Myths & Facts Online

The Refugees

By Mitchell G. Bard


“One million Palestinians were expelled by Israel from 1947-49.”
“Palestinians were the only people who became refugees as a result of the Arab-Israeli conflict.”
“The Jews made clear from the outset they had no intentions of living peacefully with their Arab neighbors.”
“The Jews created the refugee problem by expelling Palestinians.”
“The Arab invasion had little impact on the Palestinian Arabs.”
“Arab leaders never encouraged the Palestinians to flee.”
“The Palestinian Arabs had to flee to avoid being massacred as were the peaceful villagers in Deir Yassin.”
“Israel refused to allow Palestinians to return to their homes so Jews could steal their property.”
“UN resolutions call for Israel to repatriate all Palestinian refugees.”
“Palestinians who wanted to return to their homes posed no danger to Israeli security.”
“The Palestinian refugees were ignored by an uncaring world.”
“The Arab states have provided most of the funds for helping the Palestinian refugees.”
“The Arab states have always welcomed the Palestinians.”
“Millions of Palestinians are confined to squalid refugee camps.”
“Israel forced the Palestinian refugees to stay in camps in the Gaza Strip.”
“Refugees have always been repatriated, only the Palestinians have been barred from returning to their homes.”
“Had the Palestinian refugees been repatriated, the Arab-Israeli conflict could have ended.”
“Israel expelled more Palestinians in 1967.”
“UNRWA bears no responsibility for the terror and incitement that originates in the refugee camps.”
“All Palestinians have the right to return to their homes.”

MYTH

“One million Palestinians were expelled by Israel from 1947-49.”

FACT

The Palestinians left their homes in 1947-49 for a variety of reasons. Thousands of wealthy Arabs left in anticipation of a war, thousands more responded to Arab leaders’ calls to get out of the way of the advancing armies, a handful were expelled, but most simply fled to avoid being caught in the cross fire of a battle.

Many Arabs claim that 800,000 to 1,000,000 Palestinians became refugees in 1947-49. The last census was taken by the British in 1945. It found approximately 1.2 million permanent Arab residents in all of Palestine. A 1949 Government of Israel census counted 160,000 Arabs living in the country after the war. In 1947, a total of 809,100 Arabs lived in the same area.1This meant no more than 650,000 Palestinian Arabs could have become refugees. A report by the UN Mediator on Palestine arrived at an even lower figure — 472,000, and calculated that only about 360,000 Arab refugees required aid.2

MYTH

“Palestinians were the only people who became refugees as a result of the Arab-Israeli conflict.”

FACT

Although much is heard about the plight of the Palestinian refugees, little is said about the Jews who fled from Arab states. Their situation had long been precarious. During the 1947 UN debates, Arab leaders threatened them. For example, Egypt’s delegate told the General Assembly: “The lives of one million Jews in Muslim countries would be jeopardized by partition.”3

The number of Jews fleeing Arab countries for Israel in the years following Israel’s independence was nearly double the number of Arabs leaving Palestine. Many Jews were allowed to take little more than the shirts on their backs. These refugees had no desire to be repatriated. Little is heard about them because they did not remain refugees for long. Of the 820,000 Jewish refugees between 1948 and 1972, 586,000 were resettled in Israel at great expense, and without any offer of compensation from the Arab governments who confiscated their possessions.4 Israel has consequently maintained that any agreement to compensate the Palestinian refugees must also include Arab reparations for Jewish refugees. To this day, the Arab states have refused to pay anything to the hundreds of thousands of Jews who were forced to abandon their property before fleeing those countries. Through 2005, at least 115 of the 774 UN General Assembly resolutions on the Middle East conflict (15 percent) referred directly to Palestinian refugees. Not one mentioned the Jewish refugees from Arab countries.5

The contrast between the reception of Jewish and Palestinian refugees is even starker when one considers the difference in cultural and geographic dislocation experienced by the two groups. Most Jewish refugees traveled hundreds — and some traveled thousands — of miles to a tiny country whose inhabitants spoke a different language. Most Arab refugees never left Palestine at all; they traveled a few miles to the other side of the truce line, remaining inside the vast Arab nation that they were part of linguistically, culturally and ethnically.

MYTH

“The Jews made clear from the outset they had no intention of living peacefully with their Arab neighbors.”

FACT

In numerous instances, Jewish leaders urged the Arabs to remain in Palestine and become citizens of Israel. The Assembly of Palestine Jewry issued this appeal on October 2, 1947:

We will do everything in our power to maintain peace, and establish a cooperation gainful to both [Jews and Arabs]. It is now, here and now, from Jerusalem itself, that a call must go out to the Arab nations to join forces with Jewry and the destined Jewish State and work shoulder to shoulder for our common good, for the peace and progress of sovereign equals.6

On November 30, the day after the UN partition vote, the Jewish Agency announced: “The main theme behind the spontaneous celebrations we are witnessing today is our community’s desire to seek peace and its determination to achieve fruitful cooperation with the Arabs....”7

Israel’s Proclamation of Independence, issued May 14, 1948, also invited the Palestinians to remain in their homes and become equal citizens in the new state:

In the midst of wanton aggression, we yet call upon the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to preserve the ways of peace and play their part in the development of the State, on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its bodies and institutions....We extend our hand in peace and neighborliness to all the neighboring states and their peoples, and invite them to cooperate with the independent Jewish nation for the common good of all.

MYTH

“The Jews created the refugee problem by expelling the Palestinians.”

FACT

Had the Arabs accepted the 1947 UN resolution, not a single Palestinian would have become a refugee. An independent Arab state would now exist beside Israel. The responsibility for the refugee problem rests with the Arabs.

The beginning of the Arab exodus can be traced to the weeks immediately following the announcement of the UN partition resolution. The first to leave were roughly 30,000 wealthy Arabs who anticipated the upcoming war and fled to neighboring Arab countries to await its end. Less affluent Arabs from the mixed cities of Palestine moved to all-Arab towns to stay with relatives or friends.8By the end of January 1948, the exodus was so alarming the Palestine Arab Higher Committee asked neighboring Arab countries to refuse visas to these refugees and to seal their borders against them.9

On January 30, 1948, the Jaffa newspaper, Ash Sha’ab, reported: “The first of our fifth-column consists of those who abandon their houses and businesses and go to live elsewhere....At the first signs of trouble they take to their heels to escape sharing the burden of struggle.”10

Another Jaffa paper, As Sarih (March 30, 1948) excoriated Arab villagers near Tel Aviv for “bringing down disgrace on us all by ‘abandoning the villages.’“’”11

Meanwhile, a leader of the Arab National Committee in Haifa, Hajj Nimer el-Khatib, said Arab soldiers in Jaffa were mistreating the residents. “They robbed individuals and homes. Life was of little value, and the honor of women was defiled. This state of affairs led many [Arab] residents to leave the city under the protection of British tanks.”12

John Bagot Glubb, the commander of Jordan’s Arab Legion, said: “Villages were frequently abandoned even before they were threatened by the progress of war.”13

Contemporary press reports of major battles in which large numbers of Arabs fled conspicuously fail to mention any forcible expulsion by the Jewish forces. The Arabs are usually described as “fleeing” or “evacuating” their homes. While Zionists are accused of “expelling and dispossessing” the Arab inhabitants of such towns as Tiberias and Haifa, the truth is much different. Both of those cities were within the boundaries of the Jewish State under the UN partition scheme and both were fought for by Jews and Arabs alike.

Jewish forces seized Tiberias on April 19, 1948, and the entire Arab population of 6,000 was evacuated under British military supervision. The Jewish Community Council issued a statement afterward: “We did not dispossess them; they themselves chose this course....Let no citizen touch their property.”14

In early April, an estimated 25,000 Arabs left the Haifa area following an offensive by the irregular forces led by Fawzi al-Qawukji, and rumors that Arab air forces would soon bomb the Jewish areas around Mt. Carmel.15 On April 23, the Haganah captured Haifa. A British police report from Haifa, dated April 26, explained that “every effort is being made by the Jews to persuade the Arab populace to stay and carry on with their normal lives, to get their shops and businesses open and to be assured that their lives and interests will be safe.”16In fact, David Ben-Gurion had sent Golda Meir to Haifa to try to persuade the Arabs to stay, but she was unable to convince them because of their fear of being judged traitors to the Arab cause.17 By the end of the battle, more than 50,000 Palestinians had left.

“Tens of thousands of Arab men, women and children fled toward the eastern outskirts of the city in cars, trucks, carts, and afoot in a desperate attempt to reach Arab territory until the Jews captured Rushmiya Bridge toward Samaria and Northern Palestine and cut them off. Thousands rushed every available craft, even rowboats, along the waterfront, to escape by sea toward Acre.

New York Times, (April 23, 1948)

In Tiberias and Haifa, the Haganah issued orders that none of the Arabs’ possessions should be touched, and warned that anyone who violated the orders would be severely punished. Despite these efforts, all but about 5,000 or 6,000 Arabs evacuated Haifa, many leaving with the assistance of British military transports.

Syria’s UN delegate, Faris el-Khouri, interrupted the UN debate on Palestine to describe the seizure of Haifa as a “massacre” and said this action was “further evidence that the ‘Zionist program’ is to annihilate Arabs within the Jewish state if partition is effected.”18

The following day, however, the British representative at the UN, Sir Alexander Cadogan, told the delegates that the fighting in Haifa had been provoked by the continuous attacks by Arabs against Jews a few days before and that reports of massacres and deportations were erroneous.19

The same day (April 23, 1948), Jamal Husseini, the chairman of the Palestine Higher Committee, told the UN Security Council that instead of accepting the Haganah’s truce offer, the Arabs “preferred to abandon their homes, their belongings, and everything they possessed in the world and leave the town.”20

The U.S. Consul-General in Haifa, Aubrey Lippincott, wrote on April 22, 1948, for example, that “local mufti-dominated Arab leaders” were urging “all Arabs to leave the city, and large numbers did so.”21

An army order issued July 6, 1948, made clear that Arab towns and villages were not to be demolished or burned, and that Arab inhabitants were not to be expelled from their homes.22

The Haganah did employ psychological warfare to encourage the Arabs to abandon a few villages. Yigal Allon, the commander of the Palmach (the “shock force of the Haganah”), said he had Jews talk to the Arabs in neighboring villages and tell them a large Jewish force was in Galilee with the intention of burning all the Arab villages in the Lake Hula region. The Arabs were told to leave while they still had time and, according to Allon, they did exactly that.23

In the most dramatic example, in the Ramle-Lod area, Israeli troops seeking to protect their flanks and relieve the pressure on besieged Jerusalem, forced a portion of the Arab population to go to an area a few miles away that was occupied by the Arab Legion. “The two towns had served as bases for Arab irregular units, which had frequently attacked Jewish convoys and nearby settlements, effectively barring the main road to Jerusalem to Jewish traffic.”24

As was clear from the descriptions of what took place in the cities with the largest Arab populations, these cases were clearly the exceptions, accounting for only a small fraction of the Palestinian refugees. The expulsions were not designed to force out the entire Arab population; the areas where they took place were strategically vital and meant to prevent the threat of any rearguard action against the Israeli forces, and to insure clear lines of communication. Morris notes that “in general, Haganah and IDF commanders were not forced to confront the moral dilemma posed by expulsion; most Arabs fled before and during the battle, before the Israeli troops reached their homes and before the Israeli commanders were forced to confront the dilema.”24a

MYTH

“The Arab invasion had little impact on the Palestinian Arabs.”

FACT

Once the invasion began in May 1948, most Arabs remaining in Palestine left for neighboring countries. Surprisingly, rather than acting as a strategically valuable “fifth-column” that would fight the Jews from within the country, the Palestinians chose to flee to the safety of the other Arab states, still confident of being able to return. A leading Palestinian nationalist of the time, Musa Alami, revealed the attitude of the fleeing Arabs:

The Arabs of Palestine left their homes, were scattered, and lost everything. But there remained one solid hope: The Arab armies were on the eve of their entry into Palestine to save the country and return things to their normal course, punish the aggressor, and throw oppressive Zionism with its dreams and dangers into the sea. On May 14, 1948, crowds of Arabs stood by the roads leading to the frontiers of Palestine, enthusiastically welcoming the advancing armies. Days and weeks passed, sufficient to accomplish the sacred mission, but the Arab armies did not save the country. They did nothing but let slip from their hands Acre, Sarafand, Lydda, Ramleh, Nazareth, most of the south and the rest of the north. Then hope fled.25

As the fighting spread into areas that had previously remained quiet, the Arabs began to see the possibility of defeat. As the possibility turned into reality, the flight of the Arabs increased — more than 300,000 departed after May 15 — leaving approximately 160,000 Arabs in the State of Israel.26

Although most of the Arabs had left by November 1948, there were still those who chose to leave even after hostilities ceased. An interesting case was the evacuation of 3,000 Arabs from Faluja, a village between Tel Aviv and Beersheba:

Observers feel that with proper counsel after the Israeli-Egyptian armistice, the Arab population might have advantageously remained. They state that the Israeli Government had given guarantees of security of person and property. However, no effort was made by Egypt, Transjordan or even the United Nations Palestine Conciliation Commission to advise the Faluja Arabs one way or the other.27

“The [refugee] problem was a direct consequence of the war that the Palestinians — and...surrounding Arab states — had launched.”

— Israeli historian Benny Morris28,]

MYTH

“Arab leaders never encouraged the Palestinians to flee.”

FACT

Despite revisionist historical attempts to deny that Palestinians were encouraged to leave their homes, a plethora of evidence demonstrates that the Palestinians who later became refugees were indeed told to leave their homes to make way for the invading Arab armies. In fact, in recent years, more Palestinians have come forward to candidly admit this truth.

The Economist, a frequent critic of the Zionists, reported on October 2, 1948: “Of the 62,000 Arabs who formerly lived in Haifa not more than 5,000 or 6,000 remained. Various factors influenced their decision to seek safety in flight. There is but little doubt that the most potent of the factors were the announcements made over the air by the Higher Arab Executive, urging the Arabs to quit....It was clearly intimated that those Arabs who remained in Haifa and accepted Jewish protection would be regarded as renegades.”

Times report of the battle for Haifa (May 3, 1948) was similar: “The mass evacuation, prompted partly by fear, partly by orders of Arab leaders, left the Arab quarter of Haifa a ghost city....By withdrawing Arab workers their leaders hoped to paralyze Haifa.”

Benny Morris, the historian who documented instances where Palestinians were expelled, also found that Arab leaders encouraged their brethren to leave. Starting in December 1947, he said, “Arab officers ordered the complete evacuation of specific villages in certain areas, lest their inhabitants ‘treacherously’ acquiesce in Israeli rule or hamper Arab military deployments.” He concluded, “There can be no exaggerating the importance of these arly Arab-initiated evacuations in the demoralization, and eventual exodus, of the remaining rural and urban populations.”28a

The Arab National Committee in Jerusalem, following the March 8, 1948, instructions of the Arab Higher Committee, ordered women, children and the elderly in various parts of Jerusalem to leave their homes: “Any opposition to this order...is an obstacle to the holy war...and will hamper the operations of the fighters in these districts.” The Arab Higher Committee also ordered the evacuation of “several dozen villages, as well as the removal of dependents from dozens more” in April-July 1948. “The invading Arab armies also occasionally ordered whole villages to depart, so as not to be in their way.”29

Morris also said that in early May units of the Arab Legion ordered the evacuation of all women and children from the town of Beisan. The Arab Liberation Army was also reported to have ordered the evacuation of another village south of Haifa. The departure of the women and children, Morris says, “tended to sap the morale of the menfolk who were left behind to guard the homes and fields, contributing ultimately to the final evacuation of villages. Such two-tier evacuation — women and children first, the men following weeks later — occurred in Qumiya in the Jezreel Valley, among the Awarna bedouin in Haifa Bay and in various other places.”

