Prior to 1998, the Palestinian Liberation Organisation had avoided dwelling on the exodus and the rights of would-be returnees in favour of pressing for the ”liberation of Palestine” through armed revolution, a cause that saw them branded a terrorist organisation by Israel and the US until 1991.
Even use of the word “nakba” has proven a point of contention, with Israel’s education minister Gideon Saar ordering its removal from school textbooks aimed at young Arab children in 2009 on the grounds that it implies the catastrophe in question was the establishment of Israel, rather than the eviction of Palestinians.
For their part, the estimated 5.3m Palestinian refugees living outside of Israel maintain they were victims of ethnic cleansing during the 1948 conflict and insist on their right to return to territory they consider their homeland.
Israel refuses to meet the demand because doing so would compromise the Jewish nature of the state – defying Resolution 194 passed by the UN in 1948, siding with Palestinians on the issue.
When more than 2,500 people were killed in Gaza’s last war in 2014 and much of its infrastructure destroyed, locals branded the devastation “a second Nakba”, indicating just how fraught the term is and how controversial the day is likely to be once again in 2018, exactly 70 years on from the birth of modern Israel.