In much of the Middle East, Wednesday was Nakba Day,
commemorating the 65th anniversary of the exodus of Palestinian
refugees in the war that resulted in the establishment of Israel in 1948 -- an
event known in Arabic as "al-Nakba," or "the catastrophe."
Predictably, the largest demonstrations were held by
Palestinians in Israel and the West Bank; the Associated Press estimates
the total number of protesters in the tens of thousands, some of whom skirmished
with Israeli police and military forces. But neighboring countries,
despite having large Palestinian refugee populations and politicians who pay frequent
lip service to the rights of Palestinians, remained quiet.
In the heyday of the pan-Arab movement, May 15, the day after the declaration of the state of Israel, was an
annual rallying point for expressing solidarity with the plight of displaced Palestinians, Hilal Khashan,
a professor at the American University of Beirut, told FP by email. Palestinian
groups "tied resurging Arab nationalism in the early 1950s to the Nakba, which
became its legitimizing cause. The Baath party and other pan-Arab parties ... observed
it, as well as [refugee] camp residents, on an annual basis." But that waned with the
pan-Arab movement and, after 1967, "Arabs forgot about the Nakba Day and
focused, instead, on seeking to recover the lands Israel occupied in that war."
The anniversary this year was barely acknowledged outside of
the protests in Jerusalem and the West Bank. There were, for instance, only a handful of events in Lebanon.
Iran's PressTV struggled to find a Nakba event to cover in Egypt, settling
on a half-empty Nakba Day press conference hosted by the Building
and Development Party. A handful of protesters
posted signs outside of diplomatic buildings in Cairo, but for its article on the commemorations,
Ahram Online chose to run pictures of
larger protests in 2011. Tunisia's governing Ennahda Party released a statement
on its Facebook page for the occasion, but Tunisian news sites didn't report
any significant protests. The same in Jordan, home to the largest population of
Palestinian expatriates. Meanwhile, approximately 350 people in Sydney,
down a thoroughfare, and a couple hundred university students in Karachi, Pakistan gathered for a protest.
The most notable Nakba Day protests outside of Israel in recent memory
took place in 2011, after years of relative indifference to the occasion in the region, when protesters in Syria and Lebanon rushed the border and
several were killed as Israeli forces responded. A month later, though,
Michael Weiss reported
in the Telegraph that the incident
was orchestrated by the Syrian government in an attempt to distract from the
country's growing domestic protests.
A Google Trends analysis of "nakba" shows a spike of searches for the word in 2011 and a precipitous decline in interest over the past two
Unless an Arab government tries to revive Nakba Day as a
distraction again, that trend's unlikely to change soon. "Arabs are currently preoccupied
with their internal strife," Khashan told FP, "and the Palestinians are divided
between the PLO and Hamas. In this period of uncertain transition, the Nakba
Day has retreated to insignificance."
JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images