I found an article by Matt Giwer saying that the cause of the Israeli-Arab war is that

The Jews, [...] did in fact steal the land from the Palestinians. They actually bought and paid for at most 9% of it. In 1948 they took over 73% of it.

Did Israel own the lands it occupied in 1948, according to international law? Is the 73% figure correct?

  • 1
    Possible duplicate: skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/13777/…
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Jul 22, 2014 at 17:45
  • 34
    PAY ATTENTION: Diatribes about different points of view on this very contentious issue are going to be shut down. Focus on writing answers that describe the diatribe instead of taking a position; make sure you have plenty of strong, unbiased sources to support your answer; strictly only use comments for improving the question and not debating.
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Jul 22, 2014 at 17:49
  • 12
    The person making the claim is a holocaust denier. This doesn't mean that everything he says is false, but it hardly seems worthwhile evaluating statements made by such a person, unless he has a large following.
    – Golden Cuy
    Commented Aug 9, 2014 at 14:12
  • 4
    @Sklivvz - on one hand, thanks! you have significantly improved the question (I still have some issues with it, like notability as per Andrew Grimm's comment, but at least it is now 100% consistent). However, the problem arises that NEITHER of the 2 answers are now valid, as they both are mostly/entirely about post-1967 occupied territories; and don't in any way address the 1948 situation. I'll try to radically adjust mine to the new wording, but I feel that georgechalhoub's is 100% inapplicable to new version as well.
    – user5341
    Commented Aug 10, 2014 at 23:31
  • 4
    I don't interpret the claim as "the state of Israel" stealing land from "the state of Palestine" (which did not exist), but rather as Jewish settlers driving away a native Palestinian population (1949).
    – gerrit
    Commented Aug 13, 2014 at 19:02

3 Answers 3


Did Zionists “take over” 73% of their land from Palestinians?

"Take over" is a bit vague, and subject to interpretation. The situation is muddled enough that it is not really valid to say "yes" or "no" to that objectively.

As the question currently focuses on 1948, let's look at the immediate history lead up to, and following that period.

In 1947, the United Nations passed Resolution 181, which outlined the establishment of a legally recognized Independant Arab State as well as the state of Israel.

The Palestinian Arabs refused to acknowledge or comply with Resolution 181:

p. 396 The immediate trigger of the 1948 War was the November 1947 UN partition resolution. … The Palestinian Arabs, along with the rest of the Arab world, said a flat “no”… The Arabs refused to accept the establishment of a Jewish state in any part of Palestine. And, consistently with that “no,” the Palestinian Arabs, in November–December 1947, and the Arab states in May 1948, launched hostilities to scupper the resolution’s implementation.

Benny Morris (2008). 1948: a history of the first Arab-Israeli war

The land Israel declared the state of Israel territory was allocated to them by a UN-passed agreement. Arguably, they were given the initial land, rather than taking it from the Palestinians (and since the Palestinian Arabs rejected the resolution that would grant them their own recognized independent state, the Palestinian independent state did not come into existence).

After the Arab-Israeli war, the armistice agreements increased the volume of land held by Israel, but did not give them ownership. Again, "take over" is vague and arguable in this case.

In 1948 they took over 73% of it.


The division that was supposed to occur according to Resolution 181 would have resulted in the Jewish State comprising roughly 5,500 square miles, or about 56 percent of Palestine. The Arab State was to be 4,500 square miles. Source.

While that source could be argued as biased, anti-zionist sources agree with the division being roughly 56% allocated to the Israelis, and 44% allocated to the Arabs.

In 1949, Israel wound up with control over a significantly larger area than was outlined in the 1947 UN plan, but that was the result of the armistice agreements signed by the aggressor Arab states who had attacked Israel on the day it was formed. Israel did not own this additional land, as the agreements were quite specific that the borders were temporary.

The armistice agreements were intended to serve only as interim agreements until replaced by permanent peace treaties, but no peace treaties were actually signed until decades later.

Did Israel own the lands it occupied in 1948, according to international law?

No, not really. However, the concept of international law simply did not apply to the situation in 1948.

International law applies between nations and states, and the participation of members is generally consensual. Consent is typically provided through the signing of treaties, and these treaties grant rights to International Courts to provide rulings in areas of dispute. There are numerous international bodies created by treaties adjudicating on legal issues where they may have jurisdiction. The only one claiming universal jurisdiction is the United Nations Security Council.

The UK had terminated their official oversight of the area by declaring the end of Mandatory Palestone on May 14, 1948, and therefore no international laws applying to the UK were applicable from that date, unless a new governing state or nation claiming control of part or all of the region were to sign a reciprocal treaty.

