Palestinian refugee problem

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Aida refugee camp near Bethlehem in the West Bank, 2010
Destroyed house in Jabaliya ( Jabalia ) refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip, Operation Cloud Pillar 2012
Baka refugee camp in Jordan, 2010
Jalazone refugee camp in the West Bank, 1950
Pardes Hana refugee camp in Israel, 1950

The Palestinian refugee problem is part of the Middle East conflict in connection with the fled and displaced Arab Palestine refugees and their descendants in the paternal line. The United Nations Aid for Palestine Refugees in the Middle East (UNRWA) speaks of around 5 million registered Arab Palestine refugees at the moment.

According to estimates by the United Nations , the Palestine War between June 1, 1946 and May 15, 1948 originally resulted in around 750,000 people from Palestine - including Jews and Arabs - fleeing and being displaced into refugees . The Palestine refugees and their descendants now live in Israel , Gaza Strip, West Bank, Jordan , Lebanon and other Arab states.

In the Six Day War of 1967, around 300,000 more people in the Palestine region became refugees. The expulsion of the Palestinians from Kuwait in 1991 again forced almost half a million people to flee. In addition, the support of the Gulf States for the PLO came to a standstill. Even Muammar Gaddafi pointed out tens of thousands of Palestinian guest workers from Libya in the 1990s.

Today, the United Nations Relief Organization for Palestine Refugees in the Middle East (UNRWA) only supports Arab Palestine refugees because all Jewish former Palestine refugees are integrated as citizens in other countries, especially Israel. A third of the Arab Palestine refugees still registered today, around 1.5 million people, live in 58 recognized " Palestine refugee camps " in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Palestine refugee camps are defined as a piece of land made available to UNRWA by the host country to assist Palestine refugees. Arab Palestine refugees and their descendants call themselves Palestinians today . In Arab countries, as stateless people, they usually have no civil rights and are sometimes systematically discriminated as a minority. The remaining two thirds of all registered Arab Palestine refugees, approx. 3.5 million people, live in localities and in urban areas of the Arab host countries and also near the official Palestine refugee camps.

The Arab Palestinians are being used by the hostile Arab states to exert pressure on Israel in the Middle East conflict . In this context Israel refers to the Jewish refugees from Palestine and to the expulsion of Jews from Arab and Islamic countries of around 850,000 people since 1948, most of whom have been integrated into Israeli society and no longer have to live in refugee camps . Israel has always pointed out that the recommendation of the UN General Assembly's non-binding resolution 194 merely states that Palestine refugees “should be allowed” to return to their homes at the “earliest possible date” and that this recommendation only applies to them who "wish (...) to live in peace with their neighbors" . Due to the Middle East conflict , it sees the demographic identity of the State of Israel as a Jewish state in question. Arab Israelis now make up almost a fifth (approx. 20%) of the population in Israel and have full, legally guaranteed civil rights, only perform military service at their own request and maintain their own schools and cultural institutions, and in some cases their own civil courts. In contrast, Jews make up less than 10% of the population in the West Bank (although they make up the majority at around 75% in the C areas) and 0% in the Gaza Strip. The Palestinian refugee problem within the Arab world and the lack of recognition and acceptance of the Palestinians in the Arab countries has hardly received any media coverage and is less politically discussed than the situation in connection with Israel.

The flight or expulsion of the Palestinians in connection with the UN partition resolution and the subsequent Arab-Israeli war is still one of the most controversial chapters in the history of the Middle East . From the Arab side, this is viewed as a planned expulsion campaign. B. Sami Hadawi :

In truth, the Zionist movement summarized its policy with the aim of driving the Palestinian Arabs from their homeland and their country (and thus making room for the planned mass immigration).

On the Israeli side, however, the prevailing opinion for a long time was that the escape was voluntary and that it was due to calls from neighboring Arab states to relocate the population:

The refugees were convinced that their absence from Palestine would not last and that they could return in a few days, within a week or two. Their leaders promised them that the Arab armies would crush the Zionist gangs very quickly and that there was no need to panic or fear a long exile.

Initiated by the so-called " New Israeli Historians ", there was a broad debate about these versions in Israeli society.

With regard to the exact number of Palestine refugees, the various sources differ greatly. While the official Israeli number is 520,000 to 530,000 Palestine refugees, Arab sources speak of 900,000.

