If the definition is restricted to those displaced in the 1948 war and its immediate aftermath and their descendants, some 274,000 Arab citizens of Israel - or 1 in 4 Palestinians in Israel - are internally displaced Palestinians. .
The vast majority are Muslim (90%) and some 10% are Christian. There are no Druze among them "since no Druze village was destroyed in the 1948 war and no Druze left their settlements permanently."
Organizations defending the rights of Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel also generally include the 110,000 Bedouin forced to move in a closed area under military rule in the Negev in 1949 in their estimates of internally displaced Palestinians. Other internally displaced persons included in these counts are those who were displaced by ongoing home demolitions enacted against unlicensed structures or in "unrecognized villages". Estimates based on this broader definition place the total population of IDPs at anywhere between 250,000 - 420,000 people.
In recent years, Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territories who have been displaced by the construction of the Israeli West Bank barrier have also been referred to as internally displaced Palestinians. They are estimated to number between 24,500 and 57,000 people.
In 1950, the United Nations Reliefs and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) estimated that 46,000 of the 156,000 Palestinians. who remained inside the borders demarcated as Israel by the 1949 armistice agreement were internally displaced refugees.
As it was for most other Palestinian refugees, the homes and properties of internally displaced Palestinians were placed under the control of a government body, the Custodian of Absentees' Property via legislation that includes the 1948 Emergency Regulation Concerning Absentee Property (a temporary measure) and the 1950 Absentee Property Law..
Unlike other Palestinian refugees, the internally displaced Palestinians and others who remained inside what became Israel were made citizens by the Citizenship Law of July 1952. That same year Israel requested that UNRWA transfer responsibility for registering and caring for internally displaced persons to Israel and basic humanitarian assistance was provided to the internally displaced for a time. Military administrative rule (1948-1966) restricted the movement of Arab citizens of Israel, and it combined with the absentee property legislation to prevent internally displaced citizens from physically returning to their properties to reclaim their homes. Under the legislation, "absentee" property owners were required to prove their "presence" in order to gain recognition of their ownership rights by the Israeli government.
Refugee rights groups report that Palestinians inside Israel tried to return to their villages of origin, often by sending letters to Israeli ministries. Letters were generally written by village mukhtars and dignitaries, and would emphasize the good relationship between the residents of the village with their Jewish neighbors, and the desire to live in peace under Israeli rule. The Israeli response to these letters was negative.
Villagers like those of Ghassibiya, Bir'im and Iqrit whose petitions to the Israeli High Court to have their property rights recognized were accepted in the 1950s, were physically prevented from reclaiming their properties by military administrative authorities who refused to abide by the court rulings and declared the villages closed military zones.
Because most internally displaced Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel were counted as absent, even though present inside the Israeli state, they are also commonly referred to as present absentees.
Today the internally displaced Bedouins live in tens of "unrecognized villages" in the Negev and the Galilee, while the remaining internally displaced Palestinians live in some 80 towns and villages in the Galilee.
In 1991, Israeli writer and peace activist David Grossman conducted several interviews with Palestinian citizens of Israel. These were published in a book called in Hebrew נוכחים נפקדים /Nokhehim Nifkadim (Absent Presentees). The English version was titled Sleeping on a Wire: Conversations with Palestinians in Israel.
This book focuses on Palestinian internal refugees in Israel and internally displaced Palestinians across the Green Line. The book provides an overview of a topic that is largely neglected. As Nur Masalha puts it in his introduction: "Acquiring the paradoxical title of present absentees, the internally displaced had their property and homes taken by the state, making them refugees and exiles within their own homeland." The book uses oral history and interviews with internal refugees to examine Palestinian identity and memory, indigenous rights, international protection, the "right of return," and a just solution in Palestine/Israel.