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What caused the Palestinian refugee problem? 13 important stories told by refugees from 1948
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What caused the Palestinian refugee problem?
 
Exclusive PMW video compilation of 13 personal stories
told by refugees themselves 
  • "Cars with megaphones roamed the streets, demanding that people leave"
  • "The one who made us leave was the Jordanian army"
  • "The radio stations of the Arab regimes kept repeating to us: 'Get away'"
  • "Our [Arab] district officer issued an order that whoever stays in Palestine is a traitor"
  • The Arab Salvation Army told the Palestinians: "We have come to you in order to exterminate the Zionists... Leave your houses and villages, you'll return to them safely in a few days."
  • "The Arab Salvation Army said: 'Leave, but don't go far from the village because they [the Jews] will make a short visit...' The people left with nothing, even without bread."
 
By Itamar Marcus
 
What caused the Palestinian refugee problem? Why did hundreds of thousands of Arabs leave their homes during Israel's War of Independence in 1948?

This new
Palestinian Media Watch video compilation adds important evidence to help clarify this question of historical importance. The video includes 13 personal stories mostly by Palestinian refugees from different regions telling what caused them to leave their homes in 1948. The common denominator of these testimonies is that the massive flight of Arabs was not from an Israeli "expulsion," as the PA claims, but was the result of a strategic decision by the Arab leaders and Arab armies who demanded that the Arabs leave. Others describe their families' decisions to leave because of fear of the coming battles. Some of the testimonies are from people who moved on to leadership positions, such as PA leader Mahmoud Abbas, who explains why his family along with the Arabs of Safed made the choice to leave. A few of the accounts are by Palestinian journalists who describe what caused the general flight.

Summing up the reasons Arabs left,
Mahmoud Al-Habbash, currently one of the top Palestinian Authority religious figures, wrote:  

"Most of them did not leave until they believed the false promises made by the [Arab] leaders and the political elites."
[Official PA daily, Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Dec. 13, 2006]

See full transcripts of all 13 testimonies below

 
One of the common messages is bitterness over those "false promises" by the Arab leaders. One expressed it this way:
 
"The Arab regimes kept repeating...: 'Get away... It's a matter of ten days, or at most two weeks, and we'll bring you back...' We said to ourselves, 'That's a very long time. Two weeks is too much.' That's what we thought [then]. And now 50 years have gone by."
[Official PA TV, July 7, 2009]
 
Another lamented:
"Indeed there were among us those who left a fire burning under the pot, those who left their flocks of sheep, and those who left their money and gold behind, based on the assumption that we would return after a few hours."
[Al-Ayyam, May 16, 2006]
 
One refugee blamed Jordan:
"The one who made us leave was the Jordanian army... They told us: 'Leave. In 2 hours we liberate it and then you'll return.' ... We're still waiting for those 2 hours to this day."
[Official PA TV, May 15, 2013]
 
A striking example of how the Arabs of Israel ended up in refugee camps in neighboring countries is what happened in Jaffa (Tel Aviv):
"Cars with megaphones roamed the streets, demanding that people leave so the fighting [against Israel] would succeed... We went to the port and boarded a ship."
[Official PA TV, Oct. 2, 2014]
 
A number of points are very significant. First, these testimonies - though personal stories - are also describing large-scale movements, such as the flight from major cities like Jaffa and Safed. Second, they describe general orders to leave by Arab leaders and armies, broadcast on Arab radio to the entire Arab population. Third, the testimonies are presented openly by refugees themselves and by public figures, including leaders, in the official PA media. All of this suggests that awareness of Arab responsibility for the refugee problem must be widespread among the Palestinian population itself - even though Palestinian leaders refuse to accept responsibility in international forums.

These testimonies are even more critical today as tens of thousands of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, the majority of whose residents the PA still classifies as "refugees," are participating in the violent demonstrations Hamas has named "the March of Return" - meaning, the return to "Palestine" and the end of the State of Israel. Hamas' claim to "return" is based on the Palestinian allegation that they were unjustly expelled by Israel. However, these personal testimonies by Palestinian refugees themselves tell a very different story.

The following is the transcript of the personal stories and testimonies in the video compilation:

How we really became refugees:
13 Palestinians tell their personal stories
 
Why I left Bir Ma'in - Orders of Jordanian army, promised we would "return in 2 hours"
PA TV reporter: "How did you leave Bir Ma'in? Did you experience the Nakba?"
Fuad Khader: "We left, I mean, the one who made us leave was the Jordanian army, because there were going to be battles and we would be under their feet. They told us: 'Leave. In 2 hours we liberate it and then you'll return.' We left only with our clothes, we didn't take anything because we were supposed to return in 2 hours. Why carry anything? We're still waiting for those 2 hours to this day."
[Official PA TV, May 15, 2013]
 
Why I left Ein Karem - Orders from Arab regimes: "Get away [for] at most two weeks"
Refugee from Ein Karem: "The radio stations of the Arab regimes kept repeating to us: 'Get away from the frontline. It's a matter of ten days, or at most two weeks, and we'll bring you back to Ein Karem [in Jerusalem].' And we said to ourselves, 'That's a very long time. Two weeks is too much.' That's what we thought [then]. And now 50 years have gone by."
[Official PA TV, July 7, 2009]
 
