Israel’s Attack on Qibya in 1953

What happened at the Arab village of Qibya in 1953?

Among the many “massacres” and “atrocities” that Palestinian Arabs repeatedly cite against Israel is the 1953 attack on the Arab West Bank village of Qibya (also spelled Kibya, Quibya or Qibiya), east of Tel Aviv, in Samaria, then under Jordanian control.


The claim is that an Israeli Army anti-terrorism unit (Unit 101) commanded by 25 year old Ariel Sharon (later the Prime Minster of Israel) destroyed the village of Qibya during the night of October 14-15, 1953 killing about 70 civilian inhabitants in the process. Descriptions of the attack in Palestinian media include statements like:

  • ... military engineers were placing explosives around some of the houses in the village and blowing them up with everyone in them under the protection of the infantrymen, who fired on everyone who tried to lee.

Further gruesome details are supplied such as:

  • ... one could see small hands and legs which were the remains of her six children, while her husband's bullet-mangled corpse lay in the road in front of her.

One anti-Israel website goes further:

  • In 1953, Ariel Sharon attacked Qibya, a West Bank village, slaughtering more than 600 nhabitants.

The Palestinian critics of the attack do not mention that Israel had suffered more than 450 civilians murdered in attacks by "fedayeen" terrorists sponsored by neighboring Jordan and Egypt in the prior three years. IDF tactics had been ineffectual in countering the onslaught that terrorized every part of Israel. Sharon's 101 Unit was ordered to hit the fedayeen, the army bases that supported them, and the villages that housed them. A particularly vicious murder of a Jewish mother and her two infants in Yehud, east of Tel Aviv, the previous night by attackers believed to be from Qibya prompted retaliation against that specific village.

In the attack, as the force approached the village, hundreds of Qibya residents were seen fleeing. Sharon's unit believed that all residents had fled. But some of the Arabs thought the action against the village would entail only the harmless destruction of a few outbuildings, as had been the prior Israeli practice, and so hid in their houses. According to the official IDF Encyclopedia, the soldiers found a young girl in one house and an elderly man in another. Any such inhabitants discovered were chased away.

IDF engineers blew up dozens of Qibya houses. When the mission was complete, Sharon and his men reported that they had destroyed 42 buildings and killed 10 to 12 people, all soldiers or guards. Had it been the Israeli intention to kill civilians, the defenseless villagers fleeing Qibya would have been prime targets ? instead the IDF allowed them to leave unharmed. Afterward it was discovered that 69 civilians were hiding inside the homes. In "Warrior," Sharon's autobiography, he wrote that he found out about the civilian casualties only the next day, listening to Jordanian radio. Their deaths were not deliberate; they were unfortunate casualties of the defensive action of the IDF responding to terrorist attacks.

It is standard propaganda tactics to call this accident of war a "massacre" or an "atrocity" while ignoring the deliberate targeting of the Israeli civilian population by the fedayeen. Apparently Palestinian Arabs have no problem with killing Israelis (in 1953 or now), but if Israel takes steps to defend itself any Arab casualties are an atrocity.


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