Israel Science and Technology Directory

Middle-East Refugees

Reprinted from "The Peace Encyclopedia"

Frequently Asked Questions

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What happened during the war of 1948 that caused the Palestinian refugee problem? Did the Jews expel the Arabs?

The British had wrestled Palestine away from the Ottoman Turks in 1917, and they occupied Palestine until 1947, and shortly thereafter, the United Nations voted to divide western Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab areas. The Jews accepted this plan, and the Arabs rejected it. Not only did they reject the UN partition plan, but seven Arab countries decided to attack the fledgling Jewish microstate with public proclamations of Jewish extermination. It was surrounding these events that the Palestinian Arab refugee problem was born.

According to official records of the League of Nations and Arab census figure 539,000 Arabs left Israel at the urging of seven converging Arab armies so that they would not be in the way of their attack. They promised the fleeing Arabs they would return and move into the Jews' houses after the anticipated successful annihilation of the Jews.

"We know that 850,000 Jews were ejected from the Arab countries where they had lived for hundreds of years. This included successful people whose property and assets, including community assets were immediately confiscated. About 750,000 of the Jewish refugees from Arab countries fled to Israel.

"This was a virtual exchange of population. The Jewish refugees were immediately accepted by the new State of Israel. They were provided with shelter (albeit temporary tents) food and clothing.

"The Arab refugees who had migrated to various Arab nations were not similarly well received. They were regarded not as Arab brothers but as unwelcome migrants. Squalid refugee camps were set up as showpieces to induce the West's sympathy and kept that way. The UN through UNRWA (UN Relief Agency) provided assistance to the camps when the host country could not or would not. These camps became a training ground for terrorist youth to be targeted at Israel. The host country, like Syria, would provide training, weapons and explosives, but refused to absorb the Arab refugees as equal citizens. Keeping them in misery made them valuable and irreplaceable as angry front line terrorists attacking Israel as proxies for the Arab armies who lost to the Jews on the field of battle in declared wars. The Twin Pillars supporting Arab Muslim society are "Pride and Shame". Losing to the Jews on the battlefield time and again in 6 wars shattered the self perception of the Macho Man." (Emanuel A. Winston, Middle East analyst and commentator)

To prevent recognition of Israel "Palestinians" are the only people who pass down refugee status from generation to generation and maintain that status even when they acquire citizenship somewhere. But that's not even the most bizarre aspect of this whole charade...what's even more laughable is that Palestinians who live in the territories Palestinians claim for a future state ( Gaza and Judea and Samaria) are ALSO considered refugees...


"Even amidst the violent attacks launched against us for months past, we call upon the sons of the Arab people dwelling in Israel to keep the peace and to play their part in building the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its institutions, provisional and permanent.

"We extend the hand of peace and good-neighborliness to all the States around us and to their people, and we call upon them to cooperate in mutual helpfulness with the independent Jewish nation in its Land. The State of Israel is prepared to make its contribution in a concerted effort for the advancement of the entire Middle East."

- David Ben-Gurion, in Israel's Proclamation of Independence, read on May 14, 1948, moments before the 6 surrounding Arab armies, trained and armed by the British, invaded the day-old Jewish microstate, with the stated goal of extermination.

"The Arab armies entered Palestine to protect the Palestinians from the Zionist tyranny but, instead, THEY ABANDONED THEM, FORCED THEM TO EMIGRATE AND TO LEAVE THEIR HOMELAND, imposed upon them a political and ideological blockade and threw them into prisons similar to the ghettos in which the Jews used to live in Eastern Europe, as if we were condemned to change places with them; they moved out of their ghettos and we occupied similar ones. 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".

- by Abu Mazen, from the article titled: "What We Have Learned and What We Should Do", published in Falastin el Thawra, the official journal of the PLO, of Beirut, in March 1976

"The first group of our fifth column consists of those who abandon their houses and businesses and go to live elsewhere. . . . At the first sign of trouble they take to their heels to escape sharing the burden of struggle."

- Ash Shalab (Jaffa newspaper), January 30, 1948

"The Arab streets are curiously deserted and, ardently following the poor example of the more moneyed class there has been an exodus from Jerusalem too, though not to the same extent as in Jaffa and Haifa."

- London Times, May 5, 1948

"The refugees were confident that their absence would not last long, and that they would return within a week or two. Their leaders had promised them that the Arab armies would crush the 'Zionist gangs' very quickly and that there was no need for panic or fear of a long exile."

- Monsignor George Hakim, Greek Catholic Bishop of Galilee, in the Beirut newspaper Sada al Janub, August 16, 1948

"Of the 62,000 Arabs who formerly lived in Haifa not more than 5,000 or 6,000 remained. Various factors influenced their decision to seek safety in flight. There is but little doubt that the most potent of the factors were the announcements made over the air by the -Higher Arab Executive, urging the Arabs to quit.. . . It was clearly intimated that those Arabs who remained in Haifa and accepted Jewish protection would be regarded as renegades."

- The London weekly Economist, October 2, 1948

"It must not be forgotten that the Arab Higher Committee encouraged the refugees' flight from their homes in Jaffa, Haifa, and Jerusalem."

- Near East Arabic Broadcasting Station, Cyprus, April 3, 1949

"This wholesale exodus was due partly to the belief of the Arabs, encouraged by the boasting of an unrealistic Arab press and the irresponsible utterances of some of the Arab leaders that it could be only a matter of some weeks before the Jews were defeated by the armies of the Arab States and the Palestinian Arabs enabled to re-enter and retake possession of their country."

- Edward Atiyah (then Secretary of the Arab League Office in London) in The Arabs (London, 1955), p. 183

"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, May 3, 1948, p. 25

The Arab exodus, initially at least, was encouraged by many Arab leaders, such as Haj Amin el Husseini, the exiled pro-Nazi Mufti of Jerusalem, and by the Arab Higher Committee for Palestine. They viewed the first wave of Arab setbacks as merely transitory. Let the Palestine Arabs flee into neighboring countries. It would serve to arouse the other Arab peoples to greater effort, and when the Arab invasion struck, the Palestinians could return to their homes and be compensated with the property of Jews driven into the sea.

