Click on this text to watch NAKBA - The Zionist run concentration camps of 1948 to 1955
to the holocaust memorial website, some of the worst attrocities in human
history were committed by Germans during WWII. Now isnt it ironic, that only a few
short years after the
alleged holocaust, post World War II Zionist Jews would imprison thousands of Palestinian
civilians, including women and children, within 22 Zionist-run concentration
existed from 1948 to 1955. Not only that, but many of them were systematically
murdered and tortured. You would think something like this would never
allowed to happen
by the UN, especially after World War II... and you would be wrong.
It is shocking that this would have happened in Palestine within just a few years after
Nazi regime was defeated and all the prisoners including the large
number of Jews in their
concentration camps were freed. The following
article by Yazan al-Saadi was published in
Alakhbar on Monday,
September 29, 2014.
Civilians captured during the fall of Lydda
and Ramle around the time of July 12, 1948 and taken to labour camps. In the July heat they were thirsty and were given
a drop of water carried by a child under soldiers’ guard. (Photo: Salman Abu Sitta, Palestine Land Society)
of the grim and murky circumstances of the Zionist ethnic cleansing of
in the late 1940s have gradually been exposed over time. One aspect – rarely
or deeply discussed – is the internment of thousands of Palestinian civilians
at least 22 Zionist-run concentration and labor camps that existed from 1948
to 1955. Now more
is known about the contours of this historical crime, due to the comprehensive
research by renowned
Palestinian historian Salman Abu Sitta and founding
member of the Palestinian resource center
BADIL Terry Rempel.
The facts are these.
The study – to be published in the upcoming issue of the Journal of Palestine Studies
on almost 500 pages of International Committee of the Red Cross’s (ICRC)
during the 1948 war, that were declassified and made available to the public
in 1996, and accidentally discovered by one of the authors in 1999.
Furthermore, testimonies of 22 former Palestinian civilian detainees of these camps were
collected by the authors, through interviews they conducted themselves
in 2002, or documented
by others during different moments of time.
With these sources
of information, the authors, as they put it, pieced together a clearer story
of how Israel captured
and imprisoned “thousands of Palestinian civilians as
forced laborers,” and exploited
them “to support its war-time economy.”
up the crimes
“I came across this piece of
history in the 1990s when I was collecting material and documents
Abu Sitta told Al-Akhbar English. “The more and more you dig, the more
you find there
are crimes that have taken place that are not reported and not known.”
At that time, Abu Sitta went to Geneva for a week to check out the newly-opened archives
of the ICRC. According to him, the archives were opened to the public after accusations that
the ICRC had sided with the Nazis during World War II. It was an opportunity that he could
miss in terms of seeing what the ICRC had recorded of the events that occurred in Palestine
in 1948. It was there he stumbled onto records discussing the existence of five concentration
run by the Israelis.
He then decided to look for witnesses
or former detainees,
interviewing Palestinians in occupied Palestine, Syria, and Jordan.
“They all described the same story, and their
in these camps,” he said.
One question that immediately
struck him was why there was barely any references in history
about these camps, especially
when it became clearer the more he
researched that they existed, and were more than just five
“Many former Palestinian detainees saw the concept
of Israel as a vicious enemy, so
they thought their experience labouring in these concentration
camps was nothing in
comparison to the other larger tragedy of the Nakba.” – Palestinian
historian Salman Abu Sitta
“Many former Palestinian detainees saw the concept of
Israel as a vicious enemy, so
they thought their experience labouring in these concentration
camps was nothing in comparison
to the other larger tragedy of the Nakba. The Nakba overshadowed
everything,” Abu Sitta explained.
I dug into the period of 1948-1955, I found more references like Mohammed
Nimr al-Khatib, who
was an imam in Haifa, who had written down interviews with someone
from al-Yahya family that
was in one of the camps. I was able to trace this
man all the way to California and spoke with
him in 2002,” he added.
More references were eventually
and slowly discovered by Abu Sitta that included information
from a Jewish woman called Janoud,
a single masters thesis in Hebrew University about
the topic, and the personal accounts of
economist Yusif Sayigh,
helped to further flesh out the scale and nature of these camps.
After more than a decade, Abu Sitta, with his co-author
are finally presenting their findings to the public.
burden to opportunity: concentration and labor camps
establishment of concentration and labor camps occurred
after the unilateral declaration of Israel’s
statehood on May 1948.
Prior to that event, the number of
Palestinian captives in Zionist hands were quite low,
because, as the study states, “the
Zionist leadership concluded early on that forcible
expulsion of the civilian population was
the only way to establish a Jewish state in
Palestine with a large enough Jewish majority to
be ‘viable’.” In other words, for the Zionist
strategists, prisoners were
a burden in the beginning phases of the ethnic cleansing.
calculations changed with the declaration of the Israeli state and the involvement
of the armies
of Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and Transjordan, after much of the ethnic cleansing
had occurred. From
that moment, “the Israeli forces began taking prisoners, both regular
Arab soldiers (for
eventual exchange), and – selectively – able-bodied Palestinian
The first camp was Ijlil, which was about 13 km northeast of Jaffa, on the site of the
Palestinian village Ijlil al-Qibiliyya, emptied of its inhabitants in early April.
Ijlil was predominately
made up of tents, housing hundreds and hundreds of prisoners, categorized
as POWs by
the Israelis, surrounded by barbed wire fences, watchtowers, and a gate with guards.
As the Israeli conquests grew, in turn exceedingly increasing the number of prisoners,
three more camps were established. These are the four “official” camps
that the Israelis acknowledged and were actively visited by the ICRC.
The study notes:
All four camps were either on or
adjacent to military installations set up by the British
during the Mandate. These had been
used during World War II for the interment of German,
Italian, and other POWs. Two of the camps
– Atlit, established in July about 20 kms
south of Haifa, and Sarafand, established in
September near the depopulated village of
Sarafand al-Amar in central Palestine—had earlier
been used in the 1930s and 1940s to
detain illegal Jewish immigrants.
Atlit was the second largest camp after Ijlil, it had the capacity of holding up to 2,900
while Sarafand had the maximum capacity of 1,800, and Tel Letwinksy, near Tel Aviv,
more than 1,000.
camps were administered by “former British officers who had defected their ranks
British forces withdrew from Palestine in mid-May 1948,” and the camp’s guards
administrative staff were former members of the Irgun and the Stern Gang – both
designated as terrorist organizations by the British before their
departure. In total, the
four “official” camps were staffed by 973 soldiers.
fifth camp, called Umm Khalid, was established at a site of another depopulated village
the Zionist settlement of Netanya, and was even assigned an official number in the
but never attained “official” status. It had the capacity to hold 1,500 prisoners.
Unlike the other four camps, Umm Khalid would be “the fist camp established exclusively
as a labor camp” and was “the first of the “recognized” camps to be shut down…by the end of
Complementing these five “recognized”
camps, were at least 17 other “unrecognized camps”
that were not mentioned in official
sources, but the authors discovered through multiple
Civilians in a labour camp in Ramleh, July 1948. (Photo:
Salman Abu Sitta, Palestine Land Society)
“Many of [these camps],” the authors noted, “[were] apparently improvised
or ad hoc,
often consisting of no more than a police station, a school, or the house of a
village notable,” with holding capacities that ranged from almost 200 prisoners to tens.
Most of the camps, official and unofficial, were situated within the borders of the
UN-proposed Jewish state, “although at least four [unofficial camps] – Beersheba, Julis,
Bayt Daras, and Bayt Nabala – were in the UN-assigned Arab state and one was inside the
Jerusalem “corpus separatum.”
situation of civilian internees was ‘absolutely confused’ with that of POWs, and…
Jewish authorities ‘treated all Arabs between the ages of 16 and 55 as
and locked them up as prisoners of war.’” – ICRC report, 1948
The number of Palestinian non-combatant detainees “far exceeded” those of Arab soldiers
in regular armies or bona fide POWs. Citing a July 1948 monthly report made by ICRC
head Jacques de Reynier, the study states that de Reynier noted, “that the situation
civilian internees was ‘absolutely confused’ with that of POWs, and that the Jewish
‘treated all Arabs between the ages of 16 and 55 as combatants and locked them
up as prisoners
of war.’” In addition, the ICRC found among the detainees in official
90 of the prisoners were elderly men, and 77 were boys, aged 15 years or younger.
The study highlights the statements by an ICRC delegate
in January 1949 of the camp inmates:
It is painful to see
these poor people, especially old, who were snatched from their villages
and put without reason
in a camp, obliged to pass the winter under wet tents, away from
their families; those who
could not survive these conditions died. Little children
(10-12 years) are equally found under
these conditions. Similarly sick people, some
with tuberculosis, languish in these camps under
conditions which, while fine for healthy
individuals, will certainly lead to their death if
we do not find a solution to this problem.
For a long time we have demanded that the Jewish
authorities release those civilians
who are sick and need treatment to the care of their families
to an Arab hospital, but we have not received a response.
As the report noted, “there are no precise figures on the total number of Palestinian
civilians held by Israel during the 1948-49 war” and estimates tend to not account for
“unofficial” camps, in addition to the frequent movement of prisoners between the camps
in use. In the four “official” camps, the number of Palestinian prisoners never exceeded 5,000
according to figures in Israeli records.
accounting the capacity of Umm Khalid, and estimates of the “unofficial camps,”
final number of Palestinian prisoners could be around the 7,000 range, and perhaps
as the study states, when taking into account a November 17, 1948 diary
entry by David Ben-Gurion,
one of the main Zionist leaders and Israel’s first prime
minister, who mentioned “the
existence of 9,000 POWs in Israeli-run camps.”
the living conditions in the “official” camps were far below what would be
appropriate by international law at that time. Moeri, who visited the camps
that in Ijlil in November 1948: “”[m]any [of the] tents are torn, that the
was “not ready for winter,” the latrines not covered, and the canteen not working
for two weeks. Referring to an apparently ongoing situation, he stated that “the fruits
still defective, the meat is of poor quality, [and] the vegetables are in short supply.”
Furthermore, Moeri reported that he saw for himself, “’the wounds left by
of the previous week, when the guards had fired on the prisoners, wounding
and had beaten another.”
the study shows, the civilian status of the majority of the detainees were clear for the
delegates in the country, who reported that the men captured “had undoubtedly
in a regular army.” Detainees who were combatants, the study explains,
shot on the pretense that they had been attempting to escape.”
The Israeli forces seemed to always target able-bodied men, leaving behind women,
and the elderly – when not massacring them – the policy continued even after
were low levels of military confrontation. All in all, as the Israeli records show and
cites, “Palestinian civilians comprised the vast majority (82 percent) of the 5,950
as internees in the POW camps, while the Palestinians alone (civilian plus military)
The wide-scale kidnapping and imprisonment
of Palestinian civilians tend to correspond
with the Israeli military campaigns. For example,
one of the first major roundup occurred
during Operation Danj, when 60-70,000 Palestinians
were expelled from the central
towns of Lydda and Ramleh. At the same time, between a fifth
and a quarter of the male
population from these two towns who were over the age of 15 were sent
to the camps.
The largest round-up of civilians came from
villages of central Galilee
who were captured during Operation Hiram in the fall of 1948.
One Palestinian survivor, Moussa, described to
what he witnessed at the time.
“They took us from all
villages around us: al-Bi’na, Deir al-Asad, Nahaf, al-Rama, and Eilabun.
They took 4 young
men and shot them dead…They drove us on foot. It was hot. We were
not allowed to drink.
They took us to [the Palestinian Druze village]
al-Maghar, then [to the Jewish settlement]
Nahalal, then to Atlit.”
A November 16, 1948 UN report
collaborated Moussa’s account, stating that some 500
Palestinian men “were taken
by force march and vehicle to a Jewish concentration camp at Nahlal.”
Maintaining Israel’s economy with “slave labor”
The policy of targeting civilians, particular “able-bodied” men, was not accidental
to the study. It states, “with tens of thousands of Jewish men and women called
military service, Palestinian civilian internees constituted an important supplement
the Jewish civilian labor employed under emergency legislation in maintaining the
Israeli economy,” which even the ICRC delegation had noted in their reports.
Abuses by the Israeli guards were systematically rife in the camps, the brunt of
which was directed towards villagers, farmers, and lower class Palestinians.
The prisoners were forced to do public and military work, such as drying wetlands, working
as servants, collecting and transporting looted refugee property, moving stones from
Palestinian homes, paving roads, digging military trenches, burying the dead,
and much more.
As one former Palestinian detainee named Habib Mohammed Ali Jarada described in the
study, “At gunpoint, I was made to work all day. At night, we slept in tents. In winter, water
was seeping below our bedding, which was dry leaves, cartons and wooden pieces.”
Another prisoner in Umm Khalid, Marwan Iqab al-Yehiya said in an interview with the authors,
“We had to cut and carry stones all day [in a quarry]. Our daily food was only one potato in the
morning and half dried fish at night. They beat anyone who disobeyed orders.” This labor
was interspersed with acts of humiliation by the Israeli guards, as Yehiya speaks of prisoners
being “lined up and ordered to strip naked as a punishment for the escape of two prisoners at night.”
“[Jewish] Adults and children came from nearby kibbutz to watch us line
up naked and laugh. To us this was most degrading,” he added.
Abuses by the Israeli guards were systematic and rife in the camps, the brunt of which
directed towards villagers, farmers, and lower class Palestinians. This was so, the
because educated prisoners “knew their rights and had the confidence to argue with and
stand up to their captors.”
What is also interestingly
noted by the study is how ideological affiliations between
prisoners and their guards had another
effects in terms of the relationship between them.
the testimony of Kamal Ghattas, who was
captured during the Israeli attack in the Galilee, who
We had a fight with our jailers. Four hundred of us
confronted 100 soldiers. They brought
reinforcements. Three of my friends and I were taken
to a cell. They threatened to shoot us.
All night we sang the Communist Anthem. They took the
four of us to Umm Khaled camp.
The Israelis were afraid of their image in Europe. Our contact
with our Central Committee
and Mapam [Socialist Israeli party] saved us .… I met a Russian
officer and told him they
took us from our homes although we were non-combatants which was against
Conventions. When he knew I was a Communist he embraced me and said, “Comrade,
I have two brothers in the Red Army. Long live Stalin. Long Live Mother Russia”.
Yet, the less fortunate Palestinians faced acts of violence which included arbitrary
executions and torture, with no recourse. The executions were always
defended as stopping
“escape attempts” – real or claimed by the guards.
It became so common that one former Palestinian detainee of Tel Litwinsky, Tewfic
Jum’a Ghanim recounted, “Anyone who refused to work was shot. They said
tried to escape. Those of us who thought [we] were going to be killed walked
“Anyone who refused to work was shot.
They said [the person] tried to escape. Those
of us who thought [we] were going to be killed
walked backward facing
the guards.” – Former Palestinian detainee Tewfic Ahmed
Ultimately, by the end of 1949, Palestinian
prisoners were gradually released after heavy
lobbying by the ICRC, and other organizations,
but the releases were limited in scale
and very focused to specific cases. Prisoners of Arab
armies were released in prisoner
exchanges, but Palestinian prisoners were unilaterally expelled
across the armistice line
without any food, supplies, or shelter, and told to walk into the
distance, never to return.
It would not be until 1955 when
most of the Palestinian civilian prisoners would finally be released.
Forced Labour Camps Atlas. (Source: Salman Abu
Sitta, Palestine Land Society)
An enduring crime
importance of this study is multifaceted. Not only does it reveal the numerous violations
international law and conventions of the age, such as 1907 Hague Regulations and the
Conventions, but also shows how the event shaped the ICRC in the long run.
Because the ICRC was faced with a belligerent Israeli actor who was unwilling to listen
and conform to international law and conventions, the ICRC itself had to adapt in what
were practical ways to help ensure the Palestinian
civilian prisoners were protected under
the barest of rights.
Citing his final report, the study quotes
[The ICRC] protested on numerous occasions affirming
the right of these civilians to enjoy
their freedom unless found guilty and judged by a court.
But we have tacitly accepted their
POW status because in this way they would enjoy the rights
conferred upon them by the
Convention. Otherwise, if they were not in the camps they would be
expelled [to an Arab
country] and in one way or another, they would lead, without resources,
the miserable life of refugees.
In the end, the ICRC and other
organizations were simply ineffective as Israel ignored
its condemnations with impunity, in
addition to the diplomatic cover of major Western powers.
importantly, the study sheds more light on the extent of the Israeli crimes during its
and bloody birth. And “much more remains to be told,” as the final line of the study states.
“It is amazing to me, and many Europeans, who have seen my evidence,” Abu
“that a forced labor camp was opened in Palestine three years after they were
Germany, and were run by former prisoners – there were German Jewish guards.”
The study essentially shows the foundations and beginnings of Israeli policy towards
Palestinian civilians that comes in the form of kidnapping, arrest, and detainment.
“This is a bad
reflection of the human spirit, where the oppressed copies an oppressor
against innocent lives,”
The study essentially shows the foundations and
beginnings of Israeli policy towards
Palestinian civilians that comes in the form of kidnapping,
arrest, and detainment. This
criminality continues till this day. One merely has to read the
reports on the hundreds of
Palestinians arrested prior, during, and after Israel’s latest
war on Gaza mid-summer of this year.
“Gaza today is
a concentration camp, no different than the past,”
Abu Sitta concluded to Al-Akhbar English.
