Qibya massacre

The Qibya massacre, also known as the Qibya incident, occurred in October 1953 when Israeli troops under Ariel Sharon attacked the village of Qibya in the West Bank. Sixty-nine Palestinian Arabs, two thirds of them women and children[1] were killed. Forty-five houses, a school, and a mosque were destroyed.[2]

The act was condemned by the U.S. State Department, the UN Security Council, and by Jewish communities worldwide.[1] The State Department described the raid as "shocking", and used the occasion to confirm publicly that economic aid to Israel had been suspended previously, for other non-compliance regarding the 1949 Armistice Agreements.

The operation was codenamed Operation Shoshana by the Israel Defense Force (IDF). It was carried out by two Israeli units at night: a paratroop company and Unit 101, a special forces unit of the IDF.



The attack took place in the context of border clashes between Israel and neighbouring states, which had begun almost immediately after the signing of the 1949 Armistice Agreements. Along the 1949 armistice line, infiltrations, armed or otherwise, were frequent from both sides. Many infiltrations from Palestinian territory in the West Bank consisted of unarmed Palestinian refugees attempting to rejoin their families,[3] and of smugglers trying to bring in contraband for Israeli markets, though armed marauding also was common. Half of Jordan's prison population at the time consisted of people arrested for attempting to return to, or illegally enter, Israeli territory, but the number of complaints filed by Israel over infiltrations from the West Bank show a considerable reduction, from 233 in the first nine months of 1952, to 172 for the same period in 1953, immediately before the attack. This marked reduction was in good part the result of increased Jordanian efficiency in patrolling.[3] According to some Israeli sources, between June 1949 and the end of 1952, a total of 57 Israelis, mostly civilians, were killed by Palestinian infiltrators from The West Bank and Jordan. The Israeli death toll for the first nine months of 1953 was 32.[4] Over roughly the same time (November 1950-November 1953), the Mixed Armistice Commission condemned Israeli raids 44 times.[3] For the same period, 1949–1953, Jordan maintained that it alone suffered 629 killed and injured from Israeli incursions and cross-border bombings.[3] UN sources for the period, based on the documentation at General Bennike's disposal (prepared by Commander E H Hutchison USNR),[5] lower both estimates[6][clarification needed]

Over the year leading up to the raid, Israeli forces and civilians had conducted many punitive expeditions, causing destruction of infrastructure and crops and many civilian casualties against Palestinian villages, with Latrun, Falameh, Rantis, Qalqiliya, Khirbet al-Deir, Khirbet Rasm Nofal, Khirbet Beit Emin, Qatanna, Wadi Fukin, Idhna, and Surif being the most notable examples.[7] Meanwhile, Palestinian guerilla raids into Israel continued. Over a two-week period in late May and early June, four successive raids by Palestinian fedayeen caused 9 casualties in Israel, at Beit Arif, Beit Nabala, Tirat Yehuda and Kfar Hess.[8] which greatly concerned both governments.

The specific incident which the Israeli government used to justify the assault on Qibya occurred on October 12, 1953, when a Jewish woman, Suzanne Kinyas, and her two children were killed by a grenade thrown into their house in the Israeli town of Yehud, some 10 kilometers (6 mi) inside of the Green Line. The attack, thought to have originated from Qibya, initially drew a sharp rebuke to Jordan from the Mixed Armistice Commission.[9] The Israeli government immediately claimed that the murders were perpetrated by Palestinian infiltrators, a charge queried by Jordanian officials, who were skeptical, and who offered to collaborate with Israel in order to apprehend the guilty parties, whoever and wherever they were. Moshe Sharett said later that "the Commander of the Jordan Legion, Glubb Pasha, had asked for police bloodhounds to cross over from Israel to track down the Yahud attackers".[10] On the other hand, some weeks later, while assisting a United Nations and Jordanian team following the tracks of the person(s) who on November 1 had blown up a water-line in Palestinian territory supplying the Arab quarter of Jerusalem, tracks that led to the Scopus fence, the Israeli inspector delegated to the team denied them permission to enter the Jewish area around Mount Scopus and prosecute their investigation.[9] For the first time, Israel accepted Jordan's offer of assistance and the tracks of the perpetrator were traced to a point 1400m over the border, to a road near Rantis, but dried up there. The United Nations observer team's investigation failed to find any evidence indicating who committed the crime, and the Jordanian delegate to the Mixed Commission condemned the act in strong language on October the 14th.[11][12] The Chief of Staff of the Arab Legion in Amman flew to Jerusalem to ask that no retaliatory actions take place that might compromise Jordanian investigations underway on their side of the border.[13]

According to the former Time correspondent to Jerusalem, Donald Neff, the decisive calculation was as follows:

Force had to be used to demonstrate to the Arabs that Israel was in the Middle East to stay, Ben Gurion believed, and to that end he felt strongly that his retaliatory policy had to be continued.[14]

Defense Minister Pinhas Lavon gave the order, in coordination with Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. The Israeli elected governing cabinet was not informed, and though Foreign Affairs Minister Moshe Sharett was privy to prior deliberations on whether or not such a punitive raid ought to be conducted, he expressed strong disapproval of the proposal, and was deeply shocked when informed of the outcome.[15]

The attack

Palestinians returning to Qibya after the massacre

According to the Mixed Armistice Commission report, approved on the afternoon immediately following the operation, and delivered by Major General Vagn Bennike to the UN Security Council, the raid at Qibya took place on the evening of October 14, 1953 at around 9.30 pm, and was taken by roughly half a battalion strength of soldiers from the Israeli regular army. Later sources state the force consisted of 130 IDF troops of whom a third came from Unit 101.[16] The American chairman of the Mixed Armistice Commission in his report to the UN Security Council estimated that between 250 and 300 Israeli soldiers were involved in the attack.[17]

The attack began with a mortar barrage on the village until Israeli forces reached the outskirts of the village. Israeli troops employed Bangalore torpedoes to breach the barbed-wire fences surrounding the village, and mined roads to prevent Jordanian forces from intervening. At the same time at least 25 mortar shells were fired into the neighbouring village of Budrus. As the Israelis approached the village, residents were seen fleeing, and it was incorrectly assumed that all villagers had fled. The Israeli troops simultaneously entered the village from three sides. IDF soldiers encountered resistance, and killed 10-12 soldiers and guards defending the village. An Israeli soldier was lightly wounded. Soldiers shouted warnings into homes and chased away any civilians who were discovered, but did not thoroughly inspect them. Many civilians remained in their homes and hid, and were not seen by the soldiers. Military engineers then dynamited dozens of buildings across the village,. At dawn, the operation was considered complete, and the Israelis returned home.[18]

A total of 42 villagers were killed, and 15 wounded, many of them having been hidden in their houses when they were blown up.[2]

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.[citation needed]

UN observers noted that they saw bodies near doorways, and bullet hits on the doors of demolished houses, and concluded that residents may have been forced to stay in their homes due to heavy fire.[19]

Original documents of the time showed 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.[20]

International reaction

An emergency meeting of the Mixed Armistice Commission (MAC) was held in the afternoon of 15 October and a resolution condemning the regular Israel army for its attack on Qibya, as a breach of article III, paragraph 2,62/ of the Israel-Jordan General Armistice Agreement was adopted by a majority vote.[21]

The attack was universally condemned by the international community. The U.S. State Department issued a bulletin on October 18, 1953, expressing its "deepest sympathy for the families of those who lost their lives" in Qibya as well as the conviction that those responsible "should be brought to account and that effective measures should be taken to prevent such incidents in the future."[22] The State Department described the raid as "shocking", and used the occasion to confirm publicly that economic aid to Israel had been (previously) suspended.[23] The aid, Israel had been informed on September 18, had been "deferred" until Israel saw fit to cooperate with the United Nations, in relation to its water diversion work near Bnot Ya'akov Bridge in the Demilitarized Zone;[24] the UN Security Council subsequently adopted Resolution 100 on October 27, 1953.

On November 24, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 101 and expressed the "strongest possible censure of this action".

Israeli reaction

The international outcry caused by the operation required a formal reply by Israel. Intense discussions took place, and Moshe Sharett summed up, in his diary on 16 October, the opinion that:

Now the army wants to know how we (the Foreign Ministry) are going to explain the issue. In a joint meeting of army and foreign ministry officials Shmuel Bendor suggested that we say that the army had no part in the operation, but that the inhabitants of the border villages, infuriated by previous incidents and seeking revenge, operated on their own. Such a version will make us appear ridiculous: any child would say that this was a military operation. (16 October 1953)[25]

Notwithstanding Sharett's advice that broadcasting this version would make Israel appear patently "ridiculous", on October 19 Ben-Gurion publicly asserted that the raid had been carried out by Israeli civilians.

None deplores it more than the Government of Israel, if ... innocent blood was spilled ... The Government of Israel rejects with all vigor the absurd and fantastic allegation that 600 men of the IDF took part in the action ... We have carried out a searching investigation and it is clear beyond doubt that not a single army unit was absent from its base on the night of the attack on Qibya. (Statement by Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, ISA FM 2435/5)

On Israeli Radio that same day, he addressed the nation in the following terms:

The [Jewish] border settlers in Israel, mostly refugees, people from Arab countries and survivors from the Nazi concentration camps, have, for years, been the target of (...) murderous attacks and had shown a great restraint. Rightfully, they have demanded that their government protect their lives and the Israeli government gave them weapons and trained them to protect themselves. But the armed forces from Transjordan did not stop their criminal acts, until [the people in] some of the border settlements lost their patience and after the murder of a mother and her two children in Yahud, they attacked, last week, the village of Kibya across the border, that was one of the main centers of the murderers' gangs. Every one of us regrets and suffers when blood is shed anywhere and nobody regrets more than the Israeli government the fact that innocent people were killed in the retaliation act in Kibya. But all the responsibility rests with the government of Transjordan that for many years tolerated and thus encouraged attacks of murder and robbery by armed powers in its country against the citizens of Israel.[26]

Uri Avnery, founder and editor of the magazine HaOlam HaZeh, relates that he had both his hands broken when he was ambushed for criticizing the massacre at Qibya in his newspaper.[27]


Following the attack, the Arab Legion forces deployed on the border segment near Qibya to stop further infiltrations and deter further Israeli incursions. There was a brief overall reduction in incursions along the border.

After this incident, Israel restricted attacks on civilian targets. Despite the U.S. request that those involved be brought to account, Sharon was not prosecuted. The independence of Unit 101 was cancelled and several weeks later it was dismantled all together.[28]

Defense Minister Pinhas Lavon's words to the GS -'Guys, you have to understand [that] there can be the greatest and most successful military operation, and it will turn into a political failure, meaning eventually a military failure as well. I'll give a simple example, Qibya'[29]

