Qibya: 50 years of injustice and impunity

October 14, 2003 marked the 50th anniversary of a virtually forgotten massacre. In the Jordanian village of Qibya, a total of 69 civilians were murdered during a six-hour killing spree that nearly destroyed the entire town. The attackers blew up about forty houses, a school, a water pumping station, a police station and telephone office (1), and yet they sustained no casualties, since 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.”(3)

International condemnation was swift and unequivocal. The UN Security Council passed Resolution 101, specifically condemning the attack on Qibya. On October 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 citizen who was living at the time of this detestable Nazi extermination of an entire village will forget the world’s horror at that act.”(4)

The world has known for decades who was responsible for the killing in Qibya, yet not only has no legal action ever been taken against him for these actions, but he is rarely even criticized for these crimes. The person who bears responsibility for Qibya is Ariel Sharon, the current prime minister of Israel. In 1953, the 25-year-old Sharon headed an Israeli special forces group called Unit 101. Its task on the night of October 14th was to take revenge for the killing of three Israelis in a settlement near Tel Aviv two days earlier. Sharon’s orders explicitly called for “destruction and maximum killing.”(5) Unit 101 was sent to Qibya to kill civilians, a grave violation of international humanitarian law.

Why has Ariel Sharon not been held accountable for this blatant 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 not credible that 69 people could die such violent deaths without uttering any sounds. 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.”(5)

It’s a mystery why Qibya was even targeted by the Israelis in the first place, since there was no evidence that the attacker who killed the three Israelis came from this town. There was an attempt to locate the murderer using blood hounds, but the trail was lost less than one mile beyond the Jordanian border near the town of Rantis.(6) Although the murderer almost certainly came from Jordan, that fact cannot possibly justify Sharon’s random selection of 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.(7) Israel, however, placed the number of dead at 89 and wounded at 101 when that information was given to the UN in October 1953.(8) How that number has now grownby a factor of five is another mystery. Even if the higher number were correct, it still would not justify the cold-blooded act of collective punishment and wilfull killings that Unit 101 carried out in Qibya.

Sadly, the incident at Qibya was not to be Ariel Sharon’s only involvement in the mass murder of civilians. Nearly 30 years later, in 1982, between 800 and 2,000 civilians were killed in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila near Beirut. The Israeli Kahan Commission that investigated that 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 to step down, arrogant in his impunity, and was subsequently removed as Defense Minister, remaining in Menachem Begin’s cabinet as “minister without portfolio.”(9) The Kahan Commission further recommended that Sharon never hold public office in Israel again.

Despite being the architect of the horrible tragedies at Qibya and at Sabra and Shatila, 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 surreally heralded as a “man of peace” by President Bush.

Why create an International Criminal Court at the Hague if some people are exempt from prosecution? A man with Mr. Sharon’s long and bloody record should not enjoy impunity. After he leaves office, Ariel Sharon should finally be held legally accountable for his sordid past. Justice 50 years late is better than no justice at all.


(1) - UN Security Council meeting 630 #19 http://domino.un.org/unispal.nsf/9a798adbf322aff38525617b006d88d7 /017eefb458011c9d05256722005e5499

(2) - Letter from the Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary of Jordan to the UN Security Council on Oct 16, 1953 http://domino.un.org/unispal.nsf/9a798adbf322aff38525617b006d88d7 /17a9ac6ebf1db083802564d800319f6f

(3) - UN Security Council meeting 630 #21 http://domino.un.org/unispal.nsf/9a798adbf322aff38525617b006d88d7 /017eefb458011c9d05256722005e5499

(4) - UN Security Council meeting 636 #143 http://domino.un.org/unispal.nsf/9a798adbf322aff38525617b006d88d7 /6bd4ecb150d067a5052567240073c87f

(5) - Righteous Victims by Benny Morris, page 278.

(6) - UN Security Council meeting 635, United Kingdom question #2 http://domino.un.org/unispal.nsf/9a798adbf322aff38525617b006d88d7 /eef5490a45758c7c05256727006e0e6c

(7) - http://www.mfa.gov.il/mfa/go.asp?MFAH01ah0

(8) - UN Security Council meeting 635, appendix 1 http://domino.un.org/unispal.nsf/9a798adbf322aff38525617b006d88d7 /eef5490a45758c7c05256727006e0e6c

(9) - Righteous Victims by Benny Morris, page 548.

Eric Ridenour is a writer who lives in Atlanta, Georgia. He can be reached at erickaoru@hotmail.com