Chapter 4. Palestinian Refugees: Right to Return and Repatriation
Note: This section (before copy editing) by Dr. Mazin Qumsiyeh is part of a book from Pluto Press (Copyrighted) see Sharing The Land of Canaan. The published version differ a bit from this (after copy-editing).
There is no such thing as a Palestinian people ... It is not as if we came and threw them out and took their country. They didn’t exist.
Golda Meir statement to the Sunday Times, June 15, 1969
Question: ‘I was wondering, would their (the Palestinian) dreams about Jaffa and Haifa suddenly disappear?’ Peres answered: ‘On this issue I recommend to kill and annihilate.’
interview with the Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, Yediot Aharonot October 5, 2001
Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own and return, to his country. Universal Declaration on Human Rights, Article 13
Israel's military occupation of Gaza and the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) is the last and most persistent military occupation at the turn of this century. But this 35-year-old occupation is only the second stage in the "redemption" of the land to fulfill the original Zionist dream of a Jewish state in the land of Canaan. It is the Palestinians subjected to ethnic cleansing (forced population transfer) between 1947-1949 who have the "honor" of being the largest population of refugees still unsettled. They suffered the longest displacement in modern history (55 years so far). Two competing stories existed until recently. The first version, advocated by Israeli leaders, holds that the native Palestinians left of their own free will, they were encouraged to leave by their leaders, and even that Israeli leaders begged them to stay. The second version, told by the Palestinian refugees themselves, is that they were ethnically cleansed before, during, and after the war. In their lexicon, the expulsion was Al-Nakba (The Catastrophe), the most traumatic event in Palestinian history. More recently, "new Israeli historians" (really the same historians but they now had declassified Israeli sources to draw on) such as Ilan Pappe, Benny Morris, Zeev Sternhall, Avi Shlaim, Simha Flapan, and Tom Segev debunked the established Israeli myths. Using Israeli archives and declassified material, they were able to discover much of the hidden history of Zionism and the establishment of Israel.
As an example, after opening the IDF archives we find a cable dated October 31, 1948, signed by Major General Carmel and addressed to all the division and district commanders under his command: "Do all you can to immediately and quickly purge the conquered territories of all hostile elements in accordance with the orders issued. The residents should be helped to leave the areas that have been conquered." A detailed analysis of such declassified material is provided by Nur Masalha in his book "Expulsion of the Palestinians : The Concept of 'Transfer' in Zionist Political Thought, 1882-1948 (1).
Yitzhak Rabin, the future Prime Minister and Noble Prize winner, wrote in his diary soon after Lydda's and Ramla's occupation by Zionist troops:
"After attacking Lydda and then Ramla, .... What would they do with the 50,000 civilians living in the two cities ..... Not even Ben-Gurion could offer a solution .... and during the discussion at operation headquarters, he (Ben-Gurion) remained silent, as was his habit in such situations. Clearly, we could not leave hostile and armed populace in our rear, where it could endangered the supply route (to the troops who were) advancing eastward.... Ben-Gurion would repeat the question: What is to be done with the population?, waving his hand in a gesture which said: 'Drive them out'; is a term with a harsh ring, .... Psychologically, this was one of the most difficult actions we undertook." (2)
More recently, even Zionists themselves acknowledge this history while still refusing to address its consequences. Benny Morris for example recognizes the removal of Palestinians by Jewish forces but opposes giving those refugees and their descendants the right of return. The right to return was not pushed forward in peace negotiations. The refugees themselves and by all segments of the Palestinian people continue to demand the implementation of their rights. Understanding this call for the right of return, the origin of the problem and potential viable solutions is thus essential to any lasting peace.
But let us step back to examine the history of the transformation of Palestine from a predominantly Arab (Muslims mostly with some Christians and even fewer Jews) to a Zionist Jewish state. In the late 19th century, Palestine received a wave of Jewish immigration inspired by the British colonization schemes and later organized by the nascent Zionist movement.
The estimated population of Palestine in 1893 was 469,000 (98%) Arabs (Muslims and Christian) and 10,000 (2%) Jews and in 1897, 563,000 Arab, 21,500 Jews. In 1912 the estimated population of Palestine was 525,000 (93%) Arabs and 40,000 (6%) Jews. By 1920, 542,000 (90%) Arabs and 61,000 (10%) Jews (3). Thus in 23 years, only a small number of European Jews had chosen to come live in Palestine. Things changed dramatically in the 1920's as the British occupied the area and proceeded to fulfil their 100 year old program to bring Jews to create a colony for British interests. In the 16 years after 1920, Jewish immigrants flooded into Palestine and by 1936, 385,400 Jews (27.8% of the population) were living among 983,200 Arabs (4). Thus in about one generation (40 years), populations of Jews in Palestine increased from 2% to 28% due to teh synergy of the Zionist program and anti-Jewish actions in Europe. Coupled with continued dispossession of the fellahin based on the practiced unfair land laws (both Ottoman and British), led to the 1936 revolt by the native Palestinians. The revolt devastated the nascent political organization but did cause a change (albeit temporary) in immigration in 1939. However, dramatic geopolitical changes then occurred during and after the Second World War leading up to the partition resolution of 1947 (see chapter 8).
While some Palestinian Fellahin (farmers) were dispossessed of their land by unfair Ottoman and British laws, the bulk of the Palestinian dispossession traces to the refugee crisis beginning in 1947. Unlike what is occasionally stated, the Palestinian refugee problem did not start when Israel was established May 15, 1948 and the war that followed. Preparations for this cleansing began immediately after WWII, intensified in late 1947 following the UN partition plan (see chapter 18 on the UN role) and launched into full onslaught months before May 1948 and well before Arab Armies got involved (4, 5). According to Morris, the waves of refugees originated in these periods (5).
