Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Al-Nakba Day

Today, May 15, is the day in which Palestinians remember al-Nakba ("the catastrophe"), the events surrounding the expulsion of over 700,000 Palestinian Arabs from their homes and lands by the paramilitary forces of the Zionist Yishuv, the subsequent war between the newly declared state of Israel and surrounding Arab countries, and the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem which continues to this day.

As an American of Ukrainian descent, I approach the remembrance of this event in several ways. The year 2007 represents the 400th anniversary of the Jamestown settlement, and the founding of the colony of Virginia. Amid all the articles, celebrations, and visits by the Queen, I recognize that my own country, indeed, my own newly adopted state, was founded on the lands and destroyed villages and homes of indigenous peoples, whose diverse cultures and societies were disregarded and crushed by European colonists.

My father's family were themselves refugees, forced to flee their homes by war. My grandparents were able to make a great life for themselves, their children, and for me, here in the U.S., but my grandmother always spoke of her homeland with a longing and an aching that never went away. I can only imagine how much more painful it would have been for her had she regularly been confronted with people insisting that the Ukrainians never existed, or that the events which caused her and her family to flee never took place, or, most ludicrously, that the Ostapenkos and a few hundred thousand of their neighbors had simply picked up and fled of their own accord. This is the sort of deeply offensive propaganda, the attempted erasing of an entire people and society from history, with which the Palestinians have had to contend since 1948.

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