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The War of Independence: Israeli Attack on Qibya

(October 13, 1953)

The Israeli attack on Qibya, Jordan, came against the backdrop of repeated cross-border attacks by Jordanians on Israeli civilians in the years after Israel’s War of Independence. After the June 1949 cease-fire between Israel and its Arab neighbors, including Jordan, with whom Israel shared its longest international border, the Mixed Armistice Commission and United Nations Truce Supervision Organization were set up to lessen the danger of violence along Israel's borders.

Both failed.

Between June 1949 and October 1954, Israel accused Jordan of violating the armistice agreement 1,612 times, killing at least 124 Israelis, wounding hundreds more. For example:

June 7, 1953 - A youngster was killed and three others were wounded, in a shooting attacks on residential areas in southern Jerusalem.

June 9, 1953 - Gunmen attacked a farming community near Lod, and killed one of the residents. The gunmen threw hand grenades and sprayed gunfire in all directions. On the same night, another group of terrorists attacked a house in the town of Hadera. This occurred a day after Israel and Jordan signed an agreement, with UN mediation, in which Jordan undertook to prevent terrorists from crossing into Israel from Jordanian territory.

June 10, 1953 - Attackers infiltrating from Jordan destroyed a house in the farming village of Mishmar Ayalon.

June 11, 1953 - Gunmen attacked a young couple in their home in Kfar Hess, and shot them to death.

September 2, 1953 - Attackers infiltrated from Jordan, and reached the neighborhood of Katamon, in the heart of Jerusalem. They threw hand grenades in all directions. No one was hurt.

October 13, 1953 - Jordanian terrorists infiltrated the Israeli border and threw a grenade into a house, killing Suzanne Kinyas and her two children in Tiryat Yehuda.

The infiltrations, according to the UN, greatly concerned both the Israeli and Jordanian governments.

In an effort to prevent further attacks and protect its borders, Israel launched a reprisal raid on Qibya, a Jordanian town across the border from Tiryat Yehuda. Unit 101, led by then Colonel Ariel Sharon, destroyed 50 homes, killing 69 Jordanian civilians who were hidden inside and had gone unnoticed.

Sharon claimed he did not know the houses were occupied. He later wrote in his diary that he had received orders to inflict heavy damage on the Arab Legion forces in Qibya: “The orders were utterly clear: Qibya was to be an example for everyone.” In his autobiography, Warrior, Sharon wrote:

I couldn’t believe my ears. As I went back over each step of the operation, I began to understand what must have happened. For years Israeli reprisal raids had never succeeded in doing more than blowing up a few outlying buildings, if that. Expecting the same, some Arab families must have stayed in their houses rather than running away. In those big stone houses [...] some could easily have hidden in the cellars and back rooms, keeping quiet when the paratroopers went in to check and yell out a warning. The result was this tragedy that had happened.

The incident shocked and embarrassed Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, Nevertheless, in a radio address to the nation he blamed Jordan:

Every one of us regrets and suffers when blood is shed anywhere, and nobody regrets more than the Israeli government the fact that innocent people were killed in the retaliation act in Qibya. But all the responsibility rests with the government of Transjordan [the country's name was changed to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in 1949] that for many years tolerated and thus encouraged attacks of murder and robbery by armed powers in its country against the citizens of Israel.

Israel was condemned by the U.S. State Department, the UN Security Council, and by Jewish communities worldwide. The UN Security Council subsequently adopted Resolution 101 on November 24, 1953, expressing the “strongest possible censure of this action.”

The uproar notwithstanding, the Qibya operation and other reprisal raids on Jordanian terrorist and army posts had the intended effect of bringing relative quiet to Israel’s Jordanian border, in part by prompting the Jordanians to arrest more than a thousand fedayeen and step up its patrolling of the border.

Sources: Shipler, David. Arab and Jew. NY: Penguin Books, 1987;