Al-Nakba (in English, “the catastrophe”) refers to the ethnic cleansing of 700,000 Palestinians by Zionist militants in 1948 (the conflict Israelis know as their “War of Independence”). Approximately 600 Palestinian villages were completely depopulated of all their residents. Most of these were not killed, but enough massacres (such as in Deir Yassin or Tantura) took place that Palestinians elsewhere were terrified of the oncoming Israeli invaders, so packed up a small amount of their things and fled, thinking they would wait out the fighting elsewhere. What they did not expect is that the fledgling Israeli state would prevent them from ever returning (indeed, the Israelis killed ~5,000 Palestinians who tried in the years after the war). Some of these displaced Palestinians still live within the modern-day borders of Eretz Israel, as Israeli citizens; others were pushed into the West Bank or Gaza; and others were pushed further still, into Lebanon, Syria or Jordan. Today, there are 6.2 million Palestinians registered as stateless refugees with the UNRWA, as a direct result of this expulsion.

The ethnic cleansing of the Nakba was accompanied by widescale looting of Palestinian homes by Israeli militants (see article on +972 Magazine(external link)). It is suggested that this was part of the reason the Israeli state moved so decisively to block Palestinians from ever returning to their homes.

In the years following al-Nakba, the Israeli government planted a vast quantity of trees amidst the ruins of destroyed Palestinian villages, in order to try and hasten the land’s reclamation by nature, so they could deny there ever were villages there.