Yazan al-Saadi is a staff writer for Al-Akhbar English. Follow him on Twitter: @WhySadeye
The original URL of this article : http://english.al-akhbar.com/content/israels-little-known-concentration-and-labor-camps-1948-1955
Special Document File
THE ERASURE OF THE NAKBA IN ISRAEL’S ARCHIVES
IN J ULY 2019, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz published a startling feature story about
efforts by officials within Israel’s Ministry of Defense to suppress public access to sensitive files in
various state archives relating to the 1948 war, known to Palestinians as the Nakba. 1 Among the
in conjunction with a detailed report by the Israeli NGO Akevot Institute
for Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Research 2
(or simply Akevot), was the existence of a key Israeli
intelligence document that contradicts the longstanding Israeli
narrative about the making of the
Palestinian refugee population in the opening months of the Nakba. Rather than leave
homes at the behest of Arab leaders who encouraged Palestinian “flight,” as Israeli propaganda
have long argued, Israel’s own intelligence service documented in real time how military
operations by Jewish combatants
were the major cause of Palestinian displacement during the
early months of the war.
The twenty-nine-page document, prepared by the “Arab Section” of the “Intelligence Service,”
euphemistically titled Migration of Eretz Yisrael Arabs between December 1, 1947 and June 1, 1948.
fashion, the author provides contemporaneous documentation of Israeli culpability
in the expulsion of Palestinians from
their homes and the systematic depopulation of so-called
Arab villages in the first six months of the war. The document
outlines the variety of means:
Journal of Palestine
Studies Vol. XLIX, No. 1 (Autumn 2019), p. 64, ISSN: 0377-919X;
ISSN: 1533-8614. © 2019 by the Institute for Palestine
Studies. All rights reserved. Please direct all requests
for permission to photocopy
or reproduce article content through the University
Press’s Reprints and Permissions web page, http://www.ucpress.edu/journals.
php?p=reprints. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1525/jps.2019.49.1.64.
Journal of Palestine Studies
A 2019 investigation by the Israeli
NGO Akevot and Haaretz newspaper has
uncovered official suppression of crucial documents about the Nakba in Israeli
archives. The Journal of Palestine Studies is publishing print excerpts and a full
online version of the buried “migration
report,” which details Israel’s depopulation
of Palestinian villages in the first six months of the 1948
war, a document that
clearly undermines official Israeli state narratives about the course of events. In
fashion, this report provides contemporaneous documentation of
Israeli culpability in the expulsion of Palestinians from
their homes and the
systematic depopulation of so-called Arab villages in the first six months of the
a discussion of key revelations in the newly available document,
this introduction situates the broader pattern of erasure
debates over 1948 and questions of archival access. It examines how accounts of
birth and Palestinian statelessness have been crafted in relation to the
underlying question: who has permission to narrate
Special Document File: The Erasure
of the Nakba in Israel’s Archives
Autumn 2019 || 65
forces employed—from “whispering operations” to “ultimate expulsion orders” and “fear
Jewish [retaliatory] response”—with the specific form of expulsion identified in each locality during
a period in which three hundred thousand to four hundred thousand Palestinians were forced out of
their homes in areas
surrounding Jerusalem, Jaffa, Jenin, Haifa, and Acre. A similar number would
depart Jewish-controlled areas in the remaining
months of the war, from localities that included
Lydda, Ramla, the Galilee, and the Naqab. While these methods of depopulation
have long been
discussed and written about by scholars drawing on oral history sources and a variety of primary
work published in this journal—many historians and every Israeli
government since 1948 have routinely denied Israeli
agency in the making of the refugee
population. The battle over responsibility for the 1948 Nakba thus remains at the
heart of a
reckoning with the genesis of Israel’s birth and Palestinian statelessness, and it includes questions
of intentionality, moral and financial responsibility, as well as which voices get to narrate the
tragedy of displacement
In an accompanying online-only supplement to this introduction,
the Journal is publishing
the first English translation of the original Hebrew document (produced by Akevot), given
the crucial nature of this source for historians and the wider public investigating the Nakba
and the legacy of Palestinian
dispossession. An officer of Shai, the forerunner to the Shin Bet,
wrote the “migration report” as a contemporaneous
effort to explain why so many Palestinian
villages were being emptied of their Arab inhabitants during the opening months
of the war
that culminated in the establishment of the State of Israel. As his introduction plainly states,
overview is an “attempt to evaluate the intensity of the migration and its various
development phases, elucidate
the different factors that impacted population movement
directly and assess the main migration trajectories.”
of migration are broken
down by month, with a detailed annex providing a village-by-village account of the proximate
cause of depopulation and the consequences. As the section of the annex titled “Causes of
makes clear, the primary factors that drove Palestinians out of their localities
included: “direct Jewish hostile
actions against Arab communities”; the related fallout from
the “impact of our hostile actions against communities
neighboring where migrants lived”;
“actions taken by the Dissidents [Irgun, Lehi]”; and “Jewish
[psychological warfare] intended to drive Arabs to flee.” Other listed reasons included “orders
and directives issued by Arab institutions and gangs,” as Arab fighters are described, and
doubt,” the author of the report writes, “hostilities were the main factor in the
population movement. Each
and every district underwent a wave of migration as our actions in
that area intensified and expanded.” In accounting
for the number of Palestinians driven out by
“Jewish military action,” the report states “some 70%
of the residents left their communities and
migrated as a result of these actions.” 5 To scan through the document’s
appendix is to understand
the mechanism of violence that drove the exodus of Palestinian Arabs: “Threats and our
whispering” in Qaitiyya; “Friendly Jewish advice” in al-Tira; “Our Whispering operation and
in Zuq al-Fawqani; “Received order to leave from Haganah” in Sarkas; “Wanted to
negotiate. We did not
turn up. Afraid,” in Salihiyya; “Harassment by Jews” in Yazur; “Attack on
Bir Salim; and “Occupation and expulsion” in Zarnuga.
Special Document File: The Erasure of the Nakba in Israel’s
66 || Journal of Palestine Studies
The author of the report also took particular note of the influence of “dissidents’
highlighting events like the Irgun-led massacre in Deir Yassin: “The Deir Yassin action had a
particular impact on the Arab psyche. Much of the immediate fleeing seen when we launched our
attacks, especially in
the center and south, was panic flight resulting from that factor, which can
be defined as a decisive catalyst.”
similar phenomenon transpired in the wake of Irgun and
Lehi abductions of Arab notables in Sheikh Muwannis, a village
near Jaffa (where Tel Aviv
University now stands). Under the annex listing of nearby villages and the “degree of
that resulted, a column notes the village name and how many Palestinians left. In “Arab Imrir,”
the column note reads “Everyone.” The reason listed is “robbery and murder committed by
Under the “Evacuation trajectory” column, the authors note where the refugees went:
“to the area of
Qalqiliyah and Jaljulia. The place is empty.”
In detailing the factors behind these “migrations,” the report even seems to offer guidelines
how to indirectly facilitate mass flight, at a time when, as the historian Benny Morris explains,
and his Mapai party were being accused of “waging a ‘war of expulsion’
against the Palestinians,”
and Israeli negotiators were being pressured by UN mediator Folke
Bernadotte to deal with the mounting question of the
“Note that it was not always the
intensity of the attack that was decisive as other factors became particularly
psychological factors,” the author of the report writes. “The element of surprise,
long stints of
shelling with extremely loud blasts, and loudspeakers in Arabic proved very effective when
used (mostly Haifa!).”
The report also explains how an “evacuation psychosis” took
an infectious disease.”
Refugees from Haifa would shape the reaction of Palestinians
in Acre, catalyzing further
departures. Beyond a clinical description of the mechanisms of
violence, there is also a suggestion of how the numbers
of refugees might be increased in the
future. “The impact of extremely loud explosives, loudspeakers, etc., as
actions has on the migration movement must be highlighted (incidentally, no attempt was made
to attach loud sirens to the wings of aircrafts that were bombing enemy posts—so these might
have a great impact).”
The document is therefore also a guide to understanding the evolutionary
thinking of Israeli intelligence towards
the Palestinian refugees as the war was unfolding, a
primary source that contributes to the related debate over premeditated
Evidence of what transpired during the Nakba was written about in the seminal work of
historians like Walid Khalidi in the early decades after 1948, and his careful study of
depopulated Palestinian villages
was later published in English and relied on extensive maps,
statistical data, photographs, and oral history interviews.
In the 1980s, document declassification
within Israeli archives provided extensive evidence of expulsions, as
well as incidents of rape and
massacres, which led to the emergence of the “New Historians” and a historiographical
As the work of Israeli scholars like Avi Shlaim, Benny Morris, Ilan Pappé, Tom Segev,
and several others helped demonstrate, there was a much more troubling narrative of Israeli
agency in the Nakba and
the conflict with the Arab world that would have to be reckoned with.
Morris himself, the leading scholar in Israel to
write about the making of the Palestinian refugee
population, first cited a version of the “migration report”
in a 1986 article that drew on newly
opened archival material from 1948.
In his article, and the wider work that followed,
clarified Israeli culpability in expelling Palestinians, and preventing the return of those
who fled,(Special Document File: The Erasure of the Nakba in Israel’s Archives
2019 || 67)
while also shedding invaluable light on atrocities and war crimes
committed by Israeli forces. 16 Yet in
an Orwellian act of self-censorship that began in the early 2000s, the Defense
security department, Malmab, spearheaded efforts to reclassify documents and methodically
remove files from various archives across Israel to hide evidence of Israeli responsibility for the
Alongside the censoring of interviews with military
veterans describing war crimes in 1948, and
the sealing of documents that provide evidence of the extent to which the
controlled the lives of Palestinian citizens of Israel in the first decades of the state’s
Malmab officials have entered
unannounced into the reading room of various archives since 2002
and pressured professional archivists to hand over documents
about 1948 without legal authority.
This practice continues today, in contravention to existing Israeli law.
In an interview
Haaretz, Yehiel Horev—the former head of the Malmab department tasked with censoring
asked why material was systematically hidden, especially when several key
documents had already been cited in a variety
of published historical works. “Isn’t concealing
documents based on footnotes in books an attempt to lock
the barn door after the horses have
bolted?” the interviewer asked. In his response, Horev made a case for undermining
attacking the very concept of truth. “If someone writes that the horse is black, if the horse isn’t
outside the barn, you can’t prove that it’s really black.”
The troubling suggestion that the
of a document can retroactively discredit the work of a historian is indicative of a much
broader and pernicious effort
to distort the past, one that Akevot is fighting in Israeli courts and
through public campaigns that provide primary
sources to Arabic-, Hebrew-, and English-
The very act of reproducing documents like the “migration report” takes on increasing urgency
in this environment of elision and mitigates the harmful effects of digitization and selective
replicas of crucial documents in online venues like Akevot or
in the Journal (as has been the case with recent efforts
to reproduce material on the Sabra and
Shatila massacre 23 ) provides vital archival resources to those who cannot access
in Israeli archives, whether due to restrictions on movement or the very fact of plunder in 1948,
and again during the siege of Beirut in 1982.
There remain ethical questions to consider in the
sharing of original
material from Israeli archives, including the legacy of privileged access for
Jewish researchers, a discriminatory practice
that has its own troubling lineage.
At the heart of the “migration report” and its “rediscovery” remains the central issue of how the
past is narrated and who is believed.
For decades, survivors of the Nakba sought to tell others about
what they experienced
and the nature of their dispossession: in photographs and interviews, poetry
and art, historical writing and a variety
of memorial practices.
Yet the eyewitnesses to and
survivors of the 1948 tragedy were often discredited, their
reliability undermined, and the veracity
of their recollections called into question. In the case of Palestine, the danger
documents gives succor to the victor’s version of history has particular resonance. The limits
New Historians and revelations within the Israeli archives are perfectly clear: there must be a broad
of narrators delving into the Palestinian (and Zionist) past. When taken together, the
within Palestinian scholarship alongside new empirical work drawing
on Israeli sources like the “migration report”
can help inform the crafting of capacious and
Special Document File: The Erasure
of the Nakba in Israel’s Archives
textured narratives around 1948, linking together the actions and voices of those
responsible for the
expulsions and the refugees that have been unable to return to their homes ever since.
About the Author
Seth Anziska is the Mohamed S. Farsi-Polonsky Associate Professor
of Jewish-Muslim Relations at Univer-
sity College London. He is the author of Preventing Palestine: A Political History
from Camp David to Oslo
(Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2018).
[Intelligence Service (Arab Section)]
June 30, 1948
Basic figures on Arab
National phases of evacuation and migration
Causes of Arab migration
Arab migration trajectories
and absorption issues
Regional reviews analyzing migration
issues in each area [Missing from document]
Charts of villages evacuated by area, noting the causes for migration and
for every village
1. GENERAL INTRODUCTION
The purpose of this overview is to attempt to evaluate the intensity of the migration and its
various development phases,
elucidate the different factors that impacted population movement
directly and assess the main migration trajectories.
Of course, given the nature of statistical figures
in Eretz Yisrael in general, which are, in themselves, deficient,
it would be difficult to determine
with certainty absolute numbers regarding the migration movement, but it appears that
figures provided herein, even if not certain, are close to the truth. Hence, a margin of error of ten
percent needs to be taken into account. The figures on the population in the area that
lies outside the State of Israel
are less accurate, and the margin of error is greater. This review
summarizes the situation up until June 1st, 1948 (only
in one case—the evacuation of Jenin, does
it include a later occurrence).
[. . .]
* English translation
by Akevot Institute for Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Research. Original record’s source:
Hashomer Hatzair (Yad
Yaari) Archive, file 95-35.27(3). This document has been reproduced without
editing to conform to JPS style or spelling.
68 || Journal of Palestine Studies
Migration of Eretz Yisrael Arabs between December 1, 1947 and June 1,
1948*Special Document File: The Erasure of the Nakba in Israel’s Archives
3. PHASES IN THE ARAB MIGRATION
The six-month Arab migration (December 1947 to May and beyond) has four distinct phases:
First phase: Begins in early
December and lasts until late February.
Second phase: The month of March.
Third phase: The month of April.
phase: The month of May.
Major increase in migration trajectory in Tel-Hai,
Gilboa, Jaffa, Western Galilee district.
Evacuation in Negev villages takes place in this month. On the other hand,
the Central Region
enters this phase having peaked already, with most villages having been evacuated. Therefore, for
the Central Region, this phase is the “final stretch.” Because the number of remaining villages in
Central Region was small, the seemingly significant decrease felt here is no more than the final
touch. The only place
where a true decrease is felt in this month is the Sea of Galilee area.
Conclusion: The mass migration of Eretz Yisrael
Arabs took place in April–May. May was a
climax and recorded as the month during which most of the Arab migration
took place, or, more
precisely, the Arab flight.
Autumn 2019 || 69
The phases in detail:
First phase: The main feature of this stage is that, at this time, the migration
movement is only
beginning. It occurs in few places. In all fronts throughout the country, movement is extremely
Only in the Central Region, movement takes place at the end of this phase, that is, mostly
in February, when movement
there begins and its intensity, per se, is medium.
Second phase: At this
stage, a small amount of movement is felt in most fronts, and in fact, there
is a slight reduction compared to the first
phase. In some fronts, it seems that migration is waning.
This is particularly true with respect to the Central Region,
where activity was felt during the first
phase. However, where the national trend is a decline, the Jaffa front, as well
as the Sea of Galilee
area, exhibit an increase with a stronger intensity than the intensity of evacuation in the first
Third phase: This phase is marked by a moderate increase in almost
most fronts, moderate increase
in the Sea of Galilee area with the evacuation of Tiberias. Moderate increase in the Haifa
the evacuation of Haifa. Moderate increase in the Tel-Hai district with increased activities on our part.
No change in the state of migration in the Negev, which had yet to begin evacuation. Balanced
situation in terms of the evacuation of Jaffa—i.e. slight increase from the previous phase and as a
thereof. Decrease in migration movement in the Gilboa area. However, a major increase
in the Central Region, which peaks
in this month, both on the national level and in terms of
movement in the region itself. In conclusion: the third phase
shows a moderate general increase with
one peak point and one downward trend.
The fourth phase: This stage spans the month of May. It is the principal and decisive phase of the
Arab migration in
Eretz Yisrael. A migration psychosis begins to emerge, a crisis of confidence with
respect to Arab strength. As a result,
migration in this stage is characterized by:
Special Document File: The Erasure
of the Nakba in Israel’s Archives
4. CAUSES OF ARAB MIGRATION
1. Direct Jewish hostile actions against Arab communities.
2. Impact of our hostile actions against
communities neighboring where migrants lived (here—
particularly—the fall of large neighboring communities).
3. Actions taken by the Dissidents [Irgun, Lehi].
4. Orders and directives issued by Arab institutions and gangs.
5. Jewish Whispering operations [psychological warfare] intended to drive Arabs to flee.
6. Evacuation ultimatums.
7. Fear of Jewish retaliation upon a major Arab attack on Jews.
8. The appearance of gangs and foreign fighters near
9. Fear of an Arab invasion and its consequences (mostly near the borders).
10. Arab villages isolated
within purely Jewish areas.
11. Various local factors and general fear of what was to come.
b. The Factors in Detail
Without a doubt, hostilities were the main factor in the population movement. Each and every
district underwent a wave
of migration as our actions in that area intensified and expanded.
