The 1948 Palestinian exodus, also known as the Nakba (Arabic: النكبة, "al-Nakbah", literally "disaster", "catastrophe", or "cataclysm"),occurred when more than 700,000 Palestinian Arabs fled or were expelled from their homes, during the 1948 Palestine war. The term "nakba" also refers to the period of war itself and events affecting Palestinians from December 1947 to January 1949.
The precise number of refugees is a matter of dispute but around 80 percent of the Arab inhabitants of what became Israel (50 percent of the Arab total of Mandatory Palestine) left or were expelled from their homes.
The causes are also a subject of fundamental disagreement between Arabs and Israelis. Factors involved in the exodus include Jewish military advances, attacks against Arab villages and fears of another massacre by Zionist militias after the Deir Yassin massacre,:239–240 which caused many to leave out of panic; Arab evacuation orders; expulsion orders by Israeli authorities; the voluntary self-removal of the wealthier classes, the collapse in Palestinian leadership, and an unwillingness to live under Jewish control.
Later, a series of laws passed by the first Israeli government prevented them from returning to their homes, or claiming their property. They and many of their descendants remain refugees.The expulsion of the Palestinians has since been described by some historians as ethnic cleansing, while others dispute this charge.
The status of the refugees, and in particular whether Israel will grant them their claimed right to return to their homes or be compensated, are key issues in the ongoing Israeli–Palestinian conflict. The events of 1948 are commemorated by Palestinians both in the Palestinian territories as well as elsewhere on 15 May, a date now known as Nakba Day.
In the late 1800s a small, fanatic movement called “political Zionism” began in Europe. Its goal was to create a Jewish state somewhere in the world. Its leaders settled on the ancient and long-inhabited land of Palestine for the location of this state.
Palestine's population at this time was approximately ninety-six percent non-Jewish (primarily Muslim and Christian).
Over the coming decades Zionist leaders used various strategies to accomplish their goal of taking over Palestine:
Encouraging Jewish immigration to Palestine, partly through the invention of such deceptive slogans as "a land without a people for a people without a land," when, in fact, the land was already inhabited. Since the majority of Jews were not Zionists until after WWII, Zionists used an array of misleading strategies, including secret collaboration with the Nazis, to push immigration.
Convincing a “Great Power” to back this process. By turn, Zionists approached the Ottomans, the British, and the U.S. to further their cause. While the Ottomans turned them down, the British (being promised that American Zionists would push the U.S. to enter World War I on the side of England) eventually acceded, as did the U.S. (due to concerns of politicians like Harry Truman that they would lose elections otherwise).
Buying up the land (sometimes through subterfuges), proclaiming it Jewish for all eternity, and refusing to allow non-Jews to live or work on the purchased land. This was called "redeeming" the land and was financed by a variety of means, including by such wealthy banking families as the Rothschilds.
Violence, if such financial dispossession should fail or prove too slow – as it did.
In the 1930s, Jewish land ownership had increased from approximately 1% to just over 6% of the land, and violence had increased as well. With the emergence of several Zionist terrorist gangs (whose ranks included a number of future Prime Ministers of Israel), there was violent conflict. Numerous people of all ethnicities were killed – then, as now, the large majority of them Christian and Muslim Palestinians.
This growing violence culminated in Israel's ruthless 1947-49 "War of Independence,"in which at least 750,000 Palestinian men, women, and children were expelled from their homes by numerically superior Israeli forces – half before any Arab armies joined the war. This massive humanitarian disaster is known as ‘The Catastrophe,’ al Nakba in Arabic.
Zionist forces committed 33 massacres and destroyed 531 Palestinian towns. Author Norman Finkelstein states: “According to the former director of the Israeli army archives, ‘in almost every village occupied by us during the War... acts were committed which are defined as war crimes, such as murders, massacres, and rapes’...Uri Milstein, the authoritative Israeli military historian of the 1948 war, goes one step further, maintaining that ‘every skirmish ended in a massacre of Arabs.’”
Count Folke Bernadotte, a former official of the Swedish Red Cross who saved thousands of Jews during World War II and was appointed U.N. mediator in Palestine, said of the refugees: "It would be an offence against the principles of elemental justice if these innocent victims of the conflict were denied the right to return to their homes.” Bernadotte was assassinated by a Zionist organization led by future Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir.