POPULATION MOVEMENTS, 1948-1951
By 1949, 90% of all Palestinians who had resided within the area, which became Israel had been uprooted
from their homes. Some 750,000 Palestinians were dispossessed and rendered refugees - most were
forced to flee to areas under Jordanian or Egyptian control, to Syria or Lebanon. In the ensuing 2½ years,
684,000 Jews entered Israel, more than doubling the pre-war Jewish population.
For the first six months of the war (Dec. 1947-May 1948), the British remained ultimately responsible for law
and order in Palestine. During the same period, the JA’s Haganah, with whom Britain had a “gentleman’s
agreement,” was transformed from a powerful militia, comprising a single brigade, into a formidable army
with 10 brigades, artillery units, armored vehicles and a small air force. Within this period more than half of
the war’s total refugees were created, yet, while the British authorities described the Haganah’s attacks on
civilians as “an offence to civilization,” they did nothing to intervene.
Historical debate was long focused on the ‘official’ as opposed to ‘opportunist’ position of the Zionist
leadership with regard to expulsion of the Palestinian population during the war. However, with the
declassification of vital documents in the 1980s, the intention - both pre-1947 and during the war itself - to
expel large numbers of Palestinians has become largely irrefutable.
Initially it was the wealthier professionals of the urban centers who fled, leaving behind their homes and
possessions in the hope of later returning. The December 1947 attack on Jaffa, followed by the razing of
entire suburbs, was described by the Zionists as “a lesson to the rural communities.” By March 1948, attacks
on villages in the coastal plain led to a mass-exodus from the countryside. With news of the first massacres
and mass expulsions - beginning with that at Deir Yassin on 9 April - the flight accelerated, as villagers
sought refuge in the mountainous hinterland or neighboring Arab states. Following British withdrawal,
the Zionists, already in control of much of the territory of the post-war state, increased their efforts to remove
the remaining Palestinian population. On 9 July 1948, Israeli forces broke the first truce of the war.
Over the next four days they expelled some 33,000 Palestinians from Lydda and Ramleh, after massacring
hundreds in one of the most infamous and brutal ‘operations’ of the war. There, ‘Operation Dani’, led by
Moshe Dayan and Yitzhak Rabin, exemplified a pattern of intimidation and expulsion, which was repeated
throughout the area falling under Israeli control until well after the armistice talks had begun. Israel’s largescale
military expulsions ended only in the summer of 1950, with the removal to Gaza of 2,500 Palestinians
who had remained in or fled to Al-Majdal. Approximately 150,000 Palestinians remained within the area of
the Jewish state following the war, concentrated in the Nazareth area and the ‘Little Triangle’ – comprised of
the villages and lands surrounding the three Palestinian towns of Umm Al-Fahm, Al-Khadeira and Kufr
Qara’ - bordering the northern West Bank. Many were ‘internally displaced’ refugees, denied return to their
homes. From 1948 until 1966 they were to be ruled under Israeli ‘Emergency Regulations,’ drastically limiting
their civil rights.
On 11 December 1948, the UNGA passed Resolution 194, affirming the Palestinian refugees’ right to return
and to compensation. A year later, with Israel rejecting any responsibility for the de-population of Palestine,
the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) was founded, to
provide destitute refugees with humanitarian aid and shelter. By 1950, 914,221 refugees were registered
with UNRWA and over the coming years 58 camps were established throughout the region.
Meanwhile, Israel wasted no time in settling a huge wave of immigrants on Palestinian land and in Palestinian
homes. Less than 15% of these immigrants were refugees of the ‘Displaced Persons’ camps in
Europe. The remainder was encouraged to come as part of the new Jewish state’s drive to “gather in the
exiles” and “redeem the land.” Between 1948 and 1953, 350 of 370 new Jewish settlements were established
on the property of refugees. In the cities, a third of all the period’s immigrants were settled in property
belonging to Palestinians. By 1954 a full third of Israel's population was living on or in refugee property.