The Arab refugee problem was caused by a war of aggression, launched by the Arab states against Israel in 1947 and 1948. Let there be no mistake. If there had been no war against Israel, with its consequent harvest of bloodshed, misery, panic and flight, there would be no problem of Arab refugees today.
Once you determine the responsibility for that war, you have determined the responsibility for the refugee problem. Nothing in the history of our generation is clearer or less controversial than the initiative of Arab governments for the conflict out of which the refugee tragedy emerged.
The origins of that conflict are clearly defined by the confessions of Arab governments themselves: "This will be a war of extermination," declared the secretary-general of the Arab League speaking for the governments of six Arab states, "it will be a momentous massacre to be spoken of like the Mongolian massacre and the Crusades."
The assault began on the last day of November 1947. From then until the expiration of the British Mandate in May 1948 the Arab states, in concert with Palestine Arab leaders, plunged the land into turmoil and chaos. On the day of Israel's Declaration of Independence, the armed forces of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, supported by contingents from Saudi Arabia and the Yemen, crossed their frontiers and marched against Israel.
The perils which then confronted our community; the danger which darkened every life and home; and the successful repulse of the assault and the emergence of Israel into the life of the world community are all chapters of past history, gone but not forgotten. But the traces of that conflict still remain deeply inscribed upon our region's life. Caught up in the havoc and tension of war; demoralized by the flight of their leaders; urged on by irresponsible promises that they would return to inherit the spoils of Israel's destruction, hundreds of thousands of Arabs sought the shelter of Arab lands.
A survey by an international body in 1957 described these violent events in the following terms: "As early as the first months of 1948 the Arab League issued orders exhorting the people to seek a temporary refuge in neighboring countries, later to return to their abodes in the wake of the victorious Arab armies and obtain their share of abandoned Jewish property" (Research Group for European Migration Problems Bulletin, Vol. V, No. 1, 1957).
Contemporary statements by Arab leaders fully confirm this version. On 16 August 1948 Msgr. George Hakini, the Greek Catholic Archbishop of Galilee, recalled: "The refugees had been confident that their absence from Palestine would not last long; that they would return within a few days [or] within a week or two; their leaders had promised them that the Arab armies would crush the 'Zionist gangs' very quickly and that there would be no need for panic or fear of a long exile."
A month later, on 15 September 1948, Emile Ghoury, who had been the secretary of the Arab Higher Committee at the time of the Arab invasion of Israel, declared: "I do not want to impugn anyone but only to help the refugees. The fact that there are these refugees is the direct consequence of the action of the Arab states in opposing partition and the Jewish state. The Arab states agreed upon this policy unanimously and they must share in the solution of the problem."
No less compelling than these avowals by Arab leaders are the judgments of United Nations organs. In April 1948, when the flight of the refugees was in full swing, the United Nations Palestine Commission inscribed its verdict on the tablets of history:
"Arab opposition to the plan of the Assembly of 29 November 1947 has taken the form of organized efforts by strong Arab elements, both inside and outside Palestine, to prevent its implementation and to thwart its objectives by threats and acts of violence, including repeated armed incursions into Palestine territory. The Commission has had to report to the Security Council that powerful Arab interests, both inside and outside Palestine, are defying the resolution of' the General Assembly and are engaged in a deliberate effort to alter by force the settlement envisaged therein."