In general, for us, the month of May signified a transition
into wide-scale operations, which is why
the month of May involved the evacuation of the maximum number of locales. The
70 || Journal of Palestine Studies
It is reasonable to assume that this migration was not financially
motivated—be it a shortage of
employment, food or any other financial distress. So long as residents remained where
they were, the
Arab economy was not harmed in such a way that broke the population’s ability to support itself.
The financial factor was a motivator in migration only during the very initial phases of the
migration movement, when
the wealthy among the Arabs, wishing to secure their property and
factories, were quick to emigrate. A fluctuation in
Arab economic stability was felt in the cities, a
fluctuation that was a migration catalyst for some social strata, but
this fluctuation—such as the
migration of the wealthy, is not a major factor when discussing the mass migration
It is also reasonable to assume that the
population movement was not the result of “purely”
political factors, meaning: political decisions, in the
narrow sense of the word, had no effect
whatsoever on the migration movement. Although the massive Arab migration proliferated
particularly in the month of May, this should not be taken to be the result of the political
significance of that month.
Here, it should be noted, that inasmuch as there were locales where
the political factor was a motivator for migration
movement, this was confined to the cities, and
there too, in very limited strata and on a minute scale. These numbers
are so small, compared to
the general wave of migration and its intensity, that it can be assumed, with certainty, that
political factors had no effect whatsoever on the movement of the Arab population.
In reviewing the factors that affected migration, we list the factors that had a definitive effect
population migration. Other factors, localized and smaller scale, are listed in the special
reviews of migration movement
in each district. The factors, in order of importance, are:Special Document File:
Erasure of the Nakba in Israel’s Archives
Autumn 2019 || 71
the English, which was merely the other
side of the coin, did, of course, help evacuation, but it appears
that more than affecting migration directly, the British
evacuation freed our hands to take action.
Note that it was not always the intensity of the attack that was decisive,
as other factors became
particularly prominent—mostly psychological factors. The element of surprise, long stints
with extremely loud blasts, and loudspeakers in Arabic proved very effective when properly used
It has, however, been proven, that actions had no lesser effect
on neighboring communities as
they did on the community that was the direct target of the action. The evacuation of a
village as a result of us attacking it swept with it many neighboring villages.
The impact of the fall of large villages, centers, towns or forts with a large concentration of
around them is particularly apparent. The fall of Tiberias, Safed, Samakh, Jaffa,
Haifa and Acre produced many large
migration waves. The psychological motivation at work here
was “If the mighty have fallen. . .” In conclusion,
it can be said that at least 55% of the overall
migration movement was motivated by our actions and their impact.
The actions of the Dissidents and their impact as migration motivators: The actions of
Dissidents as migration motivators were particularly apparent in the Jaffa Tel-Aviv area; the
the south and the Jerusalem area. In other places, they did not have any direct
impact on evacuation. Dissidents’
actions with special impact: Deir Yassin, the kidnapping off five
dignitaries from Sheikh Muwannis, other actions in
the south. The Deir Yassin action had a
particular impact on the Arab psyche. Much of the immediate fleeing seen when
we launched our
attacks, especially in the center and south, was panic flight resulting from that factor, which can
be defined as a decisive catalyst. There was also panic flight spurred by actions taken by the Irgun
and Lehi themselves.
Many Central Region villagers went into flight once the dignitaries from
Sheikh Muwannis were kidnapped. The Arab learned
that it was not enough to make a deal with
the Haganah, and there were “other Jews,” of whom one must be
wary, perhaps even more wary
than of members of the Haganah, which had no control over them.
The Dissidents’ effect on the evacuation of Jaffa city and the Jaffa rural area is clear and definitive—
decisive and critical impact among migration factors here. If we were to assess the contribution made
by the Dissidents
as factors in the evacuation of Arabs in Eretz Yisrael we would find that they had
about 15% direct impact on the total
intensity of the migration.
To summarize the previous sections, one could,
therefore, say that the impact of “Jewish military
action” (Haganah and Dissidents) on the migration was
decisive, as some 70% of the residents left
their communities and migrated as a result of these actions.
Orders and directives issued by Arab institutions and gangs: This evacuation, which may
termed “orderly evacuation” was carried out for strategic reasons, at the demand of the gangs, the
Arab Higher Committee or the Transjordan government—whether as a result of a plan to turn
the village into a
base from which to launch attacks on Jews, an understanding that the village
could not be defended, or fear that it would
become a fifth column, especially if it had made an
agreement with the Jews. The impact of this factor was mainly felt
in the Gilboa area (threats to
the Zu’biya), the Sea of Galilee area (Circassian villages), the Tel-Hai area (border
center (isolated cases) and the Jerusalem area (Legion orders to evacuate a string of villages to
as bases in northern Jerusalem, and the order issued by the Arab Higher Committee to the
Special Document File:
The Erasure of the Nakba
in Israel’s Archives
72 || Journal of Palestine Studies
village of Esawiyah). However, compared to
other factors, this element did not have decisive weight,
and its impact amounts to some 5% of all villages having been
evacuated for this reason.
Jewish psychological warfare to make Arab
residents flee: This type of action, when considered as
part of the national phenomena, was not a factor with a broad
impact. However, 18% of all the
villages in the Tel-Hai area, 6% of the village in the central region, and 4% of the
villages were evacuated for this reason.
the center and the Gilboa regions such actions were not planned or carried out on a
wide scale, and therefore had a smaller
impact, in the Tel-Hai district, this type of action was
planned and carried out on a rather wide scale and in an organized
fashion, and therefore yielded
greater results. The action itself took the form of “friendly advice” offered
by Jews to their
neighboring Arab friends. This type of action drove no more than 2% of the total national migration.
Our ultimatums to Arab villages: This factor was particularly felt in the center, less
so in the
Gilboa area and to some extent in the Negev. Of course, these ultimatums, like the friendly advice,
after the stage had been set to some extent by hostilities in the area. Therefore, these
ultimatums were more of a final
push than the decisive factor. Two percent of all evacuated
village locales in the country were evacuated due to ultimatums.
Fear of reprisals: This evacuation, which can also be termed “organized evacuation”
mostly after actions against Jews had been launched from inside the village or its vicinity. An
on a Jewish convoy (the “Ehud” convoy on route to Ahiam, for instance), or a
Jewish Arab battle (the Mishmar
HaEmek front, the Gesher front, the attack on Lehavot, etc.),
automatically impacted the evacuation of nearby villages.
One percent of evacuated Arab
locales left due to this factor.
other factors listed as the appearance of gangs and foreign fighters in the vicinity of a village,
fear of the consequences
of an Arab invasion that could turn the village into a battlefield, especially
on the borders of the country, and the
fact that certain villages were isolated inside purely Jewish
areas, were also motivators for evacuation, depending on
the locale. In some areas they had a
greater impact than in others, just as in other areas, they had almost no impact
at all. All these
factors together account for no more than 1%.
fear: Although this factor is listed last, it did have a sizeable impact and played a
significant part in the evacuation.
Still, given its generality, we chose to conclude with it. When
the war began, various reasons caused general fear within
the strata of the Arab public, which
chose to emigrate for no apparent, particular, reason. However, this general fear
was the primary
manifestation of the “crisis of confidence” in Arab strength.
It is reasonable to assume that 10% of all villages evacuated for this reason, such that, in effect, the
impact of the “crisis of confidence” was the third most important factor following our actions and
actions of the Dissidents and their impact. Local factors also had a rather marked impact on
migration movement: failed
negotiations, plans to impose restricted settlement, inability to adjust
to certain realities, failed negotiations for
maintaining the status-quo or non-aggression
agreements—all had an effect in certain areas (for instance, the south),
but fail to have any
presence in other areas. It can be said that 8%–9% of the evacuated villages in the country
evacuated because of various local factors. These factors are listed by locales in the regional
herein.Special Document File: The Erasure of the Nakba in Israel’s Archives
The pace of evacuation
often increased as a result of the emergence of an evacuation psychosis
that surfaced like an infectious disease. So,
for instance, it is reasonable to assume that, in Acre,
the mass arrival of Haifa refugees who instilled the evacuation
psychosis in Acre residents had a
decisive impact. Given minor attacks and a push by various catalysing factors, a mass
tion movement from Acre has also started, with this psychosis having its fair share in it. In con-
the factors for evacuation, it appears that this “unseen” factor cannot be disregarded.
plague, where it appeared, was a catalyst in the evacuation—more than the disease
itself, the panic that erupted
due to rumors about the spread of the disease in the area, was the
The impact of extremely loud explosives, loudspeakers, etc., as psychological intimidation ac-
on the migration movement must be highlighted (incidentally, no attempt was made
to attach loud sirens to the wings of
aircrafts that were bombing enemy posts—so these might
have a great impact).
In places where a serious Arab fighting force was present, the village did not evacuate easily, and
a direct, serious action, took down this force and led to an evacuation.
In the early stages of the evacuation, when the scope was still small, Arab institutions tried to
counter flight the
evacuation and restrain the migration waves. The Arab Higher Committee de-
cided, at the time, to take measures to depress
flight by imposing restrictions and penalties, using
threats and propaganda in the press, on the radio, etc. On this
issue the Arab Higher Committee
tried to enlist the help of neighboring countries, which often shared the same interests
point. They mostly tried to prevent the flight of young men of conscription age. However, none
actions were at all successful as no positive action was taken that could have restrained
the factors that motivated
and pushed the migration. The actions taken by the preventative
mechanism simply led to corruption, and permits were
issued in return for bribes. When the
mass flight took place, this mechanism also collapsed, leaving only sporadic propaganda
yielded no real results.
5. ARAB MIGRATION TRAJECTORIES
One of the central questions in the discussion of Arab migration in Eretz
Yisrael is the new
centers where they are concentrated. On this issue, villagers and urban migrants are two different
discussions. As a rule, it can be said that the origin of a group largely determined the migration
residents of Haifa originate from Lebanon and Syria, and so, the migration
trajectory of most Haifa residents was toward
Lebanon and Syria. Similarly, the people of Faluja,
in Jaffa, returned to their village. However, it should be noted
that most of the wealthy urban
dwellers and people of means in the cities emigrated abroad.
Urban Arab dwellers markedly showed a more decisive migration trend. The road to the urban
“final destination” was much shorter than that of the villager. While the urban dweller did
not move around
between stops along the way, the villager often had to move from one place to
Autumn 2019 || 73
Special Document File: The Erasure of the Nakba in Israel’s Archives
The wealthy among city dwellers migrated primarily to Arab countries.
including those lacking means, who came mostly from border areas, migrated to
Syria and Lebanon.
The main migration to Egypt came from Jaffa, the south, Haifa and Jerusalem.
The main migration to Transjordan
came from the Sea of Galilee communities, the Yizrael
district, the Gilboa district, Acre, Jaffa and Jerusalem.
appears that Syria and Lebanon received most of those who migrated abroad, followed by
Transjordan, and lastly, Egypt.
[. . .]
74 || Journal of Palestine Studies
times. This affair, of the villager’s wanderings, stems from several reasons, but
mostly, the family origin of
villagers determined the migration routes taken by those fleeing. For
instance, in the first phase of the evacuation
and flight, migrants tended to move from the planes
to the mountains, or from the south to the coastal region.
Another factor that impacted migration trajectories in rural areas in the early stages
fleeing to the nearest, largest Arab urban center—even if they had no family connections, work
connections or acquaintances there. Here, security was the decisive factor. This factor was largely
previous factors, and in other cases, in the absence of other factors, it was the
decisive one. For these reasons, a
villager had to divide his migration trail, unbeknownst to him,
to multiple phases, multiple stops—as indeed, these
factors did not always take him to a safe area.
A review of the migration
trajectories of villagers reveals multiple stops, a much less apparent trend
in the migration of city dwellers. So, for
instance, some residents of the village of Beit Susin in the
south, migrated to al-Mughar and from there to Yavneh, from
Yavneh to Ashdod and from
Ashdod to Gaza. For this reason, villages that served as destination points in the first phase
flight, turned into points of escape in the second phase, and so forth. Many migrated to Beit Shean
neighboring villages, and had to flee from there when residents of Beit Shean themselves fled.
It is also important to note that given that villagers’ migration routes were initially rather short
(in terms of how far they got from the village), and given that a village was evacuated without our
stationing a unit
there permanently, there was also a movement of return to villages that had been
evacuated, which forced us to engage,
on more than one occasion, in expelling residents of a
There are no “national centers” of migration absorption to speak of, not only because no one
the migration movement and took care to direct it in certain trajectories, but also
because of the trajectories the Arab
migration movement took. True, we ultimately do find
centers where many Arab migrants remain, many who came from different
parts of the
country. This is the outcome of a long trail with many stops along the way, which was
solely by the security criterion. In this respect, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and
Transjordan abroad, the Arab Triangle, the
Ramallah and Birzeit area and the southern
coastal plain of Eretz Yisrael do form the main centers that absorbed Arab
migration in Eretz
Yisrael. However, this should not be taken as an indication on the national level.
One of the main questions, which we cannot answer, is: How many migrated abroad and how
many to centers inside Eretz Yisrael? On this issue, we can only make several assumptions:
Special Document File: The Erasure of the Nakba in Israel’s Archives
Hagar Shezaf, “Burying the Nakba: How Israel Systematically Hides Evidence of 1948 Expulsion
Arabs,” Haaretz, 5 July 2019, https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium.MAGAZINE-how-
2 Silencing: DSDE’s Concealment of Documents in Archives, Akevot Institute for Israeli-Palestinian
Research, Tel Aviv, July 2019, https://www.akevot.org.il/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Silencing-
3 Intelligence Service (Arab Section), Migration of Eretz Yisrael Arabs between December
1, 1947 and
June 1, 1948, 30 June 1948, Hashomer Hatzair (Yad Yaari) Archive, file 95-35.27(3), English
(used here) by Akevot Institute for Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Research, https://
4 Migration of Eretz Yisrael Arabs, Akevot, p. 4 (brackets in the original).
5 Migration of Eretz Yisrael Arabs, Akevot, p. 5.
6 Migration of Eretz Yisrael Arabs, Akevot, pp. 13–29.
7 Migration of Eretz Yisrael Arabs, Akevot, p. 5.
of Eretz Yisrael Arabs, Akevot, p. 22.
9 Benny Morris, “The Causes
and Character of the Arab Exodus from Palestine: The Israel Defence
Forces Intelligence Branch Analysis of June 1948,”
Middle Eastern Studies 22, no.1 (January 1986): p. 6.
10 Migration of
Eretz Yisrael Arabs, Akevot, p. 5.
11 Migration of Eretz Yisrael Arabs,
Akevot, p. 7.
12 Migration of Eretz Yisrael Arabs, Akevot, p. 7.
13 Walid Khalidi, ed., All That Remains: The Palestinian Villages Occupied and Depopulated
by Israel in 1948
(Washington, DC: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1992). On oral history, see Nahla Abdo and Nur
Masalha, eds., An Oral History of the Palestinian Nakba (London: Zed Books, 2018); and the online
collection of the
Palestinian Oral History Archive, American University of Beirut, https://libraries.
14 On the “New Historians,” see Zachary Lockman, “Review: Original Sin,”
Middle East Report 152 (May–
June 1988): pp. 57–64; and Avi Shlaim, “The Debate about 1948,”
International Journal of Middle East
Studies 27, no. 3 (August 1995): pp. 287–304.
15 Morris, “The Causes and Character of the Arab Exodus,” pp. 5–19.
16 For an expansive discussion, see Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003). Morris later justified acts of ethnic cleansing and
one interviewer, “I don’t think that the expulsions of 1948 were war crimes. You
can’t make an omelet
without breaking eggs. You have to dirty your hands. . . . A Jewish state
would not have come into being without the
uprooting of 700,000 Palestinians. Therefore, it was
necessary to uproot them. There was no choice but to expel that
population. It was necessary to
cleanse the hinterland and cleanse the border areas and cleanse the main roads. It was
to cleanse the villages from which our convoys and our settlements were fired on.” See “Survival
of the Fittest: An Interview with Benny Morris,” interview by Ari Shavit, Haaretz, 8 January 2004,
17 This formal effort to block access to official material about 1948 has deep parallels
in the erasures
that accompany mapping and memorialization practices, urban planning, and architecture in
See, for example, Noga Kadman, Erased from Space and Consciousness: Israel and the
Depopulated Palestinian Villages of
1948 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2015); Sharon
Rotbard, White City, Black City: Architecture and War in Tel
Aviv and Jaffa (London: Pluto Press,
2015); and the short film Mirror Image, directed by Danielle Schwartz (Israel, 2013
Autumn 2019 || 75
1Special Document File: The Erasure of the Nakba in Israel’s Archives
48 mm—The International Film Festival on Nakba and Return]). Palestine Open Maps is developing
an online digital
platform for open source mapping of pre-1948 Palestine. See About page, Palestine
Open Maps, https://palopenmaps.org/about.
The Israeli NGO Zochrot has worked to raise
awareness of the Nakba through a variety of activities, including walking
tours, interviews, and
online resources that are available on their website at https://zochrot.org/en/content/17.
18 For an invaluable study of Palestinian citizens living under military rule—using
many buried sources
as well as oral history interviews—see Shira Robinson, Citizen Strangers: Palestinians and
the Birth of
Israel’s Liberal Settler State (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2013).
19 See Akevot, “Silencing.”
21 See the Akevot
22 For a vital report on these
developments, see Shay Hazkani, “Israel’s Vanishing Files, Archival
Deception and Paper Trails,” Middle
East Report 291 (Summer 2019): pp. 10–15.
