Quick Facts: The Palestinian Nakba (“Catastrophe”)

April 05, 2023 IMEU
  • The Nakba (“catastrophe” in Arabic) refers to the violent expulsion of approximately three quarters of all Palestinians from their homes and homeland by Zionist militias and the new Israeli army during the state of Israel’s establishment (1947-49).
  • The Nakba was a deliberate and systematic act intended to establish a Jewish majority state in Palestine. Amongst themselves, Zionist leaders used the euphemism “transfer” when discussing plans for what today would be called ethnic cleansing.
  • The roots of the Nakba and the ongoing problems in Palestine/Israel today lie in the emergence of political Zionism in the late 1800s when some European Jews, influenced by the nationalism then sweeping the continent, decided that the solution to antisemitism in Europe and Russia was the establishment of a state for Jews in Palestine. They began emigrating to Palestine as colonists, where they started dispossessing indigenous Muslim and Christian Palestinians.
  • In November 1947, following World War II and the Holocaust, the newly-created United Nations approved a plan to divide Palestine into Jewish and Arab states, against the will of the majority indigenous Palestinian Arab population. It gave 56% of the land to the proposed Jewish state, despite the fact that Jews owned only about 7% of the private land in Palestine and made up only about 33% of the population, a very large percentage of whom were recent immigrants from Europe. The Palestinian Arab state was to be created on just 42% of Palestine, even though Muslim and Christian Palestinians made up a large majority of the population and were indigenous to all of the land. Jerusalem was to be governed by a special international administration. (See here for map of the partition plan and 1949 armistice lines.)
  • Almost immediately after the partition plan was passed, the expulsion of Palestinians by Zionist militias began, months before the armies of neighboring Arab states became involved. By the time these militias and the new Israeli army finished, the new state of Israel covered 78% of Palestine. The remaining 22%, comprising the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza, fell under the control of Jordan and Egypt, respectively. In the 1967 War, the Israeli military occupied the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza, which Israel began colonizing shortly afterwards.

The Nakba by the numbers

  • Between 750,000 and one million: The number of Palestinians expelled from their homeland and made refugees by Zionist militias and the new Israeli army during Israel’s establishment (1947-49), amounting to approximately 75% of all Palestinians.
  • Between 250,000 and 350,000: The number of Palestinians driven from their homes by Zionist militias between the passage of the UN partition plan on November 29, 1947 and the establishment of Israel on May 15, 1948, prior to the outbreak of war with neighboring Arab states.
  • Several dozen: The number of massacres of Palestinians carried out by Zionist militias and the Israeli army, which played a critical role in prompting the flight of many Palestinians for their homes.
  • More than 100: The number of Palestinians, including dozens of children, women, and elderly people, massacred in the Palestinian town of Deir Yassin near Jerusalem on April 9, 1948, by Zionist militias led by future Israeli prime ministers Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir. The massacre at Deir Yassin was one of the worst atrocities committed during the Nakba and a pivotal moment in Israel’s establishment as a Jewish majority state, triggering the flight of Palestinians from their homes in and around Jerusalem and beyond. The Deir Yassin massacre is commemorated annually by Palestinians around the world.
  • Approximately 150,000: The number of Palestinians who remained inside what became Israel's borders in 1948, a quarter of them internally displaced. These Palestinians (sometimes called “Israeli Arabs”) were granted Israeli citizenship but stripped of most of their land and governed by violent, undemocratic military rule until 1966. As of 2023, there are more than two million Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, comprising more than 20% of Israel’s population, who are forced to live as second-class citizens in their own homeland, subject to dozens of laws that discriminate against them in almost every aspect of life because they’re not Jewish.
  • More than 400: The number of Palestinian cities and towns systematically destroyed by Zionist militias and the new Israeli army or repopulated with Jews between 1948 and 1950. Most Palestinian communities, including homes, businesses, houses of worship, and vibrant urban centers, were destroyed to prevent the return of their Palestinian owners, now refugees outside of Israel's borders or internally displaced inside of them. (See here for an interactive map of Palestinian cities and towns destroyed during Israel's establishment.)
  • Approximately 8.36 millionThe number of Palestinian refugees (as of 2021), including Nakba survivors and their descendants. They’re located mostly in the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza, and neighboring Arab countries such as Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria, denied their internationally-recognized legal right to return to their homeland.
  • Approximately 4,244,776 : The number of acres of Palestinian land stolen by Israel during and immediately after the establishment of the state in 1948.
  • Between 100 and 200 billion: The total estimated monetary loss of Palestinians dispossessed during Israel's establishment, in current US dollars.

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