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The Palestinian Refugees: a Reality Check

The birth of the Palestinian refugee phenomenon, in the form of a massive Arab flight, occurred during the Arab riots of 1936-39.

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A view of the crowded Balata refugee camp in Shchem. Balata is the largest refugee camp in the PA, with an estimated 30 000 residents.

A view of the crowded Balata refugee camp in Shchem. Balata is the largest refugee camp in the PA, with an estimated 30 000 residents.
Photo Credit: Nati Shohat/FLASH90



“The flight was caused by an Arab wave of terrorism, which was aimed initially at British personnel and Jewish communities, but was rapidly diverted at Arab targets. It perpetrated a violent anarchy among Arabs, totally devoid of Jewish involvement.  Just like the 1947-49 flight, the 1936-39 flight triggered a departure by upper class Arabs, followed by lower and middle class Arabs, who felt increasingly insecure.  Many returned to their countries of origin….

The 1947-49 flight was limited, mostly, to Arabs from the coastal plain and valleys of Israel, while most mountain Arabs from the Galilee (which was taken over by Israel, but produced very few refugees), Samaria and Judea remained intact…. Therefore, the Palestinian “claim of return” always highlights the coastal plain [pre-1967 Israel]….

The coastal plain was devastated by the Muslims, following their victory over the Crusaders…. Consequently, in the 19th century, Jaffa was reduced to a small village, Haifa had less than 1,000 residents and the valleys (Jordan, Beit Shean, Jezrael, Hula, etc.) were desolated, as documented by the 1881-83 surveys of the Palestine Exploration Fund….

“[Since 1882,] Jewish Aliyah [immigration] concentrated in the coastal plain, producing economic growth, which attracted massive Arab immigration from neighboring countries, mostly Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and North Africa. It was that coastal population, and its descendants – possessing limited roots in the Land of Israel – which fled in 1947, before the eruption of the war.  The flight was accelerated during the 1948-49 war.”

Western policy-makers and media who ignore reality, and embrace the claim of Palestinian dispossession, undermine the peace process and squander the Western taxpayers’ resources.

Yoram Ettinger

About the Author: Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger is consultant to Israel’s Cabinet members and Israeli legislators, and lecturer in the U.S., Canada and Israel on Israel’s unique contributions to American interests, the foundations of U.S.-Israel relations, the Iranian threat, and Jewish-Arab issues.


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