Israeli Unit 101 commit massacre at al-Bureij refugee camp

Israeli Unit 101 commit massacre at al-Bureij refugee camp

Start Date: Friday, 28 Aug 1953
End Date: Saturday, 29 Aug 1953
 
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The first attack carried out by Unit 101 was mounted against Al-Bureij refugee camp on the night of 28 August, 1953. Learning that its presence had been discovered, instead of withdrawing it stormed the camp and escaped from the other side, and thus found itself surrounded by unarmed civilians. The ensuing massacre claimed 43 Palestinian refugees, among whom were seven women, and wounded 22. Losses of Unit 101 totaled two wounded. Sharon had personally led the attack. In his report to his superiors he justified the enormous civilian death toll that resulted as follows: "The enemy opened fire on me from the northwest... I decided that it was better to pass through the camp and slip out the other side than to go back the way I came, because crops, gardens, barbed wire and guards made it difficult to move in that direction... I also decided that offensive action was better than giving the impression that we were attempting to escape... Therefore I invaded the camp with my group." (Benny Morris, Israel's Border Wars: 1949-1956, Aam Ufid, Tel Aviv, 1996, p. 273)
Some Israeli commandos, part of Ariel Sharon's newly-organized Unit 101, attacked al-Bureij refugee camp and became cornered. Sharon decided they would bomb and shoot their way through the camp rather than retreat from it. General Vagn Bennike, the Danish UN Truce Chief, reported to the Security Council on the ensuing massacre: "Bombs were thrown through the windows of huts in which the refugees were sleeping and, as they fled, they were attacked by small arms and automatic weapons. The casualties were 20 killed, 27 seriously wounded, and 35 less seriously wounded." Other sources estimate from 15 to 50 fatalities.

The Israeli army blamed the raid on rogue kibbutzniks, and Ariel Sharon tried to reassure his men, telling them that all the dead women were camp whores or murderous Palestinian infiltrators. But some of them remained shocked at what they had done. Participant Meir Barbut said they felt as if they were slaughtering the pathetic inhabitants of a Jewish transit camp: "The boys threw Molotov cocktails at [innocent] people, not at the saboteurs we had come to punish. It was shameful for the 101 and the IDF [Israel army]." Another asked, "Is this screaming, whimpering multitude ... the enemy? ... How did these fellahin sin against us?" In 2006, Palestinian journalist Laila El-Haddad interviewed a survivor for Al Jazeera English:

"Mohammad Nabahini, 55, was two at the time and lived in the camp. He survived the attack in the arms of his slain mother. 'My father decided to stay behind when they attacked. He hid in a pile of firewood and pleaded with my mother to stay with him. She was too afraid, and fled with hundreds of others, only to return to take me and a few of her belongings with her,' he said. 'As she was escaping, her dress got caught in a fence around the camp, just over there,' he gestured, near a field now covered with olive trees. 'And then they threw a bomb at her, Sharon and his men. She tossed me on the ground behind her before she died.'"

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