During the 1948 Palestine war, an estimated 700,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled, and hundreds of Palestinian towns and villages were depopulated and destroyed.
Palestinian refugees in 1948
These refugees and their descendants number several million people today, divided between Jordan (2 million), Lebanon (427,057), Syria (477,700), the West Bank (788,108) and the Gaza Strip (1.1 million), with at least another quarter of a million internally displaced Palestinians in Israel. The displacement, dispossession and dispersal of the Palestinian people is known to them as an-Nakba, meaning "catastrophe" or "disaster".
Prior to its adoption by the Palestinian nationalist movement, the "Year of the Catastrophe" among Arabs referred to 1920, when European colonial powers partitioned the Ottoman Empire into a series of separate states along lines of their own choosing. The term was first used to reference the events of 1948 in the summer of that same year by the Syrian writer Constantine Zureiq in his work Macnā an-Nakba ("The Meaning of the Nakba"; published in English in 1956).
Initially, the use of the term Nakba among Palestinians was not universal. For example, many years after 1948, Palestinian refugees in Lebanon avoided and even actively resisted using the term, because it lent permanency to a situation they viewed as temporary, and they often insisted on being called "returnees." In the 1950s and 1960s, terms they used to describe the events of 1948 included al-'ightiṣāb ("the rape"), or were more euphemistic, such as al-'aḥdāth ("the events"), al-hijra ("the exodus"), and lammā sharnā wa-tla'nā ("when we blackened our faces and left"). Nakba narratives were avoided by the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in Lebanon in the 1970s, in favor of a narrative of revolution and renewal. Interest in the Nakba by organizations representing refugees in Lebanon surged in the 1990s due to the perception that the refugees' right of return might be negotiated away in exchange for Palestinian statehood, and the desire was to send a clear message to the international community that this right was non-negotiable. The Israeli–Palestinian conflict has prompted Palestinians like Mahmoud Darwish to describe the Nakba as "an extended present that promises to continue in the future."