Source: Chapter in the book "Drawing the Kafr Qasem Massacre", Samia Halaby, Schilt Publishing, 2016



Dr. Salman Abu Sitta provides this historical perspective placing the Kafr Qasem massacre within the context of the brutal process of sociocide, the attempted murder, displacement, erasure, and theft of an entire national population committed by Imperialism and Zionism utilizing their shameless project called Israel. This chapter, the Historical Context, allows the reader to place the detailed descriptions of events about the Kafr Qasem massacre within the larger global political and military conditions surrounding the colonization of Palestine and Egypt during the 1940s and 1950s.

Dr. Salman Abu Sitta, whose proven record has set him apart from those Palestinian scholars popularized by the media with the intention of veiling the ones truly representative of the hopes of their nation. His book The Atlas of Palestine, a monumental research project, sets a record giving the lie to Zionist and Imperialist propaganda.1 It possesses the status of a basic reference to the history of Palestine in the twentieth century. Abu Sitta discusses some of the roots of Zionist massacre beginning in the behavior of British colonialists. A section follows this on the massacres committed in 1948 as the Zionists were trying to empty Palestine of its rightful population and mar all of historic and cultural attributes developed over millennia.

Massacre as a Tool of Ethnic Cleansing


Salman Abu Sitta

The human spirit generates its own power of survival, supersedes obstacles, and tames natural forces. Were it not so, we would not be here today. Oppression ignites resistance and leads to action; it pushes the mind and soul to excel, create, attain, maintain and celebrate the quest for freedom.

Of suffering, Palestinians are painfully aware. In their five thousand years’ history, they have not witnessed greater calamity than al Nabka.2 After November 1947, just after the U.N. Partition Plan, and throughout 1948 and 1949 the people of over six hundred towns, villages, and hamlets were uprooted from their homes, by force of arms and threat of imminent slaughter.3 There is nothing like it in history. Although history books are replete with stories of destruction, brutality, death, and dispossession, never before have such deeds been planned previously, orchestrated and executed continuously in our modern era for a period of over six decades, and still ongoing, as in Palestine.

This uprooting of Palestinians from their homes and communities was conducted by a foreign superior military force organized, planned, financed and supported by colonial powers outside Palestine and motivated by an ideology built on the myth that “Palestine is a land without people” and “Palestinians do not exist.” It’s objective was to make Palestine a land without people and eliminate Palestinians by massacre and expulsion so that they do not exist in Palestine. And if their history reveals their long presence, then their physical landscape shall be destroyed and their maps with names of their places, events, and memories shall be erased. Thus, a virtual false world was built on the ruins of age-old reality.

No doubt this is unique in history. It is ironic too that this violation of every principle of elementary justice was presented in the West as the fulfillment of Divine Providence and the triumph of civilization over backwardness. This took place in the twentieth century and continues until today, by brute force in Palestine and by deception in the West.

In Palestine, the manifestations are clear. The cardinal principle of Zionism had been initiated by Ze’ev Jabotinsky in 1923, and applied faithfully by David Ben-Gurion, Moshe Dayan, Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu. Jabotinsky was very clear; Israel can only be imposed by brute force and will be shielded by an iron wall. He stated:

Their [the Arabs] voluntary agreement is out of the question... Zionist colonization, even the most restricted, must either be terminated or carried out in defiance of the will of the native population. This colonization can, therefore, continue and develop only under the protection of a force independent of the local population – an iron wall which the native population cannot break through. This is, in toto, our policy towards the Arabs.

At the beginning of WWI, the Jewish population in Palestine was 38, 754 (5% of all population) of which 12,332 were Ottoman subjects and the rest were new European immigrants.5 By the end of the British Mandate (1920-1948), which was supposed to bring independence and freedom to the Palestinian people, the Jewish immigrants were increased considerably but were able to hold land of only 5.4%6 of Palestine and that through the collusion of the British Mandate. In addition to helping the Jews obtain land, the British government also facilitated the mass immigration of Jews into Palestine, thus altering its ethnic composition. By 1946 there were 608,225 (32.96%) Jews including illegal immigrants and 1,237,334 (67.04%)7 Palestinians (Muslims and Christians); thus in spite of the mass immigration, Jews constituted a minority population, albeit larger than before. The latest wave of immigrants prior to the end of the British mandate consisted mostly of able-bodied men ready to fight, many with World War II experience.

