Nakba Denial: The Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Israel

Media Briefs
June 03, 2021


The Palestinian catastrophe, known as Nakba, has never been recognized by Israel. The facts based on well-documented historical evidence, plus thousands of Palestinian witnesses and testimonies, confirm that the Nakba existed and consisted of major ethnic cleansing operations, followed by Israeli policies and laws to secure Jewish supremacy. To that end, Israel has adopted a propagandistic approach aimed at blaming the victim. The Nakba continues today with Israel’s grabbing of Palestinian lands and properties while expelling and preventing the right of Palestine’s refugees to return.

Palestinians worldwide continue suffering the consequences of the Nakba, including the Palestinian citizens of Israel, the descendants of around 156,000 Palestinians that managed to stay within the borders of what became the State of Israel. Today they make up about 1.8 million people, comprising over 20% of Israel’s population. Approximately 300,000[1] of them are Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). These Palestinians were forcibly displaced from their original villages but managed to stay within the borders of the newly created state.

This brief explains part of their reality and how this is part of Israel's institutionalized system of discrimination and domination aimed at preventing the fulfillment of Palestinian rights.


Palestinian Refugees inside Israel

Even before the creation of Israel, the Zionist leadership had already approved a massive ethnic cleansing plan of Palestinians. This explains how almost half of the total number of Palestine’s refugees from 1948 were forcibly displaced before 14 May, meaning that this took place while the British Mandate was still responsible for their security.

Such plans focused on vast areas with a robust Palestinian presence, including the Jerusalem – Jaffa Road, the coastal area until Akka, and the bordering areas in the Upper and Lower Galilee. In the south, in the Naqab desert, Israel’s policies aimed at first making pockets for Bedouin Palestinians, with many of them becoming refugees. Cities, towns, and villages, one after one, fell due to massacres and terrorist attacks that paved the road for Israeli military orders ensuring ethnic cleansing.

In this scenario of panic and chaos, the Palestinian refugees were moving around the country, finding refuge wherever possible. By the end of the war, many were still inside what became Israel yet not in their homes.  Since then, Israel took several steps to forbid their return, including the destruction of their homes, as was the case with at least 418 Palestinian villages. 

Many others, such as the notable cases of Iqrit and Kufr Bir’im, were ordered to “temporarily” leave their villages to secure refuge in a nearby place. But “temporary” became permanent. Today they represent a significant part of those forcibly displaced inside Israel. They are considered to be IDPs.


The Take Over of Palestinian Lands and Properties

The Palestinians who stayed on their land following the Nakba of 1948 were set under Israel’s oppressive military rule between 1948 and 1966.  In 1952, the Israeli parliament approved the Absentee Property Law[2] allowing the takeover of lands and properties from the Palestinians that Israel considered “absentees.” Among them, people that remained as internal refugees, who couldn't return to their homes and properties because of Israel’s military force. In other words, Israel forcibly displaced people prevented their return, and finally considered them “absentees” to take over what was rightfully theirs. In 1953, the Israeli parliament also approved the “Land Acquisition Law”, which allowed them to expropriate around 1.2 million dunums from the Palestinian population in Israel[3].

In addition to the absentee property, there were vast extensions of land confiscated for the development of Jewish towns. At the same time, other areas, mainly those with destroyed Palestinian villages, were declared closed military zones to prevent the return of the IDPs. Such lands were, in some cases, acquired by the Jewish National Fund (JNF).

In 1951 a JNF official stated before the 23rd congress of the World Zionist Organization that the JNF

“will redeem the lands and will turn them over to the Jewish people – to the people and not to the state, which in the current composition of the population cannot be an adequate guarantor of Jewish ownership.”

The JNF’s Mandate is to develop or lease land to Jews only[4] (the land “shall be held as the inalienable property of the Jewish people”[5]). In other words, the JNF lands, in agreement with the state, banned access to the Palestinian citizens of Israel. 

Palestinian refugee property was included in the database made by the Palestine Conciliation Commission (PCC). Created under UN Resolution 194, the PCC was composed of the United States, France, and Turkey, and it was not able to fulfill its mandate. Yet, it left a database that includes some 5.5 million dunums of privately-owned Palestinian land inside the State of Israel (excluding the Naqab desert). This number includes land taken from Palestinian citizens of Israel (IDPs).

