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Critical Analysis Of The Birth Of The Palestinian Refugee Problem By Benny Morris
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Posted on September 9, 2001

The Below article was directly quoted from Righteous Victims
By Benny Morris p. 252-258


Galilee October 1948, Ethnically Cleansed Palestinians on their way to Lebanon

We do not expect every Palestinian or Zionist to agree with everything the revisionist Israeli historian, Benny Morris, has written. However, it should be NOTED that his conclusions were based on declassified Zionist and Haganah archives. It is CRITICAL to digest this article in an open mind (especially if you are a Palestinian), even if you disagree with some of what has been written.

Introduction

Beside the emergence of the State of Israel, the other major result of the 1948 war was the destruction of the Palestinian society and the birth of the refugee problem. About 700,000 [Palestinian] Arabs --the figure was later to be a major point of dispute, the Israelis officially speaking of some 520,000, the Palestinian themselves of 900,000-1,000,000--fled or were ejected from the areas that became the Jewish State and resettled in the territories that became known as the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as Transjordan, Syria, and Lebanon, with additional small communities in Egypt, Iraq, and the states of the Arabian Peninsula. The war's end found less than half of the Palestinians in their original homes--fewer then 150,000 in Israel, some 400,000 in the West Bank, and 60,000 in the Gaza Strip.

Why Palestinians Left Their Homes?

Why 700,000 people became refugees was subsequently hotly disputed between Israel and its supporters and the Arabs and theirs. Israeli spokesmen--including "official" historians and writers of textbooks-- maintained that Arabs had fled "voluntarily," or because the Arab states' leaders had urged or ordered them to leave [click here to read our response to this claim], to clear the ground for the invasion of May 15, and enable their spokesman to claim that they had been systematically and with premeditation expelled the refugees. Documentation that surfaced in massive quantities during the 1980s in Israeli and Western archives has demonstrated that neither "official" version is accurate or sufficient.
The creation of the [refugees] problem was almost inevitable, given:

  • the geographical intermixing of the population
  • the history of the Arab-Jewish hostility since 1917
  • rejection of both sides of a binominal solution
  • the depth of the Arab animosity toward the Jews and fears of coming under Jewish rule.

The structural weaknesses that characterized Palestinian society on the eve of the war made it especially susceptible to collapse and flight. It was

  • poorly organized, with little social or political cohesion,
  • there were deep divisions between rural and urban population, and
  • between Muslims and Christians, and
  • between various elite clans.
  • The absence of representative leaders, and
  • national institutions [such as labor unions, health care, defense, tax collections, ..etc.]
  • As a result of economic and social processes that had begun in the mid-nineteenth century, large parts of the the rural population had been rendered landless by the 1940s. In consequence there was a constant, growing shift of population from the countryside to urban shantytowns and slums; to some degree this led to both physical and psychological divorce from the land. Moreover, 70 or 80 percent of the people were illiterate [reader should not that the public educational system available to Palestinians before 1948 was limited to 25%-30% of total eligible Palestinian student population]. In some measure this resulted in and was mirrored by a low level of political consciousness and activism. The "nationalism" of the urban elite was shared little; if at all, by the urban poor and peasantry.
  • And finally, the Arab economy in Palestine had failed to make shift from primitive, agriculture economy to a reindustrialize one--as the Yishuv had done. Equally relevant, in towns very few Arab workers were unionized; none, except the small number in British government service, enjoyed the benefit of unemployment insurance. Effectively ejected from Jewish enterprises and farms when Arab factories and offices closed down, they lost their means of livelihood. For some, exile may have become an attractive option, at least until Palestine calmed down.

Zionist Transfer Policy

Another crucial precondition was the penchant among Yishuv leaders to regard transfer as a legitimate solution to the "Arab problem." Recently declassified Zionist documents demonstrated the virtual consensus emerged among the Zionist leadership, the the wake of the publication in July 1937 of the Peel Commission recommendations, in favor of the transfer of at least several hundred thousand Palestinian Arabs--if not all of them-- out of the areas of the Jewish state-to-be. The tone was set by Ben-Gurion himself in June 1938:

"I support compulsory [Palestinian Arab population] transfer. I do not see in it anything immoral."

Ben-Gurion's views did not change--though he was aware of the need, for a tactical reasons, to be discreet. In 1944, at a meeting of the Jewish Agency Executive discussing how the Zionist movement should deal with the British Labor Party decision to recommend the transfer of Palestinian Arabs, he said:

"When I heard these things. . . I had to ponder the matter long and hard ....[but] I reached the conclusion that this matter [had best] remain [in the Labor Party Program] . . . Were I asked what should be our program, it would not occur to me to tell them transfer . . . because speaking about the matter might harm [us] . . . in world opinion, because it might give the impression that there is no room in the Land of Israel without ousting the Arabs [and] . . . it would alert and antagonize the Arabs . . ."

