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In The Palestinian—Israeli Conf

Not Changed Since B'resheet/Genesis 16:12 and 25:23

See 11 Sections Below:

-Understanding The Roots Of The Problem

-The Birth Of Israel

-An Arab Voice

-A Global Issue

-The loophole in 1948

-Restitution vs Resettlement

-The Penalty Of Aggression

-Is Israel Guilty Of Ethnic Cleansing?

-Transfer Not A Solution

-URWA Caring For Refugees For Years And Still Counting

-Legal Aspects Of The Palestinian Refugee Question


__Understanding The Roots Of The Problem__

Refugees Forever 

Wars produce refugees. The humanitarian imperative is obviously to settle refugees as quickly and as safely as possible. And yet, in the case of the 650,000 Palestinian Arabs who left Israel before and during the War of independence in 1948, the international community has colluded with the Arab world in doing the exact opposite: For the past half century, there has been a deliberate refusal to resettle Palestinian refugees within the Arab world. Instead, the Palestinian and Arab leadership have condemned these people and their descendants to poverty and misery in the UNRWA-run camps that offer little hope of a better life.


This sore and tragic problem can and must be solved, because the longer it takes to arrive at a solution, the more its alarming dimensions will multiply. In this booklet, compiled and written by Eliyahu Tal, the facts—as opposed to the myths - behind the creation of the Palestinian refugee question; the fate of the Arab world's Jewish communities following Israel's creation; and comparisons with other world conflicts that spawned refugee problems, are presented in a clear and concise manner.  There is a consensus, spreading from the Israeli Right to the Left, that there can be no right of return to their 1948 homes for Palestinian refugees, even in the context of a full peace accord between Israel and the Arab world. First and foremost, such a return would threaten the existence of Israel as a Jewish state, as within the space of one generation, the Jewish majority within Israel would be lost. As Tal points out, Israel has changed over the last half century. The villages to which

these refugees demand to return no longer exist.


In the present war in which we find ourselves against the Palestinians, brought about in no small part by their refusal to accept that there can be no right of return, it is important for all to understand the roots of this issue and the justness of Israel's stance.  We at The Jerusalem Post consider the publication of this supplement our contribution towards finding a solution.




__The Birth Of Israel__

 In order to understand the roots of the Arab-Israeli conflict, it is necessary to

review the events that led up to it. The concept of a homeland for the Jews was

 advocated by the Zionist Movement in the 19th century - although the return to

the Promised Land was a 2000-year-old dream.


Dr. Theodor Herzl translated the Zionist Movement's concept into a political program, namely a Jewish State. This was supported by the famous Balfour Declaration of 1917. International recognition was assured by the League of Nations in the Treaty of San Remo in 1920. Following the defeat of Germany and her allies in WWI, Turkey lost her empire. Its vast domains were divided in order to create the new states of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia. Palestine, on both sides of the Jordan, was entrusted to Britain for the establishment of the Jewish National Home.


Although the original area designated National Home was considerably reduced by the British in 1922 in order to provide for the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan - the Jews nevertheless succeeded in developing the small area left to them into a flourishing enterprise, literally causing the desert to bloom.  With the benefit of hindsight, it is instructive to compare Arab gains from the Allied victory in WWI with those of the Jews. On the one hand, five independent newly- born states on an enormous area, as against the promise of a National Home on a very small area.


The growth of the Jewish population in Palestine was resented by the Arabs who expressed their hostility by fomenting bloody riots in 1920, 1929, 1933 and 1936-39. The most tragic was the massacre of the ancient Jewish community of Hebron in 1929.  In order to resolve the conflict, on November 29, 1947 the UN voted in favor of a Partition Plan which provided for two independent states, one Jewish, one Arab, while Jerusalem would be internationalized.  Although there was hesitation among the Jewish public, it was decided to accept the Plan, notwithstanding that the area allotted to the Jewish State was, once again, considerably reduced.  The Arabs rejected the plan outright. Contemptuous of the will of the world, bands of Palestinian Arabs, aided by irregular volunteers from neighboring countries, attacked Jewish communities and clashed with the Hagana defense force. With the termination of the UN Mandate on May 14, 1948 the British forces had withdrawn from Palestine. Regular troops of the armies of Egypt, Iraq, Transjordan, Syria, and Lebanon invaded the country, along with volunteer detachments from Saudi Arabia, Libya, and Yemen.


"The Arabs intend to conduct a war of extermination and a momentous

massacre which will be spoken of like the Mongolian massacre and the

Crusades," declared Azzam Pasha, secretary-general of the Arab League,

on the BBC, May 15, 1948.


Despite the fierce resistance of the nascent Israel Defense Force, the Arabs made significant headway in their assault. Egyptian troops reached the Jerusalem suburb of Talpiot, and, advancing along the coast, were stopped 40 km. short of Tel Aviv. In the North, the Syrians took Kibbutz Mishmar Hayarden, only 25 km. from Tiberias.


Jordan captured the Old City of Jerusalem and destroyed its 58 synagogues. They also took Gush Etzion, the resort hotel of Kalia (and the kibbutz next to it on the Dead Sea) and the Monastery of Latrun on the Tel Aviv- Jerusalem road. The Latrun stronghold - as well as the bitter fighting at the nearby Castel fort and Arab villages - frustrated Israeli attempts to break the six month siege on Jerusalem. The Jewish casualty toll in the 1948 war was far greater than that of the Arabs. Estimated at 3.2%, it is among the highest casualty rate of any recorded conflict.


Israel and the Axis of Evil 

One and a half million Jews fought with the Allies against Germany, Italy and Japan in WWII. Among them were over 30,000 Jewish volunteers from tiny Palestine. In the cemeteries of Normandy, Stalingrad and El-Alamein, one can see tombs engraved with the Magen David but none with the Islamic Crescent.  The Arab world stood aloof. Moreover, leaders like the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and the ruler of Iraq sided with the Nazis.  Some Western democracies, while misjudging Israel's present struggle, seem to have forgotten these facts.


This article appeared in the Jerusalem Post 1-15-2003 approximately,

and is reproduced solely for educational purposes.

 _An Arab Voice_

Edward Sa'id, an eminent Arabist at Columbia University and one of the outstanding spokesmen for the Palestinian cause, expresses his views.


"The by now notorious peace process has finally come down to the one issue that has been at the core of Palestinian depredations since 1948: the fate of the refugees. That the Palestinians have endured decades of dispossession and raw agonies rarely endured by other peoples -particularly because these agonies have either been ignored or denied, and

even more poignantly, because the perpetrators of this tragedy are celebrated for social and political achievements that make no mention at all of where those achievements actually began - is of course the locus of "the Palestinian problem," but it has been pushed very far down the agenda of negotiations until finally now, it has popped up to the surface.  "Along with [the original displacement of the 1948 war] went the scandalously poor treatment of the refugees themselves. It is still the case, for example, that the 40,000-50,000 Palestinian refugees resident in Egypt must report to a local police station every month; vocational, educational, and social opportunities are curtailed; and a general sense of not belonging adheres to them, despite their Arab nationality and language.


"In Lebanon the situation is even more dire. Almost 400,000 Palestinian refugees have had to endure not only the massacres of Sabra, Shatila, Tel al-Za'atar, Dbayyeh, and elsewhere, but have remained confined in hideous quarantine for almost two generations. They have no legal right to work in at least 60 occupations; they are not adequately covered by medical insurance; they cannot travel and return; they are the objects of suspicion and dislike. In part, they have inherited the mantle of opprobrium draped round them by the PLO's presence (and since 1982 its unlamented absence) there, and thus they remain in the eyes of many ordinary Lebanese a sort of house enemy to be warded off and/or punished from time to time. "A similar situation exists in kind, if not in degree, in Syria. As for Jordan, although it was - to its credit - the only country where Palestinians were given naturalized status, a visible fault line exists between the disadvantaged majority of that very large community and the Jordanian establishment for reasons that scarcely need to be spelled out. I might add, however, that for most of these situations where Palestinian refugees exist in large groups within one or another Arab country - all of them the direct consequence of 1948 - no simple, much less elegant or just, solution exists in the foreseeable future. It is also worth mentioning, or rather asking, why it is that a destiny of confinement and isolation has been imposed on a people who quite naturally fled to neighboring countries when driven from their own, countries that everyone believed would welcome and sustain them. More or less the opposite occurred: except in Jordan, no welcome was given them - another unpleasant consequence of the original dispossession.


What of Yasser Arafat's leadership?