- Kenneth Bilby, in New Star in the Near East (New York, 1950), pp. 30-31

I do not want to impugn anybody but only to help the refugees. The fact that there are these refugees is the direct consequence of the action of the Arab States in opposing Partition and the Jewish State. The Arab States agreed upon this policy unanimously and they must share in the solution of the problem, [Daily Telegraph, September 6, 19481

- Emil Ghoury, Secretary of the Arab Higher Committee, the official leadership of the Palestinian Arabs, in the Beirut newspaper, Daily Telegraph, September 6, 1948

The Arab States encouraged the Palestine Arabs to leave their homes temporarily in order to be out of the way of the Arab invasion armies.

- Falastin (Jordanian newspaper), February 19, 1949

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, quoted in Sir Am Nakbah ("The Secret Behind the Disaster") by Nimr el Hawari, Nazareth, 1952

The Secretary General of the Arab League, Azzam Pasha, assured the Arab peoples that the occupation of Palestine and of Tel Aviv would be as simple as a military promenade. . . . He pointed out that they were already on the frontiers 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. . . Brotherly advice was given to the Arabs of Palestine to leave their land, homes, and property and to stay temporarily in neighboring fraternal states, lest the guns of the invading Arab armies mow them down.

- Habib Issa, Secretary General of the Arab League (Azzam Pasha's successor), in the newspaper Al Hoda, June 8, 1951

Some of the Arab leaders and their ministers in Arab capitals . . . declared that they welcomed the immigration of Palestinian Arabs into the Arab countries until they saved Palestine. Many of the Palestinian Arabs were misled by their declarations.... It was natural for those Palestinian Arabs who felt impelled to leave their country to take refuge in Arab lands . . . and to stay in such adjacent places in order to maintain contact with their country so that to return to it would be easy when, according to the promises of many of those responsible in the Arab countries (promises which were given wastefully), the time was ripe. Many were of the opinion that such an opportunity would come in the hours between sunset and sunrise.

- Arab Higher Committee, in a memorandum to the Arab League, Cairo, 1952, quoted in The Refugee in the World, by Joseph B. Schechtman, 1963

"The Arab governments told us: Get out so that we can get in. So we got out, but they did not get in."

- from the Jordan daily Ad Difaa, September 6, 1954

"The Arab civilians panicked and fled ignominiously. Villages were frequently abandoned before they were threatened by the progress of war."

- General Glubb Pasha, in the London Daily Mail on August 12, 1948

"The Arab exodus from other villages was not caused by the actual battle, but by the exaggerated description spread by Arab leaders to incite them to fight the Jews"

- Yunes Ahmed Assad, refugee from the town of Deir Yassin, in Al Urdun, April 9, 1953

"[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, according to Rev. Karl Baehr, Executive Secretary of the American Christian Palestine Committee, New York Herald Tribune, June 30, 1949

"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. [However] ...A large road convoy, escorted by [British] military . . . left Haifa for Beirut yesterday. . . . Evacuation by sea goes on steadily. ...[Two days later, the Jews were] still making every effort to persuade the Arab populace to remain and to settle back into their normal lives in the towns... [as for the Arabs,] another convoy left Tireh for Transjordan, and the evacuation by sea continues. The quays and harbor are still crowded with refugees and their household effects, all omitting no opportunity to get a place an one of the boats leaving Haifa.""

- Haifa District HQ of the British Police, April 26, 1948, quoted in Battleground by Samuel Katz

"The Arabs did not want to submit to a truce they rather preferred to abandon their homes, their belongings and everything they possessed in the world and leave the town. This is in fact what they did."

- Jamal Husseini, Acting Chairman of the Palestine Arab Higher Committee, told to the United Nations Security Council, quoted in the UNSC Official Records (N. 62), April 23, 1948, p. 14

"the military and civil authorities and the Jewish representative expressed their profound regret at this grave decision [to evacuate]. The [Jewish] Mayor of Haifa made a passionate appeal to the delegation to reconsider its decision"

- The Arab National Committee of Haifa, told to the Arab League, quoted in The Refugee in the World, by Joseph B. Schechtman, 1963

"...our city flourished and developed for the good of both Jewish and Arab residents ... Do not destroy your homes with your own hands; do not bring tragedy upon yourselves by unnecessary evacuation and self-imposed burdens. By moving out you will be overtaken by poverty and humiliation. But in this city, yours and ours, Haifa, the gates are open for work, for life, and for peace, for you and your families."

The Haifa Workers' Council bulletin, 28 April 1948

"...the Jewish hagana asked (using loudspeakers) Arabs to remain at their homes but the most of the Arab population followed their leaders who asked them to leave the country."

The TIMES of London, reporting events of 22.4.48

" The existence of these refugees is a direct result of the Arab States' opposition to the partition plan and the reconstitution of the State of Israel. The Arab states adopted this policy unanimously, and the responsibility of its results, therefore is theirs.

...The flight of Arabs from the territory allotted by the UN for the Jewish state began immediately after the General Assembly decision at the end of November 1947. This wave of emigration, which lasted several weeks, comprised some thirty thousand people, chiefly well-to-do-families."

- Emil Ghory, secretary of the Arab High Council, Lebanese daily Al-Telegraph, 6 Sept 1948

"Since 1948 we have been demanding the return of the refugees to their homes. But we ourselves are the ones who encouraged them to leave. Only a few months separated our call to them to leave and our appeal to the United Nations to resolve on their return."

- Haled al Azm, the Syrian Prime Minister in 1948-49, The Memoirs of Haled al Azm, (Beirut, 1973), Part 1, pp. 386-387

"Since 1948 it is we who demanded the return of refugees... while it is we who made them to leave... We brought disaster upon... Arab refugees, by inviting them and bringing pressure to bear upon them to leave... We have rendered them dispossessed... We have accustomed them to begging... We have participated in lowering their moral and social level... Then we exploited them in executing crimes of murder, arson, and throwing bombs upon... men, women and children - all this in service of political purposes..."

