Nakba: An Arabic word meaning “catastrophe.” It refers to the ongoing violent displacement of Palestinians that began 75 years ago on May 15, 1948, when more than 700,000 Palestinians were forced from their homes during the creation of the state of Israel.
For Palestinians, whether they live in Israel, the Occupied West Bank, Gaza, or in the diaspora, displacement is an ever-present reality. It continues to unfold in places like Sheikh Jarrah and Masafer Yatta.
On May 10, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (MI-12) hosted an event in Washington, D.C., entitled “Nakba 75 & the Palestinian People,” to share stories of the Nakba. The unprecedented assembly united scholars, advocates, historians, poets, and Nakba survivors. Those gathered heard directly from Palestinians about their trauma, pain, resistance, and joy—a necessary experience, as Rep. Tlaib put it, “not only for healing but also to create an honest pathway for peace.”
By calling on the United States government to investigate and recognize these historic and ongoing events, Rep. Tlaib’s bill encourages the radical empathy that is missing from much of the U.S. understanding of the Nakba.
Initially scheduled to take place at the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center, the event had to be moved twice after Speaker Kevin McCarthy (CA-20) canceled and replaced it with an event celebrating 75 years of the U.S.-Israel partnership. Sen. Bernie Sanders (VT) eventually stepped in to provide room for Rep. Tlaib’s event.
Professor and legal scholar Noura Erakat began the event with the simple declaration, “We exist” or “nahna mawjudin” in Arabic, a critical reminder she said because “we are within the very institution that has sustained the ongoing Nakba.”
Those who spoke at the event included Jumana Musa, a human rights lawyer and racial justice activist, and Palestinian-American poet Zeina Azzam. Musa interviewed her father, Dr. Abed Musa, a Nakba survivor, who spoke of witnessing atrocities and growing up a refugee, shedding light on the violence of the Nakba and the complex pride of being Palestinian. Azzam told of her mother, who was only afforded the right to return in death when Zeina brought her ashes to Nazareth. She also read a poem about her daughter, part of a new generation of Palestinians learning to pronounce words in Arabic despite physical separation from their ancestral land.
At the event, Rep. Tlaib introduced a new bill, H.Res.388: Recognizing the Ongoing Nakba and Palestinian Refugees’ Rights. This legislation seeks to recognize the Nakba as an ongoing process “characterized by Israel’s separate-and-unequal laws and policies toward Palestinians.” Rep. Tlaib’s bill seeks to document and acknowledge the details of the Nakba, including the massacres of civilians, the expropriation of land, and the international laws that should have prevented these injustices. It highlights the ongoing realities of dispossession via settlement construction and expansion and the U.S. complicity in sustaining the status quo through the continued provision of weapons to Israel.
Regarding the bill, Rep. Tlaib stated, “True peace can only be built on truth and justice.” By calling on the United States government to investigate and recognize these historic and ongoing events, Rep. Tlaib’s bill encourages the radical empathy that is missing from much of the U.S. understanding of the Nakba. Importantly, it also mandates long overdue steps by the United States government toward peace and justice in the region.