"Arafat survives inside the Palestinian territories today for two main reasons: one, he is needed by the international supporters of the peace process, Israel, the US and the EU chief among them. He is needed to sign, and that, after all, is what he is good for. The second reason is that because he is a master at corrupting even the best of his people, he has bought off or threatened all organized opposition (there are always individuals who cannot be co-opted) and therefore removed them as a threat. The rest of the population is too uncertain and discouraged to do much. The Authority employs about 140,000 people; multiply that by five or six (the number of dependents of each employee) and you get close to a million people whose livelihood hangs by the string offered by Yasser Arafat. Much as he is disliked, disrespected, and feared, he will remain so long as he has this leverage over an enormous number of people, who will not jeopardize their future just because they are ruled by a corrupt, inefficient, and stupid dictatorship which cannot even deliver the essential services for daily civil life like water, health, electricity, food, etc.


      "That leaves the Palestinian Diaspora, which produced Arafat in the first place: It was from Kuwait and Cairo that he emerged to challenge Shukairy and Haj Amin. A new leadership will almost certainly appear from the Palestinians who live elsewhere: they are a majority, none of them feels that Arafat represents them, all of them regard the Authority as without real legitimacy, and they are the ones with the most to gain from the right of return, on which Arafat and his men are going to be forced to back down.  "Palestinian leadership has selfishly put its own self-interest, overinflated squadrons of security guards, commercial monopolies, unseemly persistence in power, lawless despotism, anti-democratic greed and cruelty, before the collective Palestinian good. Until now, it has connived with Israel to let the refugee issue slither down the pole; but now that the final status era is upon us all, there's no more room down there. And so, as I said above, we're back to the basic, the irreconcilable, the irremediably interlocked contradiction between Palestinian and Israeli nationalism."  (From the introduction to Palestinian Refugees: The Right of Return, Pluto Press, London, 2001)  Award-winning Columbia University professor Edward Sa'id has published several books on the Palestinians and the Middle East.


The Difference Between Yasser Arafat

Now and Anwar Sadat Then

      After losing three wars, President Anwar Sadat of Egypt came to the painful conclusion that Israel could not be beaten on the battlefield.  He therefore made the courageous and historic trip to Jerusalem.  Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, after intensive negotiations, reached the first peace agreement between Israel and an Arab state, known as the Camp David Accord. This was brokered by US President Jimmy Carter in 1979.


      Another US President, Bill Clinton, made even greater efforts to bring about peace between Israel and the Palestinians, but to no avail.  Arafat spurned the far- reaching concessions offered by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, choosing instead the path of terrorism and initiating the latest intifada in August 2000.  Had Arafat inherited only a part of Sadat's wisdom and vision, there would probably have been a viable and flourishing Palestinian state today. Instead, there are thousands of bereaved families and no end in sight for a solution to the Palestinian refugee problem.


This article appeared in the Jerusalem Post 1-15-2003 approximately,

and is reproduced solely for educational purposes.

__A Global Issue__


The Palestinians are neither the first nor the last population to become refugees. This condition is the inevitable outcome of tragic conflict - and the 20th century alone saw refugees on an epic scale due to its numerous conflicts. Tribal feuds, ethnic and religious clashes and full-scale wars have always resulted in the forced displacement of populations, usually as the only alternative to violent death. The more bitter and drawn out the fighting, the more numerous and scarred the refugees left amid the ruins.

Unique about the Palestinian refugee problem is that it has been allowed - even forced - to continue and to grow. Every other major refugee group has been resettled within a generation.  Of the approximately 135 million refugees created over the last century, only the Palestinians have retained this dismal, nation less status. Thus, while a few decades ago they constituted less than 5% of the total number of refugees, they are today the biggest refugee group, at 17% of some 24 million worldwide.  International attempts to solve refugee crises have met with mixed results.


To a limited degree, international intervention forces in the Balkans and Rwanda have restored refugees to their place of origin. In most cases, however, they have successfully settled elsewhere in their homelands, or found haven in other countries.  After World War II, for example, the US stepped in to contain Europe's economic tailspin, its Marshal Aid Plan resurrecting Germany's industry and allowing for the absorption of German refugees. German towns which had been conquered were renamed (Danzig became Gdansk, Konigsberg became Kaliningrad, etc.) to ensure that those who had left accepted their new reality.  As Pakistan broke off from India, Muslims crossed to the latter and Hindus to the former in a voluntary population transfer which, with the exception of Kashmir, proved largely successful. This method was first tested in 1922, when the League of Nations - predecessor to the UN -decreed that a territorial war between Turkey and Greece in Asia Minor be settled by having the sides exchange nationals and finalize their border.  Israel - tiny, arid, and practically devoid of natural resources - has done its utmost to take in and rehabilitate refugees, multiplying its population by eight between 1948 and 2000. Many of these new arrivals were Jews who had survived the horrors of the Holocaust. Another 800,000 had fled anti-Israel hostility in their native Arab countries, where their property, valued at tens of billions of dollars, was confiscated.  How can it be, then, that the Palestinian refugees have been denied resettlement? Is this a tragic oversight, or devious design? And who is to blame?


In 1947, while Britain was disengaging from Palestine, it was also withdrawing from India, leading to the birth of independent Pakistani and Indian states. Whereas the Arab- Israeli conflict created hundreds of thousands of refugees, the Indians and Pakistanis wisely agreed to transfer millions of their people across the border in order to defuse ethnic and religious tensions. India sent Muslims to Pakistan, which in turn sent Hindus to India. Both states granted citizenship to these refugees.  The much smaller - and perhaps even more easily solvable - problem of Arab refugees is a sad paradox, in that it has cost the Western world so many billions of dollars in humanitarian aid that only perpetuates the refugees' plight, and has monopolized its media attention for over half a century, when alternatives in refugee transfers such as the one between India and Pakistan have proven



Excerpted from The Arabs in History (Oxford University Press) 

- Prof. Bernard Lewis, leading expert on Islamic and Middle Eastern history.


This article appeared in the Jerusalem Post 1-15-2003 approximately,

and is reproduced solely for educational purposes.

__ The Loopholes in 1948__


When Claiming the right of return, the Arabs consistently wave

UN General Assembly Resolution 194 of December 1948 as their banner.


The major issues: "Who is a refugee? What are refugees entitled to?  Where may they return to and under what conditions?" require clarification before the true meaning of 194 is defined. 


Let's hear what international jurists have to say

Ruth Lapidoth is Professor of International Law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and a member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague. She was also a fellow at the US Institute of Peace in 1990-1991.  "Certainly many of those who fled their homes during the 1948 war are refugees. But the greater Palestinian refugee problem must be viewed from the perspective of international law.  "The 1951-1967 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees makes no mention of descendants - so the status is not inherited. Moreover, the convention ceases to apply to a person who, inter alia, has acquired a new nationality, and enjoys the protection of the country of his new nationality."


By this definition, the number of Palestinians who qualify for refugee

status would be well below 500,000 - considerably diminishing the

dimensions of the issue.


Moreover, the right of return in the 1966 International Covenant "is intended to apply to individuals asserting an individual right. There was no intention here to address the claims of masses of people who have been displaced as a byproduct of war or by political transfers of territory or population..."   One also has to observe that humanitarian law conventions (such as the 1949 Geneva Conventions for the protection of Victims of War) do not recognize the right of return.


First rejected, later reclaimed

It should be noted that at the UN General Assembly of 11 December 1948 - Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Yemen - voted against 194, but later decided to embrace the resolution as recognition of a wholesale inalienable right of repatriation. But there is no recognition of any "right," rather a suggestion that refugees "should" be "permitted" to return.


Moreover, that permission is subject to two conditions: that the refugee wishes to return; and that he/she wishes to live in peace with his neighbors.  The Palestinians have linked their demand for return to a claim for self-determination.  A situation where returning Palestinian refugees have the right to external self-determination would mean the end of the very existence of the State of Israel. It should also be noted that the UN General Assembly has suggested resettlement as an alternative to repatriation.


Prof. Efraim Karsh, head of Mediterranean Studies at King's College, University of London, maintains that:


"It was in the late 1960s that the Arabs began to transform it [194] into the cornerstone of a

spurious legal claim to a 'right of return.' But 194 in no way establishes any such right.  Additionally,

the very notion of such a 'right' contradicts the essence of international law and behavior."