In his memoirs, Haled al Azm, the Syrian Prime Minister in 1948-49, also admitted the Arab role in persuading the refugees to leave:

“Since 1948 we have been demanding the return of the refugees to their homes. But we ourselves are the ones who encouraged them to leave. Only a few months separated our call to them to leave and our appeal to the United Nations to resolve on their return.”30

Who gave such orders? Leaders like such as Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Said, who declared: “We will smash the country with our guns and obliterate every place the Jews seek shelter in. The Arabs should conduct their wives and children to safe areas until the fighting has died down.”31

The Secretary of the Arab League Office in London, Edward Atiyah, wrote in his book, The Arabs: “This wholesale exodus was due partly to the belief of the Arabs, encouraged by the boastings of an unrealistic Arabic press and the irresponsible utterances of some of the Arab leaders that it could be only a matter of weeks before the Jews were defeated by the armies of the Arab States and the Palestinian Arabs enabled to re­enter and retake possession of their country.”32

“The refugees were confident their absence would not last long, and that they would return within a week or two,” Monsignor George Hakim, a Greek Orthodox Catholic Bishop of Galilee told the Beirut newspaper, Sada al-Janub (August 16, 1948). “Their leaders had promised them that the Arab Armies would crush the ’Zionist gangs’ very quickly and that there was no need for panic or fear of a long exile.”

On April 3, 1949, the Near East Broadcasting Station (Cyprus) said: “It must not be forgotten that the Arab Higher Committee encouraged the refugees’ flight from their homes in Jaffa, Haifa and Jerusalem.”33

“The Arab States encouraged the Palestine Arabs to leave their homes temporarily in order to be out of the way of the Arab invasion armies,” according to the Jordanian newspaper Filastin, (February 19, 1949).

One refugee quoted in the Jordan newspaper, Ad Difaa (September 6, 1954), said: “The Arab government told us: Get out so that we can get in. So we got out, but they did not get in.”

“The Secretary-General of the Arab League, Azzam Pasha, assured the Arab peoples that the occupation of Palestine and Tel Aviv would be as simple as a military promenade,” said Habib Issa in the New York Lebanese paper, Al Hoda (June 8, 1951). “He pointed out that they were already on the frontiers and that all the millions the Jews had spent on land and economic development would be easy booty, for it would be a simple matter to throw Jews into the Mediterranean....Brotherly advice was given to the Arabs of Palestine to leave their land, homes and property and to stay temporarily in neighboring fraternal states, lest the guns of the invading Arab armies mow them down.”

The Arabs’ fear was naturally exacerbated by stories of real and imagined Jewish atrocities following the attack on Deir Yassin. The native population lacked leaders who could calm them; their spokesmen, such as the Arab Higher Committee, were operating from the safety of neighboring states and did more to arouse their fears than to pacify them. Local military leaders were of little or no comfort. In one instance the commander of Arab troops in Safed went to Damascus. The following day, his troops withdrew from the town. When the residents realized they were defenseless, they fled in panic. “As Palestinian military power was swiftly and dramatically crushed, and the Haganah demonstrated almost unchallenged superiority in successive battles,” Benny Morris noted, “Arab morale cracked, giving way to general, blind, panic, or a ‘psychosis of flight,’ as one IDF intelligence report put it.”34

According to Dr. Walid al-Qamhawi, a former member of the Executive Committee of the PLO, “it was collective fear, moral disintegration and chaos in every field that exiled the Arabs of Tiberias, Haifa and dozens of towns and villages.”35

As panic spread throughout Palestine, the early trickle of refugees became a flood, numbering more than 200,000 by the time the provisional government declared the independence of the State of Israel.

Even Jordan’s King Abdullah, writing in his memoirs, blamed Palestinian leaders for the refugee problem:

The tragedy of the Palestinians was that most of their leaders had paralyzed them with false and unsubstantiated promises that they were not alone; that 80 million Arabs and 400 million Muslims would instantly and miraculously come to their rescue.36

These accounts have been bolstered by more recent statements by Palestinians who have become fed up with the phony narrative concocted by some Palestinian and Israeli academics. Asmaa Jabir Balasimah, for example, recalled her flight from Israel in 1948:

We heard sounds of explosions and of gunfire at the beginning of the summer in the year of the “Catastrophe” [1948]. They told us: The Jews attacked our region and it is better to evacuate the village and return, after the battle is over. And indeed there were among us [who fled Israel] those who left a fire burning under the pot, those who left their flock [of sheep] and those who left their money and gold behind, based on the assumption that we would return after a few hours.36a

An Arab resident of a Palestinian refugee camp explained why his family left Israel in 1948:

The radio stations of the Arab regimes kept repeating to us: 'Get away from the battle lines. It's a matter of ten days or two weeks at the most, and we'll bring you back to Ein-Kerem [near Jerusalem].' And we said to ourselves, 'That's a very long time. What is this? Two weeks? That's a lot!' That's what we thought [then]. And now 50 years have gone by.36b

Mahmoud Al-Habbash, a Palestinian journalist wrote in the Palestinian Authority’s official newspaper:

...The leaders and the elites promised us at the beginning of the “Catastrophe” in 1948, that the duration of the exile will not be long, and that it will not last more than a few days or months, and afterwards the refugees will return to their homes, which most of them did not leave only until they put their trust in those “Arkuvian” promises made by the leaders and the political elites. Afterwards, days passed, months, years and decades, and the promises were lost with the strain of the succession of events... [“Arkuvian” is a reference to Arkuv, a figure from Arab tradition known for breaking promises and lying.]36c

Another Palestinian journalist, Jawad Al Bashiti, explained the cause of the “Catastrophe”:

The following happened: the first war between Arabs and Israel had started and the “Arab Salvation Army” came and told the Palestinians: ‘We have come to you in order to liquidate the Zionists and their state. Leave your houses and villages, you will return to them in a few days safely. Leave them so we can fulfill our mission (destroy Israel) in the best way and so you won't be hurt.’ It became clear already then, when it was too late, that the support of the Arab states (against Israel) was a big illusion. Arabs fought as if intending to cause the “Palestinian Catastrophe.”36d

“The Arab armies entered Palestine to protect the Palestinians from the Zionist tyranny but, instead, they abandoned them, forced them to emigrate and to leave their homeland, and threw them into prisons similar to the ghettos in which the Jews used to live.”

— Palestinian Authority (then) Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen)37

MYTH

“The Palestinian Arabs had to flee to avoid being massacred as were the peaceful villagers in Deir Yassin.”

FACT

The United Nations resolved that Jerusalem would be an international city apart from the Arab and Jewish states demarcated in the partition resolution. The 150,000 Jewish inhabitants were under constant military pressure; the 2,500 Jews living in the Old City were victims of an Arab blockade that lasted five months before they were forced to surrender on May 29, 1948. Prior to the surrender, and throughout the siege on Jerusalem, Jewish convoys tried to reach the city to alleviate the food shortage, which, by April, had become critical.

Meanwhile, the Arab forces, which had engaged in sporadic and unorganized ambushes since December 1947, began to make an organized attempt to cut off the highway linking Tel Aviv with Jerusalem — the city’s only supply route. The Arabs controlled several strategic vantage points, which overlooked the highway and enabled them to fire on the convoys trying to reach the beleaguered city with supplies. Deir Yassin was situated on a hill, about 2,600 feet high, which commanded a wide view of the vicinity and was located less than a mile from the suburbs of Jerusalem. The population was 750.38

On April 6, Operation Nachshon was launched to open the road to Jerusalem. The village of Deir Yassin was included on the list of Arab villages to be occupied as part of the operation. The following day Haganah commander David Shaltiel wrote to the leaders of the Lehi and Irgun:

I learn that you plan an attack on Deir Yassin. I wish to point out that the capture of Deir Yassin and its holding are one stage in our general plan. I have no objection to your carrying out the operation provided you are able to hold the village. If you are unable to do so I warn you against blowing up the village which will result in its inhabitants abandoning it and its ruins and deserted houses being occupied by foreign forces....Furthermore, if foreign forces took over, this would upset our general plan for establishing an airfield.39

The Irgun decided to attack Deir Yassin on April 9, while the Haganah was still engaged in the battle for Kastel. This was the first major Irgun attack against the Arabs. Previously, the Irgun and Lehi had concentrated their attacks against the British.

