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Palestinian refugees in 1948

The 1948 Palestinian exodus ( , al-Hijra al-Filasṭīnīya), also known as al Nakba ( , an-Nakbah), meaning the "disaster", "catastrophe", or "cataclysm", occurred when between 650,000 and 750,000 Palestinian Arabs fled or were expelled from their homes by Yishuv or Israelimarker forces, during the creation of the state of Israel and the civil war that preceded it. The term "Nakba" was first used in this way by Syrianmarker historian Constantine Zureiq in his 1948 book, Ma'na al-Nakba (The Meaning of the Disaster). According to Ilan Pappe, the term Nakba was adopted "as an attempt to counter the moral weight of the Jewish Holocaust (Shoa)".

Nur-eldeen Masalha writes that over 80 percent of the Arab inhabitants of the area that became Israel left their towns and villages. Jewish advances, such as that on Haifamarker, fears of a massacre after Deir Yassinmarker, and a collapse in Palestinian leadership caused many to leave out of panic, while most of those who remained were expelled by Jewish soldiers or, later, the Israeli government. A series of laws passed by the first Israeli government prevented them from returning to their homes, or claiming their property. They and many of their descendants remain refugees.

During the 1949 Lausanne conference, Israel proposed allowing 100,000 of the refugees to return to the area, though not necessarily to their homes, including 25,000 who had returned surreptitiously and 10,000 family-reunion cases. The proposal was conditional on a peace treaty that would allow Israel to retain the territory it had taken, and on the Arab states absorbing the remaining 550,000–650,000 refugees. The Arab states rejected the proposal on both moral and political grounds.

The status of the refugees, and in particular whether they have a right to return to their homes or be compensated, are key issues in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The events of 1948 are commemorated by Palestinians every 15 May, on what has become known as Nakba Day.


The history of the Palestinian exodus is closely tied to the events of the war in Palestine, which lasted from 1947 to 1949, and to the political events preceding it.
For more information on the historical context, see Zionism, Palestinian nationalism, United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181, 1947–1948 Civil War in Mandatory Palestine, 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

By 1951, the United Nations (UN) estimated 711,000 Palestinian refugees existed outside Israel, with about one-quarter of the estimated 160,000 Arab Palestinians remaining in Israel as "internal refugees". Today, Palestinian refugees and their descendants are estimated to number more than 4 million people.

Historians have argued over the causes of the Palestinian exodus. In early decades following the exodus, two diametrically opposed schools of analysis could be distinguished. The "Israeli Government claimed that the Palestinian Arabs left because they were ordered to and were deliberately incited into panic by their own leaders, who wanted the field cleared for the 1948 war", while "The Palestinian Arabs charge that their people were evicted at bayonet-point and by panic deliberately incited by the Zionists". From the 1960s Walid Khalidi and others have maintained that the expulsion of the Palestinians was a deliberate policy.

With the opening-up of archival sources in the West and Israel, particularly the opening of the Protocols of Israel's cabinet meetings and the declassification of the Haganah Archive in Tel Aviv along with the IDF and Israeli Defence Ministry Archive in Givatayim, a greater insight has been gained into the events leading up to the creation of Israel and the events surrounding its birth, in particular with the publication of the study by Benny Morris: The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem.

"New Historians" have presented a viewpoint suggesting around half of the Palestinians of the exodus were purposely expelled by Israeli army, though this was not an organized policy. However, Walid Khalidi and other Palestinian historians, supported by Ilan Pappe, defend the thesis that the expulsions formed part of a deliberate plan.

The initial exodus and the current situation of Palestinian refugees is a contentious topic of high importance to all parties in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

First Phase of the Exodus, December 1947 – March 1948

In the first few months of the civil war the climate in the Mandate of Palestine became volatile, although throughout this period both Arab and Jewish leaders tried to limit hostilities between Jews and Palestinian Arab. According to historian Benny Morris, the period was marked by Palestinian Arab initiatives and attacks and Jewish defensiveness, increasingly punctuated by Jewish reprisals. On the other hand, Simha Flapan points out a pattern in which terrorist attacks by Irgun and Lehi resulted in Palestinian Arab retaliations and then 'the Haganah — while always condemning the actions of Irgun and Lehi — joined in with an inflaming counter-retaliation'. Typically the Jewish forces carried out reprisals directed against villages and neighborhoods from which attacks against Jews had allegedly originated. The attacks were more damaging than the provoking attack and included killing of armed and unarmed men, destruction of houses and sometimes expulsion of inhabitants. The Zionist groups of Irgun and Lehi reverted to their 1937–1939 strategy of indiscriminate attacks by placing bombs and throwing grenades into crowded places such as bus stops, shopping centres and markets. Their attacks on British forces reduced British troops' ability and willingness to protect Jewish traffic. General conditions deteriorated: the economic situation became unstable and unemployment grew. Rumours spread that the Husaynis were planning to bring in bands of fellahin (peasant, farmers) to take over the towns. Some Palestinian Arab leaders sent their families abroad. While Gelber claims that the Arab Liberation Army embarked on a systematic evacuation of non-combatants from several frontier villages in order to turn them into military strongholds. Arab depopulation occurred most in villages close to Jewish settlements and in vulnerable neighborhoods in Haifa, Jaffa and West-Jerusalem. The poor inhabitants of these neighborhoods generally fled to other parts of the city. Many rich inhabitants fled further away, most of them expecting to return when the troubles were over. By the end of March 1948 thirty villages were depopulated of their Palestinian Arab population. Approximately 100,000 Palestinian Arabs had fled to Arab parts of Palestine, such as Gaza, Beersheba, Haifa, Nazareth, Nablus, Jaffa and Bethlehem. Some had left the country altogether, to Jordanmarker, Lebanonmarker and Egyptmarker. Other sources speak of 30,000 Palestinian Arabs. Many of these were Palestinian Arab leaders, middle and upper-class Palestinian Arab families from urban areas. Around 22 March the Arab governments agreed that their consulates in Palestine would only issue entry visas to old people, women and children and the sick. On 29–30 March the Haganah Intelligence Service (HIS) reported that 'the AHC was no longer approving exit permits for fear of [causing] panic in the country'.

While expulsion of the Palestinians had been contemplated by some Zionists from the 1890s (see Zionist quotes), during this period there was no official Yishuv policy favoring expulsion, and Jewish leaders anticipated that the new Jewish state would have a sizable Arab minority. The Haganah was instructed to avoid spreading the conflagration by indiscriminate attacks and to avoid provoking British intervention. On 18 December 1947 the Haganah approved an aggressive defense strategy, which in practice meant 'a limited implementation of "Plan May" (Tochnit Mai or Tochnit Gimel), which, produced in May 1946, was the Haganah master plan for the defence of the Yishuv in the event of the outbreak of new troubles. The plan included provision, in extremis, for "destroying Arab transport" in Palestine, and blowing up houses used by Arab terrorists and expelling their inhabitants. In early January the Haganah adopted Operation Zarzir, a scheme to assassinate leaders affiliated to Amin al-Husayni, placing the blame on other Arab leaders, but in practice few resources were devoted to the project and the only attempted killing was of Nimr al Khatib.

The only authorised expulsion at this time took place at Qisaryamarker, south of Haifa, where Palestinian Arabs were evicted and their houses destroyed on 19 February – 20 February 1948. In attacks that were not authorised in advance, several communities were expelled by the Haganah and several others were chased away by the Irgun.

According to Ilan Pappé, the Zionists organised a campaign of threats, consisting of the distribution of threatening leaflets, 'violent reconnaissance' and, after the arrival of mortars, the shelling of Arab villages and neighborhoods. Pappé also notes that the Haganah shifted its policy from retaliation through excessive retaliation to offensive initiatives. During the 'long seminar', a meeting of Ben-Gurion with his chief advisors in January 1948, the departure point was that it was desirable to 'transfer' as many Arabs as possible out of Jewish territory, and the discussion focussed mainly on the implementation. The experience gained in a number of attacks in February 1948, notably those on Qisaryamarker and Sa'sa'marker, was used in the development of a plan detailing how enemy population centers should be handled. According to Pappé, plan Dalet was the master plan for the expulsion of the Palestinians.

Palestinian belligerency in these first few months was "disorganised, sporadic and localised and for months remained chaotic and uncoordinated, if not undirected". Husayni lacked the resources to mount a full-scale assault on the Yishuv, and restricted himself to sanctioning minor attacks and to tightening the economic boycott. The British claimed that Arab rioting might well have subsided had the Jews not retaliated with firearms.

Overall, Morris concludes that the "Arab evacuees from the towns and villages left largely because of Jewish — Haganah, IZL or LHI — attacks or fear of impending attack" but that only "an extremely small, almost insignificant number of the refugees during this early period left because of Haganah or IZL or LHI expulsion orders or forceful 'advice' to that effect". In this sense, Glazer quotes the testimony of Count Bernadotte, the UN mediator in Palestine, who reported that "the exodus of the Palestinian Arabs resulted from panic created by fighting in their communities, by rumours concerning real or alleged acts of terrorism, or expulsion. Almost the whole of the Arab population fled or was expelled from the area under Jewish occupation".

Second Phase of the Exodus, April 1948 – June 1948

By 1 May 1948, two weeks before the Israeli Declaration of Independence, nearly 175,000 Palestinians (appoximately 25%) had already fled.

The fighting in these months was concentrated in the JerusalemmarkerTel Avivmarker area and most depopulations took place in Jewish controlled areas, such as Tiberiasmarker, Haifamarker, Jaffamarker and the coastal region. The Deir Yassin massacremarker in early April, and the rumours that followed it, helped spread fear and panic among the Palestinians.

Even so, Palestinians fled the city of Haifamarker en masse, in one of the most notable flights of this stage. Historian Efraim Karsh writes that not only had half of the Arab community in Haifa community fled the city before the final battle was joined in late April 1948, but another 5,000–15,000 left apparently voluntarily during the fighting while the rest, some 15,000–25,000, were ordered to leave, almost certainly on the instructions of the Arab Higher Committee. Karsh concludes that there was no Jewish grand design to force this departure, nor was there a psychological 'blitz', but that on the contrary, both the Haifa Jewish leadership, including Mayor Shabtai Levy, and the Hagana went to great lengths to convince the Arabs to stay, to no avail. However, Karsh based his observations on a "British Police Report" of 26 April sent after the British forces had evacuated from Haifa and the Jewish forces had taken over the port of Haifa and the Palestinian population had already fled. The British report of 22 April at the height of the fight for Haifa portrays a different picture. Furthermore, two independent studies, which analysed CIA and BBC intercepts of radio broadcasts from the region, concluded that no orders or instructions were given by the Arab Higher Committee.

According to Morris, "The Haganah mortar attacks of 21–22 April [on Haifa] were primarily designed to break Arab morale in order to bring about a swift collapse of resistance and speedy surrender. […] But clearly the offensive, and especially the mortaring, precipitated the exodus. The three-inch mortars opened up on the market square [where there was] a great crowd […] a great panic took hold. The multitude burst into the port, pushed aside the policemen, charged the boats and began to flee the town, as the official Haganah history later put it". According to Pappé, this mortar barrage was deliberately aimed at civilians to precipitate their flight from Haifa.

The Haganah broadcast a warning to Arabs in Haifa on 21 April: "that unless they sent away 'infiltrated dissidents' they would be advised to evacuate all women and children, because they would be strongly attacked from now on".

Commenting on the use of 'psychological warfare broadcasts' and military tactics in Haifa, Benny Morris writes:
Throughout the Haganah made effective use of Arabic language broadcasts and loudspeaker vans.
Haganah Radio announced that 'the day of judgement had arrived' and called on inhabitants to 'kick out the foreign criminals' and to 'move away from every house and street, from every neighbourhood occupied by foreign criminals'.
The Haganah broadcasts called on the populace to 'evacuate the women, the children and the old immediately, and send them to a safe haven'… Jewish tactics in the battle were designed to stun and quickly overpower opposition; demoralisation was a primary aim.
It was deemed just as important to the outcome as the physical destruction of the Arab units.
The mortar barrages and the psychological warfare broadcasts and announcements, and the tactics employed by the infantry companies, advancing from house to house, were all geared to this goal.
The orders of Carmeli's 22nd Battalion were 'to kill every [adult male] Arab encountered' and to set alight with fire-bombs 'all objectives that can be set alight.
I am sending you posters in Arabic; disperse on route'.