Escape waves

The first wave of refugees (December 1947 to March 1948)

Immediately after the United Nations partition resolution, a wave of Arab violence began. The Mufti of Jerusalem , Haj Mohammed Amin al-Husseini , called a three-day general strike . The Jewish business center in Jerusalem was stormed. By preventing the UN-appointed commission to implement the UN Partition Plan for Palestine from entering the country, the gradual change of power could not take place. As a result, instead of the gradual transfer of governmental and administrative powers, there has been a gradual collapse of all organs of public administration and security.

The yishuv (the Jewish community), which already had state-like structures and was self-governing, was less affected, but it was catastrophic for the Arab population. In January, Arab militants from the Arab Liberation Army came into the country and attacked Jewish settlements and important connecting roads. Attacks by the Jewish terrorist organization Irgun did their part to fuel the violence. The Hagana , a Zionist paramilitary group, soon shifted from a strategy of restraint to one of "active defense" fearing that "the Arabs would interpret the Jewish defensive strategy as a sign of weakness". During this period there was an escape from the areas in the heart of the future Jewish state, mainly Haifa , Jaffa , the villages in their vicinity and the villages in the coastal region.

In the cities it was first the upper and middle class who escaped the chaos by fleeing. There was a shortage of food in the cities , the administration had collapsed, and increased crime caused by the rioters. The flight of the upper and middle classes added to the chaos, as with them the traditional leadership of the Palestinian Arabs, who had occupied the most important roles in administration and economy, disappeared. Their motives were both to get temporarily to safety and a general distrust of future Jewish rule. Arab officials feared that in the Jewish state they would have no hope of promotion because of the preferential treatment granted to the Jews. , even if this was hardly an adequate or even decisive reason to leave their property behind and although there is no evidence that they would have been promoted in their countries of flight.

In the villages, on the other hand, the escape was clearly due to attacks by the Hagana and Irgun or, even more, to fear of them. There was also a feeling of isolation and a special vulnerability in the middle of Jewish territory. The escape, however, was limited to the areas in which Jewish settlements were endangered by Arab attacks. In some cases, villagers have been evacuated from the Hagana for strategic reasons, and in a few villages have been evacuated on the orders of Arab irregulars.

In general, the refugees viewed their exile as temporary during this period: they expected intervention and a possible victory by the Arab states.

The second wave (April to June 1948)

The yishuv, the Jewish community, was in distress. Many Jewish settlements were cut off from supplies and besieged, especially the Jews of Jerusalem, which were located in the middle of Arab regions. In this situation, “ Plan Dalet ” came into play, the aim of which was to bring the area assigned to the Jewish state under control and to defend its borders. In it for the first time the definitive instruction was given to reduce the hostile potential for partisan war within the borders of Israel by conquering Arab urban and rural centers. Plan Dalet also contained further detailed instructions on the treatment of the Arab population, guaranteeing them the right to stay and continue their normal lives as long as they did not revolt against the future military rule. This instruction was not fulfilled. At that time the mass exodus of the Palestinians began.

On April 9, Irgun and Lechi units , with the support of the Hagana , attacked the village of Deir Yasin . Deir Yasin was kind to the yishuv. After the Hagana captured the village, Irgun and Lechi were charged with the Deir Yasin massacre . News of the Deir Yasin massacre caused panic among the Arabs. The surrounding villages were quickly abandoned. The evacuation of Tiberias took place a short time later, also under the impression of the Deir Yasin massacre. After the British refused to guarantee the residents protection from the Jewish attacks, the city was abandoned by decision of the Arab leaders. However, the Jewish Agency had issued clear instructions for the protection of the Arabs, which the Arab side ignored. Similar events took place in Haifa. After requests for reinforcements from Damascus or instructions for action from the AHC went unanswered and peace negotiations with the Hagana failed, the few Arab leaders who were still in the city decided on April 22nd to move the Arabs. Her decision was possibly also conditioned by the threat that if a peace treaty was reached with the Jews, she would be seen as a traitor. The escape took place with British help by ship and by land to Akko and Lebanon or Nazareth , Jenin and Nablus .

Jaffa , the largest Arab city in Palestine, was assigned to the Arab state in the partition plan. The Hagana had no plans to conquer Jaffa, but on April 25 the Irgun began an attack on Jaffa. A three-day bombardment with mortars undermined morale in the besieged city. This time the British - badly politically attacked because of their behavior in Haifa - came to the city's aid with troops. However, Jaffa remained cut off from all supplies and from connections with other Arab centers.

