Why did the Arabs flee in 1948? Why didn't the Jews? Who has the right of return?

By Jock L. Falkson
May 1, 2003
Two main reasons have been advanced for the few hundred thousand Arabs who fled Palestine mostly ahead of the war against the tiny State of Israel which achieved statehood on May 14, 1948.

First was the fictional massacre of Arabs in Deir Yassin at the hands of the Irgun and Lehi. So frightening were the stories of the killing of 'innocents' by the 'ferocious' Jews, so the Arabs alleged, that huge numbers upped and fled. Such was their astonishing fear - if you want to believe it.

The Arabs have never hesitated to shout 'massacre' to high heaven when dozens or scores are sometimes killed in battle. Yet have never had any shame or compunction in declaring their intention to exterminate ALL the Jews in Israel!

How base is their morality . . . how totally lacking in civilized decency.  And how utterly unconcerned were many European nations which supported the Arabs in word and deed.

1948 War aim of Arab armies

The 1948 war aim of the six Arab armies was broadcast in advance and was certainly well known to the small Jewish community in Israel. Israelis already understood from the German example that genocide was a realizable objective. Many had been rescued from the death camps of Europe by the advancing allies.

Now, from the day of its birth, the new state of Israel faced a coalition of Arab nations which lusted for a walkover of killing, looting and rapine.  Against Jews who had no army, no military culture for over 2,000 years.  Extermination was to be the Arab punishment for having the temerity to  declare their statehood following a legally approved UN resolution. 

"Like the Mongolian massacres" 

Azam Pasha, Arab League Secretary General, proudly proclaimed the war aim of the Arabs, May 15, 1948. (Quoted in "New Dimensions" Jan. '91)

"This will be a  war of extermination and a momentous massacre which will be spoken of like the Mongolian massacres and the crusades."

(For additional relevant quotes see numbers 1 and 2 in Appendix below.)

The Arab threats were genuine enough to instill fear. So why didn't the 650,000 Jews of the newborn state of Israel flee? By sea. By air. Why didn't they hide in the hills, forests and caves? Why did they gird their loins to fight the invaders against overwhelming odds?

Arab leaders command them to get out

The second reason for the flight of the Arabs was the call by their leaders to get out and allow their armies to make short shrift of the Jews. This however, is still strongly denied by the Palestinians.

To admit they fled voluntarily would have brought into question their attachment to Palestine. It would also have hurt their international strategy since they wanted to be seen as victims of Israel, not of the mistakes of their leaders.

Abu Mazen tells why Arabs fled

Nevertheless, the historical record is replete with numerous references attesting the truth. Here is one from the then PLO Spokesman Mahmud Abbas (Abu Mazen) Falastin aThaura, (March 1976).

"The Arab armies entered Palestine to protect the Palestinians from the Zionist tyranny but, instead, they abandoned them, forced them to emigrate and to leave their homeland, and threw them into prisons similar to the ghettos in which the Jews used to live."

(Additional relevant quotes are given in the Appendix below. See numbers 3 to 5.)

Why didn't the Jews flee?

After 2,000 years of exile the Jews had returned home. Despite vicissitudes their nationhood and attachment to their homeland was intact. They were determined to hold on to their nascent state, achieved at such dear cost in lives.

The Arabs fled because, unlike the Jews, they had no genuine attachment to the land. Most had entered as work seekers and were now returning to the bosom of their compatriots in the surrounding Arab countries.

From time immemorial?

The spin sold to the world by the Arabs is that they were one nation in their homeland 'from time immemorial'. And that having been "unfairly removed" from their ancient homeland, they were entitled to return. This is untrue on both accounts.

Firstly because the overwhelming majority had in fact illegally immigrated into Palestine - and not all that long ago either. Secondly that the 'refugees' had left voluntarily, at the urging of their leaders.

When the war was over they made no immediate clamor to return. The majority knew perfectly well they were not indigenous. That Palestine was not their ancient homeland.

Moreover, many had fought with the pan-Arab military forces intending to exterminate the Jews. Those who made war for this purpose had as little right to return as had the defeated Arab armies.

Joan Peters' expose of Arab immigration

In a 7 year monumental investigation, historian Joan Peters researched the origins of the Arab inhabitants of Palestine. To her surprise she discovered that they had not been in Palestine 'from time immemorial'. She titled her book "From Time Immemorial". [J.KAP Publishing, 1985 reprint.]

Peters quoted an early statement by Churchill (1939) that effectively challenged the claim that the Arabs had been in Palestine for millennia.

"So far from being persecuted, the ARABS have CROWDED into the country till their population has INCREASED more than even all world Jewry could lift up the Jewish population."

(Additional relevant quotes are given in the Appendix below. Numbers 6 to 7.)

Did Palestine Arabs speak 51 languages?

Much evidentiary support for her conclusions came from the 1931 census. She noted that non-Jews in Palestine listed at least 24 different countries as their "birthplace"! And that 23 different languages were used by the Muslim community. Plus an additional 28 by Christian Arabs. 51 languages spoken by Arabs!

There was no secular education for Muslims in Palestine under Turkish rule.  Study was mostly confined to the Koran, sages' commentaries, and Islamic writings - in Arabic. If all the Arabs in Palestine had been there since time immemorial how come they spoke such a plethora of foreign languages?!

Who has the right of return?

The Arabs had immigrated to find work. They fled because they had neither nationhood nor attachment to Palestine. They were fixated on the extermination of the Jews and on booty.

Their hatred has been actively nurtured from the day they left. They have no 'right of return'. Israel has no obligation to give them yet another opportunity to fulfill their malevolent intent.

The Jews stayed and fought for their homeland, to which they were indeed attached from time immemorial. And to which they had returned after 2,000 years of exile to reclaim their birthright. Only Jews who so wish have the right to return to the Jewish state.

Quotes: War aims

1.  Citing  Damascus radio, TIME (page 20, June 2, 1948) recorded Syria calling on all Arabs to "undertake the liberation battle that will tear the hearts from the bodies of the hateful Jews and trample them in the dust".

2.Ahmed Shuqeiri, later to head the Palestinian Liberation Organization, stated (quoted from Churchill and Churchill, page 52) "the surviving  Jews would be helped to return to their native countries, but my estimation is that none will survive".

Quotes: Leaders command Arabs to leave

3.Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Said:  "We will smash the country with our guns and obliterate every place the Jews seek shelter in. The Arabs should conduct their wives and children to safe areas until the fighting has died down." 

4.Edward Atiyah, Secretary of the Arab League Office in London, wrote in his book, The Arabs:  "This wholesale exodus was due partly to the belief of the Arabs, encouraged by the boastings of an unrealistic Arabic press and the irresponsible utterances of some of the Arab leaders that it could be only a matter of weeks before the Jews were defeated by the armies of the Arab States and the Palestinian Arabs enabled to re-enter and retake
possession of their country."

5.Habib Issa in the New York Lebanese paper, Al Hoda (June 8, 1951) quotes Azzam Pasha, Secretary-General of the  Arab League: 
"He pointed out that they were already on the frontiers and that all the millions the Jews had spent on land and economic development would be easy booty, for it would be a simple matter to throw the Jews into the Mediterranean .... Brotherly advice was given to the Arabs of Palestine to leave their land, homes and property and to stay temporarily in neighboring
fraternal states, lest the guns of the invading Arab armies mow them down."


Quotes: Arab immigration into Palestine

6. Tewfik Bey El-Hurani, Governor of the Hauran said August 12, 1935, as published in "La Syrie": "in the last few months from 30,000 to 36,000 Hauranese (Syrians) had ENTERED Palestine and SETTLED there".

7. Massive Arab immigration from 1922 to 1936 into Palestine was confirmed by the British Governor of the Sinai, who observed that:  "This illegal immigration was not only going on from SINAI, but also from Transjordan and Syria....."