The Arab version of the tragic fate of Arab refugees who fled from
the Palestinian Mandate before and during the 1948 war and from Israel
immediately after the war, has so thoroughly dominated the thinking
of even well-educated historians, commentators, journalists and politicians,
that is almost a given that the creation of the State of Israel caused
the flight of almost a million hapless, helpless, and hopeless Arab
refugees. Israel caused the problem and thus Israel must solve the problem.
This assertion, although viscerally engaging and all but canonized
by the anti-Israel propaganda which makes it the core of its narratives
of the Middle East conflict, is unequivocally and totally false.
Origins of the Problem
The State of Israel was created in a peaceful and legal process by
the United Nations. It was not created out of Palestinian lands. It
was created out of the Ottoman Empire, ruled for four hundred years
by the Turks who lost it when they were defeated in World War I. There
were no “Palestinian” lands at the time because there were
no people claiming to be Palestinians. There were Arabs who lived in
the region of Palestine who considered themselves Syrians. It was only
after World War I that the present states of Jordan, Syria, Lebanon
and Iraq were also created - and also created artificially out of the
Turkish Empire by the British and French victors. Jordan was created
on about 80 percent of the Palestine Mandate, which was originally designated
by the League of Nations as part of the Jewish homeland. Since then,
Jews have been prohibited from owning property there. Two-thirds of
its citizens are Palestinian Arabs, but it is ruled by a Hashemite monarchy.
In 1947, the UN partition plan mandated the creation of two states
on the remaining 20 percent of the Palestine Mandate: the State of Israel
for the Jews, and another state for the Arabs. The Arabs rejected their
state, and launched a war against Israel. This is the primal cause of
the Arab refugee problem.
The Arab refugees were roughly 725,000 people who fled because of
the war that the Arab states - not Palestinian Arabs - started. The
Arab states - dictatorships all - did no want a non-Arab state in the
Middle East. The rulers of eight Arab countries whose populations vastly
outnumbered the Jewish settlers in the Turkish Empire, initiated the
war with simultaneous invasions of the newly created state of Israel
on three fronts. Nascent Israel begged for peace and offered friendship
and cooperation to its neighbors. The Arab dictators rejected this offer
and answered it with a war of annihilation against the Jews. The war
failed. But the state of war has continued uninterruptedly because of
the failure of the Arab states - Saudi Arabia and Iraq in particular
- to sign a peace treaty with Israel. To this day, the Arab states and
the Palestinians refer to the failure of their aggression and the survival
of Israel as an-Nakba - the catastrophe.
Had there been no Arab aggression, no war, and no invasion by Arab
armies whose intent was overtly genocidal, not only would there have
been no Arab refugees, but there would have been a state of Palestine
in the West Bank and Gaza since 1948.
In the war, Israel acquired additional land. In the absence of a
peace treaty between belligerents, the law of nations allows the annexation
of an aggressor's land after a conflict - although the land in question
belonged to the Turks and then the World War I victors. Israel actually
offered to return land it had acquired while defending itself against
the Arab aggression in exchange for a formal peace. It made this offer
during the Rhodes Armistice talks and Lausanne conference in 1949. The
Arab rulers refused the land because they wanted to maintain a state
of war in order to destroy the Jewish state. Had Israel's offer been
accepted, there could have been prompt and just resolution to all the
problems that have afflicted the region since. The only problem that
wouldn't have been resolved to the satisfaction of the Arabs was their
desire to obliterate the state of Israel.
After their victory, Israel passed a law that allowed Arab refugees
to re-settle in Israel provided they would sign a form in which they
renounced violence, swore allegiance to the state of Israel, and became
peaceful productive citizens. During the decades of this law's tenure,
more than 150,000 Arab refugees have taken advantage of it to resume
productive lives in Israel. Jews do not have a similar option to become
citizens of Arab states from which they were banned.
It should be completely obvious to any reasonable and fair-minded
observer of this history, therefore, that it was not Israel that caused
the Arab refugee problem, nor Israel that obstructed its solution.
