How I explained the Nakba to my kids

By Noam Rotem

Palestinians in Bethlehem commemorate the Nakba, May 14, 2013. (
Palestinians in Bethlehem commemorate the Nakba, May 14, 2013. (

Say Dad, what is independence?

An independent person is a person who can do whatever they want. They are free and nobody makes decisions for them. When a state is independent, it means that no one tells it what to do and it can decide for itself what it deems to be good and bad.

And what is Independence Day?

Independence Day is the day the State of Israel became independent. The rest of the countries in the world agreed it could assume control over the land of Israel without anyone else telling it what to do.

Who told it what to do?

Before there was a State of Israel, the British ruled here, and before them the Turks. They controlled the Jews and the Palestinians. After the other countries agreed to give up the country, the British departed and left it for the Jews and the Arabs.

And they gave us all of the Land of Israel?

No. The countries of the world agreed to give only part of the land to the Jews, and the other part they gave to the Arabs. Grandma and grandpa’s house in the Galilee, for example, was not inside Israel. It was supposed to be part of the state of Palestine. Here, see this map:

1947 UN Partition Plan for Palestine (Wikimedia)
1947 UN Partition Plan for Palestine (Wikimedia)

The orange part was where the Jewish State should have been and the yellow designated the Palestinian state. Jerusalem was not supposed to belong to anyone, which is why it is colored white.

So what happened?

There was a war. Some of the people who lived here weren’t willing to give up their homes for a Jewish state, and some of the Jews didn’t agree to it either, because they wanted Jerusalem and other places. Most of the Jewish leaders agreed to it, and most of the Arab leaders did not. Battles started, and then other regional armies got involved: Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia and even Iraq. In the end, the Jews managed to fight the armies and conquered more parts of the land that were designated to be a Palestinian state.

What is a Palestinian state?

It is the state where the country’s Arab residents — who are called Palestinians — were supposed to live.

So the Jews won?

You could say that, but a war is never good. A lot of people died, and a lot of people lost their homes and their land.

Their houses were destroyed?

Yes, but that is just a small part of the story. Some fled because they thought the war would soon end and they didn’t want to get hurt. But a lot of Arabs who lived here were expelled from their homes by the Jews. Before the war there were 700 Arab towns, and after it, only 170 were left. Before the war there were 600,000 Arabs, and afterwards only 150,000 remained. That is whole lot of people who are no longer here.

Where did they go?

Some to Jordan, some to Lebanon, Syria and even farther. Most of them still live there to this day.

And they didn’t want to return?

They really wanted to. Some even tried and sometimes it worked, but in most cases, they were expelled again. There were cases in which people who were expelled from one village found themselves living in another village. For example, the residents of Suhmata settled in Tarshiha. After a few years, the State of Israel said that it would confiscate the house of anyone who was not living in it.

But it didn’t agree to let people return to their homes, and then took those homes?

Yes. It’s not fair, but that’s what happened. A lot of Jewish towns are built on Palestinian villages, and there are many Palestinian villages that still exist but are abandoned. You know how sometimes we take trips to places with destroyed houses and you find all sorts of things there? They belong to the people who lived there until that war, the “Nakba.”

What is the Nakba?

Nakba means catastrophe in Arabic. This is what Arabs call what happened then, when so many lost their homes and land. Our Independence Day is their catastrophe, because when we became independent, some of them lost everything they had.

So why are we happy on this day and have fireworks and parties?

Because people are happy to be independent and free, they don’t think about others who are sad at the same time because they lost everything.

And we can’t give it back to them?

Not everything, no. Some of the places were completely destroyed and new houses were built in their place. But for example, the town Ya’ad was once called Mi’ar. There is no reason why the Arab residents of Mi’ar shouldn’t be able to live together with the Jewish residents of Ya’ad — some even want this to happen. And where the village of Sindyanna once stood there is nothing today. It can be rebuilt with its original residents, who may even agree to have Jews live there with them.

So why aren’t they doing this?

Because there are people who think the country should belong only to Jews, and there are others who think it should belong only to Arabs. We call them “nationalists,” and they want their country to have only one kind of person. They think that if they let other people live in the state, it won’t be theirs anymore. They prefer to continue to fight and suffer wars, anything except allowing the people who lived here to return to their homes.

Are we nationalists too?

Do you think that Arabs and Jews can live together in the same place and that they deserve exactly the same things?


Then you are not nationalists, and if many more people thought like you do, we wouldn’t need to fight each other anymore and no one would have to die anymore so that only one kind of people can live here.

So, will we see fireworks today Dad?

Noam Rotem is an Israeli activist, high-tech executive and author of the blog, subtitled “Godwin doesn’t live here any more,” where a version of this article was first published in Hebrew.