What is the Nakba?

An Arab word for “catastrophe,” it signals a mass eviction from the 1940s that created a refugee crisis.By Zack Beauchamp@zackbeauchampzack@vox.com  May 14, 2018, 10:20am EDT

Editor’s note, October 16, 2023: This story was originally published in May 2018. For a more recent explainer on the Nakba, watch Vox’s video, and for all our latest coverage of the Israel-Hamas war, see our storystream.

The 1948 war uprooted 700,000 Palestinians from their homes, creating a refugee crisis that is still not resolved. Palestinians call this mass eviction the Nakba — Arabic for “catastrophe” — and its legacy remains one of the most intractable issues in ongoing peace negotiations.

Not surprisingly, Palestinians and Israelis remember the birth of the Palestinian refugee crisis very differently (here’s a helpful side-by-side comparison). Palestinians often see a years long, premeditated Jewish campaign to ethnically cleanse Palestine of Arabs; Israelis tend to blame spontaneous Arab fleeing, Arab armies, and/or unfortunate wartime accidents.

Today, there are more than 7 million Palestinian refugees, defined as people displaced in 1948 and their descendants. A core Palestinian demand in peace negotiations is some kind of justice for these refugees, most commonly in the form of the “right of return” to the homes their families abandoned in 1948.