- Khaled al Azm, Syria's Prime Minister after the 1948 war [note: same person as above]

"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 in the wake of the victorious Arab armies and obtain their share of abandoned Jewish property." - bulletin of The Research Group for European Migration Problems, 1957

One morning in April 1948, Dr. Jamal woke us to say that the Arab Higher Committee (AHC), led by the Husseinis, had warned Arab residents of Talbieh to leave immediately. The understanding was that the residents would be able to return as conquerors as soon as the Arab forces had thrown the Jews out. Dr. Jamal made the point repeatedly that he was leaving because of the AHC's threats, not because of the Jews, and that he and his frail wife had no alternative but to go.

Commentary Magazine -- January 2000,

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How many Palestinian Arabs left their homes, how many are still listed as refugees now?

Estimates of the number of Arabs who fled the newly-created State of Israel in 1948 (i.e. from the area inside Israel's pre-1967 borders) vary from 430,000 to 957,000, depending on who you ask. The most reliable figure appears to be 539,000.

In the 1967 Six Day War, between 125,000 (Israeli estimate) and 250,000 (UNRWA estimate) Arabs fled from Judea, Samaria and Gaza, which came under Israeli administration. Of these, say some researchers, close on two-thirds were first-time refugees, the others were refugees from 1948 who fled once again.

According to the United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA), in 1996 the number of refugees stood at 3.3 million, located as follows:

Jordan: In 10 camps - 242,922. Not in camps - 1.1 million

Judea and Samaria: In 20 camps - 147,302. Not in camps - 385,136

Gaza: In five camps - 378,279. Not in camps - 338,651

Lebanon: In 12 camps - 182,731. Not in camps - 169,937

Syria: In 10 camps - 89,472. Not in camps - 257, 919

TOTAL: In 57 camps - 1.04 million. Not in camps - 2.26 million.

- Middle East Digest - October 1998

The refugee problem was created in 1947-48, when the Palestinians and their Arab allies rejected United Nations Resolution 181 and tried to prevent by force implementation of the partition plan that called for the creation of a Jewish state alongside an Arab state in Palestine. During the fighting, 600,000 to 700,000 Arabs fled or were driven out of areas that eventually became the state of Israel. (There were also about 17,000 Jewish refugees who fled or were driven out of areas that came under Arab, i.e., Jordanian, control.) Israel's record in this chain of developments was far from spotless. But the major reason for the displacement of people was the war itself, which the Arabs imposed on Israel in an attempt to abort its birth.

The Palestinian refugees were but one example among many of the large-scale involuntary population displacements that took place during and after the First World War. Most of the other refugee problems, involving tens of millions of Karelian Finns, Sudeten Germans, and Muslims and Hindus in the Indian subcontinent, faded away as displaced populations were absorbed in countries of similar religious and/or national character. The one glaring exception was the Palestinian refugees, who found shelter but few civic or political rights in neighbouring Arab countries (Jordan being the main exception).

The refugee status of the Palestinians was perpetuated by the host countries and the Palestinian leadership, and by the international community, through the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the only UN body dedicated to a specific refugee group (all other refugees in the world are the responsibility of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees). As a result, refugee status was passed down from father to son to grandson over 50 years, so that, today, they number three million to four million. That is why the Palestinians now account for about one-fourth of the world's refugees -- an impressive figure until one imagines how many refugees there would be if all the Finns and Germans and Indian Hindus and Muslims and European Jews who were made refugees after the Second World War (not to speak of the Greeks and Turks and Armenians who were made refugees during and after the First World War) were still considered refugees in the year 2000.

- Mark Heller, co-author of No Trumpets, No Drums: A Two-State Settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

With regard to the Palestinian refugees today, according to the "Report of the Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East - 1 July 1997 - 30 June 1998" there were 3,521,130 refugees as of June 30, 1998 (Table 1). However, the report (available at also states that:
UNRWA registration figures are based on information voluntarily supplied by refugees primarily for the purpose of obtaining access to Agency services, and hence cannot be considered statistically valid demographic data; the number of registered refugees present in the Agency's area of operations is almost certainly less that the population recorded.
Moreover, not only does the UN admit the figures are of doubtful accuracy, there being obvious reason for families to claim more members and thereby receive more aid, the UN also admits that the total includes 1,463,064 Jordanian citizens, who cannot by any stretch be considered refugees.

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

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Who qualifies for Palestinian refugee status?

Any Arab who entered Israel up to two years prior to the rebirth of the Jewish state could claim to be a Palestinian refugee, even if he and his ancestors had lived elsewhere for generations before and he owned no land or property in Palestine. [Editor's note: the UNRWA collected information from 'refugees' on an 'honor basis' without checking even the above absurdly minimal requirements]

- Middle East Digest - October 1998

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Why are there still refugees from 1948, still living in refugee camps generations after the original displacement?

"The Arab states do not want to solve the refugee problem. They want to keep it as an open sore, as an affront to the United Nations and as a weapon against Israel. Arab leaders don't give a damn whether the refugees live or die."

- Ralph Galloway, former head of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), in Amman, Jordan, August 1958

"In general, one can say that Arab governments regarded the destruction of the State of Israel as a more pressing matter than the welfare of the Palestinian refugees. Palestinian bitterness and anger had to be kept alive. It was clear that this could best be done by ensuring that a great many Palestinians Arabs continued to live under sub-normal conditions, the victims of hunger and poverty. No Arab Government preached this as a defined policy; most Arab Governments tacitly put it into practice."

- Terrence Prittie and Bernard Dineen, in "The Double Exodus: A Study of Arab and Jewish Refugees in the Middle East"

The decision to sacrifice them [the Palestinian Arab refugees] to the cause of Israel's destruction was clearly enunciated in the aftermath of 1948-49 (keep them in camps so they can learn hate and seek revenge), and no action by Arab elites has shown evidence of a change of heart.

- David S. Landes and Richard A. Landes, The New Republic, September 8, 1997

The Palestinians are the only refugees who cannot and must not be absorbed elsewhere; their fate is to be played up as the mirror image of the Wandering Jew.

