How the 30,000 remaining Palestinian refugees from ’48 morph into 5 million

The Times of Israel reported today that, during his meeting with Barack Obama last Monday, Mahmoud Abbas not only refused to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, but reiterated his refusal to abandon the so-called “right of return” for Palestinian “refugees”. 


To understand why Abbas continues playing the “refugee” card, a brief look at how the world’s refugees are treated is necessary. 

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is the UN agency responsible for aiding all the world’s refugees – “all” the world’s refugees, that is, except for the Palestinians. The tens of millions of actual refugees this agency aids receive initial assistance – which often entails helping to resettle them in a new state – and then they are no longer refugees.

According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) – the UN agency which deals exclusively with Arabs of Palestinian descent – ‘Palestinian refugees‘ are defined as “persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948, and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict.”  And, the number of Palestinian refugees from the ’48 war who are still alive – out of the initial 711,000 or so – is estimated to be roughly 30,000.  However, due to UNRWA’s expansive definition of who qualifies for “refugee” benefits – which includes the children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren of Palestinian Arabs who may have once lived in Historic Palestine – over 5 million Arabs of Palestinian descent are considered “refugees”.  This means that 99 percent of their clients are NOT in fact refugees.

Remarkably, under UNRWA’s bizarre rules, even Arabs of Palestinian descent who are citizens of other Arab states – such as Jordan – are still considered “refugees“.  

(Additionally, given that there are 30,000 actual Palestinian refugees, and UNRWA has a payroll of 29,000 employees, the ratio of UNRWA employees to actual refugees is nearly 1:1. In contrast, UNHCR, which handles roughly 43 million refugees throughout the world, has a payroll of only 7,685.)

Keep this mind when reading the following passage from Karma Nablusi’s op-ed at ‘Comment is Free’ titled Despite the cruelties heaped on them, Palestinian refugees’ spirit has not broken, March 21:

The only thing heard nowadays about the majority of the Palestinian people – those made refugees in the Nakba of 1948 – is that they must consider themselves and their fate entirely forfeited. Surrendering their right to return to the place they were expelled from the most basic right every refugee has under international law – is apparently a given.

However, there is no such “right of return” enshrined in international law – and certainly no such right afforded to descendants of refugees. 

When Nablusi, Mahmoud Abbas and most Palestinian advocates speak of the so-called ‘right of return‘ in international law for 5 million Palestinians, they’re possible referring to an amorphous passage from the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which says “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country”.

Or, more likely, they’re alluding to UN General Assembly Resolution 194 – a non-binding resolution from December 1948 which reads in part:

This Resolution established a Conciliation Commission for Palestine and instructed it to “take steps to assist the Governments, and authorities concerned to achieve a final settlement of all questions outstanding between them.” Paragraph 11 deals with the refugees: “The General Assembly … resolves that the [48] refugees wishing to return to their homes 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 principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible.”

Regardless of the proper interpretation of 194 regarding the status of the 30,000 remaining refugees from 1948, there appears to be no serious legal argument which would support the inclusion of the descendants of Palestinian refugees, those who were never Israeli citizens or residents – which, again, constitutes 99 percent of the total Palestinian “refugee” population.  

Such an expansive definition would, if applied universally, guarantee the right of millions of descendants of Jewish refugees to ‘return’ to the Arab nations from which they were expelled.

Given that UNRWA and the international community refuses to resettle this population into their host countries in the Middle East where most have lived for generations – and Palestinian leaders won’t allow them into the future state of Palestine – there will likely be no end anytime soon to the ‘refugee crisis’.

As one study projects, if descendants maintain their current status, the number of “refugees” in 2050 will reach 15 million.  

If those truly inspired by a desire to reach a two-state deal would honestly grapple with finding a just resolution to the problem of 30,000 Palestinian refugees from the 1948 War, a solution could easily be found.  

However, if we fail to challenge the fabricated figure of 5 million, then, even when the last actual Palestinian refugees from ’48 have passed on, Palestinian leaders (and activists provided a forum by sympathetic media groups) will still have an endless supply of ‘refugees’ to bludgeon Israel and stymie a possible peace agreement – all of which helps to explain the position of the Palestinian President at the White House last week. 

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49 replies »

  1. The Palestinian right of return in a sense mirrors the Israeli, Jewish right of return, which also extends it to those Jewish by descent. That is why both rights of return need to be exercised to both their states respectively, to a Palestinian state, on the one hand, to a Jewish, on the other.

