How many Palestinian Arab refugees were there?

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15 Scopus citations


The number of Palestinian Arabs fleeing their homes during the 1948 war has constituted one of the most intractable bones of contention of the Arab- Israeli conflict, not least since the Palestinians have insisted on the 'right of return' of these individuals and their descendants to territory that has long been part of the state of Israel. At the end of the war, the Israeli government set the number of Palestinian refugees at 550,000-600,000; the British Foreign Office leaned toward the higher end of this estimate. But within a year, as large masses of people sought to benefit from the unprecedentedinflux of international funds to the area, some 962,000 alleged refugees had been registered with the newly-established UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). More than a half-century later, these exaggerated initial numbers have swollen still further: as of June 2000, according to UNRWA, the total had climbed close to 3.75 million, though it readily admits that the statistics are largely inflated. For its part the PLO set a still higher figure of 5 million refugees, while Israel has unofficially estimated the current number of refugees and their families at closer to 2 million. Using a wealth of declassified Arab, Israeli, and British documents, this article seeks to provide as comprehensive and accurate an estimate as possible of the actual number of refugees in the wake of the 1948 war.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)224-246
Number of pages23
JournalIsrael Affairs
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • 1948 war
  • Gaza
  • Israel
  • Palestinians
  • Red cross
  • Refugees
  • United nations


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