According to Irgun leader Menachem Begin, the assault was carried out by 100 members of that organization; other authors say it was as many as 132 men from both groups. Begin stated that a small open truck fitted with a loudspeaker was driven to the entrance of the village before the attack and broadcast a warning to civilians to evacuate the area, which many did.40Most writers say the warning was never issued because the truck with the loudspeaker rolled into a ditch before it could broadcast the warning.41 One of the fighters said, the ditch was filled in and the truck continued on to the village. “One of us called out on the loudspeaker in Arabic, telling the inhabitants to put down their weapons and flee. I don’t know if they heard, and I know these appeals had no effect.”42

Contrary to revisionist histories that the town was filled with peaceful innocents, residents and foreign troops opened fire on the attackers. One fighter described his experience:

My unit stormed and passed the first row of houses. I was among the first to enter the village. There were a few other guys with me, each encouraging the other to advance. At the top of the street I saw a man in khaki clothing running ahead. I thought he was one of ours. I ran after him and told him, “advance to that house.” Suddenly he turned around, aimed his rifle and shot. He was an Iraqi soldier. I was hit in the foot.43

The battle was ferocious and took several hours. The Irgun suffered 41 casualties, including four dead.

Surprisingly, after the “massacre,” the Irgun escorted a representative of the Red Cross through the town and held a press conference. The New York Times’ subsequent description of the battle was essentially the same as Begin’s. The Times said more than 200 Arabs were killed, 40 captured and 70 women and children were released. No hint of a massacre appeared in the report.44

“Paradoxically, the Jews say about 250 out of 400 village inhabitants [were killed], while Arab survivors say only 110 of 1,000.”45 A study by Bir Zeit University, based on discussions with each family from the village, arrived at a figure of 107 Arab civilians dead and 12 wounded, in addition to 13 “fighters,” evidence that the number of dead was smaller than claimed and that the village did have troops based there.46 Other Arab sources have subsequently suggested the number may have been even lower.47

In fact, the attackers left open an escape corridor from the village and more than 200 residents left unharmed. For example, at 9:30 A.M., about five hours after the fighting started, the Lehi evacuated 40 old men, women and children on trucks and took them to a base in Sheikh Bader. Later, the Arabs were taken to East Jerusalem. Seeing the Arabs in the hands of Jews also helped raise the morale of the people of Jerusalem who were despondent from the setbacks in the fighting to that point.48 Another source says 70 women and children were taken away and turned over to the British.49 If the intent was to massacre the inhabitants, no one would have been evacuated.

After the remaining Arabs feigned surrender and then fired on the Jewish troops, some Jews killed Arab soldiers and civilians indiscriminately. None of the sources specify how many women and children were killed (the Times report said it was about half the victims; their original casualty figure came from the Irgun source), but there were some among the casualties.

At least some of the women who were killed became targets because of men who tried to disguise themselves as women. The Irgun commander reported, for example, that the attackers “found men dressed as women and therefore they began to shoot at women who did not hasten to go down to the place designated for gathering the prisoners.”50 Another story was told by a member of the Haganah who overheard a group of Arabs from Deir Yassin who said “the Jews found out that Arab warriors had disguised themselves as women. The Jews searched the women too. One of the people being checked realized he had been caught, took out a pistol and shot the Jewish commander. His friends, crazed with anger, shot in all directions and killed the Arabs in the area.”51

Contrary to claims from Arab propagandists at the time, and some since, no evidence has ever been produced that any women were raped. On the contrary, every villager ever interviewed has denied these allegations. Like many of the claims, this was a deliberate propaganda ploy, but one that backfired. Hazam Nusseibi, who worked for the Palestine Broadcasting Service in 1948, admitted being told by Hussein Khalidi, a Palestinian Arab leader, to fabricate the atrocity claims. Abu Mahmud, a Deir Yassin resident in 1948 told Khalidi “there was no rape,” but Khalidi replied, “We have to say this, so the Arab armies will come to liberate Palestine from the Jews.” Nusseibeh told the BBC 50 years later, “This was our biggest mistake. We did not realize how our people would react. As soon as they heard that women had been raped at Deir Yassin, Palestinians fled in terror.”52


The village after the attack

The Jewish Agency, upon learning of the attack, immediately expressed its “horror and disgust.” It also sent a letter expressing the Agency’s shock and disapproval to Transjordan’s King Abdullah.

Arab radio stations broadcast accounts of what happened over the days and weeks that followed and The Arab Higher Committee hoped exaggerated reports about a “massacre” at Deir Yassin would shock the population of the Arab countries into bringing pressure on their governments to intervene in Palestine. Instead, the immediate impact was to stimulate a new Palestinian exodus.

Just four days after the reports from Deir Yassin were published, an Arab force ambushed a Jewish convoy on the way to Hadassah Hospital, killing 77 Jews, including doctors, nurses, patients, and the director of the hospital. Another 23 people were injured. This massacre attracted little attention and is never mentioned by those who are quick to bring up Deir Yassin. Moreover, despite attacks such as this against the Jewish community in Palestine, in which more than 500 Jews were killed in the first four months after the partition decision alone, Jews did not flee.

The Palestinians knew, despite their rhetoric to the contrary, the Jews were not trying to annihilate them; otherwise, they would not have been allowed to evacuate Tiberias, Haifa or any of the other towns captured by the Jews. Moreover, the Palestinians could find sanctuary in nearby states. The Jews, however, had no place to run had they wanted to. They were willing to fight to the death for their country. It came to that for many, because the Arabs were interested in annihilating the Jews, as Secretary-General of the Arab League Azzam Pasha made clear in an interview with the BBC on the eve of the war (May 15, 1948): “The Arabs intend to conduct a war of extermination and momentous massacre which will be spoken of like the Mongolian massacres and the Crusades.”

References to Deir Yassin have remained a staple of anti-Israel propaganda for decades because the incident was unique.

MYTH

“Israel refused to allow Palestinians to return to their homes so Jews could steal their property.”

FACT

Israel could not simply agree to allow all Palestinians to return, but consistently sought a solution to the refugee problem. Israel’s position was expressed by David Ben-Gurion (August 1, 1948):

When the Arab states are ready to conclude a peace treaty with Israel this question will come up for constructive solution as part of the general settlement, and with due regard to our counter­claims in respect of the destruction of Jewish life and property, the long-term interest of the Jewish and Arab populations, the stability of the State of Israel and the durability of the basis of peace between it and its neighbors, the actual position and fate of the Jewish communities in the Arab countries, the responsibilities of the Arab governments for their war of aggression and their liability for reparation, will all be relevant in the question whether, to what extent, and under what conditions, the former Arab residents of the territory of Israel should be allowed to return.53

The Israeli government was not indifferent to the plight of the refugees; an ordinance was passed creating a Custodian of Abandoned Property “to prevent unlawful occupation of empty houses and business premises, to administer ownerless property, and also to secure tilling of deserted fields, and save the crops....”54

The implied danger of repatriation did not prevent Israel from allowing some refugees to return and offering to take back a substantial number as a condition for signing a peace treaty. In 1949, Israel offered to allow families that had been separated during the war to return, to release refugee accounts frozen in Israeli banks (eventually released in 1953), to pay compensation for abandoned lands and to repatriate 100,000 refugees.55

The Arabs rejected all the Israeli compromises. They were unwilling to take any action that might be construed as recognition of Israel. They made repatriation a precondition for negotiations, something Israel rejected. The result was the confinement of the refugees in camps.

Despite the position taken by the Arab states, Israel did release the Arab refugees’ blocked bank accounts, which totaled more than $10 million, paid thousands of claimants cash compensation and granted thousands of acres as alternative holdings.

MYTH

“UN resolutions call for Israel to repatriate all Palestinian refugees.”

FACT

The United Nations took up the refugee issue and adopted Resolution 194 on December 11, 1948. This called upon the Arab states and Israel to resolve all outstanding issues through negotiations either directly, or with the help of the Palestine Conciliation Commission established by this resolution. Furthermore, Point 11 resolves:

that refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which under principles of international law or in equity should be made good by Governments or authorities responsible. Instructs the Conciliation Commission to facilitate the repatriation, resettlement and economic and social rehabilitation of refugees and payment of compensation... (emphasis added).