The dominant system established by Israel makes it impossible for Palestinian citizens to reclaim their private property. On the other hand, the State of Israel and its judicial system have backed calls of Zionist groups to “reclaim” land allegedly owned before 1948 by Jews, including in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt)[6]. This is just a glimpse into the institutionalized discrimination suffered by Palestinian citizens of Israel. 


Israel’s Obligations Under International Law

Since its creation in 1948, Israel has constantly refused to abide by its obligations under the UN Charter, UN resolutions, and international agreements. This has also been the case with the Palestinian population as Israel’s central policies since 1948 have been about limiting their access to land and natural resources while putting obstacles for their nationality status, including with regards to family reunification (their relatives that became refugees in 1948 and during the few years after the Nakba[7]).

With regards to the IDPs, in the early 1950s, Israel took over the file from UNRWA. It presented some programs of “resettlement,” yet they were largely insufficient and questioned by Palestinian national leaders in Israel, including the fact that many of them were based on either using refugee property or taking land from other Palestinian villages[8]. In other words, Israel never took a concrete step to solve the issue of IDPs in a lasting manner.

On the contrary, Israel used the years of “military rule” over their Palestinian population to set several laws that would institutionalize the discrimination against them, including preventing their return. The nature of such laws, from nationality to the infamous “Absentee Property Law,” follows a clear pattern to create Jewish supremacy over the indigenous Palestinian population and certainly contradicts the spirit of several international documents and conventions, including the UN Charter, the international declaration of Human Rights and the Rome Statute, among others.

The UN Declaration on Minorities explicitly says that:

“States shall take measures where required to ensure that persons belonging to minorities may exercise fully and effectively all their human rights and fundamental freedoms without any discrimination and in full equality before the law.”

IDPs are entitled to their rights just like any other Palestinian refugee, including the right to return, restitution, and compensation. 


Mobilizing to Reclaim Their Rights

From the very beginning, the Palestinian victims of internal displacement made their case to the authorities of the State of Israel, from letters to ministers to legal cases in Israeli courts. In the two particular cases of Iqrit and Kufr Bir’im villages, their villagers obtained a ruling from the Israeli Supreme Court in 1951 allowing them to return to their homes[9]. The Israeli government prevented the implementation of the resolution and advanced towards the demolition of both villages. Iqrit, with a large Greek Catholic population, was bombarded on Christmas day 1951, with its villagers witnessing the destruction from a nearby mountain[10].

But the Iqrit bombardment was not the end of their struggle. People from dozens of villagers got organized to reclaim their properties and rights, including the establishment of joint organizations that led to the creation of the Association for the Defense of the Rights of Internally Displaced Palestinians (ADRID), which calls upon the Israeli government to implement UN resolution 194 allowing refugees to go back to their homes. The organization's yearly “Return March” is about visiting their villages of origin as well as holding conferences on IDPs. They have also cooperated with members of the Israeli Parliament representing Palestinian parties regarding the IDPs issue[11].

The work of ADRID and tens of local organizations, including Al Damoun, Hittin, Safuriya, al-Ghabsiyya, Iqrit, and Kufr Bir’im, continued to highlight the plight of the IDPs. Their activities go from summer camps to familiarize the younger generations with their history to political lobbying. For example, a delegation from Iqrit met Pope Francis during his visit to Palestine (2014) to present the case of the IDPs[12]


Iqrit and Kufr Bir’am

While the villages of Iqrit and Bir’am represent only a fraction of the overall number of IDPs in Israel, their cases became iconic to the cause of return and restitution due to their historical background, broken promises, and legal procedures. The story of both villages tells about the racism upon which the State of Israel has based its policies towards the Palestinian people, including its citizens.

Both villages were occupied between 31 October and 4 November 1948, as part of “Operation Hiram,” one of several operations of the Dalet Plan aimed at ethnically cleansed vast areas of Palestine. Elders from the villages met the Israeli officers in charge that requested the villagers to leave for “two weeks” for “security reasons.” The villagers agreed, but Israel never fulfilled its promise, with those 14 days being turned into over seventy years.

The villagers were supposed to be temporarily resettled in the area nearby their homes, including mainly Jish (for Kufr Bir’im) and Rameh (Iqrit). As time went through, they organized themselves and mobilized support from wherever they could, including from the Holy See. The cases were eventually taken to the Israeli judicial system with the Israeli Supreme Court ruling on 31 July 1951 that there was “no legal impediment to the indigenous Palestinians returning to their village.”

