Pro-Palestinian students and curious passersby assembled in White Plaza yesterday at noon in commemoration of Nakba Day, a day to remember the 1947-1948 Palestinian exodus from what is now Israel. They talked in small groups while viewing photos of pre-1948 Palestine.
Nakba Day is considered the most important date on the Palestinian calendar. "Nakba," which means "catastrophe" in Arabic, is observed throughout the world on May 15.
The day is meant to be a time to learn the history of Palestine and its people and to remember the period when 700,000 Palestinians left Israel during Israel's war for independence in 1947-1948. While Israelis claim Palestinians fled on their own accord or were encouraged by other Arabs, Palestinians maintain that Zionist forces expelled them.
"[Nakba is] the word is used to refer to the devastation of Palestinian society and the dispossession of the Palestinian people resulting from the ethnic cleansing conducted by Zionist forces during 1947-48," said Yael Ben-zvi, a graduate student in cultural and social anthropology and modern thought and literature and a member of the Coalition for Justice in Israel / Palestine, the group that organized the event.
The gathering featured a display of photographs from before Nakba and during the exodus. Fliers and a Palestinian dessert were also distributed.
"Our main goal is to educate people of the history," said Ammar Nayfeh, a doctoral candidate in electrical engineering on the board of the coalition. "Before 1948, a country was called Palestine. Today that country is erased from the map but not from our hearts."
This is the second year the day has been commemorated in White Plaza.
"We felt it was important to get this information out to the Stanford community, especially in light of the current situation," said Rula Razek, a graduate student in modern thought and literature, member of the coalition and an organizer of the event. "We are keeping the history alive and putting it out there for people who do not know the history and what really happened."
Most felt that the event was informative and a success, while other remarked on the low number of attendees.
"I would think the most discussed-about conflict in the past five decades would have a better turnout," said Basil Hantash, a resident in dermatology. "It is disconcerting especially in light of recent events."
Joel Beinin, a professor of Middle Eastern history who came to express his solidarity with the coalition, said, "I think the pictures are very forceful and give people a good sense of Palestinians as actual human beings, which is something they do not always get."
Susumu Harada, a graduate student in computer science, said, "I think it's great to be able to explore the background, because usually in the media we just get the surface issue. It's really helpful to learn both sides"
Maham Mela, a freshman from Pakistan, said she was pleased that not only Muslims but also Jews and people of other backgrounds were present.
"I came because I'm Muslim and to show support and to find out more," she said. "Even being a Muslim, I don't know a whole lot."
Kathleen Namphy, a lecturer emerita in English affiliated with the coalition, said the event was both educational and instructive. She taught for 10 years in Beirut and had many students who were Palestinian refugees.
"I feel the urgency of a peaceful reconciliation and final ending to a century of conflict between two communities of people of the ancient and modern Middle East," Namphy said.