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Mass Graves in Jaffa – but Who Killed Them?

May 31, 2013 2:15 pm 9 comments

Jaffa, Israel. Photo: wiki commons.

Over the past couple of days the Arab media have been reporting on the discovery of mass graves of Arabs in Jaffa.

The Al Aqsa Foundation made the discovery and naturally they want the world to assume that these Arabs were killed by Jews:

Six mass grave sites dating back to the 1936 Palestinian uprising and the 1948 Nakba were discovered around the Jaffa cemetery, the al-Aqsa Foundation for Endowment and Heritage reported Wednesday, revealing hundreds of bodies of Palestinians killed by Zionist forces.

“During [the foundation’s] repair and maintenance work on the [Kazkhana] cemetery, we discovered nozzles to dig into the ground where we found the mass graves…including hundreds of skeletons and human remains of rebels, martyrs and civilians who perished during the Nakba,” head of the Islamic Movement in Jaffa, Sheikh Mohammed Najem, said in the report.

The foundation has proved the remains date back to the victims killed in the 1948 war, whether from bombings and shelling of residential neighborhoods or snipers located around the city, the report said.

“The Kazkhana cemetery has exposed the historical facts that Israel has tried to hide and erase for over 65 years relating to the massacres committed by Zionist gangs during the 1948 Palestinian Nakba,” it read.

Al-Monitor, however, shows that the source of the graves is not nearly as definitive as the virulently antisemitic Al Aqsa Foundation implies:

Researcher and historian Mahmoud Obeid, a Jaffa resident, told As-Safir, “We discovered six mass graves, two of which we dug up. Our estimate is that they contain around 200 bodies, with an unknown additional number in the other graves. The remains belong to people of different ages, including women, children and the elderly, some of which bear signs of violence.” But he indicated that “the bodies were buried following Muslim traditions, and were therefore probably victims of the nakba. But, in truth, we lack any other evidence [as to the nature of these deaths].”

According to Obeid, the coming days will reveal more about the victims buried in these graves. He stated that Jaffa residents await a legal decision by the religious affairs court to open the rest of the graves in order to ascertain what their contents are. He pointed out that “upon opening them, we might discover documents that would indicate the identities of those buried in the graves.”
Eghbariyeh, on the other hand, preferred not to commit to a single explanation and said, “Further documentation and in-depth research is needed to find out what the truth is about these graves. We are certain, however, that the remains belong to our ancestors killed by occupation forces.” The identity of those who buried them remains a mystery, as Eghbariyeh added, “We are not certain if all the remains were buried by our people, or if occupation forces secretly buried some of them, only to be later found out.”

Efforts are under way to uncover the true stories of the victims interred in the newly discovered mass graves. Eghbariyeh indicated that this task would take quite some time as the Al-Aqsa Association searches for Jaffa residents who lived through the nakba able of offering information pertaining to these graves and the circumstances surrounding their use.

They don’t know the date of death, they don’t know who killed them. All they know is that they were buried Islamically.

Instead of consulting historians or news accounts, the Al Aqsa Foundation will look for elderly residents who will recount fuzzy anti-Jewish rumors they heard when they were children. That will be all the “proof” they need.

However, far more Palestinian Arabs were killed by the British during the 1936 riots than were killed by the Jews in the War of Independence!

The history of British brutality against the Arabs of Palestine is not well known. I once excerpted an amazing paper that described the brutality in detail.

I just found another paper, this one unpublished and in draft format, but equally amazing in what it reveals.This paper specifically talks about how the British used the RAF to help quell the riots.

Some excerpts:

Brigadier Evetts, the senior Army officer, deliberately tempted the armed bands to attack convoys in order that the RAF could respond, a vigorous approach more akin to Callwell’s small wars than Gwynn’s policing.

The number of combined actions increased in July due to increasing rebel activity and better co-ordination. On 9 July a Hart answered a call to search an area. Finding four armed Arabs who then hid in a hut, the pilot informed the road patrol and pinned the men in a hut until the patrol arrived, rather than inflict a few casualties and let the gang disperse.59 On 19 July following an XX call, a Hart of 6 Squadron engaged fifteen rebels attacking a Jewish potash convoy on the Jericho-Jerusalem road. Another four aircraft joined the action, killing seven rebels, the aircraft being hit four times.60 On 29 July the Police warned of another ambush of a Jewish convoy on the same road. The first aircraft arrived within nine minutes of the XX call, and attacked and pinned the retreating enemy down, killing eleven of them. In July, 6 Squadron responded to thirteen XX calls and claimed to have inflicted thirty-seven enemy casualties, and reported a similar tempo for August and September.