Ben-Gurion added,

"The transfer of Arabs is easier than the transfer of any other [people]. There are Arabs states around . . . And it is clear that if the [Palestinian] Arabs are transferred this would improve their situation and not the opposite."

None of the members of the Executive opposed or questioned these views; most spoke in favor. Moshe Sharett, director of the Jewish Agency's Political Department, declared:

"Transfer could be the crowning achievements, the final stage in the development of [our] policy, but certainly not the point of departure. By [speaking publicly and prematurely] we could mobilizing vast forces against the matter and cause it to fail, in advance."

And he added:

"[W]hen the Jewish state is established--it is very possible that the result will be transfer of Arabs."

On February 7, 1948, three months into the war, Ben-Gurion told Mapai's Central Committee that in Jerusalem's Western neighborhoods, from which the Arabs had fled or been expelled, he had seen:

"no strangers [Palestinian Arabs]. Not since Jerusalem's destruction in the days of the Romans has it been so Jewish. . . . I do not assume this will change. . . . And what happened in Jerusalem . . . could well happen in great parts of the country . . if we hold one, it is very possible that in coming six to eight or ten months of the war there will take place great changes. . . . Certainly there will be great changes in the composition of the population of the country."

[Click here for more "transfer" (Ethnic Cleansing) Zionist quotes]

Refugees Flight: In Four Stages

These "great changes" took place in four stages. The first was between December 1947 and March 1948, when Yishuv was on the defensive and upper-and middle-class [Palestinian] Arabs--- perhaps as many as seventy-five thousand--- fled, mainly from mixed cities, or sent their dependents to the West Bank, Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, or Transjordan. In this context there can be no exaggeration the detrimental effect on the Arab morale of the IZL and LHI bombing campaigns in big towns.
These families had the wherewithal to settle comfortably in Cairo, Nablus, Amman, or Beirut, and in any case most viewed their exile as temporary. As in the exodus of 1936-1939, they expected to return once the hostilities had ended. Many notable families also resented or feared the domination of the Husseinis, and indeed may have feared a Husseini-ruled Palestine as much as they did life under Jewish rule. It was at this time that many of the political leaders and/or their families left the country--- including most members of the AHC [Arab Higher Committee] and of the Haifa National Committee. Jewish-Arab hostilities were only one aspect of a more general breakdown of law and order in Palestine after UN [General Assembly] Partition Resolution. There was also a gradual collapse of public services and a withdrawal of British authority, and an influx of both urban and rural districts of Arab irregulars, who extorted money from prosperous families and occasionally abused people in the streets.

Arabs also abandoned a number of villages in areas earmarked for Jewish statehood and with Jewish majority, such as the coastal plain. In villages on the edge of Jewish urban centers, a combination of fear of the Jews and actual intimidation, principally by the IZL and LHI, prompted flight. In at least case there was also outright expulsion by the Haganah---on February 20 at Caesarea, midway between Tel Aviv and Haifa.

The flight of the upper and middle classes entailed the closure of schools, clinics and hospitals, businesses, and offices, and in turn engendered unemployment and impoverishment. This was the background of the second stage, the mass flight from urban neighborhood and rural areas overrun by the Jewish forces during spring 1948. The earlier flight of the elite sapped popular morale an gave the masses an example to emulate.

The principle cause of the mass flight of April-June was Jewish military attack, or fear of such attack. Almost every instance---exodus from Haifa on April 21- May 1; from Jaffa during April-early May; from Tiberias on April 17-18; from Safad on May10- was the direct and immediate result of an attack on and conquest of Arab neighborhoods and towns. In no case did a population abandon its homes before an attack; in almost all cases it did so on the very day of the attack and in days immediately following. And flight proved to be contagious. The fall of, and flight from, the big cities---principally Haifa and Jaffa---radiated pessimism and despair to surrounding villages. In the countryside flight by one clan led to that neighborhood clans, and flight from one village to flight from neighboring villages.

Haganah documents described "a psychosis of flight" griping the Palestinian population during this period. The echo of the slaughter on April 9 of the village of Deir Yassin, augmented by Arab atrocity propaganda regarding what happened there, both reinforced and symbolized this. Fear that the same fate might befall them propelled villagers to flight, and this "atrocity factor" was reinforced periodically during the months of fighting by other Jewish massacres, especially in October [such as Safsaf, Sa'sa', 'Ayn al-Zaytun, ..etc.]. Residents of a small number of villagers---more than a dozen---were expelled before the start of the first truce (June 11) by Jewish troops; and some were intimidated by propaganda disseminated by Haganah agents. In most areas there was no need for direct expulsion. Villagers and townspeople usually abandoned hearth and home at the first whiff of grapeshot.

In some areas Arab commanders ordered the villagers to evacuate to clear the ground for military purpose or to prevent the surrender [or collaboration, examples are to many to list]. More than half a dozen villages---just north of Jerusalem and tin the lower Galilee--- were abandoned during those months as a result of such order. Elsewhere, in East Jerusalem and in many villages around the country, the commander ordered women, old people, and children to be sent away to be out of harm's way.

Indeed, psychological preparations for the removal of dependents from the battlefield had begun in 1946-47, when the AHC and the Arab League had periodically endorsed such a move when contemplating the future war in Palestine. Altogether about two to three hundred thousand [Palestinian] Arabs fled their homes during the second stage of the exodus.
During the first stage, there was not Zionist policy to expel the [Palestinian] Arabs or intimidate them into flight, though many Jews, including Ben-Gurion, were happy to see the backs of as many [Palestinian] Arabs as possible. And without a doubt, Jewish-both Haganah and IZL- retaliatory policies and the IZL/LHI terror bombings were precipitants. And there was no Arab policy, aside from sporadic AHC efforts, to stem the tide of the upper-and middle-class departures.
During the second stage, while there was no blanket policy of expulsion, the Haganah's Plan D [Delet] clearly resulted in mass flight. Commanders were authorized to clear the populace out of the villages and certain urban districts, and to raze the villages if they felt a military need. Many commanders identified with the aim of ending up with a Jewish state with a small an [Palestinian] Arab minority as possible. Some generals, such [Yegal] Allon, clearly acted as if driven by such goal [especially in the Galilee panhandle and central region].

On the Arab side there was general confusion at this time about everything concerning the exodus. The governments appear simply not to have understood what was happening and, initially, did not try to stop it. Indeed, Arab Higher Committee [AHC] agents instructed the population of Haifa, after the flight from the town had begun, to continue to leave. But the exodus, as far as the evidence goes, not initiated---as Jewish spokesmen later claimed---by an order from the AHC. It is quite possible that both Arab states and Palestinian leaders were happy to see it happen in order to have a good cause to intervene once the British departed. By early May, some Arab states and the AHC began to take action [to stem the flight]. Transjordan, the AHC, and the ALA [Arab Liberation Army] repeatedly cautioned the inhabitants to stay put and tried to pressure those who had already fled the country to return, to no avail. Meanwhile the Haganah, certainly from mid-May on, adopted a policy of preventing refugees from returning to their homes, using live fire when necessary.
The pan-Arab invasion of May 15 clearly hardened Israel's resolve regarding the Palestinian civilian population, for good military and political reasons. On June 16, the cabinet, without formal vote, resolved to bar the return of refugees. The IDF general staff ordered its units to stop would-be returnees with LIVE FIRE. At some time the army, the settlements, and the JNF [Jewish National Fund] Lands Department took a number of initiatives designed to obviate a return. Abandoned villages were razed or mined or, later, filled with new Jewish immigrants, as were abandoned urban neighborhoods; fields were set alight, and landowners still in place were urged to sell out and leave; and new settlements were established on Arab sites and began to cultivate the abandoned fields.

In the third and fourth stages of the exodus, in July and October-November 1948, about three hundred thousand more [Palestinian] Arabs became refugees, including the sixty thousand inhabitants of Lydda and Ramla who were expelled by IDF troops [based on the orders of Ben-Gurion and Yitzhak Rabin]. However, many of Nazareth's [Palestinian] Arabs were allowed to stay, apparently to avert the prospect of negative reactions by Western Christian states [For the same reason Nazareth was the ONLY place where Ben-Gurion gave clear orders to shoot to kill any Jewish looter].

Palestinian Resistance To Expulsion Policy

Israel's readiness to expel the [Palestinian] Arabs was to some degree counterbalanced by a newfound [Palestinian] Arab desire to stay put. By October, villagers in the Galilee had understood that their return was far from imminent. So, during the second half of the war, there far less "spontaneous" flight. Most of this time was due to clear, direct cause, including brutal expulsion and deliberate harassment.

Ben-Gurion clearly wanted as few [Palestinian] Arabs as possible to remain in the Jewish state. But there was still no systematic policy; it was never as far as we know, discussed or decided upon at the Cabinet or IDF general staff meetings. Yet Israeli troops, both in the "Ten Days" in July and during Operation Yaov and Hiram in October-November 1948, were far more inclined to expel Palestinians than they had been during the first half of the war. In Operation Yaov, [Yegal] Allon took care to leave almost no Arab communities along the lines of advance. In Operation Hiram, in the north, where Moshe Carmel commanded the Israeli forces, there was confusion and ambivalence. Despite Carmel's October 31 guideline "to assist the Arabs to depart," some units expelled villagers, others left them in place. And while in general the attitude towards Muslim villages was more severe, there were expulsion and massacres of Christians and many Muslim villagers, such as Majd al-Kurum, were allowed to stay. During November, when the IDF cleared the strip from five to fifteen kilo metered deep along the border with Lebanon, for security reasons, both Christians and Muslims were transferred [such as Tabrikha, Kafr Bir'im and al-Mansura].

But while the military attacks or expulsion were the major precipitant to flight, the exodus was, overall, the result of a cumulative process and a set of causes. A Haifa merchant DID NOT ONLY LEAVE only because of :

  • months of sniping and bombing, or
  • only because business was getting bad, or
  • because he saw his neighbor flee, or
  • because of extortion by Arab irregulars, or
  • because of the collapse of law and order and the gradual withdrawal of the British, or
  • because of the Haganah attack, or
  • because he feared to live under Jewish rule.

He left because of an accumulation of these factors. In the countryside, too, many factors often combined:

  • isolation among cluster of Jewish settlements,
  • a feeling of being cut off from [Palestinian] Arab centers,
  • a lack of direction by national leaders and a feeling of abandonment by the Arab world,
  • fear of Jewish assault, reports and rumors about massacres by the Jews, and
  • actual attacks and massacres.

Israel's Policy After The War

From April 1948 onward, the Yishuv was pressed to allow refugees to return. Arab leaders and spokesmen for various groups (inhabitants of Jaffa, Marionettes from the Galilee, and so on) demanded repatriation, as did international figures, including Count Brenadotte [who saved many European Jews citizens from the Nazi Holocaust and on September 17 1948 he was murdered by the Stern gang which was commanded by Yitzhak Shamir] and United States and Britain.
Western pressure brought about two Israeli offers to allow a measure of repatriation as part of an overall peace settlement. In July 1949 Israel said it would take back "100,000" ( 65,000, once those who had already returned or were in the pipeline were deducted), if the Arabs states agreed to resettle the rest in their own lands and conclude a peace settlement. Alternatively, Israel might be willing to incorporate the Gaza Strip into its territories and absorb the Strip's population of 60,000 native inhabitants and 200,000 refugees. In this way, Israel would have done more than its fair share toward resolving the problem---which, its officials tirelessly argued, was not of their making. (OR, as Ben-Gurion was fond of telling Western interlocutors, "Israel did not expel a single Arab.")

The offer was seen by the Arabs as far too little, ands most of the Arab states insisted that Israel take back all the refugees. Egypt was unwilling to hand over the Gaza Strip---its sole territorial gain of the war---even though this would relieved Cairo of the burden of a large, impoverished, subversive population. During the following years of the refugees themselves rejected efforts to resettle them in the Arab states. They wanted to "go home," and the Arab states---save Jordan which gave them citizenship--- did little to absorb them, seeing in them and their misery a useful tool against Israel. Israel refused to allow them back, both because it needed the abandoned lands and houses for new immigrants and because it feared the refugees' potential for destabilization---so the problem remained to plague the Middle East, and indeed the world.

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Post Your Comment

Posted by salara on June 15, 2010 #115470

thank you for a great resource. this site is remarkable by alowing those palestinians that are no longer in there home land a real chance to share photos with there young. a chance for the elders to pass along information to there children and grand children. To allow them to pass on at least in part some of there story. thank you
Posted by hanan ibrahim on April 8, 2010 #109138

This is so very unfair to attribute structural weaknesses of the Palestinian societies before occupation, among other causes, to uneasy relations between Muslims and Christians. It has been a common knowledge and supported by evidence based stories that relations between the two have been exemplary not only in the Arab region but to the world. The same sacred has been respected by both, which worked to deepen national feelings. This is not to mention that internal weaknesses must never constitute an ethical ground for usurping others' lands and driving them from their homes. Yes, politics destroys ethics and deprives humans of their humanity.
Posted by Veronica on November 3, 2009 #93771

Excellent summary of the events! I will be citing your work shortly :o)
For those who are interested on this issue I suggest "the Birthplace of the Palestinian Refugee" by Benny Morris (Cambridge UP).
If you have any info on the Peace talks as from 2008, please let me know!! Thank you for sharing your work on the web.
Posted by bill from USA on January 11, 2009 #63220

The vast majority of Americans are completely unaware of the history of Palestine. The type of infomation found on this site is never seen in the US. If an Israeli soldier is kidnapped, we all know his name, his family cries on TV and they pray for Peace. Yet when we see dozens of dead or wounded Palestinian women and children - none of them have a name.

Most Americans do not even know there was a country named Palestine. To them Palestinian means Arab Terrorist.

From where I sit a greater focus on getting the story out and a movement to non violence seems to be the best chance to have a rightful return and compensation. My heart goes out to the Palestinian People. This web site should be compulsory reading for every citizen in the world.
Posted by Husni K. M. Liswi on December 19, 2008 #60506

I suggest that uou add the UNRWA website address to the links on refugees or take information from there to enrich this page about Palestenian refugees(www.un.org/unrwa/english.html)
Posted by Palestinian on August 10, 2008 #48685

With appreciation for a great website, Benny Morris's analysis of the refugee problem is not only wrong but also cheap propaganda. Although he makes use of archives to cite a few (already well-known)facts about expulsions and massacres, he proceeds to conclude that the Palestinians have no one to blame for their plight but themselves. In doing so, he sweeps under the carpet the equally well-known demoralising role played by the mandate. He is oblivious to the fact That the British suffocated and disarmed the Palestinian people and made Palestine an incubator where the Hagana and the other Zionist losers could muster enough strength to dislodge a proud but demoralised people for nothing else but to grab as much land as possible-- for free. That's what happened in 1948 and is still hapenning in the West Bank. If space were to allow, many other points could have been discussed to prove that this analysis is sheer propaganda. The Palestinian people must NOT be ashamed of having become refugees, millions and millions of people have been made destitute by violence and war. The trick is to be patient enough for the time to return home shall come. It always does.
Posted by shafiq eid khader on May 21, 2008 #38885

ارغب في عمل موقع لبلدتي بئرماعين على هذا الموقع وتسجيل بعض المعلوملت المتوافرة لدي عن هذة البلدة المحتلة والمدمرة منذ سنة 1948 ولا اعرف الطريقة لذلك
Posted by mayus on May 6, 2008 #37089

I AM SOOOO PROUD AND HONORED TO B PALESTINIAN ESPECIALLY FROM LUBYE...ASK ME WHY...first of all the Palestinian race is very educated and respected all around the world and that's the truth...we know how to fight for our rights to b a free nation and free of the occupation, this is not to say that palestinians are the best but they are one of the best...ALLAH YIB3ID ELYAHOUD 3AN KOL ELBLAAD EL 3ARABEYE...ou ALLAH YONSOR EL ARAB...WE SHOULD NEVER FORGERT OUR LAND AND KEEP FIGHTING FOR IT TILL THE END...ALLAHU AKBAR! PALESTINE FOREVER
Posted by steven lee on January 30, 2008 #28316

This photo touched my heart, that will shape our history justly for our whole world coming.
Thank you.
Posted by Lamia M on November 7, 2007 #23091

I am 1/2 Palestinian and experience similar difficulties entering and leaving Tel Aviv Airport when travelling to Palestine. I found this very interesting, and it was extremly helpful in a school assignment I have just completed. It is great that someone is putting forward the other side of the story.
Posted by Harissa on September 20, 2007 #20658

I think is very usful to hear this side of the story. Now is VERY important that to make it a scientific document that can also be cited in future documents, you are very strict with your citing. This means if Ben Gurion said this or that you HAVE to cite the source of information. The point is that then people will be able to recontruct all you state if they follow your references.This is BASIC|!
Posted by GS on June 6, 2007 #16930

I enjoy and learn from your web site. You do a good job presenting the extenuating circumstances and many reasons that lead to the Palestinian migration. GS
Posted by أبو المجد on December 9, 2006 #12219

حبيت ان ابحث عن كواشين ارضنا فى السوافير الغربيه ولكن لااعرف هل هى موجوده على الانت ام لا فارجوا اذا كنتم تعرفوا ذالك ان تبعثوا لى بها او تعرفونىالموقع الموجود عليها وشكرا الاسم صاحب الكوشان هو ابراهيم عبدالكريم ابو شقره....... او خليل ابراهيم عبد الكريم ابو شقره