Palestinian Right to Return.. Sacred, Legal and Possible

Palestinian Right to Return.. Sacred, Legal and Possible
It has been over two years since the SOAS lecture on which the first edition of this booklet was based. The passage of 50 years after al Nakba (Catastrophe) was an occasion for remembrance of the past and determination that the future will bring the right of return. There has been tremendous upsurge, especially among young people, in al Nakba and ways and means to reverse its destructive impact on the Palestinian people and to restore normalcy to their shattered lives. The Palestinian life of destitution in the diaspora, while waves of Russian and other new immigrants are admitted freely to their homes, has become increasingly intolerable to them. The Oslo Agreement fiasco and what is perceived as Israeli deception and US double standards has made the situation much worse.

The interest in the subject, shown by conferences, meetings and publications, including those of the PRC, prompted me to update and revise many sections of the booklet. All sections have been expanded and new sections on war crimes, the value of Palestinian property, the status of Palestinian land, resettlement schemes and the establishment of Palestine Land Society have been added. The demographic study has been updated and several new tables and references added.

Together with al Nakba Register and the map of Palestine 1948, also distributed by the PRC, this booklet should provide a concise description of the refugees issue. It should be clear by now to all concerned that there can be no peace in the Middle East without the return of the refugees to their homes.



Half a century has passed since the dispossession and expulsion of the Palestinians from their homes in 1948. This event shaped the history of the area ever since, and remains, until today, the major issue of Middle East politics.

In spite of five major wars, innumerable raids and attacks, coup d'etats and removal of rulers in all adjacent countries, this volatile issue remains unresolved. Palestinian rights have not been restored nor justice done.

Arguments on both sides of the conflict are loaded with propaganda. The Israelis, however, have been more skilful and powerful than the Arabs in presenting their views. They desperately needed to justify the conquest of land, and the expulsion of its people, and portray Israel’s “heroic” image in the eyes of the West, from whom they derived material and moral support.

Recently, however, partly due to the release of Israeli documents, a number of Israeli historians have re-examined the events of 1948; notable among them: Morris (1987,1990), Shlaim, Segev, Pappé and Flan.

In this monograph, we re-examine the events of the 1948 War, which led to the Palestinian Holocaust (al-Nakba) and derive some conclusions from them. We then examine the means to redress this injustice by applying the Right of Return. By demographic and other considerations, we show how it is possible to effect the return of the refugees with the minimum population dislocation, thus laying the foundation for a truly lasting peace.



1. Compilation of the Depopulated Villages List:

An expanded list(1) of 531 localities depopulated during the 1948 Holocaust, exceeding in number previously published lists, is compiled. The list contains the following information on each locality: original Arabic name, geographical location according to Palestine Grid, district, population, land area, date of depopulation, reasons for exodus, Israeli offensive, defenders and massacres (if any). This data-base was processed to study various aspects of this extraordinary event.

According to Benny Morris, in his authoritative work (1987), the sequence of depopulation of Palestinian villages is classified in four waves:

(1) from December 1947, immediately after the UN recommendation of the Partition of Palestine on 29 November 1947, to March 1948,

(2) from April 1948, marking the onset of the Israeli offensive, known as Plan Dalet, until 11 June 1948, the start of the First Truce,

(3) from 9 July 1948, with the start of Israeli operations, Dani and Dekel, in the Ten Days fighting, till the end of the Second Truce on 15 October 1948 and

(4) from the breaking of the Second Truce by the Israeli operation Yo’av in the south and operation Hiram in the north, to their conclusion in November 1948.

Thereafter, the Israelis invaded Egyptian territory until al-Arish, from which they withdrew under British pressure, and invaded the Negev, which they kept occupied.

Morris identified 369 villages which had been depopulated and assigned the causes of exodus for most of them.

Walid Khalidi (1992), directing a team of Palestinian field researchers, listed 418 villages and provided a “dictionary” for each village which included: location, land ownership, population, a résumé of the village history before 1948, how it was occupied and depopulated, Israeli settlements on its lands and description of the village or its remains today.

Khalidi meticulously revised the previous listings and arrived at a clear definition of his list; namely, the depopulated Palestinian villages with a distinct identity. Khalidi deliberately excluded towns and places where no permanent structures or a cluster of houses existed. Khalidi also cited other researchers who used different or no definitions; e.g. Al-Arif (399), Nijm and Muammer, who included part of Beer Sheba, (443) and Saleh (472). In all, Khalidi excluded 151 villages which appeared in one or another list.

In this study, a list of 531 localities is compiled, largely from the previously quoted Morris and Khalidi. The word “locality” is used to signify a town, a village or tribal land. Palestinian towns are included here for obvious reasons. Tribal land is included fully for the first time, because its inhabitants represent a significant part of the refugee population, over 100,000, in 1948 and their cultivated land is about 5,000,000 d. (donum = 1000 m2). An average sub-tribe (Ashira) would therefore have a typical population of 1,200, and cultivates about 60,000 d., which makes it comparable to any village.

Table-1 shows the classification of depopulated localities per district (as per Palestine Mandate Administration) listed as towns, villages, tribes by Morris (M), Khalidi (K) and this study (AS). As Table 1 shows, the notable difference is that Khalidi excluded towns; Khalidi and Morris excluded most of Beer Sheba District. In this study 78 new tribes and 9 Police Stations are taken into account. Each Police station had a typical community of 40, which grew at times to 100, had permanent structures, which frequently included a school and a trading post. Part of the small difference in the number of villages between Khalidi and this study arises from the inclusion of some villages, which, although ultimately repopulated by other villagers, have been the scene of massacres.



2. The Unfolding of the Holocaust:

2.1 The Dispossessed: The People

The dispossessed population is compiled from the official Village Statistics of 1944/1945, upgraded to 1948/1949 by taking, as per Khalidi (1992, p.581), the net natural increase of 3.8% per year for 4 years. The population of villages which remained in Israel, and listed in the compilation list for noted reasons, is deducted from the total sum, or reduced by the number who stayed behind where applicable.

In previous studies, the population of Beer Sheba Bedouin has been generally neglected or underestimated. In the Mandate statistics, they have been listed as a separate group, curiously neither as Moslems or Christians, with the number 66,000 fixed for many years. In this study, the Bedouin population is estimated from Al-Arif (1933), corrected to account for traditional reduction of female count, and upgraded from his 1931 figures. This compared favourably with the last field survey undertaken by S. W. Dajani in 1946 (Dajani 1947).

The sum of refugees thus calculated is shown to be 804,767. This is higher than figures previously quoted, mainly due to the omission of Beer Sheba.

The figure of 804,767 does not include:

- “Internal Refugees”, i.e. those who stayed in Israel but were relocated by Israel and hence also lost their land, now estimated at 250,000 in 1998.

- Those who lost their livelihood because their village land was located in Israeli-occupied territory, while the village houses remained in Arab territory, estimated at 16% of the primary list. (For an elaboration of these figures, see “The Palestinian Nakba 1948, the Register of Depopulated Villages”.)

The published estimates of the total number of all Palestinians vary because they are dispersed in a number of countries and there has never been a formal comprehensive census for them. The opportunity to inflate or reduce their number, depending on political inclination, therefore, existed.

A good starting point is the British Mandate figures. Janet Abu-Lughod(1971) made a careful analysis of these figures and arrived at a figure of 1,398,000 for the (non-Jewish) Palestinians in all of Palestine, projected to December 1948. This included the ever-fixed number of 66,000 for Beer Sheba Bedouins. Allowing for the new estimate made in this study, the final figure will be 1,441,177.

Abu-Lughod split her figure into two parts: one, in the range of 890,200 to 904,200 for the territory that came under Israel’s control in 1948, including the Palestinians who remained there, and the other, in the range of 493,000 to 507,900 for the rest of Palestine that remained Arab.

The figures for the net annual natural growth are extracted from Mandate figures: 3.8% for Moslems, 2.42% for Christians, 3.0% for others (Druze etc.). Noting that the number of births per woman ranged from 8.5 (1967) to 7.0 (1987), and the life expectancy increased from 53 to 63 years in the same period, (UN-ESCWA figures quoted by Peretz, p.18); that the majority of refugees were Moslems and that a greater ratio of Moslems than Christians became refugees, we take 3.8% as the overall annual natural increase for the refugees. This figure is considered conservative, as both the increase in the annual UNRWA figures and the estimates of the Palestinian National Authority suggest higher net natural increase. This figure is also supported by the analysis of the variation of the annual net natural increase in the five areas of UNRWA operations over a period of five decades.

With more education and affluence, however, the number of children per family decreased. We take therefore 3.63% as the net annual natural increase for the Palestinians as a whole.

Therefore the following estimates are made:


1948 1995 1998 All Palestinians 1,441,177 7,689,621 7,788,185 1948 Refugees 804,069 4,645,248 4,942,121

Peretz (p.16) gives the number of Palestinians as 6,192,153 (1995), based on U.S. Bureau of the Census estimate. This is an underestimate. It does not include Palestinians outside Arab countries and it assumes smaller growth rates which steadily decrease from 3.3% to 2.5%.