242, 338, 194: confusing numbers

Since these often-quoted numbers confuse the layman we see fit to briefly dwell on them. "The foremost document used by the Palestinians to substantiate their call for Israel's complete withdrawal from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip is [UN] Security Council Resolution 242 of 22 November 1967 (echoed six years later by Resolution 338). This resolution does not demand Israel's complete evacuation of these territories but rather its

withdrawal 'from territories occupied in the recent conflict.' "The absence of the definite article 'the' from the text is anything but accidental. Issued a mere six months after Israel's astounding triumph over the concerted pan- Arab attempt to obliterate it, the resolution reflected the keen international awareness of the existential threat posed by the pre-1967 borders, memorably described by the then-Israeli foreign minister, Abba Eban, as 'Auschwitz borders.'


"Nor does the resolution make any mention of the creation of a Palestinian state. To the contrary, since the Palestinians were widely viewed at the time as refugees rather than a cohesive nation deserving its own state, it was assumed that those territories that would be evacuated by Israel would return to their pre-1967 Arab occupiers; Gaza to Egypt, and the West Bank to Jordan. All the resolution had to say about the Palestinians was to affirm the necessity 'for achieving a just settlement of the refugee problem.'  "All this, of course, is water under the bridge. Egypt and Jordan have long washed their hands of these territories." These territories are generally termed "occupied" by harsh Israeli rule.  They are, in fact, "disputed" territories - the final say and borders of which will be drawn following peaceful negotiations. This unorthodox view has been recently voiced by US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld and others.


No right, no return

Major-General (ret.) Shlomo Gazit, former head of IDF Intelligence, and member of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University. explains:


"Regardless of the conditions that led Palestinians to uproot or flee their homes in 1948 and 1967, and regardless of the parties who were responsible for the creation of that tragedy, one cannot help but feel deep empathy for their suffering. "Moreover, there is no choice - the only way to guarantee calm and stability in our region is to resolve the refugee problem and do so as soon as possible. However, that empathy, which most citizens of Israel share, is not enough to warrant the return of the refugees to Israeli "Israel's position on that matter has to be clear: It does not recognize a 'right,' it does not recognize 'responsibility' and it will not allow the return of refugees into its territory.  "Even more importantly, it does not establish a 'right' at all, let alone an eternal and unconditional one. As opposed to UN Security Council resolutions, General Assembly resolutions have no binding international standing. They are merely recommendations.  "Placing the blame for creating the problem on Israel has no international basis and the mere Palestinian request that Israel recognize such responsibility is Palestinian insolence. The 1948 war was a result of a clear Palestinian initiative to prevent the establishment of a sovereign Jewish state with the goal of annihilating the Jewish community. That thrust was joined in May 1948 by Arab armies who invaded Palestine.


"All the Jewish settlements occupied by Arabs, without exception, were destroyed,

and their residents - including women, elderly people, and children - were murdered or taken prisoner.

What is Israel requested to take responsibility for - defending itself, winning the battle?" 


David Ben-Gurion, who agreed to the 1947 Partition Plan despite the significant territorial loss involved, declared "We won't accept the refugees. Not one refugee - just as our men who were killed in the Arab war against us will not rise up from the dead."


What Resolution 1948 really means

Resolution 194 was originally destined to be the cornerstone of a peace process. It consists of 15 paragraphs, the first of which calls for the establishment of a reconciliation committee composed of representatives from the US, Britain and Turkey. The Jews accepted it, the Arabs rejected it.  Years later the Arabs drew out paragraph 11 of Resolution 194, the one dealing with the subject of refugees. This was a ploy of diplomacy, picking the cherry from the cake, as it were.


Tragically, even Palestinian infants suckle, together with their mothers' milk, a poisonous hatred against Israel.  Thus, the stipulation in 194 that the right of return is confined only to refugees "wishing to live in peace with their neighbors" appears far-fetched when the abyss of hatred and suspicion between the two peoples is widening.  When Sari Nusseiba and other moderates, as a gesture, agree to "relinquish the right of return," while naturally they expect compensation, what needs to be absolutely clear is that in fact they relinquish nothing because there is no right of return.


This article appeared in the Jerusalem Post 1-15-2003 approximately,

and is reproduced solely for educational purposes.

__Restitution vs. Resettlement__


The Palestinians have an excellent case for suing for reparations - that is,

if they were suing the Arab states whose advancing armies created the vast majority of Palestinian refugees in 1948. Instead, they are claiming

exorbitant sums from Israel.


Payment for pain the sky is the limit

McMaster University economics Professor Atif Kubursi, for example, claims that Israel is directly responsible for compensation for Arab losses in real estate, moveable property, lost opportunities, and psychological damage stemming from the 1948 war. In a lengthy study supported by charts he arrives at the astronomic sum of $281 billion. To lend credence to his study Kubursi adds detailed lists of lost Arab livestock and crops.

Should he wish to weigh these small losses against the Palestinian

systematic pilfering and plunder of Israeli farmers, Kubursi would soon

find his fledgling state well in the red. So, too, if he were to put the 1,284

Palestinian vehicles he claims were lost in 1948 against the 30,000 Israeli

vehicles stolen by Palestinians in each of the past several years.


 Fellow Arab academics, Yusuf Massad and Rashid Khalidi, use similar tactics in drawing up wildly imaginative figures for Israel's "debt" in terms of today's dollars.  Not only is this preposterous, it is as if Japan were demanding compensation from the US and the countries it had attacked early in WWII.  Massad, assistant professor at Columbia proposes the "German model" of restitution and speaks of $253 billion (at the rate of 1994) to be paid by Israel.


Khalidi maintains "that the refugee issue is so central to the national narrative of the Palestinians that any approach which tries to sweep history under the rug will fail entirely." He calls on the Israeli government to pay reparations rather than compensation - because the former assumes responsibility.  Khalidi's solution covers reparation payments for all those not allowed to return, and compensation for those who lost property in 1948.  These sums, for property losses alone, range from $92 billion to $147 billion at 1948 prices. In addition to the above, he comes up with a reparation figure of $20,000 per person for an arbitrary 2 million refugees, totaling $40 billion. When it comes to Arab claims, the sky appears to be the limit.


These Arab claims are disproportionate when compared with the reparation payments for the devastation of a continent and the toll of millions of lives, levied by the Allies on Germany and its partners in the Treaty of Versailles of 1919. Germany had to pay 132 billion gold Deutsch Marks; and sums varying from 125 million pounds sterling to $360 million were imposed on Finland, Bulgaria, Hungary, Italy and Romania for being on the side of the aggressor.


Return of the Sheikh?

Certainly there was Palestinian property appropriated, destroyed, lost, or unclaimed. But, in negotiating this thorny issue, both sides will have to face a reality much changed since the events of 1948.  Implementing the "right of return" today would mean dismantling and destroying the elaborate infrastructure built over the past 50 years, which includes housing for millions of Jews - as well as hospitals, universities, and industrial areas that have benefitted Jew and Arab alike.  Anyone expecting Israel to undo all that is asking the state to start all over again.  Take, for example, the return to Sheikh Munis, a village within the boundaries of Tel Aviv. The campus of the Tel Aviv University now occupies this site. To raze this institution of higher learning and make the land available to the families of the refugees of that village who demand the "right of return" would be unthinkable today.


That is merely one of innumerable instances throughout Israel.  Most Palestinians recognize that this is not feasible and suggest that Israel swap land for those locations that were abandoned in 1948.  This is obviously an attempt to use demographic pressure to destroy Israel. The essence of the Zionist idea was to establish a Jewish state, in which a clear Jewish majority was guaranteed. The influx of Palestinian refugees, and the high natural growth of that population, would guarantee the loss of Israel's Jewish majority within the space of two generations, at most.  A study by Professor Arnon Soffer of Haifa University estimates that by 2020 the population covering the area between the Jordan and the Mediterranean will comprise 42% Jews and 58% Moslems and others. Professor Sergio de la Pergula of the Hebrew University forecasts an Arab majority as early as 2010.


Because of the enmity for Israel on which the Palestinians have been raised, their entry into Israel en masse would create an immediate terrorist threat - it would be an act of national suicide.  Some argue that all the refugees do not really mean to realize "the right of return" in practice, they just want the Israeli recognition of it. But the moment Israel recognizes this "right," it will lose control of its borders,  because the Palestinian refugee will be the one who decides today or in the future whether to actualize that "right."  Besides the political motive, the economic incentive is enough to inspire Palestinian refugees - or other Arabs claiming to be Palestinian refugees—to flood into Israel. After all, who wouldn't prefer to live in a country where the per capita income is 15 times higher than in the Arab states?


