Getting rid of the native inhabitants of Palestine has long been one of the tenets of Zionism.1 It was clearly spelled out by Yosef Weitz, the head of the Transfer Committee and the chief of land-confiscation operations. As early as 1940, he proposed an ethnic cleansing plan: "The only solution is to transfer the Arabs from here to neighbouring countries. Not a single village or a single tribe must be left".2

Plan Dalet was designed to "occupy... expel"3 the Palestinian people. It was David Ben-Gurion’s doctrine that the destruction of the Palestinian people and their cultural and physical landscape was the precondition for creating the state of Israel on its ruins.4 The systematic elimination of the Palestinians in 1948 took the following forms:

2.1 Military Plans for Jewish Settlement

As early as January 1948, four months before the official war began, the Zionists prepared plans for the settlement of 1.5 million new immigrants over and above the existing 600,000 Jews, two-thirds of whom were themselves recent immigrants under the British Mandate. During the Jewish military operations that followed the UN partition resolution of November 1947 and before the end of the British Mandate, more than half of the Palestinian refugees were expelled. The settlement agencies headed by the Jewish National Fund (JNF) directed the military attacks to acquire coveted land, such as the villages of Indur, Qumiya, Ma’lul, Mujaidil and Buteimat in Galilee, which were destroyed primarily to grab their land.5

2.2 Physical Elimination of the Refugees

Almost every one of the thirty-odd Zionist/Israeli military operations was accompanied by a massacre of civilians. There were at least thirty-five reported massacres,6 half of which took place before any Arab regular soldier set foot in Palestine. The most notorious of these massacres is Deir Yassin, the largest is Dawayma, and the latest disclosed by an Israeli researcher, Teddy Katz, but known to Palestinians all along, is Tantoura.

Shooting of civilians was not restricted to wartime. After the fighting ceased, some of the refugees tried to return home to rescue civilians left behind, to retrieve some belongings or to attend to crops or cattle. These returnees were shot on the spot as "infiltrators". The UN truce observers reported hundreds of such cases.7

2.3 Plunder and Destruction of Property

Plunder took place in the immediate aftermath of military assaults, especially in cities such as Haifa, Jaffa, Lydda, and Jerusalem. The looters included nearby kibbutzniks, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) brigade commanders and the high-ranking political figures of the ruling Mapai (Labor) party.8 There followed a massive campaign of destruction, which lasted over fifteen years and in which 53 percent of the 418 villages surveyed were totally destroyed and 44.5 percent partially destroyed.9 The clear aim of this destruction was to prevent the return of the refugees.

2.4 Political Action

Soon after the state of Israel was declared on May 14, 1948 and following the protest of UN mediator Count Folke Bernadotte, who witnessed, by June 1948, the expulsion of about 500,000 refugees, the Provisional Government of Israel stated that it could not allow any refugees to return before a peace treaty was signed, on the pretext that these refugees would be a "security threat". Even after the fighting stopped, Israel refused to re-admit the refugees, and it maintains this position in the international arena to this day. It does so even though Israel’s admission to the UN in May 1949 was unique in that it is the only UN member whose admittance is "conditional" upon the return of refugees (Resolution-194) and withdrawal to the lines of the partition plan (Resolution-181).10

2.5 Creation of a Fictitious Legal Web to Mask Illegal Confiscation

Before, during and after the 1948 war, Israel/Zionists resorted to many pseudo-legal devices to organize and justify the confiscation of 18,700 square kilometres (92 percent of Israel) of Palestinian land, in addition to the property found in 530 depopulated towns and villages. The property was held by the Custodian of the Absentee (i.e. refugee) Property and transferred later to the Development Authority. All such land, as well as JNF holdings, is now administered by the Israel Land Administration (ILA). According to Israel, the "Absentee" is a Palestinian refugee not allowed by Israel to return. The term also applies to Palestinian citizens of Israel, who are not "Absent", hence dubbed "Present Absentees"; much of their land has also been confiscated.11

2.6 Importing of Jewish Immigrants to Fill the Depopulated Villages

Immediately upon the invasion of Palestinian villages, Israel activated its program of sending Mossad agents to transport Jews in Arab countries to Israel. The immigrants were persuaded by a mixture of rosy promises, incentives, and, for the reluctant ones, various acts of coercion, including throwing grenades at their houses.12 About 700,000 Jewish immigrants arrived in the period 1949-52. Many of them were unhappy about the discriminatory treatment they received at the hands of the ruling Ashkenazi. Their resentment is still strong today.

All these actions were designed to prevent the return of refugees to their homes. While Israel was successful in preventing their return, the refugees remained adamant in their intention to return. They could often see their old homes across the barbed wire of the armistice line; indeed, most refugees still reside within a two-hour bus ride of their homes. After their expulsion during al Nakba of 1948, the problem for Israel thus became how to get rid of the refugees themselves, wherever they may be in exile.