By mid-May 4,000 Arabs remained in Haifa. These were concentrated in Wadi Nisnas in accordance with Plan D whilst the systematic destruction of Arab housing in certain areas, which had been planned before the War, was implemented by Haifa's Technical and Urban Development departments in cooperation with the IDF's city commander Ya'akov Lublini.

According to Glazer (1980, p. 111), from 15 May 1948 onwards, expulsion of Palestinians became a regular practice. Avnery (1971), explaining the Zionist rationale, says,
I believe that during this phase, the eviction of Arab civilians had become an aim of David Ben-Gurion and his government ….
UN opinion could very well be disregarded.
Peace with the Arabs seemed out of the question, considering the extreme nature of the Arab propaganda.
In this situation, it was easy for people like Ben-Gurion to believe the capture of uninhabited territory was both necessary for security reasons and desirable for the homogeneity of the new Hebrew state.

Edgar O'Ballance, a military historian, adds,
Israeli vans with loudspeakers drove through the streets ordering all the inhabitants to evacuate immediately, and such as were reluctant to leave were forcibly ejected from their homes by the triumphant Israelis whose policy was now openly one of clearing out all the Arab civil population before them ….
From the surrounding villages and hamlets, during the next two or three days, all the inhabitants were uprooted and set off on the road to Ramallah….
No longer was there any "reasonable persuasion".
Bluntly, the Arab inhabitants were ejected and forced to flee into Arab territory….
Wherever the Israeli troops advanced into Arab country the Arab population was bulldozed out in front of them.

After the fall of Haifa the villages on the slopes of Mount Carmelmarker had been harassing the Jewish traffic on the main road to Haifa. A decision was made on 9 May 1948 to expel or subdue the villages of Kafr Sabamarker, al-Tira, Qaqunmarker, Qalansuwamarker and Tanturamarker. On 11 May 1948 Ben-Gurion convened the "Consultancy"; the outcome of the meeting is confirmed in a letter to commanders of the Haganah Brigades telling them that the Arab legion's offensive should not distract their troops from the principal tasks:

"the cleansing of Palestine remained the prime objective of Plan Dalet"

The attention of the commanders of the Alexandroni Brigade was turned to reducing the Mount Carmelmarker pocket. Tantura being on the coast gave the Carmel villages access to the outside world and so was chosen as the point to surround the Carmel villages as a part of the Coastal Clearing offensive operation in the beginning of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. On the night of 22–23 May 1948 one week and one day after the declaration of Independence of the State of Israelmarker the coastal village of Tantura was attacked and occupied by the 33rd Battalion of the Alexandroni Brigade of the Haganah. The village of Tantura was not given the option of surrender and the initial report spoke of dozens of villagers killed with 300 adult male prisoners and 200 women and children Many of the villagers fled to Fureidismarker (previously captured) and to Arab-held territory. The captured women of Tantura were moved to Fureidis, and on 31 May Brechor Shitrit, Minister of Minority Affairs of the provisional Government of Israel, sought permission to expel the refugee women of Tantura from Fureidis as the number of refugees in Fureidis was causing problems of overcrowding and sanitation.

A report from the military intelligence SHAI of the Haganah entitled "The emigration of Palestinian Arabs in the period 1/12/1947-1/6/1948", dated 30 June 1948, affirms that:
At least 55% of the total of the exodus was caused by our (Haganah/IDF) operations."
To this figure, the report's compilers add the operations of the Irgun and Lehi, which "directly (caused) some 15%… of the emigration".
A further 2% was attributed to explicit expulsion orders issued by Israeli troops, and 1% to their psychological warfare.
This leads to a figure of 73% for departures caused directly by the Israelis.
In addition, the report attributes 22% of the departures to "fears" and "a crisis of confidence" affecting the Palestinian population.
As for Arab calls for flight, these were reckoned to be significant in only 5% of cases…

According to Morris's estimates, 250,000 to 300,000 Palestinians left Israel during this stage. Keesing's Contemporary Archives in London place the total number of refugees before Israel's independence at 300,000.

Third Phase of the Exodus, July–October 1948

Israeli operations labeled Dani and Dekel that broke the truce was the start of the third phase of expulsions. The largest single expulsion of the war began in Lydda and Ramlamarker 14 July when 60,000 inhabitants (nearly 10% of the whole exodus) of the two cities were forcibly expelled on the orders of Ben-Gurion and Yitzhak Rabin in events that came to be known as the "Lydda Death March."

According to Flapan (1987, pp. 13–14) in Ben-Gurion's view Ramlah and Lydda constituted a special danger because their proximity might encourage co-operation between the Egyptian army, which had started its attack on Kibbutz Negbah, near Ramlah, and the Arab Legion, which had taken the Lydda police station. However, the author considers that Operation Dani, under which the two towns were seized, revealed that no such co-operation existed.

In Flapan's opinion, "in Lydda, the exodus took place on foot. In Ramlah, the IDF provided buses and trucks. Originally, all males had been rounded up and enclosed in a compound, but after some shooting was heard, and construed by Ben-Gurion to be the beginning of an Arab Legion counteroffensive, he stopped the arrests and ordered the speedy eviction of all the Arabs, including women, children, and the elderly". In explanation, Flapan cites that Ben-Gurion said that "those who made war on us bear responsibility after their defeat".

