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1948 Palestinian exodus

Ethnic cleansing of Palestine

Top 10 1948 Palestinian exodus related articles

Palestinian refugees leaving the Galilee in October–November 1948

The 1948 Palestinian exodus, also known as the Nakba (Arabic: النكبة‎, al-Nakbah, literally "disaster", "catastrophe", or "cataclysm"),[1] occurred when more than 700,000 Palestinian Arabs – about half of prewar Palestine's Arab population – fled or were expelled from their homes, during the 1948 Palestine war.[2] Between 400 and 600 Palestinian villages were sacked during the war, while urban Palestine was almost entirely destroyed.[3] The term nakba also refers to the period of war itself and events affecting Palestinians from December 1947 to January 1949.

The precise number of refugees, many of whom settled in refugee camps in neighboring states, is a matter of dispute[4] but around 80 percent of the Arab inhabitants of what became Israel (half of the Arab total of Mandatory Palestine) left or were expelled from their homes.[5][6] About 250,000–300,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled before the Israeli Declaration of Independence in May 1948, a fact which was named as a casus belli for the entry of the Arab League into the country, sparking the 1948 Arab–Israeli War.

The causes are also a subject of fundamental disagreement between historians. Factors involved in the exodus include Jewish military advances, destruction of Arab villages, psychological warfare, fears of another massacre by Zionist militias after the Deir Yassin massacre,[7]:239–240 which caused many to leave out of panic, direct expulsion orders by Israeli authorities, the voluntary self-removal of the wealthier classes,[8] collapse in Palestinian leadership and Arab evacuation orders,[9][10] and an unwillingness to live under Jewish control.[11][12]

Later, a series of laws passed by the first Israeli government prevented Arabs who had left from returning to their homes or claiming their property. They and many of their descendants remain refugees.[13][14] The expulsion of the Palestinians has since been described by some historians as ethnic cleansing,[15][16][17] while others dispute this charge.[18][19][20]

The status of the refugees, and in particular whether Israel will allow them the right to return to their homes, or compensate them, are key issues in the ongoing Israeli–Palestinian conflict. The events of 1948 are commemorated by Palestinians both in the Palestinian territories and elsewhere on 15 May, a date known as Nakba Day.

1948 Palestinian exodus Intro articles: 8


The history of the Palestinian exodus is closely tied to the events of the war in Palestine, which lasted from 1947 to 1949, and to the political events preceding it. In September 1949, the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine estimated 711,000 Palestinian refugees existed outside Israel,[21] with about one-quarter of the estimated 160,000 Palestinian Arabs remaining in Israel as "internal refugees".

December 1947 – March 1948

In the first few months of the civil war, the climate in the Mandate of Palestine became volatile, although throughout this period both Arab and Jewish leaders tried to limit hostilities.[7]:90–99 According to historian Benny Morris, the period was marked by Palestinian Arab attacks and Jewish defensiveness, increasingly punctuated by Jewish reprisals.[7]:65 Simha Flapan wrote that attacks by the Irgun and Lehi resulted in Palestinian Arab retaliation and condemnation.[22] Jewish reprisal operations were directed against villages and neighborhoods from which attacks against Jews were believed to have originated.[7]:76

The retaliations were more damaging than the provoking attack and included killing of armed and unarmed men, destruction of houses and sometimes expulsion of inhabitants.[7]:76:125 The Zionist groups of Irgun and Lehi reverted to their 1937–1939 strategy of indiscriminate attacks by placing bombs and throwing grenades into crowded places such as bus stops, shopping centres and markets. Their attacks on British forces reduced British troops' ability and willingness to protect Jewish traffic.[7]:66 General conditions deteriorated: the economic situation became unstable, and unemployment grew.[23] Rumours spread that the Husaynis were planning to bring in bands of "fellahin" (peasant farmers) to take over the towns.[24] Some Palestinian Arab leaders sent their families abroad.

