The Palestinian Refugees

Page last updated 29 Oct 2015


In the period 1947-1949 as the British mandate in Palestine came to its ignominious end, the Palestinian inhabitants were engulfed in a bitter conflict. At the end of this phase of the conflict, now generally referred to as the nakba (“catastrophe”) some 750,000 Palestinians found themselves outside what became the green-line, armistice borders of Israel.  Around 130,000, also often displaced, remained inside these borders, where they became full, but disadvantaged, citizens of the new state.

Some refugees left voluntarily, especially in the period immediately following the UN partition resolution of November 1947, intending to return when the unrest had died down. But on the evidence available now, after the opening of the Israeli archives, it is hard to describe the exodus of the vast majority as anything but coerced. (See our note on the new historians.) Writers like Erskine Childers and Walid Khalidi were already presenting convincing evidence that this was the case five decades ago and more. And, whatever the arguments to be had about how clear, coherent and consistent a policy there was to expel the Palestinians, there is no argument about why they didn’t return after the armistice: Israel would not let them.

Originally the intention was to give a simple history of the displacement here, leaving the debate about its causes to the key debates section. But the history of the events of 1947-49, the pivotal moment in the emergence of the state of Israel, is inseparable from its interpretation, and any attempt to divide up the literature, artificial.

The history of this period is covered in passing in some of the overviews linked to in the previous section From earliest times to the present. Interpretations of these events are explored in greater depth in Section 9: Some Key Debates in  The nature of the nakba.

To get a flavour of the scale of the destruction wrought in 1948 and its aftermath (and then again in 1967 and its aftermath) see Amira Hass, Destruction of Palestinian villages is not a matter of perspective, Ha’aretz, 31 July 2015, a discussion of the revised Nakba map produced by the Israeli organisation Zochrot, showing 601 Palestinian villages and 194 Syrian villages destroyed in 1948 and 1967, respectively, as well as destroyed Jewish communities.

There is also material on the refugeees, largely relating to those dispersed beyond the former mandate area, in the section on Palestinian society and politics.


Contents of this section


a) General introduction
b) Timelines and maps
c) From earliest times to the present – introductions and overviews
d) The Palestinian refugees
e) From 1948 to 1967
f) Oslo and after
g) Gaza’s special history

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