By May 15, 1948, the Zionists’ militia forced approximately 700,000 Palestinians (1) to leave their homes in the historic land of Palestine. Currently there are over 4.7 million registered Palestinian refugees in the Middle East, and the passing of time has not weakened their struggle for getting the right of return. As an example, on May 15, 2011, many Palestinian refugees from Lebanon were killed, and another 120 were injured, by Israeli forces during demonstrations at the Lebanese border.The Israeli forces fired towards Palestinian demonstrators who were protesting by throwing stones from Lebanon and trying to raise the Palestinian flag on the border. Referring to Palestinian refugees, Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion said that “the old will die and the young will forget”. Recently, current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outright refused discussion of the right of return for Palestinian refugees. 

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) defines Palestinian refugees and their descendants as “any person whose normal place of residence was [British Mandate of] Palestine during the period of 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948 and who lost both his home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict.” One of the most important resolutions passed by the General Assembly, on December 11, 1948, was Resolution 194, which, amongst other things, declared the “right of return”—a right that has been discussed ever since. One of the other resolutions on this topic is Resolution 2535 (1969) in which the General Assembly “concludes with regret that no compensation has been made to the Palestinian refugees, regrets that Resolution 194 has not yet been implemented, and declares the rights of the Palestinians to return.” The General Assembly also, in this resolution, as in Resolution 2672 (1970), recognizes “that the problem of Palestinian Arab refugees has arisen from the denial of their inalienable rights under the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”



There were different estimates of the number of Palestinian refugees that fled their homes in the period 1947-1948, with estimates varying from 600,000-800,000 (2). Israeli officials, on the other hand, try to make the official number of Palestinian refugees in 1948 as few as possible. Leading Israeli historian, Benny Morris, says that “if people … accustomed to the large figure and we are eventually obliged to accept the return of refugees, we may find it difficult, when faced with hordes of claimants, to convince the world that not all of those formerly lived in Israel territory … It would, in any event, seem desirable to minimize the numbers…than otherwise”. About thirty percent of Palestinian refugees fled from their homes in the British Mandate of Palestine to the West Bank, another third to Gaza, and the remaining fled to Jordan, Lebanon, or Syria among other countries (3).
The second massive Palestinian refugee displacement occurred in 1967 when Israel occupied the remaining Palestinian territories and many Palestinians had to leave their homes for a second time. Around 325,000 (4) Palestinians were displaced from Gaza and the West Bank, including Jerusalem, out of which more than one third were for second time displaced from their homes. The majority of them made their way to Jordan while others were displaced countries including Syria and Egypt.

The Middle East and its conflicts are affecting world peace. The world’s leaders have to work together to find a just compromise or solution—a strategy for peace. One of the topics that must be dealt with for any peace deal to be successful is the problem of Palestinian refugees.



The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Utrikesperspektiv’s editorial policy.


(1) & (2) Hammarberg, T., (2000). The Palestinian Refugees. “After five decades of betrayal-time at last”,
Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs publications, p. 14.

(3) Pappe, I. (2007), The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, Oneworld Press, Oxford, 313 pages. See also:
Morris B., (2003), The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited

(4) Morris B., (2003), The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited

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