- The Smoking Gun: Arab Immigration into Palestine, 1922-1931
The extraordinary coverage of the 1948 war notwithstanding, the birth of the Palestinian refugee problem during the five-and-a-half months of fighting, from the partition resolution of November 29, 1947, to the proclamation of the state of Israel on May 14, 1948, passed virtually unnoticed by the international community. Nor for that matter did the Arab states, burdened as they were with a relentless flow of refugees, or even the Palestinian leadership itself, have a clear idea of the dispersal's full magnitude, as demonstrated by the mid-June 1948 estimate of the prominent Palestinian leader, Emile Ghouri, of the number of refugees at 200,000: less than two thirds the actual figure. A few weeks later, after thousands more Arabs had become refugees, a Baghdad radio commentator was still speaking of 300,000 evacuees "who are forced to flee from the Jews as the French were forced to flee from the Nazis." Taking their cue from these claims, W. De St. Aubin, delegate of the League of Red Cross Societies to the Middle East, estimated the number of Arab refugees (in late July) at about 300,000, while Sir Raphael Cilento, director of the UN Disaster Relief Project (DRP) in Palestine, set the number at 300,000-350,000 (in early August).Read the whole thing.
Paradoxically it was the Israelis who initially came with the highest, and most accurate, estimates. In early June Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion was told by Yossef Weitz of the Jewish National Fund (JNF) that "some 123,000 Arabs left 155 villages in the Jewish state's territory; another 22,000 left 35 villages outside the Jewish state: a total of 145,000 evacuees and 190 villages. Seventy-seven thousand Arabs left five cities in the Jewish state's territory (Haifa, Beisan, Tiberias, Safad, Samakh). Another 73,000 left two cities [designed to remain] outside the state (Jaffa and Acre). Forty thousand Arabs left Jerusalem: a total of 190,000 from eight cities. All in all, 335,000 Arabs fled (including 200,000 from the UN ascribed Jewish territory)."
A comprehensive report by the Hagana's intelligence service, comprising a detailed village-by-village breakdown of the exodus, set the number of Palestinian Arab evacuees in the six-month period between December 1, 1947 and June 1, 1948, at 391,000: 239,000 from the UN-ascribed Jewish state, 122,000 from the territory of the prospective Arab state, and 30,000 from Jerusalem. Another exhaustive Israeli study set the number of refugees (in late October) at 460,000, almost evenly divided between the rural and urban sectors.
This estimate was substantially higher than the 360,000 figure in the report of the UN mediator, Count Folke Bernadotte, submitted to the General Assembly on September 16, or Cilento's revised estimate of 400,300 a couple of weeks later, and was virtually identical to the supplementary report submitted on October 18 by Bernadotte's successor, Ralph Bunche, which set the number of refugees at 472,000 and anticipated the figure to reach a maximum of slightly over 500,000 in the near future.
By now, however, the Arabs had dramatically upped the ante. In a memorandum dispatched to the heads of the Arab states and Arab League Secretary-General Abdel Rahman Azzam in mid-August, the Palestine Office in Amman, an organization operating under the auspices of the Transjordan government, estimated the total number of refugees at 700,000, of whom 500,000 were in Palestine and the rest in the neighboring Arab states. The memo struck a responsive chord, for in October the Arab League set the number of refugees at 631,967, and by the end of the month official Arab estimates ranged between 740,000 and 780,000. When the newly-established United Nations Relief for Palestine refugees (UNRPR) began operating in December 1948, it found 962,643 refugees on its relief rolls.
The number of 'Palestinian refugees' was inflated from the outset. The number continues to grow because 'refugees' never died and because of the bizarre system - used no place else in the World - in which refugees were not resettled, and their status is passed down from generation to generation.