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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

Mahmoud Abbas Contradicts the Palestinian Narrative on Refugees

Filed under: Israel, Palestinians
Publication: Diplomatic Dispatch by Amb. Dore Gold

Institute for Contemporary Affairs

Founded jointly with the Wechsler Family Foundation

It has been axiomatic for the Palestinian narrative that as a result of the first Arab-Israeli war in 1948, the Palestinian Arab refugees were forcibly expelled by Israeli forces from their towns and villages. This has been the official line appearing in Palestinian school textbooks and molding the attitudes of generations of young people.

For example those textbooks assert:

Palestine’s war ended with a catastrophe that is unprecedented in history, when Zionist gangs stole Palestine and expelled its people from their cities, their villages, their lands, and their houses and established the State of Israel.

That’s from an Arabic language textbook in 2006, grade 12.

Here’s another quote:

Let us think and discuss: the impact of the Palestinians’ forced emigration at the Zionists’ hands in 1948.

That’s from a textbook of geography studies, grade 11, written just recently in 2017.

A third quote:

“The Palestinian refugee camps were formed because of the ethnic cleansing perpetrated by the Zionist gangs.

That’s from a mathematics text, grade 11, in 2017.

Despite the fact that the 1948 war was caused by the invasion by five Arab armies into the nascent State of Israel, the emerging Palestinian narrative put the blame squarely upon the Israeli side. The idea that the Palestinian “exodus” was caused by the orders of the Palestinian Arab leaders or was connected to the invasion by Arab armies has been rejected out of hand by prominent writers like Edward Said in his book The Question of Palestine

That is why the recent words of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, at the PLO Consultative Council on December 9, 2018, are so significant. 

Looking back historically, Abbas declared:

Everyone started to speak in our name, in our absence. Therefore we could do nothing. And you recall, if you remember, that in 1948, when the “Nakba,” or catastrophe, took place, we weren’t a party to it. We were taken out, and we were told, after a week we will return you.

Elsewhere he was even more explicit on this point. Back in March 1976 in the Palestinian publication Falastin El-Thawra that came out in Beirut, he said that the Arab armies forced the Palestinians to emigrate and to leave their homeland.

In other words, Abbas is saying that the Arab states caused the Palestinians to flee with the false promise that they would come back.

The truth is that throughout the State of Israel, in places like Haifa, Tiberias, and the villages of the coastal plain, Israeli leaders told the Palestinians to stay. They begged them to stay!

Of course there were cases in which Palestinians left as a by-product of the war. But as Israel historian Benny Morris argued in Ha’aretz on July 29, 2017, Israel had no “expulsion policy” in 1948. 

Yet the notion that Israel had been born in sin because of its supposed role in the “ethnic cleansing” of the Palestinian Arabs has persisted and fueled the BDS movement on American campuses and in other places, spreading hate against Israel to this very day.