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Israel’s Genocide in Gaza: The Latest Episode in the Ongoing Nakba Against the Palestinian People
15، May 2024

Photo credit: Mohammed Zaanoun, Activestills Collective



On the 76th annual commemoration of the Nakba, Al-Haq, Al Mezan, and the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights examine Israel’s ongoing genocide in Gaza as a form of colonial violence carried out by the Zionist settler-colonial regime, and as part of the ongoing Nakba against the Palestinian people.


Rania tried to keep her voice steady as she hit the record button on her phone while walking away from her home in Gaza City towards the south of the Gaza Strip; “I don’t know whether it’s the right decision”, she said. “It looked like re-living the Nakba again. The same scenes, the same…people walking, but not knowing where to go”, she added, her voice breaking as she described a painfully familiar scene seared into the Palestinian collective memory.


Rania was one of tens of thousands of Palestinians, fleeing to southern areas of the Gaza Strip that day, after the Israeli military ordered all 1.1 million residents of northern Gaza to leave the area on 13 October 2023. Photographs and videos of the forced displacement began emerging showing crowds of people fleeing their homes on foot under incessant Israeli bombardment, holding whatever belongings they could carry, not knowing where they would end up or if they would be able to return. The scenes eerily looked like historical photos of Palestinian dispossession and forcible displacement of the 1948 Nakba, colourised and brought back to life. But they were taken in 2023 and 2024—photographs of a forcible displacement so large in scale that many commentators and over 20 United Nations (UN) independent experts raised the alarm for signs of a “second Nakba”.


Their apprehension was not unfounded, as Israeli officials inciting a genocidal campaign against 2.3 million people in Gaza said, “we are now rolling out the Gaza Nakba”, as stated by Israel’s Agriculture Minister Avi Dichter. He added, “There is no way to wage a war — as the Israeli army seeks to do in Gaza — with masses between the tanks and the soldiers…Gaza Nakba 2023. That’s how it’ll end”. Ariel Kallner, a Member of the Knesset for the Likud party further explicated: “Right now, one goal: Nakba! A Nakba that will overshadow the Nakba of 48. Nakba in Gaza and Nakba to anyone who dares to join! [emphasis added]”. While the Israeli officials are correct in describing their actions as constituting Nakba, they missed admitting that they are part of the ongoing Nakba perpetrated by the Zionist settler-colonial regime since 1948.


The Ongoing Nakba is a Continuing Process of Colonial Violence against the Palestinian People Under Zionist Settler-Colonisation


The Nakba, which translates to ‘catastrophe’ in Arabic, is the term Palestinians used to describe their dispossession and forcible displacement during 1947-9 leading to the establishment of the State of Israel, when some 800,000 Palestinians, around 80 percent of the population, were forcibly expelled from their homes and land, 531 Palestinian villages were destroyed, and over 15,000 Palestinians were massacred by Zionist militias and the Israeli military. Only approximately 150,000 Palestinians remained in the territory of Mandate Palestine following the Nakba of 1948, a quarter of whom were internally displaced. The establishment of the State of Israel with a Jewish majority in Mandate Palestine was one of the goals of the Zionist project, which the Zionist leaders recognised would not be possible without using force. However, the establishment of the State was the culmination of the Zionist settler-colonial movement but not its end. As stated by Palestinian scholar Fayez Sayegh, “Territorial extent is a third element of the Zionist plan […]. The perennial aim of Zionism was and still is statehood in all of Palestine (called by Zionists ‘Eretz Israel’, or the Land of Israel), completely emptied of its Arabs”. In practice, this means that the Zionist project persists, and so does the oppression and dispossession of Palestinians, and their replacement by Israeli-Jews in this pursuit.


Since then, and for 76 years, Israel has continued to subjugate the Palestinian people to all forms of violence, suppression, and oppression by institutionalising and maintaining a settler-colonial apartheid regime through different laws, policies and practices in order to advance its Zionist settler-colonial project. As a result, Palestinians have been enduring, until this day, ongoing forced displacement, dispossession, refugeehood and exile, the denial of their right to return to their ancestral homes and land, and an ongoing process of institutionalised racial domination and discrimination, military occupation, annexation, population transfer, and settler colonisation.