1) From immediately after the partition resolution of 29 November 1947 until March 1948
2) From the onset of Plan Dalet in April 1948 until 11 June 1948 (the first truce). The declaration of statehood May 15, 1948 and subsequent entry of so-called Arab armies was inconsequential in the drive as will be discussed below.
3) From 9 July 1948 (start of Israeli operations labeled Dani and Dekel that broke the truce) until the end of the second truce (15 October 1948)
4) From 15 October (breaking of truce by Israel's Operation Hiram) to late November 1948
5) From November 1948 till 1949 (Israel emptying of villages such as Al-Faluja and Iraq Al-Manshiya, for example, occurred after the armistice was signed).
Benny Morris lists 369 Palestinian villages and towns (localities) ethnically cleansed in these periods. Walid Khalidi and a team of Palestinian researchers list 418. According to the research by Dr. Salman Abu Sitta (6) 531 localities (villages and towns) where Palestinians lived were (technically) ethnically cleansed between 1947 and 1950. The disparity in numbers is due to researchers differing as to what constitutes a village or a locality. Sometimes two villages in one area are counted separately. But a more significant source of additional numbers is the exclusion by Morris of tribal localities with no definitive village boundaries. Bedouin tribes are well known to reside and graze their herds in a certain area even though they may have had movable dwellings. Abu Sitta included tribal lands because these tribes constituted a large segment of the refugees (about 100,000) and they did have fixed territorial areas well known to any traveler. Whether one takes Morris's extremely conservative number of 369 or Abu Sitta's 531, it is clear to all researchers that a majority of Palestinian-inhabited localities were depopulated between 1947 and 1949. For the purposes of this discussion we will use Abu Sitta's numbers since he lists these localities in detail and with meticulous analysis with each name located on a map and identified properly.
The total inhabitants removed from these 531 localities were estimated previously at 750,000 and they represented 80% of the Palestinian people living in the land that became Israel. Numbers are easily calculated from village statistics conducted by the British in 1944-1945 and upgrading it to 1948-1949 by considering the known population growth rates per year (British Mandate measured: 3.8% for Muslims, 2% for Christians). By including the Bedouins of Beer Sheba, Abu Sitta calculated the actual number of refugees created (excluding internal refugees) to be 804,767. The land cultivated and used by these depopulated Palestinian villagers was the land that was to make today's Israel. After the war, remaining lands in Palestinian ownership was 7% (1,474,169 dunums) while Jewish-owned or -controlled lands wen t from 8% (1,682,000 dunums) to own the "cleansed" 85% of the land which was allocated to use by Jews only and made the bulk of the "land of Israel" (7).
Benny Morris published three books detailing the reasons for the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and the central core issue the refugees played in creating the state of Israel as it is today (8):
o "Israel's Border Wars, 1949-1956: Arab Infiltration, Israeli Retaliation and the Countdown to the Suez War" (1993)
o "The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1948" (1987)
o "Jews and Arabs in Palestine/Israel, 1936-1956" (2000)
Based on declassified and newly opened archives from Israeli government and military sources, these books detail the removal of many Palestinians villages to create space for the Jewish State.
According to Morris and other Israeli historians, the reasons Palestinians left these localities were:
1) Expulsion by Zionist/Jewish forces (122 localities)
2) Military assault by Zionist/Jewish forces (270 localities)
3) Fear of Zionist/Jewish attack, or of being caught in the fighting, Influence of the fall of neighboring town, Psychological warfare (12 localities)
4) Abandonment on Arab orders (6 localities)
5) Unknown (34 localities)
213 Palestinian villages and towns (population 413,794, 52% of the refugees) were "cleansed" while under the "protection" of the British mandate; that is before the start of the Arab-Israeli war May 15, 1948. 264 localities with 339,272 inhabitants (42%) were vacated during 1948 War. After signing the Armistice Agreements, 54 localities were ethnically cleansed (52,001 people or 6% of refugees).
Usually, the cleansing ("Nikayon", a word used frequently in Israeli military communications at the time) was initiated by massacres. Plan Dalet was started to conquer the area between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and it commenced in earnest following the massacre of Deir Yassin on April 9, 1948. This was followed by several other massacres which terrorized the Palestinians into leaving. Palestinians were terrorized by 33 massacres in total: Al Abbasiyya (4 May 48), Abu Shusha (14 May 48), Ayn az Zaytun (02 May 48), Balad ash Sheikh (25 April 48), Bayt Daras(11 May 48), Beer Sheba (21 Oct 48), Burayr (12 May 48), Al Dawayima (29 Oct 48), Dayr Yassin (09 April 48), Eilaboun (29 Oct 48), Haifa ( 21 April 48), Hawsha (15 April 48), Husayniyya (21 April 48), Ijzim (24 July 48), Isdud (28 Oct 48), Jish (29 Oct 48), Al Kabri (21 May 48), Al Khisas (18 Dec 48), Khubbayza (12 May 48), Lydda (10 July 48), Majd al Kurum (29 Octber 48), Mannsurat al Khayt (18 Jan 48), Khirbet, Nasir ad Din (12 April 48), Qazaza (09 July 48), Qisarya (15 Feb 48), Saâ??sa (30 Oct 48), Safsaf (29 Oct 48), Saliha (30 Oct 48), Arab al Samniyya (30 Oct 48), Al Tantoura (21 May 48), Al Tira (16 July 48), Al Waâ??ra al-Sawda (18 April 48), Wadi â??Ara (27 Feb 48).