The evacuation of Arab cities usually followed a similar pattern. The Hagana conquered the surrounding villages, the food supply was interrupted, the local leaders, if they were still there, fled, leaving the city without a leader and in economic chaos. Then there was the news of the fall of other cities, which made people feel hopeless; the undisciplined rioters who did more harm to the population than to effectively defend the city; the Hagana mortar attacks and the numerous refugees from other areas. All of these factors undermined the morale of the population and drove them to flee. In the case of Acre also still came typhoid fever - Epidemic added.

The villages, on the other hand, were largely abandoned as a direct result of the Jewish attacks carried out under Plan Dalet. Plan Dalet had stipulated that such villages [in strategically important areas for the Jews] would be destroyed in the event of resistance and their inhabitants expelled . Accordingly, there was no “creeping” emigration from the villages over a longer period of time; rather, all residents and the irregulars fled during the Jewish attacks.

Increasingly, however, there were also expulsions by the Israelis, especially in the coastal region. Physical pressure was sometimes applied. Elsewhere, so-called “whisper campaigns” were used, in which the Jewish mayors were instructed to whisper to the residents of the neighboring Arab villages that Jewish reinforcements had arrived and to give them friendly advice to flee while there was still time.

The third wave (July to October 1948)

The Israeli offensives during the 10 days between the first armistice and a second generated a new wave of refugees. Although there was a ban on destroying Arab settlements or driving out the inhabitants, the result in the individual areas largely depended on the local army commanders, but also on the religious affiliation prevailing in the respective villages. This was particularly evident in the case of Nazareth . Strict orders against looting and damage to churches were given in order not to endanger the image of the Israeli state towards Christian foreign countries. Accordingly, the residents were not evicted and some of the refugees in the city were allowed to return to their villages.

The villages in Galilee that were Christian or Druze were also largely spared from being expelled. There was only one expulsion from one Druze village. But many Muslim village communities were also allowed to stay.

As part of the Arab-Israeli war , the Israelis' Operation Dani took place, which was supposed to secure the connection to Jerusalem and to remove the threat to Tel Aviv from the Arab Legion , which was based in the cities of Lod and Ramla . Lod and Ramla had been awarded to the future Arab state. The Jewish bombardment and the attack on the cities caused panic refugees. A surrender agreement was signed in Ramla, which allowed people of non-military age to leave the city. Lydda, on the other hand, was occupied by Israeli troops on July 11th without a surrender agreement.

The following day, the Arab Legion killed two Israeli soldiers in a firefight, the population was infected and in turn attacked the Israeli troops. Then was battalion commander Moshe Kelman order to shoot at anyone in the streets. 250 dead on the Arab side, two to four on the Israeli side were the result. The shooting in Lydda was followed by the massive expulsion of the residents of the two cities on July 13, 1948 . More than 50,000 inhabitants of all ages were driven under the desert sun with threats and warning shots by the Palmach 25 kilometers through the desert towards the east towards the Arab positions. Some researchers describe the event as a death march . Several Palmach fighters refused to give orders. One of the few reports of Ben Gurion's responsibility for the eviction fell into this context .

The later Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin reported in an interview from a briefing about what was to happen to the residents of Lydda and Ramla:

According to a reliable account of the meeting that was attended by Generals Yadin, Ayalon and Allon, Israel Galilee and Lieutenant Colonel Yitzhak Rabin, the commander in chief of Operation Dani, someone suggested, possibly Allon, after hearing of the start of the shootings in Lod to drive out the inhabitants of the two cities. Ben-Gurion said nothing and no decision was made. Then Ben-Gurion, Allon and Rabin left the room. Allon asked, 'What should we do with the Arabs?' Ben-Gurion made a dismissive, energetic gesture with his hand and said: "Drive them away!"

The eviction order was signed by Rabin, who 30 years later, under pressure from the Israeli government, had to delete the description of this incident from his memoirs.

The fourth wave (October to November 1948) and subsequent evictions

The fourth wave mainly affected the areas in the north, Galilee and the south. In the south, two regular armies faced each other, the Egyptian and the Israeli , now armed with bombers and tanks and other heavy weapons . Here again a mixture of the flight of the majority and the expulsion of the few who stayed behind took place. Here, too, there was a massacre on October 29th in Al Dawayima. However, there is no precise information about the number of deaths. Jigal Allon ordered an internal investigation.

Many Palestinians fled along with the withdrawing Egyptian army. The population of the Gaza Strip rose from 100,000 to 230,000 with the wave of refugees.