To reflect this process, the term ‘ongoing Nakba’ has emerged to describe the continuous experience of colonial violence against the Palestinian people. Viewed through the lens of settler-colonialism, this term establishes that the Nakba, which culminated in 1948, is not simply a precondition for the creation of Israel or the outcome of early Zionist ambitions, instead, the Nakba transcends a singular event; it crystallises an ongoing process that persists to the present day, and manifests in the continuing subjugation of Palestinians to all forms of colonial violence required for the continuation of the Zionist settler-colonial project. With every illegal act of forcible displacement, killing, arrest, dispossession, deportation, etc., perpetrated by Israeli authorities, the ongoing Nakba of the Palestinian people is further perpetuated, which constitutes the umbrella that encapsulates all forms of colonial violence of the Zionist settler-colonial regime, since the creation of the State of Israel, and including the ongoing genocide in Gaza.


At a historic moment, the ‘ongoing Nakba’ of the Palestinian people was recognised by South Africa in its opening statement in the case against Israel for genocide before the International Court of Justice (ICJ). In the oral hearing on 11 January 2024 requesting provisional measures, His Excellency Mr. Vusimuzi Madonsela asserted South Africa’s recognition of “the ongoing Nakba of the Palestinian people through Israel’s colonization since 1948”. He further stressed that the Nakba has “systematically […] den[ied] [the Palestinian people] their internationally recognized, inalienable right to self-determination, and their internationally recognized right of return as refugees to their towns and villages, in what is now the State of Israel”; and “of Israel’s institutionalized régime of discriminatory laws, policies, and practices designed and maintained to establish domination, subjecting the Palestinian people to apartheid, on both sides of the Green Line”. In essence, South Africa’s statement is an overt declaration of the root causes that drive the continuation of the Palestinian Nakba.


Genocide and Zionist Settler-Colonisation: Destroying and Replacing the Palestinian People with a Jewish Majority


The Zionist movement, as all settler-colonial projects, is premised on the elimination of the indigenous people through transfer, expulsion, and their replacement. The elimination of the indigenous people depends on a series of eliminatory practices, such as killing, forcible displacement, dispossession, and consolidated by the continuous denial of return to their ancestral lands. This renders settler-colonialism a “structure not an event”. Settler-colonial regimes may perpetrate different forms of colonial violence to eliminate and replace the indigenous people and achieve and advance its goals. Genocide is one form of violence, representing the peak of colonial violence, as it aims to destroy, in whole or in part, a group on account of their race, religion, nationality or ethnicity. Israel’s ongoing genocide in Gaza, which enters its 222nd day, is the most recent example of a settler-colonial regime committing genocide.

Genocide does not only mean the immediate mass killing of the group, but also the complete destruction of the essential foundations of life of the group, including the cultural, social, economic or political elements that make up the group. As explained by Raphael Lemkin, the Polish jurist who coined the term ‘genocide’, “genocide does not necessarily mean the immediate destruction of a nation […] It is intended rather to signify a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves.” This rightly conceptualizes genocide beyond immediate destruction, but rather captures the gradual processes of annihilation of the group as demonstrated in the different genocidal acts listed under Article 2 of the Genocide Convention.


With its roots embedded in an imperial, colonial mindset, the Zionist movement persistently dehumanised the Palestinian people and committed various forms of colonial violence. While the realisation of the Zionist settler-colonial project began with the mass killing and large-scale forcible expulsion of Palestinians from their homes, lands, and property in their ancestral land during the Nakba around 1948, Zionist policies and practices of eradication continue to be applied and inflicted upon the Palestinian people, both within Mandate Palestine and in exile. Zionist institutional and systematic elimination of indigenous Palestinians is practised through, inter alia: rejecting the right of return for Palestinian refugees and internally displaced persons, while affording all Jews this right; fragmenting the Palestinian people into separate geographic, legal, political, and administrative domains; imposing a discriminatory planning regime, and expanding its colonial settlement enterprise while creating coercive environments to ultimately transfer Palestinians out of their lands; and suppressing the Palestinian people to control and dominate them. More recently, Israel’s genocide against Palestinians in Gaza serves to advance its Zionist settler-colonial project, whereby Palestinians are left between the choice of either being killed or forcibly transferred out of their lands, in order to replace them with Israeli colonial settlers.


A Plan to Permanently Remove the Palestinian People


Similar to 1948 when Zionist militias terrorised Palestinians to force them to flee, the Israeli military has created panic and fear to force Palestinians to flee from northern areas of the Gaza Strip to the south, and even to push the residents of Gaza outside the border into Egypt. This strategy includes cutting off internet and electricity and objects indispensable to the survival of civilians, impeding the entry of humanitarian aid, ordering civilians to evacuate through leaflets that do not qualify as effective warnings, and threatening those who do not evacuate to qualify as ‘terrorists’ – all while indiscriminately bombing everywhere incessantly.


With ever-expanding evacuation orders since as early as 13 October 2023, and the relentless, widespread and systematic attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure by the Israeli Occupying Forces (IOF), the forced displacement of Palestinians from their homes may be deemed necessarily permanent. The extent of the destruction in Gaza has rendered it largely uninhabitable, without any safe place to seek refuge. As noted by the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons, “Israel is seeking to permanently alter the composition of Gaza’s population […]. Gaza’s housing and civilian infrastructure have been razed to the ground, frustrating any realistic prospects for displaced Gazans to return home, repeating a long history of mass forced displacement of Palestinians by Israel”.


Throughout Israel’s genocidal campaign on Gaza, Israeli intention to permanently remove the Palestinians in Gaza and (re)establish Israeli colonial settlements in lieu have never been more evident. A document from the Israeli Ministry of Intelligence leaked on 24 October 2023, demonstrates that talks of ‘Gaza Nakba 2023’ extend beyond mere rhetoric by rogue politicians, but an outline of a ‘postwar plan’ which promotes the elimination of Palestinian residents of Gaza as the option “that would yield positive and long-term results”. This plan involves forcibly transferring Gaza’s inhabitants to Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, and proposes that other countries could take in displaced Palestinians. The plan further suggests the establishment of a sterile zone several kilometres wide inside Egypt, to prevent the return of Palestinians. Israeli politicians have publicly and openly endorsed aspects of this plan, calling on the Western States to “welcome Gaza refugees”.


Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel’s Minister of National Security, for example, has promoted the relocation of Palestinians in Gaza to other countries around the world as “the solution to the current war” and called to “occupy Gaza and stay there”. Settler organisations have also been active in promoting the re-settlement of Gaza under the slogan “Fight. Liberate. Settle”. Israeli occupying soldiers deployed in Gaza have expressed similar intentions. Even after the ICJ had found that Israel is plausibly committing genocide against Palestinians in Gaza, and ordering Israel, inter alia, to take all measures within its power to halt with immediate effect the commission of genocidal acts, several top Israeli officials have continued to voice their support for the displacement and expulsion of Palestinians from Gaza. On 28 January 2024, Israeli settlers along with a number of high-ranking Israeli officials, including 12 ministers from Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, as well as Ben-Gvir and the Minister of Finance, Bezalel Smotrich, attended the so-called ‘Return to Gaza’ Conference, calling for the resettlement of the Gaza Strip.


The initiation of the ground invasion on 6 May 2024 in Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city and a unilaterally designated ‘safe zone’ by the Israeli military housing at least five times its normal population, and requesting Palestinians to evacuate eastern Rafah, risks yet another mass forcible transfer of over one million Palestinians currently sheltering in Rafah, and potentially their mass deportation into Egypt. Plans to invade Rafah have been underway since before the recent intensification of attacks when Netanyahu ordered the IOF and security establishment to submit a plan to the Cabinet for “evacuating the population” from Rafah. Reports are emerging that the Israeli military has purchased thousands of tents to accommodate persons that will be displaced as a result of the ground invasion of Rafah. This is extremely alarming given the declared intentions of many Israeli officials to re-settle the Gaza Strip. Israel’s genocidal campaign has been serving as a process to empty Gaza of its predominantly refugee population and destroy Palestinian life therein. Despite statements to the contrary, the facts on the ground speak loudly of a plan to repeat the horrors of the Nakba.