Brand (1988), in a careful study collected from several sources, gives the total as 4,739,158 (1982). He also gives the geographical distribution of the Palestinians. The above-mentioned Brand figure has been adjusted to our total figure given above. McDowall (1994) estimates the number of Palestinians to be 6,882,000 (1995), with a slight underestimation of the Palestinians in Lebanon, West Bank and Gaza Strip, and a lower natural growth rate. Adjustments are made to Brand’s population geographical distribution due to movements which occurred since then, notably the exodus from Kuwait (1990), but not from Libya (1995).

Table 2 shows these results. The split between refugees and original citizens is reasonable for the West Bank, Gaza, East Bank, Lebanon and Syria and tentative for the others. Of the refugees figure (4,942,121), only 3,602,121 (73%) are registered with UNRWA (1998 figures), about 1 million of these live in camps, the remainder outside. The rest are self-supporting refugees, non-eligible or could not register for some reason.

In summary, 3.6 million (46%) Palestinians now live within Mandate Palestine boundaries (i.e. Israel, West Bank and Gaza), 3.3 million (42%) live in border Arab Countries (Jordan, Lebanon, Syria), and about a million (12%) live in other Arab and foreign countries. Thus, 88% of the Palestinians live in or adjacent to Palestine. Those whose lives are somewhat affected by the limited autonomy of the Oslo Agreement are the original citizens of Gaza and West Bank, or about one million (13%).

2.2 The Dispossession: The Land

The total Arab land occupied by Israel is calculated from the sum of net Arab village lands, taken from Village Statistics.

The accumulated Palestinian land of

depopulated villages as per this study is 17,166,831 d. 85% Add: Jewish land(including Public), from Hadawi (1988) 1,682,000 d 08% Add: Arab land (including Public) ofvillages remaining in Israel (Hadawi) 1,474,169 d. 07% Total area of Israel 20,323,000 d. 100%
of which, 18,641,000 d. (92%)is Palestinian.

The Palestine Conciliation Commission’s expert, Mr. Jarvis, estimated Arab losses to be a mere 5,194,091 d. Jarvis, however, omitted Beer Sheba, which is curious and inexplicable. Jarvis listed only “settled” land, which means reconciliation made between title deed and survey maps. There are other deficiencies in Jarvis’ figures. Allowing for the omission of Beer Sheba, the equivalent figures are: 6,469,012 (Hadawi) and 6,131,758 (this study), both are larger than Jarvis’ figures. If we add Beer Sheba (12,577,000), Jarvis’ figure would add up to 17,771,091 d., Palestinian land.

Table 3 summarises the depopulation figures by District. The largest depopulation occurred in districts of Jaffa, Haifa, and Jerusalem, which had a high Jewish concentration. The highest number of depopulated localities is in predominantly Arab areas: Beer Sheba, al-Ramla and Safad. The largest land occupied is in Beer Sheba, followed by Gaza, Haifa, al-Ramla and Safad. The largest percentage of the refugees, 42%, came from the central sector of Palestine, 34% from the north and 24% from the south.

2.3 How It Happened:

A new insight is gained by examining the list of depopulated localities in chronological order. Table 4 gives a list and function of the various Israeli operations. Table 5 gives the number of depopulated localities and the refugees in each phase of the conflict.

It is shown that 213 localities (43% of localities and 54% of the refugees with known depopulation dates) were run over by the Zionists (not yet Israelis), while Palestine was under the protection of the British Mandate Government. The expulsion of the population was largely due to Plan Dalet, “The Master Plan for the Conquest of Palestine”. (Khalidi 1988, Pappé, p.94).

It may be reasonably assumed that the fighting during the first 27 days, between the end of the British Mandate on 15 May 1948 and 11 June 1948, the so called First Round, in which Arab regular troops, unprepared and unfamiliar with the country, entered Palestine, is merely a continuation, by the Zionists, of Plan Dalet. Then by the time the First Truce was announced on 11 June, fully 291 (59%) localities were depopulated. Thus, about two thirds of the refugees (65%) became homeless before Arab regular troops, who came to their rescue, could save them.

As Pappé explained (p.55), Plan Dalet was intended not only to grab land and expel as many Palestinians as possible, but also to seize government institutions and public services as well. It was “total war” waged against the Palestinians (Falah, 1996).

When war was resumed in the Ten Days of 9-18 July 1948, i.e. the Second Round, a further 82 (17%) localities were depopulated. In the Third Round, from 15 October 1948 to 6 January 1949, another 98 (20%) localities were depopulated. The remainder, 60 localities, were depopulated thereafter, or their depopulation dates cannot be determined.

The striking feature is that practically all exodus was related to Israeli military assaults. No villagers left their homes during the cessation of hostilities, however short. During the First Truce, one village is reported to have been abandoned, while in the longer Second Truce, five villages were depopulated, due to the Israeli operation Shoter (Policeman) and Nikayon (Cleansing). This is remarkable indeed, since it may be assumed that during the truce the actual or potential threat to the citizens’ safety was still present. The lull in the fighting would have been an ideal opportunity for the villagers to leave. The fact is: they did not.

The exodus was always associated with the various Israeli operations, which resulted in outright expulsion or military assault on the villages. Names such as “Cleansing” and “Broom”, which occur no less than 4 times, indicate clearly the nature of these operations.

It is significant to note that each phase of the Israeli assaults was opened by a massacre, followed by others during the same phase. During operation Dalet, while Palestine was still under British protection, the Dayr Yassin massacre was committed, followed by 16 others. The “success” achieved by driving the citizens out of their homes was not lost on the Zionist leaders, especially in the absence of any British action to stop the massacres or protect the population.

The second phase of the fighting, (the Ten Days between 9-18 July 1948), was opened by the massacre in Lydda, when 60,000 inhabitants of Lydda and Ramla were expelled on the express orders of Yizhak Rabin. This was followed by massacres in al Tira, Tantoura and Ijzim (Haifa), which, until that time, remained the only unoccupied Arab region south of Haifa.

During Yo’av operation in the south and Hiram in the north in October, 13 massacres were committed, mostly in the north with its high density of Palestinian Arabs.

No doubt the success of the massacres during Israeli assaults on the villages in driving the citizens out of their homes was confirmed by its frequent use as a regular war weapon.

2.4 Massacres:

The “massacre” is defined here as “ the killing of a group of civilians with intent”. Many atrocities had been committed which could have been defined as massacres, but sufficient evidence to-date is incomplete.

Table 6 lists 34 reported massacres. This list excludes the following:

- Murder of individuals, although widespread.

- Mass killing of civilians during air-raids especially in the period October-December 1948.

- Killing of Prisoners of War.

- Unrecorded massacres.

- Massacres committed immediately after signing the Armistice Agreements in 1949.

The most well-known massacre is Dayr Yassin, which was publicized by the Arabs to demonstrate the savagery of the Zionists, and by the Zionists, frequently by loudspeakers touring the villages, to drive the Arabs out of their homes, “or meet the fate of Dayr Yassin”.

Deir Yassin was an Arab village on the outskirts of west Jerusalem not very far from the highway which connects Jerusalem with the Mediterranean Sea coast of Palestine. It was one of 531 Palestinian localities which were depopulated by the Zionist invaders in 1948.

On Friday 9 April 1948 Deir Yassin was the scene of an unprovoked and premeditated massacre which has since symbolized the inhumanity and injustice of political Zionism.

Armed with explosives and machine guns provided by the terrorist Stern and Irgun Gangs, a combined force of over 120 men attacked the sleeping village at 4.30 in the morning in what was then code-named “Operation Unity.” It was so called to demonstrate the unity between the official Zionist leadership on the one hand and the two terrorist groups on the other. Within a matter of hours, the Zionist terrorists murdered 254 Palestinians. They blew up more than fifteen houses with explosives, their favourite weapon. Many other acts of terrible savagery were also committed on this fateful day.

One eyewitness, Muhammad Aref Sammour, testified before the British investigating officers that the Jewish gangs “ripped open the bellies of all the women they found straight away with bayonets.” They also took jewellery from their victims and if those items did not come off easily “they would cut off the arm to take the bracelet or cut the finger to get the ring.”

Following a visit to Silwan, the village where many survivors sought refuge, the British interrogating officer, Assistant Inspector-General Richard Catling confirmed that; “Many young school girls were raped and later slaughtered... Many infants were also butchered and killed.” After the massacre, Menachem Begin sent an order of the day to the attackers of Deir Yassin. He wrote “Accept congratulations on this splendid act of conquest. Tell the soldiers you have made history in Israel.”

That what happened at Deir Yassin was part of the official Zionist strategy cannot be contested. Yosef Weitz, the Jewish administrator responsible for Jewish colonization and member of the Jewish Agency’s first Transfer Committee declared as early as 1940 that:

"Between ourselves it must be clear that there is no room for both peoples together in this country....We shall not achieve our goal of being an independent people with the Arabs in this small country. The only solution is a Palestine, at least Western Palestine (west of the Jordan river) without Arabs... And there is no other way than to transfer the Arabs from here to the neighbouring countries, to transfer all of them; not one village, not one tribe, should be left....Only after this transfer will the country be able to absorb the millions of our own brethren. There is no other way out.”