The emphasized words demonstrate that the UN recognized that Israel could not be expected to repatriate a hostile population that might endanger its security. The solution to the problem, like all previous refugee problems, would require at least some Palestinians to be resettled in Arab lands. Furthermore, the resolution uses the word “should” instead of “shall,” which, in legal terms, is not mandatory language.

The resolution met most of Israel’s concerns regarding the refugees, whom they regarded as a potential fifth-column if allowed to return unconditionally. The Israelis considered the settlement of the refugee issue a negotiable part of an overall peace settlement. As President Chaim Weizmann explained: “We are anxious to help such resettlement provided that real peace is established and the Arab states do their part of the job. The solution of the Arab problem can be achieved only through an all-around Middle East development scheme, toward which the United Nations, the Arab states and Israel will make their respective contributions.”56

At the time the Israelis did not expect the refugees to be a major issue; they thought the Arab states would resettle the majority and some compromise on the remainder could be worked out in the context of an overall settlement. The Arabs were no more willing to compromise in 1949, however, than they had been in 1947. In fact, they unanimously rejected the UN resolution.

The UN discussions on refugees had begun in the summer of 1948, before Israel had completed its military victory; consequently, the Arabs still believed they could win the war and allow the refugees to return triumphant. The Arab position was expressed by Emile Ghoury, the Secretary of the Arab Higher Committee:

It is inconceivable that the refugees should be sent back to their homes while they are occupied by the Jews, as the latter would hold them as hostages and maltreat them. The very proposal is an evasion of responsibility by those responsible. It will serve as a first step towards Arab recognition of the State of Israel and partition.57

The Arabs demanded that the United Nations assert the “right” of the Palestinians to return to their homes, and were unwilling to accept anything less until after their defeat had become obvious. The Arabs then reinterpreted Resolution 194 as granting the refugees the absolute right of repatriation and have demanded that Israel accept this interpretation ever since. Regardless of the interpretation, 194, like other General Assembly resolutions, is not legally binding.

“The Palestinian demand for the ‘right of return’ is totally unrealistic and would have to be solved by means of financial compensation and resettlement in Arab countries.”

— Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak58

MYTH

“Palestinians who wanted to return to their homes posed no danger to Israeli security.”

FACT

When plans for setting up a state were made in early 1948, Jewish leaders in Palestine expected the new nation to include a significant Arab population. From the Israeli perspective, the refugees had been given an opportunity to stay in their homes and be a part of the new state. Approximately 160,000 Arabs had chosen to do so. To repatriate those who had fled would be, in the words of Foreign Minister Moshe Sharett, “suicidal folly.”59

In the Arab world, the refugees were viewed as a potential fifth-column within Israel. As one Lebanese paper wrote:

The return of the refugees should create a large Arab majority that would serve as the most effective means of reviving the Arab character of Palestine, while forming a powerful fifth-column for the day of revenge and reckoning.60

The Arabs believed the return of the refugees would virtually guarantee the destruction of Israel, a sentiment expressed by Egyptian Foreign Minister Muhammad Salah al-Din:

It is well-known and understood that the Arabs, in demanding the return of the refugees to Palestine, mean their return as masters of the Homeland and not as slaves. With a greater clarity, they mean the liquidation of the State of Israel.61

The plight of the refugees remained unchanged after the Suez War. In fact, even the rhetoric stayed the same. In 1957, the Refugee Conference at Homs, Syria, passed a resolution stating:

Any discussion aimed at a solution of the Palestine problem which will not be based on ensuring the refugees’ right to annihilate Israel will be regarded as a desecration of the Arab people and an act of treason.62

A parallel can be drawn to the time of the American Revolution, during which many colonists who were loyal to England fled to Canada. The British wanted the newly formed republic to allow the loyalists to return to claim their property. Benjamin Franklin rejected this suggestion in a letter to Richard Oswald, the British negotiator, dated November 26, 1782:

Your ministers require that we should receive again into our bosom those who have been our bitterest enemies and restore their properties who have destroyed ours: and this while the wounds they have given us are still bleeding!63

MYTH

“The Palestinian refugees were ignored by an uncaring world.”

FACT

The General Assembly voted on November 19, 1948, to establish the United Nations Relief For Palestinian Refugees (UNRPR) to dispense aid to the refugees.  Since then, more than 100 resolutions have been adopted that refer to Palestinian refugees, roughly 15 percent of all the resolutions on the conflict.64

The UNRPR was replaced by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) on December 8, 1949, and given a budget of $50 million. UNRWA was designed to continue the relief program initiated by the UNRPR, substitute public works for direct relief and promote economic development. The proponents of the plan envisioned that direct relief would be almost completely replaced by public works, with the remaining assistance provided by the Arab governments.

UNRWA had little chance of success, however, because it sought to solve a political problem using an economic approach. By the mid-1950s, it was evident neither the refugees nor the Arab states were prepared to cooperate on the large-scale development projects originally foreseen by the Agency as a means of alleviating the Palestinians’ situation. The Arab governments, and the refugees themselves, were unwilling to contribute to any plan that could be interpreted as fostering resettlement. They preferred to cling to their interpretation of Resolution 194, which they believed would eventually result in repatriation.

Palestinian Refugees Registered By UNRWA65

Field of Operations

Official Camps

Registered Refugees

Registered Refugees in Camps

Jordan

10

1,999,466

350,899

Lebanon

12

455,373

227,718

Syria

9

495,970

149,822

West Bank

19

848,494

206,123

Gaza Strip

8

1,167,361

518,147

Agency tTotal

58

4,966,664

1,452,709

MYTH

“The Arab states have provided most of the funds for helping the Palestinian refugees.”

FACT

While Jewish refugees from Arab countries received no international assistance, Palestinians received millions of dollars through UNRWA. Initially, the United States contributed $25 million and Israel nearly $3 million. The total Arab pledges amounted to approximately $600,000. For the first 20 years, the United States provided more than two-thirds of the funds, while the Arab states contributed a tiny fraction.

Israel donated more funds to UNRWA than most Arab states. The Saudis did not match Israel’s contribution until 1973; Kuwait and Libya, not until 1980. As recently as 1994, Israel gave more to UNRWA than all the Arab countries except Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Morocco. After transferring responsibility for virtually the entire Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to the Palestinian Authority, Israel no longer controlled any refugee camps and in 1997 ceased contributing to UNRWA.

In 2008, the United States pledged nearly $150 million (39%)66 of UNRWA’s more than $384 million cash budget.67 UNRWA’s biggest donors are the United States, the European Commission, the United Kingdom, Sweden and Norway. Despite their rhetorical support for the Palestinians, all of the Arab countries combined contributed only about $2.5 million , a tiny fraction (less than 1%) of UNRWA’s budget. For 2008, only four Arab countries made pledges to UNRWA: United Arab Emirates ($1 million), Kuwait ($1.5 million), Oman ($25,000) and Egypt ($10,000).68 Notably absent from the list is Saudi Arabia.

I n addition to receiving annual funding from UNRWA for the refugees, the PA has received billions of dollars in international aid, most of which has come from Europe, the United States and other countries outside the region.

“I think that states that have resources ought to be looking not for how little they can do but how much they can do,” said US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice in response to the Arab states’ pledges to the Palestinian cause.69 “Clearly if you made a pledge, you ought to fulfill it,” she added, after several states failed to follow through on their promises, including much of the Arab League.70

Given the amount of aid (approximately $900 million every year) the PA has received from the international community, it is shocking that more than half a million Palestinians under PA control are being forced by their own leaders to remain in squalid camps. The PA has failed to build a single house to allow even one family to move out of a refugee camp into permanent housing. In the Gaza Strip, the Palestinians had insisted before the disengagement that Israel demolish all the homes of the Jewish settlers so they could build high-rise apartment buildings for refugees. Two years later, not a single brick has been laid.

MYTH

“The Arab states have always welcomed the Palestinians.”

