Wadi Araba desert expulsion of June, 1950:

Statements of the survivors

FO 905/111

See State of Terror, 291-294.

In the first days of June, 1950, eighty-seven half-dead naked men and boys as young as seven began turning up on the western frontier of southern Jordan, the Wadi Araba desert region to thesouth of the Dead Sea. They were the survivors of about one hundred twenty ‘infiltrators’ seized by Israel in various parts of the land under its control and marched into this desert to their likely deaths.
Approximately thirty -four of the victims perished, among them at least two girls, one who did not survive the desert and another who the IDF shot dead when she attempted to escape the death march.

Photograph among several of the aftermath of the Wadi Araba expulsion in TNA, FO 905/111.

Manuscript note on photo reads “Group just found being given water by Arab Legion patrol”.The Wadi Araba expulsion was not in itself exceptional. Israel had conducted such forced marches during its 1948 ethnic cleansing, in which children and the elderly in particular perished along the way. The Wadi Araba expulsion was unique, however, in that many of the victims survived when found by Bedouin and Arab Legion patrols, and their stories were documented and corroborated.

Two years into Israeli statehood, these accounts offer an unparalleled examination of Palestinian ‘infiltrators’, who they were, their motivations, how Israel dealt with them, and how Israeli media reported it. Since they were arrested over a wide area and over a period of several months, we can assume that they are a representative sampling of these unfortunate people.

Three chroniclers interviewed the survivors: a representative from the International Red Cross, a Belgian observer from the MAC, and a correspondent from The Observer (UK). Fifty-one survivors are accounted for in forty-nine interviews. Their stories closely corroborated.

Notes in square brackets [ ] are mine.
Note: The following are my paraphrasing of the statements from the Wadi Araba survivors, in the order in which they appear in TNA, FO 905/111. Much is verbatim. The shorthand "ethnically cleansed" is mine.

Salman Ibrik, a shepherd, unable to find work in Khan Younis (Gaza), tried to reach Hebron (which lay on the Palestinian side of the Partition). He was captured, imprisoned, and beaten by Israeli soldiers upon entering no man’s land east of Gaza.

Tewfic Mohd Hussein, 17, remained in his hometown of Tira after its occupation by the Jews in 1948. Three months before the Wadi Araba incident, he was arrested on the claim that he helped the Arabs in Tira in the 1948 war, when he was 15. He was never questioned, but remained in custody until being put on the truck to the desert.

Mohamed Adbul Ghaffar Hussein, 21, married with children. His family was separated when he was made a refugee in Quolia (Ramallah) by the Israelis in 1948. He was caught by the Israelis when he tried to cross the Demarcation Line to visit his mother in Lydda.

Mohd Saleh El-Hilu, 55, a mason, was ethnically cleansed from Jaffa in 1948, ending up a refugee in Gaza. Due to economic desperation, he and his son tried to leave Gaza and reach Amman by way of Hebron but were caught by the Israelis.

Musa Saleh Suleiman, 16, was an Israeli Arab in his hometown of Tira. The Israelis arrested him when they were told that the boy’s father worked as a cook for the Arab Legion.

Moh’d Jume Hassan, 49, a driver, married, was a refugee in Gaza attempting to rejoin his family in Hebron. He was captured by an Israeli patrol near Beit Hanoun (Gaza), imprisoned and beaten.

Sharaf Abd Said, 22, a mechanic, ethnically cleansed from Jaffa, ended up a refugee in Gaza while his father ended up in Nablus. He tried to rejoin his father but was captured.

Ahmad Abdul Kareem Fakhouri, 18, married, was sitting on a bridge in his village of Irtah (Tulharm) in the Jordanian part, with members of the National Guard. When they saw Israeli vehicles cross over the Demarcation Line, the National Guard members went to investigate. Mr. Abdul, now alone, was seized by some of Israelis soldiers who had crossed over. He was tortured, and beatings on his ears left him hard of hearing.

Daoud Mohd Daoud, 13, seized by Israeli soldiers as he was gathering grass in Nattif for the sheep. (Nattif was a village near Hebron cleansed in 1948, but report states this is sub-district of Ramallah - ?)

Mohammad Mustapha Ibrahim, 30, a laborer from Shoike Tulkarm, was gathering grass for food near the boundary within the Jordanian territory. He was capture by an Israeli patrol and was severely tortured during the 36 days he was held before being trucked to the desert.

Naim Abdul Aziz Buir, 18, a weaver, a refugee in Majdel, Gaza, tried to reach Hebron. He was capture, tortured, and trucked to the desert.

Shafiq Mikhael Hsais, 30, a carpenter from Ramle, married. He was ethnic cleansed from Ramle and he ended up a refugee in Amman. But his young children and his parents were still in Ramle. He tried to cross to Ramle to see his children and parents, but was captured, beaten, and held for 48 days before the desert crossing.