In the north the denominational differences came to bear again, furthermore the Israeli army only had to deal with Fausi al-Kawukdschi's Arab Liberation Army , which was not a serious opponent. The displacement and flight were largely restricted to Muslim villages, with the exception of Eilaboun , a Christian-Maronite village. Captured after a battle with ALA units stationed in the village, the Israelis found the bodies of two missing soldiers in the village. While they shot some men, the rest of the village population was evicted, despite their protestations that the ALA was responsible for the dead.

Above all, the inhabitants of partially abandoned villages were driven out, as there was fear of infiltration by returning refugees. Villages were searched again and again and “illegals”, ie everyone who had not been recorded in the census in November 1948 and did not have a passport, sent across the border.

In the south, the people of Faluja and Iraq al Manshiya were forced to flee by violence and psychological warfare . There were heated discussions about the fate of the Bedouin tribes in the Negev , from the suggestion to use the "good" Bedouin tribes as border guards to the suggestion to send them into the desert ( to push back the bedouin [...] far into the desert. ). Eventually it was decided to concentrate them in a delimited area. Thousands of Bedouins were brought to an area to the east of Be'er Sheva . International pressure prevented the Israelis from being displaced on the border with the territories occupied by Transjordan .

Arab politics

Only Jordan granted the refugees a new citizenship. The Arab League instructed its members to deny citizenship to Palestinian refugees in order not to “water down their identities and protect their right to return to their homeland”. In fact, in other Arab states, the Palestine refugees, like other Bedoon (stateless Arabs), were systematically and permanently discriminated against. A massive turning point was the expulsion of the Palestinians from Kuwait in 1991 immediately after the Second Gulf War . The side of the PLO leader Yasser Arafat for Saddam Hussein's invasion sparked the event. The 450,000 or so Palestinians living in Kuwait were expelled from the country to just a few thousand within two weeks . In addition, the support of the Gulf States for the PLO came to a standstill.

The attitude of abroad

In the second half of 1948 the world began to take notice of the existence of the refugee problem. Aid organizations were founded to provide the refugees with food. The UN mediator, Count Folke Bernadotte , made the return of the refugees his task. He demanded that the Israelis recognize the right of return. On June 17, he asked the Israelis to allow 300,000 refugees to return. American pressure also increased. The Israeli answer to all inquiries was the same: The problem could only be solved through general and comprehensive peace negotiations with the Arab states. Sasson stressed that refugees could not be accepted as long as this was not part of a peace agreement with the Arab states; a restitution of confiscated Arab property would depend on a restitution of Israeli property in Arab countries. The refugees were viewed by Kohn, an advisor to the Israeli foreign minister, as our most valuable bargaining asset .

On September 17, 1948, Bernadotte, the Israelis' toughest opponent on the refugee issue, was murdered by Jewish terrorists of the Lechi (so-called "Stern Gang") in Jerusalem. His proposals for solving the refugee problem formed the basis of Resolution 194 of the UN General Assembly , which deals with the refugee issue.

The failure of the peace negotiations

See also: Israeli Peace Diplomacy and the Middle East Peace Process

The peace negotiations were mainly led by the United Nations , the Palestine Conciliation Commission, and the US . They failed because of the attitude of the Israelis as well as the attitude of the Arab states. The mediators did not demand a full repatriation of the refugees from the Israelis, but a recognition of the right of return and the fulfillment of the following demand: They should take back some of the refugees (250,000), the rest should be resettled in the Arab states.

In another plan, the Gaza Plan, Israel was to obtain the Gaza Strip from Egypt, possibly in exchange for Israeli territorial concessions, and naturalize the people there and allow the Gaza Strip refugees to return to their villages. Israel was positive about the plan, but Egypt rejected it on July 29th: The Egyptian Foreign Ministry contended that the plan could serve only the interests of Israel, which was making use of the refugee question to extend its boundaries.

Nothing moved in the negotiations in Lausanne; the Israelis rejected the demand. Sasson describes the Israeli attitude: Firstly, the Jews believe that it is possible to achieve peace without any price, maximal or minimal ...

The Arab states, on the other hand, were, as Morris calls it, in a “no-lose situation”: if Israel refused to take back the refugees, Israel would be a moral loser in the face of the world; State at. The Arab states insisted on full repatriation.

On August 3, after long hesitation, the Israelis made an offer to repatriate 100,000 refugees, which sparked fierce domestic opposition. The Arabs refused. For Israel, as some thought, peace did not seem urgent: Israel prefers ... status quo ... Objectives appear to be (1) Absorption of almost all Arab refugees by Arab states and (2) de facto recognition of armistice lines as boundaries. The Lausanne Conference ended on September 12, 1949 with no result.

Camp David and Taba

In 2000, during the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations for a final status, the issue was seriously addressed by both sides for the first time. Again there was no successful solution. In particular, it was disputed who was responsible for the plight of the refugees, how a refugee is defined (e.g. the descendants of refugees), the existence of a right of return, the question of restitution and compensation, as well as the question of the relevance of the Jewish refugees from the Arab states for a treaty between the PLO and Israel.

Living conditions, population growth and violence

The majority of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank , despite their membership of the Palestinian Autonomous Territories, are still listed as refugees by UNRWA and most of them are de facto stateless. In contrast to all other refugees, for whose status only the individual experience of flight and displacement is relevant, Palestinians inherit their refugee status and thus the right to financial support from UNRWA as well as their property rights to real estate in Israel. The same applies to the Palestinians, who still live in refugee camps in Lebanon and Syria . Despite the difficult living conditions in the refugee camps and in the areas occupied by Israel , the population is growing steadily, especially in the latter. From 1967 to 2013, the number of Palestinians in the territories rose from 450,000 to 4.4 million. The birth rate in the Gaza Strip has been among the highest in the world for years. About 40% of all residents of the occupied territories and refugee camps are under 15 years old. The sociologist Gunnar Heinsohn sees this as a classic case of the Youth Bulges and one of the main problems of the Middle East conflict in the new millennium. The high unemployment and lack of prospects among Palestinian young men lead to an increased willingness to use violence and a susceptibility to extremist ideologies, which, in Heinsohn's opinion, an independent Palestinian state would not change anything for the time being. The Palestinian and Arab leaders have absolutely no interest in ending their hostility to Israel, as they feared that the young men who are ready for violence and subversion would turn against them. The Palestinian leaders also have no qualms about using the young men as “weapons”. The social scientist Samuel Salzborn sees in a realization of the right of return a "destruction of Israel", which is also intended with this demand.


Individual evidence

  1. a b c d e f Palestine refugees. United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, accessed October 16, 2017 .
  2. United Nations: General Progress Report and supplementary report of the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine , UNCCP, A / 1367 / Rev.1, October 23, 1950.
  3. Fritz Edlinger (Ed.): Libyen , Vienna 2011, ISBN 978-3-85371-330-3 , p. 21
  4. a b Qantara : Sunni Palestinians in Lebanon. Victims of Peace ( Memento of the original from August 15, 2010 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was automatically inserted and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. , 2010 @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  5. Richard Holmes, Hew Strachan, Chris Bellamy, Hugh Bicheno (Eds.): The Oxford Companion to Military History . Oxford University Press 2001, p. 64; Paul Chamberlin: The Global Offensive: The United States, the Palestine Liberation Organization, and the Making of the Post-Cold War Order . Oxford University Press, Oxford / New York 2012, p. 16.
  6. PK Abdul Ghafour: A Million expatriates to Benefit From New Citizenship Law. In: Arab News . October 21, 2004, accessed May 22, 2013 .
  7. Abbas Shiblak: Residency Status and Civil Rights of Palestinian Refugees in Arab Countries . In: Journal of Palestine Studies . April 25, 1996, pp. 36-45. doi : 10.2307 / 2538257 .
  8. Ann M. Lesch: Palestinians in Kuwait . In: Journal of Palestine Studies . July 20, 1991, pp. 42-54. doi : 10.2307 / 2537434 .
  9. ^ A b Angry welcome for Palestinian in Kuwait . In: BBC , May 30, 2001. Retrieved May 22, 2013. 
  10. General Delegation of Palestine: Statistics of the PCBS: Population (arab.) ( Memento from June 10, 2015 in the Internet Archive )
  11. World at a glance: world ranking of the birth rate of the countries of the world
  12. ^ Gunnar Heinsohn: Sons and World Power , Zurich 2006, p. 31 ff.
  13. ^ Samuel Salzborn: Global anti-Semitism. A search for traces in the abyss of modernity. Beltz Juventa, Weinheim 2018, p. 151.

Web links

Commons : Palestinian refugees of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War  - Collection of images, videos and audio files