As the newly-founded state of Israel had signed no treaties with other nations regarding land-ownership.

Similarly, the Palestinian Arabs had signed no such treaties.

So, at this point, no international law applied.

Israel was recognized as a member state of the United Nations on May 11, 1949.

However, even then the legal territory was not defined. In September of 1949, the United Nations Concilliation Committee for Palestine put forth a number of recommendations regarding the establishment of a permanent regime in the area:

  1. The Commission has drawn up a plan which, in its opinion,can be applied in the present circumstances. This should not, however, be interpreted as in any way prejudging the final settlement of the territorial question in Palestine. It is the considered opinion of the Commission that the provisions of the proposed Instrument are sufficiently flexible to make it possible for the Instrument, with certain modifications, to be applied to any territorial situation that might emerge from the final settlement of the Palestine problem, and that it can be adopted by the General Assembly at its forthcoming session if the Assembly thinks fit.

  2. In view of the fact that the question of the demarcation line between the Arab and Jewish zones of the area of Jerusalem (article 2) is intimately connected with the final settlement of the Palestine problem, the Commission has not deemed it advisable for the present to make any proposal as to the actual demarcation line. The Commission believes that the Instrument can be put into effect with the present armistice line as a provisional demarcation line, without prejudice to the establishment of a definitive line at a later stage.

(Emphasis mine).

So, to summarize: No, the Jews did not take 73% of their land from the Palestinians. No, they did not legally own the land they occupied in the time period, but neither did the Palestinian Arabs or anyone else, as they were disputed territories not yet covered by international treaties or laws.

  • 2
    You conflate property ownership with political territorial sovereignty. The question is about the former, and whether it was paid for. Commented Mar 14, 2018 at 3:49
  • @KeithMcClary take a look at my first sentence. Then note that the question underwent many major revisions. At the time I answered, the focus was on whether international law supported Israeli takeover of the land. Also note that the question asks whether Israel owns the land, not individual Israeli citizens.
    – Beofett
    Commented Mar 14, 2018 at 10:53

In 1947, the United Nations voted to partition British Palestine Mandate territory, by allotting 55% to the Jewish population and 45% to the Arab population.(1). The Palestinian Arabs and surrounding Arab states rejected the division of the land on which they had settled and lived for years.(2) (in the interest of fairness Jews were also settled and lived in that land for centuries), and the partition as designed by the UN was not implemented (3). With the Mandate 'wind-down' approaching, armed conflict between elements of the Arab and Jewish populations increased rapidly(4)

In 1948, the Jewish Agency officially announced the establishment of the State of Israel on the territory as defined by the partition plan. 5 Rejecting that fact, the armies of the five neighbouring Arab states attacked Israel. The Israeli forces defeated the attacking Arab armies and in the process gained more land.(6)

In 1949, Israel controlled 77% of the land (up from 55% as per the partition plan before the Arab states attacked): all sectors except the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. 7During these events more than half of Palestine’s native Arab population fled (mostly under urging from neighbouring Arab leaders), 531 villages were destroyed, and eleven urban neighbourhoods were emptied of their inhabitants. (8). 700,000 Palestinian Arab refugees resulted from these actions. 9


  1. Data from the Report of UNSCOP: 3 September 1947: CHAPTER 4: A COMMENTARY ON PARTITION

  2. Benny Morris (2008). 1948: a history of the first Arab-Israeli war. Yale University Press. pp. 66, 67, 72. Retrieved 24 July 2013. " p.66, at 1946 "The League demanded independence for Palestine as a “unitary” state, with an Arab majority and minority rights for the Jews." ; p.67, at 1947 "The League’s Political Committee met in Sofar, Lebanon, on 16–19 September, and urged the Palestine Arabs to fight partition, which it called “aggression,” “without mercy.” The League promised them, in line with Bludan, assistance “in manpower, money and equipment” should the United Nations endorse partition." ; p. 72, at Dec 1947 "The League vowed, in very general language, “to try to stymie the partition plan and prevent the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine"

  3. Itzhak Galnoor (1995). The Partition of Palestine: Decision Crossroads in the Zionist Movement. SUNY Press. pp. 289–. ISBN 978-0-7914-2193-2. Retrieved 3 July 2012.

