"To convince us that before Israel, Palestine was a desert, hundreds of villages were razed by bulldozer - their houses, walls, graveyards and their tombs"
-- Israel Shahak, Racism and the State of Israel, from p. 152.

That every Palestinian has a legitimate, individual right to return to his or her original home and to absolute restitution of his or her property.

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What do the refugees want?

Here are the results of several studies:


The first study, conducted in Lebanon, had a sample of 600 people. One-third supported Oslo, two thirds opposed the agreement and half of them believed that the PLO no longer responds to their needs. The most important response was that 82 percent of the sample expressed the desire to return to their homes in (former) Palestine, not to the Palestinian Authority-controlled territories. This demonstrated a strong position of principle. Half, however, said that they would go to the West Bank and Gaza if they were expelled from Lebanon or if legal, social, and economic conditions in Lebanon deteriorated.

The second study, conducted in Lebanon in 1994 and included a sample of 406 people. Ninety percent of the sample said that the implementation of the right to return was an essential element for a just solution. Only half would chose to live in the West Bank and Gaza if they were required to leave their current homes. The refugees in Jordan have a different point of view. Their choice to return to the West Bank and Gaza is a principled stand, as they currently have less problems with the Jordanian authorities (whereas the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon have a problem with the Lebanese authorities).

West Bank and Gaza

The third study, was conducted in 1995, with a sample of 1,271 people from the West Bank and Gaza. Three-quarters said that the camps should remain and not be moved, but that huge improvements should occur. It is important that the refugees still believe that they want to return, but for tactical reasons they want to stay in the West Bank. They do not want to move the camps, or change their own legal status.

The last study, was a survey conducted by an NGO that asked 1,397 people one question: " Would you agree to abandon your right to return to pre-1948 lands for an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital?". Thirty-one percent agreed, yet 60 precent disagreed and said that the right of return was essential. Furthermore, of those aged 14-22 (born after 1967), 60 percent were more strict about demanding their own right to return. The older interviewees were more flexible.

To summarise, in Lebanon the first choice of refugees was to return to their homes; if this were impossible they prefer to stay in Lebanon (with protection). Half of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon would prefer to live in the West Bank and Gaza if there was no protection. In Jordan, 77 percent would like to see strong relations with the West Bank and Gaza, and may return (due to an attitude of principle). The position of the refugees in the West Bank and Gaza seems to be that they do not want to publicly weaken the position of the Palestinian Authority in the final status negotiations.

Source: Transcription of a presentation given by Mr. Issat Abdel Hadi, director of Bisan Center for Research and Development for a discussion group "Palestinian Refugees and the Middle East Peace Process" at a conference entitled "Palestinian Refugees - Fifty Years On" hosted by the Commission for Interchurch Aid, the Mission and World Service of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands, and the Interchurch Organization for Development Cooperation (ICCO) on 25 September 1998, Noordwijkerhout, The Netherlands.

Refugees in Syria

Palestinian refugees in Syria consider the right of return (UN Resolution 194 of 1948) as the only basis for a fair solution accepted by refugees themselves. A poll based on a sample of 200 refugees in Syria revealed the following results:

Source: Poll conducted by Dr. Nabil Mahmoud between March and April 1998, taking into consideration the demographic, sex and age distribution; cited in al-Majdal, issue no. 4, December 1999, p. 19

A recent poll of Palestinians and Israelis by JMCC, August 1999


The West Bank and Gaza Strip sample was conducted by the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center. A random sample of 1,200 people over the age of 18 were interviewed face-to-face throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip on 26, 27 August 1999. The interviews were conducted in randomly selected homes, and the subjects inside each home were also selected randomly. The interviews were conducted in 60 sampling points chosen randomly according to population. In the West Bank, 763 people were surveyed and 437 people were surveyed in the Gaza Strip. The margin of error is 3 percent, with a confidence level of 95.

The Israeli Jewish sample was held within the context of the Peace Index project of the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research at Tel Aviv University, headed by Prof. Ephraim Yaar and Dr. Tamar Hermann, and carried out by "Teleseker". The poll included 500 persons polled by phone, constituting a representative sample of the adult Jewish population in Israel (including residents of the territories and kibbutzim). The margin of error in a sample of this size is approximately +/- 4.5 percent.

The sample of Palestinians in Israel consisted of 500 men and women ranging in age from 18 and above, and drawn on a stratified, random basis from 20 localities representing size of community and regional distribution.. In line with other published estimates, around one-quarter (23.2 percent) of the randomly selected respondents turned out to be internal refugees, i.e., those who were displaced in 1948 and remained in what became Israel, but were not allowed to go back to their villages. The interviews were carried out face-to-face, and were conducted during November 1-10, 1999.

The sample of the Palestinians in Israel has a marginal error of +/- 4.5 percent. The questionnaire was pilot tested on 8 individuals of various age groups, comprising men and women. Collection of information from respondents was the responsibility of 12 interviewers, most of whom are either graduates of or currently studying at Israeli universities. Very few of the older respondents who appeared on the random list, particularly women, refused to participate in the study. Interviewers were instructed to seek replacements for them from a computerized list of voters supplied by the Israeli Ministry of Interior.

Comparative Findings for the Survey of Israeli Jews, Arab Israelis (Palestinians in Israel), and the Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip

In general, there is a stark contrast between Palestinians in general and Israeli Jews. On every question, Jewish respondents adopted a harsher stance on the refugee issue, while more Palestinians blamed Israel for the refugee problem. In contrast to the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as those in Israel, Israeli Jewish respondents placed the refugee issue overall in fifth place in terms of overall difficulty and in terms of overall importance among the various topics to be discussed up during final status negotiations. The Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip placed the refugee issue in second place both in terms of difficulty and importance.

The four groups placed Jerusalem at the top of their ranking in terms of difficulty and importance. It is interesting that for the West Bankers and Gazans, the choice of Palestinian state is ranked fourth in terms of both importance and difficulty. Agreement over the future of Jewish settlements is more salient to West Bankers and Gazans, as well as to Israeli Jews. Israeli Jews are closer to their perception of the issue of settlements to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, thus placing settlements in the second place (for Jews), and third place for West Bankers and Gazans.

A distinction is made in the questionnaire between "cause" and "responsibility" pertaining to the exodus of the 1948 refugees. Among the three Palestinian groups in the sample, 59 percent of the West Bank and Gaza , 60.8 percent of the Arab Israelis, blamed Jewish forces for causing the Palestinian refugee problem through expulsion. Very few said that the refugees left voluntarily (6 percent of the Arab Israelis and 4 percent of those in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip), or that they were told to leave by Arab leaders of neighboring states (5.9 percent for West Bank and Gaza, and 1 percent for the Arab Israelis).

When it comes to responsibility for creating the refugee problem, a total of 73.6 percent of the Arab Israelis blamed only or mostly Israel, compared to 51.4 percent of West Bank and Gaza respondents. Interestingly, a significant number of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza (42.6 percent) put the responsibility jointly on Israel and the Arab countries. A very small proportion put the responsibility solely on the Arab side (3.7 percent of West Bankers and Gazans, and 0.8 percent for the Arab Israelis).

Jewish respondents differed from their Palestinian counterparts on these two questions. With regard to the cause of expulsion, the largest single category (31 percent) went to those Israeli Jews who said that Jewish forces expelled Palestinian refugees, 29.9 percent said that the refugees left voluntarily, and 17.3 percent said they left because Arab leaders told them to leave. Around one-quarter, 23.3 percent, did not know. Turning to responsibility for creating the refugee problem, 11.8 percent of Israeli Jews blamed Israel only (4.8 percent) or mostly (7.0 percent), and 35.5 percent blamed both Israel and the Arab side. In other words, close to one-half (46.8 percent) of Israeli Jews implicated Israel in one way or another with responsibility for creating the refugee problem. Of the Israeli Jewish respondents, a total of 43.3 percent blamed only (21.1 percent) or mostly (22.2 percent) the Arab side, and close to 10 percent did not know.

In excess of 80 percent of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza defined a just solution to the refugee problem in terms of applying the United Nations Resolution 194, while a very small number opted for leaving a just solution to be decided solely by Israel (2.9 percent). 12 percent of West Bank and Gazans said that a just solution involves the return of a limited number of refugees, depending on negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Among the Arab Israelis, the corresponding figure is 22 percent.

Is it feasible to apply United Nations Resolution 194 for solving the refugee issue? The percentage agreeing to this varied from 55.1 percent for West Bankers and Gazans (who agreed without qualifications), to 49.2 percent for the Arab Israelis. Only 18.8 percent of West Bank and Gaza respondents, and 29.6 percent of Israeli Palestinians said that the return of a limited number of refugees is feasible under the present circumstances, the majority of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip respondents (63.6 percent) said that the return of all refugees on the basis of UN Resolution 194 is feasible. A very small number of the two groups said that only Israel should decide on who returns from the refugees, between 6 percent and 8 percent.

