Since the Israeli invasion and the declaration of the state in 1948, Israel attempted to prevent the return of the refugees by every means possible, including shooting the returnees as "infiltrators". Israel thwarted the efforts of CCP to facilitate the return of the refugees. Ben Gurion engineered the tripartite campaign against Egypt in 1956 in the hope of altering irrevocably the status of the Armistice line, giving it a mark of permanency. He proposed several schemes to relocate the Palestinian refugees in Sinai, Jordan and even Iraq. All such schemes have failed.
The Israelis claim the right of occupation, since they were in a state of self defense against the Arab Invasion. They also claim that the refugees had left on Arab orders, not by Israeli force (click here to read our rebuttal to this myth). They also claim that it is difficult now to find the boundaries of the village lands, as so much has been altered. Much of this study has been devoted to show, using Israeli sources, that these claims are "sheer fabrication".
The Israeli legal argument against the Right of Return is the following. Under international law, this Right applies to refugees returning to the country of which they are (now) citizens. Palestinians are not Israeli citizens, (Peretz, p.70, Lapidoth cited by Quigley, p.210). But the fact that Israel established a new state in Palestine and created its own citizens does not negate the Right of Return. If a robber breaks into a home, expel its occupants, and changes the name-plate on the door, this does not make him the rightful owner of the house or entitle him to prevent the return of this rightful owner. Expulsion of a people does not deprive them of their citizenship or their right to return.
Peretz (p.73) further states that: "well-informed Palestinians are aware that conditions have so changed... that an actual return is no longer possible". He claims that they envisage a return to a small enclave, or to the West Bank or Gaza or be satisfied with a token return (Lam Sharnl). It is difficult to confirm that such statements were made on any significant scale. There is no evidence that such are the views of those well-informed Palestinians. The opposite view is widely held.
If peace is to prevail, the inalienable Palestinian Rights must be restored. It is impossible to envisage otherwise. A state which violates rights is required under international law to restore the situation as it was before the illegal act.
The Israelis claim that, if the refugees return, Israel would lose its Jewish character (click here to read our answer to this argument) There is no place, or a future, in the civilized world for a state that is based on such exclusivity. Israel must choose between being a Jewish or a democratic state. It cannot claim to be both. In the words of a noted jurist: "The Jewish character is really an euphemism for the Zionist discriminatory statutes of the State of Israel which violate the human rights provisions... The UN is under no more of a legal obligation to maintain Zionism in Israel than it is to maintain apartheid in the Republic of South Africa". (Mallison p. 134)
The Palestinians have no obligation to the Israelis to lose their homes and identity and continue to suffer in the diaspora, in order to provide the Jews a second home. The last 50 years showed clearly that it is the Palestinians who have no home except in Palestine, while only 4 million Jews out of 16, chose to live in Israel voluntarily. Even those are in a state of flux; many of those who came to Israel soon left to more attractive countries. On the contrary, the Israelis have an obligation to the Palestinians, which must be fulfilled, to account for their dispossession and the crimes committed against them. The Right of Return to the Palestinians is a dire necessity. To the Jews, it is an option, a luxury.
Israel will be forced, by circumstance if not by choice, to turn itself into a democratic state. That is the only future it has. Even internally, the Israeli Palestinians are now 25% of the Israeli Jews. The percentage of those under 20 is 45%. Historically, it is very difficult to deny the rights of such an important minority. The Jews in Israel represent such a wide range of religious, geographical, cultural and economic variety that it is impossible to think of a distinct 'Jewish character'. To prevent the return of the refugees in order to maintain the Jewish purity of Israelis is immoral, illegal and simply impractical.
Israel also tries to link the issue of the refugees' return, mainly in terms of compensation, to the question of the Sephardic Jews who left Iraq, Maghreb and Yemen after the 1948 war. Their claims of compensation are calculated to dwarf any possible Palestinian claims.
The two issues are totally unrelated. First, the Right of Return is an inalienable right recognized and confirmed repeatedly by the international community, through innumerable resolutions. There is no such recognition for the other case. Second, the claims of Sephardic Jews should be addressed to the countries of their former residence, Arab and non-Arab. The Palestinians have nothing to do with it. Third, the Right of Return and compensation is demanded from Israel, not from any Arab country. Therefore, offsetting claims does not arise. Fourth, the Israelis arranged the transfer of the Sephardic Jews, after the Israeli invasion was completed, in order to populate the very towns and villages from which Palestinians were expelled, as Ben Gurion admits (Segev, p.91). As such, these new immigrants are beneficiaries of the Palestinian dispossession. Hence they should pay compensation, not receive it. Frequently, Israeli agents bombed Jewish homes to scare them off. Those Jews abandoned their Arab citizenship voluntarily. Others had foreign passports. Those who wish to return are free to apply to the countries of their former residence.