Unit 4: Nakba – Shu hada?
It’s not just Palestinian history.

Keyword: Histories

This unit will introduce us to the Nakba, and touch on important historical events – before 1948, during 1948, and afterwards. We’ll also try to see how to handle the gap between what we know and the new information presented here.


  • To become familiar with historical materials dealing with 1948 which aren’t part of the history curriculum.
  • To create a basis for a class discussion about the Nakba by providing everyone with the same information.
  • To raise questions about what we thought we knew about 1948.


1. Introduction:  What do you know about the war in 1948? Do you think that what you know is the only version, or are there others?

Note to the teacher:  You could begin by asking the students what they know about 1948, for example by asking what they know about the war in 1948, or by distributing to the class photographs from the time of the war. Ask the students to arrange the photographs in a way that allows them to recount the events of 1948. We recommend selecting photographs which show a variety of incidents. The students will see what they know reflected in the photographs. This introductory activity might require extra time.

2.  Presentation of an historical slide show: The teacher will present a slide show dealing with a number of historical issues related to 1948: before, during, and afterwards (cf. Supplementary material 1).

3.  Class discussion:

  • Much of the information in the slide show is unfamiliar to us. Did anything in it annoy you – anything you didn’t agree with?
  • Was there anything you could relate to?

4.  Group activity:  Divide the students into small work groups. Give each group a worksheet containing familiar quotations and statements about our history. After reading them, each group will discuss the questions on the worksheet (cf. Supplementary material 2).

5.  Summing up:

  • What did you agree with? What did you disagree about?
  • What do you feel when you hear an historical account which contradicts the history you’re familiar with?
  • How can you handle the contradiction?
  • How can we evaluate the story we’re familiar with and the new story that we’ve heard?

Suggestion for a follow-up activity:

Using the computer and the internet:  The national photographic website contains a collection of photographs covering a period beginning before 1948 and up to today. Students should look for photographs using specific search terms such as: “abandoned Arab village”, “sabra”, “Palestinian”. They should bring one or two photos to class, along with the caption accompanying the photograph on the website. Analyze in class what the photograph shows and what it doesn’t show, and discuss critically the accompanying caption. You could suggest that the students write a different caption. You could then prepare a mini-exhibit in class of the photographs with their original and revised captions (You could use the methodology presented in “Reading a photograph” – cf. the pedagogical rationale in Unit 2).

Supplementary material 1:  Slide show – the Nakba in history
A slide show accompanying this unit addresses a number of historical issues connected to 1948 - before, during, and afterwards – and includes suggestions regarding how it may be used in class. The suggestions are contained in the attached envelope, as well as in the body of the slide show, in comments on each slide. The notes can be displayed on each slide when it is shown, or separately by changing the format to “Notes page” after clicking on the “View” menu. 

Supplementary material 2:  Worksheet about history

Theoretical background

Most of the events of the Nakba occurred mainly in 1948 and they included destroying most Palestinian localities in the areas which became part of the State of Israel, turning their inhabitants into refugees, and erasing the rich Palestinian life existing here. The Nakba was part of the 1948 war (the War of Independence), and was one of the crucial events which shaped our lives. But the Nakba has been excluded from Israeli historiography, so we usually know very little about it.

The answer to the question 'which historical events will be remembered and stressed, and which will be repressed and forgotten' often depends on what is needed at the time. History isn’t only an account of the past, but it also interprets the present.  Learning about the Nakba leads to a more sophisticated and critical understanding not only of history, but also of the reality in which we live, of the different forces and interests operating today. We see 1948 as the “starting point,”  an essential moment for understanding the conflict, and the fabric of our political, social and economic relations.

History also shapes our identity - who we are. National identity, like personal identity, is constructed on the basis of our history as individuals, as a nation, as citizens.  Today, even though the Nakba is mentioned in public discourse, it is presented primarily as a Palestinian story, as part of the Palestinian history, and Palestinian identity. Those who believe that Israeli Jews should know about the Nakba see such learning as a way of getting to know the Other, the Palestinian. The Nakba is in fact a foundational event for Palestinians. But it is also a foundational event for Israeli Jews. The Nakba is part of us:  of the identity of whoever lives in the country, of the history, and of the present of where we live, even if it seems to be missing. Learning about the Nakba will allow the students, and us, to know ourselves better. Moreover, we believe that studying the history of the Nakba can improve understanding and dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians.

