Demographic shifts: the Palestinian diaspora 1947 onwards, Jewish immigration and the economic development of the Israeli state

UNWRA set up in 1949 to aid the Palestinian refugees
UNWRA set up in 1949 to aid the Palestinian refugees

'Ethnic cleansing'?  Arab historiography would tend to argue the Israeli state followed a determined policy to force out the Palestinians
'Ethnic cleansing'? Arab historiography would tend to argue the Israeli state followed a determined policy to force out the Palestinians

Palestinians leave with their belongings - forced out or leaving voluntarily? Central issue!
Palestinians leave with their belongings - forced out or leaving voluntarily? Central issue!

The Palestinian Diaspora:

  • The 1948-49 war was a massive humiliation for the Arab world and the Palestinian Arabs since a large population were forced to become a part of the new Israeli state. It is still referred to by the Palestinians as "al-Naqba"- The Catastrophe.
  • December 1949 the UN set up the Palestine Conciliation Commission to bring out a peace treaty but failed and only managed to secure a cease-fire agreement. Arab wanted to secure the right of Arab refugees to return but Israel insisted that the problem could only be negotiated in a wider peace settlement as so the refugee problem remained unsolved.
Palestinian Diaspora: The Palestinians living outside of historic Palestine and during the course of the Civil War 1947-48 and the Arab-Israeli war 1948-49, over 730,000 Palestinian Arabs fled into neighbouring countries.
  • Attacks on Arab villages such as Deir Yassin encouraged Palestinian Arabs to flee Israel- deliberate policy of Israelis or a result of the Arab aggressions?
  • Most went into refugee camps in either the Gaza Strip or the West Bank, the remaining lived in neighbouring Arab countries.
  • Most refugees remained in camps, turning down offers to resettlement in Arab states since they were intending on returning to Palestine. However, only Jordan granted citizenship to Palestinian refugees.
Reasons for fleeing:
  • Violence of war.
  • Destruction of their homes and land.
  • Propaganda or Arab government in exaggurating fears.

The Absentee Poperty Law (1950):
  • The Israeli govt, ordered the destruction of 80% of the Arab villaged inside Israel in late 1940s and early 1950s. Provided clear land to provide the new wave of Jewish immigrants with homes.
  • The law stated that all displaced Palestinians were "absentees"- could nto be Israeli citizens and threfore forfeited all lands and property they left behind. This constituted 80% of all land in Israel which was now put under govt, control.
  • Many Arabs who stayed in Israel were denied rights of citizenship. Many lived in areas near the armistice line which were placed under military control- if military authorities saw it fit they could banish Arab residents or confiscate their property.

Jewish immigration to Israel - a 'Right of Return':

The Law of Return (1950)
  • Israel's population grew rapidly as government encouraged immigration of Jews worldwide.
  • The law granted Israeli citizenship to any jew who wished to live in Israel. However, vin 1948-51 ery few American jews took this opportunity (just under 2000) whereas 300,000 immigrated from Central and Easter Europe (later decreased partly as USSR were becoming increasingly hostile towards Israel).
  • In the first three years Israel's population increased by more than 100%- problem as many were poor and therefore a burden to the state's resources. This led to an amendment in the Law of Return in 1952 so that only Jewish immigrants that could be an asset to Israel (either economically or militarily) were allowed to enter.
  • After 1948 more Jews began to immigrate from parts of the Middle East as they were often subject to persecution in Arab states like Iraq, whereas before WW2 there had been an increase tolerance as a part of the Ottoman, British or French Empires.
  • There were increased tenions between European and Middle East Jews as E Jews had tended to dominate politics and business whereas M Jews had previously tended to occupy more poorly paid jobs. This started to change as more and more M Jews started to immigrate into Israel.

Economic and social development of the Israeli state after 1948:

Foreign Aid:
  • Israel's economic growth had been dependent to a significant degree on foreign aid and investment, particularly from the US.
  • In 1977, total US aid amounted to $2,995,000,000.
  • Provided Israel with loans after the first Arab-Israeli war and in addition, private donations and loans frmo US Jews.
  • However, scale of US donations dropped sharply to just $85 million in 1951 and in 1952 Israel faced severe financial problems- had to ask US govt. to reschedual their debts.
  • Fortunately, in 1952 to Federal Republic of Germany agreed to provide compensation for the Jewish People's sufferings in forms of a Reparations Treaty. Gave Israel for the next 14 years, 3000million Dm.

Social and Economic Developments 1956-67:
  • The period between the Suez Crisis (1956) and the Six-Day War (1967) was charactarised by sustained economic growht in Israel.
  • Israel's population rose from 1.7 million to just above 2.4 mill.
  • The GNP (gross National Product) increased at an average of 6.5% p.a.
  • The irrigation and development of the Negev Desert in Southern Israel- new towns werre created and the Israeli govt. embarked on a massive scheme to divert the waters of Lake Galile in the north and carry them to the south to Negev via a network of pipes and conduits.

Economic Problems:
  • Defence spendigns- accounting for 10% of govt. expenditure which fuelled inflation.
  • High unemployment rates because the govt. responded to the balance of payments deficit in 1965-66 by cutting back on spending.
  • High unemplyment led to more people emigrating from Israel than entering the country.
  • By the end of 1960s, non-European Jews constituted a majority of Israel's population and tensions between them and European Jews escalated as the formed resented the facts that they were economically and politically less influential than the latter.
  • The resentment of Palestinian Arabs living in Israel- comprising 12% of her population.


  • "They are not returning and that is our policy"- Second Israeli Prime Minister (after Ben-Gurion) Moshe Sharett about the Palestinian problem.

The main question among historians is whether the refugee problem was a deliberate policy by the Israelis to force the Palestinians out of the territories or was it simply a product of the wars brought on, so the Israelis claim, by the aggression of the Arabs.

Deir Yassin:
  • Benny Morris, one of the "new historians" - i.e. a new school of Israeli revisionist historians working in the 1980s to challenge the mythic versions of nationalist history previously dominant in Israel, such as the Palestinians all leaving voluntarily in 1948 - 9! - claims that Haganah deliberately broadcasted warnings to the Arab population to evacuate women, children and the elderly, to get the Arabs to leave. He concludes that the Jewish attacks were the main cause of the Palestinian panic and that of a collective hysteria brought on by the events.
  • Israeli historian Ilan Pappe claims the expulsions werre a deliberate policy by the Israeli govt. and refers to it as ethnic clensing.
  • Arab sources, without exceptions, blame the expulsion and the ensuing crisis on the actions of the Israelis.

Martin Cannon et al., pp. 104 - 109.
Martin Cannon et al., pp. 104 - 109.

Joe Gauci, pp. 22 - 26
Joe Gauci, pp. 22 - 26