The British presence in Palestine had become untenable following the end of the Second World War, and so it sought to end its administrative mandate there. It turned to the newly-formed United Nations to work out a Plan of Partition. This was put to a vote of the General Assembly on 29 November, and was supposed to lead independent Arab and Jewish states.
The Jewish community in Palestine accepted the plan. The Arabs rejected it. And so the war broke into the open, and the plan was never applied.
The British Mandate ended at midnight on 14 May, 1948. On that last day, the Jewish People’s Council in Tel Aviv declared the birth of modern Israel. The Israelis called the war one of independence, while the Arabs coined the term “al-Nakba” (The Disaster). There were now more than 600,000 Jews living here, immigrants and settlers, compared with some one and a quarter million Arabs.
The Arabs who, one way or another, would leave their land, were eventually estimated to number some 750,000. Hundreds of their villages were destroyed.
The refugees were not allowed back. The Haganah and Irgun Jewish militias made certain. Refugee camps grew up in the surrounding countries.
Many made their way to Jordan, the only country that gave them a passport, and others to Lebanon.
The camps developed a look of permanent displacement, like Al Jalazone, a town where today around 11,000 people live, in the rocky West Bank. Over the years, there were more wars, and Israel grew in size and strength. The refugees learned the frustration of international power politics, far beyond the agonised borders.
Ibrahim Mahmud was just 17 when he left his home in Al Lod. Now he is 83.
He said: “We went up to the mountains and stayed there for four or five nights. People were like sheep without a shepherd. Then we went to Jamala and Deir Amara and Beit Tilo, and then to Akabat Jaber.”
Decades of sorrow have not weakened the elder’s ambition: “I swear to God we will return, we have to, Jews or no Jews. Whatever: it is America that has kept us out.”