The biggest and least publicized massacre is that of al Dawayima village in Hebron District (population 4,300). On the afternoon of Friday, 29 October 1948, 3 units of the 89th Battalion (8th Brigade) entered the village from 3 directions, leaving the east open, and occupied it “without a fight”.

“The first wave of conquerors killed about 80 to 100 Arabs, women and children. They killed the children by breaking their heads with sticks. There was not a house without dead. One woman, with a new-born baby in her arms was employed to clean the courtyard.... (they) shot her and the baby.... This was not in the heat of battle.... but a system of expulsion and destruction”. (soldier’s testimony cited by Morris 1987, p 222).

Over fifty villagers took refuge in the local mosque. The soldiers entered and killed them. Others fled to nearby caves (Tor al Zagh) and huddled against the walls. The soldiers ordered them to line up in two lines, men and women, and led them to a well. The soldiers suddenly opened fire. Bodies fell in heaps. Some survived the ordeal (survivor’s testimony, Hudaib, 1985).

Two weeks later, the Israeli authorities allowed a team of UN observers to visit the site, after 3 previous requests were denied, probably to remove the traces of the massacre. The observers noted that many houses were still smoking, with “a peculiar smell as if bones were burning”. The Israelis refused to allow them to visit the mosque, because it was “not correct”. When they got a brief look, they saw quite a few Jewish soldiers inside. (UNA 13/3.3.1, box 11, Atrocities, cited by Palumbo, 1987 p. xiii).

Many years later, the correspondent of the Israeli newspaper Hadashot accompanied the village Mukhtar (head) to the scene of killing. According to the newspaper report of 24 August 1984, they dug where the Mukhtar pointed. Several skulls, including that of a child, were found.

The Mukhtar handed a list of 580 killed to the Jordanian Governor of Hebron at the time. The Hadashot correspondent ‘estimated’ 332 people killed. Ben Gurion briefly noted in his diary “a rumour about 70-80 persons slaughtered” (Ben Gurion War Diary, p.613).

That was the pattern: to surround the village from three sides, leaving the fourth open for escape, to kill as many as possible, especially those who are determined to stay, and leave some survivors to spread the news in the next village. If villagers returned, they would be massacred. The village of Sa’sa has suffered two massacres, the first on 15 February, the second on 30 October 1948 in the aftermath of operation Hiram and after the return of some of the village inhabitants.

The massacres were always part of the military campaign. There were 17 massacres in April and May during the British Mandate, and 17 thereafter. Three massacres took place during Yiftach operation in April, seven during Hiram operation in October, both to occupy Arab Galilee. In terms of geographical distribution, 24 were in the north, five in the central sector and five in the south.

Killing of civilians continued by other means. Any villager who returned to retrieve some of his belonging, was shot on the spot as an “infiltrator”. The Israelis introduced the use of bacteriological warfare by poisoning the wells in the villages and towns. They infected the drinking water with malaria, typhus and dysentery. In his war diary, p.365, Ben Gurion mentioned the capture of incriminated agents in Gaza. Uri Mileshtin, an official historian of Israeli Defence Forces, said that bacteria was used to poison the wells of every village emptied of its Arab inhabitants (Interview by Sarah Laybobis-Dar, Hadashot daily, 13 August 1993).



3. Why the Refugees Left:

For years, it has been a staple Zionist propaganda to claim that the Palestinians had left their homes on the order of Arab governments, to clear the way for the victorious entry of the “Arab Armies”. Khalidi (1988) and Childers have already put this myth to rest. Not finding any sign of this incitement, Morris (1987) confirmed their conclusion. Moreover, he assessed the reasons for the exodus under different categories, (see Table 7). The results of his assessment applied to his village list are shown in Table 8. Of 330 villages assessed by Morris, 41 (12%) had left because of “expulsion by Jewish forces”, 195 (59%) by military assault, 46 (14%) by the imminent attack after the fall of a neighbouring village. This gives a total of 282 (85%) villages which were depopulated by direct military action. Extending the same method of assessment to our expanded list of depopulated villages, the respective figure is 442 (89%) villages.

Another kind of war had equally devastating results. The “Whispering Campaign”, by which a Jewish “friend” advises the villagers to leave or else face a terrible fate, resulted in the depopulation of 12 villages. Thirty-eight more were depopulated due to “fear of Jewish attack”. This makes 50 (10%) villages.

Five villages (1%) left on orders of a local leader or a village headman. Thirty-five villages could not be determined.

Semantics aside, it is clear that the depopulation of the Palestinians, hence the creation of the so-called “refugee problem”, is the direct result of a total war waged against the Palestinians by the Israelis during and after the Mandate, using military and psychological means. That was meant to give credence to the slogan: Palestine is a “land without people”.



4. Military Aspects of the Expulsion:

How could such large-scale expulsion, land grabbing, and repeated massacres have taken place unhindered? Is it true that “little David” is fighting for his survival against the mighty “Arab Goliath”? These are the facts.

During the first 6 months of 1948, the total Zionist force numbered 65,000 at least (see for example Khalidi 1982, p. 861). The first-line troops were 32,000 (Amitzur Ilan, Table 2, p.67). By 15 April 1948, 82,500 were recruited, (Pappé, p.52). The Zionists were well-trained, mostly well armed, many of whom were Second World War veterans.

On the opposing Arab side, there were about 2500 Palestinian militiamen, mostly volunteers, poorly trained, and dispersed among a dozen towns and several hundred villages. Their weapons consisted of old, often Turkish, vintage. They had few machine guns and no artillery. They had no wireless, so it was not possible for them to coordinate their actions. A typical village would have 20-30 volunteers defending it on its own, against 300-400 enemy soldiers with tanks and artillery.

There was also the so-called “Arab Liberation Army”, led by Fawzi al Qauwqji, constituting a force of 3155 assorted volunteers from several Arab countries (1948 War-Israel Story, p.220-221, Ali (1982), p.82). Their number is misleading, as their dispersion made them ineffective. Their distribution was as follows: the largest concentration was in Jinin area, and in Galilee: groups of 50-100, in Haifa: 200, in Jerusalem: a few hundred, in Jaffa: 200, (Levenberg, p. 200). The majority were in the part allocated for the “Arab State” in the Partition Plan, where few Jews existed. That was in coordination with the plans set up by Trans-Jordan for the eventual control of that part (Levenberg p.205). There were very few of them where needed to repel the Jewish attacks. Moreover, the discipline and the military performance of this force had been the subject of much criticism, even derision.

Then there was the “Moslem Brothers” force, a group of highly motivated Egyptian and Palestinian volunteers. Some were well-trained but their number did not exceed 500 in total. They operated in the south, and lost many killed due to their daring and bravery.

Thus, a well-organized Zionist force of 65,000, under a unified command attacked hundreds of Arab villages, which were defended by a group of Arab volunteers, about 20 in a village to 100 in a town, under the watchful eye of the British Mandate Government, which did not raise a hand to protect the Arab population.

The result was that 213 villages including 6 towns in addition to West Jerusalem were occupied and depopulated by 15 May 1948, increasing to 291villages (including 4 more towns) by 11 June 1948.

The Zionists under British Mandate had acquired, by purchase and other means, a total of 1,614,667 d. (6% of Palestine). Following their attacks on Arab villages, mostly between April and May 1948, they occupied about double this area (11%). On this land, they declared the creation of the State of Israel. By early 1949, the occupied land was expanded to 78% of Palestine. (In 1967, Israel occupied all of Palestine and parts of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt.) There is no general international acceptance of Israel’s boundaries. Israel has never given an official definition of its boundaries. That is the reason why Ben Gurion refused to formulate a constitution for Israel.

The intervention of the Arab forces to rescue the Palestinians in the later stages of the Israeli onslaught, was depicted by the Israelis as “seven Arab Armies who wanted to strangle little Israel and throw the Jews into the Sea”. Nothing is further from the truth. None of the Arab forces entered the area designated as “Jewish State”, even to rescue Palestinians there. On the contrary, those forces lost the Arab land which they had come to protect and which the Israelis had not yet conquered. Their military preparedness was geared to a rescue operation, rather than a total war, and they were a failure at that.

The Lebanese force, for example, which started at 700, reaching a maximum of 1000) had no military effect. They even lost to the Israeli forces a dozen Lebanese villages. The Syrian force (about 2000) tried and failed to capture 2 Israeli settlements south of Tiberias. The well-trained Iraqi force (started at 2500, increased later) came with “no orders” (macko awamer) to defend villages. Its important achievement was to defend Jinin against Israeli attack, but lost the villages around it. It was later withdrawn at the request of Trans-Jordan.

The Trans-Jordanian force, max. 4500, well trained and armed, and led by British officers, kept its defensive positions in the Old City of Jerusalem, but withdrew from Lydda and Ramla, thus precipitating the expulsion of its 60,000 inhabitants. About two dozen villages at Wadi Ara were ceded voluntarily by King Abdullah to the Israelis outside the Rhodes armistice negotiations. Together with Palestinian and other volunteers, the Trans-Jordan force over-ran 4 Etzion Block settlements in the area designated as the “Arab State”.