Pedagogical rationale

This unit focuses on the events of 1947-1949, providing information and discussing the historical context. It gives a “bird’s eye view” of the Nakba, briefly describes what occurred, touches on the most important topics, and presents an initial overview of the subject. The first part of the unit employs a slide show presenting major aspects of the Nakba using primary and secondary historical sources. The second part goes more deeply into a number of topics by having students work in small groups.

Many students know very little about the war of independence.  Nevertheless, they’ve grown up in an environment in which the story of the establishment of the state is a familiar one, and that story can be the starting point for a critical examination of 1948.  We should emphasize that we encourage a critical approach to both the accepted hegemonic interpretation as well as to the new information presented here.

We’ve chosen to use the method of the slide show to provide a wide range of information and sources in a single mode of presentation. But the slide show has the serious disadvantage of presenting information schematically, superficially. The information contained in this unit comes from a variety of studies and sources, Israeli as well as Palestinian. Most provide a less familiar, and sometimes challenging, interpretation of the history of 1948. Along with the studies and the testimonies, we included quotations and statements from well-known Israeli figures.

The topics included in the slide show will probably elicit strong feelings and responses from the students, since they present information inconsistent with what they’ve know up to now. We suggest dealing with these contradictions in a class discussion following the slide show, as well as through work in small groups using the worksheet that addresses the gap between what we’ve known up to now and the new material presented in the slide show (cf. Supplementary material 2).

The history of the war of independence is usually taught as comprising a series of military operations. The result is a continuum of military history which leaves no room for other events which occurred, and it often silences them. The topics we’ve selected to include in this unit are, in our opinion, central to the period, and allow us to develop an alternative interpretation of the course of the war. We don’t pretend, of course, to deal with everything that occurred, but only to begin a discussion of the Nakba as an event which hasn’t been included in Israeli histories of the war of independence.

The topics in the slide show, and their pedagogical goals, include:


Slide No.

Pedagogical goal

What is the Nakba?



Definition and data


Provides a general overview to introduce the topic.

Talking about the Nakba



What was Palestine like before the Nakba?



Life in towns and villages, and relations between Palestinians and Jews


Learning about the rich Palestinian life that existed here, and about the fabric of relationships between Jews and Palestinians

When did it happen?



a.  The Partition Plan, November 1947


To learn about Palestinian attitudes toward the Partition Plan

b.  Warfare from November 1947 to March 1948


To describe the outbreak of fighting between Palestinian and Israeli forces

How did it happen?




a. March 1948: The Haganah’s “Plan D”


Learning about the Haganah’s Plan D, which was an important strategic stage in the shift in Haganah's policy from defense to offense, and which inspired the expulsion of the inhabitants of the villages.

b. Presenting historical research which examines the main reasons for which the Palestinians left and were expelled, including testimonies and quotes.


To broaden the students’ knowledge about the reasons for which the Palestinians left their localities. The familiar claim is that the Palestinians left because their leaders ordered them to do so. But historical studies found that Israeli forces played a central role in expulsions and in encouraging people to leave.

Preventing return



Steps taken to prevent refugees from returning


To deepen the students’ understanding that the Nakba refers not only to the expulsion in 1948, but also to the destruction of villages in the following years, erasing evidence of Palestinian existence, and preventing refugees from returning to their homes.

Suggestions for further reading

Ophir, A. (1999), "H-Hour", in: Fifty to Forty-Eight, Theory and Criticism 12-13, Jerusalem: Van Leer Institute (in Hebrew).
Morris, B. (1991), The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem 1947-1949, Cambridge University Press, 1989.
Morris, B. (2000), Jews and Arabs in Palestine/Israel 1936-1956, Tel Aviv: Am Oved Publications (in Hebrew).
Zochrot, booklets about Palestinian villages. http://zochrot.org/en/booklet/all
Khalidi, Walid. (1992), All That Remains: The Palestinian Villages Occupied and Depopulated by Israel in 1948, Washington DC: Institute for Palestine Studies.
Pappe, Ilan. (2007), The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, Oxford, England: Oneworld Publications.


1. We borrow the idea of 1948 as a "starting point" from: Ophir, A. (1999), "H-Hour", in: Fifty to Forty-Eight, Theory and Criticism 12-13, Jerusalem: Van Leer Institute (in Hebrew).



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