Arab demands - how far and how much

But even such arbitrary use of economic factors and creative assumptions regarding Arab wealth in Palestine before Israel's establishment cannot top the gumption of the Arab states. When, after the breakdown of the Camp David talks in July 2000, US President Bill Clinton floated the idea of establishing a reparations fund to be

supported by the US, Europe, and Japan, several Arab states hurried to demand compensation for the years they have "hosted" Palestinian refugees.  Lebanon's claim is said to amount to $7 billion. Jordan's formula is based on an annual payment of $2 billion for "hosting" the largest number of refugees since 1947. Syria is sure to follow suit. These claims are an ugly exercise, nothing short of extortion.  Going from the ridiculous to the grotesque and malicious, Palestinian leaders and academics have used the Holocaust - when not denying it—as a model for the reparations they hope to receive from Israel. To put hundreds of thousands of refugees, most of whom fled from their homes because of the exhortations of their fellow Arabs, on the scale opposite 6 million slaughtered European Jews is downright atrocious.


Who owned the land?

Before the termination of the British Mandate in 1948, 8.6% was owned by Jews and 3.3% by Arabs within the Green Line.  Another 16.9% was owned by those Arabs termed refugees. Plus 71.2% was State-owned land, mostly barren state owned land.  -Kubursi, Yussuf Massad Palestinian Refugees and the Right of Return, Plato Press, London, 2001


Arab states hold the key

At the negotiations held in Taba on January 22, 2001, it was stipulated by the Palestinians that Israel is solely to blame for the creation of the refugee problem.  They advocated that the "right of return" be implemented under the supervision of a special international committee including representatives of Arab states. (The Palestinians, mindful of the disproportionate sway of the Arab-Islamic bloc in the UN, have always held to a strategy of internationalizing the Arab-Israeli conflict.)


There is an alternative - settlement and freedom in Arab lands.  Before the Palestinians initiated hostilities in September 2000, they had attained a reasonable standard of living that approached or even exceeded that of many sovereign Arab states, thanks to the Israeli policy of allowing them freedom of movement and the opportunity to work in Israel - rights that most Arab states have withheld from their homeless brethren.  The Palestinians would be best served by absorption into surrounding Arab countries. They share the same language, religion and culture. In fact, seventy percent of Palestinians are third generation offspring of immigration from these countries due to economic considerations. However, not only do the 22 Arab countries have no interest in aiding the Palestinians, they prefer to wield them as a political weapon against Israel.


This article appeared in the Jerusalem Post 1-15-2003 approximately,

and is reproduced solely for educational purposes.

__The Penalty of Aggression__


The Arab lobby has always blamed Israel for the Palestinian problem.

The blame game

The Palestinian refugees are victims, yes - but not of Israel. Rather, they are the victims of wars launched - ostensibly for them - by the Arab states, but for which they pay the price. They are the victims, effectively, of Arab aggression against Israel.  "Had the Palestinians accepted the UN [partition] resolution instead of waging an aggressive war, there would have been no refugees.... The initial refugee problem of 1948 was exacerbated when Egypt and Syria launched the Six Day War.... Never before in history have those who lost wars of

aggression been deemed equal partners in the negotiation, and for good reason," writes legal expert Prof. Alan Dershowitz of Harvard University. The "good reason," of course, is that aggressors should not have incentives for perpetrating acts of aggression.  Dershowitz notes the unabated hostility toward Israel demonstrated by Palestinians over the years, as exemplified by their conspicuous support for Saddam Hussein during the Gulf War.


"Over the course of the conflict the Palestinians ... continue to play the

violence card as part of their negotiating strategy. Indeed, the major

bargaining chip they bring to the table is the threat of renewed violence

if they don't get their way. Another chip has been the one- sided refusal

of the UN to condemn them for their aggression and terrorism.

"There must be a price paid for starting and losing wars... Aggressors

should be made to absorb refugees created by their aggression."


Prelude to World War II: 

The Sudetenland In the ill-fated Munich Pact signed with Hitler in 1938, Britain's Chamberlain surrendered to Germany's demand to annex the Sudetenland, a part of Czechoslovakia, inhabited by Germans for centuries. The Nazis soon occupied the whole country, and then invaded Poland.  Liberated by the Allies in 1945, the Czechs regained the Sudetenland, expelling 2.5 million of its ethnic Germans to Germany as authorized at the Potsdam Conference.  There is a parallel between the German Sudets and the Palestinian refugees - except that the latter refuse to accept the universal code that aggressors must pay for their acts.  A final agreement between the Germans and the Czechs was signed in December 1946, recognizing that the German Sudets were expelled on the understanding that they were pro-Nazi and, as such, enemies of the Czechs. Both sides agreed that the German Sudets would receive neither compensation nor apology. During the ensuing Cold War, the descendants of these Germans demanded to return to their "ancestral homeland" - but in vain.


Another example of international justice following WWII is the decision arrived at by Roosevelt, Stalin, and Churchill at the Potsdam Conference.  The three agreed that Germany should compensate Poland for attacking and ravaging the country, by ceding sizable territory to it.  A "cooperation and good neighborhood" agreement was signed by the Republic of Poland and the Federal Government of Germany, denying the right of return to the millions of German refugees who had fled with the retreating Nazi army. It was also agreed that no restitution would be paid for abandoned properties.


Where is the German PLO?

The line between past and present was drawn, and Stettin, once the proud capital of Teutonic Pomerania, became the major Polish city of the region.  And of course, there has never been a Teutonic PLO, or "Pomeranian Liberation Organization." The only existing PLO is the Palestinian Liberation Organization, founded in Cairo in 1964 with pan-Arab support.  The code of penalty for aggression has been applied not only to mighty Germany but also to smaller countries who had gotten on the wrong bandwagon, such as Finland and Hungary. 


Finland - In 1939 the Soviet Union invaded the small Finnish democracy. Despite courageous resistance, the Finns were defeated and forced to cede the Isthmus of Karelia to the Russians. In an attempt to recover lost territory, the Finns joined with the Germans, who invaded Russia in 1941. Joint Finnish/German forces recaptured the isthmus.  However, at the Paris Conference in 1947, Finland was forced to relinquish Karelia (which comprised one-eighth of its total area) and to pay the Russians a considerable war indemnity.  Moreover, 400,000 refugees were reabsorbed into Finland, without any international financial aid.


Hungary - The principle of penalty for aggression was also applied to Hungary who, during part of World War I fought on the side of Germany as a member of the dual Austro- Hungarian Monarchy. The war lost, sizeable Hungarian territories were ceded to Czechoslovakia, Romania and Yugoslavia.  In World War II, Hungary once again chose the wrong side and fought with the Axis Powers. She was ultimately overrun by the Russians, and at

the Treaty of Paris, was ordered to pay $3 billion in reparations to the Soviet Union.


This article appeared in the Jerusalem Post 1-15-2003 approximately,

and is reproduced solely for educational purposes.

__Is Israel Guilty of Ethnic Cleansing?__


Arab spokesmen, fluent in the use of standard cliches, attribute the refugee problem

to a program of 'ethnic cleansing' by the Jewish leadership. This is palpably false.


It was first and foremost at the urging of their leaders that the largest number of Arab refugees fled, with the promise of a swift victory over the weak Zionist enemy and an imminent return to their homes. Rumors of atrocities, highlighted by the tragic Deir Yassin episode, fanned a country-wide panic.  Many Arabs did not heed the warnings to flee andstayed on, a wise decision they never regretted. There is peace between the Arab and Jewish communities in downtown Haifa today because of this choice, as is the case in nearby Acre.  In Jaffa, a considerable number of Arabs remained to live under the joint Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality. Although the Hassan Beq mosque was used asa sniper's nest against Jewish passersby in 1948, it still stands as a Muslim landmark in Tel Aviv.


Many of these Arab villages have developed into thriving townships. This applies even more dramatically to East Jerusalem, where the Arab population had increased from some 50,000 in 1948 to over 230,000 by the year 2000.  It is true that some villages, mainly those who laid siege to Jerusalem, were destroyed and their inhabitants expelled. Their number was grossly inflated to a count of 400, according to Benny Morris, a forerunner of the school of "new historians" of Zionism.  There is substantial evidence to corroborate these facts in the following citations:


Citations from Arab leaders:

"We will smash the country with our guns and obliterate every place the Jews seek shelter in. The Arabs should conduct their wives and children to safe areas until the fighting has died down."  Iraqi prime minister Nuri Said, Sir Am Nakbah (The Secret Behind the Disaster) by Nimr el-Hawari, Nazareth, 1952


"Azzam Pasha assured the Arab peoples that the occupation of Palestine and of Tel Aviv would be as simple as a military promenade ... and that all the millions the Jews had spent on land and economic development would be easy booty, for it would be a simple matter to throw Jews into the Mediterranean ... "


- Habib Issa, secretary-general of the Arab League (Azzam Pasha's successor), Al Hoda, June 8, 1951  It is of summary importance to point out that while Jordan's British trained, fully equipped Arab legion was able to pummel Jewish Jerusalem with in excess of 10,000 artillery shells, the Hagana had to make do with scant and often makeshift weapons.