The Ongoing Genocide in Gaza: An Accelerated Colonial Violence against the Palestinian People


Israel’s pursuit of its Zionist settler-colonial project does not stand at a flat line in its episodes of violence, but fluctuates in its intensity, all while persistently aiming to achieve the same goals. As we recall the deadliest manifestations of Israel’s settler-colonial regime on the Palestinian people since the Nakba, the seemingly ‘less violent’ periods should not be misconstrued as a cessation of the project’s mechanics; rather, they signify a continuation of oppression at a slower pace. This is in line with the nature of situations of occupation, where hostilities may subside then resume but the military administration and subjugation of the occupied people remain unabated. For example, Israeli policies in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967 have created coercive environments to slowly force the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, while denying them the right to return, and replacing them with Israeli Jewish settlers. This includes the forced displacement of 430,000 Palestinians during the 1967 Naksa, the forcible transfer of over 14,643 Palestinians from occupied eastern Jerusalem through residency revocations, and since 2009, the forcible transfer of 14,000 Palestinians as a result of Israel’s policy of administrative demolitions, i.e., under the pretext of lack of building permits, as part of its discriminatory planning and zoning regime.


For decades, Israel has been subjecting Palestinians in Gaza to various forms of settler-colonial violence, manifesting in besieging 2.3 million people in the world’s largest open-air prison for over 17 years of illegal blockade and closure, whereas Israel has denied them of a panoply of fundamental rights and created dire living conditions that have eroded the essential foundations of Palestinians in Gaza as a group, a series of military assaults, Israeli policies aimed at disrupting the social fabric and altering the demography in Gaza, among other policies and practices.


However, since 7 October 2023, Israel has accelerated its colonial violence by carrying out a genocidal military campaign against Palestinians in Gaza, constituting the peak of its settler-colonial violence. When committed with the special intent to destroy the group, in whole or in part, acts in the form of large-scale killing of Palestinians in Gaza; causing of serious bodily or mental harm, such as the mass forcible transfer of the civilian population; or inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about the physical destruction of Palestinians as a group, such as the blocking of water, food, electricity, fuel and medical supplies, and the worsening sanitary conditions, including the spread of infections and diseases in overcrowded shelters; or imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group, such as by forcing premature or still-births, hysterectomies, or giving birth without anaesthesia, amount to genocide.


Since 7 October 2023, and as of 12 May 2024, Israel’s genocide in Gaza has killed at least 35,091 Palestinians, 70 percent of whom are women and children, and injured 78,827 others, with some 10,000 still missing or under the rubble, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. In the first 48 days alone, Israel has killed over 15,000 Palestinians, which is around the same number of Palestinians killed by Zionist militias and the Israeli military between 1947 and 1949. Over 60 percent of all housing units in Gaza have been either destroyed or damaged; and around 1.7 million people, approximately 75 percent of the population, have been internally displaced, while noting that the numbers may be even higher given the Rafah invasion and recurring ground invasions in northern Gaza, restricted and denied access to humanitarian aid leading to a full-blown famine in northern Gaza, “moving its way south”. The destruction committed by Israel’s genocide in Gaza is among the most destructive in modern history. Israel’s genocide has also attacked the next generation of Palestinians, almost half of Gaza’s population, killing more than 14,000 children, more than in all other conflicts around the world in each year since 2019, combined, turning Gaza into a “graveyard for children”. With over seven months of genocide, aid blockade and collapsed health system, children are dying of starvation and suffering malnutrition, which could have life-long impacts.