Therefore, Great Britain violated its obligations as the mandatory power for Palestine by ignoring the human rights of the Palestinian people and their rights as the majority population of Mandate Palestine. Under the guise of United Nations General Assembly resolution 181 of the Partition of Palestine, which was only a non-binding suggestion and was dropped by the UN and USA in March 1948 in favour of UN trusteeship on Palestine, Ben Gurion initiated his plan, Dalet, to eliminate the Palestinian population from the area of Palestine that was to be governed by the Jewish immigrants. In this area, half of the inhabitants were Arab Palestinians. Ben Gurion would have none of them. He expelled the majority before the state of Israel was declared on May 14, 1948.

In the book, Atlas of Palestine, 1917-1966, I describe in detail war crimes perpetrated by the Zionist forces against the Palestinian civilian population. I compiled and tabulated at least 232 incidents, which included atrocities, massacres, destruction, plunder and looting between 1947 and 1956.8 Almost every one of the thirty Zionist/Israeli military operations where accompanied by one or two massacres of civilians. There were at least seventy-seven reported massacres, half of which took place before any Arab regular soldier set foot in Palestine.9

In this book, I also describe the tactics used in the military operations of the Yishuv/Israeli military forces.

The pattern of expulsion was consistent throughout regardless of the region, the date or the particular battalion, which attacked the village. . . . Most serious research and all oral testimonies given at different times by refugees from different regions in Palestine confirmed the same pattern.

After the village was attacked and conquered, whether it resisted or surrendered, a curfew is imposed. Sometime later, probably the following morning, the villagers where gathered in the main square or a nearby field into separate groups: the men from the age of 15 to 50 and the women, children and very old men. The village was surrounded from three directions leaving the fourth open for escape or expulsion. The gap left open was pointing towards Lebanon and Syria in Galilee region, towards the West Bank and Jordan in central Palestine, and towards Gaza and Egypt in the south.10

The women were stripped of their jewelry and valuables and ordered to walk towards the gap or open gate, without looking back. Shots were fired over their heads to encourage their flight. There have been cases of rape, enslavement and murder. The men were lined up for review by a hooded man. Frequently selected young men were taken in groups of four, ordered to dig their graves, then they were shot and thrown in the dug pits. The tactics used in the case of a massacre:

“The soldiers separated the men and the women depositing them at different locations around 50 yards from the killing pits. The soldiers divested their victims of whatever valuables they possessed. [One witness] recalled vividly the picture of these people most of whom were undressed to the waist lying for hours in the sun and getting severely sunburnt. For, after undressing, they had to lie prostrate in a confined area and we're not permitted to move. When the killing was finally ready to commence, the soldiers formed a gauntlet running between the staging ground for the killing and the killing site itself. Successive groups of 15 to 20 were forced to run to the killing site's pit, to run the gauntlet with the soldiers shouting at them and beating them with rifle butts as they passed by”.11

In many captured villages, “the men were led to forced labor camps. They where tortured, shot and killed at the first sign of disobedience and made to work on the Israeli military effort such as digging trenches, carrying ammunition and making war items such as camouflage nets. They were also used in carrying the looted material from Arab homes, burying the dead, and removing the debris from demolished Arab houses”.12

In January 1949, the [International Committee of the Red Cross] ICRC found 6,360 prisoners of whom 5,013 where Palestinians. The Palestinians where mostly ordinary farmers from Galilee villages . . . . testimonies by several survivors indicated that Palestinian civilians were detained and forced to work in 17 other camps and locations never visited by ICRC. It is estimated that almost 25,000 Palestinian civilians were rounded up, detained and put into forced labor camps for periods from 10 months to two years. They have received no appreciable compensation or publicity about their plight.13

The expelled population, before The British left and before Israel declared itself as a state, was half the total Palestinian refugees, eventually expelled. This could not have happened without killing as many as possible. Half of the seventy-seven massacres committed by Israel in 1948 took place before Israel was declared. Of these massacres, we know of the infamous Dayr Yassin on 9 April, 1948. Few knew about Bureir, where one hundred and twenty of the inhabitants were killed and their homes torched. A mere forty-eight hours after the massacre in Bureir, Ben Gurion stood solemnly before the Jewish immigrants’ assembly to announce the foundation of Israel and declared:

We appeal - in the very midst of the onslaught launched against us now for months - to the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to preserve peace and participate in the upbuilding of the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions.