23 This includes the
secret appendix to the Kahan Commission of Inquiry’s report on the massacre,
available online in English and Hebrew.
See Rashid Khalidi, “Sabra and Shatila Massacre: New
Evidence,” Palestine Square, 25 September 2018, https://palestinesquare.com/2018/09/25/the-
sabra-and-shatila-massacre-new-evidence/; and Mouin Rabbani and Sherene Seikaly, “Archive
Documents: The Kahan
Commission and the 1982 Sabra-Shatila Massacre,” Jadaliyya, 28 February
24 On plunder, see Rona Sela, “The Genealogy of Colonial Plunder and Erasure –
Israel’s Control over
Palestinian Archives,” Social Semiotics 28, no. 2 (April 2018): pp. 201–29; Hana
Sleiman, “The Paper
Trail of a Liberation Movement,” Arab Studies Journal 24, no. 1, (Spring 2016): pp. 42–67;
Amit, Ex-libris: Chronicles of Theft, Preservation, and Appropriating at the Jewish National Library
Hebrew] (Jerusalem: The Van Leer Jerusalem Institute and Hakibbutz Hameuchad, 2014).
25 See, for example, Musa Budeiri, “Controlling the Archive: Captured Jordanian Security Files in the
Israeli State Archives,” Jerusalem Quarterly 66 (Summer 2016): pp. 87–98.
26 See Amjad Iraqi, “Don’t Wait for Israeli Archives to Prove What Palestinians Already Know,”
Magazine, 7 July 2019, https://972mag.com/dont-wait-israeli-archives-prove-palestinians-already-
27 See Ahmad H. Sa‘di and Lila Abu-Lughod, eds., Nakba: Palestine, 1948, and the
Claims of Memory
(New York: Columbia University Press, 2007).
76 || Journal of Palestine Studies
Shezaf, “Burying the Nakba.” See also Benny Morris, “Israel’s Concealing of Nakba Documents Is
Totalitarian,” Haaretz, 15 July 2019, https://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-israel-s-concealing-
The ICRC and the Detention of Palestinian
Civilians in Israel’s 1948 POW/Labor Camps
ABU SITTA AND TERRY REMPEL
IN J UNE 1948, several weeks after the outbreak
of the first Arab-Israeli war, Jacques de Reynier, the
head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) mission
in Palestine, sent his fourth
monthly report to Red Cross headquarters in Geneva. The report described the delegation’s
caring for the victims of the conflict, ensuring the protection of humanitarian institutions,
the delivery of emergency assistance, and monitoring the treatment of prisoners of
war (POWs). De Reynier also drew attention
to an issue with which the Red Cross would struggle
for the rest of the 1948–49 war, namely, the capture and internment
of Palestinian civilians in
POW camps. Subsequent reports indicated that the majority of these civilian internees were
used as slave labor to help support Israel’s wartime economy.
Israel’s capture and internment of thousands of Palestinian civilians as forced laborers is a
known episode in the 1948 war. While contemporary accounts of the war
usually include some reference to the detention
of combatants, few make reference to the
parallel and much larger phenomenon of civilian internment. Israel’s use
civilian internees to support its wartime economy, moreover, is rarely discussed in the literature
on the 1948 war. 1 This article begins to piece together the story from the two perspectives of the
ICRC and former
Journal of Palestine Studies Vol. XLIII, No. 4 (Summer
2014), p. 11, ISSN: 0377-919X; electronic ISSN: 1533-8614. © 2014 by the Institute for Palestine
Studies. All rights
reserved. Please direct all requests for permission to photocopy or reproduce article content through the University of California
Press’s Rights and Permissions website, at http://www.ucpressjournals.com/reprintInfo.asp. DOI: 10.1525/jps.2014.43.4.11.
Summer 2014 || 11
The internment of thousands of Palestinian civilians in Israeli-run prisoner of war
is a relatively little known episode in the 1948 war. This article begins to
piece together the story from the dual perspective
of the former civilian
internees and of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Aside
from the day-to-day
treatment of the internees, ICRC reports focused on the
legal and humanitarian implications of civilian internment and
on Israel’s resort
to forced labor to support its war effort. Most of the 5,000 or so Palestinian
held in four official camps were reduced to conditions described by
one ICRC official as “slavery” and then
expelled from the country at the end of
the war. Notwithstanding their shortcoming, the ICRC records constitute
important contribution to the story of these prisoners and also expose
the organization’s ineffectiveness—absent
a legal framework as well as
enforcement mechanisms beyond moral persuasion, the ICRC could do little to
on behalf of the internees.
The ICRC and Israel’s
Detention of Palestinian Civilians in 1948
The ICRC and the 1948 War in Palestine: Beginnings
12 || Journal of Palestine
On 16 May 1947, the day after the UN General Assembly (UNGA) approved the establishment of
a UN Special
Committee on Palestine to investigate and submit proposals relating to the country’s
future, the ICRC announced
its intention to send an exploratory mission to Palestine. The quarter
century of British Mandatory rule, which had the
avowed intention of establishing a “Jewish
national home” in Palestine, from the outset was bitterly contested
by the country’s Arab majority.
The resulting strife, intermittent in the first decades, steadily increased after
London declared its
resolve to withdraw and transfer responsibility for the country’s fate to the United Nations.
The first ICRC delegation left Palestine without a firm commitment from the British authorities
concerning a future role, but in December 1947, following the adoption of the UN partition plan
(UNGA Res. 181) on
29 November 1947, the committee decided to send a second delegation. By
that time, full-scale war was all but certain,
and already the casualties from the emerging civil
conflict had caused British officials in Palestine to seek Red Cross
assistance in maintaining
In early 1948, the second ICRC delegation to Palestine, comprising de Reynier, Jean Munier, and
began to investigate the situation on the ground and prepare recommendations for
Red Cross intervention as a neutral
intermediary. Specifically, the delegation proposed setting up
a mission in Palestine by 1 April 1948 that would consist
of eighteen Swiss nationals (eight
delegates and ten nurses).
Its purpose was to ensure that international humanitarian law be
applied to all victims of the conflict,
to protect institutions engaged in humanitarian work, and to
generate and coordinate the distribution of emergency assistance.
The ICRC subsequently received
both British and UN approval to operate in Palestine, enabling it to perform its traditional
wartime duties from mid-April 1948 5 until the last of the four armistice agreements between
Israel and Arab states
was signed in July 1949. After that date, the ICRC resumed its peacetime
activities such as assisting the refugees now
outside the new state as well as the so-called
infiltrators attempting to cross cease-fire lines to reach their homes
Besides the desire to carry out its traditional mandate of
assisting victims of war, the ICRC had
another important motive in pressing for the establishment of a mission in Palestine.
Forsythe and Rieffer-Flanagan, after World War II “there was a real question whether the ICRC
survive. The organization [thus] sought to use [the] conflict [in Palestine] . . . also to prove to
the world that it
was still a viable institution.” Junod adds that Red Cross officials believed that the
neutral intervention would enable it to further develop principles and practices relating
to the protection of civilians
under international humanitarian law, notably in setting a precedent
for ICRC intervention in situations of civil war
and with regard to protecting civilian populations.
As the conflict
in Palestine was heating up in the wake of World War II, treaties governing the
conduct of war consisted of the 1907
Hague Regulations, which prohibited deportation from
occupied territory, and the 1929 Geneva Convention, which called
for the repatriation of POWs
following the cessation of hostilities. Neither of these adequately addressed the issue
arise in the fighting to come: the treatment of civilian noncombatants in conquered territory. The
Cross, as guardian of the Geneva Conventions, was well aware of the inadequacies of the
existing international instruments
in situations involving civilians, and it had been keen
to updateThe ICRC
and Israel’s Detention of Palestinian Civilians in 1948
The 1929 convention almost since its ratification.
Indeed, a draft convention on the treatment of
enemy civilians both in the territory of a belligerent and in territory
occupied by a belligerent had
been signed in 1934, but with the storm clouds of war already gathering in Europe, its
was postponed and it never entered into force.
Thus, no sooner had the 1945 armistice been signed than the ICRC, which had attributed its
failure to adequately
protect civilians during World War II at least partly to the absence of a legal
framework allowing it to intervene on
their behalf, renewed its efforts to convene a new
international conference aimed at extending the application of international
humanitarian law to the
treatment of civilians and situations of civil/internal war. The Conference of Government Experts
for the Study of Conventions for the Protection of War Victims duly opened in Geneva under ICRC
auspices in April 1947
(about the same time that the ICRC was exploring the possibility of a mission
to Palestine). But whereas the conference
participants agreed on the goals envisaged, the new
conventions were not ratified until after the Palestine war
was over. In such a situation, the ICRC
had to face the reality that without “the formal commitment of the parties
to apply [international
humanitarian law to civilians] during the events in Palestine, the principles of the Geneva
Convention of 1929 would remain a figment of the imagination [with] no practical effect.”
The ICRC sought to make up for these lacunae in its 12 March 1948 appeal addressed to the
Jewish Agency (JA) and the Arab Higher Committee (AHC), the bodies representing the two sides
in the Palestine conflict.
The ICRC appeal, entitled “Application in Palestine of the Principles of
the Geneva Conventions” and issued
in Arabic, Hebrew, and English, called on both parties “to act
in obedience to the traditional rules of international
law, and to apply . . . the principles embodied
in the [two conventions 11 ] signed at Geneva on 27 July 1929.”
12 Specifically, the ICRC appeal
called upon the Arab and Jewish sides to respect the “spirit” of the 1929
included “security for all non-combatants, especially, women, children and the aged.”
In early April 1948, both the JA and the AHC agreed to comply
with the ICRC’s appeal.
Significantly, however, the JA tempered its
agreement with a crucial proviso: the Zionist forces
would protect the civilian population only “to the extent
that the [1929 Geneva] Conventions
appli[ed] to civilians.” It hardly bears mention that the JA was entirely
conversant with the
conventions’ inadequacies with regard to civilian protection, 16 and on 3 April 1948, the very
day that the JA accepted the ICRC appeal, the Zionist paramilitary organization, the Haganah,
Dalet, the military blueprint for the conquest of Palestine through the large-scale
expulsion of the civilian population.
Indeed, within a week, on 9 April, the Zionist terrorist
organization Irgun Zevai Leumi, backed by the “official”
Haganah, carried out its infamous
massacre in the Palestinian village of Dayr Yasin on the western outskirts of Jerusalem,
the widespread panic that contributed to the mass displacement of Palestinian civilians in its
De Reynier visited the site himself, and on 13 April lodged an official protest with the JA
for the “clear violation
of the spirit and letter of the Geneva Conventions.”
Despite thisnauspicious start, the ICRC believed that it had obtained an effective legal
framework regulating ts intervention in Palestine.
embodied in the first Red Cross appeal, however, were rendered obsolete
by the outbreak of the “international conflict”
on 15 May 1948, when the regular armies of
the surrounding Arab countries, acting on behalf of the Palestinian Arab population,
Palestine, mainly the areas that the UN had designated for the future Arab state. Compelled to adapt
legal framework as a result, the ICRC launched a second appeal on 24 May 1948 calling on the
belligerents to comply with
the key principles of the  Geneva Conventions relevant to
situations of international conflict. Besides the
treatment of sick and wounded combatants, these
conventions also addressed the treatment of POWs. The League of Arab
States and the newly
established State of Israel both responded positively to the ICRC appeal, on 26 and 27 May
While few of the belligerents had ratified the 1929 convention,
by 1948 they had
achieved the status of customary law and were thus binding on all belligerents.
A BRIEF NOTE ON SOURCES
The establishment of the ICRC’s mission in Palestine
in early April 1948 coincided almost
exactly with the Haganah’s launch of Plan Dalet, the Israeli high command’s
plan for the
wholesale eviction of Palestinians and destruction of Palestinian villages in areas allocated by the
UN partition plan to the Jewish state and beyond. 27 From then until Israel’s unilateral declaration
on 14 May 1948, most of the major Palestinian and “mixed” towns (i.e., Haifa, Jaffa,
Bisan, and Tiberias),
28 along with some two hundred Palestinian villages (including all those in
the Jerusalem corridor west of the city),
had fallen despite often fierce resistance.
this period between April and mid-May 1948, well over two hundred thousand Palestinians had already
been driven from
their homes, mainly across the UN partition lines to the UN-proposed Arab state
or to neighboring countries.
Prior to Israel’s establishment, there were relatively few captives. As Ilan Pappé
has noted, the
Zionist leadership had concluded early on that forcible expulsion of the civilian population was the
only way to establish a Jewish state in Palestine with a large enough Jewish majority (which
Ben-Gurion estimated at
“80 to 90 percent of Mandatory Palestine”) to be “viable.” The focus,
therefore, was on driving
Palestinians out directly or on “encouraging” them to leave. A routine
procedure in the defeated villages
in the early period was to separate out the remaining women,
children, and elderly and send them on their way while interrogating
the men to extract information,
after which some might be shot, others taken hostage, but most forced onto the road of
Israel’s policy with regard to
captives changed with the end of the so-called civil war phase on 14
May 1948 and the start of the “international
conflict” the following day, when the armies of
Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and Transjordan, responding to Israel’s
declaration of statehood, entered
Palestine with the aim of preventing those parts of the country “assigned”
by partition to the Arab
state from falling into Jewish hands. From then on, Israeli forces began taking prisoners, both
regular Arab soldiers (for eventual exchange) and able-bodied Palestinian (noncombatant)
civilians. Throughout the
war, Palestinian civilian prisoners consistently outnumbered Arab
military prisoners by a large margin in all four of
Israel’s official POW camps. On the other hand,
when compared to the some 750,000 Palestinians who had been made
refugees by the war’s
end, the number of civilian internees was insignificant: according to Red Cross statistics,
their numbers (at least those held in the official camps) never far exceeded five thousand
(see Table 1 below).The
ICRC and Israel’s Detention of Palestinian Civilians in 1948
CAPTIVES AND THE ESTABLISHMENT OF POW CAMPS
There was screaming and running
blood. They took us to Zichron Ya’aqov and we were led to a
damp dark cellar. . . . We were about three hundred.
There was standing room only. We stayed
three days without food. . . . Then suddenly the door was opened. . . . We were
packed in waiting
trucks. Again they knocked and beat all standing heads. There was so much splashed blood.
guard we were driven to [the village of] Umm Khalid. There we were taken to a concen-
tration camp with barbed wire and
gates and put to forced labor.
and al-Yahya’s accounts both largely conform to the basic pattern described by almost all the
The major difference between the two accounts is the relatively mild treatment of
Sayigh and his middle-class companions
compared with the harshness and brutality to which the
Tantura villagers were subjected—the latter being the norm
for the great majority of Palestinians.
Toward the end of June 1948,
Sayigh’s entire group was moved to Israel’s first (and at the time
only) POW camp at Ijlil, in accordance
with the 1929 Geneva Convention on POWs. Ijlil was
established after the start, in mid-May, of the war’s international
phase. The camp was about
thirteen kilometers northeast of Jaffa on the site of the destroyed Palestinian village Ijlil
al-Qibliyya, which had been emptied of its inhabitants in early April. Indeed, the ICRC’s first
report on the
camp noted that some prisoners were housed in the village’s remaining mud
houses. Mostly, however, Ijlil was made
up of tents. An October 1948 report in the New York
Times described it as “a tent camp hastily thrown up on the
sand and scrub of a little valley beside
[the village of Ijlil].” This description was corroborated by Sayigh’s
account of his arrival at the
camp, where, he noted, there were “already hundreds and hundreds of other POWs.”
The relatively small number of prisoners taken in the weeks following Israel’s establishment were
captured in the last stages of operations launched in the first month of Plan Dalet. The late
Yusif Sayigh, for example, was captured during Plan Dalet’s Operation
Kilshon (Pitchfork), which targeted the western
Jerusalem neighborhoods vacated by the British
just before the Jewish state was declared. With the Israeli forces closing
in on Qatamon, the
middle-class Palestinian neighborhood of western Jerusalem where he lived, the thirty-one-year-
old Sayigh had sought refuge in a German hospice under ICRC protection in the nearby Baq‘a
after Israel’s establishment, Israeli soldiers stormed the hospice, where
twenty-three other men (aged fifteen
to fifty-five) had also taken refuge. After several days of
intensive interrogation, Sayigh and his companions were loaded
into an armored, windowless bus
that was part of a convoy transporting over five hundred men, likewise taken prisoner
Jerusalem, to a temporary detention facility in a Jewish colony on the outskirts of the city and
to a more permanent site.
Other captives during this early period were
taken during the late May 1948 “coastal clearing” of
the Palestinian villages south of Haifa, which had fallen
in late April. Among such coastal villages,
which were all located inside the UN-assigned Jewish state, was Tantura,
site of another well-known
Israeli massacre. Marwan ‘Iqab al-Yahya, then a fifteen-year-old boy, recounts
that after the
massacre, he was herded into a truck with other men of the village while soldiers struck any head
stood above the others with their rifle butts.
Trucks brought tents for us to put up. We had no experience in putting up tents, so every tent
fell two or three times before we managed to get it up. There were big tents in the officer’s [sic]
where I was. Our tent had six to eight people in it. There were bigger tents for things
like kitchens, where many had
to be together. . . . This camp had a barbed wire fence around it,
as well as watchtowers, a gate and guards.
Meanwhile, as Israel pressed forward with its conquest of the areas allocated to the Arab
number of prisoners continued to rise (Ijlil camp’s population had tripled by July). As a result, three
more POW camps were established for a total of four “official” camps, which were numbered
by date of establishment starting with Ijlil (no. 791). All four camps were either on or
adjacent to military installations
set up by the British during the Mandate. These had been used
during World War II for the internment of German, Italian,
and other POWs. Two of the camps—
Atlit (no. 792), established in July about twenty kilometers south of Haifa,
and Sarafand (no. 793),
established in September near the depopulated village of Sarafand al-‘Amar in central Palestine—
had been used in the 1930s and 1940s to detain illegal Jewish immigrants. 38 Atlit, like the other
camps, was divided
into sections surrounded by high barbed-wire fences and observation towers. It
could hold up to 2,900 prisoners, 39 making
it the second largest camp after Ijlil (which was
eventually expanded to hold some 4,200 POWs on sixty dunams).
Sarafand was built to house
with a maximum capacity of 1,800. The smallest of the four official camps
was Tel Letwinksy (later Tel Hashomer, no.
794), which had been built to hold 500–1,000 internees
but which generally held more. Tel Letwinksy, located
near Tel Aviv, opened in September (like
Sarafand). All four camps were administered by former British officers who had
British forces withdrew from Palestine in mid-May 1948. From various prisoner accounts, including
it would appear that many of the camps’ guards and administrative staff were former
members of the Irgun and the
Stern Gang who had been integrated into the Israeli army. At the
height of the war, the four official POW camps combined
were staffed by a total of 973 enlisted
soldiers. The official camps all benefited from regular Red Cross visits.
A fifth camp, Umm Khalid, at the site of a depopulated village of the same name east of
Jewish settlement of Netanya, had a recognized presence and was even assigned a number (no.
795) but never attained
“official” status. Initially under the command of and administered by
Ijlil camp, twenty-five kilometers
to its south, Umm Khalid appears to have been the first
labor camp established exclusively for that purpose. According
to Klein, POWs and civilians
interned at Ijlil were sent there to work for several weeks at a time, sleeping in
and village houses. At the end of 1948, plans were made to expand the camp’s capacity to
POWs. Though it eventually became autonomous, Umm Khalid was the first of
the “recognized” camps to
be shut down, with POWs and civilian internees moved to other
camps by the end of 1948.
In addition to these five “recognized” POW camps, there were also “unrecognized” sites,
number remains unknown and which are mostly unmentioned in official sources. Captured POWs
and civilians were
held in these camps on a temporary basis either before being assigned to an official
camp or while employed on various
work projects. Prisoner testimonies point to the existence of at
least seventeen such sites, many of them apparently
improvised and often consisting of no more than
THE INTERNEES AND THE
PRINCIPAL “WAVES” OF CIVILIAN INTERNMENT
Even in the absence
of a study dedicated to 1948 Palestinian prisoners, a general picture of their
composition and circumstances emerges
from ICRC and other reports, as well as histories of the
1948 war and prisoner testimonies. Farmers, taken prisoner by
Israeli forces when their villages
fell, made up the great majority of the captives, although there was also a small
middle-class urban dwellers. Most of the Palestinian prisoners were men of fighting age, with
in a visit to Ijlil camp in July 1948, for example, the ICRC found ninety elderly
men and seventy-seven boys fifteen
years old or younger among the internees. A January 1949
report by ICRC delegate Emile Moeri paints a vivid picture not
only of the diversity of camp
inmates, but also of the conditions in which they lived:
It is painful to see these poor people, especially the old, who were snatched from their villages
put without reason in a camp, obliged to pass the winter under wet tents, away from their
families; those who could not
survive these conditions died. Little children (10–12 years) are
equally found under these conditions. Similarly
sick people, some with tuberculosis, languish
in these camps under conditions which, while fine for healthy individuals,
will certainly lead
to their death if we do not find a solution to this problem. For a long time we have demanded
a police station, a school, or the house of a village notable. Although these camps were not visited by
the ICRC, several
Red Cross reports reviewed for this article refer to them in passing: a report from
early May (1948) notes a small transit
camp (“Hahuza”) in Haifa, comprising “a single permanent
building” where as many as 170 internees
were held for up to two days, while a June report
mentions several “transit” camps in the same area. The
“unofficial” or “unrecognized” camps
will be dealt with in the section on forced labor below.
It should be emphasized that Israel situated its five recognized camps within the borders
UN-proposed Jewish state. This was undoubtedly to avoid problems with the international
the territory seized by Israel after 15 May was widely regarded as “occupied,”
even though the UN partition
plan was only a “recommendation” and therefore not legally
binding. It was from these occupied areas that
the overwhelming majority of the prisoners, both
military and civilian, were captured. Almost all the unrecognized transit
or labor camps were also
located inside the UN partition lines of the Jewish state, although at least four—Beersheba,
Bayt Daras, and Bayt Nabala—were in the UN-assigned Arab state and one was inside the
The establishment of the POW camps highlighted a problem
that was to preoccupy the ICRC
throughout the war—namely, Israel’s failure to distinguish between the bona
fide POWs, or
soldiers in regular armies, and the Palestinian civilian noncombatant detainees. Already within
of the start of the international phase of the war, that is, 15 May 1948, the latter far
exceeded the former in number.
In his June 1948 monthly report, ICRC mission chief Jacques de
Reynier noted that the situation of civilian internees
was “absolutely confused” with that of
POWs, and that the Jewish authorities “treated all Arabs between
the ages of sixteen and fifty-five
as combatants and locked them up as prisoners of war.”
Moeri, who visited the camps frequently, provides other details
about living conditions. After a
visit to Ijlil in November 1948, he notes that “[m]any [of the] tents are torn,”
the camp was “not
ready for winter,” the latrines were not covered, and the canteen was not working for two
Referring to an apparently ongoing situation, he adds, “The fruits are still defective, the meat is of
poor quality, [and] the vegetables are in short supply.” Moeri also reported having seen for
wounds left by the abuse” of the previous week, when the guards had fired on the
prisoners, wounding one, and had
beaten another. Visiting Atlit in the company of another
ICRC delegate that same month, he commented that the camp was
“well-organized” and that
“everything was clean,” but that the POWs’ “clothes were
in tatters [and most POWs] live for
months with the same clothes and underwear.”
In his final report about the ICRC mission in Palestine, de Reynier points out that “at
beginning many hostages [were taken] who were either traded or executed—in official language,
of a heart attack.” As for the reasons behind the capture of large numbers of civilians,
almost all those captured
were interrogated as potential sources of intelligence. The high number of
able-bodied men of fighting age could also
suggest that capture was a “preventive” measure to keep
them off the battlefield. It seems clear, however,
that the main reason was Israel’s need for manpower.
never any question about the civilian status of the internees. De Reynier observes in an
early report that the men captured
“had undoubtedly never been in a regular army.” The Israelis
were equally aware of this, and indeed their
own reports explicitly distinguished “combatants”
from “noncombatants.” Moreover, prisoners classed
as noncombatants who came under suspicion
of having been fighters were routinely shot on the pretense that they had been
escape. Yusif Sayigh and others make mention of this.
As indicated, the wide-scale capture and internment of Palestinian civilians took place mainly
15 May 1948 and largely coincided with Israel’s military campaigns. The first major roundup occurred
and following Operation Dani (July 1948), when sixty to seventy thousand Palestinian civilians
were expelled from the
central Palestinian towns of Lydda and Ramla. According to Kamen, by early
1949 between a fifth and a quarter of the
male population over the age of fifteen from the two towns
were held in Israel’s POW camps. This group also included
Palestinians from Jaffa and from the
scores of villages captured during the July operation. Tawfiq Ahmad Jum‘a
Ghanim, for example,
was captured when his village of Hatta, about thirty kilometers northeast of Gaza, fell to Israeli
forces. Ghanim recalled being taken to the nearby Palestinian village of Jusayr to identify persons
to the Israeli military. “I said I did not know. They put a knife to my throat. Then they
put me against a wall
and shot at me. An officer intervened.” The young man, who was in his
early twenties at the time, was subsequently
taken to the Jewish settlements of Beer Tuvia and
Rehovoth for interrogation and then sent to the POW camp in Ijlil.
By far the largest group of civilian detainees came from villages of the central Galilee,
captured before and during Operation Hiram in late October through early November 1948. In
the operation, during which large swaths of territory designated for the Arab state
were conquered, Israel’s Foreign
Ministry instructed its military forces to make sure “that no Arab
remain in the Galilee and certainly that no refugees from other places remain there.”
An estimated three quarters of the area’s sixty thousand Arab Palestinian inhabitants
displaced during Operation Hiram, with hundreds of men and boys rounded up and taken to
POW camps. In the Palestinian
village of al-Bi‘na alone, with an estimated population of around
nine hundred, some two hundred men were captured
and sent to camps. Nadim Musa, from
the village of Abu Sinan northeast of Acre and in his late twenties when captured,
the Haganah rounded up and detained the male inhabitants of the Galilee villages, even though
were not combatants and did not carry weapons.
Musa’s account is
corroborated in a 16 November 1948 report filed by UN observers, who noted
that when Jewish forces occupied the villages
of al-Bi‘na (“al-Bani”), ‘Arrabat al-Batuf, Dayr al-Asad,
‘Aylabun, and Kafr Annan at the
end of October 1948, some five hundred Palestinian men “were
taken by forced march and vehicle to a Jewish concentration
camp at Nahlal.” On 10 November
1948, barely a week after Operation Hiram ended, ICRC delegates Emile Moeri and
Troyon visited Acre, Shafa ‘Amr, Tamra, and Iblin, all of which were occupied by Israeli forces.
delegates described the situation there as “very critical” and noted that “[a]ll able-bodied men
been] arrested and taken to labor camps,” with women, children, and the elderly left to fend
Even after the military operations slacked off, the capture
of the able-bodied continued, albeit less
often in combat situations than within the context of preventing “infiltrators”
(i.e., refugees) from
returning to their homes and fields. That was the aim of Operation Megrafa, which lasted from
December 1948 to July 1949, after the armistice agreements were signed. In some cases, villagers
unaware of the location
of the armistice lines were captured while harvesting their crops or
tending their livestock. Twenty-year-old Ibrahim
‘Abd al-Qadir Abu Sayf from the village of
Zikrin, for example, was grazing his cows near Khirbat ‘Atir when
Israeli soldiers seized him and
two other farmers, appropriated their camels and a horse, and took them to a military
the mountains. 64 Similarly, in January 1949, UN truce observers reported that Israeli forces had
two villagers, Ahmad ‘Abd Abu Zaydi and Yusuf Hamid al-Fustuk, while they were
working their land near their village
of Tubas. In his monthly report for April 1949, de Reynier
complained that “[f]or various reasons, the Israeli
authorities continue to arrest healthy men of
arms-bearing age and put them in camps without any form of due process.”
NUMBER OF CIVILIAN
There are no precise figures on the total number of Palestinian
civilians held by Israel during the
1948–49 war. The ICRC provided estimates only for the four official POW camps;
it neither visited
nor had data on internees held in the many unofficial facilities scattered around the country.
Moreover, even the estimates for the official camps are approximate at best. The ICRC frequently
complained that POW
lists were unreliable and incomplete.
took us from all villages around us: al-Bi‘na, Dayr al-Asad, Nahaf, al-Rama and ‘Aylabun.
They took four
young men and shot them dead. . . . They drove us on foot. It was hot. We were
not allowed to drink. They took us to
al-Maghar [a Palestinian Druze village], then to Nahalal [a
Jewish settlement], then to Atlit. The ICRC and Israel’s
Detention of Palestinian Civilians in 1948
from one camp to another without notification—a practice that “failed
to conform to the [Geneva]
Conventions,” according to the ICRC —further complicated attempts to count internees.
Israeli authorities often held Arab prisoners for months on end without notifying the ICRC. In
May 1949, for
example, as the POW exchanges were taking place in connection with the armistice
agreements, the Red Cross discovered
over two hundred Arab POWs whose names had not been
handed in to the organization even though Israel had been holding
them at least since October
1948. In another example, Yusif Sayigh and his companions captured in western Jerusalem in
May 1948 were held for weeks before the Red Cross was notified. According to Sayigh,
Nonetheless, figures do exist.
According to Israeli records, in 1949, toward the end of the war, the
POW camps held 4,850 noncombatant prisoners of
conscription age (fourteen to seventy) and 1,100
combatants, including 900 Arab soldiers and 200 Palestinian “irregulars”
who were defending their
villages. In other words, civilians comprised the vast majority (82 percent) of the 5,950 listed
internees in the “official” POW camps, with Palestinians alone (both civilian and military)
for 85 percent of the internee population.
1, based on information compiled from various ICRC monthly reports, shows the rising
number of internees, both Palestinians
and Arab soldiers, in the official POW camps.
derived from information compiled by ICRC delegate Emile Moeri, shows the number of
Palestinian and Arab POWs
for January 1949. Though Table 2 concerns one month only, the
overwhelming preponderance of Palestinian prisoners was
consistent throughout the war.
Israeli documents and the testimonies of former civilian internees suggest that the total
of POWs and civilian internees may have been significantly greater than indicated by ICRC reports.
TABLE 2. PALESTINIAN, ARAB, AND OTHER POWS, OFFICIAL CAMPS, AS OF JANUARY 1949
Palestinians Other Arabs Others Total POWs % Palestinians
Ijlil - Camp 791 1,234 754 3 1,991 62
Atlit - Camp 792
1,310 322 8 1,640 80
Sarafand - Camp 793 1,317 39 4 1,360 97
Tel Litwinsky - Camp 794 1,117 193 - 1,310 85
35 24 - 59 59
TOTAL 5,013 1,332 15 6,360 79
The table is derived
from information in ICRC, Emile Moeri, “Report on the Situation of POWs in Jewish Hands,” Tel Aviv, 6
1949, ICRC archives, G59/I/GC, GS/82.
It was thanks to the nuns that [the Red Cross] got our names.
They went to some minister or the
other, and said, We know that you have these people. They [the Israelis] denied our
nuns didn’t show our names at first. They told the minister, You have a number of prisoners of
war. We want to know their location, their numbers, their names, everything. They said, No, we
don’t have any
prisoners of war. When squeezed, they said, We have some saboteurs. The nuns
said, No, you took them from the German
Hospice, which is under the Red Cross protection. In
the end, the Israelis had to admit our existence and our numbers.
Taking into account the 750–1,500 POWs
who were released at various periods throughout the war,
Klein notes that an estimated 7,100–7,850 Palestinians
and other Arabs were interned at one point or
another in one of Israel’s official POW camps. In a diary entry dated
17 November 1948, David
Ben-Gurion mentions the existence of 9,000 POWs in Israeli-run camps. This is roughly double
the number of POWs mentioned in ICRC reports for the same period and it begins to reflect the
total capacity of the
four camps. It is not known whether Ben-Gurion included in his count
civilians interned in the various unofficial camps
excluded from Red Cross reports.
With tens of thousands of Jewish men and women called up for military service, Palestinian
internees constituted an important supplement to the Jewish labor employed in maintaining
the Israeli economy under
emergency legislation. According to a November 1948 report, civilians
were being interned for what appeared to be the
express purpose of aiding the Israeli economy.
Thus, the report goes on, Atlit was “essentially a camp for workers.
The intention of the Jewish
authorities is to give them satisfactory material conditions in order to get maximum work
the economy of the State.”
before the establishment of the official POW labor camps, captured civilians were put
to work. Reporting on a visit to
Acre on 30 May 1948, ICRC delegate de Meuron stated that the
men, “whether soldiers or not,” were being “employed
under the orders of the Haganah for
public work, drying of wetlands, and military work.” Visiting the same
town a few weeks
later, he concluded that the primary reason for detaining “the entire male population of villages
houses occupied [was] the need for labor.” By autumn, as Israeli forces were pushing deeper
into the Galilee,
de Reynier estimated that around four to five thousand men, of whom only one
thousand were soldiers, had been “reduced
to slavery. These masses of men are employed as
Forced labor did not necessarily entail hard labor and it was not always centered in work camps.
In his end-of-mission general report, de Reynier writes, “The Jews used POWs as workers or
for several months without announcing their names [to the ICRC] or allowing
them any contact with the outside world.”
The captured civilians were “without defense, guidance
or legal status. They were demoralized and physically destitute.”
The employment of POWs was strictly regulated
under the 1929 Geneva Conventions, but was
not illegal per se. (The fact that the Palestinian civilian internees comprised
majority of the camp inmates and did not qualify for POW status under the 1929 Conventions will
addressed in the next section.) Indeed, putting captives to work was standard procedure. When
almost the entire population
of Beersheba was loaded onto buses and expelled to Gaza following
the town’s capture in late October 1948, Ben-Gurion
noted in his war diary that the one hundred
men held captive by the Israeli forces had “been put to work and then
transported to a prisoners’
camp.” 78 Similarly, Ben-Gurion noted with regard to occupied Beersheba in January
1949 that “the
Custodian for Absentee Property has prepared lists of Arab labor he will put to work.”
