In Contrast to Palestine: Partitions, Population Transfers, and no demanded “Right of Return”

This is a cross post by Wales-based historian Professor William Rubinstein, at the blog, Daphne Anson

What a surprising number of people, even those who are highly sympathetic to Israel, fail to realise, is that the Partition of the Palestine Mandate in 1947-48 has many parallel examples, and is far from unique in modern history. Moreover, the population transfers which occurred there at that time are also far from unique, and for the most part they have never been questioned.

The most obvious precedent for the Partition of Palestine, and the one the British almost certainly had in mind, was the Partition of Ireland in 1922. In that year, Ireland was divided between the Roman Catholic-dominated Irish Free State (now the Republic of Ireland), and the Protestant-dominated Northern Ireland, which remained within the United Kingdom. For decades, the Roman Catholics in the north of Ireland had demanded, first, “Home Rule” for the whole of the island, and then, with the ascendancy of Sinn Fein, complete independence. These goals were, for decades, fiercely resisted by the Protestants of the north.

A civil war in Ireland almost began in 1914, delayed only by the outbreak of the First World War, and then began after the end of that conflict. The division of Ireland into two states has been opposed by Roman Catholics of the south to this day, although most moderates now accept it as a reality. The IRA, however, has never accepted it, and, like the PLO and later Hamas, commenced a terror campaign in the 1960s which culminated in the murders of over 3000 persons. Nevertheless, the Partition of Ireland has been relatively peaceful, and was certainly the only way to end the bitter conflict there.

At exactly the same time as the Palestine Mandate was being divided into a Jewish and a Palestinian state, a vastly greater partition was taking place

Sikhs fleeing the newly-created Pakistan

1500 miles to the east, the Partition of British India into a largely Hindu India and a Muslim Pakistan (which at the time included what is now Pakistan and Bangladesh). There, the Partition of India and the creation of a specifically Muslim state was demanded by Muslims.

It is worth remembering that while in Palestine the Arabs opposed the creation of a largely Muslim Palestinian state, in India it was the Muslims who demanded Partition. Pakistan has no historical foundation whatever, and the very name Pakistan was invented by Muslim students and activists in London in 1931. The Partition of British India in 1947-48 was accomplished by bloodshed on an unimaginable scale, with probably 500,000 deaths in communal violence. Literally millions of Hindus and Muslims living in the “wrong” part of British India left for the other state. Karachi became known as a city of refugees.

Yet – in contrast to Palestine – no one demands the “Right of Return” for these “refugees”, and in any case neither India nor Pakistan would be likely to allow any of their former residents back.

Sudeten German expellees from Czechoslovakia

At that very time, too, vast population transfers were taking place in early post-war Europe. An estimated ten million Poles, Balts, and Russians fled to the West, ahead of the advancing Red Army, or, in some instances, were deliberately moved on. In Czechoslovakia, Eduard Beneš, the “good” Czech head of state between the end of the Nazi occupation in 1945 and the imposition of Stalinist rule in 1948, expelled three million Sudeten Germans from the Sudetenland in 1945-46. The Sudetenland is the rim area of what is now the Czech Republic whose demands (sparked by Hitler) for incorporation into the German Reich led to the Munich Crisis of 1938. After the war, the democratic Czech government was taking no more chances with a potential Fifth Column in the reborn state, and expelled the Sudeten Germans en masse. If there were any demands for their “Right of Return” these were unacknowledged. Most fled to West Germany, where, frankly, they were a lot better off than they would have been in a wretched Stalinist satellite regime, which is what Czechoslovakia became in 1948.

Few people know or care about these events: only in the case of the Palestinians is the issue of Partition and the “Right of Return” being kept alive, nearly 65 years later.

11 replies »

  1. Being born to a Czech father from Karlovi Vari (having a German grandmother) I must say this is not exactly correct.


    This is old the matter is still ongoing but I remember my father being very upset, suffered greatly by the Germans in Slovakia and Prague.
    He said they “got what they deserved”, being 79 and very bitter about the war.

    even though his mother (though he never knew her) was a German christian (converted to Judaism) and his father describing himself as a German in the post WW1 national identity questionere.

    As for India, there are comunities that are still affected by this to this day.

    Hindu Sindhis found themselves without a homeland. The responsibility of rehabilitating them was borne by their government. Refugee camps were set up for Hindu Sindhis.
    Many refugees overcame the trauma of poverty, though the loss of a homeland has had a deeper and lasting effect on their Sindhi culture.

