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Ben-gurion Outlines Government Policy on Arab Refugees to Knesset

October 12, 1961
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, speaking before Israel’s Parliament, categorically rejected today “the insidious proposal” to give Arab refugees freedom of choice to return to Israel which he said was a policy calculated to destroy Israel.

He made the statement in reply to a Herut motion for a debate on the Government’s policy on the refugee question. He said it would not occur to anyone to put the clock back and repatriate all of the estimated 20,000,000 refugees resulting from World War II to their pre-war homes.

The Prime Minister said there was documentary evidence that Palestinian Arabs, now listed as refugees, who left areas allocated to Israel by the 1948 United Nations partition recommendation, did so on orders of Arab leaders in the expectation of returning with invading Arab armies to destroy the new Jewish State and drive the Jews into the sea.

He said that all the Arabs who lived in Israel when the Jewish State was established still live in Israel and that they have been joined by some 30,000 Arabs whose return was arranged under a family reunion program of the Israel Government. The number of Arabs who lived in the area allocated by the United Nations to Israel and who left voluntarily or on Arab leaders’ orders is not greater than the number of Jewish refugees from Arab countries, the Prime Minister declared. He said that there had been an unplanned but effective exchange of populations and there was neither a practical possibility nor moral justification for “turning the clock back.”


Turning to the question of compensation for properties left behind by the departing Arabs, the Prime Minister stated that it would be “inconceivable” not to take into account the matter of properties of Jewish refugees from Arab countries and other parts of former Palestine.

“If compensation is to be paid–and we do not oppose compensation if the question as a whole is solved–then Jewish refugees are similarly entitled to compensation,” he declared. He charged that the Arab refugee problem existed “entirely as a result of the violation of the United Nations charter by the Arab rulers and their callous treatment of their own people whom they treat not as humans but as a weapon with which to strike at Israel.”

Some of the neighboring Arab countries, he noted, were under-populated and had plentiful resources and a manpower shortage but, to destroy Israel, their rulers–with the aid of the refugees themselves–were exploiting the situation as a political and military weapon against Israel.

He insisted the only “practical and fair solution” was to settle the Arab refugees among their own people in countries which have plenty of good land and water. If the Arab rulers comply with the UN decision and the principles of the UN charter and enter into direct talks with Israel for a peace settlement, Israel would give all possible assistance toward resettlement of the refugees among their own people.

The Prime Minister told the Knesset he had not submitted this position to the Cabinet but that he knew it reflected the attitude of the entire Government with possible nuances of difference about relatively unimportant details.

He said he had no objection to a debate on the question and suggested it should be held shortly after the return of Mrs. Golda Meir, Israel’s Foreign Minister, from the current UN General Assembly. The motion for debate was approved by a large majority.

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