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Qibya massacre

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The Qibya massacre was a military action in October 1953 carried out by Israeli troops in a West Bank village.

The military action as Qibya was carried out by two Israeli units, a paratroop company and Unit 101 under the command of Ariel Sharon (current Prime Minister of Israel). It led to the death of over 50 Palestinian Arabs and the demolition of most houses in Qibya[?], a village in the northwestern West Bank (Samaria), which was then under Jordanian control. Many consider the operation an act of terrorism.

Events leading up to the attack

The attack was the climax of a number of border clashes; such clases began almost immediately after the signing of the armistice in 1949. The State of Israel was confronted by a wave of Palestinian infiltrators from Jordan. The Jordanian Arab Legion made no attempts to stop these infiltrations; sometimes Jordan unofficially assisted these efforst. The infiltrators carrued out a series of terrorist actions against Israeli civilians.

On October 12, 1953, a Jewish mother and her two children were killed by Jordanian infiltrators in the Israeli town of Yahud[?]. The Israeli government decided to carry out a retaliatory strike against the village of Qibya in the West Bank. The order was given by Defense Minister Pinhas Lavon[?], who did not consult the cabinet and only casually informed Foreign Minister Moshe Sharett of the order. On October 13, at the meeting with the MAC (Mixed Armistice Commission), the Jordanian representative denounced the attack and promised Israel full cooperation in tracking down the murderers and asked Israel to refrain from retaliation. (The Iron Wall, Avi Shlaim, p.90-93). Sharett said later that "the Commander of the Jordan Legion, Glubb Pasha, had asked for police blood-hounds to cross over from Israel to track down the Yahud murderers" (Jerusalem Post, October 31, 1965).

The Attack

The attack on Qibya took place in the evening of October 14, 1953. It began with an artillery barrage at the village until Israeli troops reached the outskirts of the village. Mines were laid out on roads to prevent Jordanian infiltrators from joining the fight. When the village had been cleared of resistance, Israeli soldiers ordered the civilains to leave their homes and stated that they would be demolished; they then laid explosives around many of the houses and blew them up. The claim that villagers were given an opportunity to flee is contradicted by the fact that the Israeli units had an order to achieve maximum civilian casualties. At dawn the operation was considered completed and the Israeli troops returned home.

Forty five villagers' houses had been destroyed, as well as the mosque, the school and the water reservoir. Over 50 people were killed, two thirds of them women and children. The rest of the village population, around 2,700 in number, were able to flee. The Israeli government initially claimed that the killing was carried out by Jewish civilians living near the border, but later admitted that it was done by military forces.

The IDF claims that the plan was to ambush Arab Legion forces in the area, by destroying some houses as a decoy [Lexicon]. The original orders issued by the Israeli General Staff were relatively confined in scale, implying "blowing up a number of houses ... and hitting the inhabitants". However, going down the command ladder, before they reached the units' commanders, the orders changed to demand "maximum killing" (Morris).

Ariel Sharon later wrote in his diary that he received orders to inflict heavy damage on the inhabitants of Qibya. "The orders were utterly clear: Qibya was to be an example for everyone". Sharon said that he thought the houses were empty and that the unit checked all houses before detonating the explosives. In his autobiography Warrior (1987) he wrote:

"I couldn't belive my ears. As I went back over each step of the operation, I began to understand what must have happened. For years Israeli reprisal raids had never succeeded in doing more than blowing up a few outlying buildings, if that. Expecting the same, some Arab families must have stayed in their houses rather than running away. In those big stone houses... some could easily have hidden in the cellars and back rooms, keeping quiet when the paratroopers went in to check and yell out a warning. The result was this tragedy that had happened".

Morris expresses doubt in this claim, considering the nature of the orders Unit 101 received. He also points to the fact that US, UN and Arab Legion reports indicates that villagers were killed before the demolition of the houses began. The UN observer who inspected the scene, Major General Vagn Bennike[?], chief of staff of the U.N. Truce Supervision Organization (which investigated the scene the next day) said: "one story was repeated time after time: the bullet splintered door, the body sprawled across the threshold, indicating that the inhabitants had been forced by heavy fire to stay inside until their homes were blown up over them".

Time Magazine of 26 October 1953 describes the incident in these terms:

"Then the guardsmen's ammo (25 rounds per man) gave out, and the Israelis moved into Qibya with rifle and Sten guns. They shot every man, woman and child they could find, then turned-their fire on the cattle. After that they dynamited 42 houses, a school and a mosque. The cries of the dying could be heard amid the explosions."

It is unclear, however, whether the magazine's report was based on direct evidence or hearsay, possibly under the influence of bitter Jordanian officials. Previous reports by Arabs and by UN officials of masacres later turned out to be exagerrations; Israelis doubt the honesty of many of these reports.

Results

The attack had far-reaching consequences. It was widely criticized, not only by the international community but also by many Israelis themselves. The U.N. security council condemned Israel in a resolution, but refused to condemn the series of terrorist actions which led to Israel's reprisal.

Ariel Sharon wrote in his autobiography, that although the civilian casualities were regrettable, after the Qibya operation "it was now clear that Israeli forces were again capable of finding and hitting targets far behind enemy lines". Following the attack, the Arab Legion forces deployed on the border segment near Qibya and allowed no further infiltrations.

Following the attack, the Israeli leadership decided to refrain from directly targeting civilians. It was decided furthermore to cancel the independence of Unit 101, which however continued to participate in retaliatory attacks against military targets as a part of the 202nd Paratroop Brigade.

See also: Unit 101 -- Terrorism against Arabs -- Terrorism against Israel -- Palestinian infiltration

External links

Sources

  • [Morris] Benny Morris, Righteous Victims, p. 278
  • [Lexicon] Ze'ev Shchiff, Israel Army Lexicon



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