Once Upon a Time...


البيان السياسي

A Brief History of the Refugee Issue
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A Brief History of the Refugee Issue

From 1947 to 1949, more than 726,000 Palestinians were expelled from or forced to leave their homes and became refugees prior to, and immediately following, Israel’s statehood declaration. Many fled from direct military assaults, while others fled from fear of imminent assaults by Jewish militias. Some 150,000 Palestinians remained in the areas of Palestine that became the State of Israel, including 46,000 Palestinians who were internally displaced during the war. Israel has refused to allow these internally displaced Palestinians to return to their homes and villages.

During Israel’s 1967 military occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, roughly 300,000 Palestinians were forced to leave their homes there to other parts of the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt) as well as across regional borders. Among this new wave of fleeing Palestinians, approximately 120,000 had previously been displaced in 1948. Since 1967, we have continued to face displacement from and within the oPt as a result of Israeli policies that include home demolition, evictions, land confiscation, residency revocation, construction of settlements and the Separation Wall, and the massive supporting Israeli military presence. Neither the 1948 refugees nor the 1967 refugees and internally displaced persons have been allowed by Israel to return to their homes within what are now Israel and the oPt.

Those Palestinians who were expelled or fled the violence in and around 1948 were effectively denationalized by Israel’s parliament in 1952. Their properties were seized and ultimately transferred to the State of Israel for the nearly exclusive benefit of the Jewish people. During and following the 1948 war, more than 400 of Palestinian villages were depopulated and destroyed. Israel built new Jewish-only communities over some of these destroyed village areas. As former Israel Defense Minister Moshe Dayan stated in 1969,

“[J]ewish villages were built in the place of Arab villages. You do not even know the names of these Arab villages, and I do not blame you because geography books no longer exist, not only do the books not exist, the Arab villages are not there either. Nahlal arose in the place of Mahlul; Kibbutz Gvat in the place of Jibta; Kibbutz Sarid in the place of Huneifis; and Kefar Yehushu’a in the place of Tal al-Shuman. There is not one single place built in this country that did not have a former Arab population.”

However, by some estimates, 90 percent of the sites of our villages destroyed by Israel during and after its 1948 conquest remain vacant. By contrast, the vast majority of our refugees’ homes located in urban centers were left standing in 1948 but were occupied by Jewish immigrant Israelis.


  • Key Facts 
    • Today there are seven million Palestinian refugees; the majority of whom live within 100 kilometers (62 miles) of Israel’s border.
    • 1.4 million refugees who are registered with UNRWA currently live in 58 official UNRWA refugee camps in the oPt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon (“host countries”). However, there are also many of our refugees that are not registered with UNRWA who live in these camps and still others that live in camps not recognized by UNRWA or the host country.
    • The largest refugee camp population resides in the Gaza Strip. The highest proportion of refugees residing in camps among any single host country’s Palestinian refugee population lives in Lebanon
    • Roughly 770,000 registered refugees live in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Of these, approximately 190,000 live in 19 refugee camps in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. More than one million registered refugees reside in the Gaza Strip. Roughly 500,000 live in one of the eight camps in the Gaza Strip. Our refugees in the oPt possess the same housing, health, employment, and education rights as non-refugees.
    • The treatment of Palestinian refugees varies among host countries. Jordan granted citizenship to most refugees who fled in 1948, along with the civil and social rights attending Jordanian citizenship. Palestinians living in Syria have the same rights and responsibilities as Syrian citizens, except nationality and political rights. In Lebanon, our refugees face severe discrimination, including lacking such fundamental rights as access to healthcare, education, and employment. While recent legislation has slightly improved our refugee work rights on paper, in effect, refugees are still prohibited from working in many professions, including pharmaceuticals, journalism, medicine, and law. They are also prohibited from owning immovable property. Further, building in and around Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon is severely restricted.
    • Palestinians today are a Diaspora community that is scattered all over the world, including in most Arab states, Europe, and in North and South America. Yet, while the Israeli Law of Return allows any Jew residing anywhere in the world to live in Israel and the oPt, irrespective of direct lineage in the territory, those of us that are native born and possess the keys to our homes and titles to property in historic Palestine are denied the right even to visit our families, property and ancestral homeland.


    Resource: State of Palestine - Palestinian Liberation Organization- Negotiations Afairs Department

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