Israel’s oppression has not been limited to Gaza. Other acts of colonial violence have been committed throughout Mandate Palestine, in the form of killing, home demolitions, mass arrests, torture, forced displacement, movement restrictions, collective punishment and aggressive military attacks on towns and refugee camps. According to our documentation, between 7 October 2023 and 13 May 2024, the IOF and Israeli colonial settlers have killed 484 Palestinians, including 121 children in the occupied West Bank, including eastern Jerusalem, of whom 13 by settlers and eight where it remains unknown whether the perpetrators were settlers or soldiers. Notably, since 7 October 2023 and as of 8 May 2024, Israeli occupying authorities have demolished or damaged 390 Palestinian homes, resulting in the forced displacement of 1,310 Palestinians, 43 percent of whom are children and 25 percent are women. At the same time, at least 829 Israeli settler attacks against Palestinians have been recorded in the West Bank resulting in Palestinian killings, injuries, and property damage, and the forcible displacement of 1,330 Palestinians, including 643 children. Moreover, as of 17 April 2024, Israel detains more than 9,500 Palestinian prisoner and detainee arrested during its almost daily raids across the West Bank, including eastern Jerusalem, including 200 children, 80 women, and 3660 administrative detainees, subjecting them to punitive measures, with 16 documented deaths between 7 October 2023 and 22 April 2024 in Israeli custody as a result of medical negligence or escalated torture. Also, the announced deaths of Dr. Adnan Al-Bursh and Ismail Khader in Israeli prisons on 2 May 2024, raises the number to 18 documented deaths, while the numbers may be even higher. Meanwhile inside the Green Line, Palestinians with Israeli citizenship continue to face arrests, persecution, and punitive measures for expressing support with their people in Gaza.


Conclusion: Ongoing Nakba, Ongoing Return


As we commemorate the 76th anniversary of the ongoing Nakba, we reaffirm the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and return to their lands and villages from which they have been uprooted, and to seek justice and freedom from the rules of colonisation, racial discrimination and illegal occupation. Seven decades on, the Nakba continues to live on through the Palestinian people generation after another and has come to symbolise the denial of rights passed down to successive Palestinian generations. Despite Israel’s concerted efforts to suppress the Palestinian collective memory of the Nakba and dissolve the issue of refugees, Palestinian historian Nur Masalha underscores that the active participation in its commemoration is far stronger among the third generation of Palestinian refugees inside the Green Line than the first and second generations. Their commitment, he asserts, is driven by a genuine sense of historical injustice, which remains ongoing. The Unity Uprising of May 2021, for example, stood as a testament to the fact that Palestinians not only remember the Nakba of 1948, but are still living it and are refusing their subjugation to injustice, defying Israel’s fragmentation of the Palestinian people, affirming their agency and showcasing their unwavering pursuit to their right to self-determination. This resounding call for justice underlined that the deep-rooted injustice inflicted upon the Palestinian people cannot be simply forgotten by violence or other means.


It is within the frame of ongoing Nakba that past, present, and future Israeli crimes and violations must be analysed, including the crimes of genocide, apartheid and persecution.[1] Under these crimes, Israel has been targeting and severely depriving Palestinians of their fundamental rights based on their identity as a people, as a group, whether to oppress and dominate the group, remove the group from certain geographic areas, or destroy the group in whole or in part. Palestinians in Gaza constitute a substantial proportion of the Palestinian people, and are being targeted by Israel based on their identity; i.e., for being Palestinian. The great majority of Palestinians in Gaza, around 70 percent, are refugees as a result of the 1948 Nakba, denied their right of return to their lands and properties, often just a few kilometres away from the besieged strip of land, or Bantustan, where Israel entrapped them. Israel’s genocidal campaign against Gaza is the latest chapter in the ongoing Nakba.


For over seven decades, Palestinians have been denied legal remedy for the injustice that continues to befall them. This owes to perpetual international impunity that has emboldened Israel to continue its settler-colonial project manifesting in the ongoing Nakba against the Palestinian people. It is imperative for the international community to abandon the notion of perceiving the Palestinian plight as a ‘conflict’ between two parties, thereby equating the coloniser with the colonised. Instead, they must hold Israeli perpetrators accountable for their decades-long crimes. While it may take years to bring justice to Palestinians for their ongoing Nakba, it starts with the realisation of the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination, and their right to return, for as long as the Nakba continues, so does our right to return.


[1] On imagining a recognised crime of the Nakba, see Rabea Eghbariah, “The Ongoing Nakba: Toward a Legal Framework for Palestine”, N.Y.U. Review of Law & Social Change, vol. 48, Dec. 15, 2023, at: