VI. THE ARAB REFUGEES
Almost immediately after the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Partition Resolution, on 29 November 1947, a movement set in among the Arabs of Palestine to leave the country, and primarily the area allotted to the Jewish State. At the beginning it was limited mostly to the wealthier Arabs, who were afraid of the spreading violence and sought temporary refuge in neighbouring or even more distant countries. They were followed later by a larger stream of people leaving the Jewish areas, mainly the area north of Tel Aviv, after the evacuation of these areas by the British authorities. The movement reached large dimensions when the military initiative passed partly to the Jews, in April 1948. The Arab leadership encouraged and even instigated this mass exodus of the Arab civilian population, promising them that within a few weeks they would return in the wake of the victorious Arab armies and take possession of the Jewish cities and villages. During the months of April and May, almost the entire Arab population fled from areas occupied by the Jews, among them the cities of Haifa, Jaffa, Tiberias, Safad, as well as many villages. In some places, notably in Haifa, the Jewish authorities pleaded with the panic-stricken Arabs not to leave, but their efforts were in vain. The process repeated itself in later phases of the war, primarily in the central and southern areas of the country, less so in Galilee.
The war, initiated by the Arabs with the declared aim of destroying the nascent Jewish State and annihilating the Jewish population, did not turn out the way they expected and sought. Consequently, at the end of the fighting, some 500,000 Palestinian Arabs found themselves stranded as refugees in the Arab-held parts of Palestine, Samaria, Judaea and the Gaza area and in the neighbouring countries. Most of them were herded together in miserable conditions in hastily established refugee camps.
The United Nations Organization, unable to prevent the war against Israel, was now confronted with a social and humanitarian problem of vast dimensions. The UN Mediator tried at first to resolve the problem by simply turning the clock back. Already in June 1948, during the first truce arranged for a four-week period, he tried to obtain Israel's consent for the immediate return of the refugees to their former homes. He renewed his efforts after the establishment of the second truce, and, in his report to the General Assembly, in September 1948, he suggested:
"The right of the Arab refugees to return to their houses in Jewish -controlled territory at the earliest possible date should be affirmed by the United Nations, and their repatriation, resettlement and economic and social rehabilitation, and payment of adequate compensation for the property of those choosing not to return, should be supervised and assisted by the United Nations Conciliation Commission. " (UN G. A. III, 0. R., Suppl. 11, p. 18. )
Israel flatly rejected any such proposal: it would have put its security or even its existence in jeopardy.
The Third General Assembly (1948) refused to endorse the proposal of the Mediator. It adopted, on 19 November, a Resolution providing for a budget to ensure immediate relief (Resolution 212 (III), Document 1). On the central issue, the future of Palestine, the Assembly did not arrive at any decision and was content with the establishment of the Palestine Conciliation Commission (Resolution 194 (III) of 11 December 1948). The Resolution stated, in paragraph 11, the general principles that were to govern the attitude of the United Nations with regard to the question of the Arab refugees.
Paragraph 11: Resolves that the refugees wishing to return to their houses and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under the principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible;
Instructs the Conciliation Commission to facilitate the repatriation, settlement and economic and social rehabilitation of the refugees and the payment of compensation, and to maintain close relations with the Director of the United Nations Relief for Palestine Refugees and, through them, with the appropriate organs and agencies of the United Nations. "
The interpretation of paragraph 11 became a permanent bone of contention between the Arabs and Israel, first in the framework of the negotiations conducted by the Palestine Conciliation Commission and subsequently in the debates of the General Assembly. The Arabs claimed an absolute right of the refugees to return to their former homes or, alternatively, their right of free choice between repatriation or compensation. Israel maintained that no such "right" was established. The Resolution referred to refugees wishing to "live at peace with their neighbours", the return being made contingent on the establishment of peace, a condition that the Arabs steadfastly refused to accept. The Resolution further stated that the refugees should be "permitted" to return at the "earliest practicable date", implying that the permission and the agreement to the practicability of return could be granted only by the sovereign State of Israel.
In the first round of negotiations conducted by the Palestine Conciliation Commission, in 1949, the Arab representatives demanded that refugees from areas allotted under the original Partition Plan to the Arab State should return forthwith. They further demanded that Israel should cede Eastern Galilee and the whole of the Negev to the Arab State in order to resettle there the Arab refugees from the remaining part of Israel. Israel rejected the Arab demands, emphasized the Arabs' guilt in the origin of the problem and maintained that its only practicable solution was the resettlement of the bulk of the refugees in Arab countries. Israel declared its readiness to pay compensation for real properties left behind by the refugees. It also offered to take back into Israel up to 100,000 Arab refugees: (an offer later withdrawn, after the Arabs had steadfastly refused to negotiate with Israel).
The Palestine Conciliation Commission tried to find a constructive solution to the problem, while also trying to induce Israel to accept a larger number of returning refugees. The Commission appointed an Economic Survey Mission for the Middle East, headed by Mr. Gordon Clapp, of the Tennessee Valley Authority. The Clapp Mission drew up plans for several large development projects in Arab countries to provide work and ultimate resettlement for refugees, in Syria, northwest Sinai, the Yarmuk and Jordan Valleys in Jordan; it also drafted the first plan for a regional water development scheme, later taken up by Ambassador Eric Johnston (see Section VIII). Basing itself on the Mission's recommendations, the Palestine Conciliation Commission "advised concentration on resettlement in the Arab countries" in its 1950 report to the General Assembly (A/1363, Add.). In addition, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), established in 1949 (General Assembly Resolution 302 (IV), Document 5), tried to conduct its work in a similar vein. On 26 January 1952, the General Assembly,' voted a budget of $50 million for relief and $200 million for resettlement. All these projects came to naught owing to the obstinate refusal of the Arab States to lend their hand to the solution of the refugee problem by resettlement. By the end of 1961, the Palestine Conciliation Commission admitted failure of its efforts and, in effect, ceased most of its operations.
Israel's position on the Arab refugee question can be summarized in the following main points:
(a) The problem has arisen as a result of the war, initiated by the Arabs in violation of the UN Charter and the General Assembly decision on partition of Palestine.
(b) Israel could not accept, for reasons of its security, the return of a large number of Arab refugees.
(c) Since 1948, an exchange of population has, in effect, taken place. Israel has accepted within its borders, and absorbed within its economy and society, Jewish refugees from Arab countries in a number equal or even exceeding the number of Arab refugees from Palestine. The number of Jewish refugees from Arab countries absorbed by Israel exceeded 570,000; they came from the following countries: Iraq, 125,000; Yemen, 46,000; Aden, 4,000; Syria, Lebanon and other Asian countries, 11,000; Egypt, 38,000; Libya, 34,000; Morocco, 253,000; Tunisia, 46,000; Algeria, 13,000. Almost one-half of that total number arrived in Israel in the years 1948-51, including almost all the Jews of Iraq, Yemen and Libya. There were also 17,000 Jewish refugees from the Arab-held parts of Palestine, including the Old City of Jerusalem.
(d) The only solution of the Arab refugee question is their resettlement in the midst of their kin, in the Arab countries. This is the way all refugee problems after World War Two have been solved. Israel was ready, if requested, to render assistance and economic cooperation in the process of resettlement.
(e) Israel was ready to pay compensation for real properties left behind by Arab refugees and to cooperate on this subject with the Palestine Conciliation Commission. The total value of immovable properties abandoned by Arab refugees was estimated by the Refugee Office of the Commission at 100 million. Israel, while noting several reservations to this assessment, was ready to accept it as a basis for negotiations, on condition that:
1. the agreement on compensation will be contingent on establishment of peace or, at least, on cessation of Arab economic warfare against Israel;
2. payments will be effected in accordance with Israel's financial capacity (indicating that payments would be sped up, if Israel is rendered international assistance);
3. refugees accepting compensation will renounce their claim to return as well as any further financial claims against Israel;
4. agreement will be reached on Israel's counter-claims for properties abandoned by Jewish refugees from Arab countries and in Arab-occupied parts of Palestine.
(f) As a gesture of goodwill, Israel released, Unilaterally, blocked bank accounts of Arab refugees, totalling over $ 11 million, as well as safe deposits.
(g) Israel declared its readiness to accept, in a final settlement, the return of a limited number of refugees, in addition to the almost 50,000 Arab refugees Israel had accepted during the first years after conclusion of the Armistice Agreements and granted them full citizenship rights and economic integration;
(h) Though preferring a solution of the refugee question within the framework of an over-all peace settlement, Israel was also ready to negotiate ail agreement on the refugee question prior to peace.
All the Israeli proposals were rejected by the Arabs. The Arabs also rejected the recommendations submitted by the Secretary-General of the United Nations in 1959 to the General Assembly (Document 12). The late Dag Hammarskjold expressed the opinion that "the unemployed population represented by the Palestinian refugees should be regarded not as a liability but, more justly, as an asset for the future; it is a reservoir of manpower which in the desirable, general, economic development will assist in the creation of higher standards for the whole population of the area." He saw, consequently, the solution of the refugee problem in a large-scale economic development programme for the entire Middle Fast. The Hammarskjold proposals were shelved, due to Arab opposition. It was, in fact, the last attempt on behalf of the United Nations to tackle the problem constructively.
Henceforth, the United Nations confined itself to approving each year the budget of UNRWA and to conducting a stereotype and sterile discussion on the refugee question. An initiative taken by the Netherlands and a number of African and Latin American countries at the XVI General Assembly (1961), appealing "to the Governments concerned to undertake direct negotiations on the questions in dispute between them, particularly the question of the Arab refugees" was violently opposed by the Arabs and defeated in committee (Document 15). The initiative was renewed in the following two sessions of the General Assembly, with the same result. Equally, an attempt by the United States, in 1963, to reach an agreement by indirect negotiations failed.
Israel responded positively to the US initiative, but the Arabs refused to submit any suggestions. Earlier, an attempt by Joseph E. Johnson, who had been appointed by the Palestine Conciliation Commission to suggest ways "to implement paragraph 11", to devise a system of "preferences", also failed. His proposals were rejected by all parties concerned and were shelved (Document 16). From 1960 on, the Arabs repeatedly proposed the appointment of a UN custodian for the administration of refugee properties located in Israel, a proposal clearly aimed at undermining Israeli sovereignty. These proposals, however, were consistently rejected by the Assembly.
The Six-Day War, in 1967, and its aftermath, gave the refugee question new dimensions, created new problems and opened up new possibilities. Large numbers of the Arab refugees were now living in areas under Israeli administration, constituting a challenge to this administration to apply and prove the ways Israel had advocated for a solution of the refugee problem.
New refugee problems arose due to the flight of great numbers of inhabitants of the West Bank to Jordan and from the Golan Heights to Syria. The political problems, which were always a major obstacle to a solution of the refugee problem, were further aggravated.
Israel's first concern in the administered territories was, to prevent a disruption of essential services for the local population. This concern applied also to the refugees. On 14 June 1967, four days after the cease-fire became effective, the Government of Israel reached agreement with UNRWA for the continued service of the Agency. In September 1967, a population census was held in the administered territories, with UNRWA'S cooperation, 105,654 refugees were counted in Judaea and Samaria (the so-called West Bank), 207,250 in the Gaza Strip. These figures were substantially lower than those used in UNRWA statistics. (According to UNRWA, there were, in 1968, 245,000 Arab refugees in the West Bank and 265,000 in the Gaza Strip.) Israel's main concern was to provide work for the refugees. Initially, it was primarily public works that provided a livelihood, but after some time there was no more need to combat unemployment by artificially-initiated public works and the refugees, along with the local population, found employment in the rapidly expanding economy of the territories and in the labour market of Israel. Labour exchanges were set up in all major localities, and soon unemployment was totally eradicated in the West Bank, some time later also in the Gaza Strip, the workers being paid according to normal Israeli wage tariffs. Along with economic development, public services were improved, a network of roads built, water, electricity and sewage Services expanded, health services enhanced, new schools erected in addition to those run by UNRWA in the refugee camps. An increasing number of camps were incorporated into neighbouring municipalities, and the latter charged with the supply of services. A substantial number of refugees, mainly in the West Bank, moved out of the camps to newly constructed housing projects, and the Government is aiming at more housing construction in the Gaza area. Defence Minister Moshe Dayan defined the aims of Israel's policy with regard to the Arab refugees as not transforming their refugee status (i.e., retaining rights as wards of the United Nations) but changing their refugee condition (i.e., improving their economic and social lot). Refugees, like all inhabitants, are free to move within the administered territories and within Israel, and enjoy tile benefits of the "open bridges" policy of Israel, permitting travel and trade between the administered territories and Jordan.
Israel has, in fact, applied the principles advocated by Gordon Clapp in 1949 and by Dag Hammarskjold in 1959. The policy of economic development and of removal of artificial barriers has led to rising standards of living and has gradually eliminated the differences between the refugees and the local population. This process of integration is almost completed in the West Bank, with the exception of a hard core of welfare cases. It is well under way in the Gaza Strip, where, due to the congestion of a large number of refugees in a small area, the problem has been much more complicated.
During and immediately after the Six-Day War, some 250,000 people left the West Bank and moved into Jordan, among them a number of persons who had been Palestinian refugees since 1948. In addition, between 60-90,000 people fled from the Golan Heights to Syria. Immediately after the war, the Security Council called on Israel to "facilitate the return of those inhabitants who have fled the areas since the outbreak of hostilities" (Resolution 237 (1967) of 14 June 1967). Similiar requests were made to Israel later by the Security Council and the General Assembly. Israel pointed out that it could not jeopardize its security by a large-scale return of people suspected of being hostile to the State, prior to the establishment of peace. It was also evident that a substantial part of these new "refugees" were in fact emigrants who left for economic reasons. Nineteen years of Jordanian rule in the West Bank and the preferential economic treatment of the East Bank by the Jordanian authorities had resulted in a constant stream of emigrants from the West to the East Bank, estimated at 200,000 during the period 1949- 1967. A great number of residents of the West Bank were economically dependent on Jordan and emigrated for economic reasons. The same applied to the majority of the inhabitants of the Golan Heights, who had gone to Syria. Despite these facts, Israel agreed to the return of considerable numbers of the Arabs who had fled to Jordan, in a family-reunion scheme. Contrary to the almost hermetically sealed armistice lines prior to 1967, the "open bridges" policy led to visits being permitted from Arab countries to the administered territories. In that framework some 170,000 visitors crossed the bridges in 1973, compared with 16,000 in 1968.
The Security Council, in its Resolution 242 of 22 November 1967, recognized that "achieving a just settlement of the refugee problem" was one of the elements of a just and lasting peace to be established in the Middle East. Israel regarded the refugee problem as one deserving high priority. In his statement to the General Assembly on 8 October 1968, Foreign Minister Abba Eban, in the course of outlining nine principles for peace, proposed to convene a conference in order to chart a five-year plan for the solution of the refugee problem, adding that this conference could be called in advance of peace negotiations (Section XII, Document 4). This and similar proposals have remained Without response.
The Arab States were less than ever concerned with the welfare of the refugees. Their only concern was warfare against Israel. At the XXIV General Assembly (1969), they succeeded in canvassing sufficient support for the adoption of a Resolution stating "that the problem of the 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" and reaffirming "the inalienable rights of the people of Palestine" (Resolution 2535 (XXIV) of 10 December 1969, Document 18). For Israel, this was the most hostile Resolution ever adopted by the United Nations. Since it is an undeniable historical fact that the Palestine Arab refugee problem originated from a war waged by Palestinian Arabs and Arab States against the implementation of the General Assembly's decision on the partition of Palestine and the establishment of a Jewish State in Palestine, Resolution 2535 (XXIV), in fact, brandishes Resolution 181(II) of 29 November 1947 as violating "the inalienable rights of the people of Palestine". Israel considered Resolution 2535 as a complete reversal of United Nations policy, aimed at undermining the legitimacy of its very existence. Israel, obviously, rejected this Resolution. It could see little prospect in cooperation with the United Nations towards the solution of the refugee problem and the achievement of a just and permanent peace. It found consolation in the fact that its own policies towards the Arab refugees living under its administration had met with a considerable measure of success, that the lot of the Arab refugees under its administration has improved much more than that of the refugees in Arab host countries, and that there have been many fewer conflicts between its administration and the refugees than there have been between the refugees and the Governments of their Arab host countries.