Rabin wrote in his memoirs:
What would they do with the 50,000 civilians in the two cities … Not even Ben-Gurion could offer a solution, and during the discussion at operation headquarters, he remained silent, as was his habit in such situations. Clearly, we could not leave [Lydda's] hostile and armed populace in our rear, where it could endanger the supply route [to the troops who were] advancing eastward. … Allon repeated the question: What is to be done with the population? Ben-Gurion waved his hand in a gesture that said: Drive them out! … 'Driving out' is a term with a harsh ring … Psychologically, this was one of the most difficult actions we undertook. The population of [Lydda] did not leave willingly. There was no way of avoiding the use of force and warning shots in order to make the inhabitants march the 10 to 15 miles to the point where they met up with the legion. (Soldier of Peace, p. 140–141)

Flapan maintains that events in Nazareth, although ending differently, point to the existence of a definite pattern of expulsion. On 16 July, three days after the Lydda and Ramlah evictions, the city of Nazareth surrendered to the IDF. The officer in command, a Canadian Jew named Ben Dunkelman, had signed the surrender agreement on behalf of the Israeli army along with Chaim Laskov (then a brigadier general, later IDF chief of staff). The agreement assured the civilians that they would not be harmed, but the next day, Laskov handed Dunkelman an order to evacuate the population, which Dunkelman refused.

Additionally, widespread looting and several cases of rape took place during the evacuation. In total, about 100,000 Palestinians became refugees in this stage according to Morris.

Fourth Phase of the Exodus, October 1948 – March 1949

This period of the exodus was characterized by Israeli military accomplishments; Operation Yoav, in October, this cleared the road to the Negev, culminating in the capture of Beershebamarker; Operation Hiram, at the end of October, resulted in the capture of the Upper Galilee; Operation Horev in December 1948 and Operation Uvda in March 1949, completed the capture of the Negev (the Negev had been allotted to the Jewish State by the United Nations) these operations were met with resistance from the Palestinian Arabs who were to become refugees. The Israeli military activities were confined to the Galilee and the sparsely populated Negev desertmarker. It was clear to the villages in the Galilee, that if they left, return was far from imminent. Therefore far fewer villages spontaneously depopulated than previously. Most of the Palestinian exodus was due to a clear, direct cause: expulsion and deliberate harassment, as Morris writes 'commanders were clearly bent on driving out the population in the area they were conquering'.

During Operation Hiram in the upper Galilee, Israeli military commanders received the order: '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'. (31 October 1948, Moshe Carmel) The UN's acting Mediator, Ralph Bunche, reported that United Nations Observers had recorded extensive looting of villages in Galilee by Israeli forces, who carried away goats, sheep and mules. This looting, United Nations Observers report, appeared to have been systematic as army trucks were used for transportation. The situation, states the report, created a new influx of refugees into Lebanon. Israeli forces, he stated, have occupied the area in Galilee formerly occupied by Kaukji's forces, and have crossed the Lebanese frontier. Bunche goes on to say "that Israeli forces now hold positions inside the south-east corner of Lebanon, involving some fifteen Lebanese villages which are occupied by small Israeli detachments".

According to Morris altogether 200,000–230,000 Palestinians left in this stage. According to Ilan Pappé, "In a matter of seven months, five hundred and thirty one villages were destroyed and eleven urban neighborhoods emptied […] The mass expulsion was accompanied by massacres, rape and [the] imprisonment of men […] in labor camps for periods [of] over a year".

Contemporary mediation and the Lausanne Conference

UN mediation

The United Nations, using the offices of the United Nations Truce Supervision Organisation and the Mixed Armistice Commissions, was involved in the conflict from the very beginning. In the autumn of 1948 the refugee problem was a fact and possible solutions were discussed. Count Folke Bernadotte said on 16 September:

No settlement can be just and complete if recognition is not accorded to the right of the Arab refugee to return to the home from which he has been dislodged. 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, and indeed, offer the threat of permanent replacement of the Arab refugees who have been rooted in the land for centuries

UN General Assembly Resolution 194, passed on 11 December 1948 and reaffirmed every year since, was the first resolution that called for Israel to let the refugees return:

the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the 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 the Governments or authorities responsible.

The Lausanne Conference of 1949

In 1949 at the Lausanne conference, Israel proposed allowing 100,000 refugees to return. The offer implicitly included an alleged 25,000 who had already returned surreptitiously and 10,000 projected family-reunion cases and would allow Israel to resettle the returnees where it saw fit. It was further conditional on a full peace treaty that would allow Israel to keep all the territory it had captured and on the Arab states agreeing to absorb the remaining refugees.

Safran wrote that "The Arab states, who had refused even to negotiate face-to-face with the Israelis, turned down the offer because it implicitly recognized Israel's existence".

Morris, however, in a more differentiated analysis, resumes:
In retrospect, it appeared that at Lausanne was lost the best and perhaps only chance for a solution of the refugee problem, if not for the achievement of a comprehensive Middle East settlement. But the basic incompatibility of the initial starting positions and the unwillingness of the two sides to move, and to move quickly, towards a compromise — born of Arab rejectionism and a deep feeling of humiliation, and of Israeli drunkenness with victory and physical needs determined largely by the Jewish refugee influx — doomed the 'conference' from the start. American pressure on both sides, lacking a sharp, determined cutting edge, failed to budge sufficiently either Jew or Arab. The '100,000 Offer' was a classic of too little, too late.

Debate on the causes of the Palestinian exodus

Initial positions

In the first decades after the exodus, two diametrically opposed schools of analysis could be distinguished. In the words of Erskine Childers: "Israel claims that the Arabs left because they were ordered to, and deliberately incited into panic, by their own leaders who wanted the field cleared for the 1948 war", while "The Arabs charge that their people were evicted at bayonet-point and by panic deliberately incited by the Zionists". Alternative explanations had also been offered. For instance Peretz and Gabbay emphasize the psychological component: panic or hysteria swept the Palestinians and caused the exodus.

Changes after the advent of the 'New Historians'

Israel opened up part of its archives in the 1980s for investigation by historians. This coincided with the emergence of various Israeli historians, called New Historians, who favored a more critical analysis of Israel's history. The most famous scholar of this group, Benny Morris, concludes that Jewish military attacks were the main direct cause of the exodus, followed by Arab fear due to the fall of a nearby town, Arab fear of impending attack, and expulsions. The traditional Israeli version was replaced by a new version stating that the exodus was caused by neither Israeli nor Arab policies, but rather was a by-product of the 1948 War. The Arab version hardly changed but did get support from some of the New Historians. Pappé calls the exodus an ethnic cleansing and points at Zionist preparations in the preceding years and provides more details on the planning process by a group he calls the 'Consultancy'.