See also

  • List of the UN resolutions concerning Israel
  • Palestinian casualties of war



  1. ^ a b Shlaim, Avi (1999). The Iron Wall. Norton. ISBN 0-393-04816-0.  p.91
  2. ^ a b Benny Morris, Israel's Border Wars, 1949-1956: Arab Infiltration, Israeli Retaliation and the Countdown to the Suez War, Oxford University Press, 1993, pp. 258-9.
  3. ^ a b c d 'No one would deny that the Israel authorities would be justified, and are justified, in using strong measures to check (infiltration), in so far as damage to property or loss of life results. But not everyone who crosses the armistice demarcation line does so with criminal intent. Acts of violence are indeed committed, but as the volume of illegal crossings of the demarcation line is so considerable, if one is to judge from the available statistics, it seems probable that many crossings are carried out by persons - sometimes, I understand, even by children - with no criminal object in view.'England's ambassador to the UN = para.52 S/635/Rev.1 9 November 1953
  4. ^ Which Came First- Terrorism or Occupation - Major Arab Terrorist Attacks against Israelis Prior to the 1967 Six-Day War
  5. ^ Commander E H Hutchison USNR “Violent Truce: A Military Observer Looks at the Arab-Israeli Conflict 1951-1955” Chapter XI A Survey of the Whole Conflict p. 90-100
  6. ^ The Lebanese ambassador on 16 November summed up the figures at the UN's disposal for Jordanian-Israeli incidents from 1949 in these words: ‘Israel, in Israel territory, has lost 24 people killed; and Jordan, in its own territory, has lost 77 people killed, of whom 55 lost their lives at Qibya. Of the 77 killed since June 1949 in the Palestinian West bank by Israel, 55 were killed four weeks in the Qibya incident’S/636/Rev.1 16 November 1953
  7. ^ S/636/Rev.1 16 November 1953
  8. ^ Para.16 S/PV.630 27 October 1953
  9. ^ a b OpenDocument S/635/Rev.1 9 November 1953
  10. ^ Jerusalem Post, 31 October 1965)
  11. ^ Commander E H Hutchison USNR “Violent Truce: A Military Observer Looks at the Arab-Israeli Conflict 1951-1955” (Acting Chairman of the HKJIMAC), Annex B
  12. ^ Avi Shlaim, The Iron Wall, pp 90–93
  13. ^ S/636/Rev.1 16 November 1953 para.91
  14. ^ Donald Neff, Warriors at Suez: Eisenhower Takes America into the Middle East. The Linden Press/Simon & Schuster. New York, 1981, pp. 48-50):
  15. ^ In Sharett's diary we read: (1)'I told Lavon that this [attack] will be a grave error, and recalled, citing various precedents, that it was never proved that reprisal actions serve their declared purpose. Lavon smiled ... and kept to his own idea.... Ben Gurion, he said, didn't share my view.' (14 October 1953, p.37) (2) 'I must underline that when I opposed the action I didn't even remotely suspect such a bloodbath. I thought that I was opposing one of those actions which have become a routine in the past. Had I even remotely suspected that such a massacre was to be held, I would have raised real hell. (16 October 1953,p. 44)' cited Livia Rokach, Israel’s Sacred Terrorism, AAUG Press, Belmont, Massachusetts, 3rd ed.1986.
  16. ^ Morris, Benny (1993) Israel's Border Wars, 1949 - 1956. Arab Infiltration, Israeli Retaliation, and the Countdown to the Suez War. Oxford University Press, ISBN 0 19 827850 0. Page 246.
  17. ^ Hutchinson, E.H. (1958) Violent Truce: A Military Observer Looks at The Arab-Israeli Conflict 1951-1955 Devin-Adair Co. New York. Page 161.
  18. ^ http://www.ariel-sharon-life-story.com/03-Ariel-Sharon-Biography-1953-Retribution-Acts-Peulot-Tagmul.shtml
  19. ^ UN Doc S/PV.630 27 October 1953
  20. ^ Benny Morris, Israel's Border Wars, ibid. pp. 257-276. esp. pp.249,262
  21. ^ http://web.archive.org/web/20091024003143/http://geocities.com/indictsharon/bio.html Sharon: Biography. Retrieved 17 September 2007.
  22. ^ The Department of State issued a statement on October 18, 1953 (Department of State Bulletin, October 26, 1953, p. 552).
  23. ^ New York Times, October 19, 1953, 1:5, cited in, Stephen Green, Taking Sides: America's Secret Relations with a Militant Israel, p.87
  24. ^ Stephen Green, Taking Sides: America's Secret Relations with a Militant Israel, p.80
  25. ^ Livia Rokach, Israel's Sacred Terrorism, ibid.
  26. ^ As reported by Davar 20 October 1953, and translated by Livia Rokach in Israel’s Sacred Terrorism, ibid. APPENDIX 1
  27. ^ Uri Avnery Biography
  28. ^ Benny Morris, Righteous Victims, A history of the Zionist-Arab Conflict 1881-2001, First Vintage books, 2001. p.279. "After Qibya the IDF switched from civilian to military targets. Arab civilian casualties declined markedly, reducing Western condemnation of "indiscriminate" Israeli reprisals. But the sorties increased in size and firepower: Many more troops and guns were needed to conquer a well-fortified military camp or police fort than to overrun a village."
  29. ^ 'Pounding Their Feet': Israeli Military Culture as Reflected in Early IDF Combat History Author: Gil-li Vardi Journal of Strategic Studies, Volume 31, Issue 2 April 2008 , pages 295 - 324 GS meeting, IDFA 7/363/1956, 27 July 1954.

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