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Myths & Facts

By Mitchell Bard

Israel expelled one million Palestinians.
Palestinians were the only refugees of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
There were no Jewish refugees from Palestine.
The Jews had no intention of living peacefully with their Arab neighbors.
The Jews created the refugee problem by expelling the Palestinians.
The Arab invasion had little impact on the Palestinian Arabs.
Arab leaders never encouraged the Palestinians to flee.
The Palestinian Arabs fled to avoid being massacred.
Israel refused to allow Palestinians to return to their homes so Jews could steal their property.
The UN required that Israel repatriate all Palestinian refugees.
Palestinians who wanted to return to their homes posed no danger to Israeli security.
An uncaring world ignored the Palestinian refugees.
The Arab states have always welcomed the Palestinians.
Israel confines millions of Palestinians to refugee camps.
The Palestinians are the only refugee population barred from returning to their homes.
All Palestinian refugees must be given the option to return to their homes.
UNRWA is needed to care for 5.9 million refugees.
Palestinians and their supporters care about Palestinian refugees.
The United States does not provide aid to Palestinian refugees.
UNRWA has removed biased textbooks from its schools.


Israel expelled one million Palestinians.


Israel is often accused of expelling as many as one million Palestinians from 1947 to 1949. The last census taken by the British in 1945 found approximately 1.2 million permanent Arab residents in all of Palestine. A 1949 census conducted by Israel counted 160,000 Arabs living in the new state after the war. In 1947, a total of 809,100 Arabs lived in the same area. This means no more than 650,000 Palestinian Arabs could have become refugees. Historian Efraim Karsh analyzed rural and urban population statistics and concluded the total number of refugees was 583,000–609,000. A report by the UN Mediator on Palestine arrived at an even lower figure—360,000 (as of September 1948) and the CIA estimate a month earlier was 330,000.1

The Palestinians left their homes for a variety of reasons. Thousands of wealthy Arabs left in anticipation of a war, and thousands more responded to Arab leaders’ calls to get out of the way of the advancing armies; a handful was expelled, but most fled to avoid being caught in the crossfire of a war.


Palestinians were the only refugees of the Arab-Israeli conflict.


Although much is heard about 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.”2

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 at great expense in Israel and without any offer of compensation from the Arab governments who confiscated their possessions.3 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.

As of 2020, at least 182 out of more than 700 UN General Assembly resolutions on the Middle East conflict referred directly to Palestinian refugees. The Jewish refugees from Arab countries, however, were not mentioned in any UN resolution.

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—some thousands—of miles to a tiny country whose inhabitants spoke a different language. Most Arab refugees never left Palestine; they traveled a few miles to the other side of the truce line, remaining inside the vast Arab nation they were part of linguistically, culturally, and ethnically.

While Palestinians consider the refugee issue among the most important issues for them, Jewish refugees from Arab countries should not be forgotten. Moreover, the basis for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, UN Security Council Resolution 242, does not mention the Palestinians and can apply equally to Jewish refugees.

Jewish Populations in the Arab World

















































United Arab Emirates         500














In 2014, the Israeli government dedicated November 30 of every year as a day to honor and remember the Jewish refugees to ensure the younger generation is aware of this chapter of Jewish history. Israeli officials hope that this national recognition will spark international acknowledgment of the plight of these refugees and support for compensating them (and their descendants) for their hardships.


There were no Jewish refugees from Palestine.


During the 1948 War, 97 Jewish villages were attacked and damaged, 11 were destroyed, and six were conquered, resulting in at least 60,000 Jews becoming refugees. Another historian, Benny Morris, estimated the number at 70,000.4

While the Palestinian Arabs could move to the part of Palestine under Transjordan’s control, or a neighboring state, the Jews had nowhere to flee. They remained within the borders of Israel.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) is known for assisting Palestinian Arabs; however, its mandate is to support “Palestine Refugees.” The Agency defined a refugee as “a needy person, who, as a result of the war in Palestine, has lost his home and his means of livelihood.” According to the UN:

In Israel, the Agency has provided relief to two types of refugees, Jews who fled inside the borders of Israel during the fighting, and Arabs  displaced from one area in Palestine to another. Jewish refugees at first numbered 17,000, but, during the current summer, all but 3,000 of these have been absorbed into the economic life of the new State.5

Unlike the Arab states, which refused to solve the refugee issue by resettling the Palestinian Arabs, Israel willingly accepted refugees within its borders. In August 1950, the UN reported 27,000 people in Israel had claimed refugee status, but the Israeli government requested that relief distribution be discontinued because it was assuming responsibility for them.


The Jews had no intention of living peacefully with their Arab neighbors.


Contrary to the specious claims that the Zionists were interested in driving the Palestinians from their land, the Zionist movement always expected to have a significant Arab population in a future state. Ze’ev Jabotinsky wrote in the ‘20s and ‘30s that Arabs should be treated equally in all sectors of public life and the Jews should do nothing to force them out. In a draft constitution he worked on, he foresaw Hebrew and Arabic as official languages, Arabs and Jews serving together in the military, and an Arab vice-minister in every cabinet where the prime minister is a Jew.6

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.7

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.”8 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.

Ultimately, 160,000 Palestinian Arabs remained in their homes and became citizens of Israel.


The Jews created the refugee problem by expelling the Palestinians.


Had the Arabs accepted the partition 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 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.9 By 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.10

A British document indicates officials were aware of the reason Palestinians were fleeing:

The [Palestine] Arabs have suffered a series of overwhelming defeats . . . Jewish victories . . . have reduced Arab morale to zero and, following the cowardly example of their inept leaders, they are fleeing from the mixed areas in their thousands. It is now obvious that the only hope of regaining their position lies in the regular armies of the Arab states.11

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.”12

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.’”13

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.”14

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.”15

Contemporary press reports of battles where 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.

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.”16

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.17 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.”18 In fact, David Ben-Gurion 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.19 By the end of the battle, more than fifty thousand 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)20

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.”21

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.22

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.”23

The US consul general in Haifa, Aubrey Lippincott, wrote on April 22, 1948, that “local mufti-dominated Arab leaders” were urging “all Arabs to leave the city, and large numbers did so.”24

Before the Arab invasion in mid-May, Radio Baghdad reported, “Fright has struck the Palestinian Arabs and they fled their country.”25

Meanwhile, an Israeli army order issued on 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.26

The Haganah did employ psychological warfare to encourage the Arabs to abandon a few villages. Yigal Allon, the commander of the Palmach, said he had Jews talk to Arabs in neighboring towns and tell them a large Jewish force was in Galilee intending to burn 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 precisely that.27

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 a place 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.”28

According to historian Efraim Karsh, 35,078 Palestinians were expelled, less than 6% of the total number of refugees in Karsh’s highest estimate (609,000). Most of these Arabs moved to an area occupied by Transjordan’s Arab Legion only a few miles away. About 2,500 people remained.29

As was clear from the descriptions of what took place in the cities with the largest Arab populations, these cases were 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 ensure clear lines of communication. Historian Benny 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 dilemma.”30


The Arab invasion had little impact on the Palestinian Arabs.


The Arabs of Palestine expected the Arab armies to drive the Jews into the sea for their benefit. The Arab leaders, however, were motivated by their interests, and each hoped to grab a piece of Palestine.

Once the invasion began in May 1948, most Arabs remaining in Palestine left for neighboring countries. 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 other Arab states, still confident of being able to return to their homes. 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: [t]he 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 the former British Mandate of Palestine and enthusiastically welcomed the advancing armies. Days and weeks passed, but the Arab armies did not defeat the Israelis. Instead, they lost Acre, Sarafand, Lydda, Ramleh, Nazareth, most of the south, and the rest of the north. Then hope fled.31

As the fighting spread into previously quiet areas, the Arabs began to see the possibility of defeat. As that possibility turned into reality, the flight of the Arabs increased—more than three hundred thousand departed after May 15—leaving approximately 160,000 Arabs in the State of Israel.32

Although most Arabs had left by November 1948, some still chose to leave even after hostilities ceased. An interesting case was the evacuation of three thousand 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.33


Arab leaders never encouraged the Palestinians to flee.


Despite revisionist attempts to deny that Palestinians were encouraged to leave their homes, a plethora of evidence exists. In recent years, more Palestinians have come forward to 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.34

Time’s 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.”35

Starting in December 1947, historian Benny Morris 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 early Arab-initiated evacuations in the demoralization, and eventual exodus, of the remaining rural and urban populations.”36


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

—Historian Benny Morris37

Following the March 8, 1948, instructions of the Arab Higher Committee (AHC), the Arab National Committee ordered women, children, and the elderly in 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 AHC 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.”38

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.”

Who gave such orders? Leaders 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.”39

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.40

Edward Atiyah, the secretary of the Arab League office in London, 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 re-enter and retake possession of their country.”41

“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.”42

“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).43

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.”44

“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.”45

The Arabs’ fear was exacerbated by stories of Jewish atrocities following the attack on Deir Yassin. The native population lacked leaders who could calm them; their spokespeople were operating from the safety of neighboring states and did more to arouse their fears than to alleviate 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. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the last person you might expect to confirm this story, admitted that Arabs began emigrating from Safed when the Arab Liberation Army retreated. “In Safed, just like Hebron, people were afraid that the Jews would take revenge for the massacre in 1929,” during which 65 Jews were killed by Arabs in Hebron and 18 in Safed.46

“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.”47

Dr. Walid al-Qamhawi, a former member of the Executive Committee of the PLO, agreed “it was collective fear, moral disintegration and chaos in every field that exiled the Arabs of Tiberias, Haifa and dozens of towns and villages.”48

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


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.

—Jordan’s King Abdullah 49


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.50

An Arab resident of a Palestinian refugee camp explained why his family left 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.51

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.]52

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.”53

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 Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas 54


The Palestinian Arabs fled to avoid being massacred.


The United Nations resolved that Jerusalem would be an international city apart from the Arab and Jewish states demarcated in the partition resolution. Nevertheless, 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. Before 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 attempted to cut off the highway linking Tel Aviv with Jerusalem’s only supply route. The Arabs controlled several strategic vantage points, which overlooked the road 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 an expansive view of the vicinity and was located less than a mile from the suburbs of Jerusalem.55

On April 6, Operation Nachshon was launched to open the road to Jerusalem. The village of Deir Yassin was 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.56

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 his organization; other authors say it was as many as 132 men from both groups. Begin said a small open truck fitted with a loudspeaker was driven to the entrance of the village before the attack and broadcast a warning for civilians to evacuate the area, which many did.57 Others say the alert was never issued because the truck rolled into a ditch before it could broadcast the warning.58 One of the fighters said the trench had been filled in and that the truck had continued 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.”59

Contrary to revisionist histories that say the village was filled with peaceful innocents, evidence shows that both residents and foreign troops opened fire on the attackers. One Irgun 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.60

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 were captured, and 70 women and children were released. No hint of a massacre appeared in the report.61

“Paradoxically,” historian Dan Kurzman observed, “the Jews say about 250 out of 400 village inhabitants [were killed], while Arab survivors say only 110 of 1,000.”62 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.63 Other Arab sources have subsequently suggested the number may have been even lower.64

In 2017, Israeli scholar Eliezer Tauber published an exhaustive study of the casualties and found that a total of 101 people were killed, 61 in combat (24 armed fighters and the rest family members who were with them); 17 in unknown circumstances; 12 whose deaths are in a “grey zone” whose characterization can be debated; and 11 from a single family killed by a single Irgun member.65

The attackers left open an escape corridor from the village, and more than 200 residents left unharmed. For example, at nine-thirty in the morning, about five hours after the fighting started, the Lehi evacuated 40 older men, women, and children on trucks and took them to a base in Sheik Bader. Later, the Arabs were taken to East Jerusalem. Seeing the Arabs in the hands of Jews raised the morale of the people of Jerusalem, who were despondent from setbacks in the fighting.66 Another source says 70 women and children were taken away and turned over to the British.67 If the intent were 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, but some were among the casualties (the Times report said it was about half the victims; their original casualty figure came from the Irgun).

Women became targets because of men who disguised 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.”68

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.”69

According to Tauber, women were among the dead because they participated in the battle. He also documented one exceptional case where a group of Arabs left a house to surrender, but an Irgun fighter shot at them with a machine gun. After examining the cause of death of all the villagers, Tauber concluded there was no massacre.70

Arab propagandists at the time claimed Jews raped some of the women in the village; however, every villager interviewed denied these allegations. Like many of the claims, this was a deliberate propaganda ploy, but one that backfired. Hazam Nusseibeh, 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 that “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 fifty 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.”71

Upon learning of the attack, the Jewish Agency immediately expressed its “horror and disgust.” It also sent a letter relating 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 premeditated massacre attracted little attention and is never mentioned by those who are quick to bring up Deir Yassin. Moreover, despite attacks that killed more than 500 Jews in the first four months after the partition decision alone, Jews did not flee.

The Palestinians knew the Jews were not trying to annihilate them; otherwise, they would not have been allowed to evacuate Tiberias, Haifa, or any other towns captured by Jewish forces. By contrast, secretary-general of the Arab League Abd al-Rahman Azzam Pasha made clear the Arabs’ intent in an interview with an Egyptian newspaper (October 11, 1947): “Personally, I hope that the Jews will not force this war upon us, because it will be a war of annihilation. It will be a momentous massacre in history that will be talked about like the massacres of the Mongols or the Crusades.”72

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


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


Israel consistently sought a solution to the refugee problem but would not agree to allow all Palestinians to return. David Ben-Gurion stated Israel’s position (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 counter-claims 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.73

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.”74

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.75

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.

Meanwhile, Israel released the refugees’ blocked bank accounts totaling more than $10 million, paid thousands of claimants cash compensation, and granted thousands of acres as alternative holdings.


The UN required that Israel repatriate all Palestinian refugees.


The United Nations took up the refugee issue and adopted Resolution 194 on December 11, 1948. This called on 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. 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.”76

The Israelis did not expect the refugees to be a significant issue; they thought the Arab states would resettle the majority and that a 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. They unanimously rejected Resolution 194.

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

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.77

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


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


When Jewish leaders in Palestine made plans for setting up a state in early 1948, they 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.”78

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.79

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.80

The plight of the refugees remained unchanged after the Suez War; even the rhetoric stayed the same. In 1957, the Refugee Conference in 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.81

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!82


An uncaring world ignored the Palestinian refugees.


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 160 resolutions have been adopted that refer to Palestinian refugees, roughly 22% of all the resolutions on the conflict.83

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

UNRWA had little chance of success 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 foreseen initially by the Agency as a means of alleviating the Palestinians’ situation. The Arab governments, and some of 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 in UNRWA Camps



Registered Refugees

Refugees in Camps

% in Camps
















West Bank





Gaza Strip





Agency Total





*In 2020, an estimated 438,000 remained in Syria; the rest are  in a state of protracted displacement.



The Arab states have always welcomed the Palestinians.


No one expected the refugee problem to persist after the 1948 War. John Blandford Jr., the director of UNRWA, wrote in his November 29, 1951 report 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.”85 In 1952, the UNRWA set up a fund of $200 million to provide homes and jobs for the refugees, but it went untouched.

