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 The Palestinian Right of Return

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Aba Eban

"Cut off from all land contacts, intercepted illicitly in two of its three maritime channels, subjected to blockade and boycott, the object of an official proclaimed state of war and the target of a monstrous rearmament campaign - this is the picture of Israel's security...

"Can the mind conceive anything more fantastic than the idea that we can add to these perils by the influx from hostile territory, large or small, of people steeped in the hatred of out very statehood? I do not believe that any responsible conscience will sustain such an idea. There could be no greater unkindness to an Arab himself than to expose him to such an invidious role, perhaps reproducing the very circumstances which first made him a refugee."

Aba Eban early 1950s

Emile Ghoury, Secretary of the Arab Higher Command, called for the prevention of the refugees from "return." He stated in the Beirut Telegraph on August 6, 1948:

"It is inconceivable that the refugees should be sent back to their homes while they are occupied by the Jews.... It would serve as a first step toward Arab recognition of the state of Israel and Partition."

The tragedy of refugees was is not unique to Palestine.

1950s there were 60 million refugees in the free world. 700,000 Palestinians comprised 1.25 percent of the total. There was no historical precedent for the return of such numbers of fugitives - particularly if the emigre Arabs in effect represented a population "exchanged for Jewish refugees from Muslim lands.

In the early 1920s, for example, nearly 2 million displaced war victims were resettled in a population transfer between Turkey and Greece.

Following World War II, 900,000 Germans were forcibly transferred to Germany from Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, and Yugoslavia

An exchange of population between Poland and Soviet Russia affected 2,520,000 Poles, Ukrainians, white Russians, and Lithuanians

In the wake of the partition of India, in 1947, an immense two-way migration of Hindus and Muslims uprooted nearly 13 million people.

Exchanges of population were not reversible. It was far better to accept the exodus of Arabs from Israel and of Jews from Muslim countries as a fait accompli, and to encourage their resettlement among their kinsmen.


Ruth Lapidoth
The Beginning of the Refugee Problem / Who is a Refugee? / Do Refugees Have a Right to Return to Israel? / The Impact of UN General Assembly Resolution 194 / After 1967 / The Refugee Question in Arab-Israeli Agreements / A Right to Compensation?


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