The Office of the Custodian for Absentee Property was established
in 1948 (and later codified
under the Absentees’ Property Law of 1950) to take possession of (and register) Palestinian
property—homes, lands, and businesses, as well as gold, jewelry, cars, and other assets—seized
Israel from their “absent” Arab owners (often not even absent from the country but merely driven
their lands) and subsequently transferred either to the Jewish National Fund or the Israel
Land Authority for exclusive
Jewish use. Civilian internees were “put to work” by the Custodian
in various capacities, such as collecting
and transporting looted refugee property. Muhammad
Batrawi from Isdud village (Gaza district) was part of a work gang
whose job, he recounted, “was
to collect valuable things taken from homes in the Palestinian towns and villages,”
were books from Ramla that he “helped load for transport to the Hebrew University.” Nineteen-
year-old ‘Adel Muhammad Amuri from Tantura was part of a group supplied as cheap labor to a
employed by the Custodian to pick the fruits from expropriated Palestinian
orchards, to which the actual Palestinian
owners were barred access. Many other captives,
including Marwan ‘Iqab al-Yahya and a large group of his fellow
prisoners, were “put immediately
to forced labor which consisted of moving stones from Arab demolished houses.”
physical destruction and erasure of entire villages aimed mainly to prevent the return of the
the building materials in many cases were also used for Jewish construction.
Among the work projects carried out by Palestinian
captives was paving a road from Mitzpe
Ramon, a rocky area south of Beersheba, to Umm Rashrash, now Eilat, some 150 kilometers
Idrawish Abu Sbayh from al-Bat (Beersheba
district) was detained for six months “with hundreds
of others” to work on the road. Muhammad al-‘Ajil,
also from al-Bat, worked on it for two
months but was released when a boulder crushed his leg. He was not taken to a
hospital and later
died of his wounds. Another young man from al-Bat, Salman al-‘Ubayd, worked as a baker in the
makeshift camp where they were held.
the 1929 Convention allowed POWs to work, it stipulated that the work performed could
have “no direct connection
with the operations of the war.” It is true that the distinction between
military and other work can be ambiguous
in wartime, but the ICRC’s Palestine mission never
doubted that the 1929 Convention’s prohibition on war-related
work was regularly breached. This
is clear in ICRC delegate de Meuron’s matter-of-fact remark quoted above that
employed for “military work.” In its direct dealings with the authorities, however, the ICRC
often circumspect. For example, an ICRC delegation meeting with Israeli foreign minister Moshe
Shertok in June
1948 raised concerns about POWs being assigned “unconventional” work. The
minutes of the meeting, which do
not define “unconventional,” quote Shertok as promising to
investigate the claim and to make sure that if
the allegation proved to be correct, the practice
would be ended. Given the many references in prisoner testimonies to
being forced to transport
munitions and material for combat units—explicitly outlawed under the 1929 Convention
there seems little doubt that “unconventional” referred to work directly supporting Israel’s
If the ICRC could be reticent about war-related work for
diplomatic considerations, other
sources had no such constraints. Barely two months into the international phase of the
example, the New York representative of the Arab Higher Committee sent a memorandum to
the UN secretary-general
complaining, inter alia, of Israel’s “maltreatment and humiliation of
prisoners,” including forcing
civilians to dig trenches, carry water from Arab cisterns to supply
Jewish neighborhoods, work as servants for Jewish
families, and give blood for Jews wounded in
We were twenty-five to thirty led to a military camp in the mountain which had caves.
Because cars could not climb the mountain road, they made us carry ammunition
and weapons to the caves.After five days they took us to the destroyed village of] Julis
where we dug sanitary pits. They would not let us drink water except from a hot tap like a car radiator.
They threw crumbs of food to us. Then they took us to Qatra police station.
They converted the mukhtar’s house into a prison.
The best source of information
about forced labor is the prisoners themselves. Salim Zaydan
‘Umar, sixteen at the time of his capture from Tantura,
states that the “stronger” prisoners were
used in “carrying building materials, digging military trenches
and fortifications, and burying the
dead. We dug the graves of the fallen Iraqi soldiers at Qaqun village.” Yusif
supervised a fifty-person-strong work team outside Ijlil camp in his capacity as the homme de
elected by his fellow prisoners to represent them, recalls that during the first truce in
June 1948 “work gangs
were used to make trenches and fortifications.” Tawfiq Ahmad Jum‘a
Ghanim was put to work making military
camouflage nets at Ijlil, and later was part of a work
gang of four hundred men at Tel Litwinsky that was taken by bus
daily to dig trenches for
underground cables. He was later moved to an unofficial camp at Bayt Nabala near Lydda, where
he and other civilian internees and POWs “transported ammunition and carried heavy steel and
timber and again
worked on camouflaged nets for aeroplanes and tanks.”
Almost all prisoners were moved from camp to camp, often in keeping with the new state’s
for manpower. Twenty-two-year-old Habib Muhammad ‘Ali Jarada from Beersheba, who was
interned both at
Ijlil and Tel Litwinsky, notes that “these [official] camps served as distribution
centers for forced labor.”
Many prisoner accounts reflect the back-and-forth traffic between the
official camps and the unofficial or unrecognized
camps, which were entirely lacking in oversight.
Indeed, besides being used as temporary holding facilities, the unofficial
camps were almost
always associated with forced labor. Some testimonies also seem to suggest that men were
captured with the express purpose of putting them to work.
conditions of the makeshift facilities outside Red Cross scrutiny are evident in many
prisoner accounts. Habib Muhammad
‘Ali Jarada, for example, describes his early captivity before
being transported to Ijlil: “At gunpoint,
I was made to work all day. At night, we slept in tents. In
winter, water was seeping below our bedding, which was dry
leaves, cartons and wooden
pieces.” Concerning his internment at Umm Khalid, also not subject to Red Cross visits,
Marwan ‘Iqab al-Yahya says, “We had to cut and carry stones all day [in a quarry]. Our daily
food was only
one potato in the morning and half a dried fish at night. They beat anyone who
disobeyed orders.” Of another camp,
al-Yahya comments, “There was little food. We drank
water from barrels used to transport gypsum.” Humiliation
was also routine. Al-Yahya tells of
being “lined up and ordered to strip naked as a punishment for the escape of
two prisoners at
night. [Jewish] adults and children came from nearby kibbutz to watch us line up naked and
To us this was most degrading.”
The testimony of Ibrahim ‘Abd al-Qadir Abu Sayf, one of the villagers taken prisoner after the
spring 1949 armistice
agreements during Operation Megrafa, is a good example both of what
seems to be an opportunistic capture and of the improvised
nature of many of these camps.
Captured while tending his livestock, he describes being people in a four by five
meter room. The room has a sandy floor to absorb blood and pus.
We were tortured; many had broken teeth, hands and legs. Food consisted of one loaf for every
fifteen people and one piece of vegetable floating in a big pot. In the early morning we were
taken to work. They hit
us on our heads to move. If one fell, they hit him with their boots. . . .
Torture sometimes continued at night. More
people came. They were picked up like us, in
pastures or in lonely places.
Though conditions at the unmonitored sites were undoubtedly the worst, those at the official
camps were not always much better. Prisoners told of remaining without food for several days
and of being given only
dried bread. According to Nadim Musa, Atlit camp was “divided into
cages, each cage held five hundred prisoners.
Our tents had no flooring. We had to clear the
ground from thorny weeds before we could sleep.” Kamal Ghattas similarly
captured and herded into a “cage,” specifying, “We were about 450 in one cage. They
hit us with
sticks and fired machine guns at us.” Al-Yahya, describing Ijlil, recounted how “each group
put in a cage. The camp was divided into ten cages. Mine was cage number three,” which he later
as the “Tantura cage.”
A number of testimonies recount random
acts of violence at the job sites. ‘Adel Muhammad
Amuri of Tantura, who was part of a work crew harvesting fruit
from Palestinian orchards,
recalled that “one day, buses loaded with prisoners stopped for the laborers to drink
single tap. They rushed to drink. The soldiers shot at them randomly. I saw tens fall before
my eyes. The
ground was soaked with blood and water. I later [learned] they were from Lydda
and Ramla.” Marwan ‘Iqab al-Yahya
also spoke of the “many civil internees” from the two
towns, noting that they were “were put in a camp
a half kilometer away from us. They slept in
the open without bedding. They drank from rain water gathered in small ponds.
One day two
of the Lydda and Ramla people were shot because some of them out of despair tried to rush
to the gate
Indeed, escape attempts—whether
real or merely claimed—apparently constituted cause for
being shot immediately. Kamal Ghattas, in telling of being
beaten with his comrades by guards,
adds almost casually, “They killed one I knew, Muhammad al-Hurani from Farradiyya,
him of trying to escape.” Tawfiq Ahmad Jum‘a Ghanim recounted that at Tel Litwinsky,
who refused to work was shot. They said [the person] tried to escape. Those of us who
thought [we] were going to be killed
walked backward facing the guards.” Ghanim added that he
himself was lucky because he had been given a number inscribed
on a steel band, which meant
that it was not possible to shoot him “without anyone knowing.” An exception
to the rule of
shooting escaping prisoners outright was when the escape involved large numbers of men. In such
the escapees might merely be punished so as not to waste valuable manpower. Thus, for
example, when twenty Tantura captives
who escaped from Ijlil were recaptured, they were not
killed but locked in a cage, with oil poured on their clothing
and their blankets taken away.
There is no
question that the more educated among the prisoners were treated far better than
other internees, partly because they
knew their rights and had the confidence to argue with and
stand up to their captors. Yusif Sayigh, who had the added
advantage of automatic access to Iljil’s
senior officers in his capacity as the camp’s homme de confiance,
is a case in point.
His fascinating memoir
shows in passing many of the benefits of education and status, such as in
an incident where he tried to intervene after receiving clear information that a young man in his
work crew had been shot in cold blood by guards on the false pretense of attempted escape.
I went up to see the [supervisor in charge]. I wanted to tell the Red Cross about [the death]. But he
let me get in touch with the Red Cross. I said, It’s my right under the [Geneva] Conven-
tions. He said, I’m
not going to let you use the telephone.
Strong ideological commitments
and affiliations, especially left-leaning ones, empowered
internees in their dealings with their Israeli jailers in a
similar manner. Nadim Musa, a prominent
member of the Communist-linked National Liberation League (‘Usbat al-Taharrur
commented, other POWs were treated badly, they were hit and cursed, but our group stood its ground. . . .
They tried to put us to hard labor but we refused. We staged a hunger strike. We managed to con-
tact our Central Committee
in Haifa. They contacted Tel Aviv and made such noise that they let
us go. We were the last to enter the camp and first
to leave after five months. Others stayed a year
The account of Kamal Ghattas, a member of the same group as Musa and, like him, captured
autumn 1948 offensive in the Galilee, similarly reflects the impact of ideological
affinities and the refusal to be intimidated.
We had a fight with our jailers. Four hundred of us confronted one hundred soldiers. They
brought reinforcements. Three of my friends and I were taken to a cell. They threatened to shoot
us. All night we sang
the Communist anthem. They took the four of us to Umm Khalid camp.
The Israelis were afraid of their image in Europe.
Our contact with our Central Committee and
Mapam [Israel’s original socialist party] saved us. . . . Other prisoners
were taken to do hard work.
Some had had to carry steel and materials on their backs. Others had to dig fortifications.
. . . I met
a Russian officer and told him they took us from our homes although we were noncombatants,
against the Geneva Conventions. When he knew I was a Communist he embraced me
and said, “Comrade, I have two brothers
in the Red Army. Long live Stalin. Long Live Mother
As a postscript to the subject of forced labor, the 1929 Geneva Convention required that POWs
and civilian internees be paid for their work (ten piasters, about forty cents, a day, according to ICRC
) when released. The logistics of payment, however, proved problematic. In his monthly
report for March 1949, de Reynier
noted that “Jewish authorities had given POWs a paper stating
that the ICRC would pay them the allowances due in
respect to the work” performed during their
The following day I went up again and saw the commander of the
camp, a decent man, a book-
seller—when he realized that I’d read many English novels, he used to come and
chat for hours
with me in the camp. . . . He allowed me to use his telephone. I talked to the Red Cross. They came
[and] I complained about this young man’s death. detention. Accordingly,
the POWs began showing up at Red Cross offices asking for their wages
before the committee had received a transfer
of funds from Israel in order to pay the former
Two months later, de Reynier reported:
The delegation is always still hampered by the many requests of POWs
who want from us the
wages they have earned in Israel. Israel has given each upon his release a statement saying that
the ICRC would solve the issue. We have asked governments responsible to establish an authority
that all these people
can address or that will receive them after the authorities in Israel have estab-
lished accounts and we have handed
over the money for transmission to governments.
Status of Civilian Internees: ICRC Challenges and Limitations
The ICRC’s mission in Palestine was greatly hampered
by the “legal and humanitarian
challenge” posed by the absence of a comprehensive legal framework governing
the capture and
internment of civilians. The 1949 Geneva Convention on the treatment of civilians had yet to be
and the 1934 unratified draft International Convention on the Condition and Protection
of Civilians of Enemy Nationality,
with which the ICRC delegates were well familiar, could at most
provide some guidance. Thus, as Jacques de Reynier noted
in his final report on the Red Cross
mission in Palestine, in light of this dearth of clear legal support the ICRC “had
Perhaps the most basic
legal challenge concerned the status of civilian internees under
international humanitarian law. In his first monthly
field report on the situation in Palestine, de
Reynier observed that while the ICRC was “not opposed to [the detention
of civilians] for the
time being,” the practice was nevertheless “questionable in law.”
Meanwhile, as Israel seized
more and more of the territory
that had been allotted to the Arab state under the UN partition
plan, and as the number of Palestinian civilians captured
(almost all from the “occupied areas”
outside the boundaries of the plan’s Jewish state) continued
to grow, ICRC concerns only
increased. In October 1948, in the context of Operation Hiram, de Reynier observed that
on the Jewish side, the big question [for the ICRC] is to know at what point do the authorities
have the right in the
occupied country to take civilian internees of all able-bodied men without
distinction and consider them POWs. . . .
We have a duty to take a position on the question:
Should the conventions authorize Jews to treat these people as POWs
It was not until his January
1949 report, when the war was drawing to a close, that de Reynier was
able to state conclusively that the internment
of civilians “from the areasoccupied by Israel fail to
conform to the conventions.”
Even had he reached this conclusion earlier, an ICRC finding on
the legality of the practice
would have had no practical impact: the willingness of the belligerents
to comply with international conventions on war
depended not only on their material capacity to
The ICRC noted that it would take another few months to resolve
the issue. The testimonies of
former civilian internees nevertheless indicate that most were not paid at all or received
fraction of the amount owed. All the internees, however, were apparently required to sign a
that they had received payment in full for their work[The ICRC] protested
numerous occasions affirming the right of these civilians to enjoy their
freedom unless found guilty and judged by a
court. But we have tacitly accepted their POW status
because in this way they would enjoy the rights conferred upon them
by the convention. Other-
wise, if they were not in the camps they would be expelled [to an Arab country] and in one
another, they would lead, without resources, the miserable life of refugees.
For the ICRC, giving the Palestinian civilian internees a minimum set of rights, establishing an
legal framework for intervening on their behalf, and doing whatever possible to
enable them to return to their homes
when the war ended, were all considerations that trumped
the question of their strict legal status.
Another dilemma facing the ICRC was whether its efforts to protect the civilian population
might in fact be helping Israel empty the country of its Palestinian inhabitants. In May 1948, the
United Nations created
the position of UN mediator for Palestine to which it appointed Count
Folke Bernadotte, internationally recognized for
his work as head of the Swedish Red Cross
during World War II. In his first formal proposal, dated 28 June 1948, Bernadotte
the parties to recognize “the right of residents of Palestine who, because of conditions created
the conflict there, have left their normal places of abode, to return to their homes without
restriction and to regain
possession of their property.” By that time, the number of
Palestinian refugees neared a half million, and
although the UN mediator’s suggestions were
confidential, de Reynier was undoubtedly privy to them: their influence
can be seen in his July
1948 monthly report, which expressed concern that the “the evacuation of [their] encircled
villages [by Israeli military forces] . . . perhaps made easier by the desire of Jews to see all
Arabs leave . . .
might indeed contradict the policy of the United Nations which wants the
refugees to remain and/or return to their homes.”
Almost a year later, in his April 1949 monthly report, de Reynier
[Israeli] authorities are [still] forcing some Arab villages to evacuate and move to another region
in Israel. . . . Legally, this situation is grossly unfair from many points of view, but practically [for]
people, the situation is hopeless. This movement is becoming more and more extensive
and we do not know how to fight
against this nefarious process.
do so, but
also on what Mackenzie, in his comparative study of the treatment of POWs during World
War II, describes as the “prevailing
moral code or politico-cultural belief system.” In such a
situation, the prospects of Israel applying the “spirit”
of the conventions were not bright.
Nevertheless, the ICRC repeatedly called for the release of the civilian captives
fighting. Faced with Israel’s noncompliance, Red Cross officials eventually opted for a pragmatic,
or humanitarian, approach to civilian internment and decided to treat the civilian captives as de
facto POWs. Indeed,
as early as August 1948, the ICRC itself began to characterize the Palestinian
civilians as such. From that time forward,
civilian internment was covered in monthly ICRC
reports under the section dealing with POWs rather than, as previously,
in a separate section on
In his final Palestine
mission report, de Reynier articulated the ICRC’s position on the status of
the civilian captives: By that time,
the extent of ICRC powerlessness to stand in the way of
larger Israeli aims
was clear to all concerned, not least the ICRC. These larger aims
the issue of repatriation, which came to the fore with the POW exchanges that
were already on the table as of autumn 1948.
In early November 1948,
de Reynier reported that “far-reaching deals [are] underway,
especially [under the auspices of] the United Nations,
but discreetly monitored by the ICRC,
to exchange all prisoners of war.” Such “deals” did not include
civilian internees, however.
In the same report, de Reynier observed that whereas everyone wanted to secure a release
the POWs, “nobody is calling for a release of the 5,000 [Palestinian civilian] prisoners of war
hands, and the problem as a whole remains insoluble.” In February 1949, the
first major release and repatriation
of POWs took place between Transjordan and Israel.
Further releases continued through March and April 1949 under Israeli
Egypt, Lebanon, and Syria.
As could be expected, the issue of the Palestinian civilian internees was treated separately.
the ICRC worked on a piecemeal basis to secure the release of detained
Palestinians, but its greatest success was at
the beginning of the war. This involved 1,068 women
and children survivors of the Tantura massacre. After the Israeli
army’s conquest of their village in
the “coastal clearing” operation of villages south of Haifa in
late May 1948, the captives were
herded to al-Furaydis, another conquered village under Israeli control, and from there
to the Kfar
Yuna prison. With the new Israeli state not wanting to bear the cost of their upkeep, the ICRC
a deal under which they were released in exchange for Jewish prisoners captured by the
Transjordanian Arab Legion: eighty-nine
female soldiers and the head of the Jewish community in
Jerusalem’s Old City, A. M. Weingarten. The exchange, which
de Reynier described as “the most
beautiful and most spectacular” facilitated by the Red Cross during the
war, “required the opening
of special lines, the requisition of over 150 trucks and buses and the assistance of
a host of civilian
and military authorities from the two sides and organizations such as the Red Cross and Red
[the Salvation Army]” to transport them to Tulkarm, which was under Arab control.
Two months later, in late July, the ICRC secured the release of some two hundred elderly men
young boys from Ijlil camp, and a similar deal was arranged in December 1948.
It would appear, however, that ICRC involvement in the release
of Palestinian prisoners was
limited to small-scale, narrowly focused, and specific cases such as those mentioned above.
refused to address the situation of civilian Palestinian POWs in the context of the release of Arab
who were returned to their home countries under exchanges between Israel and the
relevant Arab states. Besides the broader
issue of who could represent the Palestinian captives,
their return to their places of origin, for the most part inside
what had become Israel, was out of
the question. Ultimately, their release took the form of expulsion, as they were trucked
borders of the new state and dropped off, largely in an arbitrary and ad hoc manner.
Indeed, only a very small number of internees managed to remain inside the de facto borders of
of Israel. In most cases, civilian internees, especially the unknown number held in the
unofficial camps, were expelled
across the armistice lines without food, supplies, or shelter.
Ibrahim ‘Abd al-Qadir Abu Sayf, for example, who
spent twenty-six days in a horrific prison
work camp, was blindfolded along with some 250 of his fellow prisoners and
driven to Wadi
‘Araba. Once there,The ICRC and Israel’s Detention of Palestinian Civilians in 1948
removed the blindfold and lined us up. An officer called Moshe told us in Arabic, “You see
the moon? Follow it.
It will take you to [King] Abdullah [of Jordan]. I’ll count to three, then you
run. I’ll shoot anyone who
looks back.” We were hungry and weak. We went round and round,
could not find our way. We stayed four days in wilderness.
Then we found a camp. It turned out
to be Jewish. We were put to work again but we had some food. . . . We were moved
camp to another. . . . I cannot ever forget the experience. I was a young man and I became an old
Four days later, Abu Sayf was recaptured
and again put to work by Israeli authorities before being
dropped off near Gaza, eventually making his way to the West
Bank town of Hebron.
This article has focused on ICRC efforts and actions
relating to the Palestinian civilian internees
held by Israel during the 1948–49 war. With regard to its regular
wartime activities, there is little
doubt that the ICRC succeeded in improving the circumstances and alleviating the
countless Palestinian war victims, including POWs, rendering innumerable services large and
when it came to the capture and internment of Palestinian civilians and, more
specifically, to countering Israel’s
use of them as forced labor in contravention of the spirit of the
1929 Geneva Conventions, the ICRC was largely ineffective.
As this article has argued, an underlying reason for the organization’s inability
effectively was the absence of an established, agreed-upon international legal framework regulating
treatment of civilian noncombatants in wartime—a framework which did not come into
existence until the Fourth Geneva
Convention was signed in August 1949. But the ICRC’s
cautious approach also derived from its lack of enforcement
power beyond moral persuasion, and
from the fact that in Palestine, as in other conflicts, it had to weigh its interventions
the application of the Geneva Conventions against the broader imperative of protecting its role as
Well aware of the constraints, the organization
intervened forcefully with the Israelis only in very
specific cases which, while involving undeniable violations of international
law, at the same time—
and this is the crucial point—in no way touched any of Israel’s core interests
objectives. In such cases, Israel was willing to accommodate ICRC concerns, especially where it
be shown that they could be traced to individual wrongdoing rather than systematic practice.
An incident recounted by Yusif Sayigh provides an excellent example of such a case and shows
persistence could pay off in such conditions. Reference has already been made to Sayigh’s
success in alerting the
Red Cross that a young man in his work crew had been shot dead in cold
blood by the Israeli prison guards, who claimed
that the young man had been trying to escape.
[the story] got to Ben Gurion himself, and the Red Cross got authorization to dig up
the body to see how he was shot.
Instead of having been shot in the back from a distance of 40 or
50 meters—which would have been the case if he
was running away—it was found that he was
shot in the chest from the front. According to what this doctor told
me later on, after I was
released (Moeur, 134 I think his name was, the acting head of the Red Cross), he had said to
Gurion, If you don’t let us dig him up, I will suggest to headquarters in Switzerland that we pull
our mission and announce the reason. So they gave in. Of course, the camp authorities gave
the Red Cross assurances that
this would not be repeated, and the Stern officer [who had refused
to let Sayigh inform the Red Cross] was removed six
About the Authors
Salman Abu Sitta, founder and president of the Palestine Land Society, is the author of
and books on Palestinian refugees and the Nakba, including The Atlas of Palestine 1917–1966.
Terry Rempel is an honorary university fellow at the University of Exeter and an independent researcher
with a focus
on Palestinian refugees and international refugee and human rights law.
The authors would like to thank the ICRC Archives in Geneva; Roland Troyon, a former ICRC delegate in
the many former civilian internees who provided testimonies for this research. Thanks
also to Ahmad Sa’di and Oren
Yiftachel for assistance in obtaining Aharon Klein’s MA dissertation on Arab
POWs and to Ghazi Sa’di of Dar
al-Jalil for translation from Hebrew to Arabic. The authors would also like
to thank Linda Butler for her editorial work
on this paper.
Charles Kamen’s 1987 study on
the situation of Palestinians inside Israel in the years following the
1948 war includes a brief discussion of civilian
detainees based on files from Israel’s former
Ministry of Minority Affairs. Charles Kamen, “After the Catastrophe
I: The Arabs in Israel 1948–
51,” Middle Eastern Studies 23, no. 4 (1987), pp. 453–95. The most extensive
account to date is
found in Aharon Klein’s study of Arab POWs from the 1948 war based on Israeli military archives,
Ben-Gurion’s war diaries, and press reports from the period. Aharon Klein, “Arab Prisoners of
The reports reviewed for this article show that the ICRC never
wavered in its sense of what was
right and just, to the point that the generally dry and bureaucratic (even clinical)
language favored by
the Red Cross delegates sometimes gave way to expressions of indignation at Israel’s actions
the Palestinian civilian population and its treatment of the internees. But in the last analysis, Israel
able to ignore with impunity ICRC complaints (even concerning egregious violations of the
existing laws of war) thanks
to the diplomatic cover of major Western powers. In January 1949,
for example, an ICRC delegation visiting Gaza detailed
six separate incidents of intensive Israeli
aerial and artillery bombing on Gaza’s city center and the refugee
camps of Khan Yunis, Brayj,
Rafah, and Dayr al-Balah. Some 190 persons were killed and over 400 were wounded in the
attacks, which took place within the space of six days (2–7 January) and which the delegation
head called “acts
of cruelty without military objectives which only increase the misery of so many
More broadly, the organization failed to have any impact whatsoever
either on preventing the
mass deportation of Palestinian civilians from their homes or, later, protecting the right of
Palestinian civilian internees to be released from the POW camps to their homes or lands. Indeed,
by helping besieged
villagers to escape their villages under fire (and in so doing assuring their
safety), the ICRC could be said to have
indirectly assisted Israel in its goal of ethnic cleansing.
Still, the records it kept and carefully preserved constitute
an important contribution to the story.
Much more remains to be told.The ICRC and Israel’s Detention of Palestinian
Civilians in 1948
War during the War of Independence” [in Hebrew] (MA Thesis, Hebrew University, 2001). (Klein’s
work also provides a comprehensive review of Israeli archival sources.) The issue of civilian
internment is also addressed
in Ilan Pappé’s seminal study, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine
(Oxford: Oneworld, 2006). The most comprehensive
study of ICRC involvement in Palestine
during the 1948 war, Dominique-Débora Junod’s The Imperiled Red Cross
and the Palestine-Eretz-
Yisrael Conflict 1945–1952 (London: Kegan Paul International, 1996), is largely silent
on the issue
of civilian internment and forced labor.
1 Kuhne, ICRC
Geneva, to ICRC Cairo, 9 December 1947, ICRC archives, G59/I/GC, cited in Junod,
Imperiled Red Cross, p. 90. The ICRC
dates its official involvement in the conflict to this period.
“Le Comité international de la Croix-Rouge en Palestine,” Revue Internationale de la Croix-
et Bulletin International des Sociétés de la Croix-Rouge 30, no. 353 (1948), p. 329.
3 Frederic Biéri (ICRC delegate in London) to ICRC Geneva, 8 January 1948, ICRC archives,
cited in Junod, Imperiled Red Cross, p. 91. Most of the patients admitted to government-run
were Arab Palestinians. Jewish patients were largely taken care of in Jewish-run
hospitals, part of the social infrastructure
that the Jewish Agency had built up in order to create a
Jewish state in Palestine. See also ICRC, “Le Comité
international de la Croix-Rouge en Palestine,”
4 Report by Roland Marti, Jacques de Reynier, and Jean Munier, Palestine Mission, Jerusalem,
February 1948, ICRC archives, G59/I/GC, cited in Junod, Imperiled Red Cross, p. 109. The ICRC plan of
is also reprinted in ICRC, “Le Comité international de la Croix-Rouge en Palestine,” pp. 332–33.
5 Except for de Reynier, who was stationed in Palestine as of January 1948, ICRC staff
Palestine between 14 April and 13 May 1948.
6 David Forsythe
and Barbara Ann Rieffer-Flanagan, The International Committee of the Red Cross: A
Neutral Humanitarian Actor (London:
Routledge, 2007), p. 17.
7 Junod, Imperiled Red Cross, pp. 50–74.
8 Draft International Convention on the Condition and Protection of Civilians of Enemy
Who Are on Territory Belonging to or Occupied by a Belligerent, Tokyo, 1934, ICRC web site,
9 ICRC, Report on the Work of the Conference of Government Experts for the Study of the
the Protection of War Victims, April 14–26, 1947 (Geneva: ICRC, 1947), pp. 8, 103, and 272, cited
in Junod, Imperiled Red Cross, p. 35. Specifically, the participants agreed that the revised
conventions would include
provisions making them applicable “in case of civil war, in any part of
the home or colonial territory of a Contracting
Party” on condition of reciprocity.
10 ICRC, “Le Comité
international de la Croix-Rouge en Palestine,” p. 333. Emphasis added.
11 “Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armies in the Field”
“Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War.”
12 “Application in Palestine of the Principles of the Geneva Conventions, Appeal by the ICRC in
Geneva, 12 March 1948, ICRC archives, CP 312, cited in Junod, Imperiled Red Cross,
p. 117. The appeal is reprinted in
ICRC, “Le Comité international de la Croix-Rouge en Palestine,”
p. 334. Emphasis added.
13 Junod, Imperiled Red Cross, pp.118–9. In drafting the appeal, the Red Cross also
drew upon a
number of precedents from the committee’s interventions in previous conflicts. In the 1930s, for
example, the ICRC had called upon and obtained the agreement of all sides in the Spanish Civil
War “to respect
the Geneva Convention, despite the absence of any draft convention or
provision.” During World War II, moreover,
the ICRC had managed to secure agreement among
belligerents to apply, on condition of reciprocity, draft provisions for
the protection of enemy
civilians under their jurisdiction. It was unable, however, to secure similar agreement for the
protection of enemy civilians in occupied territory. Junod, Imperiled Red Cross, p. 34.
14 See Hussein Fakhri Khalidi
(AHC Jerusalem) to ICRC in Palestine, 3 April 1948, ICRC archives, G59I/GC;
and Golda Myerson and Itzhak Ben Zevie [sic],
Tel Aviv, to ICRC in Palestine, Jerusalem, 4 April 1948,
ICRC archives, G59/I/GC, cited in Junod, Imperiled Red
Cross, p. 123. The brief text of each statement
is reprinted in ICRC, “Le Comité international de la Croix-Rouge
en Palestine,” p. 335.
Myerson and Ben Zevie [sic] to ICRC in Palestine.
16 See Junod, Imperiled Red Cross, p. 123.
17 See chapter
on de Reynier’s visit to Dayr Yasin excerpted from his memoir, A Jerusalem un drapeau
flottait sur la ligne de
feu (1960), reprinted in Walid Khalidi, ed., From Haven to Conquest (Beirut:
Institute for Palestine Studies, 1971),
18 Jacques de Reynier, “Report on the Dayr Yasin
Fighting (Jerusalem),” 13 April 1948, ICRC archives,
G59/1/GC, p. 3, and cited in Junod, Imperiled Red Cross, p.
19 Untitled memorandum, Paul Ruegger (resident of the ICRC), 24
May 1948, ICRC archives, G59/I/GC,
cited in Junod, Imperiled Red Cross, p. 125. The text of the appeal is reprinted in
“Le conflit de
Palestine: Appel du Comité international de la Croix-Rouge aux belligérants,”
de la Croix-Rouge et Bulletin international des sociétés de la Croix-Rouge 30, no.
353 (1948), p. 341–42.
The appeal was addressed specifically to Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Transjordan, and Israel.
20 Telegram from Azzam Pasha (Secretary of the Arab League), Cairo, to ICRC, Geneva, 26
ICRC archives, G59/I/GC; and telegram from Shertok (Minister of Foreign Affairs, Provisional
of the State of Israel) to Ruegger, Geneva, 27 May 1948, ICRC archives, G59/I/GC,
and Israel State Archives (ISA), MEA/1987.7,
cited in Junod, Imperiled Red Cross, p. 126.
21 Egypt and Iraq signed
on in the 1930s, and Israel in August 1948. Transjordan, Syria, and Lebanon
did not sign the treaty.
22 See Theodor Meron, “The Geneva Conventions as Customary Law,” American
International Law 81, no. 2 (1987), pp. 348–70.
For an overview of the ICRC Palestine war files, see Jalal al Husseini, Palestinian Refugee Archives
ICRC, Geneva, Overview and Analysis (Jerusalem: Institute of Jerusalem Studies, 1999);
and Salim Tamari and Elia Zureik,
eds., Reinterpreting the Historical Record: The Uses of Palestinian
Refugee Archives for Social Science Research and
Policy Analysis (Washington, D.C.: Institute of
Jerusalem Studies and the Institute of Palestine Studies, 2001).
24 Jean-Francois Pitteloud, “New Access Rules Open the Archives of the International
the Red Cross to Historical Research and to the General Public,” International Review of the Red
Cross 36, no. 314 (1996), pp. 551–53.
25 The summaries contained
in the Revue Internationale de la Croix-Rouge et Bulletin international des
sociétés de la Croix-Rouge
appear incomplete, and the documents reviewed for this study include
only a sample of the ICRC reports on visits to the
camps that were made during the 1948 war.
Some indication of their frequency can be gleaned from the Report on General
Activities (1 July
1947–31 December 1948) (Geneva: ICRC, 1949), p. 110, cited in Junod, Imperiled Red Cross, p.
26 Another source of information about conditions in the camps are
the weekly reports that the
elected representative of the POWs (“homme de confiance”) in each camp were required
prepare. Copies of these reports were sent to both the camp commandant and the ICRC. They
were not, however,
among the documents reviewed for this article.
27 Part 1(a) of the “General
Section” of Plan Dalet, dated 10 March 1948, states the plan’s objective:
“to gain control of the areas
of the Hebrew state and defend its borders. It also aims at gaining
control of the areas of Jewish settlement and concentration
which are located outside the
borders [of the Hebrew state]” (emphasis added). See appendix B of Walid Khalidi,
Dalet Revisited: The Zionist Master Plan for the Conquest of Palestine,” Journal of Palestine
18, no. 1 (Autumn 1988), p. 24. The article was originally published in Middle East
Forum 37, no. 4 (November 1961).
28 Acre fell three days later. Of these cities, only Haifa and Tiberias were mixed.
29 Pappé, Ethnic Cleansing, p. 26.
30 The extent to which Israel was eager to be rid of the Palestinians is clear in the testimony of a
much later, in autumn 1948, who recounts that the Israeli soldiers told a
group of 450 Palestinian men who had been rounded
up and herded into a cage that “anyone who
wants to go to an Arab country will be released immediately.”