On the contrary, the Arab refugee problem was the direct result of
the aggression by the Arab states, and their refusal after failing to
obliterate Israel to sign a formal peace, or to take care of the Arab
refugees who remained outside Israel's borders.
The Jewish Refugees
There were other refugees from the Arab-Israeli conflict that everyone
on the Arab side of the argument chooses conveniently to forget. Between
1949 and 1954, about 800,000 Jews were forced to flee from the Arab
and Muslim lands where they had lived for hundreds and even thousands
of years - from Iraq, Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan and Iran, Syria, Egypt,
Lebanon, and other Muslim countries. These Jews were peaceful citizens
of their Arab countries and in no way a hostile population. Nonetheless,
they were forced at gun-point to flee with nothing but the clothes on
their backs. The only reason for their expulsion was revenge against
the Jewish citizenry of Arab countries for the shame of the Arab defeat
in their war of aggression.
Most of these Jewish refugees came to Israel, where they were integrated
into normalcy by the tiny fledgling Jewish state. The Arab states (and
later the PLO) refused to do this for the Arab refugees because they
preferred to keep them an aggrieved constituency for their war against
Some observers have suggested that the dual refugee situation should
be understood as a “population exchange” - Arab fled to
Arab countries as Jews fled to the Jewish country, both as a result
of the 1948 war, both under conditions which their side regards as forced
evacuations. On the other hand, no one on the Arab side has suggested
the obvious: if Jewish refugees were resettled on land vacated by fleeing
Arabs, why not resettle Arab refugees on the lands of Jews who were
forced to flee the Arab countries. One reason no one has suggested this
is that no Arab state with the exception of Jordan will even allow Arab
refugees to become citizens.
Taking into account the Jewish refugees' assets that were confiscated
when they fled from Arab and Muslim lands, one can conclude that the
Jews have already paid massive “reparations” to the Arabs
whether warranted or not. The property and belongings of the Jewish
refugees, confiscated by the Arab governments, has been conservatively
estimated at about $2.5 billion in 1948 dollars. Invest that money at
a modest 6.5% over 57 years and you have today a sum of $80 billion,
which the Arab and Muslim governments of the lands from which the Jews
were expelled could apply to the benefit of the Arab refugees. That
sum is quite sufficient for reparations to Arab refugees. There is no
way of accurately assessing the value of Arab property left in Israel's
control; but there are no estimates as high as a 1948 value of $2,500,000,000.
So, hypothetically, the Arab side has already gotten the better end
of the deal.
During the many wars of the 20th century, tens of millions of refugees
were created in Europe and Asia. In 1922, 1.8 million people were relocated
to resolve the Turkey-Greece war. Following World War II, some 3,000,000
Germans were forced from countries of Eastern Europe and resettled in
Germany. When the Indian sub-continent was divided, over 12 million
people were transferred between India and Pakistan.
All such refugee issues have been resolved, except the roughly 725,000
Arabs who fled Israel during the 1948 war and whom the Arab states and
the Palestinian Authority have kept in refugee camps.
The Arab Refugee Problem
Another irony must be considered in the context of the refugee issue.
Israel handled its Jewish refugee problem by devoting massive resources
to the education and integration of the Jewish refugee population into
its society. These refugees never became a burden on the world, never
needed the assistance of the United Nations, and never had their civil
and human rights denied by their new host country. Instead, despite
great hardship, early discrimination, difficult adjustments and initial
privations, they and their offspring have become productive citizens
of the Middle East's only democracy, and substantive contributors to
tone of the most technologically and socially advanced countries in
The fate of the Arab refugees has been the diametric opposite of
this obvious positive solution to their problem. Arab leadership has
purposely kept their Palestinian brethren in refugee slums, at times
approaching the status of concentration camps, with their misery perpetuated
by Machiavellian rulers to be used as a propaganda weapon against Israel
and against the West.
The Palestinian refugees in Gaza were forced there in 1948 not by
Israel, but by the Egyptians, kept there under guard, shot if they tried
to leave, and never given Egyptian citizenship or Egyptian passports.
(These facts are recorded by Yassir Arafat himself in his authorized
biography by Alan Hart, Arafat: Terrorist or Peace Maker? 1982).
Refugees in Lebanon were kept under similar but less draconian repression.
They were barred by law from almost 70 professions, not granted citizenship,
and not allowed to travel. only in Jordan were the refugees granted
Senior Fatah Central Committee member Sakher Habash succinctly explained
the reason for the calculated refusal of the Arab rulers including the
Palestinian rulers to help the Palestinian refugees to return to normal
lives. During a 1998 lecture at Shechem's An-Najah University, Habash
said, “To us, the refugee issue is the winning card which means
the end of the Israeli state.”
In other words, war, terrorism, diplomatic isolation of Israel, world-wide
PR campaigns to demonize Israel all may fail (and most have, so far);
but as long as this last trump card is still alive, hope for the destruction
of Israel still pulses in the hearts of Arab revanchists.
Palestinians who fled Israel in 1948 and are still alive have no
ligal right to return to Israel because the Arab leadership representing
them (Arab nations until 1993, and since then the Palestinian Authority)
are still, de jure and de facto, at war with Israel;
and these refugees, therefore, are still potential hostiles. International
law does not require a country at war to commit suicide by allowing
the entry of hundreds of thousands of a potentially hostile population.
in the context of a peace treaty, in 1949, the Arab refugees could have
taken advantage of Israel's offer; but their leadership refused.
Of course the present Palestinian claim of a “Right of Return”
is accompanied by the claim that there are not 725,000 refugees (minus
those who have died in the interim) but 5 million. This number
serves many political agendas but from the point of view of international
law, generations born into a refugee population that has been resettled
and living in exile do not have the legal status of refugees. That means
that the legal refugee status today applies only to those few surviving
Arabs who fled in 1948, among whom most are advanced in age.
A Summary of The Salient Facts
The protracted Arab refugee crisis is an artificial crisis maintained
for 57 years by Arab rulers in order to exploit their own people's suffering
- to create a “poster child” for Palestinian victim-blood;
a staging ground for anti-Israel propaganda; a training center for Arab
terrorists; and a trump card for the anti0-Israel jihad (per
Sakher Habash) when all else (war, terrorism, international diplomacy)
“Haq el-Auda,” the “law of return,” for Palestinian
Arabs to their own homes and farms and orchards that have been part
of Israel for the past 57 years is a sham.
Sixty years ago there were nearly a million Jews in the Arab states
of the Middle East: honest hard-working citizenry, contributing to the
culture and economy of their countries of domicile,. Today, there are
almost no Jews in the Arab countries of the Middle East, and racist
apartheid laws prohibit even Jewish tourists from entering some Arab
In Israel, on the other hand, the Arabs who did not flee numbered
about 170,000 in 1949; and now number more than 1,400,000. They have
12 representatives in the Israeli Parliament, judges sitting on the
Israeli courts and on the Israeli Supreme Court benches, and PhD's and
tenured professors teaching in Israeli colleges and universities. They
are a population that enjoys more freedom, education, and economic opportunity
than do any comparable Arab populations anywhere in the Arab world.
The Arab rulers caused the Arab refugee problem in 1948 by their
war of aggression against the infant state of Israel, a legal creation
of the United Nations; the Arab rulers have since maintained the Arab
refugee population and denied it any possibility of normal life in Arab
countries in order to use the suffering they themselves have caused,
as a weapon in their unending war against Israel.
During all these decades the refugee camps and their Arab exploiters
have been funded by billions of dollars from the United Nations, the
United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union and others.
