The Nakba: How did it happen?

The Nakba (‘The Catastrophe’) in 1948 marked the beginning of seven decades of Palestinian displacement, poverty and trauma. Palestinians who fled in 1948, and their descendants, now number upwards of 5 million, with the Palestinian refugee crisis being the longest running refugee crisis in the world today.

The Nakba was set in to motion more than one hundred years ago, in 1917, when British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour wrote a letter to Lord Walter Rothschild, a leading figure in the British Zionist community. In this letter, Lord Balfour made it clear that the British government backed the establishment of a ‘national home for the Jewish people’ in Palestine.

Days after the Balfour Declaration was written on 2 December 1917, the British army occupied Jerusalem. Through the Mandate, Britain would go on to rule Palestine for three decades. It was during its rule in Palestine that Britain sought to lay the foundations for the creation of a ‘national home for the Jewish people’ and by the end of the 1920s, it became clear that this ambition would have violent repercussions.

Between 1936 and 1939, thousands of Palestinians were killed and imprisoned as they revolted in protest against British policy. The British response took a heavy toll on the livelihoods of Palestinian villagers, who were subjected to punitive measures that included the confiscation of livestock, the destruction of properties, detention and collective fines.

When the UK eventually decided it would withdraw from Mandatory Palestine in 1947, it left decisions regarding its future to the United Nations. Later that year, the United Nations adopted Resolution 181, which recommended the partition of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states, with 55% of land allocated to the former. Under this plan, the Palestinian majority would lose out on key agricultural lands and major cities to the Jewish minority.

Conflict broke out between Palestinians and Zionist militias shortly after UN Resolution 181 was adopted in 1947. Zionist militias took control of large amounts of land, while expelling over 440,000 Palestinians from their homes.

When the British Mandate officially came to an end on May 15th, 1948, the Israeli state was officially established and the violence intensified. During this tumultuous period, between 750,000 and 900,000 Palestinian men, women and children were driven out of their homeland by Jewish militias, and an estimated 500 villages and towns were depopulated and demolished.

The Gaza Strip, the West Bank and East Jerusalem have now been under occupation for more than 50 years, while Gaza also continues to languish under 12 years of siege. Palestinian refugees across the occupied Palestinian territories, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria are now facing their 71st year of refugeehood.

With no end in sight to their suffering, Palestinian refugees remain one of the most marginalised groups in the world today.

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