Palestinian Refugees in 1948

The turbulent political conditions that prevailed in Palestine during the period 1920 up to 1948, have significantly contributed to the displacement of approximately 750,000 Palestinians from their homes to become refugees, living in camps in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Lebanon, and Jordan. The Balfour Declaration in 1917 and the partition of Palestine resolution, adopted in 1947, aggravated the already inflammable situation in the region. The British mandate imposed over Palestine contributed to the political administrative, and economic instabilities and upheavals in the country. Furthermore, article (6) of the mandate charter stated, “the British mandate government should encourage, in cooperation with the Jewish Agency, the mobilization of Jews on state - owned lands throughout Palestine”. Article (1) of the same charter called upon the mandate government to create a certain situation which would allow among other things, the assembly of people on agricultural areas in coordination with the Jewish Agency, Provided the latter establish and run public service utilities, because the mandate government does not administer such jobs directly”. The Jewish Agency invested these provisions in the charter to serve its own interests. It also worked in coordination and cooperation with the mandate government to capture more Palestinian land and exhaust the natural resources.

The British High Commissioner in Palestine was nominated under this charter as the guardian of the Palestinian land. Therefore, he was in a position to donate or lease any piece of state-owned land or natural resource, temporarily and under the conditions that he deemed appropriate provided that he observed the general provisions prescribed by relevant laws and legislation. It was stipulated that any donation or lease or similar act be made without prejudice to the applicable laws and legislation in Palestine. Accordingly, the British High Commissioner in Palestine, Mr. Herbert Samo’yel, enacted in 1920 the transfer of property code along with a number of annexes. By virtue of these laws, more Palestinian land was expropriated for security reasons. The annexes were considered at a later stage as “independent laws”, a fact which prompted the High Commissioner to issue a decree on July 1,1920 confiscating 3390 square dunums at Karm Abu Hussein area in Jerusalem. In August 1924, the British mandate government also confiscated 3313 dunums in Sarafand and 49 dunums in Ramla city. The confiscation order permitted the military commander to confer with the land owners on details of compensation. However, the law empowered the military commander to confiscate Palestinian land even if the landlords refused to sell .

By virtue of this law, the British mandate government confiscated large areas of Palestinian land, indifferent to the outcries and complaints made by the real owners. The mandate government also had the right to sell or donate land to any person without regard to the actual ownership of the land. The Jewish Agency was the sole beneficiary of this law which covered all the properties prescribed in the Ottoman land law issued in 1858, the individual property, and the Wakf Lands.

The British mandate government donated to the Jewish Potach Company 75,000 dunums and to the Jewish Electric company 18.000 dunums free of charge to build up their Jewish projects. The transfer of land enabled the Zionist movement to establish a Jewish state in Palestine at the expense of thousands of expropriated Palestinian land during the period 1920-1948.
Due to these coercive measures, the Palestinians were deprived from their main source of livelihood, agriculture, which represented over 80 percent of the Palestinian national income at that time. In accomplishing the objectives of the mandate in Palestine, the British High Commissioners worked relentlessly to expropriate more Palestinian land for the construction of new roads for Jewish settlements. Palestinian villages were completely ignored and the roads leading to these villages were themselves confiscated under various British codes and regulations.

Joint possession characterized the nature of Palestinian land when the British mandate government came to power. A certain village or piece of land was owned by many Palestinian individuals, thus impeding the smooth transfer of property among people. According to the prevailing circumstances at that time, a limited number of people were named to cultivate the land every year. This system constituted an obstacle before the transfer of property to the jews and hence, curtailed the efforts being exerted by the mandate government to provide large areas of land for the Jewish expansionists. The British mandate government established an ad hoc committee in 1923 to find solutions for joint possession ownership. The committee concluded that about 5 percent of the Palestinian owned. In view of the above conclusions, the British government enacted new legislation to eliminate collective ownership and established a special administration for this purpose, under the chairmanship of Frederick Skolmon. The new legislation met with Jewish requirements by usurping the fertile and the irrigated lands and those subject for irrigation in the future. It was evident later on that the British policy was dedicated to extracting as much as possible, Palestinian land for the benefit of the Jewish state, and under the pretext of “unexplored areas”. The British mandate government called the so-called “unexplored land” as state-owned land in a bid to ease its transfer at a later stage to the Jews.

Only through these twisted techniques and unjust laws, Great Britain was able to meet all the requirements of the Balfour Declaration, committing itself to enforce its rules. The 1947 resolution on the partition of Palestine came only to complement the unjust laws and military orders enacted by the British mandate government. The Palestinian people didn’t accept the Balfour Declaration at anytime. Britain promised under this declaration to give the Jews land not belonging to it in order to establish a Jewish state, an illegal and morally unacceptable act. The partition of Palestine was also groundless and illegal because it failed to consult the majority of the Palestinians estimated at that time at 90% of the total population of Palestine. Furthermore, the resolution lacked justice and equality because it gave the Jewish minority about 56% of the land, most of which was located at the fertile coastal areas and 43% to the Palestinian majority, land lying in rugged mountainous areas.

As a result of the Balfour Declaration and the Partition Plan, the racist policy of the British mandate government, and the brutalities perpetrated by the Jews against the Palestinians, a total of over 750,000 Palestinian refugees were forced to abandon their homes and seek refugee in neighboring Arab countries. This large number of people didn’t leave their country voluntarily, but were forced to flee following the Zionist massacres committed against unarmed Palestinians. An Israeli writer, Amnon Kabilok wrote in the Palestinian Studies Magazine, “The Argon”, an organization led by former Israeli Prime Minister Begin, and the “Shtern” underground organization were waging wars to terrify Palestinians, in order to displace them from their land. He also stated that the Palestinians didn’t participate in the war according to David Ben Gorion himself. Mose Sharit, head of the political section at the Jewish Agency, quoted Ben Gorion as telling his army, “you should strike violently to demolish Palestinian cities and towns and expel the Palestinian people, to pave the way so that our people can replace them”. Working under these instructions, the Jewish gangsters perpetrated many massacres which terrified Palestinians, forcing them to abandon their homes and properties.

Among these massacres were Deir Yasin, Nasser El Dein near Tiberies, and Dawayma massacre west of Hebron, which were committed in October 1948. According to Mr. Sharit, the Jews were rejecting all forms and initiatives for peace, particularly those concluded between some Palestinian villages and Jewish settlements before the breakout of hostilities. The peace package reached between Deir Yasin village and Givat Sha’ol settlement didn’t protect Deir Yasin villagers from the brutal massacre perpetrated against them.

Since 1920, the British mandate government has put Palestine in a difficult economic, administrative, and political situation, facilitating the establishment of a Jewish state and the displacement of over 750,000 Palestinians through four successive waves of immigrations.

The First Wave: Approximately 30,000 Palestinians were forced to leave the country during the period from January 1947 up to March 1948.

The Second Wave: Over 300,000 Palestinians left West Jerusalem, Tiberias, Haifa, Jafa, Beishan, and those who survived the Deir Yasin massacre. These huge numbers were forced to leave during the period from March 1948 up to May 1948. They were terrified by the horrible massacre committed by Hagana and Stern forces against innocent civilians in Deir Yasin village where the death toll reached 250 persons including children, women, and elderly people.

The Third Wave: The Israeli armed forces deported approximately 100,000 Palestinians from Lod and Ramlah cities to Jordan during the period from May 1948 to December 1948.

The Fourth Wave: In view of the Israeli hostilities which continued even after the 1948 war, over 200,000 Palestinians were forced to move to the Gaza Strip.