Israeli historian uncovers evidence of crimes against Palestinians in Upper Galilee region, southern Lebanon following Israel’s establishment.
Newly-released documents from Israeli government archives reveal details of atrocities committed against Palestinians during two large-scale operations carried out by Israeli forces during the Nakba of 1948, several months after the official establishment of the State of Israel.
The classified information was made available following a request to the state archivist by the Akevot Institute for Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Research, and a report on the findings was published in Haaretz by researcher Adam Raz.
The report highlights three massacres that took place during Operation Hiram (October 29 – October 31, 1948) that led to the capture of the Upper Galilee region in the north, following Israel’s conquest of the entire Negev through Operation Yoav in the south. It also reveals new details about the massacre of the southern Lebanese village of Hula, near the border with Israel.
Testimonies and minutes recorded during cabinet meetings tell the story of the atrocities faced by Palestinians, including children and women, in the villages of Meron, Al-Burj and Reineh in the Upper Galilee region, as Israeli forces killed and expelled tens of thousands of inhabitants.
A summary of Adam Raz’s findings:
Disclosed meeting minutes show that member of the Knesset Shmuel Mikunis demanded clarification from David Ben-Gurion, primary national founder of the State of Israel and the first prime minister, about actions Mikunis said were carried out in the Palestinian village of Meiron (today Meron) by the Zionist paramilitary organisation, Irgun militia, which operated in Mandate Palestine between 1931 and 1948.
“A. They annihilated with a machine gun 35 Arabs who had surrendered to that company with a white flag in their hands.
B. They took as captives peaceful residents, among them women and children, ordered them to dig a pit, pushed them into it with long French bayonets and shot the unfortunates until they were all murdered. There was even a woman with an infant in her arms.
C. Arab children of about 13-14 who were playing with grenades were all shot.
D. A girl of about 19-20 was raped by men from Altalena [an Irgun unit]; afterward she was stabbed with a bayonet and a wooden stick was thrust into her body,” Mikunis had said.
The small village of Al-Burj (today Modi’in) was conquered before Operation Hiram in July 1948.
According to the Government of Palestine’s Department of Statistics, about 480 Palestinians lived in the village prior to 1948.
Adam Raz’s report references a document from the Yad Yaari Archive which states that only four elders remained in the village after its capture.
“Hajj Ibrahim, who helped out in the military kitchen, a sick elderly woman and another elderly man and [elderly] woman.”
The latter three residents of the village were taken to an isolated house.
“Afterward an anti tank shell (‘Fiat’) was fired. When the shell missed the target, six hand grenades were thrown into the house.”
One of the two elderly women was put to death with a firearm and the house was then torched and the three bodies burned. Hajj Ibrahim was killed a few hours later with four bullets.
The village of Reineh was also conquered in July 1948. A few months later, Aharon Haim Cohen, from Israel’s national trade union centre Histadrut, demanded that a representative of the left-wing party Mapam clarify why 14 Palestinians were murdered in the village at the beginning of September.
“They were seized next to the village, accused of smuggling, taken to the village and murdered.”
Israeli forces, extending their reach into villages in southern Lebanon, conquered Hula under the command of Shmuel Lahis.
According to Raz’s research, the majority of the village’s population fled, but about 60 people remained and surrendered without resistance.
The remaining villagers were massacred over two successive days. On the first day, October 31, 1948, 18 villagers were killed, and on the following day, 15 more fell victim to the violence.
Commander Lahis was the only combatant who was tried on murder charges in Operation Hiram. His verdict was assigned to the law archive of Tel Aviv University and a short excerpt from the ruling on his appeal was published in Raz’s report for the first time.
The verdict said that Lahis ordered the removal “of those 15 Arabs from the house they were in and led them to an isolated house which was some distance from the village’s Muslim cemetery. When they got there, the appellant [Lahis] ordered the Arabs to be taken into one of the rooms and there he commanded them to stand in a line with their faces to the wall…
The appellant then shot the Arabs with the Sten [gun] he held and emptied two clips on them. After the people fell, the appellant checked the bodies and observed whether there was life in them. Some of them still showed signs of life and the appellant then fired additional shots into them.”
Lahis was sentenced to seven years in prison, but on appeal the prison term was reduced to one year.
A long-pending call for justice
The atrocities that accompanied the systematic dispossession of the Paestinian people in the establishment of Israel are well-documented in interviews with survivors, and through the works of numerous Palestinian and Israeli historians and scholars alike.
But Raz’s findings could be among the most damning evidence collected so far as they come from the Israeli government’s own archives, even as the country’s leaders and elites continue to deny and justify the violence committed against Palestinians.
Despite mounting evidence, the dispossession of the Palestinians in 1948 is still not recognised as historical fact.
In his book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (2006), Israeli historian Ilan Pappe argued that the violent history suffered by the Palestinian people is not only historical fact, but that it also amounts to ethnic cleaning - a crime against humanity, punishable by international law.
Pappe wrote that “the ethnic cleansing of Palestine must become rooted in our memory and consciousness as a crime against humanity and that it should be excluded from the list of alleged crimes”.
“The perpetrators here are not obscure - they are a very specific group of people: the heroes of the Jewish war of independence…”