"As early as the first months of 1948, the Arab League issued orders exhorting the people

to seek a temporary refuge in neighboring countries, later to return to their abodes …

and obtain their share of abandoned Jewish property."


- Bulletin of The Research Group for European Migration Problems, 1957 "The Arab states succeeded in scattering the Palestinian people and in destroying their unity. They did not recognize them as a unified people until the states of the world did so, and this is regrettable."


- Abu Mazen from the official journal of the PLO, Falastin el-Thawra (What We Have Learned and What We Should Do), Beirut, March 1976 Leading American and British sources confirm the real cause of the flight:


Citations from the international media:

"The mass evacuation, prompted partly by fear, partly by order of Arab leaders,

left the Arab quarter of Haifa a ghost city.... By withdrawing Arab workers their leaders

hoped to paralyze Haifa."  - Time Magazine, May 3, 1948, page 25


"[The Arabs of Haifa] fled in spite of the fact that the Jewish authorities guaranteed

their safety and rights as citizens of Israel."


- Monsignor George Hakim, Greek Catholic Bishop of Galilee, New York Herald Tribune, June 30, 1949 "Israelis argue that the Arab states encouraged the Palestinians to flee. And, in fact, Arabs still living in Israel recall being urged to evacuate Haifa by Arab military commanders who wanted to bomb the city."

Newsweek, January 20, 1963


Citations from British military sources:

Highly credible are the comments of the British commander of the Arab Legion, who, having bombarded Jewish Jerusalem and destroyed the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, cannot be suspected of a pro-Zionist attitude:

"The Arab civilians panicked and fled ignominiously. Villages were frequently

abandoned before they were threatened by the progress of war."


- General John Glubb "Pasha," The London Daily Mail, August 12, 1948  "Every effort is being made by the Jews to persuade the Arab populace to stay and carry on with their normal lives, to get their shops and businesses open and to be assured that their lives and interests will be safe."


- Haifa District HQ of the British Police, April 26, 1948, (quoted in Battleground by Samuel Katz).  For decades, April 6, 1948 has been commemorated in the Arab world as "Deir Yassin Day," through sermons in mosques and lessons in schools, on stamps and posters, in books and songs. On that day, Deir Yassin, an Arab village at the entrance to Jerusalem, was captured by the Irgun Tzva'i Le'umi (known as the Irgun), defending the besieged Holy City.  Arab leaders spread word that Jewish terrorists had stormed the peaceful village, raping the women and ultimately killing over 500 residents.  There was even talk of aerial bombardment and tanks. The effect was

double- edged. Actually, it was a standard battle that took a tragic turn.  The village harbored Arab guerrillas who had long exploited their strategic position, attacking Jewish mountain convoys trying to break the three-month siege of Jerusalem.


Iraqi irregulars dressed as women

During the house-to-house fighting women and children were mistakenly killed. Among the Arab fighters were Iraqi irregulars who were dressed as women.  Years later, Palestinian researchers at Bir-Zeit University found that the death toll was 107. Murder and rape have always been an athema to Israel's military.  Israel has never denied its role in the Deir Yassin massacre nor reserved remorse. Nonetheless, the Arab world refused to accept that what happened on April 6, 1948 was the exception, not the rule, and Deir Yassin became a crucial factor in creating, and a tool in fanning, anti-Israeli hatred for generations.  An Arab revenge attack was quick to follow. Four days after Deir Yassin, the Jewish convoy on its way to Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus was ambushed.  Seventy-seven people were killed, including doctors, nurses, patients, and the hospital director. Another 23 medical personnel were wounded.


This article appeared in the Jerusalem Post 1-15-2003 approximately,

and is reproduced solely for educational purposes.

__Transfer: Not a Solution__


There is a difference between voluntary and involuntary transfer.

A number of historic precedents point to transfer as a viable solution to territorial dispute, provided it is carried out by mutual consent.  In an effort to end the Balkan Wars at the beginning of the 19th century, Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey agreed to exchange their minority populations in the Treaties of San Stephano (1878), Constantinople (1913) and

Neuilly (1919). However, the major exchange of population (transfer) took place between Greece and Turkey in order that a permanent border could be set between the longtime enemies.  Endorsed by the Treaty of Lausanne (1922) and drawn up by the League of Nations, the transfer agreement fixed the terms by which the international community could restore ties with Turkey, which had been defeated in WWI.  One of the major signatories was Elefterios Venizelos, Greece's elder statesman, six times the country's prime minister.


Altogether 1.25 million Greeks from Asia Minor and Eastern Thrace were transferred to Greece, and nearly 500,000 Turks, primarily from Macedonia and Epirus, were transferred to Turkey. This project was organized and supervised by the celebrated Norwegian Arctic explorer Fridtjof Nansen, winner of the 1922 Nobel Prize for his humanitarian activities.


Grasimos Apostolatos, former minister in the Greek government, presently head of The Society for the Study of Greek History, admits in his Annual Report (Athens, 2001) that the project of transferring some 1.25 million Greeks to their ancestral homeland was a painful one, but only such a radical solution could end the conflict. It took a few years for the integration of the displaced persons into the local economy, but the ultimate result was positive, and Greece emerged from the experience stronger and more prosperous.


Henry Morgenthau, the first president of the Refugee Settlement Committee, described the arrival in Salonica of a boatload of Greek refugees from Turkey. "I saw 7000 people crowded in a ship that would have been taxed with a normal capacity of 2000. They were packed like sardines upon the deck - a squirming, writhing mass of human misery." (This has an eerie parallel with the arrival of ships to Israel, bearing waves of Holocaust survivors, including the famous "Exodus," prevented from docking by the British.)


The India-Pakistan venture

The largest population transfer yet was effected when Pakistan split from India on August 15, 1947. Eight million Hindus and six million Muslims were involved, and perhaps a million died in a painful but necessary operation that had broad international support. Despite the enormous number of refugees and the relative poverty of both nations, no international relief organizations were established to aid in the resettlement. (It was a grave historical error that the area of Kashmir, in dispute today, was overlooked, thus leaving a festering wound in the relations between the two countries.) The refugees resettled, and a new generation grew up considering itself native to its new home - both Indians and Pakistanis having made the pragmatic decision to start afresh.


Pakistan's President, Gen. Pervez Musharaf, was one such refugee, having been born in New Delhi and transferred to Pakistan at the age of four, along with his family.  The idea of "transfer" had been nurtured by leading statesmen even before 1942.  Many Western and Arab leaders alike favored transferring the Arab population of Palestine to neighboring states.  In 1927, Iraq's King Faisal I spoke of "Muslim Arab peasants from Syria and Palestine" coming to cultivate the vast expanses of unoccupied Iraqi land.


By 1942, Franklin D. Roosevelt told his Secretary of the Treasury,  Henry Morgenthau Jr., "I would provide land for the Arabs in some other part of the Middle East... There are lots of places to which you could move the Arabs."


In 1945, Herbert Hoover proposed the recovery of some 3 million acres of land in Iraq for the resettlement of the Arabs of Mandatory Western Palestine. "Palestine itself," he wrote, "could be turned over to Jewish immigrants in search of a homeland."


In 1947, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Sa'id suggested exchanging the Jewish population of Baghdad for an equal number of Israeli Arabs.


Not a viable solution

In view of the conditions presently prevailing in the region, voluntary transfer by mutual consent is not a viable solution in the foreseeable future for several reasons:


      􀁺 The Arab states categorically oppose the idea of absorbing the refugees despite the wide spaces of their domain.

      􀁺 A considerable number of refugees insist on returning to their ancestral homes, be it in Jaffa, Haifa, Safed or Tiberias.

      􀁺 The term "transfer" has acquired a negative connotation and the international community will not support it.

      􀁺 It has absolutely no chance of UN support, unlike the Greek-Turkish project which was endorsed by the League of Nations.

      􀁺 A vast majority of Israelis reject the idea.


- The Jerusalem Post, November 20, 2001, Moshe Kohn, quoting International Proposals to transfer Arabs from Palestine 1895/1947, Ktav 1988

- Valuing Palestinian Losses in Today's Dollars, Atif Kubursi

- Palestine Refugees and The Right of Return (Pluto Press, London, 2001)

__UNRWA: Caring for Refugees for Years and Still Counting__


UNRWA, the UN Relief and Work Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East was created in 1949 to help individuals (along with their spouses and dependants) whose homes were in Palestine from June 1, 1946 to May 15, 1948 and who lost both their homes and their livelihoods as a result of the conflict.


According to UNRWA figures, at the time of its inception the refugees numbered some 726,000. Later, those displaced as a result of the Six Day War and their dependants were also declared eligible for UNRWA aid, as were inhabitants of "frontier villages" in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank and nomadic or semi-nomadic tribes affected by the war.


In UNRWA camps, refugees seldom die

Because no one wants to lose UNRWA benefits, deaths often go unreported in their camps.  In 1961, UNRWA director, Dr. John H. Davis, admitted that his statistical report of the number of refugees was inaccurate, due to the many unreported deaths and the growing number of forged cards granting access to UNRWA benefits and services. UNRWA Commissioner- General Peter Hansen has recently acknowledged that deaths in the camps may not be reported as assiduously as births. In 1960, US Congressmen visiting Jordan cited official estimates of forged UNRWA cards at over 150,000. Furthermore, the more refugees, the more justification there is for the work of the 22,000 Palestinian UNRWA employees. It is one of the ironies of the problem that as the number of

"refugees" has increased through falsehood, their plight has become all the more real.


Just how many refugees are there?

The first serious assessment of the number of refugees based on demographic data was carried out by Dr. Walter Pinner. (How Many Arab Refugees?, London, 1960).  Out of 1,282,000 - the total Arab population of Mandatory Palestine in April 1948, 548,600 were counted as refugees. At UN sessions the Arabs repeatedly inflated the figures. Lebanon spoke of over a million, (UN DOC/ASP/SA). Morocco gave a more "accurate" figure of 1,120,000.  Swept up by an Oriental imagination, the Palestinian Emil Houry came up with 2 million.  Palestinian sources, with an obvious interest in increasing the potential benefits of a future settlement and increasing Israel's supposed responsibility for the refugee problem, have consistently inflated their figures.


The highest figure was that quoted in 1998, when Salman Abu Sitta—the most vaunted of Palestinian researchers - attempted to add credence to a grossly exaggerated study by claiming that there were exactly 7,778,186 Palestinians, an amazing 5,325,000 of whom he called refugees.  Figures on this scale are commonly bandied about when discussing the need for a just solution to the Palestinian problem, but they are false:


UNRWA - while admitting that its own figures are inflated - recognizes some 3.8 million Palestinians today.  Not far off is the day when the number of refugees claimed will be the same as the number of Palestinians. According to their definition, nearly every Palestinian can be considered a refugee in one way or another. So there will be no escape from the need to negotiate who is a refugee, and who was uprooted from his home, yet still lives in his homeland.  For example, those who fled the West Jerusalem neighborhood of Talbieh and now live in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Abu Dis have been counted twice. So, too, have the Palestinians living in Detroit or in the Persian Gulf states.


UNRWA's budget is almost a third of that of the UN High Commission for Refugees, which is the global relief agency. And this is the situation despite the fact that Palestinians constitute only 17% of the world's 24 million refugees.  Somehow, the efforts of UN workers to aid displaced Palestinians have mushroomed into a $330 million-a-year project that actually perpetuates the refugee problem.


UNRWA services

UNRWA has provided the Palestinians with benefits exceeding those of all other refugees. These include medical and educational training, community centers for women, youth clubs and other social benefits.  However, the term "camps" is misleading. Palestinian refugees do not live in tents as the term implies, but in houses in neighborhoods where conditions are superior to those of the poor neighborhoods of modern metropolis.


A good idea gone bad

Dependence on benefits that encourage unprecedented population growth, combined with a dearth of jobs, has created a restless and unruly young populace. The camps are infested with gangs, violence and drug trafficking. Even Palestinian police are afraid to enter them, whether Jenin or Ein al-Hilweh in Lebanon.  The New York Times has described the refugee camps as paramilitary training grounds where 25,000 children from 8 to 16 years old are taught to make fire bombs. The camps serve as arms depots, factories for the manufacture of mortars, missiles and bombs, and asylum for fleeing terrorists.


The shocking images of jubilant Palestinians celebrating the disaster on September 11, 2001 in the refugee camps are symptomatic of the violent society that, due to its refugee status, is becoming increasingly more desperate.


Who foots the bill?

Who funds these refugee villages? Most of UNRWA's work is covered by voluntary contributions from donor states. UNRWA's biggest donors are the US, the European Commission, the UK, Sweden and Canada.  Not surprisingly, the contributions of Arab states make up only a tiny percentage of the UNRWA budget.


Although it provides important humanitarian aid to the Palestinians,

UNRWA ultimately serves as a fig leaf for an Arab world that has

deliberately ignored or exploited the plight of these refugees.


- The Face of Defeat (Quartet Books, London) Report to the Senate, April 20, 1960

- Alexander Safian, PhD, CAMERA (The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America)

- The New York Times, August 2, 2000


This article appeared in the Jerusalem Post 1-15-2003 approximately,

and is reproduced solely for educational purposes.

Arab refugees
Israel map
Understanding the Roots of the Problemss
The Birth of Israel
The Loopholes in 1948
An Arab Voice
Restitution vs. Resettlement
The Global Issue
The Penalty of Agression
Is Israel Guilty of Ethnic Cleansing?
Transfer: Not a Solution
UNRWA: Caring for Refugees for Years and Still Counting
Legal Aspects of the Palestinian Question

Legal Aspects Of The Palestinian Refugee Question

Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs


Jerusalem Letter / Viewpoints


No. 485 24 Elul 5762/ 1 September 2002

Ruth Lapidoth


The Beginning of the Refugee Problem / Who is a Refugee? / Do Refugees Have a Right to Return to Israel? / The Impact of UN General Assembly Resolution 194/ After 1967/ The Refugee Question in Arab-Israeli Agreements / A Right to Compensation?


Until September 2000, hopes were high that soon an agreement on the final status of the West Bank and Gaza would pave the way for peaceful coexistence between Israel and the Palestinians. These hopes have unfortunately been shattered, as Palestinians violently attacked Israelis in both the administered territories and in Israel proper, provoking violent reactions by Israel. One could wonder what purpose there is in analyzing legal issues related to a peaceful settlement when violence is the order of the day. If we nevertheless examine some of the legal issues, it is because we have not yet lost hope that sooner or later the guns will be silenced and the parties will return to the negotiating table.


The underlying conflict is mainly of a political nature. However, for several reasons it should also be analyzed from a legal perspective. First, some of the questions involved are overwhelmingly of a legal nature. Second, the parties base their claims on legal arguments. And, third, if and when a compromise is reached, it will be drafted in legal terms and be included in a legal text. This is also true of the question of Palestinian refugees. 


The Beginning of the Refugee Problem

The plight of the refugees is a serious human problem. During the 1947-48 period, many Arabs "left, ran away, or were expelled."1 At the same time, Jews escaped from Arab countries. While the Jews were integrated into the countries to which they fled, the Arabs were on purpose denied integration in most Arab countries (except Jordan) in order to prevent any possible accommodation with Israel. The refugees have been receiving support and assistance from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), established by the UN General Assembly in 1949. 2


According to various estimates, the number of refugees in 1949 was between 538,000 (Israeli sources), 720,000 (UN estimates), and 850,000 (Palestinian sources). By 2001, the number of refugees registered with and supported by UNRWA had grown to about 3.5 million, since also children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren are registered. Another reason for this increase is the fact that UNRWA does not systematically delete all deceased persons from its registry. According to UNRWA, in 2000 there were about 550,000 refugees in the West Bank, some 800,000 in the Gaza Strip, 1,500,000 in Jordan, 350,000 in Lebanon, and 350,000 as well in Syria. Only part of them have lived in refugee camps. The situation of the refugees has been particularly severe in the Gaza Strip and in Lebanon.3


The plight of the refugees raises at least three legal questions:

1. Who should be considered to be a refugee?

2. Do the Palestinian refugees have a right to return to Israel?

3. Do they have a right to compensation?


Who is a Refugee?

