Israel-Palestine: News

Nakba Day Statement

15 May 2024

This Nakba Day, the IHL Centre calls for an end to longstanding and systematic violations of international law that Israel has been perpetrating in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) – which have severely escalated in recent months amidst the war in Gaza as well as increasing violence in the West Bank – and for the protection of the Palestinian population.  

Today, 15 May, is Nakba Day, which commemorates the permanent expulsion and displacement of more than 700,000 Palestinians and the destruction of hundreds of Palestinian villages by Israeli troops during the war of 1947-1949, in the course of which the State of Israel was established. These events, which Palestinians refer to as the Nakba (meaning ‘catastrophe’), have been followed by a process of displacement, dispossession, and deprivation of rights that Palestinians continue to endure across historical Palestine – i.e., in Israel and the oPt – prompting references to an ‘ongoing Nakba’. Painful echoes of the Nakba have been reverberating ever more forcefully in recent months particularly in the wake of the events that have been unfolding in Gaza since the outbreak of hostilities in October 2023.  

Devastation and mass displacement in Gaza 

Gaza, a small strip of land home to 2.3 million Palestinians and debilitated by a 17-year-old closure, has been subjected to months of devastating Israeli bombardment and ground attacks, in which over 35,000 Palestinians have been killed as of 12 May 2024 – including entire families – and more than 78,000 injured, according to Gaza’s Ministry of Health. The United Nations (UN) estimates that 1.7 million persons, around three quarters of Gaza’s population, are internally displaced amidst catastrophic conditions, such as ‘full-blown famine’ in the north as well as a breakdown of the healthcare, water, and sanitation systems. Amongst them are survivors of the Nakba, a majority of Palestinians in Gaza being refugees or their descendants. Only few Gazans have been able to leave Gaza to seek shelter from the hostilities, which comes at a steep price unaffordable to many amidst sealed borders, and with no guarantee of return. Gaza’s Ministry of Public Works and Housing reports that more than 70,000 housing units have been destroyed, while many more have been rendered uninhabitable; according to projections, it may take 14 years just to remove debris and unexploded ordnance, and at least until 2040 or as long as 80 years to reconstruct homes laid to waste. Schools, universities, and cultural heritage sites have been decimated, erasing remnants of the past and extinguishing the hopes of future generations for decades to come.  

There are particularly grave concerns over the fate of the more than one million displaced Palestinians who have been sheltering in overcrowded conditions around the southern city of Rafah, in a tightly confined geographical area, having fled attacks in other parts of the Strip or moved south in accordance with repeated Israeli instructions to this effect. Rafah is also the location of a border crossing with Egypt through which much of the desperately needed humanitarian aid passes, including crucial supplies of medicine, fuel, water, and food.  

Despite months-long international pressure not to launch an offensive on Rafah, Israel started carrying out aerial and ground attacks last week and directed civilians in parts of the city to relocate to what it claimed to be an ‘expanded humanitarian area’ at Al-Mawasi; around 450,000 people have reportedly fled. Israeli forces also took control of the Rafah border crossing, which remains shut as of 15 May, raising fears that the – already faltering – relief effort might grind to a halt altogether amidst conditions of famine and ever-deteriorating humanitarian catastrophe. Palestinians in Rafah meanwhile find themselves trapped with an impossible choice: remaining in the city during the offensive, risking death or serious injury while medical care has all but collapsed, or trying to move elsewhere yet again with no prospects for safety in light of relentless Israeli attacks throughout the Strip, including in areas where Gazans had previously been told to move to for their safety.  

Displacement, dispossession, and oppression in the West Bank 

In the West Bank (including East Jerusalem), Israel’s prolonged occupation, coupled with an ever-expanding settlement enterprise, has resulted in the fragmentation, isolation, and displacement of Palestinian communities, the dispossession of Palestinian lands, and the suppression of Palestinian political expression and dissent.  

Since the outbreak of the hostilities, and as of 6 May 2024, Israeli forces have killed 462 Palestinians in the West Bank and nearly 5,000 others have been injured, many of them during raids in impoverished refugee camps that have also inflicted significant damage on essential infrastructure. Ten Palestinians have been killed by Israeli settlers amidst a further drastic increase in incidents of settler violence, often with the apparent encouragement, approval, or acquiescence of the Israeli military, which has led to the displacement of entire communities. Stringent movement restrictions imposed across the West Bank further disrupt community connections and hinder access to work, schools, and medical care.  

These actions entail unlawful annexation of Palestinian lands (de facto if not de jure) and infringe upon the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination. Moreover, they have effectively forced many Palestinians to abandon their homes and to seek safety and a better life elsewhere, either within or outside of the oPt. Deliberately jeopardizing the safety and welfare of protected persons in occupied territory, thereby creating a coercive environment that compels them to leave, could constitute acts of deportation or forcible transfer, which are prohibited under international law.  

With an imminent risk of further mass displacement, and amidst threats of a ‘second Nakba’ in Gaza, the IHL Centre calls for the protection of the Palestinian population in the oPt in strict compliance with the rules of international law, for an end to longstanding and systematic violations, and for full adherence to UN Security Council resolution 2728 demanding an immediate ceasefire.