Results of the Palestinian exodus

Abandoned, evacuated and destroyed Palestinian localities

Several authors have conducted studies on the number of Palestinian localities which were abandoned, evacuated and/or destroyed during the 1947–1949 period. Based on their respective calculations, the table below summarises their information.
Abandoned, evacuated and/or destroyed Palestinian localities (comparative figures)
Reference Towns Villages Tribes Total
Morris 10 342 17 369
Khalidi 1 400 17 418
Abu Sitta 13 419 99 531
Source: The table data was taken from Ruling Palestine, A History of the Legally Sanctioned Jewish-Israeli Seizure of Land and Housing in Palestine. Publishers: COHRE & BADIL, May 2005, p. 34.
Note: For information on methodologies; see: Morris, Benny (1987): The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947–1949. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987; Khalidi, Walid (ed.): All that Remains. The Palestinian Villages Occupied and Depopulated by Israel in 1948. Washington, D.C: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1992, App. IV, pp. xix, 585–586; and Sitta, Salman Abu: The Palestinian Nakba 1948. London: The Palestinian Return Centre, 2000.

According to COHRE and BADIL, Morris's list of affected localities, the shortest of the three, includes towns but excludes other localities cited by Khalidi and/or Abu Sitta. The six sources compared in Khalidi's study have in common 296 of the villages listed as destroyed and/or depopulated. Sixty other villages are cited in all but one source. Of the total of 418 localities cited in Khalidi, 292 (70 percent) were completely destroyed and 90 (22 percent) "largely destroyed". COHRE and BADIL also note that other sources refer to an additional 151 localities that are omitted from Khalidi's study for various reasons (for example, major cities and towns that were depopulated, as well as some Bedouin encampments and villages 'vacated' before the start of hostilities). Abu Sitta's list includes tribes in Beersheba that lost lands; most of these were omitted from Khalidi's work.

Another study, involving field research and comparisons with British and other documents, concludes that 472 Palestinian habitations (including towns and villages) were destroyed in 1948. It notes that the devastation was virtually complete in some sub-districts. For example, it points out that 96.0% of the villages in the Jaffa area were totally destroyed, as were 90.0% of those in Tiberiade, 90.3% of those in Safad, and 95.9% of those in Beisan. It also extrapolates from 1931 British census data to estimate that over 70 280 Palestinian houses were destroyed in this period.

In another study, Abu Sitta shows the following findings in eight distinct phases of the depopulation of Palestine between 1947–1949. His findings are summarized in the table below:
Information on the depopulation of Palestinian towns and villages (1947–1949)
Phase: No. of destroyed/depopulated localities No. of refugees Jewish/Israeli lands (km2)
29 Nov. 1947 – Mar. 1948 30 >22.600* 1.159'4
Apr. – 13 May 1948(Tiberiade, Jaffa, Haifa, Safed, etc.) 199 >400.000 3.363'9
15 May – 11 June 1948(an additional 90 villages) 290 >500.000 3.943'1
12 June – 18 July 1948(Lydda/Ramleh, Nazareth, etc.) 378 >628.000 5.224'2
19 July – 24 Oct. 1948(Galilee and southern areas) 418 >664.000 7.719'6
24 Oct. – 5 Nov. 1948(Galilee, etc.) 465 >730.000 10.099'6
5 Nov. 1948 – 18 Jan. 1949(Negev, etc.) 481 >754.000 12.366'3
19 Jan. – 20 July 1949(Negev, etc.) 531 >804.000 20.350'0
* Other sources put this figure at over 70 000.
Source: The table data was taken from Ruling Palestine, A History of the Legally Sanctioned Jewish-Israeli Seizure of Land and Housing in Palestine. Publishers: COHRE & BADIL, May 2005, p. 34. The source being: Abu Sitta, Salman (2001): From Refugees to Citizens at Home. London: Palestine Land Society and Palestinian Return Centre, 2001.

Palestinian refugees

Although there is no accepted definition of who can be considered a Palestinian refugee for legal purposes, UNRWA defines them as "persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948, who lost both their homes and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict". UNRWA's definition of a refugee also covers the descendants of persons who became refugees in 1948. This comes in contrast to the standard definition of refugee as defined by UNHCR. The final UN estimate was 711,000, but by 1950, according to UNRWA, the number of registered refugees was 914,000. The U.N. Conciliation Commission explains that these numbers are inflated by "duplication of ration cards, addition of persons who have been displaced from area other than Israel-held areas and of persons who, although not displaced, are destitute", and the UNWRA additionally noted that "all births are eagerly announced, the deaths wherever possible are passed over in silence," as well as the fact that "the birthrate is high in any case, a net addition of 30,000 names a year". By June 1951 the UNWRA had reduced the number of registered refugees to 876,000 after "many false and duplicate registrations [were] weeded out". Today that number has grown to over 4 million, one third of whom live in the West Bank and Gaza; slightly less than one third in Jordan; 17% in Syria and Lebanon (Bowker, 2003, p. 72) and around 15% in other Arab and Western countries. Approximately 1 million refugees have no form of identification other than an UNRWA identification card.

The Prevention of Infiltration law

Following the emergence of the Palestinian refugee problem after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, many Palestinians tried, in one way or another, to return to their homes. For some time these practices continued to embarrass the Israeli authorities until finally they passed a law forbidding Palestinians to return to Israel, those who did so being regarded as "infiltrators".

According to Kirsbaum, over the years the Israeli Government has continued to cancel and modify some of the Defence Regulations of 1945, but mostly it has added more as it has continued to extend its declared state of emergency. For example, even though the Prevention of Infiltration Law of 1954 is not labelled as an official "Emergency Regulation", it extends the applicability of the Defence (Emergency) Regulation 112 of 1945 giving the Minister of Defence extraordinary powers of deportation for accused infiltrators even before they are convicted (Articles 30 & 32), and makes itself subject to cancellation when the Knessetmarker ends the State of Emergency upon which all of the Emergency Regulations are dependent.