Yet, the Israeli government and its army were not willing to implement the decision. The villagers kept appealing in Israeli courts to no avail. To prevent their return, several of them ended up witnessing how the villages were blown up beginning by Christmas Day 1951 in the case of Iqrit. The lands where the villages stood were declared “closed military zones” and other vast percentages were given to Jewish communities established in the area after the Nakba. 

But the struggle for return did not end with the bombardments and has continued generation after generation until today. With the only standing buildings in both villages being their churches and cemeteries, over the years, the IDPs began to challenge Israeli restrictions and celebrate their religious and social events in their villages, with Christmas and Easter being special occasions to gather the vast majority of the IDPs in one place. The activities of their local committees, including summer camps and guided tours of the villages, have managed to keep their cause alive.

Overall, there are only two explanations for why the State of Israel has to perpetuate this injustice: they don’t want to set a precedent that returning is indeed viable and to emphasize the racist laws aimed at having Jewish supremacy over the Palestinian citizens of Israel. 



Since its inception, Israel has been trying to strip the Palestinian citizens of Israel their national identity, from calling them “Israeli Arabs” to imposing an educational curriculum that ignores the Palestinian people as a whole, including the Nakba and its consequences.

The case of the IDPs highlights the racist and discriminatory nature of Israeli policies against all the Palestinian people, including their own citizens. No matter the Israeli attempts to appear as a “liberal, western democracy” that respects the values of  "democracy, the rule of law and human rights”, the institutionalized discrimination against its Palestinian citizens should serve as a reminder of the urgency to put an end to criminal policies of Apartheid and persecution[13]

The Nakba is an ongoing reality. Implementing the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, including the Palestinian citizens of Israel, remains the main basis for achieving a just and lasting peace between Israel, Palestine, and the rest of the region.


[1] While there are no exact figures, this is an approximation based on the figures provided by UNRWA and the ICRC which mentioned around 30,000 to 40,000 refugees in Israel by 1949. More information can be found in Bokae’e, Nihad (2003) Palestinian Internally Displaced Persons inside Israel: Challenging the Solid Structures. Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights: Bethlehem. Available at Palestinian.IDPs.pdf (, last accessed on 22 April 2021.

[2] Adalah “Absentees’ Property Law” available at Absentees’ Property Law - Adalah last accessed on 22 April 2021.

[3] Adalah “Land Acquisition Law” available at Land Acquisition Law (Actions and Compensation) - Adalah last accessed on 11 May 2021.

[4] Human Rights Watch (2008) “Discrimination in Land Allocation and Access” available at Off the Map: Land and Housing Rights Violations in Israel's Unrecognized Bedouin Villages: IV. Discrimination in Land Allocation and Access ( last accessed on 22 Apri 2021.

[5] Quigley, John (1990) Palestine and Israel: A Challenge to Justice. Duke University Press: London. P 22.

[6] See PLO NAD “From Qatamon to Sheikh Jarrah: Israel’s Theft of Palestinian Properties in Jerusalem” available at From Qatamon to Sheikh Jarrah: Israel's Theft of Palestinian Properties in Jerusalem|NAD last accessed on 22 April 2021.

[7] Several Palestinians were forcibly displaced after the signature of the Armistice agreements in 1949.

[8] Bokae’e, Nihad (2003) Palestinian Internally Displaced Persons inside Israel: Challenging the Solid Structures. Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights: Bethlehem. Available at Palestinian.IDPs.pdf ( last accessed on 22 April 2021.

[9] The Guardian (15 May 2013) “Return to Iqrit: how one Palestinian village is being reborn” available at Return to Iqrit: how one Palestinian village is being reborn | Israel | The Guardian last accessed on 27 April 2021.

[10] Chacour, Elias (1984) Blood Brothers. Baker Books: Michigan.

[11] Bokae’e, Nihad (2003) Palestinian Internally Displaced Persons inside Israel: Challenging the Solid Structures. Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights: Bethlehem. Available at Palestinian.IDPs.pdf ( last accessed on 22 April 2021.

[12] DW “Pope makes gesture of solidarity in West Bank” available at Pope makes gesture of solidarity in West Bank | World| Breaking news and perspectives from around the globe | DW | 25.05.2014 last accessed on 27 Apri 2021.

[13] Human Rights Watch “Abusive Israeli Policies Constitute Crimes of Apartheid, Persecution: Crimes Against Humanity Should Trigger Action to End Repression of Palestinian” available at Abusive Israeli Policies Constitute Crimes of Apartheid, Persecution | Human Rights Watch ( last accessed on 27 April 2021.

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