Yisrael Beitenu, the political party of Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, has proposed that Arab Israelis be banned from marking the anniversary of the dispossession of hundreds of thousands of Arab Palestinians in 1948.
An estimated 700,000 Arabs were expelled or fled from their homes in 1948 and forbidden from returning in what Israel calls its “War of Independence” but what Arabs call the “Nakba”, or “Catastrophe”.
In the years prior to the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, Western nations had lent their support to Zionism, the movement to establish in Palestine a Jewish state. The majority of the inhabitants of Palestine were Arabs, so the Zionists sought to further their goal through Jewish immigration and Arab dispossession.
During the First World War, Palestine became occupied by the British, and the newly formed League of Nations issued a mandate recognizing Britain as the occupying power. During the mandate period, hundreds of thousands of Jews immigrated to Palestine.
While Jews and Arabs had lived together amicably as neighbors up until the onset of the Zionist movement, as Jewish immigration continued and Arab fears of dispossession and loss of their majority rights grew, the result was violent confrontations on an increasing number of occasions.
Following World War II and the creation of the United Nations, a special commission was established to examine the question of Palestine and offer a solution to ease tensions in the region.
The Arab states demanded that the right to self-determination of the Arab Palestinians be recognized and proposed a single Palestinian state in which the rights of the Jewish minority would be protected under the Constitution, under which Jews would also be represented in the government.
But the U.N. commission, along with other Western nations including Britain and the U.S., rejected the democratic solution and instead lent their support to the Zionist cause.
In 1947, the U.N. General Assembly, acting on the recommendation of the commission, passed a resolution recommending that Palestine be partitioned into two separate states, one for Arabs and one for Jews. Despite constituting a minority of the population, the land allotted to the Jews under the plan was more than half of the area of Palestine.
The Arabs, unsurprisingly, rejected the plan and continued to insist on a democratic solution and that their rights be recognized.
Zionist leaders including David Ben Gurion and Chaim Weizmann accepted it not as an end, but as a means, hoping it would be a step towards gaining possession of the whole of Palestine.
On May 14, 1948, the Zionists unilaterally declared the state of Israel, without defining its borders. The neighboring Arab states rose up in arms to defend the rights of the Arab Palestinians.
It was in the period leading up to and during the ensuing war that hundreds of thousands of Arabs were expelled or willingly fled from their homes, fearing for their lives after hearing reports of Jewish atrocities, such as the massacre of unarmed civilians that the Jews had carried out in the village of Deir Yassin the month before the Zionist’s declaration of independence.
Under legislation proposed by Lieberman’s party, it would be illegal for Arab Israelis to mark the ethnic cleansing of Palestine as a time for mourning.
“The draft law is intended to strengthen unity in the state of Israel and to ban marking Independence Day as a day of mourning,” party spokesman Tal Nahum said.
Israel’s Independence Day was celebrated on April 29 this year, based on the Hebrew lunar calendar. Arab Israelis and Palestinians mark May 15 as the day to memorialize the Nakba.
Yisrael Beitenu said its proposed legislation would make it illegal to memorialize the dispossession of the Arab Palestinians in a day of mourning. Arabs who violate the law would face up to three years in jail.