Yoav Gelber wrote that the Arab Liberation Army embarked on a systematic evacuation of non-combatants from several frontier villages in order to turn them into military strongholds.[25] Arab depopulation occurred most in villages close to Jewish settlements and in vulnerable neighborhoods in Haifa, Jaffa and West Jerusalem.[7]:99–125 The more impoverished inhabitants of these neighborhoods generally fled to other parts of the city. Those who could afford to fled further away, expecting to return when the troubles were over.[7]:138 By the end of March 1948 thirty villages were depopulated of their Palestinian Arab population.[16]:82 Approximately 100,000 Palestinian Arabs had fled to Arab parts of Palestine, such as Gaza, Beersheba, Haifa, Nazareth, Nablus, Jaffa and Bethlehem.

Some had left the country altogether, to Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt.[7]:67 Other sources speak of 30,000 Palestinian Arabs.[26] Many of these were Palestinian Arab leaders, middle and upper-class Palestinian Arab families from urban areas. Around 22 March, the Arab governments agreed that their consulates in Palestine would issue entry visas only to old people, women, children and the sick.[7]:134 On 29–30 March the Haganah Intelligence Service (HIS) reported that "the AHC was no longer approving exit permits for fear of [causing] panic in the country."[27]

Ruins of the Palestinian village of Suba, near Jerusalem, overlooking Kibbutz Zova, which was built on the village lands.
Ruins of the former Arab village of Bayt Jibrin, inside the green line west of Hebron.

The Haganah was instructed to avoid spreading the conflagration by stopping indiscriminate attacks and provoking British intervention.[7]:68–86

On 18 December 1947 the Haganah approved an aggressive defense strategy, which in practice meant a limited implementation of "Plan May" also known as "Plan Gimel" or "Plan C"[28] ("Tochnit Mai" or "Tochnit Gimel"), which, produced in May 1946, was the Haganah master plan for the defence of the Yishuv in the event of the outbreak of new troubles the moment the British were gone. Plan Gimel included retaliation for assaults on Jewish houses and roads.[7]:75[29]

In early January the Haganah adopted Operation Zarzir, a scheme to assassinate leaders affiliated to Amin al-Husayni, placing the blame on other Arab leaders, but in practice few resources were devoted to the project and the only attempted killing was of Nimr al Khatib.[7]:76

The only authorised expulsion at this time took place at Qisarya, south of Haifa, where Palestinian Arabs were evicted and their houses destroyed on 19–20 February 1948.[7]:130 In attacks that were not authorised in advance, several communities were expelled by the Haganah and several others were chased away by the Irgun.[7]:125

According to Ilan Pappé, the Zionists organised a campaign of threats,[16]:55 consisting of the distribution of threatening leaflets, "violent reconnaissance" and, after the arrival of mortars, the shelling of Arab villages and neighborhoods.[16]:73 Pappé also wrote that the Haganah shifted its policy from retaliation to offensive initiatives.[16]:60

During the "long seminar", a meeting of Ben-Gurion with his chief advisors in January 1948, the main point was that it was desirable to "transfer" as many Arabs as possible out of Jewish territory, and the discussion focussed mainly on the implementation.[16]:63 The experience gained in a number of attacks in February 1948, notably those on Qisarya and Sa'sa', was used in the development of a plan detailing how enemy population centers should be handled.[16]:82 According to Pappé, plan Dalet was the master plan for the expulsion of the Palestinians.[16].:82 However, according to Gelber, Plan Dalet instructions were: In case of resistance, the population of conquered villages was to be expelled outside the borders of the Jewish state. If no resistance was met, the residents could stay put, under military rule.[30]

Palestinian belligerency in these first few months was "disorganised, sporadic and localised and for months remained chaotic and uncoordinated, if not undirected".[7]:86 Husayni lacked the resources to mount a full-scale assault on the Yishuv, and restricted himself to sanctioning minor attacks and to tightening the economic boycott.[7]:87 The British claimed that Arab rioting might well have subsided had the Jews not retaliated with firearms.[7]:75

