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Tuesday, 15 May, 2001, 08:26 GMT 09:26 UK
Flashback: Palestine's catastrophe
Palestinian refugees
Palestinian refugees dream of a return to their homes
On 14 May 1948, the leaders of the Jewish community in what was then British-ruled Palestine gathered in the Tel Aviv museum to declare the founding of Israel, the first Jewish state for 2,000 years.

The creation of Israel represented a fulfilment of a historic ideal of the Jewish people, stemming from their traditional religious beliefs and the efforts of the Zionist movement which emerged in the late 19th century.

Palestinians, in turn, designate the 15 May as the Day of al-Nakba, "the catastrophe", and they use it to commemorate the dispossession of hundreds of thousands of their people who were made homeless as Israel was born.

David Ben-Gurion (right), first prime minister of Israel
David Ben-Gurion (R) became the first prime minister
Immediately following the 1948 proclamation, forces from Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon occupied areas in southern and eastern Palestine and captured the small Jewish quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem.

But a series of campaigns between May and December 1948 saw Israeli forces push back the Arab forces.

By the summer of 1949 Israel had concluded armistices with its neighbours, and achieved recognition from more than 50 governments throughout the world.


Israel established sovereignty over about 8,000 square miles (21,000 square kilometres) of land, resulting in a major displacement of the Arab population.

Palestinian children re-enact the Nakba in southern Lebanon
For later generations the dispossession is still felt

The reasons they left are still hotly disputed: the official Israeli view is that the Palestinians themselves chose to leave the Jewish state, while Palestinians say they were terrorised into abandoning their homes.

Many affluent residents of Jaffa, Haifa and Jerusalem fled to Lebanon, Egypt, and Jordan.

But the majority of poorer people ended up in refugee camps. More than 350 Arab villages disappeared, and their bedraggled former inhabitants ended up in the crowded refugee camps beyond the armistice lines, where they and their offspring have languished ever since.

Others ended up in the Arab-held eastern region, known now as the West Bank, and on the southern coastal plane, the Gaza Strip, both of which were captured and occupied by Israel in 1967.

Numbers disputed

The numbers of people displaced in the conflict are also hotly disputed.

About 1,300,000 Arabs lived in Palestine before the war, and estimates of the numbers displaced from their original homes during the period from December 1947 to January 1949 range from about 520,000 to about 1,000,000.

More than half a century later, there are some four million Palestinian refugees.

Events marking the Nakba in the occupied territories and neighbouring Arab states will concentrate on pressing for their right to return to their homes - a right enshrined in UN Resolution 194, but rejected by successive Israeli governments.

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See also:

29 May 00 | Middle East
14 May 01 | Middle East
06 Jan 01 | Middle East
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