The armed bands grew in number and size, reinforced by sympathizers from Syria and Iraq. The bands totalled around 1500 to 2000 full-time partisans – often ex-soldiers, criminals or adventurers not tied to one place – and could call on perhaps five-times as many locals for specific actions.

On 2 September the Cabinet decided on ‘intensive measures, designed to crush Arab resistance’. Lieutenant-General Dill was dispatched with a second division, the Army calling-up all high readiness infantry reservists, and expecting to govern under martial law.

…Large actions continued as 1st Division arrived. At Nablus on 24 September, the Royal Scots Fusiliers engaged several bands led by Fawzi. Aircraft responding to XX calls claimed forty-one out of the fifty enemy killed, firing 332 rounds from machine guns and dropping 33 bombs, with one aircraft hit in the radiator and forced to land, and Flying Officer Ramplini wounded in the wrist. The 6 Squadron Operational Record Book (ORB) records the moral effect of using large bombs on the population of Nablus but unfortunately there is no further explanation.

When the District Commissioner for Galilee was murdered in September 1937, the British response was immediate and aggressive, declaring the AHC illegal. The RAF flew six Arab leaders to exile in the Seychelles and removed the Mufti from his official posts. He fled to Damascus to form the Central Committee of Jihad. Rebel leadership fragmented, the urban effendi class being increasingly replaced by peasant terrorists who targeted fellow Arabs. Six peasant partisan commanders formed the titular Bureau of the Arab Revolt in Palestine. By October 1937 Arab armed bands established control over Samaria and Galilee.

In another large action on 3 March 1938 a XX call from a column of the Border Regiment, under heavy fire from high ground near the Jenin-Haifa road, was answered within fifteen minutes by four aircraft. The rebel band split into two, and was pursued by other columns and numerous aircraft sorties until dark. The rebels’ strength was estimated to be between 300 and 400 men. The British claimed to have killed sixty, over half by aircraft for the loss of one killed, and three wounded…Aircraft dropped forty-seven bombs and fired 5000 rounds.

[September 1938] For RAF armoured car crews [Air Commodore Harris] wrote] ‘as the civil-writ no longer runs, all the advice I can give them is that when in aid of the (non-existent) civil power, they should fire when they must and keep on firing as long as appears militarily essential‘. He fitted his SSOs’ unmarked cars ‘with two Mauser sub-machine gangster-guns’ to ‘produce a terrific rate and spread of fire ahead to compete with the bandits dressed as Palestine police who now do much of the holdup work’. In that event of European war, Harris thought:

We must (and under such circumstances can) make up for a lack of numbers by using rougher methods with the rebels than we dare do in peace. One 250lb or 500lb in each village that speaks out of turn within a few minutes or hours of having so spoken; or the complete blotting out of a few selected haunts, pour encourager les autres’.

…Wingate’s SNS had more success inflicting casualties on Arab bands than Regular Army units whose ‘chances of contact with an enemy, who is an enemy one moment and a peaceful villager the next, almost negligible’, albeit using controversial techniques. Harris thought a gendarmerie made up of SNS-type groups, with the backing of air power, was the solution. Harris wanted more Gladiators:

In this regard the Glosters [Gladiators] are an outstanding success. Not only are they killing oozlebarts [Arab bands – EoZ] wholesale with their four front guns, and many more than the Hardys and Hinds in equivalent situations, but they are doing it, in my opinion, with vastly less risk to the crews. No 6 Squadron losses, compared with the total number of fighting crews, have been so heavy lately that one wishes, if it is at all possible, to provide the safest as well as the most efficient aircraft for their highly dangerous task of ground strafing.

He also thought ‘the only thing the Arab understands is the heavy hand and, sooner or later, it will have to be applied’.

There was brutality by British soldiers and police in this period [late 1938-Jan. 1939]. The GOC’s explanation described the difficulty of combating a fragmented revolt, using intimidation and where the enemy hides amongst women and children. He defended the use of cordon and search operations, where those escaping were shot, and collective punishments when individuals could not be identified.

The British were engaged in what would certainly be considered war crimes today. And the casualty rates of some of these actions were high enough to justify mass graves. There is also no doubt that many civilians were also killed, although the papers I’ve seen are reluctant to go down that path.