Notice that over half of these were while the area was still under British mandate and supposed protection.
Deir Yassin became the most famous massacre simply because its atrocity and the fact that over 20 villagers were taken to a nearby Jewish settlement, paraded as game and then killed spread panick among the Palestinian natives. Menahem Begin who later a Prime Minister of Israel gloated about the massacre in his book as such: "The legend in Deir Yassin helped us n particular in the saving of Tiberia and the conquest of Haifa... All the Jewish forces proceeded to advance through Haifa like a knife through butter. The Arabs began fleeing in panic, shouting Deir Yassin...Arabs throughout the country were seized by limitless panic and started to flee for their lives" (9).
These were not acts of horror in combat (and there were many) but a premeditated plan. In December 20, 1940 Joseph Weitz, responsible for Jewish colonization, a senior official of the Yishuv, and respected member of Ben Gurion's inner circle wrote in his diary:
"it must be clear that there is no room in the country for both peoples . . . If the Arabs leave it, the country will become wide and spacious for us . . . The only solution is a Land of Israel, at least a western land of Israel (i.e. Palestine since Transjordan is the eastern portion), without Arabs. There is no room here for compromises . . . There is no way but to transfer the Arabs from here to the neighboring countries, to transfer all of them, save perhaps for Bethlehem, Nazareth, and the old Jerusalem. Not one village must be left, not one tribe. The transfer must be directed at Iraq, Syria, and even Transjordan. For this goal funds will be found . . . And only after this transfer will the country be able to absorb millions of our brothers and the Jewish problem will cease to exist. There is no other solution." (10)
Joseph Weitz became chair of the Land and Forest department of the Jewish National Fund. In 1950 he wrote" "The struggle for the redemption of the land means...the liberation of the land from the hand of the stranger, from the chains of wilderness; the struggle for its conquest by settlement, and...the redemption of the settler, both as a human being and as a Jew, through his deep attachment to the soil he tills" (11)
Joseph Weitz mentor and leader was ofcourse Ben Gurion who became Israel's first prime minister. Much was written by historians about Ben Gurion's philosophy and statements regarding the non-Jewish residents in the "Promised land". Ben Gurion it appears was very careful and advocated to his followers to be careful about advocating transfer mostly for tactical grounds: because this could then be used as an argument to limit Jewish immigration due to limited space. We thus find him stating things like this in 1938:
"With compulsory transfer we (would) have vast areas .... I support compulsory transfer. I do not see anything immoral in it. But compulsory transfer could only be carried out by England .... Had its implementation been dependent merely on our proposal I would have proposed; but this would be dangerous to propose when the British government has disassociated itself from compulsory transfer. .... But this question should not be removed from the agenda because it is central question. There are two issues here: 1) sovereignty and 2) the removal of a certain number of Arabs, and we must insist on both of them." (12)
Here is a testimony of an Israeli soldier who participated in the massacre at al Duwayima Village, on 29th October 1948:
"Killed between 80 to 100 Arabs, women and children. To kill the children they fractured their heads with sticks. There was not one house without corpses. The men and women of the villages were pushed into houses without food or water. Then the saboteurs came to dynamite the houses. One commander ordered a soldier to bring two women into a house he was about to blow upâ?¦ Another soldier prided himself upon having raped an Arab woman before shooting her to death. Another Arab woman with her newborn baby was made to clean the place for a couple of days, and then they shot her and the baby. Educated and well-mannered commanders who were considered "good guys"â?¦became base murderers, and this not in the storm of battle, but as a method of expulsion and extermination. The fewer the Arabs who remained, the better. " (13).
Morris cites similar testimony (14). The village elder (Mukhtar) handed a list of 580 killed to the Jordanian governor of Hebron at the time. Morris details the life of one Yosef Nachmani, a high-ranking member of the pre-independence underground, Haganah (precursor to Israeli Army) and director of the offices of the Jewish National Fund in Tiberias (responsible for settling land throughout the Galilee and Jezreel Valley regions. At first, he supported the transfer but later in his life, he underwent a profound change.
In one entry in Nachman's journal Morris translates: "The acts of cruelty committed by our soldiers. After they went into Safsaf, the village and its people raised a white flag. They separated the men from the women, tied the hands of some 50 to 60 peasants and shot and killed them, burying them in a single hole. They also raped a number of the women from the village. ..In Salha, which raised a white flag, they carried out a real massacre, killing men and women, about 60 to 70 people. Where did they find such a degree of cruelty like that of the Nazis? They learned from them." Recently released Red Crescent documents also strongly suggest use of biological warfare for the first time in Palestine in 1948 when diseases were spread in Haifa and 'Akka (Acre) (15).
Morris, while providing ample evidence for how the ethnic cleansing happened, still contended (as a self-described Zionist) that it was not part of a grand scheme of expulsion. His critics argued that this conclusion is in apposition to the incredible wealth of data that he presents. Morris defended his thesis thus:
"Certainly Ben-Gurion wanted as few Arabs as possible to remain in Israel. Certainly the majority of the country's political and military leaders were happy to see the Arabs go. Certainly, many officers and officials did what they could to facilitate departure, including occasional expulsions (though, as I pointed out in Birth, in most towns and villages the Haganah/IDF had no need to issue expulsion orders as the inhabitants fled before the Jewish troops reached the site; the inhabitants usually fled with the approach of the advancing Jewish column or when the first mortar bombs began to hit their homes). But between what most people want and policy, there is, and was then, a line of Demarcation (16).
