May 15, 2018 marks the 70th anniversary of the Nakba (Arabic for “catastrophe”) and the forced expulsion of nearly 750,000 Palestinians from their homes when the State of Israel was established in 1948. While the Nakba is often treated as a singular historical event, the reality is that the Nakba started with the Balfour Declaration in 1917, and continues to this day as Palestinians are forced out of their homes in Jerusalem and in areas across the West Bank. Meanwhile in Gaza, nearly two million Palestinians are trapped under siege by Israel, rendering the region the world’s largest open-air prison. Many of those Palestinians who experienced the expulsion first-hand and their decedents still remain in refugee camps in neighboring states. For the millions of diasporic Palestinians across the world, returning home to Palestine remains an unrealized dream since Israel denies them the right of return.
In the first article, “Jerusalem 1948: The Phantom City,” Salim Tamari traces the de-Arabized neighborhoods of Jerusalem, which now largely remain overlooked and forgotten. His work is a partial reconstruction of the process of displacement and destruction that overtook the Arab Palestinian neighborhoods of what would eventually become known as East Jerusalem. Whereas much of the modern dialogue on Jerusalem focuses on the religious history, political conflict, and struggle for supremacy in the holy city, Tamari cuts past the tumultuous politics and uncovers the lived experience of Jerusalem’s inhabitants in 1948.
Salman Abu Sitta and Terry Rempel’s “The ICRC and the Detention of Palestinian Civilians in Israel’s 1948 POW/Labor Camps” examines the little-known prisoners of war camps in which thousands of Palestinians were detained by Israel amidst the Nakba. After roughly 5,000 Palestinians were held in deplorable conditions in these camps, the conditions of which the International Committee of the Red Cross compared to “slavery,” the majority of them were then permanently expelled from Palestine. This article is one of the few accounts that focuses on the internment of Palestinian civilians and the role they were forced to play in Israel’s wartime economy during the tragic events that unfolded in 1948.
Elias Shoufany provides a first-hand account of “The Fall of a Village,” after he and his fellow inhabitants of Mi`ilya were besieged for 6 months while resisting the Jewish militia, Haganah, and its efforts to take control of the village. We learn of the Arab Liberation Army’s (ALA) deep commitment to protecting Palestine despite the growing disillusionment with their commanders and the increasing tensions between local Palestinians and the Arab contingents. Per Shoufany’s work, the villagers, the local militia, and the ALA became an integrated force resisting attacks from the Haganah until the village was ultimately captured. According to Shoufany, “The Mi’ilyan’s world was his village – the land and the people,” and although most of the villagers had fled to higher land during intensified fighting and hostilities in 1948, they soon returned in keeping with their dedication only to “face an indefinite occupation.”
Each of these featured articles from previous issues of the Journal of Palestine Studies presents an important but nonetheless overlooked piece of the Nakba as experienced by Palestinians in 1948. It also represents the type of important, relevant articles the Journal continues to produce. As the struggle for self-determination becomes more challenging, the Journal of Palestine Studies remains committed to documenting and preserving the integrity of the historical record and the issues of importance on Palestine. We don’t want you to miss out on being part of the conversation and the need for continuing fact-based research, sound policymaking, and progress towards a just and comprehensive peace.