Overall, Morris concludes that during this period the "Arab evacuees from the towns and villages left largely because of Jewish—Haganah, IZL or LHI—attacks or fear of impending attack" but that only "an extremely small, almost insignificant number of the refugees during this early period left because of Haganah or IZL or LHI expulsion orders or forceful 'advice' to that effect."[7]:138, 139 In this sense, Glazer[31] quotes the testimony of Count Bernadotte, the UN mediator in Palestine, who reported that "the exodus of the Palestinian Arabs resulted from panic created by fighting in their communities, by rumours concerning real or alleged acts of terrorism, or expulsion. Almost the whole of the Arab population fled or was expelled from the area under Jewish occupation."[32][33]

April–June 1948

Arabs leaving Haifa as Jewish forces enter the city

By 1 May 1948, two weeks before the Israeli Declaration of Independence, nearly 175,000 Palestinians (approximately 25%) had already fled.[34]

The fighting in these months was concentrated in the JerusalemTel Aviv area, On 9 April, the Deir Yassin massacre and the rumours that followed it spread fear among the Palestinians.[7]:264 Next, the Haganah defeated local militia in Tiberias. On 21–22 April in Haifa, after the Haganah waged a day-and-a-half battle including psychological warfare, the Jewish National Committee was unable to offer the Palestinian council assurance that an unconditional surrender would proceed without incident. Finally, Irgun under Menachim Begin fired mortars on the infrastructure in Jaffa. Combined with the fear inspired by Deir Yassin, each of these military actions resulted in panicked Palestinian evacuations.[35][36][37]

The significance of the attacks by underground military groups Irgun and Lehi on Deir Yassin is underscored by accounts on all sides. Meron Benvenisti regards Deir Yassin as "a turning point in the annals of the destruction of the Arab landscape".[38]


Palestinians fled the city of Haifa en masse, in one of the most notable flights of this stage. Historian Efraim Karsh writes that not only had half of the Arab community in Haifa community fled the city before the final battle was joined in late April 1948, but another 5,000–15,000 left apparently voluntarily during the fighting while the rest, some 15,000–25,000, were ordered to leave, as was initially claimed by an Israeli source, on the instructions of the Arab Higher Committee.

Karsh concludes that there was no Jewish grand design to force this departure, and that in fact the Haifa Jewish leadership tried to convince some Arabs to stay, to no avail.[39][40] Walid Khalidi disputes this account, saying that two independent studies, which analysed CIA and BBC intercepts of radio broadcasts from the region, concluded that no orders or instructions were given by the Arab Higher Committee.[41]

According to Morris, "The Haganah mortar attacks of 21–22 April [on Haifa] were primarily designed to break Arab morale in order to bring about a swift collapse of resistance and speedy surrender. [...] But clearly the offensive, and especially the mortaring, precipitated the exodus. The three-inch mortars "opened up on the market square [where there was] a great crowd [...] a great panic took hold. The multitude burst into the port, pushed aside the policemen, charged the boats and began to flee the town", as the official Haganah history later put it".[7]:191, 200 According to Pappé,[16]:96 this mortar barrage was deliberately aimed at civilians to precipitate their flight from Haifa.

The Haganah broadcast a warning to Arabs in Haifa on 21 April: "that unless they sent away 'infiltrated dissidents' they would be advised to evacuate all women and children, because they would be strongly attacked from now on".[42]

Commenting on the use of "psychological warfare broadcasts" and military tactics in Haifa, Benny Morris writes:

