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Published on May 8, 2013
Al-Nakba - Episode 1
"The Nakba did not begin in 1948. Its origins lie over two centuries ago…."
So begins this four-part series on the 'nakba', meaning the 'catastrophe', about the history of the Palestinian exodus that led to the first Arab-Israeli war in 1948, and the establishment of the state of Israel.
This sweeping history starts back in 1799 with Napoleon's attempted advance into Palestine to check British expansion and his appeal to the Jews of the world to reclaim their land in league with France.
The narrative moves through the 19th century and into the 20th century with the British Mandate in Palestine and comes right up to date in the 21st century and the ongoing 'nakba' on the ground.
Arab, Israeli and Western intellectuals, historians and eye-witnesses provide the central narrative which is accompanied by archive material and documents, many only recently released for the first time.
For Palestinians, 1948 marks the 'nakba' or the 'catastrophe', when hundreds of thousands were forced out of their homes.
But for Israelis, the same year marks the creation of their own state.
This series attempts to present an understanding of the events of the past that are still shaping the present.
This story starts in 1799, outside the walls of Acre in Ottoman-controlled Palestine, when an army under Napoleon Bonaparte besieged the city. It was all part of a campaign to defeat the Ottomans and establish a French presence in the region.
In search of allies, Napoleon issued a letter offering Palestine as a homeland to the Jews under French protection. He called on the Jews to ‘rise up’ against what he called their oppressors.
Napoleon’s appeal was widely publicised. But he was ultimately defeated. In Acre today, the only memory of him is a statue atop a hill overlooking the city.
Yet Napoleon's project for a Jewish homeland in the region under a colonial protectorate did not die, 40 years later, the plan was revived but by the British.