a series of new Israeli assaults.
On 2 May, the Palestinian prisoner Khader Adnan died in an Israeli prison after nearly three months of hunger strike. He embarked on the hunger strike in protest at his administrative detention – detention without charge or trial.
Adnan spent eight years on and off in Israeli prison, mostly in administrative detention.
His death could not have been an accident. Israel was aware that he needed urgent healthcare, yet none was proffered and he was not transferred to hospital.
He was allowed to die on purpose in order to deter other prisoners from engaging in similar hunger strikes.
His death triggered a major Israeli assault, which started on 9 May, when Israeli warplanes struck a number of residential buildings in Gaza where families were sleeping.
The first strikes killed 12 and injured 20. Among the victims were three Islamic Jihad fighters along with their wives and children.
That first assault was followed by several others over five days. At least 33 Palestinians were killed, the majority civilians, including seven children.
Israel has killed some 140 Palestinians in both the West Bank and Gaza since the beginning of 2023.
Since the occupation of the rest of historic Palestine in 1967, Israel has imprisoned more than a million Palestinians while still depriving Palestinian refugees from returning to their homes and villages.
And in recent years, May has become the killing month.
In 2021, an Israeli assault on Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque led to a broad confrontation with Palestinians across Palestine, resulting in the killing of 256 Palestinians in Gaza, including 66 children and 40 women.
Last May, an Israeli sniper killed renowned Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, while she was working in Jenin.
A few days later, Israeli police attacked her funeral in Jerusalem.
Such wanton violence suggests that Israel’s ethnic cleansing project has not finished. A state based on aggression and the systematic terrorizing of Palestine’s native population will not rest easy until the project started in 1948 is complete.
But in 75 years, Israel has not yet succeeded to back up its foundational lie that Palestine was a land with no people by obliterating the Palestinian people, their memory, their history or their refusal to give up.
Fear and loathing
In other words, Israel is fearful and agitated. It lives in constant obsession with being surrounded by danger.
In light of such logic, the existence of Palestinians in Palestine alone is incendiary to the colonial state.
After the latest Israeli aggression on Gaza, which saw at least six Islamic Jihad leaders assassinated, Israel projected arrogance. Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, declared that Israel’s assault had “changed the balance of deterrence,” and proudly announced that Israel’s flag march – an annual right-wing nationalist assertion of sovereignty over occupied Jerusalem – would proceed as planned.
Stable (and sane) countries do not feel the need to prove sovereignty over the cities they claim as capitals. It is a symbol of deep-seated malaise that Israel considers it a glorious victory after 56 years of occupation to organize a march for settlers to wave flags in Jerusalem.
The flag march is a victory only in the way the Israeli military’s ability to kill and detain Palestinians, or encage them with checkpoints, is a victory: It is made possible only through overwhelming force and the continued support of Western governments.
The hollow victory is not a defeat for Palestinians who continue to struggle to preserve their existence despite the tremendous suffering and military violence they have to confront.
The Nakba, in other words, is not merely a past event. It is an ongoing reality Palestinians live, where every day brings more killings, closures, detentions, home demolitions, racial discrimination, humiliation and segregation.
Israel cannot give up its inherently violent colonial nature precisely because it was established by uprooting a people from their homeland. The continued presence of Palestinians on part of their land directly contradicts the Zionist narrative of how Israel emerged.
Israel is still in denial, and believes the only way for it to continue to exist is through the ethnic cleansing and cancellation of Palestine’s indigenous people.
Every new Israeli crime maximizes Palestinian suffering. But it also demonstrates that far from being confident and at ease with itself, Israel is a state of fear and insecurity.
Ahmed Abu Artema is a Palestinian writer, activist and refugee from Ramle.