FACT

Jordan was the only Arab country to welcome the Palestinians and grant them citizenship (to this day Jordan is the only Arab country where Palestinians as a group can become citizens). King Abdullah considered the Palestinian Arabs and Jordanians one people. By 1950, he annexed the West Bank and forbade the use of the term Palestine in official documents.71

Although demographic figures indicated ample room for settlement existed in Syria, Damascus refused to consider accepting any refugees, except those who might refuse repatriation. Syria also declined to resettle 85,000 refugees in 1952-54, though it had been offered international funds to pay for the project. Iraq was also expected to accept a large number of refugees, but proved unwilling. Lebanon insisted it had no room for the Palestinians. In 1950, the UN tried to resettle 150,000 refugees from Gaza in Libya, but was rebuffed by Egypt.

After the 1948 war, Egypt controlled the Gaza Strip and its more than 200,000 inhabitants, but refused to allow the Palestinians into Egypt or permit them to move elsewhere. Egypt’s handling of Palestinians in Gaza was so bad Saudi Arabian radio compared Nasser’s regime in Gaza to Hitler’s rule in occupied Europe in World War II.72

In 1952, the UNRWA set up a fund of $200 million to provide homes and jobs for the refugees, but it went untouched.

“The Arab States do not want to solve the refugee problem. They want to keep it as an open sore, as an affront to the United Nations and as a weapon against Israel. Arab leaders don’t give a damn whether the refugees live or die.”

former head of UNRWA in Jordan, Sir Alexander Galloway, in April 195273

 Little has changed in succeeding years. Arab governments have frequently offered jobs, housing, land and other benefits to Arabs and non-Arabs, excluding Palestinians. For example, Saudi Arabia chose not to use unemployed Palestinian refugees to alleviate its labor shortage in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Instead, thousands of South Koreans and other Asians were recruited to fill jobs.

The situation grew even worse in the wake of the 1991 Gulf War. Kuwait, which employed large numbers of Palestinians but denied them citizenship, expelled more than 300,000 of them. “If people pose a security threat, as a sovereign country we have the right to exclude anyone we don’t want,” said Kuwaiti Ambassador to the United States, Saud Nasir Al-Sabah.74

 

UNRWA Refugee Camps (2003)

Source: UNRWA

Today, Palestinian refugees in Lebanon do not have social and civil rights, and have very limited access to public health or educational facilities. The majority relies entirely on UNRWA as the sole provider of education, health, and relief and social services. Considered foreigners, Palestinian refugees are prohibited by law from working in more than 70 trades and professions.75

The Palestinian refugees held the UN responsible for ameliorating their condition; nevertheless, many Palestinians were unhappy with the treatment they were receiving from their Arab brethren. Some, like Palestinian nationalist leader Musa Alami were incredulous: “It is shameful that the Arab governments should prevent the Arab refugees from working in their countries and shut the doors in their faces and imprison them in camps.”76 Most refugees, however, focused their discontentment on “the Zionists,” whom they blamed for their predicament rather than the vanquished Arab armies.

MYTH

“Millions of Palestinians are confined to squalid refugee camps.”

FACT

As of March 2006, the number of Palestinian refugees on UNRWA rolls had risen to nearly 4.4 million, several times the number that left Palestine in 1948. Fewer than one-third of the registered Palestine refugees, about 1.3 million, live in 59 recognized refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The other two-thirds of the registered refugees live in and around the cities and towns of the host countries, and in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, often in the environs of official camps.77 The refugees who remain in camps are there only because the host Arab governments and the Palestinian Authority keep them there.

MYTH

“Israel forced the Palestinian refugees to stay in camps in the Gaza Strip.”

FACT

During the years that Israel controlled the Gaza Strip, a consistent effort was made to get the Palestinians into permanent housing. The Palestinians opposed the idea because the frustrated and bitter inhabitants of the camps provided the various terrorist factions with their manpower. Moreover, the Arab states routinely pushed for the adoption of UN resolutions demanding that Israel desist from the removal of Palestinian refugees from camps in Gaza and the West Bank.78 They preferred to keep the Palestinians as symbols of Israeli “oppression.”

Now the camps are in the hands of the Palestinian Authority (PA), but little is being done to improve the lot of the Palestinians living in them. Journalist Netty Gross visited Gaza and asked an official why the camps there hadn’t been dismantled. She was told the Palestinian Authority had made a “political decision” not to do anything for the more than 650,000 Palestinians living in the camps until the final-status talks with Israel took place.79

When Israel evacuated the Gaza Strip in 2005, the Israelis were prepared to leave the houses of settlers for use by Palestinian refugees, but the Palestinians said these mostly single family homes were not practical for their needs and asked that they be demolished so the PA could build high-rise apartment buildings to house refugees and other Palestinians. More than two years later, not a single brick has been laid for housing for the refugees.

The Palestinians received more than $6 billion in international aid following the Oslo agreements. One might have expected that at least one home could have built for refugees with that sum, but none were. In December 2007, international donors pledged $7.4 billion in new aid to the Palestinians.80 That should be more than enough to build homes for every refugee. Based on the last 60 years of neglect by their fellow Arabs, however, the refugees are far more likely to see their officials’ enriched than their lives improved.

MYTH

“Refugees have always been repatriated, only the Palestinians have been barred from returning to their homes.”

FACT

Despite Arab intransigence, no one expected the refugee problem to persist. John Blandford Jr., the Director of UNRWA, wrote in his report on November 29, 1951, that he expected the Arab governments to assume responsibility for relief by July 1952. Moreover, Blandford stressed the need to end relief operations: “Sustained relief operations inevitably contain the germ of human deterioration.”81

In fact, the Palestinians are the only displaced persons to have become wards of the international community.

Israel’s agreement to pay compensation to the Palestinians who fled during 1948 can be contrasted with the treatment of the 12.5 million Germans in Poland and Czechoslovakia, who were expelled after World War II and allowed to take only those possessions they could carry. They received no compensation for confiscated property. World War II’s effects on Poland’s boundaries and population were considered “accomplished facts” that could not be reversed after the war. No one in Germany petitions today for the right of these millions of deportees and their children to return to the countries they were expelled from despite the fact that they and their ancestors had lived in those places for hundreds of years.

Another country seriously affected by the war was Finland, which was forced to give up almost one-eighth of its land and absorb more than 400,000 refugees (11 percent of the nation’s population) from the Soviet Union. Unlike Israel, these were the losers of the war. There was no aid for their resettlement.

Perhaps an even better analogy can be seen in Turkey’s integration of 150,000 Turkish refugees from Bulgaria in 1950. The difference between the Turks’ handling of their refugees and the Arab states’ treatment of the Palestinians was the attitude of the respective governments.

Turkey has had a bigger refugee problem than either Syria or Lebanon and almost as big as Egypt has....But you seldom hear about them because the Turks have done such a good job of resettling them....The big difference is in spirit. The Turks, reluctant as they were to take on the burden, accepted it as a responsibility and set to work to clean it up as fast as possible.82

Had the Arab states wanted to alleviate the refugees’ suffering, they could easily have adopted an attitude similar to Turkey’s.

Another massive population transfer resulted from the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947. The eight million Hindus who fled Pakistan and the six million Muslims who left India were afraid of becoming a minority in their respective countries. Like the Palestinians, these people wanted to avoid being caught in the middle of the violence that engulfed their nations. In contrast to the Arab-Israeli conflict, however, the exchange of populations was considered the best solution to the problem of communal relations within the two states. Despite the enormous number of refugees and the relative poverty of the two nations involved, no special international relief organizations were established to aid them in resettlement.

“...if there were a Palestinian state, why would its leaders want their potential citizens to be repatriated to another state? From a nation-building perspective it makes no sense. In fact, the original discussions about repatriation took place at a time that there was no hope of a Palestinian state. With the possibility of that state emerging, the Palestinians must decide if they want to view themselves as a legitimate state or if it is more important for them to keep their self-defined status as oppressed, stateless refugees. They really can’t be both.”

— Fredelle Spiegel83

MYTH

“Had the Palestinian refugees been repatriated, the Arab-Israeli conflict could have ended.”

FACT

Israel consistently sought a solution to the refugee problem, but could not simply agree to allow all Palestinians to return.