The flight of Arabs from what would soon become Israel took place
in eight stages:
1) As early as the Fall of 1947, months before the
UN partition plan of November 29, 1947, it was clear that there would
be a war no matter how the partition lines were drawn. In anticipation
of this war, many of the well-to-do Arabs (the effendi) of
Western Galilee, from Haifa to Acco and villages in between, closed
down their houses and went to Beirut or Damascus. With their wealth
and connections, they could wait out the war in safety. No one imagined
the infant state of Israel could win a war with the Arab states. The
Arabs who left though that they would be out of the way of danger, and
when the war was over they would come back to their homes. Current estimates
by objective observers (Conor Cruise O'Brien, in his book The Siege,
being perhaps the most objective) is that about 70,000 fled.
2) These refugees caused a sudden absence of political
and social leadership among the Arabs of Galilee, and thus as the hostilities
developed in the winter of 1947, many of the Arab peasantry (Felahin)
fled as well, following their leaders' example. They lacked the money
and connections to make a comfortable trip out of the way of danger,
as their effendi had done. So many of them simply walked with
whatever they could carry to Lebanon or Syria. Their leadership had
fled, which led them to assume that things must be pretty bad, so they
figured they had better leave too. They too were sure, based upon documentation
from Arab press at the time, that when the war was over and the Jews
were all dead or driven from Israel, they would come back to their homes.
There are no solid numbers for this exodus, but estimates range around
100,000 people. There were so many exiting that the Arab states had
a special conference in Beirut to decide how to handle all the Arabs
that were pouring across the borders. They set up special camps, later
to be known as refugee camps. These Arabs were fleeing of their own
free will. No one, neither Israel nor Arab states, were encouraging,
frightening, or ordering them to do so. The war had not yet even begun.
3) After November 29, 1947, warfare between the
Israeli Haganah and para-military Arab volunteers numbering in the tens
of thousands began in earnest. The Arab press and public speeches made
it clear that this was to be a war of annihilation like those of the
great Mongol hordes killing all in their path. The Jews would be either
dead or out. Israel was fighting not a war of independence, but a war
of survival. In order to defend some areas where Jews were completely
surrounded by Arabs (like the Jews of Jaffa, Jewish villages or kibbutzim
in parts of Galilee and the central hill country, and in Jerusalem)(,
the Haganah adopted scare-tactics that were intended to strike terror
into the Arab population of those areas, so that they would retreat
to safer ground. Then, it would be possible for the Haganah to defend
those Jews who would otherwise be inaccessible and thus vulnerable to
genocidal Arab intentions. Many Arabs in parts of Western Galilee, Jaffa,
and parts of Western Jerusalem, fled because of tactics such as rumors
that a huge Jewish army from the West was about to land on the coast,
hand-grenades thrown on front porches of homes, jeeps driving by and
firing machine guns into the walls or fences of houses, rumors circulated
by Arabic-speaking Jews that the Haganah was far bigger than it really
was and was on the verge of surfacing with a massive Jewish army, etc.
Here it is important to note that Jews were responsible in this part
of the Arab flight. But it was not because they wanted to ethnically
cleanse the country, or to wipe out the Arabs. it was because they knew
that outnumbered Jews, undefended in Arab enclaves would be slaughtered
(as in fact was the case of Jews in the Gush Etzion villages and in
the Jewish Quarter of the Old City in Jerusalem, and as had happened
in Hebron in 1929). It was the exigency of their fighting a war of survival
against a bigger and better armed enemy that drove them to the tactics
described above. It is also important not to forget these facts: Had
the Arab leadership accepted the UN partition plan, there would have
been a state of Palestine since November 29, 1947, for the Arabs, alongside
of Israel. Had the Arab armies not invaded, there would have been no
refugee problem. Keeping in mind these two facts, it is clear that the
total onus of culpability for the start of the refugee problem rests
squarely and solely upon the Arab states that invaded, in clear disregard
for the UN resolution 181 and international law.
4) Arab leadership from among the para-military
forces and the forces and the forces of Syria were vociferous in their
announcements that they wanted Arabs to leave so that the armies would
have a clear field in which to perpetrate their genocide of the Jews.
