Mass Graves in Jaffa Said to Be From War of Independence

Graves uncovered by Islamic Movement activists during renovation work in Jaffa cemetery hold remains of hundreds of people.

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

Islamic Movement activists uncovered in the Jaffa cemetery five mass graves that held the remains of hundreds of people. The Islamic Movement said the graves were those of Palestinians killed in Jaffa during the War of Independence.

The first grave was uncovered a week and a half ago during work to renovate and rehabilitate the Kazkhana Cemetery on Kedem Street, near the Peres Center for Peace. That grave is an underground room with a pile of skeletons and skulls. According to Mahmoud Obeid, an Islamic Movement member and editor of the yaffa48 website, who revealed the story, the remains of between 80 and 100 people were inside the grave. Five similar graves were found later with a like number of skeletons. The graves are about two meters by four meters and are built with cinderblocks.

“Our first thought was that this was connected to the plague that happened once in Jaffa,” said Obeid. “But we talked with older people who remembered the period and we even tested them to see if they remember where the graves were, and they remembered. One of the elderly women said the military governor of Jaffa, after it was conquered, would ask her father to gather the dead from the streets and bury them there.”

It is also possible to see signs of shooting and injuries on the skeletons, said Obeid. More evidence for the dating of the burials to the War of Independence period, according to the Islamic Movement activists, is the cinderblocks the graves were made from, which are suited to such burial.

Jaffa resident Atar Zanib, 80, who was interviewed by Agence France Presse ‏(AFP‏), said he remembered clearly the preparation of the mass graves as a way to bury the numerous bodies that piled up in the city during the battles. Zanib said he carried some 60 bodies to the cemetery during the three or four months of the local fighting.

“We would find the people in the street and in most cases we didn’t know who they were,” he said.

The mass graves are unknown to historians of the period, but local residents say they know the story well. “I don’t understand what they are surprised about,” said Sammy Abu Shahada, a member of the Tel Aviv-Jaffa city council who researches the history of Jaffa during the British mandate period. “In 1948 there was a war here and the Zionist forces, in addition to many other things, also threw bombs and a lot of people died. Jaffa was under siege, surrounded by Jewish neighborhoods and under attack by the Haganah, Etzel and Lehi,” he said.

A large number of the dead in Jaffa during the war died as a result of bombings or mortar shells, continued Abu Shahada. “There were three days in which thousands of mortar shells fell in Jaffa. In addition a number of massacres were documented. I know the story of the mass graves from oral testimony, including my grandfather − there is nothing to be surprised about it. There was a war here, the Zionist side paid a heavy price and the losing side paid much more,” he said.

Islamic Movement activists said they asked local Sharia courts to remove the remains and examine them.

Human skeletons in the mass grave uncovered in Jaffa, May 31, 2013.Credit: AFP

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