- Jacques Givet, "The Anti-Zionist Complex"

In the 1967 Six Day War, under the threat of being "pushed into the sea" by Egypt, Syria and Jordan, Israel actually liberated the "occupied territory" of Jerusalem and granted free access to Jews, Christians and Moslems to worship at their respective holy sites. Israel also liberated the "West Bank" and Gaza. How easily recent history is forgotten. By comparison, Israel's administration, despite its faults, has been much more humane. The realities of the Jordanian and Egyptian occupation are conveyed in the following quote from HARSH REALITIES:

For 19 years, until 1967, Jordan brutally occupied the renamed "West Bank" with its 20 UNWRA refugee camps.... And when western Palestinians rioted in December '55, April '57, April '63, Nov. '66 and April '67, King Hussein sent in tanks which shelled city streets and machine gunned people at random, killing hundreds of men, women and children.

The Gaza Strip, as it was known for the 19 years of harsh Egyptian occupation, had 8 UNWRA refugee camps in which the Palestinians were forced to live in overcrowded squalor. Egypt refused to absorb any refugees; kept them stateless, denied passports, and forbade them to travel or work in Egypt. [On the other hand, Palestinians were permitted to work in Israel after 1967.]

For 19 years of brutal occupation of their fellow Arabs, Jordan and Egypt kept these areas in a deliberate state of economic stagnation and severe unemployment. Average unemployment in the early Sixties ran between 35-45%, and refugee unemployment hit a high of 83%. Yet during this entire period, the world was silent. Only after Israel's seizure of these territories in a defensive war in 1967, did anyone discover the "legitimate rights and national aspirations" of the Palestinian Arabs.

From a humanitarian viewpoint, their situation improved immeasurably under Israeli administration. Unemployment hovers around a mere 1% (1989) and per capita gross income tripled in less than 20 years; infant mortality rates dropped from the pre-1967 140 per 1,000 to only 30 per 1,000 today - at a time when the rest of the Arab world is still at 80 per 1,000; 7 Arab colleges and universities were established under Israel "occupation," where none existed before 1967. Yet it is Israel that is now being attacked.

Had the Arab countries any true intentions of helping their beleaguered brethren from western Palestine, they would and could have absorbed them easily 4 decades ago, as the Israelites did of an even greater number of Jewish refugees from Arab lands. The Palestinian Arabs share the same language, religion and culture, and for 70% of them, the same countries of origin just 3 generations before when their grandfathers emigrated for economic reasons to Palestine from surrounding Arab lands. But the 22 Arab countries, uninterested in aiding in Palestinian brothers, preferred to use them as a political weapon to wield against Israel, and the U.N. supported this heartless human manipulation.

In the mid-1970's Israel attempted to give the Palestinian Arab refugees in Gaza new and better housing. The U.N. General Assembly, at the urging of the Arab states, passed Resolution 32/90 condemning Israel for trying to relocate these refugees and demanded they be returned "to the camps in which they were removed." And yet, a senior U.N. official came to Gaza in January 1988 accompanied by 10 TV crews on a fact-finding visit and laid the entire blame for the situation at Israel's feet. As if the U.N.'s own complicity in the matter didn't exist!

When the six Arab nations invaded Israel at Israel's birth, many claim 600,000 Arabs were displaced in that war. What is not well known is that approximately 800,000 Jews, who were living in those six Arab nations, had to flee for their lives because of Arab hatred. The solution to this refugee problem was simple - a fair exchange.

Israel, at a terrible economic cost, absorbed the 800,000 Jewish refugees But the Arab nations refused to accept these Arab refugees - their Arab brethren. Rather, they placed them in refugee camps, which became dark holes of hate and misery, models for propaganda to turn world opinion against Israel. They succeeded. How well they succeeded....
Refugee Camps

When Israel inherited Judea and Samaria (the "West Bank") and Gaza in the 1967 War, Israel also inherited the Palestinian refugee camps that were administered by a United Nations agency. Israel wanted to negotiate both the refugee problem and a peace settlement, but the Arabs refused. One cannot help but agonize for the poor refugee pawns in this ploy. The deplorable condition of the Palestinian refugees is especially pitiful because the situation was designed and perpetuated by their own Arab brothers. No wonder the "intifada" erupted. Many claim the Arab nations refused to alleviate the refugee problem both in 1948 and in 1967.

Among many who have made this observation is Col. Richard Henry Meinertzhagen, a British Middle East expert. He asked a fellow dinner guest at the home of a British diplomat, "Why do not you Arabs, with all your resources from oil, do something for those wretched refugees from Palestine?" The Lebanese replied, "Good God, do you really think we are going to destroy the finest propaganda we possess? It's a gold mine!" When Meinertzhagen observed that this view was unkind and immoral, the Lebanese replied, "They are just human rubbish, but a political gold mine!" In slightly different language referring to the same attitude about the usefulness of Palestinian refugee camps, Meinertzhagen notes in his book, "I received identical views from other Arabs."

The Palestinians who have taken to the streets, spoiling for trouble, are the new generation-spawned in the refugee camps. From earliest childhood, they have been taught hate.

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Who is responsible for their condition, who should absorb them and compensate them?

"Statements have been made on the Arab refugee question, but why should the State of Israel be blamed for the existence of that problem? When seeking to determine responsibility for the existence of the problem of the Arab refugees, we cannot fail to mention the outside forces ... They pursue their own selfish interests ..., which have nothing in common either with the cause of peace and international security or with the interests of the Arab and Jewish peoples, and which only correspond to the aggressive designs of the leading circles of some states."

- Soviet delegation, UN Security Council on 4 March 1949

"Since 1948 Arab leaders have approached the Palestine problem in an irresponsible manner. They have not looked into the future. They have no plan or approach. They have used the Palestine people for selfish political purposes. This is ridiculous and, I could say, criminal."

- Jordan's King Hussein, Associated Press, Jan 1960

Many castigations of Israel for her alleged responsibility for the suffering of Arab refugees have been terribly one-sided and unfair. Why is so little attention paid to the fact that the original refugees in the situation were Jews fleeing the Nazi terror, people who were barred from other lands and then denied access to the one place that could give them hope? Why do we hear almost nothing of the oppression in Arab countries since 1948 of indigenous Jewish populations or of the thousands of Jewish refugees from Arab lands? Why is it hardly ever pointed out that the original and continuing cause of the Arab refugee problem and its recent aggravation has been Arab intransigence and hostility: the refusal to recognize Israel and the pledge to annihilate the Jews? There would be no refugee problem at all if the Arabs had not defied the United Nations' partition. The Arabs started the war in 1948 that forced the refugees to leave -- not to be banished from -- their homes. Israel tried to convince them to stay. Arab leaders frightened them into fleeing, with dire warnings that the Jews would persecute and destroy them.

