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,
“Jewish 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.
In 1948, in response to the mass displacement of our refugees, the United Nations General Assembly passed Resolution 194, including paragraph 11 which provides, in part, that:
…the [Palestinian] refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible.
Resolution 194 endorsed the right of our refugees to choose whether to repatriate to what is now Israel or to be resettled elsewhere, and codified the accepted principles of customary international law. It has been reaffirmed by the General Assembly every year since its adoption.
The right of return for our refugees also is well-established under other international law, including: