Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Massacre in Qibya (Oct 14, 1953)

In response to escalating border clashes with Palestinian militia, Israeli forces raided the Jordanian West Bank village of Qibya, which was believed to be harboring militants. The attacks led to the deaths of over 60 Palestinian Arabs and the demolition of numerous houses. Israel was condemned by the UN, and historians continue to debate this dark day in Israeli-Arab history.

Later reports suggest that forty-five houses had been destroyed, as well as the mosque, the school, and the water reservoir, and that the total casualty rate ran to some 60 people. The Israeli government initially claimed that the killing had been carried out by Jewish civilians living near the border, but later admitted that it had been carried out by military forces.

The IDF claimed that the plan was to ambush Arab Legion forces in the area, by destroying some houses as a decoy. The original orders issued by the Israeli General Staff were relatively limited in scale, instructing the forces to 'carry out an attack … with the aim of temporary occupation and the demolition of houses, and not to harm the inhabitants' However, going down the command chain, before they reached the unit's commanders, the orders changed to demand 'maximum killing'

However Ariel Sharon, who led the attack, later wrote in his diary that he had received orders to inflict heavy damage on the Arab Legion forces in Qibya: 'The orders were utterly clear: Qibya was to be an example for everyone'. Sharon said that he had thought the houses were empty and that the unit had checked all houses before detonating the explosives. In his autobiography Warrior (1987) he wrote:

"I couldn't believe 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."

Despite these later claims, Israeli New Historian Benny Morris showed by a close consultation of original documents of the time that Sharon personally ordered his troops to achieve maximal killing and damage to property. Post-operational reports speak of breaking into houses and clearing them with grenades and shooting.

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