    Netanyahu would have done better to have stressed that UNGAR 181 specifically mandates a ‘Jewish’ and an ‘Arab’ state, and insisted that the PA accept international law (how can they say ‘No’?), and the formula ‘2 states, for 2 peoples, with 2 rights of return etc’, which ostensibly would look much more reasonable to most people, instead of insisting the PA overtly and explicitly recognize Israel ‘as a Jewish state’ (which is never going to happen: they will never say ‘Yes’).

    Sometimes in diplomacy creative ambiguity is the least worst avenue, but it requires some imagination and willingness on both sides. Had Netanyahu followed the former course, the PA would have looked churlish for trying to rewrite what UNGAR 181 mandates, whereas now it tends to look, probably to most, including, unfortunately, the Americans, as though Netanyahu is making a deal impossible a priori, whatever the obstreperousness of the PA.

    • zaccaerdydd, under International law, the Palestinians have no right to any land in Israel, they rejected it. Additionally, Jordan (was Transjordan) also was to belong to Israel but the British gave it to the Arabs. Israel has a tiny little piece of land surrounded by huge countries full of Arabs. I know why they want Israel but surely the Israelis are entitled to their own little piece? The world is as anti-Semitic now as they were before the Holocaust, refusing to allow Jewish refugees into their countries even though they knew that Hitler had kill camps. Now, the governments blame Israel for the abuses heaped upon Palestinians by their own people. The governments turn a blind eye to the ethnic cleansing of Christians in the Middle East by Muslims. What will world governments do when Muslims declare their own country in the middle of Germany or France?

      • Difference is that Palestinain remain refugees even when they don;t leave in refugees camps anymore. The only refugees in the world who have a citizentship in other coutries and remain refugees.

  2. israel have no problem with Palestinain returning to the future palesitnain state.
    palesitnians want return to the state of Israel. part of their refusal to recognize Israel as a jewish state is becuase they don;t want to give up the right of return. so o fcourse they will never recognize Israel as a jewish state. Do you also want Israel to go to the borders of 181?

  3. You will also notice that, UNLIKE ANY OTHER REFUGEE GROUP, the original refugees only had to prove they were resident in the area FOR 2 YEARS prior to being displaced.

    • or prior to displacing themselves.
      Half of the Palestinians who left did so almost immediately. They simply didn’t want to live in a non-Arab state. They didn’t expect their Arab brethren to (mis)treat them as they have done.

      • 750,000 Palestinians were forcibly dipsplaced from their homes in 1948. Some were chased by Israeli forces, others fled fearing for their lives after Jewish militia such as Irgun or Lehi committed mass killings in villages such as Deir Yassin.

        By the way, were Irgun and Lehi terrorists ever judged for their crimes?

        • Ben Gurion said he was appalled by Irgun’s and Lehi’s terrorist actions. So were many members of the Haganah, the Israeli forces. Were Irgun and Lehi militiamen ever tried in Israel?

        • PLO Chairman and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas admitted that “Arab armies forced Palestinians to leave their homes” (Filastin A-Thawra, March 1976). On May 13, 2008, Al Ayyam, the second largest pro-Abbas Palestinian daily, claimed: “[In 1948] the Arab Liberation Army (ALA) told Palestinians to leave their houses and villages, and return a few days later, so the ALA can fulfill its mission.”
          The head of Britain’s Middle East Office in Cairo, John Troutbeck, reported in June 1949: “Arab refugees speak with utmost bitterness of Egypt and other Arab states. They know who their enemies are. Their Arab brothers persuaded them unnecessarily to leave their homes.” Sir Alan Cunningham, the last British high commissioner in Palestine, wrote on April 28, 1948 that the total evacuation was urged on the Haifa Arabs from higher Arab quarters. The U.S. consul-general in Haifa telegraphed on April 25, 1948 that “reportedly, Arab Higher Committee is ordering all Arabs to leave.”

          • This was meant for Frits Wunderbar
            MARCH 23, 2014 @ 2:54 PM
            3 Votes
            An estimated 750,000 Palestinians were forcibly displaced from their homes in 1948 when the State of Israel was created. Israel has neither let them go back home, nor compensated them for the loss of their properties and livelihoods.

        • The Arabs were going to execute a momentous massacre of Jews, saw the Jews fighting back, turned tail and ran. As this upset their (and Fraud Wonderbra’s) conception of the natural order they demand a do-over.

        • Hardly any Arabs were forcibly displaced from Israel. Some were evacuated from their homes to remove them from combat areas but they were not forced out of the country. Most of those who left left because their own leaders told them to get out of the way of the invading Arab forces, not out of fear of the Jews, who they knew rarely attacked non-combatants. There were very few incidents like Deir Yassin, and even Deir Yassin was, after all, an attack on a village containing a large number of Arab troops, albeit one that led to excessive civilian casualties.

        • Mr. Wunderbar…
          “750,000 Palestinians were forcibly dipsplaced from their homes in 1948.”

          Really? care to back this up?
          Funny you didn’t mention that most were scared by their own leaders which were hoping to rally the Arab armies into their defence and crash the Israelis.
          I’m guessing you are unhappy this plan failed…

          Like many Arab terrorists that were not brought to book by their communities the same can be said for the Irgun and Lehi terrorists, as you put it.

          The Irgun and Lehi operated in times of high hostlities between Jews, Arabs and British reps, during WW2 and afterwards.
          Their actions were mainly a reaction to the double standards displayed by the British and French since 1919.
          The actions of the many Arab terrorists were a result of Nazi nationalism spreading through Mein Kampf and plain Jew hatred, as is clearly seen in the original Hebron Massacre where one would drink tea with their neighbours only to butcher them and their children a few hours later.

    • An estimated 750,000 Palestinians were forcibly displaced from their homes in 1948 when the State of Israel was created. Israel has neither let them go back home, nor compensated them for the loss of their properties and livelihoods.

      • An estimated 800,000 Jews were forcibly displaced from their homes between 1948 – 1952 after the State of Israel has been created. The Arab countries neither let them go back home, nor compensated them for the loss of their properties and livelihoods.

      • There were no 750.000 Arabs forcibly displaced, but some 400.000 arabs voluntarily left in hope of an Arab victory which never came, Natzie Antisemite.

      • What’s funny about that, Dickless, is there was an offer in 2000 that provided 1) a state for their right to autonomy and return; and, 2) compensatory payment that was rejected for sake of blowing up a pizzeria.

        But, yeah… Reality. You should think about joining it.

      • Tell me Wunderbra, what happened to those Arabs who did NOT listen to the Arab League, and who did NOT turn tail and flee some imagined Jewish genocidal mobs?

        Were they, in fact, slaughtered in their thousands? Were they, in fact, driven out of their homes and thrown out of Israeli territory? Oops. No. They became Israeli citizens, with equal rights, and now live far freer and more fulfilled lives IN ISRAEL than ANY of their brethren (except posssibly those who are in the PA/Hamas ruling cadre) who did flee, who have been betrayed by their leaders, their Arab brethren in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Tunisia … and (shamefully) by the UN and the so-called “international community” for the ensuing 66 years.

      • In what case have demonstrably hostile displaced persons been allowed to return in the absence of peace? Israel actually did allow some displaced Arabs to return, but the majority were not allowed to return while they and the other Arab countries were still at war with Israel. Israel offered to negotiate the return of displaced Arabs as part of a peace agreement but the Arabs refused to negotiate. As for property, in point of fact Israel released more than $10 million in blocked bank accounts, paid thousands of claimants, and offered to pay further compensation contingent on Arab countries paying compensation for Jewish property stolen or forcibly abandoned when Jews were forced from their homes, but the Arab countries have refused even to discuss compensation for Jewish refugees.

      • , Emile Ghoury, Secretary of the Arab Higher Command, called for the prevention of the refugees from “return.” He stated in the Beirut Telegraph on August 6, 1948: “it is inconceivable that the refugees should be sent back to their homes while they are occupied by the Jews…. It would serve as a first step toward Arab recognition of the state of Israel and Partition.”

  4. “and Palestinian leaders won’t allow them into the future state of Palestine ”
    There’s true love for you.

    • Yes. And will someone PLEASE explain to me why there are still Palestinian “refugee camps” in Gaza, where Palestinians have had autonomy since 2005, and in the Palestinian areas of the West Bank, which have been ruled by the PA since Oslo?

  5. As I point out whenever the “refugee” question is raised on this blog, the “right of return” is a fantasy. It simply does not exist. The UN itself says there are THREE desirable outcomes to refugee crises. ONE is return to the country of origin, but that is recognised as only possible when the host country is ready, able and willing to accept them. The other two are integration in the country in which they find themselves or re-settlement in a third country somewhere. Once that happens, they are no longer refugees.

    Of all the 10s of millions of refugees created in the last 70 years or so, only ONE group have demanded a “right to return” at the expense of their own children and grandchildren being condemned to a perpetual life of statelessness and welfare dependency. EVERY SINGLE OTHER REFUGEE has found a new life within a few years – wherever in the world that might be.

    Palestinians, I beg you. Pray if you like (As Jews did for 2,000 years) for a return to Haifa, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv etc, but don’t put your nation’s life on hold until that dream becomes possible. It is simply NOT going to happen in the foreseeable future. You may WISH to return, but to pretend that it is a RIGHT is simply harming your own people.

    • You can meet Arabs in the USA, living for decades in wealthy suburbs, who claim to be Palestinian refugees.

      How many other immigrants to America consider themselves refugees because they or their parents or grandparents left some other country 50 or 100 years ago?


      • True, and I have met and been confronted by comfortable, middle class Palestinian refugees in workplaces and student campuses here in the UK too. Bizzare, isn’t it?

  6. The shocking thing about Nabulsi is not really that she lies. I expect no less. What is shocking is that she has been ensconced at universities where she is able to spread those lies to class after class of undergraduates, who do not have exposure to the material that would refute the lies she teaches. As a (former?) representative of the PLO, it is not unreasonable to call her simply a terrorist.


    “Karma Nabulsi, a fellow of St Edmund Hall, Oxford and tutor in politics, was a representative of the PLO in Lebanon, Tunis and the UK.”

    She is also a fervent member of groups that support BDS, the PSC, and, of course, a leader in declaring that Israel is an apartheid state.

    Despite these few matters, the Guardian regards her as “fair and balanced”.

  7. Ask yourself this question: if Israel did not exist would the world be more peaceful?
    Of course, the question is rhetorical. Another interesting question is: just who are these ‘Semites’ returning to the ‘Land God gave them’? Answer: they are Khazarian converts from Central Asia. Israel and Israelis are fiction, but what a horror has been visited on the whole world, this ‘nation’ that insists on its ‘right’ to exist. No nation has the right to exist and certainly no nation has the right to expel indigenous people and take their land, reducing them to beggars. Watch ‘Five Broken Cameras’ and see how the ‘settlers’ burn Palestinian olive trees in the dead of night. Some of us notice the hypocrisy.

    • There is a better question Kay what you have to ask yourself: if Jews didn’t exist would be the world more peaceful? For your kind of wise students of history the answer is a definitive yes. No capitalism, no socialism, no revolutions, no tsunamis, no earthquakes, no banks and naturally no Christians and no Muslims. I especially liked your assertion that Israelis being Khazar converts, I certainly will tell about it my neighbors from Morocco and Ethiopia…
      You are not alone voicing the opinion about the non-existent rights of nations to self- determination and existence, some well known historic personality strongly agree with you (e.g Adolf Hitler, Yossif Stalin etc.)

    • Ask yourself this question: if you do not exist would the world miss you? Of course, the question is rhetorical, as nobody will miss another uneducated Antisemite. There are so many of them.

      • Our Kay is a real hero – s/he would massacre and fight the Jews to the last drop of blood of the Palestinians.
        Wake up, Mr. Kerry
        PermalinkSubmitted by Kay Osatenko (not verified) on Thu, 12/05/2013 – 19:51
        Arguing with a zionist is a waste of time. The tide has turned. Viva the Third Intifada!
        Viva Palestina!

    • Israel and Israelis are fiction

      This, from the same individual who cries “viva Palestine”!

      You couldn’t make it up.

    • Since 1948 it is we who demanded the return of the refugees… while it is we who made them leave…. We brought disaster upon … Arab refugees, by inviting them and bringing pressure to bear upon them to leave…. We have rendered them dispossessed…. We have accustomed them to begging…. We have participated in lowering their moral and social level…. Then we exploited them in executing crimes of murder, arson, and throwing bombs upon … men, women and children-all this in the service of political purposes ….
      — Khaled Al-Azm, Syria’s Prime Minister after the 1948 war

    • Kay Ostinko enjoys heavily edited propaganda films.
      “they are Khazarian converts”
      “Israel and Israelis are fiction”
      “what a horror has been visited on the world”
      “no nation has the right to expel indigenous people and take their land” (unless they’re European, Arab, Chinese, etc., etc., etc., and of course it’s O.K. if the indigenous people are Jews.)

      Ostinko gives us a glimpse of an anti-Semite in its natural state.

  8. Had 48 war happened today and Harriette Sherwood fled back to the UK she would have been considered a Palestinian.

    • Wow, noam. What a devastating response. You have convinced me with the power of your oratory. Well done!

    • Noam: “boring twaddle”. Your middle class semantics give the game away again! Israel; the perfect antidote to your parochial English snobbery and arrogance. That ‘gang’ of Jews really threw off the yoke of European chauvinism and racism. Must really get under your skin, here they still are, rubbing it in.

  9. “How the 30,000 remaining Palestinian refugees from ’48 morph into 5 million”
    answer: creative accounting