Palestine, Tulkarem district, 1948. A group of around one thousand people, including many mothers and children, forced to flee their homes during the first Israeli invasion. (File photo: ICRC)
Israeli government discussions on the massacres perpetrated by Israeli soldiers in 1948 were declassified for the first time this week in an investigative report published by Haaretz and the Akevot Institute for Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Research.
Entitled, Classified Docs Reveal Massacres of Palestinians in '48 – and What Israeli Leaders Knew, the report exposes two large-scale operations launched by the army in October 1948, one based in the south, known as Operation Yoav, which opened a road to the Negev; and another in the north, Operation Hiram.
As part of the latter, within 30 hours Israeli soldiers attacked dozens of Palestinian villages, forcefully expelling tens of thousands of Palestinian residents, while thousands of others fled.
Nearly 120,000 Palestinians, including the elderly, women and children resided in the area, however, following Israel's massacre only 30,000 Palestinians were left.
"Within less than three days, the IDF [army] had conquered the Galilee and also extended its reach into villages in southern Lebanon. The overwhelming majority of them took no part in the fighting," reported Haaretz.
The investigation also revealed accounts regarding previously unknown massacres that took place in the villages of Al-Reineh, just north of Nazareth, Meron and in Al-Burj.
Before the brutal attacks against Palestinians during Operation Hiram, the village of Al-Burj, presently known as Modi'in Illit, a large ultra-Orthodox settlement in the occupied West Bank, was raided in July 1948.
According to a document found in the Yad Yaari Archive, four elderly men 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."
Eight days after the village was raided by Israeli occupation forces, Ibrahim was sent on an errand to pick vegetables by an Israeli soldier, in order to keep him away from the atrocity the soldiers were ready to commit.
"The three others were taken to an isolated house. Afterward an anti-tank shell was fired. When the shell missed the target, six hand grenades were thrown into the house. They killed an elderly man and woman, and the elderly woman was put to death with a firearm," according to the document.
"Afterward they torched the house and burned the three bodies. When Hajj Ibrahim returned with his guard, he was told that the three others had been sent to the hospital in Ramallah. Apparently he didn't believe the story, and a few hours later he too was put to death, with four bullets," added the document.
The declassified State Archives also consist of several pages of minutes from those years, including the testimony of Shmuel Mikunis, a member of the Provisional State Council (predecessor to the Knesset) from the Communist Party, who reported on the atrocities perpetrated in the Meron region.
Mikunis requested clarification from former Prime Minister of Israel David Ben-Gurion about acts that had been carried out by members of the Jewish terrorist group, Irgun.
According to the declassified documents, "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."
The declassified documents, investigated in Haartez's report also includes details on the Hula massacre in Lebanon and the depopulated Palestinian village of Deir Yassin. Though the report is lengthy, the paper highlights that many more details remain unknown; "This is not surprising, considering how much material remains locked away in the archives," it explained.