The brunt of the fighting after 15 May was taken up by the Egyptian force. In the beginning, it numbered 2,800, and grew immediately thereafter to 9,292. In October, the force increased to 28,500 in addition to 1,109 Saudis, 1,675 Sudanese and 4,410 volunteers, mostly Palestinians (Shakib, p. 335). As a force of 35,662 men under one command, it was by far the largest Arab force. Its task was to defend a large Arab area, over half of Palestine, with very few Jewish settlements in it. At no point did it attempt to enter the designated “Jewish State”. Under the inept leadership of General Mawawi, this force lost all this territory, with the exception of the tiny Gaza Strip, as it became known (360 km2 or 1.3% of Palestine).

Meanwhile, the Israeli Army (now Israel Defence Force) grew to 74,450 (August 1948), 99,122 (October 1948, before Yo’av operation), and finally to 121,000 at the beginning of 1949 (Ben Gurion, p.778-782, Sanbar, p.147). It had by then a credible navy, a strong airforce and very powerful armaments.

Statements are often made that the Israelis were outnumbered by the combined Arab force. This is never the case. The numerical superiority of Israelis at all stages of the conflict is quite evident. According to an Israeli historian (Ilan, p.62), “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”. To start with, during the Mandate period, the Zionists had an overwhelming numerical and organizontal advantage over the Arabs of Palestine. After 15 May, the various Arab forces were largely ineffective, mostly defensive, some conspiratory.

At the last phase of the war, Egypt had to face the Israelis alone. The Israelis had an overall superiority of about 4 to one over the Egyptians, and much higher in individual battles. When the Egyptians were hardpressed in October, no Arab force came to their aid, either directly or indirectly by engaging the Israelis in the north or the centre. The Israelis could throw their lot against the Egyptians without fear of distraction. Ben Gurion knew this and used it fully, (Ben Gurion War Diary p.566, Shlaim p.235, Mahmoud p.157). As a result, the Israelis concentrated their might on the Egyptian front and occupied most of southern Palestine in one operation (Yo’av) before the Armistice Agreement was signed with Egypt.

Thus, the much-exaggerated Arab intervention, not only failed to recover the two-thirds of the Palestinian villages, depopulated before the Arab forces’ arrival, but lost also the remaining one third of Palestinian villages which they had come to rescue.


5. Plunder and Destruction:

Soon after the Israeli invasion, there was an orgy of plunder and looting in which official bodies and individual Jews competed for the biggest prizes. Fifty thousand Arab homes were looted and the Custodian of Enemy Property lamented that he could only register 509 carpets in his inventory. The rest had been looted on the way. Women were raped, killed and their fingers cut-off for rings (Segev, p.86).

Ben Gurion, not unaware of this, recorded in his War Diary, (10 February 1948, robbing the Arabs; 1 May, complete looting of Wadi Nisnas, Haifa; 17 June, looting in Jerusalem; 15 July, the terrible question of looting and rape ...etc.). In the words of the Jewish writer, Moshe Simlansky, “The (Jewish) people were gripped by a frenzy of looting; individuals, groups, men, women and children. They descended like vultures on the spoils: doors, windows, clothes, tiles ...” (Segev p.88).

But the biggest prize was Lydda and Ramla whose 60,000 inhabitants were expelled at gunpoint. The IDF loaded 1800 trucks from Lydda alone (Segev p. 85). “An officer took his 5th Battalion to Al-Ramla for looting”- (Ben Gurion War Diary, 15 July). Ben Gurion visited the two conquered towns and was shown the spoils. He noted in his Diary on 20 July, “I saw fabulous wealth, we must save it before it is too late”. The competition among government bodies, and individual looters for the possessions of the expelled Palestinians was great. High-ranking Mapai leaders, it was claimed, received “90% of abandoned property”, (Segev, p.98).

At one point, the Custodian of Enemy Property reported he could not cope with keeping track of the plunder. He recorded in his Register at one point “45,000 houses, 7,000 shops, 500 workshops, more than 1,000 stores”. In addition, he had to attend to picking the harvest, and feeding the chicken and sheep. He also complained that “thieves and crooks” were among his staff (Segev p.87, Ben Gurion, p.628).

What could not be carried away was burnt. The burning of the crops started as early as May 1948, which was the harvest time. It was first applied to the wheat fields in the Negev (Morris 1990, p. 181). Later, the crops were harvested to compensate for Israel’s shortage of food. Economic war, in addition to the military war, was waged against the Palestinians, by cutting off food and water (Pappé, p.95).

The first step which the Israelis took after the expulsion of the Palestinians is to prevent their return. A policy was created to demolish the houses to remove the traces of the villages, poison the wells, burn the crops to prevent harvesting and shoot at sight any villager seen returning to recover some of his belongings.

Yosef Weitz, the originator of the “Transfer” policy to remove the Palestinians out of their land, began to distribute their land and property among the Jews. Under his policy, there was no place for the Palestinians in the new state. That was also Ben Gurion’s basic policy. He is quoted to have said, as late as October 1948, “The Arab of Eretz Israel (i.e. the Palestinians) - they have but one function left, to run away”, (Morris, 1990, p.89).

The destruction of the villages started first along the Tel-Aviv-Jerusalem Corridor and the Tel-Aviv-Haifa highway, then spread to Jewish concentration areas around them. Many of the Palestinian dwellings, in towns and less so in villages, were used to accommodate Jewish immigrants. Judging by the gap between the number of new immigrants and the capacity of the new housing being feverishly built for them, it is estimated that about 350,000 Jews have been so conveniently housed in the early fifties. In 1949 alone, Ben Gurion reported that 160,000 newcomers have been housed in Palestinian homes (Segev p.91).

The destruction was meant to create a new reality, i.e. to show there is no home to return to. The Israelis assumed that the farmers, who had lived there since time immemorial, can only recognize their villages by the houses, by the ancient trees, and by ravines and roads. Houses were, therefore, systematically destroyed, trees were cut, and other features levelled and ploughed over. The bulldozers came immediately in the trail of the advancing tanks.

Through a careful field survey, Falah (1996) examined the present status of Khalidi’s 418 villages (excluding towns). His results are as follows:221 (52.9%) Complete destruction. 134 (32.0%) Substantial destruction. 52 (12.5%) Partial demolition, some houses occupied by Jews. 11 (02.6%) Inaccessible villages.

Total 418 (100%)


6. War Crimes:

The Israeli actions, of waging a war of aggression on the civilian population, expulsion of inhabitants, massacres, looting and destruction of property, are all considered “War Crimes”. The liability for these crimes has no time limitation. The prosecution of responsible parties can take place whenever it is possible to do so. Under international law, the responsible parties can be official or unofficial bodies, groups or individuals anywhere.

The Charter of Nuremberg Tribunal provided the liability of the individual in planning or waging a ‘war of aggression’. Also, the UN General Assembly stated that “a war of aggression constitutes a crime against peace” (Quigley, p.213). Therefore, Jewish Agency leaders as well as Israeli leaders bear such a liability.

The Sixth Principle of the Nuremberg Charter stipulates that the following acts are punishable crimes under international law:

(a) Crimes against peace:- planning, preparation and initiation of a war of aggression. - participation in a conspiracy to do so.

(b) War Crimes:- murder, ill-treatment, killing of hostages. - plunder of public or private property. - wanton destruction of cities, towns or villages.

(c) Crimes against humanity:- murder, enslavement, deportation. - persecution on political, racial or religious grounds.

All these crimes have been committed by various Israeli bodies. The accountability is yet to come. The time of reckoning has perhaps come closer following the establishment of a permanent International Criminal Court as resolved by 120 countries (and opposed by 7 including Israel) at the Rome Conference on 17 July 1998. The Court has jurisdiction with respect to the crime of genocide (e.g. massacres, poisoning of wells), crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression. Crimes against humanity include “deportation and forcible transfer of population”. War crimes include “the transfer of the Occupying Power’s own civilian population into the territory it occupies” e.g. settlers. Rome Statute does not give immunity to any official involved in the decision-making. Under the rules of the Court, the prime minister (of Israel) down to the last soldier (or policeman responsible for torture) could be arrested while travelling abroad.


7. The Monetary Value of Seized Palestinian Property:

The Israeli seizure of Palestine is the biggest planned and organized plunder in history. Before we give it a monetary value, a word of caution is in order. The loss of a homeland and the suffering of a people defies any monetary measure. For the purpose of economic valuation, a comprehensive study was undertaken by the Palestine land expert, Hadawi (1988), assisted by the economist Kubrusi. He estimated the total value of mobile and immobile property to be £ 743.050 million, or US $ 2,994.50 million (1948 value). This figure is close to the estimate of the distinguished economist Yousef Sayigh and about half that of the Arab Higher Committee, but much higher than the estimate of the ill-fated Conciliation Commission. Adding human capital losses, the figure rises to £ 1,182.2 million. In US dollar terms (at 1£=$ 4.03 in 1948), and using the dollar inflation rate between 1948 and 1998, the total amount is $ 559.3 billion.

But this is only a portion of the compensation due according to international law. The basic principle of compensation is “to make good” as stated clearly in Resolution 194, or in general terms, “as far as possible, wipe out all the consequences of the illegal act and re-establish the situation which would, in all probability, have existed if that act had not been committed” (Quigley, p.209). This is the same principle (Wiedergutmachung) under which the German Federal Government paid the Jews DM 85 billion for Nazi crimes.

