October 14, 2003 marks the fifty year anniversary of a virtually forgotten massacre. In the Jordanian village of Qibya, a total of 69 civilians were murdered in a six hour killing spree, which almost totally destroyed the town. The attackers blew up about forty houses, a school, water pumping station, police station and telephone office (1) and they sustained no casualties, as Qibya was virtually undefended.
Of the first 42 bodies recovered after the attack, 38 were women and children.(2) One man lost all 11 members of his family. Describing the scene, a UN observer stated that ‘Bullet-riddled bodies near the doorways and multiple bullet hits on the doors of the demolished houses indicated that the inhabitants had been forced to remain inside until their homes were blown up over them.'(1)
Condemnation was swift. The UN Security Council passed Resolution 101, specifically condemning the attack on Qibya. On Oct 16th, the US State Department issued a statement expressing sympathy for the victims and urging that the persons responsible ‘should be brought to account.’ The National Jewish Post, in an October 30th editorial wrote that ‘Qibya was in effect another Lidice and no United States person who was living at the time of this detestable Nazi wiping out of an entire village will forget the world’s horror at that act.'(3)
The world has known for decades who was responsible for the killing in Qibya, yet not only has no legal action been taken against him for this, but he is rarely even criticized for it. The person I’m referring to is the current Prime Minister of Israel, Ariel Sharon. In 1953, the 25 year old Sharon was the head of an Israeli special forces group called Unit 101. Its task on the night of October 14 was to take revenge for the killing of three Israelis in a settlement near Tel Aviv two days before. Sharon’s orders explicitly stated ‘destruction and maximum killing’.(4) Unit 101 was sent to Qibya to kill civilians.
Why has Ariel Sharon not been held accountable for this obvious crime? His explanation is that he thought all villagers had fled and that the houses were completely unoccupied as they were being blown up. He also stated that he wasn’t aware until the next day that any civilians had died. That’s a remarkably feeble excuse. It is simply inconceivable that 69 people could die a violent death without uttering a sound. In fact, an October 26, 1953 article about Qibya in Time Magazine specifically stated that ‘The cries of the dying could be heard amid the explosions.’ Sharon’s explanation is futher discredited by Jordanian pathologists who reported that ‘most of the dead had been killed by bullets and shrapnel rather than by falling masonry or explosions.'(4)
It’s a mystery why Qibya was even chosen by the Israelis in the first place, since there was no evidence that the attacker who killed the three Israelis came from Qibya. There was an attempt to locate the murderer using blood hounds, but the trail was lost less than one mile over the Jordanian border near a town called Rantis.(5) Although the murderer almost certainly came from Jordan, that can’t possibly justify randomly selecting a Jordanian village, destroying it and killing its inhabitants.
Others have attempted to justify Sharon’s actions by pointing out the number of Israelis killed by cross border infiltrators. The Israeli Government’s Official Website states that Israel had ‘suffered 421 casualties by infiltration from Jordan’ between 1950 and Oct 1953.(6) Israel, however, had put the number of dead at 89 and wounded at 101 when that information was given to the UN in Oct 1953.(7) How that number has now grown to 421 is another mystery. Even if the higher number was correct, it couldn’t possibly justify what was done in Qibya.
Sadly, the incident at Qibya wasn’t Ariel Sharon’s only involvement with the mass murder of civilians. Nearly 30 years later, in 1982, between 800 and 3,000 civilians were killed in the Southern Lebanon refugee camps of Sabra and Shatilla. The Israeli commission investigating the massacre found ‘that the Minister of Defense [Sharon] bears personal responsibility’ for the massacre and recommended that he be fired if he didn’t resign. He refused and was removed as Defense Minister.(8)
Despite being the architect of the horrible tragedies at Qibya, Sabra and Shatilla, Ariel Sharon is, for the most part, strangely immune from criticism for these incidents. Recently, he has been fondly referred to as the ‘portly old warrior’ by the Washington Post and a ‘man of peace’ by President Bush.
Why create an International Criminal Court at the Hague if some people are exempt from prosecution? After Ariel Sharon leaves office, he should finally be held accountable for his sordid past. Justice 50 years late is better than no justice at all.
ERIC RIDENOUR lives in Georgia. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
(4) – Righteous Victims by Benny Morris, page 278
(8) – Righteous Victims by Benny Morris, page 548