Middle East

US skips UN Nakba event marking dispossession of Palestinians after Israeli campaign

By Celine Alkhaldi, Jennifer Hansler and Jonny Hallam, CNN

The United States and Western nations including the United Kingdom and Germany on Monday skipped an event at the United Nations marking the 75th anniversary of the dispossession of Palestinians after Israel called for a boycott.

The event, the first of its kind to be held by the UN, commemorated the Nakba or “catastrophe” – when roughly 700,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled from their homes in what is now Israel. The commemoration was boycotted by Israeli officials, who also urged diplomats of other nations not to participate.

On Sunday, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan, sent a letter to other UN ambassadors “deeply urging” them not to take part in what he called a “shameful Nakba event,” according to a copy of the letter obtained by CNN. Erdan said “Such events only serve to demonize Israel and further push away any chance for reconciliation.”

The US and the UK were among 30 countries that voted against a UN General Assembly resolution in December to adopt this year’s commemoration. Erdan said he has managed to convince “a number of countries” to boycott Monday’s event.

The spokesman for the US mission to the UN, Nate Evans, said Monday that the US, along with other countries including Germany and the UK, never planned to attend Monday’s event, because it has “longstanding concerns over anti-Israel bias within the UN system.”

“We do not support events organized by bodies designed to perpetuate anti-Israel bias,” Evans said.

The UN’s website for the event and a video it posted about the Nakba largely avoided mention of Israel, focusing instead on the suffering of the Palestinians.

In recent months, Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ambassador Erdan have led an effort to persuade countries not to take part in Monday’s Palestinian memorial plans at the UN headquarters in New York.

“Attending this despicable event means destroying any chance of peace by adopting the Palestinian narrative calling the establishment of the state of Israel a disaster,” Erdan said on Sunday. He said that “the real Nakba” was the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Jews from Arab nations following the establishment of Israel.

An attempt to block commemoration of the event in Washington, DC last week did however succeed. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy canceled a Wednesday event sponsored by Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib meant to commemorate the Nakba, saying it’s “wrong for members of Congress to traffic in antisemitic tropes about Israel.” Tlaib, the first Palestinian-American US congresswoman, said McCarthy “wants to rewrite history and erase the existence and truth of the Palestinian people, but he has failed to do so.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who spoke at the UN event on Monday, urged the world body to make May 15 an annual commemoration of “the Palestinian plight, which is a plight and a tragedy for humanity as a whole.”

“The main step that the Israeli government should take is to acknowledge, with its partners, its responsibility for this Nakba… for the killing, for the displacement, for the destruction,” Abbas said.

“We demand today officially, in accordance with international law and international resolutions, to make sure that Israel respects these resolutions or suspend Israel’s membership of the UN,” Abbas said, referring to UN resolutions over the years that Palestinians view as guaranteeing their rights.

“We will be sending thousands and thousands of complaints to the International Criminal Court” if Israel and its supporters fail to take responsibility for the Nakba, Abbas warned.

US State Department principal deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said Monday that “the attendance or US representation at any event is not reflective of our commitment to the Palestinian people.”

“We continue to recognize the painful plight of Palestinian refugees,” Patel added.

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