No nation, regardless of past rights and wrongs, could contemplate taking in a fifth-column of such a size. And fifth-column it would be — people nurtured for 20 years [in 1967] in hatred of and totally dedicated to its destruction. The readmission of the refugees would be the equivalent to the admission to the U.S. of nearly 70,000,000 sworn enemies of the nation.84

The Arabs, meanwhile, adamantly refused to negotiate a separate agreement. The crux of the issue was the Arab states’ unwillingness to accept Israel’s existence. This was exemplified by Egyptian President Nasser’s belligerent acts toward the Jewish State, which had nothing to do with the Palestinians. He was only interested in the refugees to the extent that they could contribute to his ultimate objective. As he told an interviewer on September 1, 1961: “If refugees return to Israel, Israel will cease to exist.”85

MYTH

“Israel expelled more Palestinians in 1967.”

FACT

After ignoring Israeli warnings to stay out of the war, King Hussein launched an attack on Jerusalem, Israel’s capital. UNRWA estimated that during the fighting 175,000 of its registrants fled for a second time and approximately 350,000 fled for the first time. About 200,000 moved to Jordan, 115,000 to Syria and approximately 35,000 left Sinai for Egypt. Most of the Arabs who left came from the West Bank.

Israel allowed some West Bank Arabs to return. In 1967, more than 9,000 families were reunited and, by 1971, Israel had readmitted 40,000 refugees. By contrast, in July 1968, Jordan prohibited people intending to remain in the East Bank from emigrating from the West Bank and Gaza.86

When the Security Council empowered U Thant to send a representative to inquire into the welfare of civilians in the wake of the war, he instructed the mission to investigate the treatment of Jewish minorities in Arab countries, as well as Arabs in Israeli-occupied territory. Syria, Iraq and Egypt refused to permit the UN representative to carry out his investigation.87

MYTH

“UNRWA bears no responsibility for the terror and incitement that originates in the refugee camps.”

FACT

Peter Hansen, commissioner-general of UNRWA admitted that the organization employed members of at least one Palestinian terrorist organization. “Oh I’m sure that there are Hamas members on the UNRWA payroll and I don’t see that as a crime,” he told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. “Hamas as a political organization does not mean that every member is a militant and we do not do political vetting and exclude people from one persuasion against another.”88 Although Hansen makes specious distinctions between members of Hamas, the United States and the European Union, the two largest contributors to UNRWA, have banned the military and civilian wings of the organization.

The fact is the refugee camps have long been nests of terrorism, but the evidence was not publicized until after Israel’s Operation Defensive Shield in early 2002. The UNRWA-administered camps in the West Bank were found to have small-arms factories, explosives laboratories, arms caches and large numbers of suicide bombers and other terrorists using the refugees as shields.

Since 2001, 17 Palestinians employed by UNRWA have been arrested for alleged involvement in terrorist activities. Among them is the agency’s director of food supplies for Gaza refugees, who admitted using his UN vehicle to transport arms, explosives, and people planning terrorist acts. A Hamas activist employed as an UNRWA ambulance driver admitted using his vehicle to forward weapons and messages to other members of Hamas.89

UNRWA’s failure to report on these activities, or to prevent them, violate the UNs own conventions. Security Council resolutions oblige UNRWA representatives to take “appropriate steps to help create a secure environment” in all “situations where refugees [are]…vulnerable to infiltration by armed elements.” With regard to Africa, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, said refugee camps should “be kept free of any military presence  or equipment, including arms and ammunition.
90 The same rule applies to the disputed territories.

Schools under UNRWA’s jurisdiction are also problematic. UNRWA takes credit for assisting in the development of the Palestinian curricula, which, among other things, does not show Israel on any maps. The schools are also filled with posters and shrines to suicide bombers. The State Department requested that UNRWA investigate allegations that Palestinian Authority curricular materials contained anti-Semitic references. One book taught that “Treachery and disloyalty are character traits of the Jews,” but UNRWA said this was not offensive because it described actual “historical events.” The State Department ultimately reported to Congress that the “UNRWA review did reveal instances of anti-Semitic characterizations and content” in the PA textbooks.91

Since the State Department’s report, several studies have shown that while there has been marginal improvement in Palestinian texts, they still contain troubling content. For example, one report found that Islamic Culture, a book produced by the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Education, incites jihad and martyrdom, while another study of 35 books concluded that they lacked any commitment to peace and reconciliation with Israel.

MYTH

“All the Palestinian refugees have the right to return to their homes; this is a prerequisite for a final settlement.”

FACT

According to UNRWA, today there are 4.2 million Palestinian refugees. Does Israel have any obligation to take in the 4.3 million Palestinian refugees all of those? Where would they live?

The current Israeli population is approximately 7 million, 5.3 million are Jews. If every Palestinian was allowed to move to Israel, the population would exceed 11 million and the Jewish proportion would shrink from 76% to 48%. The Jews would be a minority in their own country, the very situation they fought to avoid in 1948, and which the UN expressly ruled out in deciding on a partition of Palestine.

Current peace talks are based on UN Resolution 242. The Palestinians are not mentioned anywhere in Resolution 242. They are only alluded to in the second clause of the second article of 242, which calls for “a just settlement of the refugee problem.” The generic term “refugee” may also be applied to the Jewish refugees from Arab lands.

Furthermore, most Palestinians now live in historic Palestine, which is an area including the Palestinian Authority and Jordan. When Palestinians speak of the right to return, however, they don’t mean just to Palestine, but to the exact houses they lived in prior to 1948. These homes are either gone or inhabited now.

Even respected Palestinian leaders have begun to acknowledge that it is a mistake to insist that millions of refugees return to Israel. Palestinian intellectual Sari Nusseibeh, for example, said the refugees should be resettled in a future Palestinian state, “not in a way that would undermine the existence of the State of Israel as a predominantly Jewish state. Otherwise, what does a two-state solution mean?”92

In the context of a peace settlement, Israel could be expected to accept some refugees, as Ben-Gurion said he would do more than 50 years ago. If and when a Palestinian state is created, most, if not all of the refugees should be allowed to move there, but the Palestinian leadership has expressed little interest in absorbing these people.

“The demand that the refugees be returned to Israeli territory must be rejected, because if that were to happen, there would be two Palestinian states and no state at all for the Jewish people.”

— Amos Oz93

 