In a more recent writing, Morris stated: "Above all, let me reiterate, the refugee problem was caused by attacks by Jewish forces on Arab villages and towns and by the inhabitants' fear of such attacks, compounded by expulsions, atrocities, and rumors of atrocities -- and by the crucial Israeli Cabinet decision in June 1948 to bar a refugee return." (17).
One is struck by the mountain of evidence from what Zionist leaders wanted to happen, the cases of expulsion Morris cites (and the words he used, like "they did not need to issue expulsion orders") and the similarity of what actually happened to the visions laid out in Zionist archives. The distinction as to whether a master plan of expulsion existed or not was as lost to the Palestinian victims as the distinction as to whether Hitler had a master plan for extermination of European Jewry had on its victims. After all, the picture was very clear by the actions on the ground both before and after the establishment of the state of Israel. In retrospect, statements by Zionist leaders could only make sense if one accepts what happened as part of what they said they wanted to happen and not simply coincidence. Yosef Weitz, Director of the JNF Lands Department was very active as of March 1948 in planning for and implementing plans to expel the Palestinians, destroy their villages, and build new homes for the influx of new Jewish immigrants. These activities were given in detail by Benny Morris and other authors. Weitz narrates a conversation with Moshe Shertok (later renamed Sharret, Israeli foreign minister): "Transfer-post factum; should we do something so as to transform the exodus of the Arabs from the country into a fact, so that they return no more?...His (Shertok's) answer: he blesses any initiative in this matter. His opinion is also that we must act in such a way as to transform the exodus of the Arabs into an established fact. (18)
Morris does not deny that massacres took place intentionally to scare the natives into leaving, that outright expulsions occurred in other places (e.g., as part of Plan Dalet) etc. What his main point is that it was also facilitated by general panic and other issues beyond these. Morris's work thus, still shatters the old Zionist myths and lies we were told. Morris is quite candid on this and states that his work, once and for all shattered the idyllic and highly mythical view in books like those of Joan Peters (From Time Immemorial).
Gideon Levy reviewed Morris's last book (2000) (19) stating:
And now, the IDF archives have been opened and there we find a cable dated October 31, 1948, signed by Major General Carmel and addressed to all the division and district commanders under his command. Apparently, Carmel's troops carried out massacres in no less than 10 villages in the north of the country. They would gather the men of these villages in the square, choose a few of them, sometimes dozens, stand them up against a wall and shoot them.
Terrible things were done after the War of Independence, too; for example, in the town of Majdal in 1950. ...Some 10,000 Palestinians lived in Majdal before the war and, in October 1948, thousands more refugees from nearby villages joined them. Majdal fell in November and most of its residents and refugees fled wherever they could, leaving some 3,000 inhabitants, mostly women and the elderly. Majdal was too close to Gaza for Israel's liking. In December 1948, IDF soldiers "swept through" the town and deported some 500 of its remaining inhabitants. In 1949, Yigal Allon demanded "to transfer all the Arab inhabitants." Ben-Gurion objected. An inter-ministerial committee for the "transfer of Arabs from place to place" -- yes, we had one of those as well -- decided to thin out the population somewhat; another ministerial committee -- "on abandoned property" -- decided to settle Majdal with Jews. From committee to committee, Majdal was "Judaized," until, with 2,500 Jewish residents, it became known as Migdal-Ad. In December 1949, more Arabs were deported so as to vacate a few more houses -- "abandoned property" -- for a few more discharged soldiers. The IDF made the life of those Arabs who remained a misery, hoping they'd get the message. The new commanding officer of the Southern Command, Moshe Dayan, rekindled the ideas of his predecessor, Yigal Allon.
"I hope that perhaps in the coming years, there will be another opportunity to transfer these Arabs (170,000 Israeli Arabs - G.L.) out of the Land of Israel," he said at a meeting of the Mapai faction, outlining its ideas while in uniform. Dayan backed up his words with actions: He submitted a detailed proposal for "the evacuation of the Arab inhabitants of the town of Majdal." the chief of staff agreed and Ben-Gurion authorized the plan. The government was circumvented, the Histadrut labor federation objected, and Rabin informed the residents.
The transfer began at the beginning of 1950, although the "official operation" took off in June. There were still those who spoke of dispersing the Arabs around the country; in the end, they were deported to Gaza. They were loaded onto trucks and dropped off at the border -- "deliveries," as they were termed. Just to remind you again, the state already existed. The last delivery of 229 people left for Gaza on October 21.
Back in Israel, the officials pondered over how to distribute the "abandoned" houses, most of which went to individuals who had some political clout. In 1956, Migdal-Ad changed its name to Ashkelon. To this very day, the former residents of Majdal live in the shacks and shanties of the refugee camps in Gaza.
How many Israelis know this story? How many have heard it before? How many have ever thought of the refugees on whose destroyed homes the city of Ashkelon was founded? "
........Morris, as calculated as ever, concludes: "Zionism has always had two faces: a constructive, moral, compromising and considerate aspect; and a destructive, selfish, militant, chauvinistic-racist one... The simultaneous existence of these two facets was one of the most significant keys to the success of Zionism."
But, there were also incidents in which they shot -- oh, how they shot -- and didn't weep at all. And lied. This is the picture that emerges from the chapter about the Israeli press at the time of the Kibiya affair, which expresses the dark side of the then already five-year-old state: no longer a community struggling to establish a country, but an orderly, victorious state, thought of as a democracy, with David Ben-Gurion, who lies, poker-faced, and its press, which brazenly conceals scandalous information from its readers and even lies knowingly - all for the glory of the State of Israel.
