How the Israeli media covers massacres: Lessons from 1953

The killing was justified, the terrorists hid among the civilian population, the West is anti-Semitic, and on second thought, perhaps the whole thing never actually happened. From the 1953 Qibya massacre to Operation Protective Edge, the Israeli media is the same media, and the lies the same lies.

By John Brown

At 9:30 p.m. on the night of October 14, 1953, soldiers from Israel’s Paratroopers Unit as well as Commando Unit 101 fired mortars at the West Bank villages (then under Jordanian control) of Qibya and Ni’lin. Following the barrage, over 130 soldiers swarmed Qibya, laying down land mines on the outskirts of the village in order to prevent Jordanian troops from accessing it. Israeli forces then destroyed 45 homes and killed 69 people, most of them in cold blood by throwing grenades, including those who attempted to flee for their lives. Many were killed under the rubble of their own homes. Approximately two thirds of those killed were women and children. The soldiers received the following order from then-commander Ariel Sharon: “The intention: Attack and conquer the village of Qibya, with maximum damage to humans and property.” The massacre took place in the wake of the murder of three Israelis in the Israeli town Yehud.

Israeli newspapers quoted Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion when reporting that the massacre was committed by “settlers living on the border, some of them lived through Nazi concentration camps, while others are immigrants from Muslim countries, where the tradition of revenge is strong… and their patience ran out. No one will be more sorry than the Israeli government should it turn out that innocent blood was spilled in the revenge attack. The Israeli government vehemently rejects the outlandish and fantastical versions of the story, which claim that Israeli soldiers took part in the operation against Qibya. We examined the issue, and found that not a single military unit was missing from its base on the night of the attack on Qibya.” The Davar daily added that Ben-Gurion’s speech was delivered “from the heart of every Israeli” and that “Arab states are granting refuge to Nazi criminals.” Ben-Gurion would later repeat that very same lie in the Knesset.

Inhabitants of Qibya coming back in their village after its attack by israeli forces, October 1953. (photo:
Inhabitants of Qibya coming back in their village after its attack by israeli forces, October 1953. (photo: unknown)

The newspaper reports from October 1953 are incredible both in terms of the lies they tell, as well as how similar they are to today’s stories. And all this despite the fact that the editors were well aware of reports from around the world that pointed the finger at the Israeli army. They were also aware of the simple logic that the scope of the killings and damage in the village, along with the coordinated efforts in Ni’ilin must have been the work of a well-trained military unit. And yet the spiritual forefathers of Channel 2’s military correspondent Roni Daniel and his ilk still chose to cover up the massacre while justifying it.

After invoking the Holocaust, they used just about everything in their arsenal to try and debunk the claim. The following quotes can be found in Benny Morris’ article “The Israeli Press and the Qibya Operation, 1953,” as well as the National Library of Israel.

Did it even happen? Perhaps Hamas killed them

On October 18th, the editor-in-chief of the Ma’ariv daily, Dr. Azriel Carlibach, wrote the following: “The Security Council will surely condemn Israel over the Qibya incident. But what actually took place in Qibya? Our main argument is that the incident was never investigated by a neutral and objective party.

“Unlike in Yehud, where UN observers did not even visit the Arab village that ostensibly ‘was erased from the face of the earth.’ They did not check nor count the number of people killed there – and we cannot even speak of fifty victims. And they didn’t even bother themselves to investigate who the attackers were, and whether IDF units were even involved in the incident. All Western governments… unquestionably believed the description of… Radio Ramallah, with its exaggerative, Oriental imagination. The station said that ‘half an IDF battalion’ participated in the operation. Where are their tracks and who saw them? Western powers have knowingly bought into Arab propaganda.”

Everything Carlibach wrote is a lie. The UN visited the village, counted the dead and collected testimonies regarding the IDF’s involvement.. Radio Ramallah’s report was accurate.

Look at what’s happening in Syria

On October 19th, in the wake of global condemnation, the Herut daily published the following: “How many innocent Kenyans were killed in cold blood by armed British soldiers as a response to terrorist attacks? In any event, there is no… basis to the claim that the attack was committed by IDF forces. Would anyone be surprised if it turns out that the Israelis on the border became fed up with seeing those who want them dead crossing the borders?”

The anti-Semitic West

On October 19th, Davar published the following: “Therefore we are astounded by the activity [of world powers], especially during these days in the wake of the great commotion by Arab countries after the explosions and victims in the Arab village over our border. No mention of the mother and her two children who were murdered in Yehud, nor all the others who were killed… those did not upset the politicians.”

The killing was justified since the terrorists hid among the civilian population

On October 18, Ma’ariv wrote that “Qibya served as the headquarters of Hassan Salame, one of the heads of the “gangs” during the Arab Revolt in 1937.” This is a lie. The following day, Ma’ariv published an article on page two titled “Israel’s Hasbara is Lacking.”

The only places one could read trustworthy accounts of the incident were in the Communist Party’s Kol Ha’am newspaper, as well as in Uri Avnery’s Ha’Olam Haze. After publishing his account, Avnery was ambushed and had both of his arms broken.


Although the lies were revealed over time, not a single person involved in the massacre or its cover up was ever tried. Some of them, like those from Unit 101, turned into cultural assets. Ariel Sharon became prime minister, and a different commander, Meir Har Zion, became an Israeli hero on whose principles today’s commanders are being raised. It is important to remember this the next time you hear someone talking about how Palestinians glorify their terrorists, especially because the Qibya massacre is up there with the worst of Palestinian terror attacks.

It is difficult to guess whether truthful reporting on the massacre would have changed this ethos. Perhaps not. But there is no doubt that the journalists of the time betrayed their profession – a betrayal that, when it comes to the IDF and its operations, continues until this very day. A betrayal that perpetuated the endless cycle of violence in the region, and has allowed IDF commanders to operate unhindered, without legal or public oversight.

A Palestinian child with a kite stands in front of the destroyed Al Nada towers in Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza Strip. The towers had 90 flats.
A Palestinian child with a kite stands in front of the destroyed Al Nada towers in Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza Strip. The towers had 90 flats.

The media adopts the lies of the state, allowing crimes to be committed until this very day. It actively labels all those who attempt to report the truth as “traitors” or “delusional liars,” thus creating a public ignorant to its own reality – one that dooms itself to a cycle of bloodletting that ends in military solutions – the same ones that are always deployed in the name of security.

Despite the disinformation, whoever wanted to know what happened in Qibya in ’53 or in Operation Protective Edge could have found out. Yeshayahu Leibowitz wrote the following after Qibya:

There is a Jewish aspect to the Qibya incident; it is not a moral problem, but rather an entirely religious one. We must ask ourselves: where does this teenager come from, the one who has no qualms about committing such an atrocity, when was he pushed from within or without to commit revenge? The teen, after all, is not part of the rabble, but rather someone who grew ip and was educated on Zionist principles, alongside human and societal values.

John Brown is the pseudonym of an Israeli academic and blogger. This article was first published on +972′s Hebrew-language sister site, Local Call. Read it in Hebrew here.

For Palestinian citizens, 1956 massacre is not a distant memory
His finest hours: On Sharon’s murderous legacy

Newsletter banner 4 - 540