Meanwhile, Jordan was the only Arab country to welcome the Palestinians and grant some citizenship (Gazans were excluded). 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.86 In 2004, Jordan began revoking the citizenship of Palestinians who did not have the Israeli permits required to reside in the West Bank.87

Although demographic figures indicated ample room for settlement in Syria, Damascus refused to accept 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 many refugees but proved unwilling. Likewise, Lebanon insisted it had no room for the Palestinians.

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. Saudi Arabian radio compared Egypt’s treatment of Palestinians in Gaza to Hitler’s rule in occupied Europe.88

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 1970s and early 1980s, recruiting workers from Asia instead.

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 Palestinians. “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.89 This expulsion drew no media attention, provoked no UN resolutions condemning Kuwait, and was ignored by pro-Palestinian activists.

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.

—Sir Alexander Galloway
former head of UNRWA in Jordan (April 1952)

Today, Palestinian refugees in Lebanon do not have social and civil rights, are prevented from owning property, and have limited access to public health or educational facilities. The majority relies entirely on UNRWA for education, health, and social services. Considered foreigners, Palestinian refugees are prohibited by law from working in most skilled professions, including medicine, law, and engineering.91

The Palestinian refugees held the UN responsible for ameliorating their condition; nevertheless, many Palestinians were unhappy with their treatment by 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.”92

Most refugees, however, focused their discontentment on “the Zionists,” whom they blamed for their predicament rather than the vanquished Arab armies.


Israel confines millions of Palestinians to refugee camps.


By 2023, the number of Palestinian refugees on UNRWA rolls had risen to more than 5.9 million, several times the number that left Palestine in 1948. Roughly 27%, more than 1.5 million individuals, live in 58 refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. The other two-thirds of the registered refugees live in and around the camps, cities, and towns of the host countries and disputed territories.93

I briefly visited the Balata refugee camp with its 20,000 residents. The camp is inside the West Bank city of Nablus—that is, within the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority (PA) . . . Balata’s children, like the children in similar camps in Gaza and neighboring Arab countries, are nurtured on the myth that someday soon they will return in triumph to their ancestors’ homes by the Mediterranean Sea. While awaiting redemption, Balata’s residents are prohibited, by the Palestinian Authority, from building homes outside the camp’s official boundaries.

—Sol Stern94


The Palestinians are the only refugee population barred from returning to their homes.


After World War II, 12.5 million Germans in Poland and Czechoslovakia were expelled 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. Germans do not expect these millions of deportees, and their children, to return to the countries from which they were expelled, even though their ancestors had lived in those places for hundreds of years.

If refugees return to Israel, Israel will cease to exist.

—Gamal Nasser95

Another country seriously affected by World War II was Finland, which was forced to give up almost one-eighth of its land and absorb more than 400,000 refugees (11% 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. As the Des Moines Register noted:

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.96

Had the Arab states wanted to alleviate the refugees’ suffering, they could 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 Spiegel97


All Palestinian refugees must be given the option to return to their homes.


According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), more than 5.9 million Palestinians are refugees. The Palestinian Authority (PA) claims that “nearly 7 million Palestinian refugees scattered worldwide believe in inevitable return” (PA TV, May 14, 2023, translated by Palestinian Media Watch).

Allowing all the refugees to live in Israel would be suicidal.

The Israeli population is approximately 9.8 million, of which 7.2 million are Jews. If every Palestinian refugee in the UNRWA system were allowed to move to Israel, the population would be nearly 16 million, and the Jewish proportion would shrink from 73% to 46%. Using the PA numbers, Jews would comprise only about 43% of the Jewish State. The Jews would be a minority in their own country, the situation they fought to avoid in 1948 and which the UN expressly ruled out in deciding to partition Palestine.

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 Oz98

It is often forgotten that most Palestinians now live in historic Palestine, an area including the Palestinian Authority and Jordan. When Palestinians demand to return to “Palestine,” they refer to the area and the houses they lived in before 1948. These homes are either gone or inhabited now.

Even respected Palestinian leaders 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?”99

In leaked cables from the Palestinian negotiating team, PA President Mahmoud Abbas also admitted this. “On numbers of refugees,” he said, “it is illogical to ask Israel to take 5 million, or indeed 1 million—that would mean the end of Israel.”100

Israel has offered to accept some refugees in the context of a peace settlement, as Ben-Gurion said he would do decades ago. If and when a Palestinian state is created, the refugees should be allowed to move there; however, the Palestinian leadership has shown little interest in absorbing its people and still believes it can weaken, if not destroy, Israel by overwhelming the country with refugees.


UNRWA is needed to care for 5.9 million refugees.


In 1952, the UN defined refugees as “persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948, and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict“ (UNRWA). Given that definition, and the UN mediator’s estimate, UNRWA should have been responsible for fewer than 400,000 refugees. Even if we accept higher estimates, such as Karsh’s calculation of 609,000, that is vastly different from the 5.9 million Palestinians currently considered refugees by UNRWA.

Given the 1952 definition, how many Palestinians could still be refugees?

The war was more than 70 years ago. That means infants at that time would be in their 70s today. Anyone over 18 would be in their 90s. According to the CIA, the life expectancy of Palestinians in the West Bank is 76 years. It would have been lower in the early decades after the war. Today, less than 4% of the population of the West Bank is over 65.101 Given these statistics, the vast majority of refugees are probably deceased, and UNRWA is no longer needed.

