Did the Palestinians sell their country to the Zionists?

Did the Palestinians sell their country to the Zionists?
4 min read
11 May, 2015
Comment: The Palestinians did not leave their land voluntarily in 1948 as argued by Israel and some Arab states - they left because they were ethnically cleansed, says Badr al-Ibrahim.
Members of Haganah escorted Palestinians from Haifa in 1948 [AFP]
The Palestinians sold their lands to the Zionists before 1948 and voluntarily left the country, according to a myth being increasingly spread in some Arab countries.

The story is being spread to justify why some Arabs have abandoned the Palestinian cause, by those who are calling for the normalisation of relations with Israel.

Official Israeli propaganda repeats a similar story - that the Palestinians voluntarily left their land after a call was made to do so by Arab leaders. However, the historical evidence is categorical on this matter.

The Palestinians did not leave their land voluntarily, they were ethnically cleansed from their land by Zionist forces and their displacement was accompanied by widespread killings.

In the early 2000s, Israeli historians such as Avi Shlaim, Ilan Pappe, and Benny Morris completely refuted Israel's official story about how it was established in 1948. They showed that the original Arab inhabitants of the country were systematically ethnically cleansed. 

In his book, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, Benny Morris scrutinises Israeli documents to show exactly how the story is false.

Discussing the fate of hundreds of Palestinian cities, towns, and villages between 1947 and 1949, he explains why their inhabitants left. In 45 cases, the reasons remain unknown, however, in 228 cases, the residents left after being attacked by Zionist forces.

In 41 cases, the inhabitants were expelled after being threatened with force. In 90 cases, the residents left out of fear after hearing of massacres committed by Zionist forces in other areas, especially the Deir Yassin massacre of 1948.

The Palestinians did not sell their land to the Zionists, and "the Arabs" did not ask the Palestinians to leave. Arab leaders did not call on the Palestinians to leave their land, and there was no campaign in Arab newspapers or radio stations asking them to leave, Morris explains.

Simha Flapan, an Israeli historian, argued that Abdul Rahman Azzam, secretary-general of the Arab league, called on Palestinians to stay in their country.

But Fawzi al-Qawuqji, the leader of the Arab Liberation Army that fought in Palestine in 1948, ordered his troops to stop Palestinians leaving their towns and villages by force if necessary.

     The Palestinians did not sell their land to the Zionists, and the Arabs did not ask the Palestinians to leave.


There were several waves of Palestinian emigration caused by Zionist attacks and massacres against Palestinians.

Benny Morris tries to understand the flight of Palestinian refugees by looking at the structure of Palestinian society in 1948.

Institutions were weak, and local leaders had little influence. Palestinian paramilitary organisations were also weak compared with their Zionist counterparts. This explains why the main Palestinian cities fell to the Zionists in April and May 1948.

After the major cities fell, rural Palestinians became demoralised, Morris explains, because they depended on the cities for political leadership. Palestinian villagers copied the urban middle class and left their country out of fear.

The largest wave of Palestinian emigration took place between April and June 1948. This was largely due to Plan Dalet, a project by the Haganah, a Zionist paramilitary organisation, to take control of all territory allocated to the Jewish state by the UN in its 1947 partition plan. This caused most Palestinian to leave their towns and villages.

Morris denies that there was an integrated plan to ethnically cleanse Palestinian towns and villages, but says Plan Dalet and its aftermath show evidence of a Zionist policy of displacing the population of strategic villages and locations.

Fundraising by the Jewish Agency for Israel in the US enabled Zionist armed groups such as the Haganah and its offshoot, the Irgun, to transform themselves into a well-armed and professional military force.

They executed Plan Dalet by viciously attacking and destroying Palestinian cities, towns and villages. Their inhabitants were displaced, whether or not they resisted the Zionist forces.

The Deir Yassin massacre of April 9, 1948, spread terror among the Palestinians. After the massacre, Zionists took control of major Palestinian cities.

The Haganah occupied Haifa. According to Morris, the 22nd batallion of the Haganah's Golani Brigade was ordered to kill any adult Arab it saw in Haifa.

After Haifa was captured only 3,000 to 4,000 of the city's 70,000 Arab inhabitants remained. The rest were expelled or killed. Jaffa, Safad and Acre all suffered similar fates.

Ethnic cleansing in 1948 is at the heart of the Palestinian question. There are now deliberate attempts to erase this from the Arab collective memory and turn the Palestinian question into a simple border dispute - when in reality it is about a people who were ethnically cleansed from their land with the blessing of Western colonialism.

We must never forget the Palestinian refugee issue, which is the origin of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Allowing the refugees to return must be the basis of any solution. Neither the passage of time nor the abandonment of the Palestinian cause by Arab governments will stop the Palestinian refugees' right of return from existing.

Badr al-Ibrahim is a Saudi writer and analyst.

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.