Thousands of Palestinians forced to flee northern Gaza in what critics call ‘new Nakba’

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said ceasefire is unlikely

Josh Marcus
San Francisco
Friday 10 November 2023 14:26 GMT
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Thousands of Palestinian civilians are fleeing northern Gaza a day amid the intensifying Israel-Hamas war, in what critics of the conflict have compared to a second “Nakba.”

The Nakba, “catastrophe” in Arabic, is the name Palestinians give to the violent displacement of an estimated 750,000 Palestinians from their homes and villages during the fighting surrounding the creation of the modern state of Israel in 1948, which resulted in the permanent displacement of more than half the Palestinian population, according to the UN.

A Palestinian man carries his belongings on 9 November

“This is a plan to move people from from the north to the south and there comes a moment they push whatever [is] left in the south towards the Sinai desert,” Husam Zomlot, head of the Palestinian Mission to the UK, told LBC on Wednesdday. “This is a replay of 1948, the Nakba. They have the playbook. We have the memory. We know what they did then and we know what they’re doing now.”

On Monday alone, 15,000 people fled northern Gaza, according to the UN.

United Nations officials have also made the Nakba comparison in recent days.

“For many Palestinians, this exodus is reminiscent of the original displacement of more than 700,000 people from their towns and villages in 1948,” Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner-general of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, wrote in a Washington Post op-ed.

Palestinian refugees in 1948

“They read stories of a leaked Israeli government white paper suggesting they be expelled into Sinai,” he added. “Their fears are compounded when they hear Israeli politicians and others referring to people in Gaza as ‘human animals’ and ‘terrorists,’ or calling for ‘erasing Gaza and its people’ — dehumanizing language I did not think I would hear in the 21st century.”

The Independent has contacted the Israeli embassy for comment.

Palestinians families fleeing Gaza City and other parts of northern Gaza towards the southern areas, walk along a highway on November 9, 2023

In recent days, the IDF has opened short windows each day allowing Gazans to used the territory’s main highway south to flee the escalating fighting.

Residents have been pictured carrying belongings by hand, and wheeling young and elderly family members in carts, in scenes observers say are reminiscent of the original flight of Palestinians in 1948.

Over 70 per cent of Gaza’s 2.3m person population have left their homes since the war began a month ago, according to the Associated Press.

Around 700,000 people are living in roughly 150 UNRWA buildings in the Gaza Strip, nearly 50 of which have been damaged in the fighting, including by Israeli air strikes.

Many of those fleeing northern Gaza now are descendants of those originally expelled during the fighting in 1948, which broke out amid the UN partition of British-controlled Palestine calling for the creation of two states. An estimated 70 per cent of current Gaza Strip residents are considered refugees.

Palestinian refugees fleeing in 1948

“As soon as the partition resolution is adopted, fighting begins all along the lines on this map,” Rashid Khalidi, Professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University and author of The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine, recently told The Washington Post of the Nakba. “Hundreds of people were shot down as infiltrators when they tried to come back. They were rigorously prevented from coming back.”

“There’s academic quibbling about the details — to what degree was it planned, to what degree was it the circumstances of war, to what extent was it ideologically central to Zionism — but nobody denies that huge numbers were driven out,” he added.

The potential rights of refugees to return to their former homes and properties has been a key point in negotiations over the Israel-Palestine crisis.

Israel has said it intends to maintain security control of Gaza after the end of the war, re-occupying the enclave from which it withdrew in 2005.

“Israel will — for an indefinite period — will have the overall security responsibility because we’ve seen what happens when we don’t have it,” Mr Netanyahu said earlier this week. “When we don’t have that security responsibility, what we have is the eruption of Hamas terror on a scale that we couldn’t imagine.”

Joe Biden has warned Israel against occupying Gaza, while support its ally’s mission to eliminate Hamas.

“I think it’d be a big mistake,” the US president told CBS News last month. “Look, what happened in Gaza, in my view, is Hamas and the extreme elements of Hamas don’t represent all the Palestinian people. And I think that it would be a mistake for Israel to occupy Gaza again.”

The Israeli leader has cast doubt on a ceasfire coming any time soon.

"Well, there’ll be no ceasefire, general ceasefire, in Gaza without the release of our hostages," Mr Netanyahu said earlier this week. "As far as tactical little pauses, an hour here, an hour there... in order to enable goods, humanitarian goods to come in, or our hostages, individual hostages to leave. But I don’t think there’s going to be a general ceasefire."

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