Keep in mind also that (as this paper mentions in passing) Arabs were killing other Arabs during the revolt as well as in the months leading up to the 1948 war.

We can expect that the Al Aqsa Foundation will continue to claim that the apparent Arab victims purportedly discovered in Jaffa could only have been killed by Jews. History shows that this is far from obvious, and when this story gets into the more mainstream media, lets hope that the reporters are smart enough not to swallow the lies from an organization that routinely lies to further its agenda.

Elder of Ziyon is one of the world’s most popular pro-Israel bloggers. His website is


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  • The suggestion that this could be from a slightly earlier period (the 1936-39 intifada against the British) makes a lot more sense than 1948.

    After the UN partition compromise vote of Nov. 29th, 1947, Tel Aviv started coming under sniper fire from Jaffa and troops from the “Arab Liberation Army” were moved into Jaffa – amassing for an attack.

    There had been a failed Irgun counter-offensive in late April, 1948, but by then more than 1/3rd of the population had already fled. In addition, as Irgun failed to take the city (or even enter it), it is not possible that its forces had “expelled” anyone [or killed 200-600 people]. Some residents fled at that time.

    Adam LeBor writes in “Jaffa: Divided it fell”:

    || The Arab exodus began [following the passage of the UN partition compromise]. Much of the middle-classes and the a’yan, the notables, who could have provided leadership in the testing days ahead, relocated to relatives or their summer homes in Cairo and Beirut, believing they would return when the situation calmed. When Jaffa’s artisans and workers saw that their bosses were leaving, they too began to desert their homes.

    || The exodus had begun in the winter of 1947-1948, five months before the Irgun attacked Manshiyyeh.

    || Jaffa’s mayor, Yousef Heikal, showed little fortitude. “At first he told us not to leave. He said that he was leaving the country only for three days in order to get some news,” recalls Ismail Abou-Shehade. Heikal returned briefly on 28 April. “Then he gathered us again. He said that Jaffa was going to be occupied by the Jews soon, since there was no defence, no weapons and nothing can stop them from taking our dear Jaffa. He gave people permission to leave the country if they wish. He said that he himself was leaving with his family. People then started to leave by ships and trains. All the routes to the Arab countries were opened, and people could leave for free. The Arab countries were responsible.”

    || The Irgun and Haganah finally entered Jaffa proper, on 14 May after the British troops left. Between four and five thousand Arabs remained. “Jaffa had surrendered,” says Yoseph Nachmias. “We field commanders wanted to put those few thousand on buses as well and send them away. That is what they would have done to us. But our leader Menachem Begin said not to touch those who remained, and to let them be. He said if they did not leave with their brothers, then let them live in peace with us.”

    Nimr al Khatib (a leader in the Muslim Brotherhood and of the Arab Higher Committee – the agency that represented the Arabs of Mandate Palestine) wrote:

    || The inhabitants [of Jaffa] were more afraid of their defenders-saviours [the “ALA”] than of the Jews their enemies.

    If more than 1/10th of the population that hadn’t fled had been massacred, the other 90% all would have known about it and the story would have come out long ago.

  • Hopefully the Israeli government has learned from its disgraceful blindness with respect to the al Durah case and will issue an explanation immediately.

  • I have to agree with Bernard and Robert. Chances are the people were buried by relatives. As for the mass media, they will blame the Jews. They always do and even when it’s proven that they were wrong, they claim that the Jews are covering up something else. It’s a no win situation and we can do no right, ever.
    It must be nice to have a scapegoat to blame, no matter how far fetched things are. It’s getting a little old, you’d think people would wake up and notice what’s in front of their nose.

  • Fredric M. London

    We have a right to hope, but don’t count on it.

  • They conveniently “forget” that 6000 Israelis were killed in the war of independence.

    • And in what why is this number relevant in this context?
      Do you think “6000 Israelis were killed; so who cares about some Arabs”? Or is more like “Well, 6000 Israelis were killed, and so were these Arabs”?

      Maybe you really could give some context …

  • Bernard Ross

    I doubt that the brits or the jews would bother to bury mass deaths islamically. therefore, they were likely buried by their relatives or the arab village.

  • The mainstream media will get on the anti Israel bandwagon (Jews),because we get the blame for everything. If only people engaged their tiny brains before their tongues or typing fingers.

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