Land and Property laws

Following its establishment, Israel designed a system of law that legitimised both a continuation and a consolidation of the nationalisation of land and property, a process that it had begun decades earlier. For the first few years of Israel's existence, many of the new laws continued to be rooted in earlier Ottoman and British law. These laws were later amended or replaced altogether.

The first challenge facing Israel was to transform its control over land into legal ownership. This was the motivation underlying the passing of several of the first group of land laws.

Initial 'Emergency Laws' and 'Regulations'

Among the more important initial laws was article 125 of the Defence (Emergency) Regulations

According to Kirshbaum, the Law has as effect that "no one is allowed in or out without permission from the Israeli Military". "This regulation has been used to exclude a land owner from his own land so that it could be judged as unoccupied, and then expropriated under the Land Acquisition (Validation of Acts and Compensation) Law (1953). Closures need not be published in the Official Gazette".

The Absentees' Property Law'

The Absentees' Property Laws were several laws, first introduced as emergency ordinances issued by the Jewish leadership but which after the war were incorporated into the laws of Israel. As examples of the first type of laws are the Emergency Regulations (Absentees' Property) Law, 5709-1948 (December) which according to article 37 of the Absentees Property Law, 5710-1950 was replaced by the latter; the Emergency Regulations (Requisition of Property) Law, 5709-1949, and other related laws.

According to COHRE and BADIL (p. 41), unlike other laws that were designed to establish Israel's 'legal' control over lands, this body of law focused on formulating a 'legal' definition for the people (mostly Arabs) who had left or been forced to flee from these lands.

The absentee property played an enormous role in making Israel a viable state. In 1954, more than one third of Israel's Jewish population lived on absentee property and nearly a third of the new immigrants (250,000 people) settled in urban areas abandoned by Arabs. Of 370 new Jewish settlements established between 1948 and 1953, 350 were on absentee property.

The absentee property law is directly linked to the controversy of parallelism between the Jewish exodus from Arab lands and the Palestinian Exodus, as the government of Israel sees the two issues inherently linked.

Laws enacted

That enabled the further acquisition of depopulated lands, and related laws.Among the more important regulations were:
  • The Land (Acquisition for Public Purposes) Ordinance (1943). To authorise the confiscation of lands for Government and 'public' purposes.
  • The Prescription Law, 5718-1958. According to COHRE and BADIL (p. 44), this law, in conjunction with the Land (Settlement of Title) Ordinance (Amendment) Law, 5720-1960, the Land (Settlement of Title) Ordinance (New Version), 5729-1969 and the Land Law, 5729-1969, was designed to revise criteria related to the use and registration of Miri lands – one of the most prevalent types in Palestine – and to facilitate Israel's acquisition of such land.

Gallery of the Palestinian Exodus

Image:Oldwoman cry baby nakba.jpg|Grandmother cries over grandson, 1948.Image:Mother baby nakba.jpg|Palestinan mother, 1948.Image:Man see school nakba.jpg|Palestinian watch over a school in a refugee camp, 1948.Image:Boy sister school nakba.jpg|Makeshift school for Palestinian refugees.‎Image:Woman nakba dress jug.jpg|Palestinian woman a baby and a jug.Image:Oldman girl nakba.jpg|Refugees in the open, 1948.Image:Olddman boy nakba.jpg

Films about the exodus

  • 500 Dunam on the Moon is a documentary film directed by Rachel Leah Jones, about Ayn Hawd, a Palestinian village that was captured and depopulated by Israeli forces in the 1948 war.
  • The Palestinian Catastrophe 1948 is a documentary film by Benny Brunner and Alexandra Jansse, that follows the events surrounding the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem.
  • The Sons of Eilaboun is a documentary film that tells the story of the exodus and return a small Palestinian village called Eilabounmarker in the 1948 Nakba (Palestinian Catastrophe in 1948).

The Nakba's role in the Palestinian narrative

The term "Nakba" as a euphemism for "disaster" or "catastrophe" first appeared in George Antonius' The Arab Awakening, published in 1938, before the creation of the State of Israelmarker. On page 312, Antonius writes,
"The year 1920 has an evil name in Arab annals: it is referred to as the Year of the Catastrophe (Am al-Nakba).
It saw the first armed risings that occurred in protest against the post-War settlement imposed by the Allies on the Arab countries.
In that year, serious outbreaks took place in Syria, Palestine, and Iraq."
Thus, this early "Nakba" was a response to the division of Arab-populated lands into British and French mandates, and the Balfour Declaration promoting an independent Jewish state.

The term "Nakba" was given its present meaning by Constantin Zureiq, a professor of history at the American University of Beirutmarker, in his 1948 book Ma'na al-Nakba (The Meaning of the Disaster). After the Six Day War in 1967 Zureiq wrote another book, The New Meaning of the Disaster, but the term Nakba is reserved for the 1948 war. Muhammad Nimr al-Hawari also used the term Nakba in the title of his book Sir al Nakba (The Secret of the Defeat) written in 1955.

Together with Naji al-Ali's Handala (the barefoot child always drawn from behind), and the symbolic key for the house in Palestine carried by so many Palestinian refugees, the 'collective memory of' the Nakba 'has shaped the identity of the Palestinian refugees as a people'.

The events of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War greatly influenced the Palestinian culture. Countless books, songs and poems have been written about the Nakba. The exodus is usually described in strongly emotional terms. For example, at the controversial 2001 World Conference Against Racism in Durbanmarker, prominent Palestinian scholar and activist Hanan Ashrawi referred to the Palestinians as "a nation in captivity held hostage to an ongoing Nakba, as the most intricate and pervasive expression of persistent colonialism, apartheid, racism, and victimization" (original emphasis).

In the Palestinian calendar, the day after Israel declared independence (15 May) is observed as Nakba Day. It is traditionally observed as an important day of remembrance. In May 2009 the political party headed by Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman introduced a bill which would outlaw all Nakba commemorations, with a three-year prison sentence for such acts of remembrance. The bill was then changed, the prison sentence dropped and instead the denial of state funding for Israeli institutions that hold the commemorations was implemented.