We are frequently advised that Israel's recent military victory [the six-day war, 1967] is the reason for the increase in refugees, but we are seldom reminded that the latest Arab campaign to destroy Israel was the sole incitement for that victory. An Arab triumph would have left not Jewish refugees but Jewish corpses. Any help Israel now grants to Arab refugees -- and she is already giving succor and beginning to offer resettlement, despite unabated Arab belligerency -- is largely a matter of either prudence or charity. The moral debt is primarily that of the Arab powers, who have callously manipulated these uprooted people to the end of a devious program to exterminate Jews.

- by A. Roy and Alice Eckardt in "AGAIN, SILENCE IN THE CHURCHES", The Christian Century, August 2, 1967

The Arabs blame Israel for creating the Refugee problem while it was the Arabs who insisted to keep the camps in Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon, to use the Palestinians for political exploitation. In 1982: 65,425 Palestinian refu gees put in camps in Syria, 123,442 in Lebanon, 192,392 in Jordan, this was reported by UNRWA, while the Arabic propaganda lied and inflated the number to 4,000,000, and ALL who fled on their own will and without any force. Now, please compare with 850,000 Jews actually expelled from the Arab lands, forced to leave to Israel.

- Walid, a Palestinian Arab defector.
quoted at "Answering Islam"

One of the throw-away lines in Bat Yeor's book, "the Dhimmis" is the observation in passing that the Palestinians are the longest-lived group in history who have been considered "refugees" while living in the land of their countrymen.

Lets expand on that a bit. It is a topic I have written about before. UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency) was created in 1949. It exists solely for the purpose of "nurturing" Palestinian refugees, to the exclusion of all the other refugees in the world. 25% of its budget comes from American taxpayers (which includes me). There were 750,000 of these guys in 1949, and there are 3.3 MILLION of them now. And here's where it gets even weirder: 1.2 MILLION of the "refugees" LIVE IN YASSER ARAFAT'S PALESTINIAN AUTONOMY, mingled with their fellow Palestinians, where they actually CONSTITUTE HALF THE POPULATION!

Does that strike anyone else as strange? How can you have people living for 50 years among their brothers, 30 miles down the road from where they started, and still consider them refugees? Will it ever end? Can it ever end? Obviously not as long as the UN continues to pay them money.

And what about their Arab brothers? Ask an Arab to tell you about the five pillars of Islam, of which he is so proud, and he will tell you about "charity to your fellow Muslim". And yet the Arabs forbid the "refugees" from integrating into their host countries. That's because they consider them "a disgrace to Islam, who are responsible for the loss of holy Muslim land to the infidel Jews".

I guess this is just one more example of Shimon Peres' "New Middle East".

- Samuel Fistel

It is important to note that the world has seen hundreds of millions of refugees. It's a natural and expected end result of wars. All have resettled, begun new lives and made the best of their situation. Tens of millions of refugees were created in the aftermath of both World Wars. During the 1948-49 Arab-Israeli War, 860,000 Jews living in Arab countries were thrown out on their ears! We don't hear about them anymore because they were absorbed by their fellow Jews within Israel. So while the Arabs throughout the Middle East cry crocodile tears for their poor suffering Palestinian brothers and sisters, none of these countries has opened their arms to them. The ones that were allowed in were placed into more refugee camps for the world to see. Ironically, the Arabs who remained in Israel and became citizens have fared far better than those in Arab countries! What makes the Palestinian Arabs stand out among the world's refugees is that they created their own pathetic situation or were misled by their leaders. That is their tough luck! What was offered to them in 1947 cannot be offered once again. The world has far more important things to concern itself with other than their constant belly-aching! As they say, "Get a Life, Already!"

- Zion2000

The surrounding Arabs states called for the Arab population to leave Israel and fight in the 1948 war ("a war of extermination and a momentous massacre"). Those that left were told that they could come back and take all the Jews possessions. Those that stayed were told they would be killed with the Jews. This is not to say that during the war, the Jewish forces did not expel any Arab groups, even villages, who were thought to be involved in the "war of extermination" of the Jews. Many Arabs resisted the call to kill Jews - they and their descendants make up 14% of Israel's population, as full citizens. So if there was an organized effort at "ethnic cleansing", as the anti-semites allege, the Jews failed miserably. The "Palestinian refugees" of today are those who expected to return after the Arab victory to find Jewish corpses. The descendants of those Arabs are kept in refugee camps/villages by the United Nations and by other Arab governments as a propaganda tool and as a constant source of soldiers in their long war against Israel. Who should absorb these Arabs, as full citizens, compensate them for their losses, house them, feed them, teach them? Should it be Israel, the intended victim of the massacre? Or should it be their fellow Arabs who, because of their hatred and violence, caused this mess in the first place? Or should this just be a valuable lesson to the world that when you attempt the extermination of another group, be prepared to lose land and property, and expect never to get it back again. Only when such violence is rewarded, by the UN, Jimmy Carter, the USSR, is there a material incentive to try again.

- The Society for Rational Peace

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Even if Israel is not the cause of the Arab refugee problem, didn't they do anything to compensate those people?

As a goodwill gesture during the Lausanne negotiations in 1949, Israel offered to take back 100,000 Palestinian refugees prior to any discussion of the refugee question. The Arab states, who had refused even to negotiate face-to-face with the Israelis, turned down the offer because it implicitly recognized Israel's existence.

Despite this, on humanitarian grounds Israel has since the 1950's allowed more than 50,000 refugees to return to Israel under a family reunification program, and between 1967 and 1993 allowed a further 75,000 to return to the West Bank or Gaza. Since the beginning of the Oslo process Israel has allowed another 90,000 Palestinians to gain residence in PA-controlled territory.