Notes

1Arieh Avneri, The Claim of Dispossession, (NJ: Transaction Books, 1984), p. 272; Kedar, Benjamin,. The Changing Land Between the Jordan and the Sea. (Israel: Yad Izhak Ben-Zvi Press, 1999), p. 206; Paul Johnson, A History of the Jews, (NY: Harper & Row, 1987), p. 529.
2Progress Report of the United Nations Mediator on Palestine, Submitted to the Secretary-General for Transmission to the Members of the United Nations, General Assembly Official Records: Third Session, Supplement No.11 (A\648), Paris, 1948, p. 47 and Supplement No. 11A (A\689, and A\689\Add.1, p. 5; and “Conclusions From Progress Report of the United Nations Mediator on Palestine,” (September 16, 1948), U.N. doc. A/648 (part one, p. 29; part two, p. 23 and part three, p. 11), (September 18, 1948).
3New York Times, (November 25, 1947).
4Avneri, p. 276.
5Jerusalem Post, (December 4, 2003).
6David Ben-Gurion, Rebirth and Destiny of Israel, (NY: Philosophical Library, 1954), p. 220.
7Isi Liebler, The Case For Israel, (Australia: The Globe Press, 1972), p. 43.
8Joseph Schechtman, The Refugee in the World, (NY: A.S. Barnes and Co., 1963), p. 184.
9I.F. Stone, This is Israel, (NY: Boni and Gaer, 1948), p. 27.
10Ash Shaab, (January 30, 1948).
11As Sarih, (March 30, 1948).
12Avneri, p. 270.
13London Daily Mail, (August 12, 1948).
14New York Times, (April 23, 1948).
15Howard Sachar, A History of Israel: From the Rise of Zionism to Our Time, (NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1979), p. 332; Avneri, p. 270.
16Secret memo dated April 26, 1948, from the Superintendent of Police, regarding the general situation in Haifa. See also his April 29 memo.
17Golda Meir, My Life, (NY: Dell, 1975), pp. 267-268.
18New York Times, (April 23, 1948).
19London Times, (April 24, 1948).
20Schechtman, p. 190.
21Foreign Relations of the U.S. 1948, Vol. V, (DC: GPO, 1976), p. 838.
22Tom Segev, 1949: The First Israelis, (NY: The Free Press, 1986), pp. 27-28.
23Yigal Allon in Sefer ha-Palmach, quoted in Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre, O Jerusalem!, (NY: Simon and Schuster, 1972), p. 337; Yigal Allon, My Father’s House, (NY: W.W Norton and Company, Inc., 1976), p. 192.
24Benny Morris, “Operation Dani and the Palestinian Exodus from Lydda and Ramle in 1948,” Middle East Journal, (Winter 1986), pp. 82-83.
24aBenny Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited, (MA: Cambridge University Press, 2004), p. 592.
25Middle East Journal, (October 1949.
26Terence Prittie, “Middle East Refugees,” in Michael Curtis, et al., The Palestinians, (NJ: Transaction Books, 1975), p. 52.
27New York Times, (March 4, 1949).
28The Guardian,(February 21, 2002).
28aBenny Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited, (MA: Cambridge University Press, 2004), p. 590.
29Middle Eastern Studies, (January 1986); See also Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited, (MA: Cambridge University Press, 2004), pp. 263 & 590-592.
30The Memoirs of Haled al Azm, (Beirut, 1973), Part 1, pp. 386-387.
31Myron Kaufman, The Coming Destruction of Israel, (NY: The American Library Inc., 1970), pp. 26-27.
32Edward Atiyah, The Arabs, (London: Penguin Books, 1955), p. 183.
33Samuel Katz, Battleground-Fact and Fantasy in Palestine, (NY: Bantam Books, 1985), p. 15.
34King Abdallah, My Memoirs Completed, (London: Longman Group, Ltd., 1978), p. xvi. [Abdullah generally, but spelled Abdallah in his memoir]; Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited, (MA: Cambridge University Press, 2004), p. 591.
35Schechtman, p. 186.
36Yehoshofat Harkabi, Arab Attitudes To Israel, (Jerusalem: Israel Universities Press, 1972), p. 364.
36aAl-Ayyam, (May 16, 2006), quoted in Itamar Marcus and Barbara Crook, “The evolving Palestinian narrative: Arabs caused the refugee problem,” Palestinian Media Watch, (May 20, 2008).
36bPalestinian Authority TV, (July 7, 2009), quoted in Palestinian Media Watch Bulletin, (July 23, 2009).
36cAl-Hayat Al-Jadida, (December 13, 2006), quoted in Itamar Marcus and Barbara Crook, “The evolving Palestinian narrative: Arabs caused the refugee problem,” Palestinian Media Watch, (May 20, 2008).
36dAl-Ayyam, (May 13 2008), quoted in Itamar Marcus and Barbara Crook, “The evolving Palestinian narrative: Arabs caused the refugee problem,” Palestinian Media Watch, (May 20, 2008).
37Falastin a-Thaura, (March 1976).
38“Dayr Yasin,” Bir Zeit University.
39Dan Kurzman, Genesis 1948, (OH: New American Library, Inc., 1970), p. 141.
40Menachem Begin, The Revolt, (NY: Nash Publishing, 1977), pp. xx-xxi, 162-163.
41See, for example, Amos Perlmutter, The Life and Times of Menachem Begin, (NY: Doubleday, 1987), p. 214; J. Bowyer Bell, Terror Out Of Zion, (NY: St. Martin’s Press, 1977), p. 292-96; Kurzman, p. 142.
42Uri Milstein, History of Israel’s War of Independence. Vol. IV, (Lanham: University Press of America. 1999), p. 262.
43Milstein, p. 262.
44Dana Adams Schmidt, “200 Arabs Killed, Stronghold Taken,” New York Times, (April 10, 1948).
45Kurzman, p. 148.
46Sharif Kanaana and Nihad Zitawi, “Deir Yassin,” Monograph No. 4, Destroyed Palestinian Villages Documentation Project, (Bir Zeit: Documentation Center of Bir Zeit University, 1987), p. 55.
47Sharif Kanaana, “Reinterpreting Deir Yassin,” Bir Zeit University, (April 1998).
48Milstein, p. 267
49Rami Nashashibi, “Dayr Yasin,” Bir Zeit University, (June 1996).
50Yehoshua Gorodenchik testimony at Jabotinsky Archives.
51Milstein, p. 276.
52”Israel and the Arabs: The 50 Year Conflict,” BBC.
53Sachar, p. 335.
54Schechtman, p. 268.
55Prittie in Curtis, pp. 66-67.
56New York Times, (July 17, 1949).
57Telegraph (Beirut), (August 6, 1948), quoted in Schechtman, p. 210-211.
58Jerusalem Post, (January 26, 1989).
59Moshe Sharett, “Israel’s Position and Problems,” Middle Eastern Affairs, (May 1952), p. 136.
60Lebanese newspaper, Al Said, (April 6, 1950), quoted in Prittie in Curtis, p. 69.
61Al-Misri, (October 11, 1949).
62Beirut al Massa, (July 15, 1957).
63The Writings of Benjamin Franklin, (NY: The Macmillan Company, 1905), p. 626.
64Melissa Radler, “UN marks partition plan anniversary with anti-Israel fest,” Jerusalem Post, (December 4, 2003).
65UNRWA, (as of December 30, 2010).
66United Nations Press Release, “US Pledges near 150 million dollars to UNRWA,” (March 5, 2008).
67 UNRWA Finances (as of November 30, 2007).
68United Nations Press Release, “Budget for United Nations Agency for Palestine Refugees Promised Contributions,” Ad Hoc Committee for Voluntary Contributions to UNRWA (December 4, 2007). 
69Agence France-Press, “Rise says Arab states give insufficient aid to Palestinians,” (May 2, 2008).
70Reuters, “World powers urge Arabs to honour Palestinian Pledges,” (May 2, 2008).
71Speech to Parliament, April 24, 1950, Abdallah memoirs, p. 13; Aaron Miller, The Arab States and the Palestine Question, (DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies, 1986), p. 29.
72Leibler, p. 48.
73Alexander H. Joffe and Asaf Romirowsky, "A Tale of Two Galloways: Notes on the Early History of UNRWA and Zionist Historiography," Middle Eastern Studies, September 2010.
74Jerusalem Report, (June 27, 1991).
75UNRWA.
76Musa Alami, “The Lesson of Palestine,” Middle East Journal, (October 1949), p. 386.
77UNRWA.
78Arlene Kushner, “The UN’s Palestinian Refugee Problem,” Azure, (Autumn 2005).
79Jerusalem Report, (July 6, 1998).
80Roni Sofer, “Donors pledge $7.4 billion for faltering Palestinian economy,” Ynetnews.com, (December 17, 2007).
81Schechtman, p. 220.
82Des Moines Register editorial, (January 16, 1952).
83Jerusalem Report, (March 26, 2001).
84New York Times editorial, (May 14, 1967).
85Leibler, p. 45.
86UNRWA Annual Reports, (July 1, 1966-June 30, 1967), pp. 11-19; (July 1, 1967-June 30, 1968), pp. 4-10; (July 1, 1968-June 30, 1969), p. 6; (July 1, 1971-June 30, 1972), p. 3.
87Maurice Roumani, The Case of the Jews from Arab Countries: A Neglected Issue, (Tel Aviv: World Organization of Jews from Arab Countries, 1977), p. 34.
88Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, (October 4, 2004), quoted by Jewish Telegraphic Agency, (October 4, 2004).
89Matthew Levitt, “Terror on the UN Payroll?,” Peace Watch, DC: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, (October 13, 2004); Greg Myre, “Israel Feuds With Agency Set Up to Aid Palestinians,” New York Times, (October 18, 2004).
90Isabel Kershner, “The Refugees’ Choice?,” Jerusalem Report, (August 12, 2002), p. 24.
91David Tell, response to McCann, The Weekly Standard, (May 28, 2002).
92Associated Press, (October 22, 2001)
93“No right of return, but Israel must offer a solution,” The Globe and Mail, (May 12, 2007).

Photo Credit: Deir Yassin - The Irgun Site


See also: The Palestinian Refugees
Israel
Peace Process
The 1948 War
The 1967 Six-Day War

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