Khan Yunis massacre

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Khan Yunis killings
Part of the Suez Crisis
Khan Yunis-1930s.jpg
Caravanserai of Khan Yunis, 1930s
Location Khan Yunis, Gaza Strip
Date November 3, 1956
Target Male Arab villagers
Suspected members of the Palestinian fedayeen
Attack type
Deaths 200–275
Perpetrators Israel Defense Forces

The Khan Yunis massacre is a massacre that took place on November 3, 1956 in the Palestinian town of Khan Yunis and the nearby Khan Yunis Camp in the Gaza Strip during the Suez Crisis.

During an Israel Defense Force operation to reopen the Egyptian-blockaded Straits of Tiran, Khan Yunis was occupied by Israeli soldiers, who shot dead between 200 and 275[2] civilians, refugees and local residents.[3][1] According to a number of eyewitnesses accounts documented in Joe Sacco's comic book Footnotes in Gaza, Israeli soldiers shot a number of Palestinian men in their homes and lined up others and executed them.[4] That a massacre of civilians took place has been disputed, and Israeli authorities either deny or do not acknowledge the purported scale of the events.[5]


Frustrations had brewed in the western aligned world following the decision by Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser to nationalize the Suez Canal, an important waterway that allowed trade to flow to and from Mediterranean with the Indian Ocean, via the Red Sea.[6] These tensions culminated in the invasion of the Sinai Peninsula on October 29 and incursions into Egyptian-occupied Gaza via the city of Rafah in the south and Gaza City in the north on November 2. In the early hours of that day the IDF broadcast that it knew of the identities of the fedayeen and would punish them for raiding Israel and that the civilian population would be held collectively responsible for such attacks. As a result around 1,500 fedayeen fled the Strip with relatives for sanctuary the West Bank.[7] After killing or capturing all hostile militants in the latter two population centers, forces from the two ends of the Strip met in Khan Yunis on November 3.[8]

According to one account from a fleeing fedayee, Saleh Shiblaq, Israeli forces walked through the town on the morning of November 3, forcing men out of their homes or shooting them where they were found. In 2003, Shiblaq told Sacco that all the old men, women, and children were removed from his household. Upon their departure, the remaining young men were sprayed with bursts of gunfire by Israeli soldiers.[9] Adult male residents of Jalal Street, in the center of Khan Yunis, were allegedly lined up and fired upon from fixed positions of Bren light machine guns, firing extraneously to the point that a stench of cordite filled the air.[10]

Local residents allege that 100 Palestinian men were shot against the medieval caravanserai in the center of the village.[11]

Refugee camp[edit]

Conflicting reports of skirmishes between the two peoples were also reported in the neighboring Khan Yunis Camp, which housed displaced Palestinian refugees. PLO official Abdullah Al Hourani was working as a teacher in the camp at the time of the killings.[12] Al Hourani, along with several other survivors of the shootings, alleges that, like in nearby Khan Yunis, men were taken from their homes and shot by the Israeli Defense Forces. Hourani himself recalls fleeing from an attempted summary execution without injury.[13]


A curfew imposed on the citizens of Gaza disallowed them from retrieving the bodies of their fellow villagers, leaving them strewn about the area overnight. Injured victims of the shootings would later be transported to Gaza City by the International Red Cross for medical treatment. Israel, bowing to international pressure, withdrew from Gaza and the Sinai in March 1957. Shortly thereafter, a mass grave was unearthed in the vicinity of Khan Yunis, containing the bound bodies of forty Arab men who had allegedly been shot in the back of the head.[14]

United Nations report[edit]

On December 15, 1956, the Special Report of the Director of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East Covering the Period 1 November 1956 to mid-December 1956 was presented to the General Assembly of the United Nations. The report told both sides of the "Khan Yunis incident". The Director's notes also acknowledge a similar incident, the Rafah massacre, immediately following that city's occupation.[15] The report lists local casualties of the incident at 135, and refugee deaths at 140. Some survivors dispute this statistic, believing the death toll could be well over 500.[16]

Israeli soldier Marek Gefen was serving in Gaza during the Suez Crisis. In 1982, Gefen, having become a journalist, published his observations of walking through the town shortly following the killings. In his account of post-occupation Khan Yunis, he said, "In a few alleyways we found bodies strewn on the ground, covered in blood, their heads shattered. No one had taken care of moving them. It was dreadful. I stopped at a corner and threw up. I couldn't get used to the sight of a human slaughterhouse."[17]

Cultural references[edit]