The question arises whether all those registered with UNRWA should be considered as refugees. The 1951-1967 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees4 has adopted the following definition:


...[A]ny person who: (2) owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted

for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular

social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality

and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the

protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being

outside the country of his former habitual residence, is unable or, owing

to such fear, is unwilling to return to it…


      There is no mention in this definition of descendents. Moreover, the convention ceases to apply to a person who, inter alia, "has acquired a new nationality, and enjoys the protection of the country of his new nationality.” 5  Under this definition, the number of Palestinians qualifying for refugee status would be well below half a million.  However, the Arab states managed to exclude the Palestinians from that definition, by introducing the following provision into the 1951-1967 Refugees Convention: This Convention shall not apply to persons who are at present receiving from organs or agencies of the United Nations other than the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees protection and assistance...6


      In no official document have the Palestinian refugees been defined, and UNRWA has been adopting varying definitions, such as:

A Palestinian refugee is a person whose normal residence was

Palestine for a minimum of two years preceding the conflict in 1948, and

who, as a result of this conflict, lost both his home and his means of

livelihood and took refuge in one of the countries where UNRWA

provides relief. Refugees within this definition and the direct

descendants of such refugees are eligible for Agency assistance if they

are: registered with UNRWA; living in the area of UNRWA

operations; and in need.7


      This is a very broad definition under which the number of refugees constantly increases. It may be appropriate for UNRWA purposes in order to decide who qualifies for assistance, but it is hardly suitable for other purposes. It follows that the parties should agree on a more suitable definition.


Do Refugees Have a Right to Return to Israel?

      Another legal controversy concerns the question whether the refugees, whatever their definition, have a right to return to Israel. We will discuss this subject from three points of view: general international law, the most relevant UN resolutions, and various agreements between Israel and its neighbors.  Several international human rights treaties deal with freedom of movement, including the right of return.8 The most universal provision is included in the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which says: "No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country."9


      The question arises, who has the right of return, or: what kind of relationship must exist between the state and the person who wishes to return? A comparison of the various texts and a look at the discussions which took place before the a dop tion of these texts lead to the conclusion that the right of return is probably reserved only for nationals of the state. 10  Even the right of nationals is not an absolute one, but it may be limited on condition that the reasons for the denial or limitation are not arbitrary.  Moreover, according to Stig Jagerskiold, the right of return or the right to enter one's country in the 1966 International Covenant is intended to apply to individuals asserting an individual right.  There was no intention here to address the claims of masses of people who have been displaced as a by-product of war or by political transfers of territory or population, such as the relocation of ethnic Germans from Eastern Europe during and after the Second World War, the flight of the Palestinians from what became Israel, or the movement of Jews from the Arab countries. 11  In the context of general international law one also has to observe that humanitarian law conventions (such as the 1949 Geneva Conventions for the Protection of Victims of War) do not recognize a right of return.


The Impact of UN General Assembly Resolution 1948

 The first major UN resolution that refers to the Palestinian refugees is Resolution 194 (III) of 11 December 1948, adopted by the General Assembly.12 This resolution established a Conciliation Commission for Palestine and instructed it to "take steps to assist the Governments and authorities concerned to achieve a final settlement of all questions outstanding between them." Paragraph 11 deals with the refugees:


The General Assembly...resolves that the 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 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.. .


 Though the Arab states originally rejected the resolution, they later relied on it heavily and have considered it as recognition of a wholesale right of repatriation.  This interpretation, however, does not seem warranted: the paragraph does not recognize any "right," but recommends that the refugees "should" be "permitted" to return. Moreover, that permission is subject to two conditions - that the refugee wishes to return, and that he wishes to live at peace with his neighbors. The violence that erupted in September 2000 forecloses any hope for a peaceful co-existence between Israelis and masses of returning refugees. Moreover, the Palestinians have linked the request for return to a claim for self-determination. If returning refugees had a right to external self-determination, this would mean the end of the very existence of the State of Israel. Under the 1948 resolution, the return should take place only "at the earliest practicable date." The use of the term "should" with regard to the permission to return underlines that this is only a recommendation - it is hortatory.13 One should also remember that under the UN Charter the General Assembly is not authorized to adopt binding resolutions, except in budgetary matters and with regard to its own internal rules and regulations.


Finally, the reference to principles of international law or equity refers only to compensation for property and does not seem to refer to permission to return.  It should also be borne in mind that the provision concerning the refugees is but one element of the resolution that foresaw "a final settlement of all questions outstanding between" the parties, whereas the Arab states have always insisted on its implementation (in accordance with the interpretation favorable to them) independently of all other matters.  In this context one should bear in mind that the General Assembly has also recommended the "reintegration of the refugees into the economic life of the Near East, either by repatriation or resettlement' (emphasis added, R.L.).14

After 1967

As a result of the Six-Day War in 1967, there were about 200,000 Palestinian displaced persons (i.e., persons who had to leave their home and move to another place in the same state). These were dealt with by Security Council Resolution 237 of 4 June 1967,15 which called upon the government of Israel "to facilitate the return of those inhabitants [of the areas where military operations have taken place] who have fled the areas since the outbreak of hostilities." The resolution does not speak of a "right" of return and, like most Security Council resolutions, it is in the nature of a recommendation. Nevertheless, Israel has agreed to their return in various agreements, to be studied later. Some 30 percent of the displaced persons of 1967 had already been counted as refugees of 1948.16  Of great importance in the Arab-Israel peace process is Security Council Resolution 242 of 22 November 1967.17  In its second paragraph, the Council "Affirms further the necessity...(b) for achieving a just settlement of the refugee problem."  The Council did not propose a specific solution, nor did it limit the provision to Arab refugees, probably because the right to compensation of Jewish refugees from Arab lands also deserves a "just settlement." There is no basis for the Arab claim that Resolution 242 incorporates the solution recommended by General Assembly Resolution 194 of 1948 analyzed above.


The Refugee Question in Arab-Israeli Agreements

Turning now to agreements between Israel and its neighbors, we find that already in the Framework for Peace in the Middle East agreed at Camp David in 1978 by Egypt and Israel,18 the refugee problem was tackled: It was agreed that a "continuing committee" including representatives of Egypt, Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinians should "decide by agreement on the modalities of admission of persons displaced from the West Bank and Gaza in 1967" (Article A, 3). Similarly, it was agreed that "Egypt and Israel will work with each other and with other interested parties to establish agreed procedures for a prompt, just and permanent implementation of the resolution of the refugee problem" (Article A, 4).  In the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements of 1993 between Israel and the Palestinians, 19 again it was agreed that the modalities of admission of persons displaced in 1967 should be decided by agreement in a "continuing committee" (Article XII). The issue of refugees should be negotiated in the framework of the permanent status negotiations (Article V, 3). The 1995 Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip20  adopted similar provisions (Articles XXXVII, 2 and XXXI, 5).


Somewhat more detailed is the relevant provision (Article 8) in the Treaty of Peace between Israel and Jordan of 1994.21 As to the displaced persons, they are the object of a text similar to the above ones. As to the refugees, the peace treaty mentions the need to solve their problem both in the framework of the Multilateral Working Group on Refugees established after the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference, and in conjunction with the permanent status negotiations. The treaty also mentions "United Nations programs and other agreed international economic programs concerning refugees and displaced persons, including assistance to their settlement. "22


None of the agreements between Israel and Egypt, the Palestinians, and Jordan, respectively, has granted the refugees a right of return into Israel.  This short survey has shown that neither under the general international conventions, nor under the major UN resolutions, nor under the relevant agreements between the parties, do the Palestinian refugees have a right to return to Israel. In 2000 there were about 3.8 million Palestinian refugees registered with UNRWA. If Israel were to allow all of them to return to its territory, this would be an act of suicide on its part, and no state can be expected to destroy itself. On the other hand, at least some of the refugees would object to and try to delegitimize any agreement that did not grant a wholesale right of return.23 Moreover, they threaten those who would like to settle for a different solution. It seems to be a vicious circle.


 The solution may include a right to return to the new Palestinian homeland, settlement and integration in various other states (Arab and non-Arab), and possible return to Israel if compelling humanitarian reasons are involved, such as family unification.24


A Right to Compensation?

