Musa AlamiA leading Palestinian nationalist of the time, Musa Alami, revealed the attitude of the fleeing Arabs-

The Arabs of Palestine left their homes, were scattered, and lost everything. But there remained one solid hope- The Arab armies were on the eve of their entry into Palestine to save the country and return things to their normal course, punish the aggressor, and throw oppressive Zionism with its dreams and dangers into the sea. On May 14, 1948, crowds of Arabs stood by the roads leading to the frontiers of Palestine, enthusiastically welcoming the advancing armies. Days and weeks passed, sufficient to accomplish the sacred mission, but the Arab armies did not save the country. They did nothing but let slip from their hands Acre, Sarafand, Sydda, Ramleh, Nazareth, most of the south and the rest of the north. Then hope fled.

Middle East Journal, (October 1949)

Although most of the Arabs had left by November 1948, there were still those who chose to leave even after hostilities ceased. An interesting case was the evacuation of 3,000 Arabs from Faluja, a village between Tel Aviv and Beersheba-

Observers feel that with proper counsel after the Israeli-Egyptian armistice, the Arab population might have advantageously remained. They state that the Israeli Government had given guarantees of security of person and property. However, no effort was made by Egypt, Transjordan or even the United nations Palestine Conciliation Commission to advise the Faluja Arabs one way or the other.

New York times, (March 4, 1949)

“The [refugee] problem was a direct consequence of the war that the Palestinians – and…surrounding Arab states – had launched.”

Israeli historian Benny Morris, The Guardian, (February 21, 2002)

In his memoirs, Haled al Azm, the Syrian Prime Minister in 1948-49, also admitted the Arab role in persuading the refugees to leave-

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.

The Memoirs of Haled al Azm, (Beirut, 1973), Part 1, pp. 386-387.

Even Jordan’s King Abdullah, writing in his memoirs, blamed Palestinian leaders for the refugee problem-

The tragedy of the Palestinians was that most of their leaders had paralyzed them with false and unsubstantiated promises that they were not alone; that 80 million Arabs and 400 million Muslims would instantly and miraculously come to their rescue.

Yehoshofat Harkabi, Arab Attitudes To Israel, (Jerusalem- Israel Universities Press, 1972), p. 364.

“The Arab armies entered Palestine to protect the Palestinians from the Zionist tyranny but, instead, they abandoned them, forced them to emigrate and to leave their homeland, and threw them into prisons similar to the ghettos in which the Jews used to live.”

PLO Spokesman Mahmud Abbas (“Abu Mazen”), Falastin a-Thaura, (March 1976).

Contrary to revisionist histories that the town was filled with peaceful innocents, residents and foreign troops opened fire on the attackers. One fighter described his experience-

My unite stormed and passed the first row of houses. I was among the first to enter the village. There were a few other guys with me, each encouraging the other to advance. At the top of the street I saw a man in khaki clothing running ahead. I thought he was one of ours. I ran after him and told him, “advance to that house.” Suddenly he turned around, aimed his rifle and shot. He was an Iraqi soldier. I was hit in the foot.

Uri Milstein, History of Israel’s War of Independence, Vol. IV, (Lanham- University Press of America, 1999), p. 262.

Israel could not simply agree to allow all Palestinians to return, but consistently sought a solution to the refugee problem. Israel’s position was expressed by David Ben-Gurion (August 1, 1948)-

When the Arab states are ready to conclude a peace treaty with Israel this question will come up for constructive solution as part of the general settlement, and with due regard to our counter-claims in respect of the destruction of Jewish life and property, the long-term interest of the Jewish and Arab populations, the stability of the State of Israel and the durability of the basis of peace between it and its neighbors, the actual position and fate of the Jewish communities in the Arab countries, the responsibilities of the Arab government for their war of aggression and their liability for reparation, will all be relevant in the question whether, to what extent, and under what conditions, the former Arab residents of the territory of Israel should be allowed to return.

Howard Sachar, A History of Israel- From the Rise of Zionism to Our Time, (NY- Alfred A. Knopf, 1979), p. 332; Avneri, p. 270.

The United Nations took up the refugee issue and adopted Resolution 194 on December 11, 1948. This called upon the Arab states and Israel to resolve all outstanding issues through negotiations either directly, or with the help of the Palestine Conciliation Commission established by this resolution. Furthermore, Point 11 resolves-

That refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for 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 Governments or authorities responsible. Instructs the Conciliation Commission to facilitate the repatriation, resettlement and economic and social rehabilitation of refugees an payment of compensation…(emphasis added).

The UN discussions on refugees had begun in the summer of 1948, before Israel had completed its military victory; consequently, the Arabs still believed they could win the war and allow the refugees to return triumphant. The Arab position was expressed by Emile Ghoury, the Secretary of the Arab Higher Committee-

It is inconceivable that the refugees should be sent back to their homes while they are occupied by the Jews, as the latter would hold them as hostages and maltreat them. The very proposal is an evasion of responsibility by those responsible. It will serve as a first step towards Arab recognition of the State of Israel and partition.

Telegraph (Beirut), (August 6, 1948), quoted in Joseph Schechtman, The Refugee in the World, (NY- A.S. Barnes and Co., 1963), p. 210-211.

“The Palestinian demand for the ‘right of return’ is totally unrealistic and would have to be solved by means of financial compensation and resettlement in Arab countries.”

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Jerusalem Post, (January 26, 1989).

The PCC made another effort to bring the parties together in 1951, but finally gave up. It reported-

The Arab Governments…are not prepared fully to implement paragraph 5 of the said resolution, which calls for the final settlement of all questions outstanding between them and Israel. The Arab Governments in their contacts with the Commission have evinced no readiness to arrive at such a peace settlement with the Government of Israel.

Palestine Conciliation Commission Report Supplement 18 to the Official Records of the Sixth Session of the Assembly (A/1985), quoted in Pablo Azcarate, Mission in Palestine 1948-1952, (DC- Middle East Institute, 1966), p. 177.

In the Arab world, the refugees were viewed as a potential fifth-column within Israel. As one Lebanese paper wrote-

The return of the refugees should create a large Arab majority that would serve as the most effective means of reviving the Arab character of Palestine, while forming a powerful fifth-column for the day of revenge and reckoning.

Lebanese newspaper, Al Said, (April 6, 1950), quote in Prittie in Curtis, p. 69.

The Arabs believed the return of the refugees would virtually guarantee the destruction of Israel, a sentiment expressed by Egyptian Foreign Minister Muhammad Salah al-Din-

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.

Al-Misri, (October 11, 1949).

The plight of the refugees remained unchanged after the Suez War. In fact, even the rhetoric stayed the same. In 1957, the Refugee Conference at Homs, Syria, passed a resolution stating-

Any discussion aimed at a solution of the Palestine problem which will not be based on ensuring the refugees’ right to annihilate Israel will be regarded as a desecration of the Arab people and an act of treason.

Beirut al Massa, (July 15, 1957).

A parallel can be drawn to the time of the American Revolution, during which many colonists who were loyal to England fled to Canada. The British wanted the newly formed republic to allow the loyalists to return to claim their property. Benjamin Franklin rejected this suggestion in a letter to Richard Oswald, the British negotiator, dated November 26, 1782-

Your ministers require that we should receive again into our bosom those who have been our bitterest enemies and restore their properties who have destroyed ours- and this while the wounds they have given us are still bleeding!

The Writings of Benjamin Franklin, (NY- The Macmillan Company, 1905), p. 626.

“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.”

Former director of UNRWA, Ralph Garroway, in August 1958, Prittie in Curtis, p. 55.

Perhaps an even better analogy can be seen in Turkey’s integration of 150,000 Turkish refugees from Bulgaria in 1950. The difference between the Turks’ handling of their refugees and the Arab states’ treatment of the Palestinians was the attitude of the respective governments.

Turkey has had a bigger refugee problem than either Syria or Lebanon and almost as big as Egypt has….But you seldom hear about them because the Turks have done such a good job of resettling them….The big difference is in spirit. The Turks, reluctant as they were to take on the burden, accepted it as a responsibility and set to work to clean it up as fast as possible.

Des Moines Register editorial, (January 16, 1952).

Israel consistently sought a solution to the refugee problem, but could not simply agree to allow all Palestinians to return.

No nation, regardless of past rights and wrongs, could contemplate taking in a fifth-column of such a size. And fifth-column it would be – people nurtured for 20 years [in 1967] in hatred of and totally dedicated to its destruction. The readmission of the refugees would be the equivalent to the admission to the U.S. of nearly 70,000,000 sworn enemies of the nation.

New York Times editorial, (May 14, 1967).