In 2009, Maltese American comics journalist Joe Sacco published a 418-page account of the killings in Khan Yunis and Rafah, entitled Footnotes in Gaza. The graphic novel relies heavily on mostly directly-retrieved eyewitness accounts.[18] Reviewing the work for The New York Times, Alexander Cockburn wrote that, "He stands alone as a reporter-cartoonist because his ability to tell a story through his art is combined with investigative reporting of the highest quality" and stated that "it is difficult to imagine how any other form of journalism could make these events so interesting."[19] Israeli historian and politician Meir Pail dismissed Sacco's retelling of the incident and said "It's a big exaggeration, there was never a killing of such a degree. Nobody was murdered. I was there. I don't know of any massacre."[18]

Sacco admits he takes sides, writing "I don't believe in objectivity as it's practiced in American journalism... I very much believe in getting across the Palestinian point of view".[5]

Jose Alaniz, Adjunct Associate Professor of Comparative Literature at the University of Washington, said that Sacco uses subtle ways to manipulate the reader to make the Palestinian side seem more victimized and the Israelis more menacing.[5]

In 2010, a segment on the Iranian English language news network Press TV depicted a 54th anniversary memorial service commemorating the killings at the site of one of the mass executions.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Benny Morris (1994). Israel's Border Wars, 1949-1956: Arab Infiltration, Israeli Retaliation, and the Countdown to the Suez War. Oxford University Press. p. 424. ISBN 978-0198278504. "But many Fedayeen and an estimated 4,000 Egyptian and Palestinian regulars were trapped in the Strip, identified and rounded up by the IDF, GSS, and police. Dozens of these Fedayeen appear to have been summarily executed, without trial. Some were probably killed during two massacres by IDF troops soon after the occupation of the Strip. On 3 November, the day Khan Yunis was conquered, IDF troops shot dead hundreds of Palestinian refugees and local inhabitants in the town. One UN report speaks of 'some 135 local residents' and '140 refugees' killed as IDF troops moved through the town and its refugee camp 'searching for people in possession of arms'." 
  2. ^ Benny Morris, Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, Random House 2011 p.295: In all Israeli troops killed about five hundred Palestinian civilians during and after the conquest of the Strip. About two hundred of these were killed in the course of massacres in Khan Yunis (on November 3) and in Rafa (on November 12).'
  3. ^ Yezid Sayigh,,Armed Struggle and the Search for State: The Palestinian National Movement,1949-1993, Oxford University Press, 1997 p.65:'Dozens of fid'iyyun were summarily executed, and 275 Palestinian civilians were killed as Israeli troops swept Khan Yunis for fugitives and weapons on 3 November'.
  4. ^ Sacco, Joe (2009). Footnotes in Gaza. Metropolitan Books. pp. 81–102. ISBN 978-0-8050-9277-6. 
  5. ^ a b c Graphic novel on IDF 'massacres' in Gaza set to hit bookstores.
  6. ^ Sacco, Joe (2009). Footnotes in Gaza. Metropolitan Books. p. 39. ISBN 978-0-8050-9277-6. 
  7. ^ Yezid Sayigh ,Armed Struggle and the Search for State: The Palestinian National Movement,1949-1993, Oxford University Press, 1997 p.65.
  8. ^ Sacco, Joe (2009). Footnotes in Gaza. Metropolitan Books. p. 81. ISBN 978-0-8050-9277-6. 
  9. ^ Footnotes in Gaza. Metropolitan Books. 2009. pp. 84–86. ISBN 978-0-8050-9277-6. 
  10. ^ Sacco, Joe. Footnotes in Gaza. Metropolitan Books. pp. 87–89. ISBN 978-0-8050-9277-6. 
  11. ^ Sacco, Joe. Footnotes in Gaza. Metropolitan Books. p. 98. ISBN 978-0-8050-9277-6. 
  12. ^ "Who is Abdullah Al Hourani?". Retrieved 24 August 2013. 
  13. ^ Sacco, Joe. Footnotes in Gaza. Metropolitan Books. p. 106. ISBN 978-0-8050-9277-6. 
  14. ^ Palumbo, Michael (1990). Imperial Israel. Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 32. 
  15. ^ "A/3212/Add.1 of 15 December 1956". 15 December 1956. United Nations. Retrieved 24 August 2013. 
  16. ^ a b "Gaza marks the 1956 zionist massacre of Palestinians and Egyptians in Khan Younis". Press TV. 5 November 2010. 
  17. ^ Sacco, Joe. Footnotes in Gaza. Metropolitan Books. p. 118. ISBN 978-0-8050-9277-6. 
  18. ^ a b "Graphic novel on IDF 'massacres' in Gaza set to hit bookstores". 21 December 2009. Retrieved 24 August 2013. 
  19. ^ "‘They Planted Hatred in Our Hearts’". New York Times. 24 December 2009. Retrieved 24 January 2014. 

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