See also


  1. Stern, Yoav. "Palestinian refugees, Israeli left-wingers mark Nakba", Ha'aretz, Tel Aviv, 13 May 2008; Nakba 60, BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights; Cleveland, William L. A History of the Modern Middle East, Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2004, p. 270. ISBN 978-0-8133-4047-0
  2. Bard, Mitchell G. The complete idiot's guide to Middle East conflict, Indianapolis, IN: Alpha, 2002, p. 159. ISBN 978-0-02-864410-3
  3. Khoury, Elias. "For Israelis, an Anniversary. For Palestinians, a Nakba", The New York Times, 18 May 2008.
  4. [Illan Pappe The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine] One World Publication 2006, preface pg xvi
  5. Masalha, Nur (1992). Expulsion of the Palestinians. Institute for Palestine Studies, this edition 2001, p. 175.
  6. Morris, Benny. The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited, Cambridge University Press, 2004, pp. 239–240. ISBN 978-0-521-81120-0
  7. Kodmani-Darwish, p. 126; Féron, Féron, p. 94.
  8. Morris 2006, p. 578.
  9. Nadav Safran, Israel: The Embattled Ally, Harvard University Press, p. 336; Sela, Avraham. "Arab-Israel Conflict." The Continuum Political Encyclopedia of the Middle East. Ed. Sela. New York: Continuum, 2002. pp. 58-121. "Israel was willing to allow an agreed number of [refugees] to return (the figure of 100,000 was proposed) and to pay compensation for land and housing left behind .... The Arab states rejected Israel's arguments and proposals on both moral and political grounds" (pp. 77-78).
  10. UNRWA Doc. UNRWA estimate 4.25 million in 2005.
  11. Erskine Childers, "The Other Exodus", The Spectator, 12 May 1961, reprinted in Laqueur, Walter. (ed.) The Israel-Arab Reader: A Documentary History of the Middle East Conflict,(1969) rev.ed. Pelican, 1970, pp. 179–188 p.183.
  12. Institute of Palestinian Studies Khalidi, Walid. "Plan Dalet Revisited: Master Plan for the Conquest of Palestine" in Journal of Palestinian Studies Vol 18 no. 1, (Aut. 88): 3–37. Republished article from the early 1960s.
  13. Institute of Palestinian StudiesKhalidi, Walid "Why did the Palestinians Leave, Revisited" in Journal of Palestinian Studies Vol 134, no. 2 (Win. 05): 42–54
  14. Correspondence between Erskine Childers, Walid Khalidi, Jon Kimche, Hedley V Cooke, David Cairns and Edward Atiyah, Institute for Palestinian Studies.
  15. Eugene L Rogan and Avi Shlaim 2007 p. 38
  16. B. Morris 2004 pp. 5–7, pp. 38– 64, pp. 462–587.
  17. B. Morris, 'Response to Finkelstein and Masalha', J. Palestine Studies 21(1), p. 98–114.
  18. Ilan Pappe (2007).
  19. Morris, 2004, pp. 90–99.
  20. Morris, 2004, p. 65.
  21. Flapan, 1987, p. 95; also quoted by Finkelstein, 1995, p. 82.
  22. Morris, (2004), p. 76.
  23. Morris, 2004, p. 76, 125.
  24. Morris, 2004, p. 66.
  25. Gelber, p. 75.
  26. Gelber, p. 76.
  27. (Gelber, p. 79)
  28. Morris, 2004, pp. 99–125.
  29. Morris, 2004, p. 138.
  30. Ilan Pappé, 2006, p. 82.
  31. Morris, 2004, p. 67.
  32. Glazer, p.104.
  33. Morris, 2004, p. 134.
  34. Morris, 2004, p. 137, quoting Haganah Archive (HA) 105\257.
  35. Morris, 2004, pp. 68–86.
  36. Morris, 2004, p. 75.
  37. Morris, 2004, p. 76.
  38. Morris, 2004, p. 130.
  39. Morris, 2004, p.125.
  40. Ilan Pappé, 2006, p. 55.
  41. Ilan Pappé, 2006, p. 73.
  42. Ilan Pappé, 2006, p. 60.
  43. Pappé, 2006, p. 63.
  44. Morris, 2004, p. 86.
  45. Morris, 2004, p. 87.
  46. Morris, 2004, p.75.
  47. Morris, 2004, pp. 138, 139.
  48. Glazer 1980, p.109.
  49. UN Progress Report, 16 September 1948, Part 1 Section V, paragraph 6; Part 3 Section I, paragraph 1 to 3. According to Glazer, this observation by Count Folke Bernadotte is frequently cited not only as an example of descriptions of panic, but also as evidence that the Zionists pursued a policy of expulsion.
  50. UN Doc. a/648 Progress Report of the United Nations Mediator on Palestine Submitted to the Secretary-General for Transmission to the Members of the United Nations Part 1 Section V para 6. "It is not yet known what the policy of the Provisional Government of Israel with regard to the return of Arab refugees will be when the final terms of settlement are reached. It is, however, undeniable that no settlement can be just and complete if recognition is not accorded to the right of the Arab refugee to return to the home from which he has been dislodged by the hazards and strategy of the armed conflict between Arabs and Jews in Palestine. The majority of these refugees have come from territory which, under the Assembly resolution of 29 November, was to be included in the Jewish State. The exodus of Palestinian Arabs resulted from panic created by fighting in their communities, by rumours concerning real or alleged acts of terrorism, or expulsion. 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, and, indeed, at least offer the threat of permanent replacement of the Arab refugees who have been rooted in the land for centuries."
  51. Sachar, Howard M. A History of Israel from the Rise of Zionism to Our Time, New York: Knopf, 1976. p. 332. ISBN 978-0-679-76563-9
  52. Morris, 2004, p. 264.
  53. Karsh, E. "Nakbat Haifa: Collapse and Dispersion of a Major Palestinian Community" in Middle Eastern Studies, Volume 37, Number 4/ 1 October 2001.
