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UN marks 1948 Palestinian exodus

The first-ever Nakba commemoration comes on the 75th anniversary of Israel’s founding

The United Nations on Monday marked the displacement of Palestinian Arabs from what is now Israel, for the first time in the world body’s history. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas headlined the event, which was condemned by Israel and the US.

In 1948, an estimated 700,000 Palestinians left their homes – or were forced out, in some cases – amid a war between the newly declared state of Israel and the surrounding Arab states. In the Arab world, the event is known as Nakba, or ‘catastrophe’. 

“The catastrophe to the Palestinian people is still ongoing,” the Palestinian ambassador to the UN, Riyad Mansour, told AP on Monday. Despite multiple UN resolutions to that effect, Palestine is still not an independent state, while the estimated 5 million descendants of the displaced don’t have the right to return.


Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan, called the commemoration an “abominable event” and a “blatant attempt to distort history,” saying that anyone who attends will be condoning anti-Semitism and encouraging the Palestinians “to continue exploiting international organs to promote their libelous narrative.”

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In 1947, the UN General Assembly voted 33-13 to partition the British-held Palestine Mandate into two ethno-religious states. While Jews accepted the partition, the Arabs rejected it. The government in West Jerusalem maintains that most Palestinians left willingly, to clear the way for Arab armies to annihilate the Jews after Israel declared independence. A mass return, Israel says, would compromise the fundamental pillar of its identity as a Jewish state.

Last November, the General Assembly voted 90-30 to have the UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People organize the commemoration on May 15. The event is intended to “serve as a reminder of the historic injustice suffered by the Palestinian people” and spotlight the ongoing refugee crisis, said the committee, headed by Senegalese ambassador Cheikh Niang.


The US voted against the commemoration, and Washington has instructed its diplomats and staff not to attend the event.

Last week, Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy blocked the attempt by Representative Rashida Tlaib to mark the Nakba at the US Capitol. Tlaib, a Michigan Democrat, is a descendant of Palestinian immigrants. McCarthy, a California Republican, denounced her event as “antisemitic” and canceled it in favor of a “bipartisan discussion to honor the 75th anniversary of the US-Israel relationship.”

May 15, 2023 at 10:16PM


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