When the war was over and the Jews were driven out or killed, the Arab
residents could come back and have both their own lands and those of
We cannot know how many Arabs fled because of these
announcements; but since a number of Arab spokespersons after the war
admitted to having done this, and wrung their hands publicly in painful
repentance of having created the refugee problem, it is clear that the
Arab leadership's own message to many Arabs in the area was a major
factor in the Arab flight. [“The first group of our fifth column
consist of those who abandon their homes...At the first sign of trouble
they take to their heels to escape sharing the burden of struggle”
--Ash-Sha'ab, Jaffa, January 30, 1948]
It is also important
to point out at this time that there were a number of cases where Jewish
leaders got out in public and pleaded with Arabs not to leave. The mayor
of Haifa is the best example of this. At the risk of his own life, he
drove through the Arab section of Haifa with a loudspeaker on his jeep,
and in Arabic called out to the residents of his city to disregard the
Nonetheless, tens of thousands fled. The incredulous
British officers who witnessed this, documented it in a variety of sources.
Those Arabs who stayed were unharmed and became citizens of Israel.
[“(The fleeing villagers)...are bringing down disgrace on us all...
by abandoning their villages” --As-Sarih, Jaffa, March
The British also documented for the world a similar
phenomenon in Tiberius (a town in which the Arab population vastly outnumbered
the Jewish). The Arabs quite literally chose to leave even though they
were under no direct threat from the Jews and asked the British to assist
them. Tens of thousands left under British guard, while the Jews, both
civilian and Haganah, looked on. In a slightly different twist, the
Arabs of Safed (Tzefat) fled before the Haganah attack, even though
the Arab forces in Safed outnumbered the Jews about 10 to one.
Wherever Arabs chose to stay, they were unharmed and later became
citizens of Israel.
There have been a number of essays written
by later historians contesting the truth of the assertion that Arab
leaders told their people to flee. But Conor Cruise O'Brien's The
Siege and Mitchell Bard's Myths and Facts of the Middle East
Conflict offer irrefutable proof of the existence of such pronouncements.
5) Deir Yassin: The events that took place at Deir
Yassin are still hotly disputed. But by their own admission, Arab leadership
today acknowledges that the lies created by the Arabs about the fictitious “massacre”
were concocted in order to shame the Arab armies into fighting against
the Jews, frighten the Arabs, and encourage them to flee. [PBS:
The Fifty Year War - Israel and the Arabs (DVD 1993)] The village
sits near Jerusalem, overlooking the road from Tel Aviv. Jewish Jerusalem
was under siege, and its only lifeline was this this one road to Tel
Aviv. A contingent of Iraqi troops had entered Deir Yassin on March
13, 1948. Some sources suggest that they were asked to leave. Apparently
they did not, since their armed bodies were numerous among the dead
after the battle. It was obvious that they were going to try to cut
off that road. Doing so would spell the end of Jewish Jerusalem. So
on April 9, 1948, a contingent of the Irgun (a para-military splinter
group) entered the village. This operation was completely legitimate
in the context of rules of engagement, since the Iraqi presence made
the village a legal military objective.
Their intent, to capture
the village and drive out the Iraqis, was completely clear from the
onset, because they entered with a jeep and loudspeaker telling the
civilian population to flee the village. Unfortunately, this jeep slid
into a ditch, so some of the villagers may not have heard the message;
however, many did and fled before the Irgun got to the village. Rather
than surround the village and prevent their escape, the Irgun left several
routes open for the civilians to flee, which hundreds of villagers used.
however, the Iraqis had disguised themselves as women -- it is easy
to hide weapons beneath the flowing robes of the burqa -- and had hidden
themselves among women and children in the village. So, when the Irgun
fighters entered, they encountered fire from “women!”
When the Irgun fighters fired back, they killed innocent women because
the Iraqis were dressed like women and hiding behind them.