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Every Nakba commemoration is painful, but Nakba 73, in May 2021, was particularly hard. On this 73rd commemoration of the catastrophe that befell the Palestinian people, I, as a diaspora Palestinian living in Washington state, along with millions of Palestinians globally, had many reasons to be angry, hurt, heartbroken. For us, the Nakba is not just the mass expulsions of Palestinians from their homes around the creation of Israel, but also the massacres, the loss of a country, the dispossession, the fragmentation, and the misery that continues to this day. In Jerusalem, at the heart of the homeland, Palestinians were yet again facing eviction, just as they had in 1948.
This time, the immediate fear was for homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhoods of Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan, but as one settler had earlier explained in the 2013 short film My Neighbourhood, “We are going to the next neighborhood, and after that, we will go more.” Later in the film, the same settler adds, matter-of-factly, that he understands the goal of the “Jewish-Zionist project” comes “at the Arabs’ expense. But our government institutions were also built at the expense of the Arabs who lived here. And so was the state itself.”
In late April, hundreds of Israeli settlers were roaming the streets of Old Jerusalem, chanting “Death to Arabs,” according to video published by Middle East Eye.
Indeed, as was noted on many signs carried at the Nakba commemorations around the world: “Every single Israeli settlement was once Sheikh Jarrah. Every single Israeli city was once Sheikh Jarrah.”
The settlers use the word “Arabs” because Israel is seeking to take over and erase not only our cities and villages, but our very cultural identity, referring to Palestinians by the generic, regional “Arabs” instead. There were similar chants in Bat Yam, south of Tel Aviv, while armed Israeli ultra-nationalists threatened to murder Palestinians in Lydd.
Lydd suffered the single largest mass massacre in 1948, after which an estimated 50,000 to 70,000 residents were ethnically cleansed from that city and neighboring Ramle, in what has become known as the “Lydd Death March.” That accounted for 10% of the total number of Palestinians forcibly displaced during the Nakba.
Now Israel has once again bombed the Gaza Strip, targeting residential buildings, hospitals, schools, media offices, and destroying the very infrastructure of the blockaded, impoverished region. By the time of a cease-fire after 11 days of attacks, at least 232 Palestinians had been killed, including 65 children, many of whom had already lived through four all-out Israeli military assaults in their short lives, before being killed in this one. Once again, entire families are being decimated.
The dread experienced throughout the homeland recalled that of 1948. But something else was afoot, along with the pain, the deaths, the destruction, the fear, and the sheer exhaustion of having to pick up the pieces, the torn limbs, the dismembered bodies, and keep on keeping on. Yet again Israel had not succeeded in defeating the Palestinian people’s sumoud: our steadfastness, our resilience, the state of mind that refuses to be pummeled into submission, into accepting injustice as one’s fate, even as we grieve from the enormity of the losses.
And as Israel’s violence escalated, sumoud was manifesting in new ways. Throughout the homeland, Palestinians called for and engaged in a day of general strike, “from the river to the sea.” Hundreds of thousands of Palestinian workers participated in the strike, effectively stopping work in numerous industries across Israel.
The fragmentation sought by Israel—which would have Palestinians between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip divided, while erasing the cultural identity of those within its 1948 borders—proved to be illusory, as Palestinians rose up with a clear message: we are one people, we are all Palestinian, we are revolting against the many ways Israel has oppressed us.
One leaflet that was circulated during the strike, titled “The Dignity and Hope Manifesto,” has since been translated into English, and reads: “This long Intifada is, at its heart, an Intifada of consciousness. It is an Intifada to overthrow off the filth of quietude and defeatism. Because of it, the brave generations to come will have been raised, once again, on the fundamental principle of our unity. It will stand in the face of all the elites working to deepen and entrench the divisions in and between our communities. This Intifada will be a long one in the streets of Palestine and in streets around the world; an intifada that fights the hand of injustice wherever it tries to reach, that fights the batons of cruel regimes wherever they try to strike. This is an Intifada of bared chests and foreheads held high armed with revolutionary goals, deep knowledge and understanding, and the organizational toil and commitment of every individual and collective in the face the bullets of the Israeli occupation wherever they are fired.”
Many are calling the present moment historic. Not since 1936, under the British Mandate, have the Palestinian people mobilized in such a united way. This is the Palestinian unity uprising, not only from the river to the sea, but from the river to the heart of empire, to the enabler of what Human Rights Watch recently decried as Israel’s “crimes against humanity.”
Unity. Hope. Dignity. The 2021 uprising will be known by many names. But this is also the uprising that insists that Zionism is settler colonialism, and that the Palestinian struggle is a decolonial struggle. The Israeli city of Lod would not exist today were it not for the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians in the Death March of 1948. And today, Israeli settlers are trying to evict the Palestinian community from Sheikh Jarrah. But Palestinian sumoud will prevail.
In Palestine, sumoud is about surviving airstrikes, blockades, ground invasions, and ethnic cleansing. In the diaspora, we enact our sumoud by taking action, through Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS), through calls to our politicians, demanding an end to U.S. funding of Israel’s war crimes. And just as the Palestinians in the homeland are persevering, so must we.
We must understand that our sumoud has accomplished the discursive change we are now looking at, almost with disbelief, in the U.S.: not one, not two, but a dozen members of Congress speaking in favor of Palestinian rights. Palestinian voices such as Mohammed El-Kurd, Mariam Barghouti, and Noura Erakat, puncturing the lies of the mainstream media in the mainstream media. Yousef Munayyer argued that the two-state solution is obsolete, not at a small conference of pro-justice activists, but in The New York Times.
Untold individuals have faced loss of friends, of livelihood, of employment, in order to get us to this point—and that is our Diaspora sumoud. Academics who fought the system to teach the question of Palestine as a decolonial one were engaging in sumoud. Palestinian feminists who challenged and ultimately exposed the inherent Zionism of mainstream American feminism were enacting sumoud.
The change in the U.S. did not happen out of the blue. It is the result, at long last, of relentless activism over decades, despite the unfounded accusations of antisemitism, despite the intimidation, despite the loss of livelihood, in some cases even of lives, despite the many, many disappointments, the pseudo-allies who told us, in private conversations and emails, that they cared, and understood, and sympathized, but who did not speak up, because they were running for office, or for reelection.
So as Israel’s military assault subsides, while its colonial aspirations continue, we must continue to engage in sumoud. Today, we are more determined than ever to reverse the course of history, to stand up to imperial powers. Palestinians throughout Palestine are saying, “We will not leave.” And the rest of us, the millions of ethnically cleansed refugees, scattered around the globe, we are saying, as we have said for 73 years, “We will return.”
Another of the leaflets circulated during the “Unity Strike” reads: “Liberation is within our reach.” Our sumoud has sustained us so far, it will sustain us until liberation.
Nada Elia is a Palestinian columnist specializing in state violence and structural racism. Based in Everett, WA, Nada is also a scholar-activist, writer, and grassroots organizer. She is currently completing a book on Palestinian diaspora activism. Nada speaks English, Arabic, and French.