WASHINGTON — For Palestinians around the world, the Nakba still weighs heavily in collective memory as one of the darkest moments in their history.
Wednesday marks the 65th anniversary of the Nakba, an Arabic word meaning catastrophe. In the uprisings that followed Israel’s declaration of independence in 1948, more than 700,000 Palestinians fled their homes — some voluntarily, many not.
Decades later, the events still serve to unite Palestinians around a common narrative and identity.
Yousef Munayyar, executive director of the nonprofit Jerusalem Fund in Washington, said the Nakba is one of the “most central, most significant” elements of Palestinian history.
“This singular moment in time affected tremendous portions of Palestinian society,” he said. “It’s a very important historical moment, a moment for reflection.”
The PLO Delegation to the U.S. is supporting various gatherings recognizing the Nakba around Washington city on Wednesday. In addition, the delegation recently hosted Palestine Week, a showcase of speakers and cultural activities to bring together the Palestinian community in Washington. Of the roughly 3,600 Arabs in the metro area, 6 percent are of Palestinian descent, according to census data compiled by the Arab American Institute.
In the years following the Nakba, the population of Palestinians has grown and spread all over the world. Nearly 5 million Palestinian refugees are registered with the UN Relief and Works Agency in the Middle East alone; the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics estimates that there are more than 11 million Palestinians worldwide.
Munayyar said the diaspora is “a constant challenge in defining the Palestinian identity,” but that commemorating the Nakba is one way of reminding Palestinians of their origins.
“Our narrative is a pretty strong narrative,” said Maen Rashid Areikat, ambassador of the PLO Delegation to the U.S. “Not too many people have gone through a similar experience that the Palestinian people have went through.”
Palestinians have a duty to pass along the history to younger generations who may not fully understand the meaning of the events of 1948, he said.
Areikat stressed the importance of keeping Palestinians around the world connected, especially to those scattered across Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and the West Bank and Gaza.
“We always encourage the community to come together,” Areikat said. “Especially occasions like this occasion.”