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The word “nakba” to describe the consequences of the 1948 War was coined by Dr. Constantin Zureiq, a Syrian historian who taught at the American University of Beirut. Writing in his 1948 book, The Meaning of the Disaster, Zureiq said, “The defeat of the Arabs in Palestine is not a small downfall – naksa … It is a catastrophe – nakba – in every sense of the word.”

Zureiq also wrote, “Seven Arab countries declare war on Zionism in Palestine….Seven countries go to war to abolish the partition and to defeat Zionism, and quickly leave the battle after losing much of the land of Palestine – and even the part that was given to the Arabs in the Partition Plan.”

“When the battle broke out,” Zureiq wrote, “our public diplomacy began to speak of our imaginary victories, to put the Arab public to sleep and talk of the ability to overcome and win easily – until the nakba happened.”

He also distinguished between the Zionists and the Arabs to explain the war’s outcome. “Zionism is deeply implanted in Western life, while we are far from it…They live in the present and look to the future, while we are drugged-up dreaming of a magnificent past.”

He concluded, “We must admit our mistakes…and recognize the extent of our responsibility for the disaster that is our lot.”

In May 2023, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas signed a presidential decree that criminalizes denying the Palestinian “Nakba.” The decree states that anyone found guilty of denying the “catastrophe” inflicted upon Palestinians by Zionist forces in 1948 will face up to two years in jail. It defines the “Nakba” as “a crime against humanity” carried out by the “Zionist gangs.”

Salman Masalha, “The 1948 war through Arab eyes,” Haaretz, (March 10, 2017).
“Abbas signs decree criminalizing ‘Nakba’ denial,” Times of Israel, (May 30, 2023).