Did Israel Expel Palestinian Arabs?

What’s the true story of the hundreds of thousands of displaced people in the Middle East? One of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict’s biggest hot potatoes is the idea that ethnic cleansing transpired against Palestinian Arabs in 1948. This week, we are zooming out to give you a wider perspective of the events that caused the removal of both Arabs and Jews from their homes in pre-and-post state Israel.

Enduring understandings are available in the PDF version of the educational resources.

  • Review
  • Discussion
  • Activities
  • Reflection
  • Further Learning
  1. Various reasons have been proposed for why Palestinian Arabs left their homes in 1948. Some say pre-Israel Zionist armies expelled them, some say Arab leaders told them to evacuate temporarily and others left out of fear of fighting. To you, does it matter what the main reason was why they left or is that historical question less relevant today? How does this affect the current situation facing Israelis and Palestinians?
  2. Between 1948 and 1972, 850,000 Jews living in Muslim countries were either forced out or fled with about 700,000 of them immigrating to Israel. Compare and contrast the Jewish refugee and the Palestinian Arab refugee crisis after Israel was established. Are these situations similar or entirely different? Where do both refugee groups fit into the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
  3. After Israel’s War of Independence, Israel did not allow Palestinian Arab refugees to return to their homes due to demographic and security reasons. Demographically, Israel didn’t want to lose a Jewish majority within the new Jewish state and as for security, Israel was hesitant to allow in Arabs who had just fought against Israel in the war. Do you think this was the right or wrong decision? Why? How do you think Israel would look today if Israel had allowed Palestinian Arab refugees to return to their homes?
  4. During Israel’s War of Independence when Arab armies began to retreat, the IDF top brass encouraged Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion to conquer the entire West Bank / Judea and Samaria. Ben-Gurion responded by saying “what sort of country would that give us? We would have a Knesset with an Arab majority. Faced with either a Greater Israel or a Jewish Israel, we choose a Jewish Israel.” Do you think this is an existential issue for Israel or can Israel remain a Jewish state without having a Jewish majority population? Do you think David Ben-Gurion made the right decision?
  5. Read this primary source from HaShomer HaTzair explaining the migration of Arabs from the Land of Israel from 1947-1948. How do you reconcile this information with the narratives presented by both the Israelis and Palestinians surrounding the Arab exodus during Israel’s War of Independence?
  1. After reading this article that displays both the traditional Israeli and Palestinian narratives, note down your answers to the following questions:
    • Were there any areas of commonality between the two narratives?
    • What do you think is the best way to bring two sides together who hold drastically different narratives?
    • Were you surprised by any of the comments on either side?
  2. Watch this video about the Rashomon Effect and lead a group discussion with the following questions:
    • Are there situations when an “objective” truth doesn’t exist?
    • What can different versions of the same event teach us about the time, place and people involved?
    • How can we make group decisions when we’re all working with different information, backgrounds and biases?
    • Does the Rashomon Effect relate to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its various versions of the same events? What can both sides learn from this phenomenon?
  3. Read this article which describes why Palestinians have a right of return to Israel and this article that contends that they don’t. Think of the three strongest reasons for the “right of return” and the three strongest reasons against it.
  4. After researching, compare and contrast the stories of the Arabs of Lydda who were expelled and the Arabs of Abu Ghosh who remained in their homes during Israel’s War of Independence. What are three things that these two instances teach us about the Palestinian refugee situation?
  5. Think Tank:
    Imagine you are part of a think tank tasked with finding a solution to the Palestinian refugee problem. The think tank has narrowed it down to three possible solutions:

    • Settle all Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, Gaza and Arab countries
    • Settle Palestinian refugees in a Palestinian state
    • Settle Palestinian refugees in Israel
      Research each possible solution and make the case for that solution to the rest of the group. Make sure you explain why “your solution” makes the most sense and why the others are less viable options.
  6. Play our Kahoot about “Did Israel Expel Palestinian Arabs”!
  1. Look at this image of Palestinian Arabs leaving their homes in 1948. Also, look at the second image of Jewish refugees from Arab lands as a result of Israel’s founding. How do you feel when you see these images? How do you internally deal with the challenge of casualties of war?

  2. How does it make you feel to know that Israel’s creation which Jews celebrate as Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israeli Independence Day) is commemorated by another people as their “Nakba”, or catastrophe? Does it take away from the joy of Yom Ha’atzmaut? Can you compartmentalize the two narratives or is this something you disregard altogether?
  3. Watch this video and explain how you felt after hearing the raw, unfiltered narratives from both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Did it give you hope? Did you feel despair?
  4. Do you think people ever really change their minds on a topic of importance? If so, how do you think that process happens? Have you ever gone through this process? How did it affect you?

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