The contemporary history of the Palestinians turns on a key date: 1948. That year, a country and its people disappeared from both maps and dictionaries. The short war which raged from November 1947 to 15 May 1948 and terminated in the proclamation of the State of Israel, far from being a straightforward colonial occupation of one country by another, resulted in the replacement of one people by a community of 600,000 settlers transported to Palestine during the British Mandate. A universe disappeared, and of the 1,400,000 Palestinians in the country prior to the Nakba – ‘the Catastrophe’ – just 150,000 individuals were listed as being present during the first census carried out by the new Israeli state. ‘The Palestinian people does not exist’, said the new local masters, and henceforth the Palestinians would be referred to by general, conveniently vague terms, as either ‘refugees’, or in the case of the small minority that had managed to the escape generalized expulsion, ‘Israeli Arabs’. A long absence was beginning.

Elias Sanbar, “Out of Place, Out of Time”, Mediterranean Historical Review, 2001

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