The entitlement to compensation is derived from international law dealing with war crimes and from Resolution 194 which relies on “international law or equity”. War crimes are excluded from Resolution 194 (see A/AC.25/W.81/Rev.2/annex II, p.6) since these crimes are well-regulated by international law beginning with the World War II trials and concluding now with establishment of the International Criminal Court under Rome Statute of 1998.

Compensation, other than for war crimes, can be summarized in the following categories (Hadawi and Kubursi, 1988):1. Individual material assets, such as land, property and business.2. Public material assets, such as natural resources and services.3. Individual non-material assets, such as personal and family security.4. Public non-material assets, such as identity, culture, holy places.

Most of the published research was concerned with individual material assets. Table 9 is an attempt, based on Hadawi and Kubursi, to identify the various components of compensation.

It is to be noted that monetary values estimated in Table 9, if used for compensation, should be reduced by the value of land and homes which should be restored to their owners, upon exercising the Right of Return. Homeland is not for sale.


8. The Right of Return; a Basic Right:

That a whole population was uprooted and robbed of their land and property is an unprecedented catastrophe. There is no precedent in modern history to the case of a foreign minority destroying the fabric of the indigenous majority, occupying their land and expelling them out of their homes. This crime has no equal by any standards.

The international community, which recommended the partition of Palestine, felt a deep sense of responsibility for this tragedy. Count Folke Bernadotte, the UN Mediator, 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, and, indeed, at least offer the threat of permanent replacement of the Arab refugees who had been rooted in the land for centuries.”(UN Doc A/648, 1948).

There are three aspects to the Right of Return which make it compelling and inevitable.

First, the will and determination of the Palestinians. To them, the Right of Return is sacred. In spite of being dismembered and dispersed in the four corners of the earth, they maintained a monolithic structure, based on the family and the village. They intermarry across countries on a family or a neighbourhood basis. A grandchild of a 1948 refugee identifies himself as belonging to his original village. On the national level, societies or syndicates for professions, trades, women, students, creative artists and others, representing the Palestinian people, have been functioning in many countries.

Second, the Right of Return has a solid legal basis. To begin with, neither the Balfour Declaration of 1917, the UN Partition Plan of 1947, nor Armistice Agreements of 1949, are binding on the Palestinians. They were not a party to them. None of these can grant them any new rights or deprive them of their basic rights.

In recognition of the rights of the Palestinians, the United Nations adopted Resolution 194 on December 11, 1948. Paragraph 11 states:“(The General Assembly)... resolves that 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”.This Resolution was affirmed practically every year since. It has a universal consensus. Exceptions are Israel and lately the U.S.

Some notes on this Resolution may be in order. The option of return is left to the refugees themselves. If they decide to return, they “should be permitted” to do so, not hindered or stopped. Doing so will be an act of aggression which deserves condemnation and/or action by the Security Council. The refugees should return “at the earliest practicable date”, which is the cessation of hostilities, i.e. in the period from February 1949 upon signing the Armistice Agreement with Egypt to July 1949 upon signing it with Syria. The delay of the refugees’ return from this date is a continuous violation of the Right of Return. The liability for this violation and its consequences remain with the Israelis.

Those who choose to return are also entitled to compensation for “loss of and damage to their property” whether gardens, houses, workshops, shops or personal belongings. Restitution of their land, homes and property (restoration to original owner) should be made. Thus, they have the Right of Return plus compensation. Those who do not wish to return are entitled to compensation for their land as well their other property. The short reference to the Right of Return as “return or compensation” is therefore misleading. The compensation includes the exploitation of their property for 50 years, and the anguish they have suffered for this period, in accordance with the procedures adopted in the case of Nazi victims.

The liability for compensation extends to “the governments or authorities responsible”. These include the Provisional Government of Israel in 1948, the consecutive Governments of Israel, the Jewish Agency, the Haganah, the Irgun and Stern gangs, the Jewish National Fund and others in Israel and abroad.

The Right of Return does not derive its validity merely from UN Resolutions. Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights asserts the right of every individual to leave and return to his country. The Right of Return to one’s home is so basic that it has been stated in Magna Carta (Ch. 42) in 1215. The Geneva Civilian Convention of 1949 prohibits “individual or mass forcible transfers … regardless of motive”. In the words of an authority on the subject, Mallison states that “the advantage of effective prohibition is that it would make it unnecessary to exercise the right [of return]”.

The Principle of Self Determination guarantees, inter alia, the right of ownership and domicile in one’s own country. This principle was adopted by the UN in 1947. In 1969 and thereafter, it was explicitly applied to the Palestinian People, including “the legality of the Peoples’ struggle for Self-Determination and Liberation”, (GAOR 2535 (xxiv), 2628 (xxv), 2672 (xxv), 2792 (xxvi)). Resolution 3236 adopted by UN on November 22, 1974 is “one of the most fundamental actions” taken by this international body to reaffirm “the inalienable rights of the Palestinians to return to their homes and property from which they have been displaced and uprooted and calls for their return” (para 2).

It is a principle of international law that occupation does not confer sovereignty on the land, due to the “inadmissibility of conquest”. Neither occupation, nor sovereignty diminish the right of private ownership. When the Ottomans surrendered their sovereignty to the Allies in 1920, Palestinian ownership of their land was maintained. Private ownership was also respected by the mandate government.

Thus, the land and property of the refugees, although now administered by Israel, remains their own, regardless of the applicable sovereignty and the passage of time, and they are entitled to return to it.


9. Is the Right of Return Feasible?

This is the third aspect of the Right of Return. The feasibility of the return is raised frequently by pro-Israel authors who claim that it is “neither feasible nor practical” (e.g. Peretz, 1993, p.72). He says “that Palestinian towns and villages ... have disappeared... (and) ... it would be difficult to re-establish these former sites”. He calls the villages from which the people were expelled “abandoned”, as if the inhabitants left them by their own free will.

The claim that it is not possible to “re-establish former sites” is factually erroneous. There is no land better documented than Palestine. As early as 1871, a full and detailed survey (26 sheets with 15000 names) had been prepared by the [British] Palestine Exploration Fund. In the period 1920-1947, the Survey of Palestine produced detailed maps for the whole of Palestine. After the Israeli occupation of Palestine in 1948, these very same maps, with their Arabic names erased and replaced by Hebrew names, were used by Israel. Physical changes in the critical period of 1949-1959, when Palestinian villages were destroyed and fields ploughed over, were marked over British maps. These were recorded not only by Israel, but by Britain and the U.S as well. Israel Land Administration which leases Palestinian land to Jews has complete records of every plot of land. Today, the satellite mapping system makes the comparison between old and new quite feasible.

Destroyed villages, not only live in the memory of their people and in old maps, but they are preserved in the comprehensive aerial survey conducted by the British over most of Palestine in 1945 and 1946. Photo (1) shows one of 13 occupied Palestinian towns. Photo (2) shows one of the 419 villages, depopulated by Israeli onslaught. Photo (3) shows a tribal land in Negev, one of 99 such lands. The myth that this land had been barren, uncultivated and under-populated is belied by this photograph. Hardly an acre was not cultivated. This so called “desert” was green before the Israelis came. The real desert in Negev is still desert today.

Then there is the question: where would the Palestinians return to? and what is to be done with all those multi-national immigrants who were brought to Israel?. The answer lies in examining Israel’s demography.

Demographic analysis of Israel today shows that the concentration of Jews today is largely in and around pre-1948 Jewish land and that Palestinian land is still largely empty (Abu-Sitta 1996, 1998). Israel’s 41 natural regions may be divided into 3 areas, designated A, B, C (see Table 10). Area A consists of 8 natural regions with a total area of 1,683 sq. km. (8% of Israel) in which 68% of the Jews (2,924,000 - 1994 figures) live. This area is almost the same area in which Jews lived in pre-1948 Palestine.

Area B consists of 5 natural regions with a total area of 1,318 sq. km. (7% of Israel) in which 10% of the Jews and 20% of the Palestinians in Israel live. This mixed area is almost the same in area as the land of the Palestinians remaining in Israel. Thus 78% of the Jews in Israel live in 15% of Israel.

The remaining part, Area C, has a total area of 17,325 sq. km. and is essentially the land of Palestinian refugees. Apart from a few urban centres (mostly Palestinian towns originally) in which urban Jews live, only 154,000 rural Jews control and exploit this vast Palestinian land.

Contrary to Israeli claims, the return of the refugees will not cause mass dislocation of Jewish immigrants, although they have no right to seize Palestinian property in the first place. The return, however, may initiate voluntary relocation of some of the 154,000 rural Jews.

To test the impact of the phasing of the refugees’ return, we shall examine two important scenarios. The first is the return of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. This is most pressing because of their bad working and living conditions and the political constraints under which they live. The second is the return of the Palestinian refugees in Gaza. Almost one million people are crammed in 360 sq. km. with no identity, employment or future. They are often described as the political dynamite of the Middle East. Although the entire issue of the refugees must be resolved, these two explosive situations must be addressed without delay.

