Monday, August 14, 2006
1948: The Israeli Masscre of Salha; The First Israeli Massacre of Lebanese Civilians
Salha and six other Lebanese villages have all been occupied by “Israel” since 1948
In September 1948, when the first Arab-Israeli war was at its height, around 70 Lebanese civilians from the village of Salha were herded into the village square and machine gunned to death by members of the Haganah Jewish militia, the forerunner to the Israeli army.
Salha is one of seven Lebanese villages that were incorporated into Palestine in 1926 in an agreement known as the Jerusalem Treaty brokered by the British and French mandate authorities. Salha and the other six villages - Hounine, Qaddas, Melkihi, Tarbiqa, Nabi Yusha and Irbil Qammeh - have all been occupied by the Israelis since 1948.
The decision to incorporate the seven Shiite populated villages into the largely Sunni dominated Palestine was first raised in 1922 and later put into effect in February 1926. The residents were allowed to retain dual identity as Lebanese and Palestinians. The Lebanese census of 1933 asked the villagers whether they would like to remain in Palestine or be reincorporated into Lebanon.
“Most of them were happy to become part of Palestine for economic reasons. Beirut was far away for these people and Haifa was much closer and there was no border fence so they could cross into Lebanon whenever they liked,” said Atif Aoun, a former resident of Salha who was three years old at the time of the massacre.
The inhabitants of this largely agricultural village lived in peace with the growing number of Jews who emigrated to Palestine in the 1930s, but the creation of the state of Israel on May 14, 1948 and the ensuing war, was to shatter their rural bliss forever. "We had formed a village guard to protect us from the Zionists because we had heard of massacres elsewhere,” said 78-year-old Hamid Aoun.
“One evening the Israelis arrived in the village in armoured cars and demanded that we hand over all the guns in the village and then we would receive new identification passes. We told them that we had no guns in the village and that we were peaceful people who wanted no trouble,” Hamid said. A villager climbed onto the roof of a building and called on the residents to assemble in the square in front of the mosque. Nimr Aoun, 83, recalled two Israeli officers sitting outside a house and drinking coffee while the villagers assembled.
"Some other Israelis handed out leaflets telling us to surrender. Even at that time many people had left Salha in fear of the Israelis and their guns,” he said. Hajj Ahmed Abdul Karim, 80, was visiting Yaroun that day, 3km from Salha on the Lebanese side of the border. “My father was on his way to the square when someone told him the Israelis planned to murder them all. So he hid behind a wall. A few minutes later, he heard machine gun fire and could hear his brother screaming as the Israelis shot him,” he said.
Around 70 villagers had gathered outside the mosque and were surrounded by ten armoured cars with heavy machine guns mounted on top. One of the Israeli officers, speaking in Arabic, threatened to shoot them if the weapons were not handed over.
“When I heard this I knew there would be trouble so I crept away and hid without them seeing me,” Hamid said. The officer turned to his troops and spoke briefly in Hebrew, whereupon the machine guns opened up on the villagers. “I was shot in the knee but managed to crawl beneath an armoured car from where I could see my friends being killed,” said Nimr. “As the shooting died down I covered myself with dead bodies and smeared blood onto my face so the Israelis would think I was dead.”
Of the residents who had assembled in the village centre, only two survived one of whom was Nimr. He was carried by mule to hospital in Bint Jbeil where the doctors said that the injuries to his leg would have to result in amputation. “I told them that I would cut off the head of the person who would cut off my leg,” Nimr said. The other survivor was not so lucky. His leg was amputated and he died shortly afterwards.
The remaining villagers fled the village over the next two days none of them to return. “The bodies still lay in the square four days later. They had begun to smell and dogs were feeding off their corpses,” said Hamid. “The Israelis returned and bulldozed them into the mosque then blew it up.”
The villagers’ fate echoed that of the Palestinians who were forced to flee their homeland to settle in Lebanon. The Salha residents stayed initially with relatives near the border believing they would soon return home before congregating in the Shabriha suburb of Tyre.
Fifty years on, the massacre still rankles with the elderly residents of Salha. “There was no reason for the Israelis to do that to us,” said Abdul Karim. “We hadn’t declared war on them and there were no nearby Jewish settlements for us to fight against.” Nimr said: “I still hope we can return home one day. I would return to Salha even if I had to live there in a cave.”
Source: The DailyStar
Which book is opening my eyes to some things I didn't know about.