The prisoner added that he and the
others had “stayed because we knew our expelled families” had remained
in the country, hiding in
the hills. Kamal Ghattas, interview, 3 July 2002.
31 Prisoner of War: Yusif Sayigh, 1948 to 1949, Excerpts from His Recollections,” as told
to and edited
by Rosemary Sayigh, Jerusalem Quarterly, no. 29 (2007), pp. 13–32; and Walid Ragheb Khalidi, Ramla
Speaks (Amman: n.p., 1991), pp. 168–78. The “unofficial camp” Sayigh was first taken to in Jerusalem
may have been Neve Sha’anan.
Pappé, Ethnic Cleansing, pp. 133–37.
Statement by Marwan ‘Iqab
al-Yahya published in Muhammad Nimr al-Khatib, Nakbat Filastin
(Beirut: Dar Maktabat al-Hayat, 1951), pp. 203–14.
A further clarification was made by al-Yahya in
a typed statement to the writer and in a telephone interview from his
home in California on 11
34 In his first report, dated
July 1948, ICRC delegate André Durand reported that Palestinians held at
Neve Sha’anan appeared to have
been transferred to a second camp near Tel Aviv (i.e., Ijlil) on 2
and 3 of July 1948. ICRC, André Durand, “Monthly
Report No. 4,” Jerusalem, 11 July 1948, p. 6.
35 ICRC, “Le
Comité international de la Croix-Rouge en Palestine,” Revue Internationale de la Croix-
Rouge et Bulletin
international des Sociétés de la Croix-Rouge 30, no. 356 (1948), p. 554.
36 New York Times, 12 October 1948, quoted in Walid Khalidi, ed., All That Remains: The Palestinian
Occupied and Depopulated by Israel in 1948 (Washington, D.C.: Institute for Palestine
Studies, 1992), p. 242.
37 Sayigh, “Prisoner of War,” p. 22.
38 Atlit camp is now maintained by the Society for Preservation of Israel Heritage Sites. Information
the camp, however, makes no reference to its later use as a detention camp for
Palestinian civilians and Arab POWs. See
the web site of the Society for the Preservation of Israel
Heritage Sites, http://eng.shimur.org/Atlit/. Another prison
near Sarafand had been used during
the Mandate to intern Palestinian political prisoners.
39 Land of Israel Archives, 580/56/246, 75, and 324/50/24, 28, cited in Klein, “Arab Prisoners of War,”
40 Land of Israel Archives, 580/56/246, 75, and 324/50/24,
12, 27, cited in Klein, “Arab Prisoners of
War,” p. 569. Sixty dunams is equivalent to 6 hectares or 14.8
41 Land of Israel Archives, 6127/49/105, 48, and 580/56/246, 75,
cited in Klein, “Arab Prisoners of War,”
Land of Israel Archives, 6127/49/105, 48, and 580/56/246, 75, cited in Klein, “Arab Prisoners of War,”
43 Review of Aharon Klein, “The Arab POWs in Israel’s
War of Independence,” in Alon Kadish, ed.,
Israel’s War of Independence 1948–1949 (Tel Aviv: Ministry
of Defense, 2004), in American Veterans
of Israel (AVI) Newsletter, Summer 2004, p. 21.
44 Klein, “Arab Prisoners of War,” p. 570.
Land of Israel Archives, 324/50/24, 23, 32, cited in Klein, “Arab Prisoners of War,” p. 569.
46 ICRC, Maximilien de Meuron, “Report No. 1,” Haifa, 2 May 1948, ICRC archives,
G59/1/GC, p. 3.
47 De Meuron, “Report No. 11,” Haifa, 30 June 1948, G.59/1/GC, G.3/82, p. 1.
48 Jacques de Reynier, “Monthly Report No. 4: June 1948,” Jerusalem, 2 July
1948, p. 5. Klein notes that
Israel detained civilians between the ages of 14 and 70, the age of military inscription.
Klein, p. 574.
49 ICRC, “Le Comité international de la Croix-Rouge
en Palestine,” Revue Internationale de la Croix-
Rouge et Bulletin International des Sociétés de
la Croix-Rouge 30, no. 356 (1948), p. 556.
50 ICRC, Emile Moeri, “Report
on the Situation of the POWs in Jewish Hands,” Tel Aviv, 6 February 1949,
32 33 The ICRC and Israel’s
Detention of Palestinian Civilians in 1948
ICRC, Dr. Moeri, “Report No. 20, Visit of Ijlil camp 9 November 1948,”
12 November 1948, ICRC
archives G59/I/GC G/82 p. 3.
52 ICRC, Dr.
Moeri and Dr. Lehner, “Report No. 19,” Tel Aviv, 11 November 1948, ICRC archives, G59/
I/GC, G3/82, p. 1.
53 ICRC, Rapport Général d’Activité de la Délégation
ICRC (Janvier 1948–Juillet 1949) (Beirut, 6 July 1949),
54 De Reynier, “Monthly Report No. 4 for June 1948,” p. 5.
55 Sayigh, “Prisoner of War,” p. 23.
56 See Kamen, “After
the Catastrophe I,” p. 478, table 14, “Percent of Adult Male Populated in Selected
Localities Held in Prisoner-of-War
Camps.” In Ramla, Israeli forces rounded up several thousand
Palestinian civilians and transferred them to a nearby
prison camp; see Pappé, Ethnic Cleansing,
57 A number
of prisoner accounts mention the influx of prisoners after Operation Dani. Yusif Sayigh,
for example, noted the arrival
in Ijlil of hundreds from Lydda and Ramla at the time. Sayigh,
“Prisoner of War,” p. 25.
58 Tawfiq Ahmad Jum‘a Ghanim, interview, Amman, 6 July 2002.
59 Shimoni to Sasson, Paris, 12 November 1948, ISA, FM2570/11, quoted in Benny Morris, The Birth of
Palestinian Refugee Problem (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), p. 226.
60 Morris, Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, p. 228.
Musa, interview, Abu Sinan, Galilee, 3 July 2002.
62 Lt. Colonel Sore
(French army), “UNTSO Summary of Interrogation Report,” 16 November 1948, UN
DAG 13/3.3.1:10, 1st file.
63 ICRC, Emile Moeri, and Roland Troyon, “Report No. 21,” Tel Aviv, 12 November
G3/82, p. 1. Other ICRC reports also described the deleterious impact of the men’s detention on
their families. See, for example, de Meuron, “Report No. 9,” Haifa, 6 June 1948, G59/I/GC, p. 1.
Kamen, “After the Catastrophe I,” p. 477.
64 Ibrahim ‘Abd
al-Qadir Abu Sayf, interview, Amman, 6 July 2002.
65 UN Military Observer
Group, “Report of Incident submitted on 19 October 1948 by Major Lemoine
and Captain Bossuyt attached to Nablus
Headquarters,” Nablus, Palestine, 22 January 1949.
66 Jacques de
Reynier, “Monthly Report No. 14: April 1949,” Beirut, 2 May 1949, p. 5.
67 Jacques de Reynier, “Monthly Report No. 11: January 1949,” Beirut, 12 March 1949, p. 3.
68 ICRC, Maximilien de Meuron, “Report No. 11,” Haifa, 30 June 1948, p. 1.
69 Sayigh, “Prisoner of War,” p. 25.
70 The figures in the Israel State Archives differ slightly: 4,999 Palestinians interned in Israel’s
camps in early 1949, of whom 160 were irregulars and 6 were soldiers. ISA, 324/50/15, 15, cited
in Klein, “Arab
Prisoners of War,” pp. 26, 574.
71 ISA, 67/51/29, 6, 8 and 4224/49/197,
12, cited in Klein, “Arab Prisoners of War,” p. 6. Israel’s former
Ministry of Minorities mentions
five thousand prisoners as of January 1949, although Kamen notes
that the total number for this period was probably greater.
Kamen, “After the Catastrophe I,” p. 1,
citing Government of Israel, Ministry of Minorities, Activities,
May 1948–January 1949, Jerusalem,
1949 [in Hebrew].
Ben-Gurion, Diary, 3:829 (entry for 17 November 1948), cited in Pappé, Ethnic Cleansing,
73 ICRC, Moeri and Lehner, “Report No. 19,” Tel Aviv, 11 November 1948, G59/I/GC,
G3/82, p. 2. See
also ICRC, Maximilien de Meuron, “Report no. 11,” p. 1.
74 ICRC, de Meuron, “Report No. 9.”
de Meuron, “Report no. 11.”
76 ICRC, Jacques de Reynier, “Monthly Report No. 8: October 1948,” Beirut, 5 November
1948, p. 3.
77 Jacques de Reynier (chief delegate), Rapport Général
d’Activité de la Délégation CICR pour la Palestine,
(Beirut, 6 July 1949), pp. 19, 22.
78 David Ben-Gurion, War Diary, 1947–1949 [in Arabic] (Beirut: Institute for Palestine
p. 598 (entry for 27 October 1948).
War Diary, p. 694 (entry for 5 January 1949).
80 Muhammad al-Batrawi,
interview by Fatma ‘Asi under Salih ‘Abd al-Jawad’s supervision. See S.
Abdel Jawad, “Why Our
History Cannot Be Written without Oral History: 1948 War as a Case
Study” (presented in Arabic at Oral History
Workshop, Amman, May 2005). The private libraries
of many well-known figures in the western neighborhoods of Jerusalem
as well as others ended
up at the National Library of the Hebrew University. See Gish Amit, “Salvage or Plunder?
‘Collection’ of Private Palestinians Libraries in West Jerusalem,” Journal of Palestine
Studies 40, no.
4 (Summer 2011), pp. 6–23; and Hannah Mermelstein, “Overdue Books: Returning Palestine’s
‘Abandoned Property’ of 1948,” Jerusalem Quarterly 11 (2011), pp. 46–64.
81 Mustafa al-Wali, ed., “Eye Witnesses Described the Tantura Massacre” [in Arabic], Majallat al-Dirasat
al-Filistiniyya 43 (2000), p. 127.
82 Marwan ‘Iqab al-Yahya,
statement in al-Khatib, Nakbat Filastin, pp. 203–14.
to the web site www.mapisrael.info, Mitzpe Ramon (Ramon Lookout) is situated high on
a ridge 2,800 feet above sea level
in the Negev Desert and was “founded originally as a camp for
workers building a road to Eilat in [before] 1951.”
See also Carta’s Official Guide to Israel and
Complete Gazetteer to All Sites in the Holy Land (Jerusalem: State
of Israel, Ministry of Defence
Publishing House, 1993), p. 336.
Private information from the Abu Sbayh family.
85 Private information
from the families of the two prisoners.
86 Geneva Convention Relative
to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, 1929, Geneva, Art. 31.
87 In her
discussion of the protection of POWs since World War II, Beaumont notes that “the 1929
prohibition on labor that
had ‘a direct relation with war operations’ had proved to be inadequate
and ambiguous in 1939–45. In
the modern ‘total war’ what economic activity was not related to
the war effort?” Joan Beaumont, “Protecting
Prisoners of War, 1939–95,” in Bob Moore and Kent
Fedorwich, eds., Prisoners of War and Their Captors in
World War II (Oxford: Berg, 1996), p. 281.
88 ICRC, Procès-Verbal
d’Entretiens, Tel Aviv, 20 June 1948, G59/1/GC, G3/82, p. 2.
Article 31 of the 1929 Geneva Convention states: “In particular, it is forbidden to employ prisoners
in the manufacture
or transport of arms or munitions of any kind, or on the transport of material
destined for combatant units.”
90 Memorandum, “Jewish Atrocities in the Holy Land,” enclosure with letter
from Issa Nakleh
(representative of the AHC for Palestine) to the Secretary General, 28 July 1948, UN Doc. S/925, p.
91 Al-Wali, “Eye Witnesses,” pp. 118–40; and Kamal
92 Sayigh, “Prisoner of War,” p. 25.
93 Tawfiq Ahmad Jum‘a Ghanim, interview, p. 30.
94 “When Beersheba Fell: An Eyewitness Account” [in Arabic], Akhbar al-Nagab, 8 November 2004.
95 “When Beersheba Fell.”
96 Marwan ‘Iqab al-Yahya, statement in al-Khatib, Nakbat Filastin, p. 206-207.
97 Marwan ‘Iqab al-Yahya, statement in al-Khatib, Nakbat Filastin, p. 211.
98 Marwan ‘Iqab al-Yahya, written testimony, by facsimile, 11 July 2002, p. 5 of 7.
99 Ibrahim ‘Abd al-Qadir Abu Sayf, interview.
100 Marwan ‘Iqab al-Yahya statement in al-Khatib, Nakbat Filastin, p. 207.
101 Nadim Musa, interview.
Kamal Ghattas, interview.
103 Marwan ‘Iqab al-Yahya statement in
al-Khatib, Nakbat Filastin, p. 211.
104 Al-Wali, “Eye Witnesses,”
p. 127. See also the testimony of Mahmud Nimr ‘Abd al-Mu’ti, Yusuf
Mustafa Bayrumi, Muhammad Kamil al-Dassuki,
and ‘Abdullah Salim Abu Shukr, pp. 63, 128, 131,
135, 137 respectively.
105 Marwan ‘Iqab al-Yahya statement in al-Khatib, Nakbat Filastin, p. 209.
106 Kamal Ghattas, interview. The same story is told in Hanna Ibrahim, The Tree of Knowledge: The Memoirs
of a Young
Man Who Did Not Travel 2nd ed. [in Arabic] (Acre: al-Aswar, 1996), pp. 96–98, 118–20.
107 Tawfiq Ahmad Jum‘a
108 Marwan ‘Iqab al-Yahya statement in al-Khatib,
Nakbat Filastin, p. 213.
109 Sayigh, “Prisoner of War,” p.
111 Kamal Ghattas, interview.
112 ICRC, Moeri, “Situation of the POWs in Jewish Hands,” p. 2.
113 ICRC, de Reynier, “Monthly Report No. 13,” p. 5.
114 ICRC, de Reynier, “Monthly Report No. 14,” p. 5.
Nadim Musa, interview.
116 ICRC, Jacques de Reynier, “Monthly Report
No. 7: September 1948,” 17 November 1948, p. 3.
117 ICRC, Rapport
General, p. 19.
118 De Reynier, “Monthly Report No. 4: June 1948,”
119 De Reynier, “Monthly Report No. 8,” p. 3.
120 De Reynier, “Monthly Report no. 11: January 1949,” p. 3. Also in January
1949, the Israeli
government amended its classification of civilian internees from “civilians” to “others”
“unclassified” (Land of Israel Archives 7335/49/416, 73, and 324/50/15, 51, cited in Klein, “Arab
Prisoners of War,” p. 7).
121 S. P. Mackenzie, “The Treatment
of Prisoners of War in WWII,” Journal of Modern History 66, no. 3
(1994), p. 489.
122 ICRC, Rapport Général, p. 20.
Presented by the United Nations Mediator on Palestine to the Parties on 28 June
1948,” part 2, para. 9, UN Doc.
S/863.The mediator would elaborate provisions for the return of
refugees in his September report to the United Nations.
UNGA, Progress Report of the United
Nations Mediator on Palestine Submitted to the Secretary-General for Transmission
to the Members of
the United Nations. UN GAOR, 3rd Sess., Suppl. No. 11, UN Doc. A/648, 16 September 1948.
was assassinated by members of the Stern Gang (Lehi) the day after he submitted
his report to the UN.
124 Jacques de Reynier, “Monthly Report No. 5: July 1948,” Jerusalem, 3 August
1948, p. 5.
125 De Reynier, “Monthly Report No. 14,” p. 6.
126 Jacques de Reynier, “Monthly Report No. 9: November 1948,” 14 December
1948 p. 3.
127 De Reynier, “Monthly Report No. 9,” p. 3.
128 ICRC, de Reynier, “Monthly Report No. 13,” pp. 4–5. There was not
a separate armistice agreement
for Iraq, which was included in the Israel-Transjordan agreement.
129 ICRC, de Reynier, “Monthly Report No. 4: June 1948,” p. 5.
130 The photographs taken by the ICRC of the Palestinians being transported subsequently became a
of the 1948–49 ethnic cleansing.
131 ICRC, “Le Comité
international de la Croix-Rouge en Palestine,” Revue Internationale de la Croix-
Rouge et Bulletin International
des Sociétés de la Croix-Rouge 30, no. 356 (1948), p. 556.
132 See Klein, “Arab Prisoners of
War,” p. 11.
133 Ibrahim ‘Abd al-Qadir Abu Sayf, interview.
134 The reference appears to be to Dr. Emile Moeri.
135 Sayigh, “Prisoner of War,” p. 23.
On the other hand, the ICRC delegates were not immune to the kind of racism and cultural bias
prevalent at the time.
In his June 1948 monthly report, for example, Jacques de Reynier referred
to Palestine as “this country of savages”
(p. 7), while Emile Moeri, in his “Rapport Sur la Situation
des PG’s en Mains Juives (G59/I/GC, G3/82, 9
February 1948) noted that the camps’ hommes de
confiance were “sincere, courageous and intelligent [men]
. . . in whom we have complete
confidence,” adding in parenthesis, “Don’t forget we are in the Orient”
137 Dr. R. Pflimlin (ICRC Southern Sector, Gaza) to M. de Reynier,
ref. no. 350 ICRC archives Em/?GS/9,
14 January 1949, G59/I/GC, G3 /82, 9 February 1948.