    In late 2004, the Sindhi diaspora vociferously opposed a Public Interest Litigation in the Supreme Court of India which asked the Government of India to delete the word “Sindh” from the Indian National Anthem (written by Rabindranath Tagore prior to the partition) on the grounds that it infringed upon the sovereignty of Pakistan.

    But I agree that the Palestine partition is blown out of proportion.

    The RoR is something that is designed to deswtroy the Jewish state rather for the welfare of the refugees.

  2. In Czechoslovakia, Eduard Beneš, the “good” Czech head of state between the end of the Nazi occupation in 1945 and the imposition of Stalinist rule in 1948, expelled three million Sudeten Germans from the Sudetenland in 1945-46.

    And about twohundred thousand Hungarians from Szigetkoz, Komarom etc. Many of the expelled were Jewish Holocaust survivors.

  3. Another analogous situation is the treaty-sanctioned Greco-Turkish population exchange, perhaps not a bad solution to the problem of intertwined, endlessly-warring popuations.

  4. Forget the pilpul! The only points that count are that the Palestine/Israel partition was not unique but that the compensation/right of return claims are unique!

  5. A lot of the expelled and the disposessed Jews after WW2, like my father, did not moan or squatted in “camps2 but moved on to either Israel, other countries or wherever they could to create new life for themselves.

    There is no comparison between Jewish refugees’ attitude and initiatives through out history and Palestinian refugees behaviour.

    the fact that today this point is somewhat elusive and inconvenient to many politicians, writers and journalists as well as Liberal minds is remarkable and disapoining to say the list.

  6. For more on the population exchange between Greece and Turkey in 1923 see:


    “The 1923 population exchange between Greece and Turkey was based upon religious identity, and involved the Greek Orthodox citizens of Turkey and the Muslim citizens of Greece. It was the first compulsory large-scale population exchange, or agreed mutual expulsion of the 20th century.
    The “Convention Concerning the Exchange of Greek and Turkish Populations” was signed at Lausanne, Switzerland, on the 30th January 1923, by the governments of Greece and Turkey. It involved approximately 2 million people, most of whom were forcibly made refugees and de jure denaturalized from their homelands.”

    This is one reason why Turkey today has an almost exclusively Muslim population.

  7. I’m sure we’re all familiar with the Partition Plan. Not a bad idea in principle – but those borders were never going to work anyway!
    In the resulting war Israel took more land to make a contiguous territory. Do I blame them? No.

    But what if the UN plan had drawn the borders more “sensibly” for the long term (despite the demographics)? How about a north/south divide?

    Hindsight is 20/20, of course, but still …

  8. Pretz,

    If my granny had wheels she’ll be a choo choo train..

    The British patition was supposed to have been east – west where East of the river was to become Jordan and West the Jewish state.

    But something got in the way…


  9. BTW,

    It’s worth having a book review on the new book “MI6”.



    It seems to shed light on the British involvment of bombing several ships carrying Jewish refugees heading for Palestine between 1946 and 1948 as well as a propaganda campaign against the Jewish state to be.

    some believe this has something to do with British love with Arab oil.

    funny how little has changed in the last 60 years.

  10. I’d like to share with you the Biblical view – HIStory and history of the ISRAEL, PALESTINE AND THE ARAB STATES (written by Nena Benigno//viewmaps@NOYP-No to Israel Partition or like us in facebook-NOYP No to Israel Partition

    “He who appoints the sun to shine by day, who decrees the moon and stars to shine by night..`Only if these decrees vanish from my sight,’ declares the Lord, ‘will the descendants of Israel ever cease to be a nation before me.” (Old Testament Book of Jeremiah 31:35)

    In 70 A.D., the land called Israel was renamed Palestina or Palestine by conquering Roman armies led by Titus. Palestine was then occupied mainly by Jews, secondly by Arabs, Romans, Greeks and other races. After the Romans, Palestine was ruledby various occupiers, including the Greeks, Ottoman Turks, and finally by Great Britain up to 1947.

    League of Nations designates Palestine as a Jewish Homeland in 1922

    In 1922, by unanimous vote of 51 countries belonging to the League of Nations, Palestine was legally established as a national home for the Jewish people. Before and during the second World War, European Jews fleeing Hitler’s Holocaust fled to Israel to join long-time Jewish residents of Palestine. This caused violent riots among Arabs living in the land.