Why I left Safed - Out of fear
PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas: "The [Arab] Salvation Army withdrew from the city [Safed in 1948], causing the [Arab] people to begin emigrating. In Safed, just like Hebron, people were afraid that the Jews would take revenge for the [Arab] massacre in 1929 (Note: 65 Jews were murdered in Hebron, 18 in Safed) ... [In 1948] the people were overcome with fear, and it caused them to leave the city in a disorderly way."
[Official PA TV, Jan. 1, 2013]
 
Why I left Jaffa - Orders from Arab fighters
Pa TV host: "Abu Ghazaleh, tell us nice memories of Jaffa..."
Former Jordanian MP Talal Abu Ghazaleh: "Cars with megaphones roamed the streets, demanding that people leave so the fighting [against Israel] would succeed. They called to us in Arabic to leave our homes: 'We - the Palestinians, the fighters - want to fight, and don't want you to impede us so we ask you to leave the city [Jaffa] immediately ...' All of us - me, my family, and the others - left any way we could. We went to the port and boarded a ship."
[Official PA TV, Oct. 2, 2014]

 
Why I left Kafr Saba - We were told to "evacuate village" and assumed we would "return after a few hours"  
Asmaa Jabir Balasimah (PMW narration of newspaper): "We heard sounds of explosions and of gunfire at the beginning of the summer in the year of the Nakba [1948]. We were told that the Jews attacked our region and it is better to evacuate the village and return after the battle is over. And indeed there were among us those who left a fire burning under the pot, those who left their flocks of sheep, and those who left their money and gold behind, based on the assumption that we would return after a few hours."
[Al-Ayyam, May 16, 2006]
 
Why I left Majdal - Orders from Arab district officer
Refugee in Gaza (talking on the phone): "My grandfather and my father told me that during the Nakba our [Arab] district officer issued an order that whoever stays in Palestine and in Majdal is a traitor."
Head of Islamic Movement in Israel Ibrahim Sarsur: "The one who gave the order forbidding them to stay there bears guilt for this, in this life and the Afterlife throughout history until Resurrection Day."
[Official PA TV, April 30, 1999]
 
Why I left Dir Al-Qasi - We were told we'd return "in a week or two"  
Sadek Mufid: "We headed first from Dir Al-Qasi to Rmaich [in Lebanon], because of what they said at the time:  'By Allah, in a week or two, you'll return to Palestine.' The Arab armies entered Palestine, along with the Arab Salvation Army. We left - we and those who fled with us - and we all headed for Lebanon."
[Official PA TV, Feb. 9, 2010]
 
Why I left Safed - Family decision out of fear "hoping we would return
PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas: "To be honest, we were afraid. My family decided - I was the oldest of those who left with my brother's wife and his two children - that they would move us... I had two pairs of shoes, a new pair and an old pair. I said: ''I'll leave with the old pair, and leave the new pair for when we come back...'' We left hoping we would return. They took us east, east of Safed, to the Jordan River."
[Abbas' Facebook page May 14, 2014]
 
Why I left Jerusalem - Out of fear expecting to return in "two weeks"
PA TV narrator about poet Iskandar Khuri: "His family left first with other families due to the increasing pressure of terror by the Zionist gangs, in order to protect their lives, and because they thought that their absence from their homes would not last longer than two weeks, and that they would return to them after the entry of the Arab armies into Palestine."
[Official PA TV, Sept. 8, 2016]
 
Why Arabs left - Orders of Arab Salvation Army, you'll return "in a few days"
Journalist Jawad Al Bashiti (PMW narration of newspaper): "In the Palestinian Nakba, the first war between Arabs and Israel had started and the Arab Salvation Army told the Palestinians: 'We have come to you in order to exterminate the Zionists and their state. Leave your houses and villages, you'll return to them safely in a few days.'"
[Al-Ayyam, May 13, 2008]
 
Why Arabs left - Promises by Arab leaders they would return in "a few days or months"
Mahmoud Al-Habbash (PMW narration of newspaper): "The leaders and the elites promised us at the beginning of the Nakba in 1948, that the duration of the exile would not be long, and that it would not last more than a few days or months, and afterwards the refugees would return to their homes, which most of them did not leave until they believed the false promises made by the leaders and the political elites."
[Official PA daily, Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Dec. 13, 2006]
 
Why Arabs left in 1948 - Orders of Arab leaders
PA daily columnist Fuad Abu Hajla (PMW narration of newspaper): "You [Arab leaders] are still searching for the way to provide aid, like one who is looking for a needle in a haystack, or like the armies of your predecessors in 1948 who forced us to emigrate,  on the pretext of clearing the battlefields of civilians."
[Official PA daily, Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, March 19, 2001]
 
Why I left Allar - Orders of Arab army - "Leave... then you will return"
Ali Muhammad Karake: "When news reached us that the Jews were nearing our village, the Arab [Salvation] Army - may Allah protect them - came and said: Leave the village so it won't happen to you, like Deir Yassin." They slaughter, and do things." They said: "Leave, but don't go far from the village because they [the Jews] will make a short visit to the village, leave, and then you'll return to the village." The people left with nothing, even without bread and went to the mountains, and pitched [tents]."
[Al-Quds daily YouTube channel, May 17, 2016]
 
Arabs rejected Jews' offer to live together in Israel
Abu Muhammad 'Amara: "The truth is that the Jews brought a mediator to us, a person we knew and who knew us. They gave us choices. The first choice was that you hand over your weapons and stay on your land and live the way you live. The second choice was that you leave if you don't want to hand over [your weapons]. If you don't want to leave and go away, prepare yourselves for battle. All three were hard... For me, handing over my rifle at that time [was] actually like handing over my wife."
[Official PA TV May 15, 2013]