Ibrahim Khalil Taim, 19, from Tira Tulkarem Sub-District, a student in Egypt (Al-Azhar University). He needed to return home to Tira to get money from his family to complete his studies in Egypt. He flew from Cairo to Amman by way of Syria, but was arrested by the Israelis when he tried to reach his family in Tira

Yousif Yasin Mohd, 30, from Yasur (Gaza), living in Beit Anabi (Hebron). While harvesting near the border, but on the Jordanian side, “a force of Jews appeared suddenly” and took him away. He was interrogated about the strength of the Arab Legion, but “owing to the severity of the beating” he received during twenty-seven days imprisonment, he and another capture man “had to talk about things we know nothing about.”

Ahmad Abdalla Maghrabi, 22, a farmer from Salme[?]. Ethnically cleansed, he had become a refugee in Nablus. He owned an orange grove in Salme, which was now occupied by the Jews. He had hidden £50 on his property, and as he was now desperate, tried to slip back to retrieve his hidden cash. He was caught, beaten, and imprisoned for seven months before being sent to the desert.

Ahmad Ben Ahmad Hawari, married with children. He had been ethnically cleansed from Jaffa, pushed south and ending up a refugee in Gaza. Desperate for work, he tried to return to Jaffa, but was captured by the Israelis, beaten repeatedly, then shipped off to the desert.

Foad Bakr Beirute, 19, tried to reach the Jordanian area from Gaza due to the dire economic situation. After being captured by Israelis he was beaten “day and night without any provocation” for twelve days, then sent to the desert.

Haj Ali Moh’d Ibrahim, 88, married, from the Sudan, was captured while making a religious pilgrimage from Sudan to Hebron (and Jerusalem?). Had nothing to do with Palestine.

Fayyadh Hassan Ala Dine, 30, from Ramli [Ramle?], married with children. He was ethnically cleansed when the Jews occupied Ramle, but his mother and brother remained in Ramle. His desperate situation as a refugee made him slip back to visit his mother and brother “to get some money to support myself. While in the house the Jews surrounded us. They arrested me and conducted me to the police post of Ramle where they tortured and insulted me. They plucked off the nails of my toes and beat my feet with stones and beat me every day.” They question him about the Arab forces, but he knew nothing. “After about 37 days they took me to Rakhbout colony for torture,” but there a Jew from whom he would buy ice before the 1948 war recognized him and interceded for him. He was taken back to Ramle, and then shipped south to the desert.

Two young children, Ghazi and his brother. Ethnically cleansed from Jaffa, they were living in the refugee camp of Mughazi in Safia Quarter. They were arrested by the Israelis and held for 45 days before being sent into the desert. Their statements were not otherwise taken due to their age.

Abdul Hafith Salama Ghanoun. Seized while harvesting in the Hebron area, imprisoned for 27 days and severely beaten.

Mushab Hussein Deoaifi [?], 58, married, stonedresser. A refugee in Gaza who had been ethnically cleansed from Ramle. Due to economic desperation he tried to return to Ramle, but was captured, imprisoned for 25 days and beaten.

Hassan Ibrahim Haj Quasim, 58, married with children. A refugee in Gaza who had been ethnically cleansed from Ramle. Due to economic desperation he tried to get to Amman, was caught, imprisoned for 19 days and tortured.

Abdul Salam Labam, 16, married with children. A refugee in Nablus who had been ethnically cleansed from Lydda. He had £50 hidden back home and had to risk getting it due to the desperate situation. Captured, imprisoned for 25 days and beaten.

A man [name?] who was pushed into the desert with his wife and daughter. The daughter died during the ordeal, and wife was sent back to Gaza.

Ibrahim Aref Rashid, shepherd. While pasturing his sheep near the boundary in the vicinity of Nattif, the Israelis attacked, stole twelve sheep, imprisoned him, and broke one of his limbs through beatings with the butt of their guns. He and those he was with were helped in the desert by a Bedouin.

Mahmoud Mohd Hodhud, 38, farmer, married with children. From Majdal*, ethnically cleansed, thus a refugee in Gaza. While pasturing his cows near the border near Beit Hanoun, the Israelis seized him and his cows. The imprisoned him in Qatra camp, “beat me and plucked off the nails of my toes.” He was kept there for 130 days before being sent into the desert. [*Majdal can either be al-Majdal, now part of Ashkelon, or al-Majdal, Tiberias; both were villages depopulated by the Zionists in 1948.]

Ahmad Abdul Rahim Shihade, 25, from Sarafand el-Kharab, ethnically cleansed, now a refugee in a camp in Gaza. He tried to reach Jerusalem by way of Hebron, but was caught and arrested by the Israelis, brought to Quatra and tortured.

Abdul Hamid Khalid, 47, from Thabirie, Hebron area. A farmer, married. While attempting to visit a friend in Gaza, he was intercepted by two civilians and brought to a police station, and treated severely for about twelve days before being sent into the desert.

Ali Hashin Sheafi, 22, a mechanic from Jaffa. After Jaffa was ethnically cleansed, his family became refugees at the Maghazi camp in Gaza. The conditions there were so desperate that “if we stayed in the camp without work we would not survive.” He and other men in the camp tried to slip into the Jordanian area, but were captured by the Israelis.

Ibrahim Yousef Rahhal, 18, from Kheiria[?]. A refugee, he tried to return to his hometown “as we had left money in our house. When I reached I did not find anything and found the whole village demolished. On my way back I was arrested near Lydda by the Jews...”

Mahmoud Yousif Matouk, 19, a shoemaker. Ethnically cleansed from Jaffa, a refugee in Gaza. “In order to find work and support our families,” he and others tried to reach Hebron. He was arrested and imprisoned in Beersheba.

Ihsan Quashta, 16, from Ramle. Ethnically cleansed and refugee in the Ramallah area. He slipped to his home town to visit his uncle, “as I had left him in bad need,” but was caught, arrested, and imprisoned for 31 days. “We were beaten every day and received little food,” during that time, then “thrown into the desert.”

Yahya Hassan Roubi, 17, from Tirat Bani Sab, Tulkarem area. He had worked as a civilian barber in the 11th Regiment of the Arab Legion, but when the Regiment left he had no work and tried “to slip into Tira to get in touch with my family.” He reached his family’s house, but then “our house was surrounded by the Jews and I was led to the Police Post...” arrested and eventually put on the truck to the desert.

Ahmad Shihade Bilbish [?], 50, from Burka (Barqa, Gaza District). Had hidden some money before being ethnically cleansed. Slipped across to recover it, and was captured. Beaten and tortured at Quatra for 20 days before sent into the desert.

Hussein Bakr Beirute, 18, café keeper from Jaffa, Ethnically cleansed, refugee in Gaza. Caught trying to cross to Hebron to earn living.

Eid Odeh Darwish, 20, from Rafah. Kidnapped by Jews while ploughing his land on the Egyptian border.

Abd Mustapha Abu Saif, 24, married, from Jaffa. Ethnically cleansed, refugee in Gaza. Caught trying to cross to Hebron to earn living.

Daoud Ahmad Daoud, 34, from Quatana, married, Jerusalem area. His town, Quatana, happened to lie in the no-man’s land, and was arrested by the Israelis and interrogated about the Arab Legion. The interviewer confirmed that his village lies on the line, and suggests that he was arrested to obtain military information.

Hassan Juma Shat, 28, from Ramle. Refugee in Gaza, caught attempting to reach Hebron.

Yousif Quasim Elian, 20, refugee from Ajour (‘Ajjur), Hebron area. “I have some grain in my village Ajour which is now on the Jewish side of the line. I went there with an animal to carry the grain for my family. While standing in the middle of the village I suddenly saw the Jews surrounding me. They arrested me, bound my eyes and conducted me to Quatre camp. I stayed there for two months and they tortured me during that period.” Then on trucks to desert.

Ahmad Ben Darwish Aslan, 55, a mason, a refugee in Gaza. Due to the deprivation he tried to cross to Hebron to get to Amman, was caught.

Aref Esa Mohd, 28, a labourer from Tulkarem. He gone to Egypt about a month earlier, but on his return was captured while between Hebron and Gaza, taken to a camp, “brutally treated,” then sent into the desert.

Ali Ibrahim Esa, 18, farmer, from Safiria. A refugee at Shebeteen in Ramallah area, tried to visit his mother who had been left behind at Lydda. Caught before reaching Lydda, imprisoned for two months and “barbarously treated.”

Mohammed Khamis Masri, 80, married with children, refugee in Beit Hanoun (Gaza). “While pasturing two cows that belong to me on the boundary of Beit Hanoun, I suddenly saw the Jews surrounding me.” Imprisoned for 37 days before being sent into the desert. (Note: He was kidnapped by Jews when grazing his cows. He may have been on the wrong side of the line, the exact position of which he did not know.)

Eid Odeh Darwish, 20, plougher, from Rafah. “While ploughing near the boundary inside the Arab area ... the Jews attacked me and took me with the camel with which I was ploughing.” Took him to Qatra camp, where “they questioned me about the Egyptian forces, but I could not tell them anything as I had no information. They beat me severely and they plucked off the nails of my fingers.” He was imprisoned for 60 days before being shipped to the desert.

Mohd Said Abu Amara, 25, from Jaffa. Ethnically cleansed from Jaffa, as a refugee in Khan Younis with young brothers, he tried to reach Hebron “owing to need and lack of work.” Captured and imprisoned in Quatra, the Israelis “whipped us on our backs and we were beaten ruthlessly and thrown on the ground.”

Qusim Ali Ebeid, 25, married with children, labourer from Quantana (Jerusalem). While “planting tomatoes in the lands of our village ... I suddenly found the Jews surrounding me.” He was imprisoned for 48 days and beaten before the desert crossing. The Armistice Line cuts through his village; he was working his own garden.

Jamil Mahd Abdul Ghani, 18, from Tira. A refugee in Kofr Zibad, the boy “was about to die of hunger and I had to risk life and go to my family at Tira.” Was caught. (“Another divided family.”)

Arafa Ahmad Abu Saif, 18, from Jaffa. Ethnically cleansed, refugee in Gaza, caught while trying to get to Hebron for work. “If it were not for my need I would not have made this adventure.”


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