    United Nations Partitions Palestine into a Jewish State and an Arab State in 1947

    In 1947, by a two-thirds majority vote involving 56 countries, the United Nations passed Resolution 181, dividing the land of Palestine into two nations. The smaller land dominated by the Negev Desert was given to Jewish residents of Palestine and called Israel. The larger area well-watered by the Jordan River and Lake Galilee was given to Arab residents of Palestine and called the Transjordan, now known as the Jordan. After almost 2,000 years, Israel was reborn, as prophesied in the Bible.

    The World’s only Jewish State Reborn: Israel Occupies 1/8 of 1% of the Middle East

    After the partition, all Jews living in the area of Jordan were forced to relocate to Israel. But thousands of Arabs living in Israel elected to remain in the Jewish state. Israel’s democratic government allowed them to reside as citizens.

    Arabs Reject U.N. Two-State Resolution, Attack Israel in 1948 War

    The Arab nations angrily rejected the U.N. partition plan. In 1948, one day after the Jewish state was born, seven Arab nations joined forces to attack and destroy Israel. Arabs who lived in the land were warned to flee to the Jordan until Israel was eliminated. Over 700,000 Arabs camped across the border and became the first “Palestinian Refugees.” Though far outnumbered and out-armed, Israel won that war by what the world called a “miracle.” Armistice lines or informal boundaries were drawn to effect a ceasefire. The West Bank, Gaza strip and Golan Heights remained under Arab occupation.

    Arab Nations Attack Israel Again in 1967: Israel Recaptures Bible Heartlands in East Jerusalem and West Bank.

    In 1967, four Arab armies again moved to attack Israel with intent of wiping out the Jewish State. Again, the Arabs living in the conflict zones were warned to flee to the Jordan. Over 280,000 Arabs relocated across the border, swelling the ranks of “Palestinian Refugees” already there. Again, Israel won the war and reclaimed the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights. The Golan is Israel’s main water source. The West Bank and East Jerusalem contain the Bible heartlands, including the Western Wall, Holy Temple, Mount of Olives, Bethlehem, Jericho and the Burial Places of the Jewish Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The West Bank is Biblical Judea and Samaria where, according to the Genesis account, the God of Israel gave the territory to Abraham, his grandson Jacob and their descendants as an eternal inheritance.

    In 2005, the Gaza Strip was given to the Palestinians for the sake of peace. But the terrorist group called Hamas controlled the land and fired 12,000 rockets into Israel over the next 6 years. For six years, Israel could not fire back because the Hamas placed their rocket launchers in Mosques, hospitals, heavily-populated areas. They used their own people as “human shields”. When Hamas rockets began to target Israel’s capital of Tel Aviv, Israel fired back and was condemned for “war crimes” in the U.N.’s Goldstone Report.

    Palestinian Authority asks U.N. to Unilaterally Declare Palestinian State on Israel’s 1967 Border Lands: Formula for Israel’s Destruction?

    The Palestinian Authority has asked the United Nations to unilaterally declare a Palestinian State on Israel’s pre-1967 border lands during its General Assembly this September 20. The capital of the Islamic Palestinian State will stand in East Jerusalem, on the Holy Temple site, Via Dolorosa and other areas sacred to Christianity and Judaism. The heart of Judaeo-Christian faith, history and pilgrimage, where the Christian and Jewish Messiah promises to return will fall under Muslim control.

    This will also reduce Israel to a narrow indefensible strip of land vulnerable to terrorist attacks from several fronts. The West Bank could become another Gaza, a terrorist stronghold. Every Israeli city would be within firing range of missiles and bomb-carrying planes within four minutes. The waters flowing into the Jordan and Lake Galilee from the melting mountain snows of the Golan Heights could be stopped or poisoned.

    Plenty of Arab Land for Palestinian Refugees: Why Divide the Holy Land?

    The Palestinian refugees can be accommodated in the Jordan or any one of 22 Arab nations. Why create a second state for Palestinian Arabs at the expense of the world’s only Jewish state? The Arab countries refuse to absorb the refugees to pressure Israel to give up its heartland to the Palestinians. Is this really a strategy to remove Israel from the Middle East?

    Jerusalem must Remain the Undivided Capital of the Judeo-Christian World!

    Let us bless Israel and be blest!

    “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. May they prosper who love you.”

    (Psalm 122:6)