The third legal problem pertaining to refugees is the question of whether they have a right to compensation for their lost property, and to a subsidy for their rehabilitation, i.e., integration or resettlement or return, respectively.25 General international law recognizes the obligation to pay compensation in case of confiscation of property belonging to foreigners.  There is, however, disagreement about the amount that should be paid. In this case, two experts have suggested a standard of "adequate compensation," taking into account the value of the property and the specific needs of the respective refugee.26 If a definitive solution to the problem is sought, one should consider paying - either by law or ex gratia - not only compensation for lost property but also a reasonable subsidy for rehabilitation, and perhaps also compensation to the host country, where the refugee has lived and where he should settle. Since Israel had not started the 1947-48 war but was attacked by the Arabs, it is not responsible for the creation of the refugee problem. Hence it is not under an obligation to recruit the necessary sums. Preferably an international fund should be established for that purpose, to which other countries as well as Israel would contribute. The difficulty is the enormous sums which would be needed .27


It is advisable to resort to a lump sum arrangement which would settle all financial claims between the parties and preclude any further claims. A way would have to be found in order that the arrangement would bind not only Israel and the Palestinian Authority, but also all the refugees.  To conclude our discussion of the refugee problem, it is recommended that the parties agree on a reasonable definition of the refugees and not automatically adopt the one used by UNRWA. The refugees do not have a right of return to Israel, neither under general nor special international law; the adequate solution seems to be return to the Palestinian homeland, resettlement and absorption in other countries (preferably according to the wishes of each refugee), and some may be allowed to return to Israel. A prompt and adequate solution will also involve the payment of compensation for lost property and a subsidy for rehabilitation.

* * *


1. Eyal Benvenisti and Eyal Zamir, "Private Claims to Property Rights in the Future Israeli-Palestinian Settlement," American Journal of International Law 89 (1995):297.

2. UN General Assembly Resolution 302 (IV) of 8 December 1949, adopted at the 273rd plenary meeting.

3. Yitzhak Ravid, The Palestinian Refugees (Ramat Gan, 2001), pp. 1-12 (Hebrew).

4. UN Treaty Series, vol. 189, no. 2545 (1954), pp. 152-156, article 1A (2).

5. Ibid., Article 1 C (3).

6. Ibid., Article 1 D.

7. Don Peretz, Palestinians, Refugees, and the Middle East Peace Process (Washington, D.C., 1993), pp.11-12.

8. The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 13 (2); the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,  Article 12 (4); the 1963 Protocol IV to the European Convention on Human Rights, Article 3 (2); the 1969 American Convention of Human Rights, Article 22 (5); the 1981

9. Banjul Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, Article 12 (2) - see Basic Documents on Human Rights, Sir Ian Brownlie, ed., 3rd ed.  (Oxford, 1992), pp. 21, 125, 347, 495, 551; for additional examples, see Paul Sieghart, The International Law of Human Rights (Oxford, 1985), pp. 174-178.

10. Paul Sieghart, The International Law of Human Rights, p. 179; Geoffrey R. Watson, The Oslo Accords: International Law and the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Agreements (Oxford, 2000), p. 283; Ruth Lapidoth, "The Right of Return in International Law, with Special Reference to the Palestinian Refugees," Israel Yearbook on Human Rights 16 (1986), pp. 107-108. Some experts are of the opinion that the right of return applies also to "permanent legal residents" - see, e.g., the discussion that took place in the sub-commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, as reported in the Report by Chairman-Rapporteur Mr. Asbjorn Eide, UN Doc. E/CN.4/Sub.2/1991/45, of 28 August 1991, p. 5. The Human Rights Committee established under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights has adopted an interpretation according to which the right of return belongs also to a person who has "close and enduring connections" to a certain country - UN Doc. CCPR/C/21/Rev. 1/Add. 9, 2 November 1999, pp. 5-6.

11. Stig Jagerskiold, "The Freedom of Movement," The International Bill of Rights, Louis Henkin, ed. (New York, 1981), p. 180. For a different opinion, see Geoffrey Watson, Oslo Accords, p.283.

12. GAOR, 3rd session, part 1,1948, Resolutions, pp. 21-24.

13. Geoffrey Watson, Oslo Accords, p. 281.

14. UN General Assembly Resolution 393 (V) , 2 December 1950, adopted at the 315th plenary meeting. See also the second paragraph of UN General Assembly Resolution 194 (III), 11 December 1948, and Resolution 513 (VI), 26 January 1952, adopted at the 365th plenary meeting:

15. SCOR, 22nd year, Resolutions and Decisions, 1967, p. 5.

16. Salim Tamari, 'The Future of Palestinian Refugees in the Peace Negotiations," Palestine-Israel Journal 2 (1995):12.

17. SCOR, 22nd year, Resolutions and Decisions, pp. 8-9. For its legislative history, see, e.g., Arthur Lall, The U.N. and the Middle East Crisis 1967 (New York, 1968). For an analysis, see, e.g., Adnan Abu Odeh, Nabil Elaraby, Meir Rosenne, Dennis Ross, Eugene Rostow, Vernon Turner, articles in UN Security Council Resolution 242: The Building Block of Peacemaking (Washington, D.C., 1993); Ruth Lapidoth, "Security Council Resolution 242 at Twenty Five," Israel Law Review 26 (1992):295-318.

18. UN Treaty Series, vol. 1138 (1987), no. 17853, pp. 39-45.

19. International Legal Materials 32 (1993), pp. 1525-1544. On this declaration, see, e.g., Joel Singer, "The Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements," Justice (Tel Aviv), no. 1 (1994):4-21; Eyal Benvenisti, "The Israel-Palestinian Declaration of Principles: A Framework for Future Settlement," European Journal of International Law 4 (1993):542-554; Antonio Cassese, "The Israel-PLO Agreement and Self-Determination," ibid., pp. 564-571; Raja Shihadeh, "Can the Declaration of Principles Bring About a 'Just and Lasting Peace'?" ibid., pp. 555-563; Karin Calvo-Goller, "Le regime d'autonomie prevu par la declaration de principles du 13 Septembre 1993," Annuaire Francais de Droit International 39 (1993):435; K.W. Meighan, 'The Israel-PLO Declaration of Principles: Prelude to a Peace?" Virginia Journal of International Law 34 (1994):435-468.

20. Articles 1, 3, 4, 7, 13 and Annex I of the Declaration of Principles. Excerpts of the 1995 agreement were published in International Legal Materials 36 (1997), p. 551. For the full text, see Kitvei Amana (Israel's publication of treaties), vol. 33, no. 1071, pp. 1-400.  For commentaries, see Joel Singer, "The West Bank and Gaza Strip: Phase Two," Justice, no. 7 (1995):1-12; Rotem M. Giladi, "The Practice and Case Law of Israel tn Matters Related to International Law," Israel Law

Review 29 (1995):506-534; Raja Shihadeh, From Occupation to Interim Accords: Israel and the Palestinian Territories (London,  1997), pp. 31-72; Geoffrey Watson, Oslo Accords.

21. International Legal Materials 34 (1995), pp. 43-66.

22. Article 8, para. 2 (c), pp. 49-50.

23. Salim Tamari, "The Future of Palestinian Refugees," pp. 11-12.

24. For possible solutions, see Geoffrey Watson, Oslo Accords, pp. 286-290; Donna E. Arzt, Refugees Into Citizens: Palestinians and the End of the Arab-Israeli Conflict (New York, 1997); Joseph Alpher and Khalil Shikaki, The Palestinian Refugee Problem and the Right of Return, Harvard University, Weatherhead Center for International Affairs; Working Paper no. 98-7 (Cambridge, MA, 1998).

25. Geoffrey Watson, Oslo Accords, pp. 286-290; Eyal Benvenisti and Eyal Zamir, "Private Claims."

26. Ibid., pp. 331 and 338. However, Resolution 194 (III) spoke only of compensation for property.

27. Yltzhak Ravid, The Palestinian Refugees, pp. 36-40.

* * *

Ruth Lapidoth is a Fellow of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and Professor at the Law School of the College of Management as well as Greenblatt Professor Emeritus of International Law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Professor Lapidoth's areas of expertise include Public International Law, Law of the Sea, the Arab-Israeli conflict and its resolution, and specifically the juridical status of Jerusalem, and autonomy. Her books include The Arab-Israel Conflict and Its Resolution: Selected Documents (1992), The Jerusalem Question and Its Resolution: Selected Documents (1994), Autonomy: Flexible Solutions to Ethnic Conflicts (1997), and The Old City of Jerusalem (2002). This Jerusalem Viewpoints is based on a more comprehensive study, "Israel and the Palestinians: Some Legal Issues," that originally appeared in Die Friedens-Warte (Journal of International Peace and Organization), 76:2-3 (2001 ):211-240.

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