The Palestinian flag at Yonge-Dundas Square in downtown Toronto.

Today, there are events across Canada to mark ‘Nakba Day,’ including a public forum in Vancouver which will be livestreaming this evening. Here, Haseena Manek explains the significance of May 15 to Palestinians. 

May 15 marks the anniversary of the “Nakba” (Arabic for “catastrophe”), the dispossession of the Palestinian people that came with the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.

This year is the 64th anniversary. The day is acknowledged with protests throughout the Middle East. Last year, in Egypt, hundreds of protestors were arrested or injured, while a number of poeple were killed by Israeli forces when protesters marched on the borders of Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, including at the Lebanese and Syrian borders.

May 15, 1948 is known as the Nakba because hundreds of thousands of Palestinian people were forced from their homes, or chose to leave to protect themselves and their families from violence. Some Palestinian people still carry the keys to the houses they had to leave, which are now being lived in by Israelis. This has made the image of a key an important symbol for protesting Palestinians.

But what does it mean, 64 years later, to have a Nakba Day?

Nakba Day serves as a kind of ‘Remembrance Day,’ marking a moment where we in the West would normally play bagpipes and have a moment of silence. A violent anniversary.

In Palestine, however, there is no moment of silence. And if there is, it is a lull between the sonic boom of fighter jets and the sharp rapping of small stones hitting army tanks. The Israeli occupation of Palestine is not over, so Nakba Day does not work like your standard Remembrance Day or Memorial Day.

Instead, Nakba Day becomes a kind of rallying point for the Palestinian people and their supporters. It is not just a day to remember; it is a day to resist, and it will continue to be so until there is freedom for Palestinians.

David Ben Gurion, the first prime minster of Israel predicted, “the old will die and the young will forget.” But he could not have been more wrong. The obvious continued oppression of the Palestinian people by Israel, and the sense of pride and nationalism taught to Palestinian children, is a great recipe for resistance.

Believing that somehow, over time, the theft of land could be forgotten and forgiven, those words underestimate the resolve of the Palestinian people.

In the same way that Jewish people remember the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust, Palestinian people remember the horrors of the Nakba. Genocide is still genocide, theft is still theft, and no amount of time will erase this.

On one side of the wall, people wave flags to demand freedom – on the other side, to celebrate independence. Neighbours are remembering the same war – half are cheering, half are crying. Some raise their glasses, some raise their fists.

In what kind of world can such a conflicting day exist? How can we permit some to celebrate their independence, while being sympathetic to those who mourn the loss of theirs? Especially when the two occur as a direct result of each other? 

Is there a two state solution? Is it possible to reconcile simultaneous loss and gain?

In the context of a future, peaceful two-state system, would Israelis and Palestinians continue to laugh and cry in remembrance of the same war? Would they do this together? Would they rename Nakba Day to make it less accusatory? Would it still be emphasized?

Nakba Day is many things at once. It’s a day of loss, a day of hope and resistance. Six-four years ago, it was a day of war, theft and genocide. Today it is a reminder of that genocide and the continued oppression of the Palestinian people.

Nakba Day will continue to be a site of resistance until Palestinians can exercise their Right of Return, until they are allowed to move freely throughout Palestine, until they are given back the dignity and respect and basic rights they deserve as human beings, and, finally, until they are given back their home.

To anyone who doesn’t speak Arabic, “Nakba Day” sounds like some strange foreign holiday. To millions of displaced Palestinians, it sounds like tragedy. It sounds like wailing air raid sirens, it sounds like tear gas canisters breaking living room windows and it sounds like sobbing.

Maybe one day the Nakba, the genocide, the continued catastrophe, will end.

Maybe one Nakba Day will be an opportunity for the world to look back at decades of violence and oppression and finally learn from the mistakes of the past.

Maybe, just maybe.

One day. Viva Palestina.


The shot of the Palestinian flag in Toronto’s Yonge-Dundas Square is part of ‘From Turtle Island to Palestine: Occupation is a Crime,’ a photo essay by Haseena Manek, inspired by the international protests that marked last year’s anniversary of the Nakba. In every photograph the Palestinian flag is being held up in front of landmarks or popular spots in Toronto, demonstrating the support for the Palestinian people that exists in the city. You can view the photo essay hereThe goal of the project is to create an international message of solidarity with the Palestinian people who continue to rally and resist Israeli occupation.

Haseena Manek is a freelance journalist based in Toronto.