Throughout the Haganah made effective use of Arabic language broadcasts and loudspeaker vans. Haganah Radio announced that "the day of judgement had arrived" and called on inhabitants to "kick out the foreign criminals" and to "move away from every house and street, from every neighbourhood occupied by foreign criminals". The Haganah broadcasts called on the populace to "evacuate the women, the children and the old immediately, and send them to a safe haven". Jewish tactics in the battle were designed to stun and quickly overpower opposition; demoralisation was a primary aim. It was deemed just as important to the outcome as the physical destruction of the Arab units. The mortar barrages and the psychological warfare broadcasts and announcements, and the tactics employed by the infantry companies, advancing from house to house, were all geared to this goal. The orders of Carmeli's 22nd Battalion were "to kill every [adult male] Arab encountered" and to set alight with fire-bombs "all objectives that can be set alight. I am sending you posters in Arabic; disperse on route."[7]:191, 192

By mid-May 4,000 Arabs remained in Haifa. These were concentrated in Wadi Nisnas in accordance with Plan D whilst the systematic destruction of Arab housing in certain areas, which had been planned before the War, was implemented by Haifa's Technical and Urban Development departments in cooperation with the IDF's city commander Ya'akov Lublini.[7]:209–211

Further events

According to Glazer (1980, p. 111), from 15 May 1948 onwards, expulsion of Palestinians became a regular practice. Avnery (1971), explaining the Zionist rationale, says,

I believe that during this phase, the eviction of Arab civilians had become an aim of David Ben-Gurion and his government... UN opinion could very well be disregarded. Peace with the Arabs seemed out of the question, considering the extreme nature of the Arab propaganda. In this situation, it was easy for people like Ben-Gurion to believe the capture of uninhabited territory was both necessary for security reasons and desirable for the homogeneity of the new Hebrew state.[43]

Based on research of numerous archives, Morris provides an analysis of Haganah-induced flight:

Undoubtedly, as was understood by IDF intelligence, the most important single factor in the exodus of April–June was Jewish attack. This is demonstrated clearly by the fact that each exodus occurred during or in the immediate wake of military assault. No town was abandoned by the bulk of its population before the Haganah/IZL assault... The closer drew the 15 May British withdrawal deadline and the prospect of invasion by Arab states, the readier became commanders to resort to "cleansing" operations and expulsions to rid their rear areas.[7]:265 [R]elatively few commanders faced the moral dilemma of having to carry out the expulsion clauses. Townspeople and villagers usually fled their homes before or during battle... though (Haganah commanders) almost invariably prevented inhabitants, who had initially fled, from returning home...[7]:165

Edgar O'Ballance, a military historian, adds,

Israeli vans with loudspeakers drove through the streets ordering all the inhabitants to evacuate immediately, and such as were reluctant to leave were forcibly ejected from their homes by the triumphant Israelis whose policy was now openly one of clearing out all the Arab civil population before them... From the surrounding villages and hamlets, during the next two or three days, all the inhabitants were uprooted and set off on the road to Ramallah... No longer was there any "reasonable persuasion". Bluntly, the Arab inhabitants were ejected and forced to flee into Arab territory... Wherever the Israeli troops advanced into Arab country the Arab population was bulldozed out in front of them.[44]

After the fall of Haifa the villages on the slopes of Mount Carmel had been harassing the Jewish traffic on the main road to Haifa. A decision was made on 9 May 1948 to expel or subdue the villages of Kafr Saba, al-Tira, Qaqun, Qalansuwa and Tantura.[45] On 11 May 1948 Ben-Gurion convened the "Consultancy"; the outcome of the meeting is confirmed in a letter to commanders of the Haganah Brigades telling them that the Arab legion's offensive should not distract their troops from the principal tasks: "the cleansing of Palestine remained the prime objective of Plan Dalet."[46]

The attention of the commanders of the Alexandroni Brigade was turned to reducing the Mount Carmel pocket. Tantura, being on the coast, gave the Carmel villages access to the outside world and so was chosen as the point to surround the Carmel villages as a part of the Coastal Clearing offensive operation in the beginning of the 1948 Arab–Israeli War.

On the night of 22–23 May 1948, one week and one day after the declaration of Independence of the State of Israel, the coastal village of Tantura was attacked and occupied by the 33rd Battalion of the Alexandroni Brigade of the Haganah. The village of Tantura was not given the option of surrender and the initial report spoke of dozens of villagers killed, with 300 adult male prisoners and 200 women and children.[47] Many of the villagers fled to Fureidis (previously captured) and to Arab-held territory. The captured women of Tantura were moved to Fureidis, and on 31 May Brechor Shitrit, Minister of Minority Affairs of the provisional Government of Israel, sought permission to expel the refugee women of Tantura from Fureidis as the number of refugees in Fureidis was causing problems of overcrowding and sanitation.[48]

A report from the military intelligence SHAI of the Haganah titled "The emigration of Palestinian Arabs in the period 1/12/1947-1/6/1948", dated 30 June 1948, affirms that:

At least 55% of the total of the exodus was caused by our (Haganah/IDF) operations. To this figure, the report's compilers add the operations of the Irgun and Lehi, which "directly (caused) some 15%... of the emigration". A further 2% was attributed to explicit expulsion orders issued by Israeli troops, and 1% to their psychological warfare. This leads to a figure of 73% for departures caused directly by the Israelis. In addition, the report attributes 22% of the departures to "fears" and "a crisis of confidence" affecting the Palestinian population. As for Arab calls for flight, these were reckoned to be significant in only 5% of cases...[49][50][51]

According to Morris's estimates, 250,000 to 300,000 Palestinians left Israel during this stage.[7]:262 "Keesing's Contemporary Archives" in London place the total number of refugees before Israel's independence at 300,000.[52]

In Clause 10.(b) of the cablegram from the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States to the UN Secretary-General of 15 May 1948 justifying the intervention by the Arab States, the Secretary-General of the League alleged that "approximately over a quarter of a million of the Arab population have been compelled to leave their homes and emigrate to neighbouring Arab countries."[53]

July–October 1948

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

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

In Flapan's opinion, "in Lydda, the exodus took place on foot. In Ramlah, the IDF provided buses and trucks. Originally, all males had been rounded up and enclosed in a compound, but after some shooting was heard, and construed by Ben-Gurion to be the beginning of an Arab Legion counteroffensive, he stopped the arrests and ordered the speedy eviction of all the Arabs, including women, children, and the elderly."[54] In explanation, Flapan cites that Ben-Gurion said that "those who made war on us bear responsibility after their defeat."[54]

Rabin wrote in his memoirs:

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

Flapan maintains that events in Nazareth, although ending differently, point to the existence of a definite pattern of expulsion. On 16 July, three days after the Lydda and Ramlah evictions, the city of Nazareth surrendered to the IDF. The officer in command, a Canadian Jew named Ben Dunkelman, had signed the surrender agreement on behalf of the Israeli army along with Chaim Laskov (then a brigadier general, later IDF chief of staff). The agreement assured the civilians that they would not be harmed, but the next day, Laskov handed Dunkelman an order to evacuate the population, which Dunkelman refused.[55][56]

Additionally, widespread looting and several cases of rape[57] took place during the evacuation. In total, about 100,000 Palestinians became refugees in this stage according to Morris.[7]:448

October 1948 – March 1949

IDF operation order for the destruction of Palestinian villages in November 1948

This period of the exodus was characterized by Israeli military accomplishments; Operation Yoav, in October, this cleared the road to the Negev, culminating in the capture of Beersheba; Operation Ha-Har that same month which cleared the Jerusalem Corridor from pockets of resistance; Operation Hiram, at the end of October, resulted in the capture of the Upper Galilee; Operation Horev in December 1948 and Operation Uvda in March 1949, completed the capture of the Negev (the Negev had been allotted to the Jewish State by the United Nations) these operations were met with resistance from the Palestinian Arabs who were to become refugees. The Israeli military activities were confined to the Galilee and the sparsely populated Negev desert. It was clear to the villages in the Galilee, that if they left, return was far from imminent. Therefore, far fewer villages spontaneously depopulated than previously. Most of the Palestinian exodus was due to a clear, direct cause: expulsion and deliberate harassment, as Morris writes "commanders were clearly bent on driving out the population in the area they were conquering".[7]:490

During Operation Hiram in the upper Galilee, Israeli military commanders received the order: "Do all you can to immediately and quickly purge the conquered territories of all hostile elements in accordance with the orders issued. The residents should be helped to leave the areas that have been conquered." (31 October 1948, Moshe Carmel) The UN's acting Mediator, Ralph Bunche, reported that United Nations Observers had recorded extensive looting of villages in Galilee by Israeli forces, who carried away goats, sheep and mules. This looting, United Nations Observers reported, appeared to have been systematic as army trucks were used for transportation. The situation, states the report, created a new influx of refugees into Lebanon. Israeli forces, he stated, have occupied the area in Galilee formerly occupied by Kaukji's forces, and have crossed the Lebanese frontier. Bunche goes on to say "that Israeli forces now hold positions inside the south-east corner of Lebanon, involving some fifteen Lebanese villages which are occupied by small Israeli detachments."[58]

According to Morris[7]:492 altogether 200,000–230,000 Palestinians left in this stage. According to Ilan Pappé, "In a matter of seven months, five hundred and thirty one villages were destroyed and eleven urban neighborhoods emptied [...] The mass expulsion was accompanied by massacres, rape and [the] imprisonment of men [...] in labor camps for periods [of] over a year."[59]

1948 Palestinian exodus History articles: 123

Contemporary mediation and the Lausanne Conference

UN mediation

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

No settlement can be just and complete if recognition is not accorded to the right of the Arab refugee to return to the home from which he has been dislodged. It would be an offence against the principles of elemental justice if these innocent victims of the conflict were denied the right to return to their homes while Jewish immigrants flow into Palestine, and indeed, offer the threat of permanent replacement of the Arab refugees who have been rooted in the land for centuries.[60][61]

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

the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible.[62]

Lausanne Conference of 1949

At the start of the Lausanne Conference of 1949, on 12 May 1949, Israel agreed in principle to allow the return of all Palestinian refugees. At the same time, Israel became a member of the U.N. upon the passage of United Nations General Assembly Resolution 273 on 11 May 1949, which read, in part,

Noting furthermore the declaration by the State of Israel that it "unreservedly accepts the obligations of the United Nations Charter and undertakes to honour them from the day when it becomes a member of the United Nations".

Instead Israel made an offer of allowing 100,000 of the refugees to return to the area, though not necessarily to their homes, including 25,000 who had returned surreptitiously and 10,000 family-reunion cases.[7]:577 The proposal was conditional on a peace treaty that would allow Israel to retain the territory it had captured which had been allocated to the Arab state by the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine, and, contrary to Israel's UN acceptance promise, on the Arab states absorbing the remaining 550,000–650,000 refugees. The Arab states rejected the proposal on both legal, moral and political grounds, and Israel quickly withdrew its limited offer.

Benny Morris, in his 2004 book, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited, summarizes it from his perspective:

In retrospect, it appeared that at Lausanne was lost the best and perhaps only chance for a solution of the refugee problem, if not for the achievement of a comprehensive Middle East settlement. But the basic incompatibility of the initial starting positions and the unwillingness of the two sides to move, and to move quickly, towards a compromise—born of Arab rejectionism and a deep feeling of humiliation, and of Israeli drunkenness with victory and physical needs determined largely by the Jewish refugee influx—doomed the "conference" from the start. American pressure on both sides, lacking a sharp, determined cutting edge, failed to budge sufficiently either Jew or Arab. The "100,000 Offer" was a classic of too little, too late.[7]:580

1948 Palestinian exodus Contemporary mediation and the Lausanne Conference articles: 8