The Palestinian Mission to the UK commemorated on 12 May 2023 the 75th anniversary of the Palestinian “Nakba”, Arabic for catastrophe, in an event attended by around 400 people, including UK MPs, Arab and foreign diplomats, members of UK solidarity groups and members of the Palestinian, Muslim and Arab communities in the UK.
The event took place at the Central Hall in Westminster, London, where the United Nations General Assembly held its first meeting in January 1946.
The event included short remarks by H. E. Dr Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian ambassador to the UK, UK MPs from the Conservatives, Labour, the Liberal Democrats and Scottish National Party (SNP), and Francesca Albanese, the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967. Aimee Shalaan and Leanne Mohammed provided accounts of how they continued to live the consequences of the Palestinian Nakba to this day on behalf of the Palestinian community in the UK.
Dr Zomlot recounted in his remarks a trip in which his grandfather, a Palestinian refugee in the Gaza Strip, took him as a child to the site of their destroyed village in Israel, which was demolished during the 1947-1948 wave of ethnic cleansing by Zionist armed groups.
Dr Zomlot said: “Without a firm understanding of the Nakba, and without redressing the grave injustice it spelt for the Palestinian people, there is no hope of just resolution.
“Why, when international law – and common human decency – is very clear on the matter, are there still six million Palestinian refugees today, scattered across the region, reliant, like I was, on the UN for sustenance and education?
“Sadly, with Israel’s ever-expanding settlement project in occupied territory, the Nakba is ongoing: People are still being displaced, are still being made homeless, are still being forced off their lands.”
Dr Albanese, the UN special rapporteur, decried the chilling effect sent through UK institutions, including universities, by the restrictions on discussions and debates about Palestinian rights.
In a short note, Conservative MP Crispin Blunt praised the Palestinian people for their steadfastness, calling for an end to Israel’s occupation. For his part, Labour MP Bambos Charalambous said that the Labour Party’s “will continue to advocate for justice, human rights and international law” and the two-state solution. Liberal Democrats MP Layla Moran spoke about her Palestinian roots and personal commitment to the rights of the Palestinian people, adding that she will introduce on Monday the Nakba commemoration bill in the British parliament.
SNP MP Brendan O’Hara said that it was unfathomable that anyone “could imagine the traumatic effects of the Nakba could be erased from the collective memory of the Palestinian people”.
The programme was interspersed with Palestinian piano recitals and songs about the right of return and the centrality of the Palestinian cause among the free people of the world.
The “Nakba” refers to the events that led to the creation of the State of Israel in 1948. It involved the ethnic cleansing of around 750,000 Palestinian civilians from their homes and the destruction of over 255 villages and towns.
The 75th anniversary of the Nakba will be marked by a series of events in May, including the UK Parliament (15 May), the Welsh Assembly (15 May) and the Scottish Parliament (17 May).