Arabs who lost property in Israel are eligible to file for compensation from Israel's Custodian of Absentee Property. As of the end of 1993, a total of 14,692 claims had been filed, claims were settled with respect to more than 200,000 dunams of land, more than 10,000,000 NIS (New Israeli Shekels) had been paid in compensation, and more than 54,000 dunums of replacement land had been given in compensation. Israel has followed this generous policy despite the fact that not a single penny of compensation has ever been paid to any of the more than 500,000 Jewish refugees from Arab countries, who were forced by the Arab governments to abandon their homes, businesses and savings.

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

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What has been the longest refugee situation in recorded human history?

The Diaspora, the Jewish Exile, the Golah. 1,900 years - between 80 and 100 generations.

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Another refugee situation also resulted from Israel's independence. It was larger in numbers and in property lost than the Palestinian Arabs, yet we never hear about it, why?

The Real Refugees

Most of the world is ignoring the real catastrophe of the past recent era: the brutal expulsion of some 867,000 Jews from Arab countries, and the seizure, by the Arab governments, of over $13-billion worth of Jewish property and assets.

During the war for Algerian independence from France in the 1950s and early 1960s, Algerian nationalists carried out violent attacks on Algerian Jews. After the French left, the Algerian authorities issued a variety of anti- Jewish decrees, including the imposition of heavy taxes on the Jewish community. Nearly all of Algeria's 160,000 Jews fled the country. All but one of Algeria's synagogues were seized and turned into mosques.

The ancient Jewish community of Egypt numbered over 90,000 by the 1940s. Riots by Egyptian nationalists in 1945 claimed many Jewish lives, and synagogues and Jewish buildings were burned down. A new wave of discrimination and violence was unleashed in 1948. Over 250 Jews were killed or injured, Jewish shops were looted, and Jewish assets were frozen. Some 35,000 Jews left Egypt by 1950. Gamal Abdel Nasser, who seized power in 1954, arrested thousands of Jews and confiscated their property. Emigration reduced Egyptian Jewry to just 8,000 by 1957.

The Jews of Iraq, with roots dating back to ancient Babylonia, numbered about 190,000 in 1947. When Israel was established, Jewish emigration was forbidden, and hundreds of Jews were jailed. Those convicted of "Zionism" --a criminal offense-- were sentenced to internal exile or fines of up to $40,000 each. Tens of thousands of Jews slipped out of the country. Then, in 1950, the government legalized emigration and pressured the Jews to leave; by 1952, only 6,000 remained. Jewish emigrants were permitted to take with them only $140 per adult; all of their remaining assets and property were confiscated by the Iraqi government.

The 2,000 year-old Jewish community of Libya, which numbered almost 60,000 by the 1940s, was the target of mass anti-Jewish violence in November 1945. In Tripoli alone, 120 Jews were massacred, over 500 wounded, 2,000 were made homeless, and synagogues were torched. There were more pogroms in January 1946, with 75 Jews massacred in Zanzur, and more than 100 murdered in other towns. By the early 1950s, more than 40,000 Libyan Jews had emigrated.

In 1948, there were about 350,000 Jews living in Morocco, a community with ancient roots going back to the time of the destruction of the First Temple (586 BCE). In June 1948, pogromists massacred 39 Jews in the town of Djerada and 4 more in Oujda. Over 50,000 Jews fled Morocco in terror. During the 1950s, there was violence against Jews in Oujda, Rabat, and Casablanca. Most of Moroccan Jewry emigrated during the years to follow.

There were 17,000 Jews in Syria in 1948, a community dating back to biblical times. Anti-Jewish pogroms erupted in the Syrian town of Aleppo in 1947. All of the local synagogues were destroyed, and 7,000 of the town's 10,000 Jews fled in terror. The government then enacted legislation to freeze Jewish bank accounts and confiscate Jewish property. By the 1950s, just 5,000 Jews remained in Syria, subjected to harsh decrees; they were banned from emigrating, selling their property, or working in government offices, and were compelled to carry special cards identifying them as Jews.


Following is the statistics on the number of Jews in the Arab countries in 1988 as reported by Israeli newspaper "Vesti" (in Russian) 1/4/99.

Algeria less than 100
Egypt less than 100
Iraq 60
Libya less than 100
Morocco 7,000
Syria 100

"This is hardly the place to describe how the Jews of the Arab States were driven out of the countries in which they lived for hundreds of years, then how they were shamefully deported to Israel after their property had been confiscated or taken over at the lowest possible price.

"It is plain that Israel will air this issue in the course of any serious negotiations that might be undertaken one day in regard to the rights on the Palestinians.

"Israel's claims are these: It may perhaps be the case that we Israelis were the cause of the expulsion of some Palestinians, whose number is estimated at 700,000, from their homes during the 1948 War, and afterwards took over their properties. Against this, since 1948, you Arabs have caused the expulsion of just as many Jews from the Arab States, most of whom settled in Israel after their properties had been taken over in one way or another. Actually, therefore, what happened was only a kind of "population and property exchange," and each party must bear the consequences. Israel is absorbing the Jews of Arab States; the Arab States, for their part, must settle the Palestinians in their own midst and solve their problems. There is no doubt that, at the first serious discussion of the Palestinian problem in an international forum, Israel will put these claims forward."

- Sabri Jiryis, a well known Palestinian Arab researcher in the Institute for Palestinian Studies in Beirut, published in Al-Nahar, Beirut, on May 15, 1975

Some of the communities in more depth:


Approximately 75,000 Jews lived in Egypt in 1948, a community whose origins date back to the Babylonian captivity some 2700 years prior. In the preceding decade, Muslim elements, believing that Hitler would be successful in completing the 'Final Solution' in Europe, carried out almost continuous pogroms against Jewish communities, killing and injuring thousands. The Egyptian Company Law of July 1947 introduced prohibitive quotas against employing Jews, precluded them from most areas of employment, and confiscated many Jewish-owned businesses, properties and other assets. Then, in the days after the passage of the Partition Plan, Muslims in Cairo and Alexandria went on a rampage, murdering, looting houses and burning synagogues. In one seven-day period in 1948, an eyewitness counted 150 Jewish bodies littering the streets.

During the War of Independence, Egyptian Jews were barred from travelling abroad. In August 1949, Egypt lifted the ban and 20,000 Jews fled the country, many going to Israel. Conditions for Jews improved somewhat under General Naguib, but when General Abdul Nasser rose to power in Egypt, he ordered mass arrests of Jews and confiscated huge quantities of Jewish property, personal and commercial. Nasser issued deportation orders to thousands of Jews, concurrently confiscating all their property and assets. Most of the deportees were limited to one suitcase apiece. In 1964, Nasser boldly declared, in an interview with a German publication, that Egypt still adhered to the Nazi cause: 'Our sympathy,' he said, 'was with the Germans.' With the outbreak of the 1967 Six-Day War, Jews were arrested en masse and sent to concentration camps, where they were tortured, denied water for days and forced to chant anti-Israel slogans. By 1970, Egypt's Jewish population numbered in the mere hundreds.


Like other Muslim nations, Algeria possesses a long history of anti-Semitism, legal and popular. The colonization of Algeria by the French in 1830, though, liberated the 2500-year-old Jewish community from much of the humiliation and persecution it had sustained under Islamic rule. But the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany augured a reversion to anti-Semitic activities. In 1934, twenty-five Jews were massacred in Constantine. During the subsequent trial by French authorities, evidence revealed the attack was organized by the city's leading Muslim authorities. When the French Vichy government took power in 1940, it immediately stripped Jews of their French citizenry, banned them from schools and declared them 'pariahs.' Only the Allied landing soon thereafter saved the Jews from mass deportation to European death camps. With the fall of the Vichy regime, more than 148,000 Jews enjoyed the full benefits and affluence of French society. A civil war erupted in Algeria, and as it intensified, thousands of Jews fled the country, mostly for France.

Algeria achieved independence in 1962, by which time more than 75,000 Jews had departed. State-sanctioned persecution began the following year with the passage of the 1963 Nationality Code, limiting citizenship to those residents whose father and paternal grandfather were Muslim. The new state confiscated or destroyed Jewish private, commercial and communal property and ordered most of the nation's synagogues converted into mosques. Following a flood of anti-Semitic violence in 1965, the majority of the remaining Jewish community of 65,000 departed. Today, the once vigorous Algerian Jewish community numbers a paltry 300.


Today, no Jews are known to live in the north African nation of Libya. Like Egypt and Algeria, massive pogroms decimated the once-thriving Jewish communities in the 1940s. From 1941-1942, great waves of persecution washed over Libya. Jewish property in Benghazi was pillaged and 2,600 were sent into the desert to a forced labor camp, where 500 perished. On November 5, 1945, a horrendous bloodbath ensued in the Libyan capital of Tripoli. According to New York Times reporter Clifton Daniels: 'Babies were beaten to death with iron bars. Old men were hacked to pieces where they fell. Expectant mothers were disembowelled. Whole families were burned alive in their houses.' Several hundred Jews died in the attack.

After the approval of the Partition Plan, another 130 Jews were murdered in anti-Semitic rioting. The following year saw another Tripoli-like massacre. In 1948, Libya's Jewish population was 38,000; by 1951 only 8,000 remained. After the Six-Day War, another pogrom erupted, driving all but 400 from the country. On July 21, 1967 Libyan strongman Colonel Qadhafi nationalized all Jewish property, and soon thereafter, all remaining Jews left the country.


The Syrian Jewish community in 1948 dated to the First Century destruction of Jerusalem, approximately 1900 year earlier. Under Islamic rule, Jews were routinely subject to cruel and inhumane treatment, including forced conversions, routine pogroms and severe commercial and personal restrictions. By early 1947, only 13,000 Jews lived in Syria; 20,000 had fled throughout the course of the previous decade, as Nazi zeal permeated the region and made their lives especially difficult. Immediately after Syria gained independence from France in 1945, vitriolic anti-Semitic propaganda was broadcast on television and radio, inciting the Arab masses to violence. In December 1947, one month after the Partition Plan's acceptance, a pogrom erupted in the Syrian town of Aleppo, torching numerous Jewish properties, including synagogues, schools, orphanages and businesses. Eyewitnesses to the violence noted Syrian firemen and police dispatched to the scene actively participated in the rioting.

A flurry of anti-Semitic legislation passed in 1948 restricted, among other things, Jewish travel outside of government-approved ghettos, selling private property, acquiring land or changing their place of residence. A decree in 1949 went a step further, seizing all Jewish bank accounts. Under threats of execution, long prison sentences and torture, 10,000 Jews were able to depart between 1948 and 1962. A report published in 1981 indicated Syrian Jews were subject to "the Mukhabarat, the [Syrian] secret police, [who] conduct a reign of terror and intimidation, including searches without warrant, detention without trial, torture and summary execution." Due mainly to US influence in the context of the Madrid peace process, all but about 800 of the Jewish community have fled, most settling in the United States. Syria has confiscated all Jewish property aside from those who remain.


The Yemenite Jewish community existed in what historian S.D. Goitein described as the "worst aspect" of the Arab mistreatment of the Jew. Jewish life in Yemen, up to the time of Israel's modern evacuation of the community, contained the harshest elements imaginable under dhimmitude status. Jews could not testify in court, and were regularly murdered, limited to employment in the most demeaning of positions and forced to relinquish their property on demand, to name a very few deprivations. An "age-old" custom of stoning Jews, permissible by Muslim law, was still regularly practiced up to the time the Jews fled Yemen. Conditions for the community were exacerbated by Israel's victory over Arab armies in 1948, making the swift extraction of the community a matter of rescue or extinction. Arab mobs swarmed through Tsan'a and other towns, burning, murdering, raping and looting in the city's Jewish quarters. The region's imam - or religious authority - permitted the Jewish community to leave Yemen, provided they forfeit all property to the state. Israel launched Operation Magic Carpet in 1949, and over the course of one year, successfully airlifted some 50,000 Yemenite Jews - almost the entire ancient community - to Israel.


The 135,000 strong Iraqi Jewish community in 1948 traced their origins to the pre-exilic Jewish community of Babylon, 2700 years previous. Anti-Semitic legislation in 1948, declared "Zionism" - a crime accorded to Jews automatically - an offence punishable by a seven-year jail term. Additional legislation barred Jews from government, medicine and education, denied merchants import licenses and closed Jewish banks. The Jewish community faced economic ruin. During Israel's War of Independence, immigration to Israel was declared a capital offense while public Law No. 1, passed in 1950, stripped Jews of their Iraqi nationality. In 1950, Israel launched Operation Ali Baba to extricate the destitute remnant. Iraq, intrigued at the prospect of inheriting large quantities of abandoned Jewish property, allowed the Jews to leave, reassuring emigrants they would receive fair compensation for property and other assets they were forced to abandon. The airlift spirited 123,000 Jews out of the country, with 110,000 choosing to remain in Israel. Despite it's promise, the Iraqi government announced on March 10, 1951 - the day after the deadline for exit registration - that emigrant's property, businesses and bank accounts were forfeit. That same year, Law No. 5 was expanded to include all Jewish holdings in Iraqi banks. By itself, this extension looted $200 million in Jewish assets. By January 1952, as Iraq again closed the doors to Jewish emigration, only 6,000 remained. All remaining Jewish communal property was confiscated in 1958. Today, only 200 Jews remain in Iraq, forced to reside in a Baghdad ghetto.

source: Middle East Digest - November/December 1999

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Can we hear about these refugees from a human rights perspective?

"The big issue between 1948 and 1967 was the Arab "refugees" who had left Israel and moved to areas under the control of Arabs. There was great controversy, both within Israel and outside, over whether these Arab refugees had been pushed out by Israel or had left on instructions of Arab leaders with the promise of a glorious return. There is obviously some truth to both positions. Certainly, many Arabs were frightened away by Israeli soldiers; some obviously left after hearing of civilian "massacres". (Whether these accounts were true, false, exaggerated or covered up is not as relevant as whether they were believed by the Arabs who left.)

"As a civil libertarian and human rights activist, I was never much moved by the claims of these refugees. Political solutions often require the movement of people, and such movement is not always voluntary. Making Arab families move - intact - from one Arab village or town to another may constitute a human rights violation. But in the whole spectrum of human rights issues - especially taking into account the events in Europe during the 1940's - it is a fifth-rate issue analogous in many respects to some massive urban renewal or other projects that require large-scale movement of people. For example, the building of the Aswan High Dam in Egypt necessitated the relocation of 100,000 Arabs and the destruction of numerous Arab villages. There were certainly numerous precedents following both world wars, as well as other dislocating events of history - including the establishment of new states. There were so many refugee groups throughout the postwar world, and in so much worse condition, that it is difficult to understand why this particular dislocation assumed such international proportions.

"For example, following the end of World War II, approximately fifteen million ethnic Germans were forcibly expelled from their homes in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Yugoslavia, and other Central and Eastern European areas where their families had lived for centuries. Two million died during this forced expulsion. Czechoslovakia alone expelled nearly three million Sudeten Germans, turning them into displaced persons. The United States, Britain, and the international community in general approved these expulsions, as necessary to secure a more lasting peace. [...] President Franklin Roosevelt's assistant Harry Hopkins memorialized his boss's view that although transfer of ethnic Germans "is a hard procedure, it is the only way to maintain peace." [...]

[Dershowitz describes other population transfers in the Middle East, primarily hundreds of thousands of Sephardic Jews who left their ancient communities in Arab lands for Israel.]

"But the Arab leaders did not want peace. They used the refugee issue to encourage continuing belligerency. It became an excuse for not making peace - for not accepting the reality that the ancient land of Israel-Palestine could be populated by two peoples and divided into two nations. It should be recalled that between 1948 and 1967, Israel posed no barrier to the establishment of a Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza. There was no Palestinian state because the Arab leaders did not want a Palestinian state alongside a Jewish state. Their collective goal was the total destruction of the Jewish state. The Palestinian refugees would better serve that goal if they were kept in camps as a homeless people than if they were allowed to move out of the camps and establish their own state.

"I believed then, and I believe now, that those who singled out the "plight" of the Arab refugees were more interested in singling out those who had allegedly caused the problem - namely the Jews - than they were in helping those who were its victims. Elevating the Arab refugee problem above the more compelling problem of other groups was a form of indirect international anti-Semitism, acceptable in a world too close to the Holocaust to legitimate direct anti-Jewish bigotry.

[Dershowitz adds here in a footnote:]

"A New York Times story of August 12, 1990, described the plight of 'fifteen million men, women and children' who have been 'internationally recognized as refugees.' Following World War II, the number was between thirty-three and forty-three million, and at the time the Palestinian refugee problem began - with 600,000 to 750,000 refugees - the number throughout the world was between sixteen and eighteen million. Many of the current group are refugees from Islamic nations. Yet the world knows little of their situation. Only the Palestinian refugees have received widespread international support. It is fair to ask why."


"All of this is not to diminish the suffering of the Palestinian people between 1948 and 1967, but it is to emphasize how much of that suffering was deliberately engineered by the leaders of those Arab nations that were determined not to settle the Palestinian issue in a manner that permitted the continued existence of the Jewish state."

by Alan Dershowitz in "Chutzpah" [from Roger David Carasso]

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Were these two refugee crises a simple 'exchange' of population and therefore 'equal'?

Without Equal.

The exchange of Arab and Jewish populations in and around Israel's War of Independence cannot be equated, as the circumstances perpetuating the refugee movements prove vastly different. The record shows the bulk of Palestinian refugees left their homes on their own accord and at the strong insistence of Arab leadership at the time. None were forcibly deprived of their wealth, and most expected to return to their homes after invading Arab armies crushed the nascent Jewish state.

In contrast, the Jewish residents of Arab countries were, almost without exception, forcefully expelled from their homelands and robbed of their wealth and livelihoods by government-planned, anti-Semitic campaigns meant to eliminate from their midst the "pariah" Jewish presence. This program of ethnic cleansing came hard on the heels of Hitler's plot to make Europe "Judenrein." Using tactics of terror, Arab/Islamic leaders effected a plan to expel their Jewish citizenry, indifferent that its execution would mean the death of thousands, gleeful of the untold wealth it would transfer into their coffers.

- Middle East Digest - December 1999, Canadian Friends of the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem