Starting a civil war in 1947 after the Arabs rejected the United Nations Partition Plan, Palestinian Arabs became belligerents in the conflict. Rather than accept a Jewish state after five-and-a-half months of warfare, Palestinian Arabs called upon their brethren from seven surrounding countries to invade and crush the nascent Jewish state.
The Arab League's April 10, 1948 decision to invade on May 14 to "save Palestine,"as the British Mandate ended, marked a watershed event, for it changed the rules of the conflict. Accordingly, Israel bears no moral responsibility for deliberately banishing Palestinian Arabs in order to "consolidate defense arrangements" in strategic areas, as the Jewish people organized to battle seven well-equipped and well-trained aggressor armies. With the pending invasion following Israel's declaration of independence, it is no exaggeration to say the new Jewish state's very existence hung in the balance.
The new Jewish state found it imperative to eliminate all potential pockets of Arab resistance in key areas if it was to survive. Dislodging all Arab inhabitants from sensitive areas in proximity to Jewish settlements, establishing territorial continuity between blocs under Jewish control, and ensuring control of key transportation arteries were a military necessity. As May 14 approached, Israel could not afford to risk a Fifth Column at its rear to add to all other aspects of its militarily inferior situation. The cost of defeat was hammered home by a stream of dire warnings from Arab capitals, with perhaps the most chilling for Israel coming from Jamal Al-Husayni as vice-chairmanof the Arab Higher Committee [AHC], who publicly declared:
"The Arabs have taken into their own hands, the Final Solution of the Jewish problem. The problem will be solved only in blood and fire. The Jews will be driven out."
Three years after world Jewry had lost a third of its people in the Holocaust, Israelis were not about to test whether Al-Husayni's words were merely rhetoric or a real threat, and so they prepared for the worst.
The cost to Israel to halt the Arab onslaught and gain the upper hand was horrendous. During the first four weeks following the Arab invasion, 1,600 Israelis were killed – a quarter of all the war's casualties. It was as if on a per capita basis the U.S. military lost 80,000 soldiers in Iraq in one month.
Objectively, the claim that Palestinian Arabs were innocent bystanders ignores the facts: The sides in the conflict were not two rival empires – outsiders, or rival caliphs. It was a conflict between two national or ethnic groups. Palestinian Arabs represented one side in the conflict – and in fact the side responsible for starting the war.
The Palestinians were responsible for escalating the war – a move that cost the Jews thousands of lives and Palestinians their homes. By their own behavior, Palestinians assumed the role of belligerents in the conflict, invalidating any claim to be hapless victims. Explains scholar Benny Morris:
"One of the characteristics of the Palestinian national movement has been the Palestinians' view of themselves as perpetual victims of others: Ottoman Turks, British officials, Zionists, Americans – and never to appreciate that they are, at least in large part, victims of their own mistakes and iniquities."
The United Nations Charter, international law, humanitarian law, and conventions such as the 1949 Geneva Convention for the Protection of Victims of War make no mention of a "Right of Return." The claim of innocent refugee status does not apply.