U.S. Policy and the Palestinian Refugees
On 18 April 1948, Jewish forces launched an attack on Tiberias on the edge of the Sea of Galilee and in response the town's estimated 5,300 Palestinian residents fled in fear. Thus began in earnest "the Palestinian refugee problem." It was these refugees, numbering 700,000 to 800,000 men, women, and children, whose plight was to be so dramatically manifested in the violent uprisings sweeping Israel's occupied territories forty years later. It was also these refugees who became the focus of the first major confrontation between the new state of Israel and its sponsor, the United States.
For more than a year, between 1948 and 1949, Israel, an emergent country of less than a million people, and powerful America actively struggled over the future of the refugees. The United States believed substantial numbers of them should be repatriated to their homes, which had been taken over by Israel; Israel disclaimed any responsibility and adamantly refused the return of the refugees. In the end, Israel prevailed with a vivid demonstration of its influence in American politics. Today it is reaping the harvest of that "victory."
Donald Neff is the author of Warriors against Israel, a history of the 1973 war just published by Amana Books of Brattleboro, VT. It is the concluding volume of his trilogy on U.S. relations with Israel and the Middle East between 1956 and 1973.