Initiative Jachad

Die Situation der Palästinenser in Ägypten


For more than a century, there was no real distinction between Egyptian residents and those along the coast up to and including Jaffa. Both were Muslims and subjects of the Ottoman Sultan. According to researcher Oroub El-Abed, the two groups were connected by commerce, mutual immigration and marriage:

A considerable number of Egyptians also lived in Palestine, particularly the Jaffa region. The commercial back and forth served to strengthen social networks linking the two peoples. In the northern and eastern parts of Egypt, intermarriage between Palestinians and Egyptians had been common since the beginning of the 20th century.[1]

Records from the end of 1949 state that some 202,000 refugees arrived in the Gaza Strip from Jaffa, Beer Sheva and Ashkelon.[2] This number may be too high, because the local poor also joined the rolls to receive relief. In those years, UN resolutions mentioned return as one of only a number of options for the Palestinian refugees. Paradoxially, the Arab world rejected even return, since this would mean formal recognition of the partition plan. The Arab world would only accept return which would effectively annul the partition of the territory of Mandatory Palestine.

In the wake of disputes among Arab League members, an “All Palestine Government” was established in September 1948, which declared to the UN the establishment of a government over all the territory of former Mandatory Palestine.[3] This decision derived from the rivalry between Jordan and other Arab countries, primarily Egypt. The decision ignored reality on the ground, the UN Partition Plan and the war that was being conducted at the time. It was a clear sign of political blindness on the Arab side, adopting decisions based on internal rivalries or pressures from the Mufti, rather than on political foresight which would understand the need for a settlement and arrangements for the refugees. The government sat in Gaza and was under Egyptian sponsorship. It was headed by Ahmed Hilmi Pasha, who transferred his loyalty from Jordanian King Abdallah to Egypt and the Mufti. This government had no importance or real authority, and it died an unmourned death after a decade.[4]

All of these political maneuverings did nothing to help the Palestinian refugees in Egypt. Egypt did not want to absorb them as equal citizen, or really do anything to solve the problem. There were no lack of suggested solutions – Egypt simply wasn’t interested. UN resolutions had mentioned the possibility of resettlement, but already in October 1950, Egypt told the UN that they could not absorb the Palestinians “in view of the fact that Egypt was densely populated”.[5] It similarly rejected the resettling of 150,000 refugees in Libya.[6] Many of the Palestinians who had fled in early stages of the war, and were already deep inside Egypt, were forced to move to the growing concentration camp in the Gaza strip. All attempts at resettlement were shot down by the Arab states.

The Strip became a closed camp. It was almost impossible to leave the strip. Both original and newcoming Gazans were subject to serious restrictions in the field of employment, education and other fields. Every night there was a curfew. The only field in which Egypt invested as much as it could was viciously anti-Jewish incitement reading material.

American journalist Martha Gellhorn visited the Palestinian refugee camps in 1962. She also reached the Strip. Gellhorn published a series of articles about the experience.[7] She describes the bureaucratic obstacle course to gain entry to the strip, as well as the days of waiting in Cairo. She also describes the stark contrast between the friendly attitude of the Egyptian clerks and the hatred bellowing from Egyptian propaganda. “The Gaza Strip is not a hell hole, not a visible disaster,” she wrote, “It is worse; it is a jail…the Egyptian government is the jailer.” She describes a harsh military regime, with the entire Palestinian elite spouting Nasserist slogans. Thus, for instance, “a trickle of refugees, who can prove they have jobs elsewhere, are granted exit visas.” The only thing the Egyptians gave the Palestinians was hate propaganda.

This is not the only testimony from those years. In 1966, a Saudi paper published a letter by one of the residents of the strip:

I would be happy if the Strip were conquered by Israel. Then at least we would know that he who dishonors us, harms us and tortures us – is the Zionist oppressor, Ben-Gurion, and not an Arab named Gamal Abdel Nasser. The Jews under Hitler didn’t suffer as we suffer under Nasser. To leave to Cairo or Alexandria or other cities, you have to go through a series of tortures.[8]





[1] Oroub El-Abed, Unprotected: Palestinians in Egypt since 1948, Washington: Institute for Palestine Studies, 2009, p. 11.

[2] <>

[3] Announcement to UN on the formation of an All-Palestine Government:


[4] Avi Shlaim, “The Rise and Fall of the All-Palestine Government in Gaza”, Journal of Palestine Studies 20 (1990), p. 37-53.

[5] See Chapter III, Article 26 of the following UN report:

[6] See: as well as:

Terence Prittie, “Middle East Refugees” cited in Michael Curtis et al., The Palestinians, Transaction Books 1975, p. 52.

[7] <>

[8] Quote appears in speech of Israel ambassador to the UN, Chaim Herzog, on March 26, 1976, Article 87: <>

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