So how does UNWRA justify its existence?

The agency redefined “refugee” to include descendants. According to Jay Sekulow:

In 1965, UNRWA changed the eligibility requirements to be a Palestinian refugee to include third-generation descendants and, in 1982, it extended it again, to include all descendants of Palestine refugee males, including legally adopted children, regardless of whether they had been granted citizenship elsewhere. This classification process is inconsistent with how all other refugees in the world are classified, including the definition used by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the laws concerning refugees in the United States.102

The UNRWA website falsely claims that its definition is the same as that of the UNHCR. When columnist Melanie Phillips asked if the UNHCR automatically transferred refugee status to the descendants of refugees, however, she was told that was not true.103

If we accept the UNRWA definition, each original refugee would have an average of 9.5 descendants. That has allowed UNRWA to claim the need to provide services to 5.9 million Palestinians.

Also, according to UNRWA’s expanded definition, “the children of refugees and their descendants are also considered refugees until a durable solution is found” (emphasis added). Solutions to the refugee problem have been found; however, the Arab states and the Palestinians have rejected them.

If the Palestinians object to every solution, is UNRWA obligated to continue to treat them as refugees forever? Shouldn’t UNRWA be disbanded since its original mandate to help the refugees of 1948 is no longer relevant since most are dead?

The international community may be beginning to recognize the error of propping up UNRWA. Swiss Foreign Affairs Minister Ignazio Cassis argued in 2018 that the agency is an obstacle to peace and has interfered with the integration of Palestinians in Jordanian and Lebanese societies. He argued that those remaining wards of UNRWA continue to believe in a fantasy that they can one day return home.

“It is unrealistic that all of them can fulfil this dream. Yet the UNRWA keeps this dream alive,” Cassis said. “It supplies the ammunition to continue the conflict. By supporting the UNRWA, we keep the conflict alive. It’s a perverse logic.”

Harkening back to the original postwar vision of the UN, Cassis argued the refugees should be integrated among their fellow Arabs in the countries where they now live. Instead of UNRWA schools and hospitals, he suggested that Switzerland support facilities to promote the Palestinians’ absorption.104


Palestinians and their supporters care about Palestinian refugees.


Palestinians and their supporters say they are concerned for Palestinian refugees, yet they are silent regarding the treatment of refugees living in Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon. They even ignore the welfare of refugees confined to camps in the West Bank and Gaza Strip by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.

Today, the Gaza Strip has eight refugee camps with a population of more than 590,000. Another 19 camps in the West Bank house 166,468 refugees. That is a total of more than 750,00 “refugees,” which, based on CIA population figures, would be more than 15% of the Palestinian population in the disputed territories.

This raises two questions: why does the PA keep these camps intact, and why don’t any of the supporters of the Palestinians care?

When Israel controlled the Gaza Strip, the government wanted to move the refugees into permanent housing. The Palestinians opposed the idea, however, and the Arab states routinely pushed for the adoption of UN resolutions demanding that Israel desist from removing refugees from the camps.105

Journalist Netty Gross visited Gaza and asked an official why the camps hadn’t been dismantled. She was told the Palestinian Authority had made a “political decision” not to do anything for the Palestinians living in the camps until the final-status talks with Israel took place.106

Meanwhile, the Palestinians have received billions of dollars in international aid but have not moved the refugees into permanent housing. The refugees who remain in camps are there only because the host Arab governments, Hamas, and the Palestinian Authority keep them there.

The Palestinians oppose demolishing the camps because they serve two important purposes. The first is to provide a breeding ground for terrorists where frustrated and angry refugees are convinced to blame Israel for their plight. The second is to remind the world that Palestinians remain refugees, deserve sympathy because of their squalid living conditions, and should be allowed to return to their homes in what is now Israel.

The international community and supporters of the Palestinians blame Israel for the refugees’ plight and make no effort to pressure Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan to give them citizenship or to convince Hamas and the PA to demolish the camps and build permanent housing.


The United States does not provide aid to Palestinian refugees.


Historically, the United States has been the biggest funder of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNWRA). As recently as 2017, the U.S. covered nearly one-third of the agency’s budget of $1.1 billion.

Angered by the Palestinians’ refusal to restart peace talks with Israel, however, the Trump administration cut the U.S. contribution in early 2018 from $364 million to $60 million before ceasing payments altogether.107

Following two years of no payments to UNRWA, the Biden administration restored $318.8 million in funding in 2021.

U.S. contributions to UNRWA are subject to various legislative conditions and oversight measures. For example, “No contributions by the United States shall be made to [UNRWA] except on the condition that [UNRWA] take[s] all possible measures to assure that no part of the United States contribution shall be used to furnish assistance to any refugee who is receiving military training as a member of the so-called Palestine Liberation Army or any other guerrilla type organization or who has engaged in any act of terrorism.”108


UNRWA has removed biased textbooks from its schools.


In April 2017, UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) pledged to modify the curricula in its schools and remove materials that compromised the organization’s required political neutrality. For example, UNRWA said it would remove maps of Palestine from the river to the sea, a reference saying “Jerusalem is the capital of the State of Palestine,” and the terms “the occupation,” “occupation soldiers,” “the prisoners,” and “the separation fence” from math or Arabic exercises.

