UN marks the 75th anniversary of Palestinians’ mass displacement

Historic commemoration of what Palestinians call al-Nakba, the Catastrophe, following Israel’s establishment

For the first time, the United Nations has officially commemorated the mass displacement of Palestinians by Israel’s 1948 war of establishment.

The memorial was held on Monday on the 75th anniversary of the outset of the conflict, which Palestinians call al-Nakba, the Catastrophe. Every year on May 15th, Palestinians lament the Nakba, which resulted in their dispossession.

The commemoration was mandated by a General Assembly resolution adopted on November 30th, 2022, 75 years after the Assembly voted in 1947 to partition Palestine into Arab and Jewish states, precipitating the ongoing conflict.

The anniversary took place during rising violence in Gaza and the West Bank. Last year, 230 Palestinians were killed by the Israeli army while 27 Israeli soldiers and civilians were killed by Palestinians. So far this year, 95 Palestinians and 18 Israeli civilians and a soldier have been killed.


In advance of Nakba Day, Palestinian UN ambassador Riyad Mansour called the observance “historic” as it acknowledged “the UN’s failure to resolve this catastrophe” for three quarters of a century.

Israel’s UN ambassador Gilad Erdan called the event “abominable” and a “blatant attempt to distort history” and urged a boycott.

The UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People organised two Nakba Day events, which were held at UN headquarters in New York.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas delivered the keynote address to a high-level meeting in the morning. Attendees also heard statements from UN under-secretary general for political and peacebuilding affairs Rosemary DiCarlo, Palestinian refugee agency chief Philippe Lazzarini, and representatives of regional groups and civil society.

The remembrance ceremony, held in the General Assembly hall, attempted to recreate the Palestinian experience through live music, photos, videos and testimonies. The event featured Palestinian singer Sanaa Moussa and a musical composition entitled Bright Colours on a Dark Canvas by cellist and composer Naseem Alatrash, who was accompanied by the New York Arabic Orchestra under the direction of four-time Grammy winner Eugene Friesen.

During 1948, Israel conquered 78 per cent of Palestine, levelled 530 Palestinian towns and villages, and rendered 750,000 Palestinians homeless and stateless. Some 159,000 Palestinians remained in the new state and became Israeli citizens.

When Israel occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, another 250,000 Palestinians fled to Jordan.

Today, there are 7.1 million Palestinians living under Israeli rule in Israel and the occupied territories while 6.5 million live in states neighbouring Palestine or have been scattered across the globe. The total population of Israel is 9.6 million, of whom 7.1 million are Jewish.

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen contributes news from and analysis of the Middle East to The Irish Times