ONE of the worst but best-documented massacres during the offensive took place at Dawayma. This town was taken by a company of the 89th Commando Battalion which was composed of former Irgun and Stern Gang terrorists.
A veteran of the unit has published an account of the massacre. He notes that in order “to kill the children they fractured their heads with sticks. There was not one house without corpses.”
After murdering the children, the Jewish soldiers herded the women and men into houses. where they were kept without food or water. Then the houses were blown up with the helpless civilians inside.
The Israelis were particularly sadistic in their treatment of Arab women.
One Zionist soldier in Dawayma, “prided himself upon having raped an Arab woman before shooting her to death. Another Arab woman with her newborn baby was made to clean the place for a couple of days and then they shot her and her baby.” The conscience-stricken Israeli veteran who revealed these events stressed that they were committed by “Educated and well-mannered commanders who were considered good guys.” They became “base murderers and this was not in the storm of battle but as a method of expulsion and extermination. The fewer the Arabs who remained, the better.”
At the end of the offensive on the southern front, the UN requested that the Israelis allow a team of observers to visit Dawayma to investigate Egyptian charges that a massacre had taken place there. After three previous requests were denied, on 8 November the Israelis finally allowed Colonel Sore and Warrant-Officer Van Wassenhove to visit the village. As he walked through the town, the Belgian Van Wassenhove saw that many of the houses were still smoking. Some of these houses, the Belgian officer noted, “gave a peculiar smell as if bones were burning.” But he was not allowed by the Israeli officer to investigate further. When he asked about a house which was about to be blown up, Van Wassenhove was told “The house has vermin in it and that’s why we are blowing it up.”
The UN team requested to see the village mosque in Dawayma but an Israeli officer replied, “we never go into the mosque because this is not correct and we must follow tradition in such things.” But when the UN officials did get a brief look inside they found that there were quite a few Jewish soldiers in the Islamic holy place, which had obviously been desecrated.
Sore and Van Wassenhove wanted to see the other side of the village, where they suspected there might be more incriminating evidence. The Israelis would not let the UN team go there because they claimed that the area was mined. But Van Wassenhove remarked, “I haven’t noticed any place where there could be mines or where mines could have been taken out.” He also observed that the road that the Israelis claimed had been mined by the Arabs faced the Arab lines, which is not the side of the village where mines would be placed.
When Sore and Van Wassenhove asked about the evacuation of the village by its inhabitants, they were told that the whole population had fled when the Arab forces left the region. The Israelis denied that they had used force to expel the villagers but they were greatly disturbed when the UN observers came upon the body of an Arab civilian and they refused to allow Sore and Van Wassenhove to examine it. Despite the hostile attitude of the Israelis, the UN team had little doubt about what had taken place at Dawayma.
The American Consul in Jerusalem, William Burdett, had heard about the visit of the UN team to Dawayma. After making inquiries, on 16 November, he reported to Washington, “Investigation by UN indicates massacre occurred but observers are unable to determine number of persons involved.” Estimates vary considerably but probably about 300 Arab civilians were slaughtered in the town.
Members of the Israeli government knew what had happened at Dawayma and other towns in the Negev but most were unconcerned. However, one Israeli leader had a conscience. On 17 November, Agriculture Minister Aharon Cizling told the Cabinet, “I feel that things are going on which are hurting my soul, the soul of my family and all of us here.” Probably referring to Dawayma, he added, “Jews too have behaved like Nazis and my entire being has been shaken.”
Source: Michael Palumbo, The Palestinian Catastrophe, Quartet Books, London, New York
According to the Palestinian historian Walid Khalid :
“The site has been fenced in. A cowshed, a chicken coop, and granaries have been built at its center (which has been levelled). The southern side of the site contains stone terraces and the remnants of a house. The eastern side is occupied by the residential area of the moshav.”