Section (1) of Table 10 shows the classification of the areas in the part of Palestine that became Israel in 1948. Section (2) shows the demographic distribution of the same area half a century later. The concentration of Jews today is remarkably similar to the 1948 distribution. It is shown that only 154,000 rural Jews live in the land of the expelled refugees (Area C). Total population density in Israel in Area C is 82 persons/sq. km., which is 4% of the density at the centre of the country. Although the Jews represent 90% of the population at the centre, they are only two-thirds in areas B, C. This two-thirds majority is largely due to the expulsion of the Palestinians.

If Lebanon refugees return to their homes in Galilee and elsewhere (Section (3) of Table10), the impact is hardly felt by the Israelis (Jews and Palestinians alike). The density of the whole new population increases by only 1% in Area A, 6% in B, and by 17% in Area C to which most of the refugees would return. The much-tooted concern for Jewish majority is not warranted. They remain above 50% where they are least in number. The Jews who may barely feel the effect of the return are the rural Jews (Kibbutz and Moshav) who count only 76,000. Of course, the urban Jews (71% of Jews) will continue to live and flourish in towns. Ninety percent of them live in just 9 towns, 3 of which are Palestinian (Acre, Tiberias, Shafa Amr).

While Lebanon refugees could return to a largely Arab territory, with minimum effect on the Jews, the Gaza refugees would return to almost totally empty land. Today, the rural Jews who exploit their land are spread at a density of 6 persons/sq. km., or close to one-thousandth of the density in Gaza. There are barely 79,000 rural Jews in the southern half of Israel. In addition, there are 553,000 urban Jews, two-thirds of whom live in 3 Palestinian towns (Beer Sheba, Ashdod and Majdal-Ashqelon) and another 24% live in 3 new towns. These urban Jews are engaged in industry, education and services. The return of the refugees would be of benefit to those Jews and vice versa, and as such, it is a positive element. As shown in Section (4) of Table 10, after the return of Gaza refugees, the density of the total population in Israel would increase by only 6% in Area A, 5% in B and 32% in Area C to which the refugees return. Once again as in the case of Lebanon refugees, the Jews will still be over 50% in Area C where they are least in number.

In spite of the much-tooted proclamation of turning the desert green, the present population is much less than the capacity of the area (Efrat 1988, p.182) and the present cultivated area, largely irrigated, is a fraction of the area cultivated before 1948 by the Palestinians. The Israelis concentrate in half a dozen towns (half in Beer Sheba alone) leaving 32,000 Jews control 14,320,000 donums (Efrat 1988, p.182).

It is significant to observe that the returning Gaza refugees are less in number than the Russian immigrants freely admitted to Israel in this decade. While it is clear that the admission of the Russians is a cause of tension in Israel itself, an obstacle to peace in the region, and a probable cause of a new war (Abu-Sitta 1998), the return of the Gaza refugees will bring peace and stability to the Middle East. This point is not lost on friends and foes alike.

If the Right of Return is implemented and the Palestinians return to their homes , hardly any infringement on the Jews’ Lebensraum (living space) would occur. The Palestinians, mostly farmers, would return to their fields which they had tilled for centuries. Their efforts would compensate for the drop in Israel’s agricultural production from 11% of GNP (1950) to only 3.5% (1993). This will continue to drop as the rural areas continue to suffer a desertion of Israelis, especially in the south, in favour of towns. Already the farmers in Gaza, in spite of being deprived of economic support and of water supply, produced superior agricultural products to that of Israel. Israelis are frequently accused of destroying their export products at the border point, by obstruction or ill-will.

When peace prevails, the historical link between Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, severed by the Israeli invasion of Negev, shall then be restored. With the projected economic cooperation, the southern tip of Negev, the meeting point of 4 countries at the Gulf of Aqaba, may develop into an important commercial and recreational area.

The return of the refugees from Lebanon to their homes in Galilee would restore their link with their kith and kin in the West Bank. Separated families would unite again. The historical continuity between Jordan and Lebanon through the West Bank and Galilee, would be restored. No doubt peace would then be restored to Lebanon’s south and Israel’s north. Such an important dividend cannot easily be dismissed.

While it is the right of the Palestinians to recover their land and homes from the Jews, their repatriation in this manner would minimize the existing population’s dislocation. The transition would be practical and reasonable. The severed link between the Arab east and west, undoubtedly one of the important reasons for continued wars, would be restored.

The Palestinians dispossession cannot be realistically tolerated or continue to be ignored with any degree of realism. As the satellite photo (photo 4) shows, Gaza Strip is packed with refugees (2500 persons/km2, or 4,200 persons/km2, if net area is used) while the refugees see, across the barbed wire, their land to the east, in which only 6 persons/km2 live. This striking contrast in demography is the root cause of the conflict.


10. The Status of Palestinian Land in Israel:

Soon after the Israeli invasion, a series of laws have been passed to organize the seizure and use of Palestinian property. The “Absentees’ Property Law” of March 1950 transferred the right of the natural owner to a Custodian of Absentee Property and made him liable to the real owner for the value, but not the return, of his property (Lehn, p.131). The Palestinians who remained in Israel, especially in the Negev, were relocated away from their homes and declared “Absentee”.

The “Development Authority (Transfer of Property) Law” of July 1950 was devised, as a legal ploy, to shield Israel’s government from the accusation that it has confiscated “abandoned” property. The Development Authority is an independent body empowered to sell, buy, lease, exchange, repair, build, develop and cultivate Palestinian property. None of these transactions could take place except with a Jew or a Jewish entity. To give effect to this seizure, various Jewish bodies agreed that “under no circumstances should the Arabs return to Israel”.

In the first ten years of occupation (1950-1960), a legal quarrel ensued between the Jewish National Fund (JNF) and the just-formed Israeli government. JNF had been purchasing land in the Mandate period in the name of “the Jewish People”. Israel’s government seized the Palestinian land and intended to acquire title to it in the name of the state in recognition of “the triumph of the Haganah and the flight of the Arabs” (Lehn p.108). The JNF maintained that such land should be turned over to the Jewish people, not the state, since the latter, given the prevailing political and demographic conditions, cannot give adequate guarantee of lasting Jewish ownership.

The dispute was settled by formulating, on 25 July 1960, the laws: Basic Law: Israel-Lands, Israel-Lands Law and Israel-Lands Administration Law, that is, Israel government, not the Jewish people. The JNF rules, of restricting transactions to Jews only, have been adopted by the state. Palestinian lands, whether acquired by JNF or seized by the state, would be administered by a single authority, Israel Land Administration (ILA), for the benefit of both parties under the old JNF rules.

The JNF was allowed, however, to increase its pre-Mandate holdings by “purchasing” land seized by the state. The position of land “title” in 1961 is as follows (ILA Report, Jerusalem 1962, in Hebrew, quoted by Lehn p.114):

State and Development Authority 15,205,000 dJNF (pre Mandate + “purchase” from the state) 3,507,000 d18,775,000 dPrivate 1,548,000 d20,323,000 d.

Thus, ILA administers 92.6% of Israel, which is Palestinian property. With few exceptions, these lands are leased to Jewish tenants. None of these tenants has title to the leased land. The lease term is 49 years, expiring in 1998, a convenient date for the return of the refugees.

With failure and bankruptcy of the Kibbutz movement, ardent Zionists like A. Sharon and R. Eitan introduced ordinances in 1997 to “sell” Palestinian land, now rented by Kibbutz, to builders and Jews anywhere in the world, whether Israelis or not, to dispose of Palestinian property and build more housing for new immigrants. The Kibbutz farmers were given “compensation”, which made them rich overnight. This “Great Israel Land Grab”, in the words of Ha’aretz, poses a great danger to the refugees (Abu-Sitta, 1998). On 16 September 1998, The Arab League passed a resolution to urge the UN to send a fact-finding mission and appoint a Custodian of Palestinian property in Israel.


11. The Israeli Position:

Since the Israeli invasion and the declaration of the state in 1948, Israel attempted to prevent the return of the refugees by every means possible, including shooting the returnees as “infiltrators”. Israel thwarted the efforts of CCP to facilitate the return of the refugees. Ben Gurion engineered the tripartite campaign against Egypt in 1956 in the hope of altering irrevocably the status of the Armistice line, giving it a mark of permanency. He proposed several schemes to relocate the Palestinian refugees in Sinai, Jordan and even Iraq. All such schemes have failed.

The Israelis claim the right of occupation, since they were in a state of self defence against the “Arab Invasion”. They also claim that the refugees had left on Arab orders, not by Israeli force. They also claim that it is difficult now to find the boundaries of the village lands, as so much has been altered. Much of this study has been devoted to show, using Israeli sources, that these claims are sheer fabrication.

The Israeli legal argument against the Right of Return is the following. Under international law, this Right applies to refugees returning to the country of which they are (now) citizens. Palestinians are not Israeli citizens, (Peretz, p.70, Lapidoth cited by Quigley, p.210). But the fact that Israel established a new state in Palestine and created its own citizens does not negate the Right of Return. If a robber breaks into a home, expel its occupants, and changes the name-plate on the door, this does not make him the rightful owner of the house or entitle him to prevent the return of this rightful owner. Expulsion of a people does not deprive them of their citizenship or their right to return.

Peretz (p.73) further states that “well-informed Palestinians are aware that conditions have so changed ... that an actual return is no longer possible”. He claims that they envisage a return to a small enclave, or to the West Bank or Gaza or be satisfied with a token return (Lam Shaml). It is difficult to confirm that such statements were made on any significant scale. There is no evidence that such are the views of those “well-informed Palestinians”. The opposite view is widely held.

If peace is to prevail, “the inalienable Palestinian Rights” must be restored. It is impossible to envisage otherwise. A state which violates rights is required under international law to restore the situation as it was before the illegal act.

The Israelis claim that, if the refugees return, Israel would lose its Jewish character. There is no place, or a future, in the civilized world for a state that is based on such exclusivity. Israel must choose between being a Jewish or a democratic state. It cannot claim to be both. In the words of a noted jurist, “The Jewish character is really a euphemism for the Zionist discriminatory statutes of the State of Israel which violate the human rights provisions… The UN is under no more of a legal obligation to maintain Zionism in Israel than it is to maintain apartheid in the Republic of South Africa” (Mallison p. 134).

The Palestinians have no obligation to the Israelis to lose their homes and identity and continue to suffer in the diaspora, in order to provide the Jews a second home. The last 50 years showed clearly that it is the Palestinians who have no home except in Palestine, while only 4 million Jews out of 16, chose to live in Israel voluntarily. Even those are in a state of flux; many of those who came to Israel soon left to more attractive countries. On the contrary, the Israelis have an obligation to the Palestinians, which must be fulfilled, to account for their dispossession and the crimes committed against them. The Right of Return to the Palestinians is a dire necessity. To the Jews, it is an option, a luxury.

Israel will be forced, by circumstance if not by choice, to turn itself into a democratic state. That is the only future it has. Even internally, the Israeli Palestinians are now 25% of the Israeli Jews. The percentage of those under 20 is 45%. Historically, it is very difficult to deny the rights of such an important minority. The Jews in Israel represent such a wide range of religious, geographical, cultural and economic variety that it is impossible to think of a distinct ‘Jewish character’.

To prevent the return of the refugees in order to maintain the Jewish purity of Israelis is immoral, illegal and simply impractical.

Israel also tries to link the issue of the refugees’ return, mainly in terms of compensation, to the question of the Sephardic Jews who left Iraq, Maghreb and Yemen after the 1948 war. Their claims of compensation are calculated to dwarf any possible Palestinian claims.

The two issues are totally unrelated. First, the Right of Return is an inalienable right recognized and confirmed repeatedly by the international community, through innumerable resolutions. There is no such recognition for the other case. Second, the claims of Sephardic Jews should be addressed to the countries of their former residence, Arab and non-Arab. The Palestinians have nothing to do with it. Third, the Right of Return and compensation is demanded from Israel, not from any Arab country. Therefore, offsetting claims does not arise. Fourth, the Israelis arranged the transfer of the Sephardic Jews, after the Israeli invasion was completed, in order to populate the very towns and villages from which Palestinians were expelled, as Ben Gurion admits (Segev, p.91). As such, these new immigrants are beneficiaries of the Palestinian dispossession. Hence they should pay compensation, not receive it. Frequently, Israeli agents bombed Jewish homes to scare them off. Those Jews abandoned their Arab citizenship voluntarily. Others had foreign passports. Those who wish to return are free to apply to the countries of their former residence.


12. Resettlement Schemes:

Armed with convenient myths, pro-Israeli schemes have been advanced in order to get rid of the “refugee problem” forever. These schemes are based on the following assumptions. The Palestinians are not a people, they are a community of Arabs. They have no country called Palestine. They immigrated to that place recently. They have no roots (mostly nomads); they do not have strong ties to the land (as Jews do). They are backward and they did not fight well, so they do not deserve the country anyway. Accordingly their ‘Transfer’ to other places does not constitute a human or material loss. The Jews, however, are a people-being-reconstituted and they must be brought from the far corners of the world to cement a new (or renewed) identity. They are ‘civilised’ and can develop the land more efficiently. A natural corollary of this is that the dismemberment and the ‘end’ of the Palestinian people is perfectly acceptable and their replacement by Jewish immigrants to create a new people is a miraculous act of God and a victory for civilization. This zero sum equation is the root of all evil in this conflict.

As Masalha (1992, 1997) clearly demonstrated, the origin of the idea of resettlement lies in the Zionist policy of ‘Transfer’ (expulsion). After 1948, Western schemes, for example by Thicknesse (1949), have been suggested to resettle refugees in Syria and Iraq (Lebanon was not suggested), possibly with UNRWA as an instrument. After 1967, pro-Israeli authors proposed a plethora of resettlement schemes. Peretz (1993), who writes frequently on the subject, endorses solutions which allow a limited return of the refugees to a toothless state, not to their homes. He also considers limited compensation for lost property to be offset against the unrelated and exaggerated claims of Jews who left Arab countries to settle on Palestinian land. Heller (1983) also proposes resettlement elsewhere and a limited return (for 1980, 750,000 out of eligible 2,700,000), again to a nominal state, not to their homes.

Zureik (1996) presented a comprehensive review of these resettlement plans and other refugee issues. He describes in particular the semi-official Israeli suggestion by Shlomo Gazit. Gazit insists on the ‘finality’ of the solution, the “renunciation” of the Right of Return, dismantling of UNRWA and abolishing the special status of refugees. As a reward, Gazit wants Israel to issue a “moral-psychological acknowledgement” recognizing the suffering of the Palestinians in the last fifty years. To avoid the notion of Israel’s responsibility, this acknowledgement would come as part of a UN resolution abolishing the Right of Return enshrined in Resolution 194, para 11.

More recently, there has been resurgence of proposals for the transfer and resettlement of refugees. Proposals have been circulated under the guise of intellectual seminars and packaged by pro-Israeli western institutes to conceal their real aim: to continue the expulsion of the Palestinians and replace them by fresh Jewish immigrants.

Arzt, in a much publicised report, suggests the permanent dispersal of the Palestinians by their resettlement wherever they are (with cosmetic adjustments), or anywhere they wish, except their homes. Arzt’s report suggests a ‘final solution’ to the Palestinians. The report contains errors of fact and builds on them. In her permanent ‘Transfer’ plan, Table 4.1, p.88, Arzt quotes US Bureau estimates for the year 2005, cited in Peretz, p.16, which exclude Palestinians in Europe and the Americas. Yet Arzt conveniently halves the figure of “other Mideast States” to include “non-Mideast States”. Arzt’s table for 1995 is equally doctored. Furthermore, her tables for total Palestinians underestimate the figure by about one million (1995 estimate: 7,025,000 min-7,590,000 max.). The substance of Arzt’s plan is to resettle the refugees mostly wherever they are, with a new transfer for 1,800,000, half of them to Europe and the Americas and the other half to the West Bank. Most of the latter are ‘Displaced Persons’ anyway. They would normally have returned had Israel not kept the West Bank under occupation against the will of the international community. Half of Gaza refugees will have to endure another transfer somewhere else while a negligible number will return to their homes in Israel if they satisfy strict rules already in operation since 1950. The new twist for this sour wine in the same cracked bottles is that the Palestinians will maintain their link as a people by holding some kind of Palestinian identity papers provided that they drop their claim to their land. Upon such event, Israel will retain their land legally. As an act of generosity, Israel will allow back, after rigorous vetting and within a limited period, a total of 75,000. Translated to 1948 figures, this means 8,000 original refugees, a fraction of the 300,000 figure proposed by Truman in 1949 as a price for admitting Israel into the UN. (Israel was finally admitted to the UN upon the promise made by Sharret to allow the return of 100,000, a promise he never fulfilled.)

Recently, a Palestinian writer and an ex-Mossad officer, in a joint proposal (Ha’aretz, ‘Inching up a treacherous slope’, 9 September 1998) picked up the thread by suggesting a trade-off between paper acknowledgement of Israeli guilt and the admission by the Palestinians that the implementation of the Right of Return is “impossible”. This lone view has no echo among the refugees. (See my rebuttal, ‘The Mountain to Climb’, Al-Ahram Weekly, No. 402, 5-11 Nov 1998).

Needless to say, all the resettlement schemes have utterly failed, because they deny a people the most natural right, to return home. In spite of major wars, suffering and much disappointment, the last fifty years have shown that the Palestinians insist on returning home. Instead of harping on worn out ideas, it is time to face this reality and look afresh at new, natural and permanent solutions.


13. Practical Steps for the Return of the Refugees:

It is now clear that all seized Palestinian land is leased to Jews. Its legal “title” is still held by the Palestinians themselves. There is no Jew who can produce a valid title to a Palestinian plot of land. Israel’s legal network of Development Authority, ILA etc. is for convenience only. Israel does not, could not, have the title to Palestinian land, which is held by the individual Palestinian owners. The only pretext for Israel to continue to administer and use these lands is to prevent the return of the refugees, which it has successfully done so far.

This legal set-up happens to be very convenient for the return of the refugees. There shall be no occasion for thousands of court cases, which would have been the case had the dispute been between Jewish and Palestinian individual owners. A single agreement with the Development Authority, and its employer, the Custodian for the Absentee Property for the restoration of the property would be sufficient. The expiry date of lease terms in 1998 should be a convenient date for this agreement.

Apart from the ample documentation of Palestinian property already mentioned, ILA has a wealth of information about such property, which enables it to administer the smallest plot of land.

In order to protect the refugees’ rights, it is suggested to form a Palestine Land Society (Abu-Sitta 1998). The PLS functions shall be:

- to represent property rights of the Palestinians everywhere including those in Israel.- to document, recover, protect, maintain and develop Palestinian land.- PLS acts as custodian for all Palestinian property until the individual owners are identified and handed over their property. No land is handed over to a non-Palestinian.- PLS is non-political and cooperates with PLO, PNA, UN and various governments and bodies.- PLS general assembly has 1,500 elected members representing about 500 depopulated villages and towns.- PLS term is indefinite.

Formation of the PLS is absolutely necessary. Already, the Jews have the Jewish National Fund (1906), WOJAC (1997) for Jewish property in Arab countries and WJRO (1992) which retrieved Jewish property and assets from Europe.

The return of the refugees should be collectively arranged in units of villages, much the same way as their expulsion. A typical village consists of 4-5 large families. Remarkably, they still maintain their cohesion intact. The village lands may be handed over to PLS, representing the villagers, who own shares in this society, pending the resolution of the final value of these shares, representing the individual property, which may take some time.

UNRWA shall continue to function, not to be disbanded or turned over to another party, until all refugees return, at which time, it shall turn into a development organization, under UNDP, to assist the returning refugees into sorting out their shattered lives.

The whole return operation should be conducted under the auspices of the UN Conciliation Commission of Palestine. CCP shall be the Custodian for the refugees rights and shall ensure their welfare and safety after return.

The refugees do not consider the sovereignty of the state of Israel, in itself, a problem in realising their Right of Return. They are however entitled to retain their Palestinian Identity, regardless of any acquired citizenship, including Israeli, at present or in the future. The Palestinian Identity is their inalienable birthright, and must not be denied by Israel. In all other respects, they should have all the usual rights of a citizen in any democratic state.


14. Summary and Conclusions:

The Palestinian Holocaust is unsurpassed in history. For a country to be occupied, emptied of its people, its physical and cultural landmarks obliterated, its destruction hailed as a miraculous act of God, all done according to a premeditated plan, meticulously executed, internationally supported, and still maintained today, is no doubt the ugliest crime of modern times.

Myths were floated to make this extraordinary event explainable, especially to the West, which supplies Israel with money, arms and political support. For decades, the West has been fed on the myths that the refugees left on Arab orders, that the Arab Goliath attacked little Israel in superior numbers to throw the Jews into the sea from where they came, and that Israel was in a state of self-defence. The corollary is that Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land is legitimate and that Israel is not responsible for the “refugee problem”; it is the Arabs who are responsible for their plight, hence for their settlement in their countries. Even if the refugees have the right to return, the former sites are lost and it will not be feasible to effect their return.

Released documents and new research strip these myths from any credibility they may have had. It is demonstrated that the Palestinians did not leave on Arab orders. They were expelled or removed from their villages and towns by force. As shown, 89% left due to direct Israeli military assaults, 10% left due to psychological war and the remaining 1% left on their own initiative.

Whether the military action was direct expulsion or an onslaught, whether the psychological campaign was conducted by “whispering” or loudspeaker vans, is immaterial. The perpetrator, and the beneficiary, of all these actions was their enemy, who wanted the land without its people.

The remarkable fact is that the Palestinians have left, or been removed, only during the fighting when forced to do so. When there was a lull in the fighting, however short, hardly anybody left. The exodus was therefore concurrent with and resultant from Israeli military operations.

About 65% of the Palestinians became refugees mostly before the assorted Arab forces came to their rescue. Barely 27 days after the entry of the Arab forces, the Israelis depopulated 59% of the villages. The fate of Palestine was already sealed.

On 14 May 1948, the state of Israel was declared on 11% of Palestine. Pointedly, no borders for the state were announced. In the words of Morris, (1987, p.3), by July, it was clear that “Israel has won its war for survival, at least in the short term, and that subsequent IDF offensives were geared to securing the political-military future of the Jewish state”. This required occupation of more Palestinian land. The pretence of “defence” has given way to naked expansion, resulting in occupying 78% of Palestine, before signing the 1949 Armistice Agreements.

Side by side with the military and psychological wars, a series of massacres, which had become a regular pattern and an effective war weapon, hastened the flight of the reluctant population, who were given a graphic display of the grim future awaiting them if they remained. The war crimes which had been committed are yet to be tried and the responsible people brought to justice.

Thus the “refugee problem” was created. Today, close to five million refugees are dispossessed of their land and identity. For 50 years, they have suffered great injustice which must be remedied. Paramount among the remedies for this injustice is the Right of Return. Unquestionably, it has irrefutable and solid legal basis. It is also an indestructible core of the Palestinian psyche. To them, it is sacred.

In practical terms, the return of the refugees has been shown to be feasible. First, it is shown that there is no difficulty in locating “former sites”. Second, the sparsely populated area of Israel, (85%), can accommodate 20% of the Jews (of which 17% live in a few towns), the present and the returning Palestinians. The resulting density would be half that of the West Bank and one-seventh of the present Gaza Strip.

Rural Israel, the traditional home of 4,942,000 Palestinian refugees, is practically empty. Only 154,000 Jews control 17,445,852 donums. Of these, only 32,000 Jews live in the southern district and control 14,320,000 d. The refugees, mostly fellahin (farmers), can recultivate their fields as they have done for centuries. This will compensate for the drop in Israel’s agricultural production to only 3.5% of GNP and for the desertion of Jewish immigrants from rural to urban areas.

As the Kibbutz became bankrupt and their ideology faded, there are voices in Israel calling for Palestinian farmers (living in Israel) to come to the rescue. Reiner wrote in Ha’aretz (September 23, 1998): “Perhaps we can get along with Arab Farmers … The return of the Jews to their ancestral land seems to be an advent of lasting duration. But the idea of Jews working the land? Apparently, that is a passing historical aberration”.

Since a typical village is a monolithic unit of 4-5 large families, the return of the villagers to their village land will not constitute a social or logistical problem. The villagers, through the proposed Palestine Land Society, may collectively hold title to the village land through shares, whose value may be determined later.

The return will not constitute a legal problem, as well. All Palestinian lands are leased to Jews; generally no Jew holds title to a Palestinian land. The term for most leases expire in 1998, a convenient date for the refugees return. All Palestinian lands are held in custody; a single transfer of custody to a new Palestine Land Society should be straightforward.

The returning refugees may be under the sovereignty of Israel. They may acquire Israeli or other citizenship, but they shall always maintain their Palestinian Identity. They must enjoy full and equal rights without discrimination or oppression.

UNRWA shall continue to function until all refugees return and settle, then turn into a UNDP organization. The whole process shall take place under the auspices of CCP, which shall be the Custodian for the refugees’ rights and welfare.

Far fetched? Far from it. Whatever we think of them, the Peace Accords which have been signed gave rise to new facts. Some of these are: the Palestinians will not just disappear as the Zionists had hoped; and traditional Zionism is obsolete. Zionism (the Labour Party brand) now projects itself as an economic force that promises prosperity for all, instead of a military machine which destroys all. (Incidentally, this is the same thesis which Weizmann had preached to the Arabs seventy years ago). Israelis now are split into 3 streams: the fanatic religious Zionism, which has fuelled the drive to transport Jews into Palestine, secular Zionism which used the former for its own ends and now suffers from it; and the military establishment which was elevated to mythical heights and is now unemployed. There are several separate ethnic streams as well, with no hope of becoming a monolithic unit. It is not clear which one will prevail but it is hoped that the fanatic adherents of “Greater Israel” will not lead. There is no future in this world for determinism, whether dictated by the monopoly on military supremacy or by the monopoly on God’s favours.

It is said that the return of the Palestinians would dilute Israel’s Jewish purity. There is only one way for Israel to end the strife which devastated the lives of millions and to gain permanently for itself the much-desired “security”. It is to be and remain democratic. This is the equilibrium state of its existence.

On 25 November 1995, the protracted Bosnian conflict resulted in a settlement which called for “the return of refugees”. This is a case of three indigenous peoples of the same country agreeing to the return of refugees. In Palestine, the indigenous Palestinians were replaced by newcomers from overseas. Here, the return of the refugees is even more compelling.

Not only is the acceptance and implementation of the Right of Return the responsibility of Israel; it is also the responsibility of the international community, particularly the West. The UN has given Israel the legal pretext, however flimsy, for the partitioning of Palestine and creation Israel, and has, through UNRWA, provided meagre means of survival for the refugees. In the 1991 Gulf War and the Bosnian conflict, the international community exercised its duty to use all means to implement the Right of Return to the expelled refugees. It should do so again.

For real and lasting peace to prevail, the Right of Return must be implemented. The illusion that the military supremacy and violation of all norms of human rights, which have prevailed during the last 50 years, can continue and gain permanence is dangerous and costly.

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