  54. British Police Report: Arab Flight From Haifa
  55. Situation in Haifa. Report by John Fletcher-Cooke to UN Secretary-General, 22 April 1948.
  56. Erskine Childers, Walid Khalidi, and Jon Kimche 1961 Correspondence in The Spectator on "Why the Refugees Left" [Originally Appendix E of Khalidi, Walid, "Plan Dalet Revisited: Master Plan for the Conquest of Palestine" in 18 no. 1, (Aut. 88): 51–70.
  57. Morris, 2004, pp. 191, 200.
  58. Ilan Pappé, 2006, p. 96.
  59. "British Proclamation In Haifa Making Evacuation Secure", The Times, London, Thursday, 22 April 1948; p. 4; Issue 51052; col D
  60. Morris, 2004, pp. 191, 192.
  61. Morris, 2004, pp. 209–211.
  62. Avnery, Uri (1971): Israel Without Zionism: A Plan for Peace in the Middle East. New York: Collier Books, pp. 224–25.
  63. O'Ballance, Edgar (1956) pp. 147, 172.
  64. Morris, 2004, p.246; Summary meeting of the Arab Affairs Advisor in Netanya 9 May 1948 IDF 6127/49//109.
  65. Ilan Pappé, 2006, p. 128.
  66. Morris, 2004, p. 247; unsigned short report on Tantura Operation, IDFA 922/75//949, and ya'akov B.', in the name of the deputy OC 'A' company 'Report on Operation Namal' 26 May 1948, IDFA 6647/49//13.
  67. Morris, 2004; Shitrit to Ben-Gurion 31 May 1948 ISA MAM 302/48.
  68. Kapeliouk, Amnon (1987): New Light on the Israeli-Arab Conflict and the Refugee Problem and Its Origins, p.21. Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 16, No. 3. (Spring, 1987), pp. 16–24.
  69. Review by Dominique Vidal in Le Monde Diplomatique
  70. Morris, Benny (1986): What Happened in History. Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 15, No. 4. (Summer, 1986), pp. 181–182.
  71. Morris, 2006, p. 262.
  72. Quoted in Mark Tessler's A History of the Arab-Israeli Conflict: Keesing's Contemporary Archives (London: Keesing's Publications, 1948–1973). p. 10101.
  73. Oren, Elhanan (1976): On the Way to the City. Hebrew, Tel Aviv.
  74. Ibid.
  75. Peretz Kidron interview with Ben Dunkelman, Haolam Hazeh, 9 January 1980.
  76. Kidron, Peretz (1988). "Truth Whereby Nations Live". In Edward Said and Christopher Hitchens (Eds.). Blaming the Victims: Spurious Scholarship and the Palestinian Question Verso. ISBN 1-85984-340-9, p. 87.
  77. "Ari Shavit — Survival Of The Fittest? An Interview With Benny Morris", Logos, Winter 2004.
  78. Morris, 2004, p. 448.
  79. Morris, 2004, p. 490.
  80. UN Doc. PAL/370 UN Press Release, 6 November 1948.
  81. Morris, 2004, p. 492.
  82. UN Doc A/648 Progress Report of the United Nations Mediator on Palestine Submitted to the Secretary-General for Transmission to the Members of the United Nations see part 1 section V para 6.
  83. Bowker, 2003, pp. 97–98.
  84. Nadav Safran, Israel: The Embattled Ally, Harvard University Press, p. 336.
  85. Morris, 2006, p. 580.
  86. Erskine Childers, "The Other Exodus", The Spectator, 12 May 1961, reprinted in Walter Laqueur (ed.) The Israel-Arab Reader: A Documentary History of the Middle East Conflict,(1969) rev.ed. Pelican, 1970 pp. 179–188 p.183.
  87. Mendes, Philip, "A historical controversy: the causes of the Palestinian refugee problem", Australian Jewish Democratic Society, retrieved on 1 November 2007.
  88. Morris, 2004, pp. 5–7, pp. 38–64, pp. 462–587.
  89. Khalidi, Walid (1961).
  90. Ilan Pappé, 2006.
  91. Ruling Palestine, A History of the Legally Sanctioned Jewish-Israeli Seizure of Land and Housing in Palestine. Publishers: COHRE & BADIL, May 2005, p. 34.
  92. Ruling Palestine, A History of the Legally Sanctioned Jewish-Israeli Seizure of Land and Housing in Palestine. Publishers: COHRE & BADIL, May 2005, p. 35.
  93. Saleh, Abdul Jawad and Walid Mustafa (1987): p.30.
  94. Abu Sitta, Salman (2001).
  95. Who is a Palestine Refugee? UNRWA 's operational definition
  96. Assistance To Palestine Refugees UN Doc A/1905, Report of the Director of the UNRWA, 28 September 1951.
  97. Bowker, 2003, pp. 61–62.
  98. Jiryis, Sabri (1981): Domination by the Law. Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 11, No. 1, 10th Anniversary Issue: Palestinians under Occupation. (Autumn, 1981), pp. 67–92.
  99. Kirshbaum, David A. Israeli Emergency Regulations and The Defense (Emergency) Regulations of 1945. Israel Law Resource Center, February 2007.
  100. Ruling Palestine, A History of the Legally Sanctioned Jewish-Israeli Seizure of Land and Housing in Palestine Publishers: COHRE & BADIL, May 2005, p. 37.
  101. Kirshbaum, David A. Israeli Emergency Regulations & The Defense (Emergency) Regulations of 1945.
  102. See article 37 Absentees' Property Law 5710-1950
  103. Ruling Palestine, A History of the Legally Sanctioned Jewish-Israeli Seizure of Land and Housing in Palestine. Publishers: COHRE & BADIL, May 2005, p. 41.
  104. Peretz, (1958)
  105. Plaut, Steven. "How 'Nakba' Proves There's No Palestinian Nation" Jewish Press, 30 April 2008
  106. Bowker, 2003, p. 96.
  107. Address by Ms. Hanan Ashrawi, Durban (South Africa), 28 August 2001. World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerances.
  108. Boudreaux, Richard. "Israeli legislation raises loyalty issue", Los Angeles Times, 26 May 2009.


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