Portland community commemorates Nakba, the displacement of Palestinians

Portland State University students commemorated Nakba over the weekend by hosting a rally, march, and festival.
Published: May. 24, 2023 at 9:07 AM PDT
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PORTLAND, Ore. (KPTV) - Portland State University students commemorated Nakba over the weekend by hosting a rally, march, and festival.

Organizers explain Nakba refers to the destruction of Palestine and the permanent displacement of its people in 1948. The school club ‘SUPER’ (Students United for Palestinian Equal Rights) hosted the event in downtown Portland on Sunday giving community members the chance to take part in the day of remembrance.

The event gave Palestinians the opportunity to share their Nakba stories, including Henna, a senior at PSU who has made it her mission to give a voice to Palestinians living in Portland.

“Nakba is a story that any Palestinian can tell you about. It’s essentially what shapes most families into who they are today,” Henna said.

Nakba began 75-years ago when roughly 700,000 Palestinians were forced from their homes during the establishment of what is now Israel. The event is remembered on May 15 of every year, though for many Palestinians, Nakba has no start and no end.

Henna is a Palestinian-American living in Portland and a senior at PSU studying social services, though her passion for amplifying Palestinian voices runs just as deep as her cultural roots. Her grandparents fled Palestine in 1948 and started a new life for their family in Jordan, a place where thousands of Palestinians have sought refuge. However, for Henna’s parents, living in Jordan didn’t provide the educational and economic opportunities they needed, so they moved to Portland. That move is a moment in Henna’s family history she calls ‘forced migration.’

“It felt like it was just this constant reoccurring thing. Generation after generation, being separated from something of what keeps you rooted as a Palestinian in your family,” Henna said.

For many Arab-Americans growing up in the United States post 9/11 comes with its own trials and tribulations. But for Henna, growing up in a city dominated by a majority white population, she felt even more isolated.

“It’s really shocking when you grow up here and you don’t really see anyone that looks like you, no one that really understands your experiences or what you go through, and so you grow up in a bubble of not sure if your experiences can ever be understood,” Henna said.

Henna doesn’t want her experience growing up in Portland to be the reality for other Palestinians. She wants to be the role model she never had by giving other local Palestinians an outlet to validate their experiences. She began organizing events to do just that four years ago. The most recent one took place on Sunday to commemorate Nakba on its 75th anniversary, the first year in which it has also been acknowledged by the United Nations. The international body said they are marking the day to “serve as a reminder of the historic injustice suffered by the Palestinian people.”

“We are doing it in order to commemorate the resistance that Palestinians have until the reclamation of our homelands, of our homes, of the lives we used to lead for hundreds of years,” Henna said.

Sunday’s event started with a rally where stories of Palestinian resistance were shared and ended with a festival to celebrate the steadfastness of Palestinians across the world. The event even garnered support from other cultural groups across the Portland area including ‘Jewish Voice for Peace.’ One of its members, Ben explained that being Jewish does not inherently mean being in support of Israel.

“We’re bringing the community together. There’s a ton of different groups here, and if we all come together, that’s the only way that we’re going to solve these problems,” Ben said.

Group leaders explain Jewish liberation is not exclusive from Palestinian liberation, a message Henna plans on sharing everyday of Nakba.

“Nakba day now represents that point of where our rage, our hope, and our love for our land accumulates into one.”