Understanding the Middle East: The Issue of Arab Refugees and the Right of Return

By Carol Rushton

One of the problems pro-Arab apologists insist must be solved before there can be peace in the Middle East between Israel and her neighbors is the issue of Arab refugees from Israel. Arabs fled Israel right before and during the 1948 War of Independence to escape the mayhem and chaos of war in order to save their lives and now should be allowed to return to their homes and properties in Israel. Of course, some fled Israel because the evil Jews forced them to leave so they could defraud the Arabs from their homes and properties. These refugees, including their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, should not only be allowed to return to Israel, they deserve reparations as well.

Yes, there are Arab refugees from Israel. However, Israel is not responsible for these Arabs fleeing Israel.

When the U.N. presented their partition plan to create two countries, one Jewish state and one Arab state side by side out of the region now known as Israel, the Jews accepted the partition plan. The Arabs did not. The decision to reject the partition was the Arabs’ decision, not the Jews. The Jews are not responsible for the Arabs’ rejection of the U.N. partition plan.

After rejecting the U.N. partition plan, the surrounding Arab nations started preparing for war to eliminate the fledgling Jewish nation from the Middle East before it had a chance to begin. They urged Arabs in the region now known as Israel to leave, promising it would only be for a short time. These stupid Jews would be overwhelmed by the Arabs’ military superiority, the war – if you could call it that – would be over in about three days, and the Arabs could return to their homes in a country free of Jews. This is backed up not just be Jews but by the Arabs themselves.

Iraq’s Prime Minister Nuri Said boasted, “We will smash the country with our guns and obliterate every place the Jews seek shelter in. The Arabs should conduct their wives and children to safe areas until the fighting has died down.”

Filastin, a Jordanian newspaper, acknowledged on February 19, 1949, “The Arab States encouraged the Palestine Arabs to leave their homes temporarily in order to be out of the way of the Arab invasion armies.”

In his book, The Arabs, Edward Atiyah, the Secretary of the Arab League Office in London, wrote, “This wholesale exodus was due partly to the belief of the Arabs, encouraged by the boastings of an unrealistic Arabic press and the irresponsible utterances of some of the Arab leaders that it could be only a matter of weeks before the Jews were defeated by the armies of the Arab States and the Palestinian Arabs enabled to reenter and retake possession of their country.”

Haled al Azm, Syria’s prime minister in 1948 to 1949, revealed the truth in his memoirs. “Since 1948 we have been demanding the return of the refugees to their homes. But we ourselves are the ones who encouraged them to leave. Only a few months separated our call to them to leave and our appeal to the United Nations to resolve on their return.”

Monsignor George Hakim, a Greek Orthodox Catholic Bishop in Galilee, gave an interview in August 1948 to Sada alJanub, a Beirut newspaper in which he said, “The [Arab] refugees were confident their absence would not last long, and that they would return within a week or two. Their leaders had promised them that the Arab Armies would crush the ‘Zionist gangs’ very quickly and that there was no need for panic or fear or a long exile.”

The above quotes are from the Jewish Virtual Library but for those who think this may be a biased source, I will also present more recent examples from Palestinian Media Watch, a conservative group that monitors Arab media outlets. On its website, Palestinian Media Watch carries a 2009 video interview that was first broadcast by Palestinian Authority television. In the interview, an Arab man explains why Arabs left Israel in 1947-1948 (http://www.palwatch.org/main.aspx?fi=567).

This picture was taken a week before we left Ein-Kerem (near Jerusalem) in June 1948, in front of our house. The radio stations of the Arab regimes kept repeating to us: ‘Get away from the battle lines. It’s a matter of ten days or two weeks at the most, and we’ll bring you back to Ein-Kerem.’ And we said to ourselves, ‘That’s a very long time, What is this? Two weeks? That’s a lot!’ That’s what we thought [then]. And now 50 years have gone by.” [PA TV (Fatah), July 7, 2009]

Palestinian Media Watch reported an even more recent news article from the Arab newspaper Al-Quds, May 18, 2016. Ali Karake used to live in Allar, a small village outside Jerusalem, and he recounted what happened in 1948.

When news reached us that the Zionist gangs were nearing the village of Allar, the leadership of the Arab army came to the village and asked the residents to leave so that additional massacres would not take place.” Karake added in an ironic tone: “The Arab Army requested that we not go very far from the village, as the Zionist gangs would make a short visit and leave, and they (i.e., the Arab Army) would let us go back. However, that short visit has continued until today.”

Palestinian Authority TV interviewed another Arab refugee who lives in the Qalandiya refugee camp located in Judaea and Samaria in PLO-controlled territory and broadcast the interview on May 15, 2013. This refugee remembers what happened to him and his family in 1948.

I left when I was 20 years old. We left, I mean, the one who made us leave was the Jordanian army because there were going to be battles and we would be defeated. They told us: ‘Leave. In 2 hours we liberate it and then you will return.’ We left only with our clothes, we didn’t take anything because we were supposed to return in 2 hours. Why carry anything? We’re still waiting for those 2 hours to this day.”

Palestinian Media Watch has many more stories of Israeli Arabs being told by Arab armies to leave for a short time so they could defeat the Zionist enemy and then return to their homes. You can find these on the same webpage, http://www.palwatch.org/main.aspx?fi=567.

On April 22, 1948, Aubrey Lippincott, the U.S. Consul General in Haifa at that time documented that “local mufti-dominated Arab Leaders [urged] all Arabs to leave the city, and large numbers did so.”

The Economist magazine, hardly a pro-Israel publication, supported Lippincott’s assessment in an article on October 2, 1948. “Of the 62,000 Arabs who formerly lived in Haifa not more than 5,000 or 6,000 remained. Various factors influenced their decision to seek safety in flight. There is but little doubt that the most potent of the factors were the announcements made over the air by the Higher Arab Executive, urging the Arabs to quit. . .It was clearly intimated that those Arabs who remained in Haifa and accepted Jewish protection would be regarded as renegades.”

Jews begged the Arabs not to leave. On October 2, 1947, the Assembly of Palestine Jewry published this public appeal to Arabs. “We will do everything in our power to maintain peace, and establish a cooperation gainful to both [Jews and Arabs]. It is now, here and now, from Jerusalem itself, that a call must go out to the Arab nations to join forces with Jewry and the destined Jewish State and work shoulder to shoulder for our common good, for the peace and progress of sovereign equals.”

The Arab countries to which Israeli Arabs fled in 1947-1949 have, for the most part, kept these refugees in camps in which the conditions are beyond deplorable. Most of the refugees are not allowed to become citizens in these countries. Their education opportunities are sub-par, as are their employment prospects.

For example, Saudi Arabia refused to hire some of these refuges to ease their labor shortage in the 1970s and 1980s, employing Asians instead. During the first Gulf War in the early 1990s, Kuwait actually kicked out 300,000 of these refugees, citing them as a “security threat.”

Why? If the Arab countries actually absorbed these refugees and allowed them to become citizens, the refugees would no longer be an issue. They could not be used as a political football with which to bash Israel and engender sympathy for the “Palestinian” cause.

Don’t believe me? Maybe you will believe a United Nations Relief and Works Agency official. Sir Alexander Galloway’s blunt assessment of the Arabs’ treatment of those in the refugee camps is just as relevant now as it was in 1952. “The Arab States do not want to solve the refugee problem. They want to keep it as an open sore, as an affront to the United Nations and as a weapon against Israel. Arab leaders don’t give a damn whether the refugees live or die” (emphasis mine).

As for the right of return, there is no way that at this point Israel could ever agree to allow these refugees and their descendants to come to Israel. In 1947, the Arab population in Israel was a little over 800,000. A 1949 Israeli government census discovered that the Arab population in the country had fallen to160,000. According to the Jewish Virtual Library, that means about 650,000 Arabs fled Israel from 1947 to 1949. The combined population of all the Arab refugee camps is now in the millions.

If all these Arabs were allowed to come or come back to Israel, they would overrun the country and change the balance of the population from a Jewish state to an Arab state overnight. It would be national suicide for Israel to try to absorb all these Arabs, and the Arabs know it. They admitted as much in another Arab publication, Al-Misri, on October 11, 1949. “It is well-known and understood that the Arabs, in demanding the return of the refugees to Palestine, mean their return as masters of the Homeland and not as slaves. With a greater clarity, they mean the liquidation of the State of Israel.”

The Jewish Virtual Library makes a great point. “Had the Arabs accepted the 1947 UN resolution, not a single Palestinian would have become a refugee and an independent Arab state would now exist beside Israel.”

For more detailed information on the Arab refugee issue please visit the Jewish Virtual Library, http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/history-and-overview-of-the-palestinian-refugees.