  4. Benny Morris, Righteous Victims (Vintage Books, 2001), 196-214; John Quigley, The Case For Palestine, An International Law Perspective, Revised and Updated (Duke University Press, 2005) 39-44, 57-65

  5. The Question of Palestine and the United Nations, (U.N., 2008), 9, 10

  6. John Quigley, The Case For Palestine, An International Law Perspective, Revised and Updated (Duke University Press, 2005) 39-44, 57-65; see also, Ari Shavit, My Promised Land, (Spiegel & Grau, 2013), 273-333 (For an example of the displacement, dispossession and murder of Palestinians in Lydda, July 1948)

  7. John Quigley, The Case For Palestine, An International Law Perspective, Revised and Updated (Duke University Press, 2005) 89; see also, Avi Shlaim, The Iron Wall, (W.W. Norton & Company, 2001), 47 (“Israel had expanded its territory from 55 percent of Mandatory Palestine allocated to it by the United Nations to 79 percent.”); see also, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1949_Armistice_Agreements

  8. Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, (One World Publications, 2008), xii-xiii.

  9. The United Nations and the Palestinian Refugees, (UNRWA, January 2007), 2, 6; ; see also, http://www.unrwa.org/palestine-refugees, see also, Avi Shlaim, The Iron Wall, (W.W. Norton & Company, 2001), 54; Rabbi Michael Lerner, Embracing Israel/Palestine, (Tikkun Books, 2012), 123-139.

  • 1
    I've taken the original, full answer, and restricted to the relevant "194x" bullet points to make this an answer to the question. I have removed all the comments as obsolete.
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Aug 13, 2014 at 12:34
  • 7
    The answer still does not address the "international law" portion of the question, which seems to be the crux of the new wording of the question. I also feel the current phrasing is misleading, as it implies that Israel just started arbitrarily attacking Palestinians, and completely omits the concerted attacks by multiple Arab nations that precipitated the conflict. It also deliberately conflates control of territory that was explicitly, under the agreed-upon armistices, not ownership, with "gain[ing] more Palestinian land". This is deeply biased, and addresses the question poorly, at best
    – Beofett
    Commented Aug 13, 2014 at 17:05
  • 6
    Aside. Reading here and elsewhere, you could get the impression that the UN pulled the partition plan out of a hat. Just skimming the UNSCOP report (cited 1 above) shows that a heck of a lot of thought and research went into it. (Beware of thinking our predecessors were stupid...)
    – Benjol
    Commented Aug 14, 2014 at 7:19

Other answers took care of "in 1948 they took over 73% of it." I would like to address the "The Jews, [...] did in fact steal the land from the Palestinians. They actually bought and paid for at most 9% of it." part which is true.

Although Estimaties of the total volume of land that Jews had purchased by 15 May 1948 are complicated by illegal and unregistered land transfers, as well as by the lack of data on land concessions from the Palestine administration after 31 March 1936.

According to Avneri, Jews held 1,850,000 dunams (1,850 km2) of land in 1947, or 6.94% of the total.

source:Avneri, Aryeh L. (1984). The Claim of Dispossession: Jewish Land-Settlement and the Arabs, 1878–1948., p. 224 Transaction Publishers. ISBN 978-0-87855-964-0.

Stein gives the estimate of 2,000,000 dunams (2,000 km2) as of May 1948, or 7.51% of the total

source: Stein, Kenneth W. (1987) [Original in 1984]. The Land Question in Palestine, 1917–1939., pp. 3–4, 247 University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 978-0-8078-4178-5.

This is a map showing Jewish-owned regions in Palestine as of 1947 in blue, constituting 6% of the total land area, of which more than half was held by the JNF and PICA. The Jewish population had increased from 83,790 in 1922 to 608,000 in 1946. By Oncenawhile, Dank Chicken - http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/historical/israel_hist_1973.jpg, http://booksand-ebooks.com/political-commentary/israel-palestine-land-division, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24952459

By Oncenawhile, Dank Chicken - http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/historical/israel_hist_1973.jpg, http://booksand-ebooks.com/political-commentary/israel-palestine-land-division, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24952459

and this is a map of landownership by district:

source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mandatory_Palestine#/media/File:Palestine_Land_ownership_by_sub-district_(1945).jpg

source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mandatory_Palestine#/media/File:Palestine_Land_ownership_by_sub-district_(1945).jpg

alternative source: https://unispal.un.org/DPA/DPR/unispal.nsf/dcb71e2bf9f2dca585256cef0073ed5d/a73996728ba8b94785256d560060cd1a?OpenDocument - Evargalo

after the 1948, Israel passed a series of laws called The 'Absentees Property Law' which allowed Israel to takeover arab-owned land.

As a result, two million dunams were confiscated and given to the custodian, who later transferred the land to the development authority. This law created the novel citizenship category of "present absentees" (nifkadim nohahim), persons present at the time but considered absent for the purpose of the law. These Israeli Arabs enjoyed all civil rights-including the right to vote in the Knesset elections-except one: the right to use and dispose of their property. About 30,000-35,000 Palestinians became "present absentees".[27]

According to Simha Flapan,[28] "a detailed account of exactly how abandoned Arab property assisted in the absorption of the new immigrants was prepared by Joseph Schechtman":

It is difficult to overestimate the tremendous role this lot of abandoned Arab property has played in the settlement of hundreds of thousands of Jewish immigrants who have reached Israel since the proclamation of the state in May 1948. Forty-seven new rural settlements established on the sites of abandoned Arab villages had by October 1949 already absorbed 25,255 new immigrants. By the spring of 1950 over 1 million dunams had been leased by the custodian to Jewish settlements and individual farmers for the raising of grain crops.

Large tracts of land belonging to Arab absentees have also been leased to Jewish settlers, old and new, for the raising of vegetables. In the south alone, 15,000 dunams of vineyards and fruit trees have been leased to cooperative settlements; a similar area has been rented by the Yemenites Association, the Farmers Association, and the Soldiers Settlement and Rehabilitation Board. This has saved the Jewish Agency and the government millions of dollars. While the average cost of establishing an immigrant family in a new settlement was from $7,500 to $9,000, the cost in abandoned Arab villages did not exceed $1,500 ($750 for building repairs and $750 for livestock and equipment).

Abandoned Arab dwellings in towns have also not remained empty. By the end of July 1948, 170,000 people, notably new immigrants and ex-soldiers, in addition to about 40,000 former tenants, both Jewish and Arab, had been housed in premises under the custodian's control; and 7,000 shops, workshops and stores were sublet to new arrivals. The existence of these Arab houses-vacant and ready for occupation-has, to a large extent, solved the greatest immediate problem which faced the Israeli authorities in the absorption of immigrants. It also considerably relieved the financial burden of absorption

So,yes if you define steal as ( take without consent ) Israel did steal land from the Palestinian arabs / Israeli-Palestinians.

In the same source, we have this:

The Custodian of Absentee Property does not choose to discuss politics. But when asked how much of the land of the state of Israel might potentially have two claimants — an Arab and a Jew holding respectively a British Mandate and an Israeli deed to the same property — Mr. Manor [the Custodian in 1980] believes that 'about 70 percent' might fall into that category (Robert Fisk, 'The Land of Palestine, Part Eight: The Custodian of Absentee Property', The Times, December 24, 1980, quoted in his book Pity the Nation: Lebanon at War).

which might explain the origin of the confusion, There are 4 separate facts which were corrupted to result in your claim:

  • Israel took 73% of what was mandatory Palestine - true

  • Jews privately and collectively owned a small part of the land (6-9%)- true

  • Israel stole land from the arab land owners - true ( under a certain definition of stealing)

  • the land stolen from the arab land owners is 70% of the Israeli land - disputed (The Jewish Virtual Library, estimates that Custodial and Absentee land comprises 12% of Israel's total territory).

  • 5
    While it's true that israel took 73% of what was mandatory Palestine, the other answers make it clear that it wasn't stealing, unless you count "being defeated in open war and signing out your land" as stealing.
    – T. Sar
    Commented Mar 13, 2018 at 11:43
  • 4
    +1 This is the best answer because it gives information about private property where the others focus on state territory - and before 1948 there was neither an Israeli nor a Palestinian state, so the concept of state ownership is at least very subjective. But we should also note than although Jewish land ownership was only circa 7% in 1945, this doesn't mean that Arab ownership was 93%: "Public and other" is also represented on your second map. So not all the land that became Israeli was taken (or stolen) from Arabs. Some was just left over by British administration. ../..
    – Evargalo
    Commented Mar 13, 2018 at 14:10
  • 3
    ../.. Also the land that is owned by citizens of Israel who are Muslim or Christian is counted in the 73% of Palestine under Israeli rule, but it cannot be said to have taken (even less stolen) from Palestinians.
    – Evargalo
    Commented Mar 13, 2018 at 14:13
  • 1
    @T.Sar yes, that's stealing. In fact, when has a state ever taken land without "defeating the original occupants in open war." You have two options, terrorize the indigenous people into fleeing or subdue them with force. Both seem to fit comfortably under "theft" (as in hostile dispossession). Commented Mar 13, 2018 at 15:58
  • 1
    @T. Sar I think you misunderstood what I meant when I said took, I meant "took" not stole. If you want a better verb please tell me what to change it. The 73% part is unrelated to priavte property part. it's two facts that got confused together in the OP claim. Commented Mar 13, 2018 at 17:07

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .