1948 Palestinian exodus

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Palestinian refugees leaving the Galilee in October–November 1948

The 1948 Palestinian exodus occurred when more than 700,000 Palestinian Arabs fled or were expelled from their homes, during the 1948 Palestine war. It was a central component of the fracturing, dispossession and displacement of Palestinian society, known as the Nakba (Arabic: نكبة, al-Nakbah, literally "disaster", "catastrophe", or "cataclysm"). Between 400 and 600 Palestinian villages were sacked during the war, while urban Palestine was almost entirely extinguished. The term "nakba" also refers to the period of war itself and events affecting Palestinians from December 1947 to January 1949.


  • The exodus of Palestinian Arabs resulted from panic created by fighting in their communities, by rumours concerning real or alleged acts of terrorism, or expulsion. It would be an offence against the principles of elemental justice if these innocent victims of the conflict were denied the right to return to their homes while Jewish immigrants flow into Palestine, and, indeed, at least offer the threat of permanent replacement of the Arab refugees who have been rooted in the land for centuries.
  • A new iteration of a partition plan first put out in 1937 was put forward at the UN, creating two states: one Arab and one Jewish. A new UN census determined that the Jewish population of Palestine had grown to one-third, with the other two-thirds a mix of Muslim and Christian Arabs, but the plan divided the land in half between Jews and Arabs. On November 29, 1947, the UN General Assembly approved the Partition Plan. On May 14, 1948, as the last British troops departed, Jewish leaders declared the creation of the State of Israel on the land apportioned to them by the UN plan. But Arab countries had rejected the Partition Plan, declaring they would continue to fight for an undivided Palestine. On May 15, they went to war, sending thousands of troops and tanks across the border. The new nation of Israel was already mobilized. With logistical help and arms shipments from a number of European countries, the Israelis built an army that soon surpassed Arab firepower. Within a year, Israel controlled 78 percent of former British Mandate Palestine, including West Jerusalem, while Jordan now administered the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and its walled old city, and Egypt had control of the Gaza Strip. The Arabs had lost Palestine, it was a catastrophe, a nakba, as it became known. Several hundred thousand Palestinians had to flee, within the country or into neighboring countries. Palestinians felt they were being made to atone for Europe’s sin of the Holocaust by sacrificing their own land. They took the keys to their houses with them and never gave up on the idea of returning home one day. But in 1967, during six days of war, the Arabs lost more land: Gaza, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, including the walled old city that is home to Al-Aqsa mosque, as well as Egypt’s Sinai and Syria’s Golan Heights. Jerusalem was under Jewish rule again for the first time in two millennia. Across the Arab and Muslim world, there was disbelief, shock, and tears. Arabs had put their faith in nationalism and in Egypt’s president, Gamal Abdel Nasser. Just a few years prior, in 1956, Nasser had emerged victorious from a war for control over Egypt’s Suez Canal, staring down not only the French and the British but also Israel. The charismatic nationalist had become a hero for millions across the Arab world. How could he have lost this time? Perhaps, some people thought, God had forsaken Muslims; perhaps a return to religion was the answer.
    • Kim Ghattas, Black Wave: Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the Forty-Year Rivalry That Unraveled Culture, Religion, and Collective Memory in the Middle East, (2020)
  • Throughout the Haganah made effective use of Arabic language broadcasts and loudspeaker vans. Haganah Radio announced that "the day of judgement had arrived" and called on inhabitants to "kick out the foreign criminals" and to "move away from every house and street, from every neighbourhood occupied by foreign criminals." The Haganah broadcasts called on the populace to "evacuate the women, the children and the old immediately, and send them to a safe haven." Jewish tactics in the battle were designed to stun and quickly overpower opposition; demoralisation was a primary aim. It was deemed just as important to the outcome as the physical destruction of the Arab units. The mortar barrages and the psychological warfare broadcasts and announcements, and the tactics employed by the infantry companies, advancing from house to house, were all geared to this goal. The orders of Carmeli's 22nd Battalion were "to kill every [adult male] Arab encountered" and to set alight with fire-bombs "all objectives that can be set alight. I am sending you posters in Arabic; disperse on route."
  • Undoubtedly, as was understood by IDF intelligence, the most important single factor in the exodus of April–June was Jewish attack. This is demonstrated clearly by the fact that each exodus occurred during or in the immediate wake of military assault. No town was abandoned by the bulk of its population before the Haganah/IZL assault. In the countryside, while many of the villages were abandoned during Haganah/IZL attacs and because of them, other villages were evacuated as result of Jewish attacks on neighbouring villages or towns; they feared that they would be next. In General, Haganah operational orders for attacks on towns did not call for the expulsion or eviction of the civilian population. But from early April, operational orders for attacks on villages and clusters of villages more often than not called for the destruction of villages and, implicitly or explicitly, expulsion. And, no doubt, the spectacle of panicky flight served to whet the appetites of Haganah commanders and, perhaps, the HGS as well. Like Ben Gurion, they realised that a transfer of the prospective large minority out of the emergent Jewish State had begun and that with very little extra effort and nudging it could be expanded. The temptation proved very strong, for solid military and political reasons.
  • Israeli vans with loudspeakers drove through the streets ordering all the inhabitants to evacuate immediately, and such as were reluctant to leave were forcibly ejected from their homes by the triumphant Israelis whose policy was now openly one of clearing out all the Arab civil population before them… From the surrounding villages and hamlets, during the next two or three days, all the inhabitants were uprooted and set off on the road to Ramallah… No longer was there any "reasonable persuasion." Bluntly, the Arab inhabitants were ejected and forced to flee into Arab territory… Wherever the Israeli troops advanced into Arab country the Arab population was bulldozed out in front of them.
    • Edgar O'Ballance, The Arab–Israeli War 1948 (1956), pp. 147, 172. London: Faber and Faber.
  • The end result of this was, in the end we know that 531 Palestinian villages were destroyed, 11 towns were destroyed, and more than three quarter of a million Palestinians became refugees.
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