....in the wake of the way in which the new Intifada has been covered by sections of the Israeli media, I was faced with the following question: Have we really changed, or perhaps, in testing times, does the Israeli press return to its bad old place of being the state's trumpet, just as it was in Kibiya, just as Morris describes? Then, the press inflamed passions by giving prominence to the Israeli victims (relatively few) and playing down the Arab ones (tenfold more), greatly enhancing the Israelis' sense of being the victim, the exclusive sufferers. So, is there anything new under the sun?
The myths surrounding the 1947-1949 events go well beyond this most important aspect (the ethnic cleansing of the natives). It is now documented clearly that this was no defensive war on the part of the nascent Jewish State. As explained earlier and is well-documented, over half the Palestinian villages were depopulated by planned operations carried out before the so-called Arab armies intervened (ineffectively). The subsequent myth of the numerical inferiority of Zionist forces is also easily verified. The Israeli historian did all the calculations and concluded that: "indeed, there was never a moment in the 1948 Palestine war that the Jewish forces suffered a numerical inferiority against the Arab forces which they fought" (20).
But Zionists were not completely satisfied in the removal of 85% of the native people in the areas they occupied. David Ben Gurion, the first Israeli Prime Minister, wrote: "If we were an army and not many armies, and if we acted according to (one) strategic plan, we would have been able to 'empty' the (Palestinian) population of the upper Galilee, Jerusalem and the road to it, Ramallah, Ludda, South of Palestine in general and the Negev (An-Naqab) in particular" (21). The nascent state immediately embarked on a program of plunder and destruction of the Palestinian homes, property, and possessions left behind. Dr. Don Peretz wrote in 1954 that "nearly half of the new Jewish immigrants live in homes abandoned by the Arabs. They occupy nearly 400 Atrab towns and villages...The Arabs left over 10,000 shops and stores in Jewish hands. The Israel Custodian of Absentee Property took over more than 4,000,000 dunams of former Arab land, or nearly 60% of the country's cultivable area. This was nearly two and a half times the total Jewish-owned property at the time the state of Israel was established, and include most of its olive orchards, a large part of its fruit and vegetable crop land and almost half the citrus groves" (22).
In Lydda and Ramle, where 60,000 inhabitants were forced out at gunpoint, the Israeli army loaded 1800 trucks worth of looted property from Lydda alone (23).. Hadawi estimates Palestinian losses in land and property to be valued at 562 billion US dollars in 1998 dollars (24) . These are only material losses and do not include lives lost, suffering, injuries, loss of income, etc.
Meron Benvenisti wrote in his book "Sacred Landscape: the Buried History of the Holy Land Since 1948" (25): "The signing of the armistice agreement did not put an end to the expulsions (by Israel). In late February 1949, the remaining inhabitants of the township of Faluja and the village of Iraq al-Manshiyya...were expelled. Approximately 3,000 people were ejected from their communities, despite Israel's having guaranteed that they could remain there with full security to themselves, their homes, and all their property."
Following the initial and the largest expulsion of the Palestinians between 1947-1949, Israel as a state started a program to Judaicize what remains of the Palestinian areas. Thus, an Israeli writer wrote about Nazareth area (the largest remaining Palestinian (mostly Christian Arab) town:
"Upper Nazareth, which was created some fifteen years ago 'in order to create a counterweight to the Arab Nazareth'; constitutes a cornerstone of the 'Judaization of the Galilee'; policy. Upper Nazareth was erected upon the hills surrounding Nazareth as a security belt surrounding it almost on all sides. It was built upon thousands of acres of lands which were expropriated high-handedly, purely and simply by force, from the Arab settlements, particularly Nazareth and Rana" (26).
The land acquired by the Jewish National Fund from the state of Israel in 1961 was 3,507,000 dunums (a dunum is about a quarter of an acre) while the state and development authority controlled 15,205,000 dunums of a total of 20,323,000 dunums in Israel (27). The Israel Land Authority was given control of all lands (whether Jewish National Fund or State land) and thus controlled most of the land in Israel. This is Palestinian land grabbed byvarious mechanisms and then leased to Jews only. This is the land that the Kibbutzim were built on. With the bankruptcy of the Kibbutz movement Ariel Sharon and other ardent Zionists pushed for selling this land to Jews and giving the kibbutz leaders the money.
Israel claimed that it was unifying the city of Jerusalem after its occupation in 1967 and proceeded to settle Jews in the Eastern Part of the city including the old Jewish quarter. Of course, many Palestinians had already been evicted from their homes in what became Jewish West Jerusalem in 1948 (previously Palestinian). The reciprocal and fair solution of allowing Palestinian to go back to the houses they left behind in 1948 in West Jerusalem was not contemplated in the process of "unification". Israel instead embarked on a program of deliberate additional thinning of the Palestinians remaining in the expanded boundaries of Jerusalem.
Of course, expulsions were also carried out during and following the 1967 war. An estimated 250,000 Palestinians left the West Bank during the Israeli invasion (many becoming refugees a second time). But things did not stop there. All Palestinians who were outside in June 1967 (students, businessmen etc.) were prevented from returning and if they had property it again fell to ownership for the Jewish people (the Jewish National Fund as custodian of the land of Israel for its owners, the Jewish people). This was especially true in East Jerusalem (including Israel's unilateral and illegal expansion and annexation of the "greater Jerusalem area"). But Israel did not stop there. The Hebrew weekly magazine Kol Ha'ir published a released letter by the former Israeli Army General Shlomo Lahat, who was Commander of Eastern Jerusalem immediately after the occupation in 1967. In the letter to a Jerusalem council member, he wrote: "In the power of my authority as Military of Jerusalem, immediately after the city was liberated in 1967, I gave orders that Arab inhabitants be evacuated from the Western Wall area and from the Jewish quarter in the Old City. They were given, in agreement, alternative housing in Jerusalem and its environs." (28).
Like all refugees, Palestinian refugees have an internationally recognized right to repatriation and compensation for their suffering. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 13 reaffirms the right of every individual to leave and return to his country. The Fourth Geneva Convention is also very explicit in considering any forced migration or refusal to repatriate people displaced from their homes and lands as violations of basic rights.
The refugees themselves have traditionally demanded repatriation and refused resettlement. In the early 1950s the Palestinian refugees themselves clung to the "right of return" that was enshrined in UN General Assembly Resolution 194 (III), passed on 11 December 1948 and reaffirmed almost yearly by the General Assembly. The resolution stated that "the 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." the UN partition resolution 181 and Israelâ??s later admission to the UN were conditional on acceptance of relevant UN resolutions including 194.
Count Folke Bernadotte was former vice chairman of the Swedish Red Cross, who, during WWII, successfully challenged Himmlerâ??s plan to deport 20,000 Swedish Jews to concentration camps. After WWII he was appointed Special U.N. Mediator to the Middle East. Bernadotte stated: "It would be an offence against the principles of elemental justice if these innocent victims of the conflict were denied the right to return to their homes, while Jewish immigrants flow into Palestine" (29).
For this outspoken support of basic human rights, Zionists assassinated Bernadotte in Jerusalem September 17, 1948. Bernadotte had gained international acclaim in 1945 for his work on behalf of the International Red Cross to save thousands of Jews from Nazi concentration camps. One day before he was assassinated, Bernadotte wrote that there was absolutely no chance of reaching a just and comprehensive settlement to the Palestinian Question unless their right to return was recognized. The head of the Stern terrorist gang, Nathan Friedman-Yellin was sentenced to five years imprisonment for the murder but he was quickly pardoned and elected to the Knesset in 1950. The Knesset in the same year introduced laws to ensure refugees are not allowed to return. A massive media campaign was then launched to ensure the world did not get the real story about those unfortunate victims of war and repression. The words of Nathan Chofshi 40 years ago remain true today:
"We came and turned the native Arabs into tragic refugees. And still we have to slander and malign them, to besmirch their name. Instead of being deeply ashamed of what we did and trying to undo some of the evil we committed...we justify our terrible acts and even attempt to glorify them" (30).
The refugees themselves believed they eventually would return to their homes and villages in what became Israel and would live at peace with their neighbors. Here is how one refugee captured his feelings:
Our struggle, as we have proved, has not been merely to live in comfort, to pursue happiness, to acquire purpose, to create, to sing, to make love; it has not been merely to enrich our culture, to contribute to civilization, to leave our imprint in history. But it has been a struggle for the right to do it in Palestine. In the past we were repeatedly offered, were we not, the choice of resettlement elsewhere. More than Palestine, Syria has an abundance of cultivable land to till; Lebanon has more beautiful hills to build on; Australia a more developed economy to benefit from; other parts of the world a more splendid red carpet to welcome us on. But we opted to wait for a return to our homeland, where we had lived, where we danced the dabke, played the oud, where the men wore their checkered hattas and the women their embroidered shirts, where the sun shone in the winter and the smell of oranges permeated the air and the soul." (31).
In one survey in the West Bank, 74.9% of refugees stated that the just solution must include return, 15.6% stated compensation and 6% stated compensation and return. As for acceptable solution, 46.2% said return, 26.8% said compensation, and 18.2% stated improvement in status of the camps. This is in the West Bank; in Lebanon and Jordan, a higher percentage of people polled wanted to return to their home land (surveys cited in Dr. Adel Samareh "Al-Lajioun Al-Falastinyoun: Haq al-awda wa istidkhal al-hazima (29). A more recent survey by the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (August 2001, www.ipcri.org) showed that 98.7% of the refugees (93% of among all Palestinians) said they will not accept compensation instead of return. And again by a vast majority (96% to 2%) answered return to their homes and lands and not into the new Palestinian state. Almost 80% of the refugees lack faith in the ability of negotiations to produce positive results for them. Over 85% of the general refugee population would agree to return even if it meant living under Israeli sovereignity. Pessimism is higher among the older generation with 60% believing that they will not have return while in the general population among Palestinians only 23.7% believe they will not have return.
Moreover, many of the refugees camped either along, or within a short distance from, Israelâ??s borders, in southern Lebanon, in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, creating a major "infiltration" problem for Israel. In the Gaza Strip, for instance, the population trebled from 80,000 in 1947 to nearly 240,000 at the end of the 1948 war, creating a massive humanitarian problem of tens of thousands of destitute refugees crammed into a tiny area. In 1956 of the then 300,000 inhabitants of the Gaza Strip, 215,000 were listed as refugees, occupying eight vast camps. The Strip had nearly one-fourth of the total of about 900,000 refugees from historic Palestine.
One of the main obstacles to providing protection to Palestinian refugees is that the situation for them was not only unique in the sense that new people established a new nation in their homeland but they were rendered in limbo as early as 1951. When the UN High Commission on Refugees was established, one of its provisions called for exclusion of refugees who receive protection under another UN agency. The great powers protecting Israel's interests interpreted this as exclusing Palestinain refugees since they were receiving aid from UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works agency for Palestinian Refugees). However, UNRWA as its name and mandate clearly designated is a humanitarian organization and its mandate specifically excluded providing protections. Thus Palestinain refugees were put in eth awkword position of receiving humanitarian aid but being excluded from UN and International programs to provide protection, resettlement and other political guarantees that UNHCR is able to afford refugees such as those in Afghanistan, Bosnia and elsewhere. The UN Commission on Human Rights itself recognized thsi anomally and stated in a report issued
Such a result (lack of protection) is particularly disturbing as article 1D (of the UN 1951 Convention on Refugees) explicitly recognizes the possibility that alternate forms of prtection may fail for one reason or another. The language of article 1D is clear beyond reasonable dispute on this matter: 'When such protection or assistance has ceased for any reason, without the persons being definitively settled in accordance with relevant resolutions adopted by the general Assembly of teh United Nations, these persons shal ipso facto be entitled to the benefit of this Convention'. There si no discernible reason to refrain from implementing thsi inclusionary provision, which should have been done decades ago" (32).
Similarly in he report by the UN Commission on Human Rights appointed Special Rappoteur, reported findings with respect to Israeli violation of the principles and bases of international law in the occupied Palestinian territories. With respect to the plight of the refugees, the report reads:
"The plight of Palestinian refugees in these territories has remained a concern throughout the period of occupation. Most of these refugees were made homeless as a consequence of the war of 1948, as well as the simultaneous and subsequent confiscation of their land, properties and homes, and large-scale demolition of their villages by Israel. Currently, at least 1,353,547 Palestinian registered refugees and other holders of the right of return (as well as to compensation and/or restitution) reside in the territories subject to this mandate (areas occupied buy Israel in 1967). The Special Rapporteur notes that the duty holder, in the case of this right, is also the Occupying Power and bears the main responsibility for the return of persons residing in the occupied Palestinian territories, displaced as a result of the 1948 war, those from the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and Jerusalem displaced in the war of 1967, and refugees from Gaza and elsewhere during and after the hostilities of October 1973. The majority of these refugees still live in 30 camps created after the 1948 war (8 in Gaza and 22 in the West Bank, including Jerusalem).
The continuing violation of the right of return emerged as a special concern during the Special Rapporteurâ??s visit. It is his observation that it is increasingly a subject of both popular and political discourse, including in the form of opinion polls, editorials and petitions, reinforcing the claim to this right. Refugees feel that they are the subjects of continuing violation while kept in limbo for political reasons. Although the international community continues to provide services for Palestinian refugees, they note that there is a lack of adequate protection because they do not fall under the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees of 1951. Israel bears the primary responsibility for the implementation of the right of return, but has not demonstrated willingness to implement it. However, it should be noted that the plight of the Palestinian refugees has become the subject of discourse in certain Israeli political and civil society quarters. For instance, although he did not acknowledge responsibility, in an October 1999 speech to the Knesset Prime Minister Barak expressed regret for the suffering of the Palestinian people, including refugees.
It is observed, in particular, that the violation of this right grew greater during this review period - as with every passing year - and as the number of right holders grows, the values of their potential compensation and restitution claims increase, and the political and logistical aspects of the task become more complex and difficult." (33)
Indeed it is getting more complicated but not impossible. Afterall, Palestinians have basic political and human righst that cannot be easily dispensed of. Further, research not only shows that the right of the refugees is sacred and legal but also possible (i.e., it is a myth that Israelis would have to be displaced to allow for the return of the refugees). A study on the demography of Israel (34) shows that 78% of Israelis are living in 14 percent of Israel and that the remaining 86% of the land in Israel is mostly land that belongs to the refugees on which 22% of the Israelis live. However, 20% live in city centers, which are mostly Palestinian such as, Beer Al Saba', Ashdod, Majdal, Asqalan, Nazareth, Haifa, Acre, Tiberias and Safad. Only 2% live in kibbutzim. Thus, only 154,000 rural Jews control 17,325 sq.km., which is the home and heritage of five million Palestinian refugees.
Is there any logic to having 5000 individuals on one square kilometer in the Gaza Strip while any one of them could look over the barbed wire and see his land practically empty? If all the Gaza refugees returned to their homes in southern Palestine, no more than a tiny fraction of Israeli Jews would be affected. If the refugees of Lebanon returned to their homes in the Galilee no more than one percent of Israeli Jews would be affected. The total number of refugees from Gaza and Lebanon equals the number of Russian immigrants who came to Israel in the '90s to live in the homes of these refugees. What right brings in Russian Jews and what kind of peace deprives Palestinian refugees the right to return home? Obviously, neither legal nor logistical objections are he reason for withholding teh implementation of teh right to return. This leaves only one objection and it has to do with racist and apartheid Israeli laws (which we will address in Chapter 6 and also Exhibit 1).
An overwhelming body of data clearly demonstrates how and why the catastrophic situation of Palestinian refugees was created and perpetuated by Zionist colonization and expansion. This history is now accepted by most leading Zionist intellectuals. The refusal to remedy the situation remains anchored in racist and supremacist insistence on the desire for a homogeneous ‘Jewish state’. Research shows that the right of refugees to return is not only legal and moral, but also feasible. A lasting peace cannot be achieved without offering the refugees the choice as sanctioned by basic human rights and international laws and treaties. Of course, choice does not mean every refugee and his or her descendants will return. Depending on the compensation offered, this could vary from a minority to a majority of refugees. The return will advance peace because it will remove the major injustice done in the past 55 years. It may accelerate a positive trend of integration and evolution of Israeli society into a pluralistic and democratic state.
(1) Nur Masalha , "Expulsion of the Palestinians: The Concept of 'Transfer'; in Zionist Political Thought, 1882-1948", Institute for Palestine Studies, 1992.
(2) Dan Kurzman, "Soldier of Peace: The Life of Yitzhak Rabin, 1922-1995", HarperCollins, 1998, p. 140-141.
(3) The Population of Palestine, by Justin McCarthy, p.10, quoting corrected Ottoman figures; Clifford A. Wright, Facts and Fables: the Arab-Israeli Conflict, London and New York: Kegan Paul International, 1989); Rashid Khalidi in "Blaming The Victims", edited by Edward Said and Christopher Hitchens, Verso Books, 2001
(4) Michael J. Cohen, the Origin and Evolution of the Arab-Zionist Conflict, p. 90.
(5) Benny Morris, the Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem 1947-1949, Cambridge University Press, 1987).
(6) Salman Abu Sitta, "The Palestinian Nakba 1948, The Register of Depopulated Localities in Palestine", the Palestine Return Centre, London, September 2000.
(7) Abu Sitta, ibid, 1999
(8) "Israel's Border Wars, 1949-1956: Arab Infiltration, Israeli Retaliation and the Countdown to the Suez War" (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1993); "The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1948" (Cambridge Middle East Library, 1987 & 1989); "Jews and Arabs in Palestine/Israel, 1936-1956" (2000).
(9) Begin, "The Revolt: Story of the Irgun", 1951, Henry Shuman Inc.; Also cited in Fawaz Turki, "The Disinherited: Journal of Palestinian Exile," Monthly Review Press, New York, second edition, 1974, p. 20.
(10) Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestine Refugee Problem, Cambridge University Press,1989, p. 27 & Nur Masalha, Expulsion Of The Palestinians, ibid pp. 131-132.
(11) Joseph Weitz, The Struggle for the land, p.6.
(12) Nur Masalha, Expulsion Of The Palestinians, ibid, p. 117.
(13) Davar, 9 June 1979.
(14) Morris, 1989, idem, p. 222
(15) Salman Abu Sitta, Al-Haya, 1 Feb. 2003, Israel was the first to develop and use biological warefare in the Middle East (in Arabic)
(16) Benny Morris, "Response to Finkelstein and Masalha, Journal of Palestine Studies, 21(1), 98-114, 1991).
(17) Benny Morris, "Revisiting the Palestinian Exodus of 1948", pp. 37-59 in "The War for Palestine: Rewriting the History of 1948", E. L. Rogan and A. Schlaim (eds.), Cambridge University Press. 2001.
(18) Joseph Weitz, My Diary, vol. III, p. 293.
(19) Ha'aretz, Fri. Nov. 3, 2000.
(20) Armitzur Ilan, "The origin of the Arab-Israeli Arms Race", McMillian, 1966, p. 62.
(21) (David Ben Gurion, IDF Archives, 121/50/172 as translated and cited in "Palestine/Israel: Peace or Apartheid", Marwan Bishara, Zed Books, 2001).
(22) Don erets, "The Arab Refugee Dilemma", Foreign Affairs, Oct. 1954, pp137-138; also cited in Fawaz Turki, "The Disinherited: Journal of Palestinian Exile," Monthly Review Press, New York, second edition, 1974, p. 22-23.
(23) Tom Segev , "1949: the First Israelis", translated by Arlen Neal Weinstein, Free Press, New York, 1986.
(24) Sami Hadawi, "Palestinian Rights and Losses in 1948," Saqi Books, London, 1988)..
(25) "Sacred Landscape: the Buried History of the Holy Land Since 1948" (Berkeley: Univ. of Calif. Press, 2000, p. 156).
(26) Yoseph Elgazi in Zo Hadareh, July 30, 1975.
(27) Israel Land Authority Report, Jerusalem 1962, quoted by Lehn p114.
(28) Kol Ha'ir Weekly Magazine, July 26, 2001, in Hebrew, translation at published http://oznik.com/kolhair02.html.
(29) UN Doc Al 648, 1948
(30) Jewish Newsletter, New York, 9 February 1959, cited in Erskine Childers, 'The Other Exodus' in Spectator, London, 12 May 1961.
(31). Fawaz Turki "The Disinherited: Journal of a Palestinian Exile," Monthly Review Press, Second Edition, 1974.
(32) United Nations Economic and Social Council "Report of the Human Rights Inquiry Commission established persuant to commission resolution S-5/1 of 19 October 2000" E/CN.4/2001/12 published March 2001. Available at http://www.badil.org/Press/2001/press167-01.htm
But note that Palestinian rights are actually much more than what could be accomodated with paragraph 1D as Palestinians have political rights including self determination which are covered under other statutes of international law.
(33) QUESTION OF THE VIOLATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN THE OCCUPIED ARAB TERRITORIES, INCLUDING PALESTINE: Report on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, submitted by Mr. Giorgio Giacomelli, Special Rapporteur, pursuant to Commission on Human Rights resolution 1993/2 A. see full report at http://www.hri.ca/fortherecord2000/documentation/commission/e-cn4-2000-25.htm
(34) Salman Abu Sitta, "From Refugees to Citizens at Home", Palestine Land Society and the Palestinian Return Centre, London, September 2001.