A tiny minority of Israeli Jews endorsed Resolution 194 as either a just (4.5 percent) or feasible (4.7 percent) solution for the refugee problem. The majority left it to Israel solely to decide on who goes back as the basis for a just (56.8 percent) or feasible (50.8 percent) solution to the refugee problem. Around one-fifth of Israeli Jews endorsed the return of a limited number of refugees depending on the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Very few of Israeli Jews surveyed said that there is no refugee problem (0.2 percent).

While around 80 percent of the two Palestinian groups in the sample said that anyone wishing to return should be allowed to do so, among Israeli Jews the corresponding figure is 11.5 percent. Close to 43 percent of Israeli Jews said no refugee should be allowed to go back, and around one-third (32.6 percent) approved of the return of a limited number - from "few hundreds" to "few thousands" - in the context of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

In the case of possible return, where should the Palestinian refugees be settled? A majority of the Jewish sample (57.2 percent) said that they should be settled in their present locations in the Middle East and elsewhere. One-third mentioned the Palestinian state as a possible place for absorbing the refugees, and only 5.3 percent approved of their return to their homes in Israel. The majority of Palestinians in the study (between 53 percent and 58 percent) wanted the refugees to go back to their homes, followed by settling them in the Palestinian state, or a combined place of settlement in Israel and the Palestinian state.

Around 70 percent of the Arab Israelis said that Israel should compensate the refugees. Among Israeli Jews, the figure was 18 percent, while 41 percent of Israeli Jews named international bodies such as the UN as a possible source for compensation. Seventeen per cent of Israeli Jews denied any compensation to Palestinian refugees. Twenty-nine per cent of Israeli Jewish respondents named Arab governments as a source for compensating Palestinian refugees, and 11 percent chose the US. Palestinian respondents from Gaza and the West Bank answered the question with a breakdown of an additional category inserted in the questionnaire. Thus, 25 percent of West Bankers named Israel as the sole source for compensation, and 13.5 percent of Gazans said the same thing.

However, in the combined responses, for a total of 46 percent of the West Bankers, Israel was a party to payment of compensation; they named Israel and international bodies (32 percent), Israel and Arab governments (5.4 percent), Israel, international bodies and Arab governments (8.7 percent), and an additional group named international bodies and Arab governments (3.0 percent). A total of 58 percent of Gazans gave the following answers to the same breakdown, respectively: 27.2 percent, 6.8 percent, 15.5 percent, and 8.4 percent.

Fifty-four per cent, 56 percent, and 70 percent of the three Palestinian samples in Gaza, West Bank and Israel, respectively, endorsed without any qualifications international law stipulating that displaced refugees should be allowed to return to their homes. Among Israeli Jews unqualified support for this principle extended to 18 percent. However, 52 percent of Israeli Jews endorsed this international law with qualifications, compared to 27.8 percent of West Bank and Gaza respondents, and 22 percent of the Arab Israelis.

While close to 90 percent of the Palestinians sampled agreed that the international law of displacement applies to the Palestinian refugees, among Israeli Jews it was 40 percent, and 50 percent of Israeli Jews disagreed with the applicability of the law to the Palestinian case.

Palestinians in the West Bank estimated that 17.3 percent of all the refugees would take advantage of the right of return, 13.1 percent said between 2-3 million would return, 23.4 percent between 1-2 million, and about 30 percent estimated that less than 500,000 would return. Among Gaza respondents, the figures are: 10.7 percent for 4 million and more, 18.5 percent for 2-3 million, 32 percent for 1-2 million, and close to 30 percent estimated the number of returnees to be less than 500,000.

Of the Israeli Jewish respondents and Arab Israelis, 31 percent and 42.8 percent, respectively, could not say how many would take advantage of the right of return. Fifty-eight per cent of the Jewish respondents estimated that less than one million refugees would take advantage of their right to return. However, 15.6 percent of the latter said that in excess of 4 million refugees would opt to return.

Source: JMCC. To download the poll: The full text and results of this JMCC poll can be downloaded from this site in PDF format (56K). To view PDF files, you will need to have the free Adobe Acrobat Reader software installed on your computer, available for both Mac and Windows operating systems.

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