The gruesome murder of five Arab boys refuses to disappear — 55 years on

Beaten, tortured, and shot to death: this is the story of five Arab boys who met a gruesome fate at the hands of Israel’s security forces in September 1961. Ben Gurion’s government refused to tell the truth of what really happened.

By Makbula Nassar

Portraits of the Arab boys who were beaten, tortured, and shot to death before being returned to their families. (Courtesy of Al-Jalil)
Portraits of the Arab boys who were beaten, tortured, and shot to death before being returned to their families. (Courtesy of Al-Jalil)

Last week marked 60 years since the Kafr Qasim massacre. Although the event is seared into our collective consciousness, it was not the only horrendous crime committed by Israeli security forces against innocent Arab citizens during the dark days of the military government, which lasted from 1949 until 1966.

September marked 55 years since the mysterious deaths of George Shama, 17, Jeries Badeen, 16, Rimoun Maroun — the three of them hailed from Haifa’s Wadi Nisnas neighborhood — Faiz Said Ahmad from Sakhnin, and Mahmoud Abdullah Jabarin from Umm al-Fahm, 18. Their bodies were found at around the same time.

On September 17, 1961 the boys’ bodies were tossed from an ambulance belonging to the Abu Kabir Forensic Institute onto the front doors of their families. One after another, a day after they disappeared. The bodies were beaten, riddled with bullets, and showed signs of torture and abuse. According to the state, the boys were “shot while fleeing” as they tried to cross the border into Egypt. Ben Gurion’s government released a statement, claiming that the boys “…did not heed the warning, refused to stop, and continued to run toward the border. Thus they were shot.” (the quotes are brought forth by articles published in the Arabic-language Al-Ittihad newspaper).

Photographs of the bodies, and the testimonies that contradicted this version of the events and revealed the truth, did not embarrass the Israeli regime. Instead of dealing with the question of how these teenagers were killed and who tortured them, Israeli newspapers focused on the massive protests that took place in Arab towns following the events. The demonstrations, which erupted in dozens of localities, were forcefully suppressed and ended in arrests, specifically of activists belonging to the Israeli Communist Party.

The requests by the communists to establish a Knesset investigative committee were rejected outright. Lawyers representing the families and the party were purposefully kept out of hearings on the issue. It was never revealed who gave the orders, which units carried them out, and where the murders took place.

A shared identity, a shared fate

Thirty-eight years after the incident, in 1999, Al-Ittihad — which thoroughly covered the story — went back and interviewed the families in Haifa [Arabic]. Journalist and author Maysoon Asadi described how the images of the brutality are still seared into their memories, and how they learned to swallow the pain and remain silent.

In those hers many young Arabs were tempted to flee the fascist military regime for Gamal Abdel Nasser’s Egypt. This was an attractive option for hundreds of Mizrahim [Hebrew], especially ones who lived in slums.

There is no evidence that the three teens from Haifa, who were good friends, intended to flee for Egypt. And there is no proof that they made their way to the border, or that they were indeed murdered there. The same goes for the two teens from Sakhnin and Umm al-Fahm, who were not connected to the Haifa teens in any way — apart from their Arab identity and their shared fate. The truth has never come to light.

The bodies were found as the family members and many residents of Wadi Nisnas were out searching for them, after the boys suddenly disappeared a day earlier. According to testimonies, George Shama was shot in his genitals, and his pinky was cut by a sharp tool. His brother told Al-Ittihad that finger marks were found on George’s neck, that his face was smashed in [warning: graphic images], and that his jaw was torn from place.

Rimoun Maroun’s family described how they found a large hole in their son’s back, which shows that he was likely shot from close range. His two hands were broken, and his body showed signs of violence (including shoe marks). Jeries Badin’s fate was no different. His family members were crushed by the sight of their son’s bodies, and a short time after the funeral said they were fearful for their children’s lives and thus prefer to remain silent and forget about what happened. They asked their neighbors to stop talking about it, and after a few years moved to Canada.

The three teens from Wadi Nisnas were buried together in Haifa’s Orthodox cemetery, despite staunch opposition by religious figures, due to the fact that they all belonged to different churches. In Sakhnin the police forced the family to bury their son immediately, in order to prevent a massive funeral.

The message remains the same

The shock of seeing the horrific conditions of the bodies overcame the paralyzing fear that gripped the Palestinians since the 1948 war and the Nakba, and the deep concerns over retribution from the military regime, leading masses of Arab citizens to take to the streets.

Palestinian citizens march during the funeral procession for the three teens, Haifa, 1961.
Palestinian citizens march during the funeral procession for the three teens, Haifa, 1961.

The regime never even bothered to deny the allegations of murder. Ten days after the murder, Israeli journalist Uri Avnery published an op-ed [Hebrew] in the HaOlam HaZe weekly, in which he claims that it is no coincidence that among the hundreds of young Arabs who disappeared while attempting to cross the border, the bodies of these five were returned to their families, with all the incriminating signs that could be photographed and publicized.

“They did everything, apart from handing out written invitations to Arab Israelis, to cause the masses to demonstrate against the authorities, Avnery wrote. “Someone made sure that these protests would be turbulent and extreme,” he added. Once again, the army had a good reason to locate, hunt down, and arrest political activists; to prevent and thwart protests, and most importantly, to give the government further justification to maintain military rule over Israel’s Palestinian citizens.

This took place five years before the occupation. Uri Avnery, and many other naive Israelis, struggled to put an end to the military regime inside Israel, hoping that this is what would turn Israel into a “proper” state, and would put an end to all the injustices.

The government’s cover up, the refusal to investigate or release any detail regarding the murder of the five teens — despite the evidence — illustrates the spirit of the military regime, and especially the message sent to Arab citizens: this is a lesson for all to see. This is the message that repeats itself over and over again in the evolution of the oppressive Israeli mentality, since the pseudo trial following the Kafr Qasim massacre, and until the trial of the Israeli soldier who shot an incapacitated Palestinian in the head. There is no justice and there is no judge.

Makbula Nasser, active in political and feminist affairs, is a journalist and blogger for Local Call, where this article was first published in Hebrew. Read it here.

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