In the following six months, the other half of the seventy-seven massacres (out of one hundred and fifty-six war crimes listed in the Atlas of Palestine 1917-1966) committed by the Israelis established their practice of using massacres as a well-tried weapon of ethnic cleansing. Jabotinsky’s plan15 was working as Ben Gurion was turning the myth into a fact; Palestine almost became a “land without people”.

Another example of Israel ethnic cleansing arose after the signing of the first Armistice agreement between Israel and Egypt on 24 February 1949. This agreement allowed the Egyptian forces to withdraw from a besieged enclave in with their arms. Two villages, Faluja and Iraq al Manshiyya, lay within this enclave that the Egyptian forces were defending. Under the Armistice agreement endorsed by the U.N., Israel guaranteed the safety, the life, and property of these two villages, which the defending Egyptian forces had to leave behind. Disregarding its agreement with the U.N. and Egypt, Israel terrorized the two villages with indiscriminate shooting, constant curfews, looting, and attempted rape. Three weeks later, Israel forcibly expelled the population in stark violation of the Armistice Agreement.

There was more to come. The Israelis reneged on the agreement with King Abdalah I of Jordan to divide Palestine between them. In April 1949, the Zionists dictated to him that they must grab extra Palestinian land known as the Little Triangle, in central Palestine. The affected area is about ninety thousand acres where one hundred thousand Palestinians lived. Thus its eighteen villages were annexed outright to Israel. There was a condition that the inhabitants must remain in their homes. One of these villages was Kafr Qasem. The people of the Little Triangle were not expelled at the time, but there was an Israeli plan for them. Israel was waiting for the opportunity to carry it out.

It came in October 1956, on the same day of the Tripartite Aggression, or Suez Campaign, in which Israel, Britain, and France conspired to topple Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt and regain the Suez Canal. Ben Gurion’s aims were more than that, to convert the Armistice line, which has no legal value as a border, into a de facto border for Israel and to expel the Palestinian population within this “border.” It was attempted in Kafr Qasem under “operation Hafarferet”, an outright expulsion plan. This book describes in detail what happened.

The massacres and atrocities committed against Palestinians were denied by the Zionists as “a figment of Oriental imagination”, as Walter Ettinghausen (later Eytan), the Israeli “foreign minister” at the time, described the massacre of al Dawayima in responding to the United Nations condemnation of the massacre. The refugees’ vivid description of their experience during al Nakba was totally ignored or blacked out in the West. It took four decades for Israeli historians to have access to declassified Israeli files. Benny Morris was hailed as a brave, objective historian when he found evidence to corroborate what the refugees were saying all along. Curiously he said that these repetitive similar massacres were ‘an accident of war’ not a plan. Not so, said Ilan Pappe. He compared the Palestinian oral history and the Israeli files and found them consistent. He gave it its proper name “Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine”.16

Zochrot, a small Israeli group, dedicated to educating the Israelis about al Nakba, taped interviews with some Palmach soldiers who admitted they committed atrocities in Bureir and Lydda. A Palmach file, to which I had access only recently, recorded interviews with Palmach17 soldiers by their superiors after each army action. One Yeshayahu Gavish interview corroborates what others have written about the atrocities in Beisan, Zar’ain, and the ethnic cleansing in the area from Samakh to Metula, along River Jordan. Meir Pail's interview has a detailed description of the massacre in Dayr Yassin, more than commonly known.

The Kafr Qasem massacre is therefore part of a persistent pattern of ethnic cleansing of which Sabra, Shatila, Jenin, Rafah and the destruction of the Gaza Strip are but a few stations on this bloody trail. But the Kafr Qasem massacre was different in some ways. First, it was against “Israeli citizens”, thus making the claim of Israeli democracy a mockery. Second, the claim that atrocities were committed in the heat of war is false. There was no war in Kafr Qasem, no uprising, no revolt. It was a sheer blood bath. In this book, Samia Halaby meticulously describes the anatomy of this tragedy viewing it as she stands with the survivors and residents of Kafr Qasem, recording their testimonies and visualizing their narrative.

This book will be judged by art lovers, critics, historians, sympathizers, as well as by those blinded by propaganda. They will have their different reactions for different reasons. But the importance of this project lies in its service to a coming generation of young activists both Palestinian and international who will want to know why and how. This work asserts--along with a choir of valuable projects by a host of creative Palestinians and supporters--that Palestine will prevail.

Salman Abu Sitta

Dec 2013