Image from Palestinian website
reproduced by MEMRI


UNRWA’s decision came after UN Watch released a study examining more than 40 Facebook pages operated by schoolteachers, principals, and other employees of UNRWA. “The examples of incitement in this report include UNRWA teachers and staffers celebrating the terrorist kidnapping of Israeli teenagers, cheering rockets being fired at Israeli civilian centers, endorsing various forms of violence, erasing Israel from the map, praising Hitler and posting his photo, and posting overtly anti-Semitic videos, caricatures, and statements.”109

The proposed changes in the UNRWA curricula provoked a storm of protest from the Palestinian Authority (PA), Hamas, some UNRWA employees, and Arab members of the Knesset. The PA Education Minister Sabri Saidam declared that Palestinians want “education that will create liberation” from the “occupation.” Knesset Member Ahmad Tibi said, “it is the right of Palestinians under occupation to incite against it,” and Knesset member Hanin Al-Zo’abi insisted that “inciting against the occupation and its crimes is not just a right, but a human obligation.” Hamas’s Refugee Affairs division director, Dr. ‘Issam ‘Adwan, called the curriculum changes “a political crime.”110

Aaron Groiss and Ronni Shaked examined 201 textbooks used in grades one to 12, 77 of which were published in 2016 and 2017 by the PA. They found them rife with extreme anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sentiments. They concluded that PA textbook attitudes toward Jews were “based on three fundamentals: “Delegitimization, demonization, and indoctrination to violent struggle instead of peace.”111

Groiss and Shaked found that textbooks suggest Jewish holy places in “Palestine,” such as the Western Wall, Rachel’s Tomb, and the Cave of the Patriarchs, are actually “Muslim holy places usurped by Jews.” The word “Israel” is almost entirely absent, replaced by pejorative terms such as “Zionist occupation.” The Arab-Israeli conflict is referred to as “the Arab-Zionist conflict,” which the report says “signals an intensification of the nonrecognition attitude regarding Israel on the part of the Palestinian educators.”

One example of the demonization of Jews is found in a textbook description of the early Zionist pioneers. “The arrival of the Jewish throngs to Palestine continued until 1948 and their goal was taking over the Palestinian lands and then replacing the original inhabitants after their expulsion or extermination.”

While Palestinian officials often deny they engage in incitement, PA textbooks promote violence to liberate the disputed territories from the “occupation.” In addition to the West Bank, books also discuss liberating areas inside pre-1967 Israel, such as Haifa, Acre, and Jaffa. One 2017 text describes a Molotov cocktail attack on an Israeli civilian bus as a “barbecue party.” Another book glorifies the female terrorist who killed more than 30 civilians in an attack on another Israeli bus.

In a February 2018 update to the earlier study, Groiss reported that books used by UNRWA, published by the PA since 2016, “are generally more radical than their predecessors.” The new books, for example, “omit the few references that existed in the older ones to the Jewish presence in the country in antiquity.”

The newer books also demonized Israel and Jews in subjects unrelated to the conflict, such as physics, chemistry, biology, and vocational education. Thus, for example, a physics discussion of sound waves states that “the Zionist occupation forces prohibit the call for prayer from the minarets of al-Aqsa Mosque.” The human spine’s importance is demonstrated in biology with “the case of a boy who was severely injured by an object left in the field following ‘the Zionist aggression against Gaza.’”112

The furor over changing the textbooks was understandable, given the Palestinian leadership’s desire to infuse future generations with a hatred of Israel and a revisionist history of the region. UNRWA, however, has a legal and moral obligation to purge its schools of textbooks that promote the Palestinian political agenda and to provide students with accurate information that is devoid of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish bias.


1 Arieh Avneri, The Claim of Dispossession, (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books, 1984), p. 272; Benjamin Kedar, 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. Efraim Karsh, “How Many Palestinian Refugees Were There?” Israel Affairs, (April 2011).

2 Ad Hoc Committee on Palestine—30th Meeting,” United Nations Press Release GA/PAL/84, (November 24, 1947).

3 Avneri, p. 276.

4 David Shayne, “The forgotten Palestinian refugees,” Jerusalem Post, (September 12, 2018); Deborah Moon, “Israel 360 explores the first Arab-Israeli War,” Jewish Federation of Greater Portland, (March 3, 2020).

5 “Assistance to Palestine Refugees,” United Nations, (October 6, 1950).

6 Efraim Karsh, “1948, Israel, and the Palestinians—The True Story,” Commentary, (May 2008).

7 David Ben-Gurion, Rebirth and Destiny of Israel, (NY: Philosophical Library, 1954), p. 220.

8 Atalia Ben Meir, “The Palestinian Refugee Issue and the Demographic Aspect,” in Israel and a Palestinian State: Zero Sum Game? (ACPR Publishers: 2001), p. 215.

9 Joseph Schechtman, The Refugee in the World, (NY: A. S. Barnes and Co., 1963), p. 184.

10 I. F. Stone, This is Israel, (NY: Boni and Gaer, 1948), p. 27.

11 Barry Rubin, “How the Palestinians Trap Themselves and Drag the West Along,” PJ Media, (May 5, 2013).

12 Shmuel Katz, Battleground-Fact and Fantasy in Palestine, (Montgomery, TX: Taylor Publications Ltd., 2002), p. 10.

13 Ibid.

14 Avneri, p. 270.

15 London Daily Mail, (August 12, 1948), cited in Katz, p. 13.

16 Randall Price, Unholy War: America, Israel, and Radical Islam, (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, November 2001), p. 166.

17 Dana Adams Schmidt, “Jews Seize Haifa in Furious Battle; Arabs Agree to Go,” New York Times, (April 23, 1948).

18 Secret memo dated April 26, 1948, from the Superintendent of Police, regarding the general situation in Haifa, cited in Shmuel Katz, Battleground: Fact & Fantasy in Palestine, (Montgomery, TX: Taylor Publications Ltd., 2002), p. 13.

19 Golda Meir, My Life, (NY: Dell, 1975), pp. 267–68.

20 Dana Adams Schmidt, “Jews Seize Haifa in Furious Battle; Arabs Agree to Go,” New York Times, (April 23, 1948).

21 Ibid.

22 London Times, (April 24, 1948).

23 Schechtman, p. 190.

24 Foreign Relations of the U.S., 1948, Vol. V, (DC: GPO, 1976), p. 838.

25 Efraim Karsh, “1948, Israel, and the Palestinians—The True Story,” Commentary, (May 2008).

26 Tom Segev, 1949: The First Israelis, (NY: The Free Press, 1986), pp. 27–28.

27 Yigal 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.

28 Benny The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited, (Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 2004), p. 592.

29 Efraim Karsh, “How many Palestinian Arab refugees were there?” Israel Affairs, 17: 2, (2011), pp. 224-246).

30 Morris, p. 592.

31 Cecil Hourani, Middle East Journal, 3, no. 4, (1949), pp. 469–70.

32 Terence Prittie, “Middle East Refugees,” cited in Michael Curtis, et al., The Palestinians, (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books, 1975), p. 52.

33 Gene Currivan, “Faluja Refugees Swell Arab Total,” New York Times, (March 4, 1949).

34 The Economist, (October 2, 1948).

35 “International: On the Eve?” Time Magazine, (May 3, 1948).

36 Middle East Studies, (January 1986); See also, Morris, Birth, pp. 263, 590–92.

37 Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited, (Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 2004), p. 590.

38 Middle East Studies, (January 1986); See also, Morris, Birth, pp. 263, 590–92.

39 Myron Kaufman, The Coming Destruction of Israel, (NY: The American Library Inc., 1970), pp. 26–27.

40 The Memories of Haled al Azm, Part 1, (Beirut, 1973), pp. 386–87.

41 Edward Atiyah, The Arabs, (London: Penguin, 1955), p. 183.

42 El-Asmar, supra note 13, page 7, via Palestine and Israel: A Challenge to Justice by John B. Quigley, (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1990).

43 Jordanian Newspaper Filastin (February 19, 1949), quoted in Samuel Katz, Battleground, (NY: Bantam Books, 1985), pp. 16–17.

44 Ad Difaa, Jordan, (September 6, 1954).

45 Habib Issa in the New York Lebanese newspaper Al-Hoda (June 8, 1951), quoted in Samuel Katz, Battleground, (NY: Bantam Books, 1985), p. 17.

46 Itamar Marcus, “Abbas’ UN Speech Contradicts His ‘Refugee’ History,” Palestinian Media Watch, (October 10, 2013).

47 Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited, (Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 2004), p. 591.

48 Yehoshafat Harkabi, Arab Attitudes to Israel, (Jerusalem: Israel Universities Press, 1972), p. 364.

49 King Abdallah, My Memoirs Completed (London: Longman Group, Ltd., 1978), p. xvi.

50 Al-Ayyam (May 13, 2008), quoted in Itamar Marcus and Barbara Cook, “The Evolving Palestinian Narrative: Arabs Caused the Refugee Problem,” Palestinian Media Watch, (May 20, 2008).

51 Palestinian Authority TV, (July 7, 2009), quoted in Palestinian Media Watch Bulletin, (July 23, 2009).

52 Al-Hayat al-Jadida, (December 13, 2006), quoted in Itamar Marcus and Barbara Cook, “The Evolving Palestinian Narrative: Arabs Caused the Refugee Problem,” Palestinian Media Watch, (May 20, 2008).

53 Al-Ayyam, (May 13, 2008), quoted in Itamar Marcus and Barbara Cook, “The Evolving Palestinian Narrative: Arabs Caused the Refugee Problem,” Palestinian Media Watch, (May 20, 2008).

54 Falastin a-Thaura, (March 1976).

55 Walid Khalidi, Palestine Reborn, (I. B. Tauris: 1992), p. 289.

56 Dan Kurzman, Genesis 1948, (OH: New American Library Inc., 1970), p. 141.

57 Menachem Begin, The Revolt, (NY: Nash Publishing, 1977), pp. xx–xxi, 162–63.

58 See, 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), pp. 292–96; Kurzman, p. 142.

59 Uri Milstein, History of Israel’s War of Independence, Vol IV, (Lanham: University Press of America, 1999), p. 262.

60 Ibid.

61 Dana Adams Schmidt, “200 Arabs Killed, Stronghold Taken,” New York Times, (April 10, 1948).

62 Kurzman, p. 148.

63 Sharif 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.

64 Sharif Kanaana, “Reinterpreting Deir Yassin,” Bir Zeit University, (April 1998).

65 Gideon Dokob, “Deir Yassin, the facts,” Arutz Sheva (Hebrew), (July 20, 2017); Eliezer Tauber, The Massacre That Never Was: The Myth of Deir Yassin and the Creation of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, (Jerusalem: Koren Publishers, 2021), pp. 122-123.

66 Milstein, p. 267.

67 Rami Nashashibi, “Dayr Yasin,” Bir Zeit University, (June 1996).

68 Sharif 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.

69 Milstein, p. 276.

70 “A New Book Argues That a Massacre Never Happened at Deir Yassin,” Mosaic, (August 7, 2017); Shimon Cohen, “‘There was no massacre at Deir Yassin,’”Arutz Sheva, (July 18, 2017).

71 “Israel and the Arabs: The 50 Year Conflict,” BBC Television Series, (1998).

72 “Interview with Abd al-Rahman Azzam Pasha,” Akhbar al-Yom (Egypt), (October 11, 1947), translated by R. Green.

73 Howard Sachar, A History of Israel: From the Rise of Zionism to Our Time, (NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1979), p. 335.

74 Schechtman, p. 268.

75 Prittie in Curtis, pp. 66–67.

76 Gene Currivans, “Weizmann Urges Homes for Arabs,” New York Times, (July 17, 1949).

77 Telegraph (Beirut), (August 6, 1948), quoted in Schechtman, pp. 210–11.

78 Moshe Sharett, “Israel’s Position and Problems,” Middle Eastern Affairs, (May 1952), p. 136.

79 Al-Said (Lebanon), (April 6, 1950), cited by Prittie in Curtis, p. 69.

80 Al-Misri, (October 11, 1949), cited in Nathan Feinberg, The Arab-Israeli Conflict in International Law, (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1970), p. 109.

81 Beirut al-Massa, (July 15, 1957), cited in Katz, p. 21.

82 Benjamin Franklin, Memoirs of Benjamin Franklin, Vol 1, (M’Carty & Davis: 1834), p. 463.

83 Melissa Radler, “UN Marks Partition Plan Anniversary with anti-Israel Fest,” Jerusalem Post, (December 4, 2003).

85 Schechtman, p. 220.

86 “Speech to Parliament—April 24, 1950,” Abdallah, pp. 16–17; Aaron Miller, The Arab States and the Palestine Question, (Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies, 1986), p. 29.

87 Khaled Abu Toameh, “Amman Revoking Palestinians Citizenship,” Jerusalem Post, (July 20, 2009).

88 Isi Leibler, The Case for Israel, (Australia: The Globe Press, 1972), p. 48.

89 Jerusalem Report, (June 27, 1991).

90 Alexander 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).

91 “2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices,” U.S. State Department, (March 30, 2021).

92 Musa Alami, “The Lesson of Palestine,” Middle East Journal, (October 1949), p. 386.

94 Sol Stern, “Mr. Abbas, Tear Down This Wall!” Jewish Ideas Daily, (September 28, 2010).

95 Katz, p. 21.

96 Editorial, Des Moines Register, (January 16, 1952).

97 Jerusalem Report, (March 26, 2001).

98 Amos Oz, “No right of return, but Israel must offer a solution,” The Globe and Mail, (May 12, 2007).

99 Associated Press, (October 22, 2001).

101 “West Bank,” CIA World Factbook, (2020).

102 Jay Sekulow, “UNRWA Has Changed the Definition of Refugee,” Foreign Policy, (August 17, 2018); see also James G. Lindsay, “Fixing UNRWA Repairing the UN’s Troubled System of Aid to Palestinian Refugees,” Washington Institute, (January 2009).

103 Melanie Phillips, “As I See It: The ‘humanitarian’ weapon of war,” Jerusalem Post, (December 11, 2014).

104 “Minister: ‘UN aid agency is part of the problem in the Middle East,’” SWI, (May 17, 2018).

105 Mitchell Bard, “Homeless in Gaza,” Policy Review, (January 1989); Arlene Kushner, “The UN’s Palestinian Refugee Problem,” Azure, (Autumn 2005).

106 Jerusalem Report, (July 6, 1998).

107 F. Brinley Bruton and Dan De Luce, “Trump administration eliminates funding to United Nations’ Palestinian refugee agency,” NBC News, (August 31, 2018).

108 “The Palestinians: Background and U.S. Relations,” Congressional Research Service, (October 26, 2021).

109 “UNRWA school teachers post Holocaust-denying videos, celebrate Hitler,” UN Watch, (February 2, 2017).

110 C. Jacob. “UNRWA Working To Amend Curricula In Its West Bank And Gaza Schools; PA, Hamas Oppose This,” MEMRI, (April 6, 2017).

111 Arnon Groiss and Ronni Shaked, “School books of the Palestinian Authority (PA): The Attitude to the Jews, to Israel and to Peace,” Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Middle East Forum, (September 2017).

112 Arnon Groiss, “Israel, Jews and Peace in the New PA Textbooks Used in UNRWA Schools Today – Final Study,”, (February 2018).