Sunday, August 06, 2017

The Kfar Etzion "Massacre" That 'Wasn't'

Kfar Etzion, the national-religious kibbutz established in 1943, on the third attempt to recreate Jewish life on the road between Jerusalem and Hebron, fell on May 13, 1948 and it has been accepted that there was a massacre of the surrendering fighters.

Here is from the Wikipedia entry:

The Kfar Etzion massacre refers to a massacre of Jews that took place after a two-day battle in which Jewish Kibbutz residents and Haganah militia defended Kfar Etzion from a combined force of the Arab Legion and local Arab men on May 13, 1948, the day before the Israeli Declaration of Independence. Of the 129 Haganah fighters and Jewish kibbutzniks who died during the defence of the settlement, Martin Gilbert states that fifteen were murdered on surrendering.

And further details:

...when the hopelessness of their position became undeniable on May 13, dozens of defenders, the haverim, of Kfar Etzion laid down their arms and assembled in the courtyard, where they suddenly began to be shot at. Those not slain in the first volleys of fire pushed past the Arabs, and either escaped to hide, or gathered their weapons, and were hunted down. The number of people killed and the perpetrators, the Arab legion or local village irregulars or both, are in dispute. According to one account, the main group of about 50 defenders were surrounded by a large number of Arab irregulars, who shouted "Deir Yassin!" and ordered the Jews to sit down, stand up, and sit down again, when suddenly someone opened fire on the Jews with a machine gun and others joined in the killing. Those Jews not immediately cut down tried to run away but were pursued...hand grenades were thrown into a cellar, killing a group of 50 who were hiding there. The building was blown up.
According to other sources, 20 women hiding in a cellar were killed. David Ohana writes that 127 Israeli fighters were killed on the last day.
...The figure of 127 massacred appears to include both those who surrendered only to be slain, and the defenders who had been killed in battle over 12–13 May.
In another account, after the 133 defenders had assembled, they were photographed by a man in a kaffiyeh, and then an armored car apparently belonging to the Arab Legion opened fire with its machine gun, and then Arab irregulars joined in. A group of defenders managed to crawl into the cellar of the monastery, where they defended themselves until a large number of grenades were thrown into the cellar. The building was then blown up and collapsed on them. 

Another version:

In all, about 128 defenders were massacred by the Palestinian Arab irregulars or the Jordan Legion, counting those who had escaped to the basement of the monastery. Some accounts do not count these people as "massacred" and estimate that fifty were massacred.

In the premier issue of Mechkarei Eretz Yehuda (Land of Judea Studies) published this year, edited by Yechiel Zelinger and Nadav Frankel, Yochanan Ben-Yaakov, whose father and uncle were killed in the fighting, and the recognized historian of the kibbutz and editor of "Gush Etzion: Fifty Years of Struggle and Endeavour [in Hebrew]. Kfar Etzion: Field School, 1978" and later studies, has summarized his findings.

His conclusions, in brief, are:

A. In actuality, the fighting had not ceased the whole day as the outlying positions were unaware that two attempts at arranging an orderly surrender had been made near the center of the kibbutz.

B. Most of the 131 defenders (82 kibbutz members and 49 Hish and Palmach fighters) were killed in their positions or in the connecting communication trenches as well as in the bunker. Those in the bunker (the injured, medical staff, command staff, communications staff and a few who did manage to flee there after the surrender attempt) shot at the approaching Arabs who threw grenades in and then blew up the building which collapsed on them all.

C. At most, perhaps 30 defenders were at the school where the Arabs had opened fire and of those, four survived.

D. Many had made heroic efforts to flee from the area in front of the school, scooping up their weapons which had been placed on the ground in preparation for the surrender ceremony and ran into wooded areas where they were hunted down and shot. Some females were raped. Some headed in the direction of Massuot Yitzchak. Almost all had their weapons with them.

E. When Rabbi Shlomo Goren and his team returned over a year later to bury the bodies which had been unattended all that time, his report indicated finding them in or near the original defensive positions at various locations around the kibbutz. Some were found facing inwards as if they were shooting at Arabs who were approaching them from within the kibbutz.

F. The photographer who asked those who surrendered to pose was Yisrael Netach, it seems, a Syrian Jew who was a Shai operative. He had served as Abd El-Khader Al-Husseini's personal photographer until El-Khader was killed on April 8 at the Kastel battle. (Incidentally, his pictures 

are amazing, as the one above taken at the Kastel). He crossed the lines the following evening at Ramat Rachel but the soldiers suspected him  of being an Arab agent and exposed the film in his camera.

G. Avraham Fischgrund (a relative of my wife's cousin's husband) was the commander of the Kibbutz and was the first shot when a surrender was being attempted as he emerged with a white flag in his hands.

Ben-Yaakov insists that there was not a massacre of large proportions, that between 15 and 30 were shot while posing for the surrender photograph and the rest during the clean-up operations with those fighters defending themselves with their weapons.  He cannot verify which Arab group opened fire first, the irregulars or the Arab Legion soldiers.


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