Sixty years of Nakba

The American president George W. Bush is ready for the cherry on the cake of his second tenure: a peace solution between Israel and the Palestinians and the establishment of a Palestine state. Far away from the White House, Israel celebrates his sixtieth anniversary and the Palestine refugees commemorate the Nakba, the “catastrophe” of 1948.
‘This year, we don’t commemorate the Nakba different then in the past. It is still a painfull memory of sixty years of suffering and loss’, writes Musa, manager of a childcentre, in an e-mail from a refugee camp in Bethlehem. ‘The children who where born in Palestinian refugee camps, don’t know the land where their parents have grown up. But most of them see 1948 als the year where Israel forced their parents to leave their land en houses behind.’
On 14 May 1948, Israeli prime minister David Ben Gourion declared the independency of Israel. This was the beginning of a next fase in the war between Jewish en Arabian states. The stake was land, the victims where the Palestinians, being the original inhabitants of the dispute area. Israel destroyed more than four hundred Palestinian villages and 750.000 Palestinians were chased away or fled.
The Palestinian exodus is one of the chapters, Israeli history books kept silent about and on the true facts, versions vary. According to the Israeli version, the Palestinians fled voluntarily, being convinced that Arabian armies would liberate Palestine. However, Arab villages and districts where also the victim of murderous raids. The most known is the mass murder on 110 Palestine citizens in Deir Yassin, near Jeruzalem. According to Israel, it was the work of two dissident Jewish terror organizations, Irgun and Lehi. The Jewish Agency condemned the mass murder.
According to the Palestinian version, the actions were part of a bigger plan to purify the region etnically. Also the “New Historians”, Israeli academics such as Benny Morris and Ilan Pappé, are convinced that Ben Gourion was at least involved in the deportation of the Palestinians. Whatever the truth is, the Palestinian stream of refugees and the denial to return was a fact.
The Palestinian refugees settled themselves temporarily in new accomodations or refugee camps. Sixty years later, the camps still exist, although the tents of before are replaced by houses of stone. In 1950, the UN-agency for Palestine refugees (UN Relief and Works Agency, Unrwa), recorded 914.000 Palestine refugees. Today, their number has grown up to 4,4 million, so says Unrwa, which also assigns the status of refugee to the descendants of the 1948-refugees.
A third of them – 1,3 million – lives in 58 acknowledged refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and the Gaza strip. Others live in the neighbourhood of the refugee camps, around cities in the host countries and in the Palestine regions.

Surrealistic peace statements


President Bush recently flushed with optimism to reach a peace solution before the end of his tenure in 2009. As well as his Minister of Foreign Affairs Condoleezza Rice as the Israeli prime minister Olmert were delighted on the promise of Israel to advance the freedom of movement of the Palestinians at the West Bank on short term. Meanwhile, the discussions on the conditions for peace got completely stuck. Israel may then be prepared to remove fifty smaller, insignificant road blockades and to allow more Palestinian control, they will never give up the last control nor the bigger Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
Neither Israel intends to give up the building plans of the further expansion of large settlements around East Jerusalem or to dismantle illegal outposts, which is a continu repeated demand of the Quartet (the USA, Europe, UN and Russia). Minister of Defence Ehud Barak gave – according to a new report of the Israeli peace movement Peace Now – the approval to build thousand extra houses in existing colonies.
The dual pose of Israel calls the question whether a taboo-subject as the issue of refugees can ever reach the negotiating table. ‘A future Palestinian state is the only possible solution for the Palestinian refugee problem’, shirked Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs Tzipi Livin his responsability. ‘Israel doesn’t only have the right to exist, we even have the right to exist as a Jewish state’, she added plain. During his last visit to Israel in the beginning of this year, president Bush repeated that a sovereign, livable Palestinian state, can be the only solution for the refugee problem. Bush is with that supporter of a compensation arrangement for the refugees. Only the question arises whether the international community – who is now already paying the bigger part of the Israeli occupation – will foot the bill again.

Even Pepsi chucks it


Meanwhile at the end of last year, on the international donor conference in Paris, Europe engaged itself to provide more means for the Palestinian state. Europe invests in the Palestinian reform- and development plan (PRDP) and increases the support to Unrwa. Belgium also increased his budget for the following years. In March, Minister of Development Cooperation Charles Michel, went to the Palestinian Territories to confirm the purposes of the budget. Belgium donates 86 million euro in the next four years, of whom 50 million through direct bilateral aid. A large part of the other 36 million goes to Unrwa.
During Michels visit Barbara Shenstone, manager of the Unrwa-operations on the West Bank, lay stress on the tragic humanitarian situation in Gaza and the strong economic downturn on the West Bank. ‘The biggest victims of the occupation and the related economic crisis are the refugees, who represent more than fourty percent of the population in the Palestinian Territories. On the West Bank, economic activitity is hardly possible because of the Israeli controls and the restricted mobility of humans and goods. In Gaza, Unrwa only has the possibility to give food aid. Of the 1,5 million Palestinians in Gaza, we feed 800.000. The World Food Programme gets through another 300.000.’ With that, the UN provides more than seven on ten Palestinians in Gaza with basic food and therefore the accent in Gaza lays on temporary help.
The more dependent Gaza has become, was shown by Unrwa-spokesman René Aquarone with following example: ‘The factory of Pepsi Cola in Gaza is active since the sixties. For the first time in all these years, Pepsi stopped his activities because they couldn’t import any CO2 anymore. And this while the factory kept on operating during the Six-Day War in 1967, the Yom Kippur War in 1973 and the different intifada.’

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