Military Wiki
Khan Yunis killings
Part of the Suez Crisis
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.[1][3] According to a number of eyewitnesses accounts documented in Joe Sacco's graphic documentary 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 claim IDF soldiers ran into local militants and a battle erupted.[5][6]


In 1956 Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser decided 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.[7] In a secret meeting at Sèvres on October 24, Britain, France and Israel decided to launch a three-pronged offensive against Egypt. The attack began with an Israeli strike on Egyptian positions in the Sinai Peninsula on October 29. A day afterwards, Britain and France served an ultimatum on both Israel and Egypt, which was to function as a pretext for the subsequent operation by both powers to intervene and protect the Suez Canal. Both the United States and the Soviet Union demanded on the 30th of October that hostilities cease and that Israel withdraw its forces back to the armistice line. The day after French naval forces bombarded Rafah, while the RAF made bombing raids on Egyptian airfields. Israel claimed it had conquered Rafah by November 1, and began shelling the Gaza Strip itself. Given the exercise of their veto rights in the UN Security Council by France and Britain, the two great powers were forced to obtain a resolution to that effect before the General Assembly, which duly passed a ceasefire motion on November 2, the same day that Egypt lost control of the Sinai peninsula.[8] and incursions into Egyptian-occupied Gaza via the city of Rafah. 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, to Hebron and other places, or by skiffs across to Egypt.[8][9] 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.[10] As opposed to the swift surrender of Egyptian forces in Gaza, the garrison in Khan Yunis under the command of General Yusuf al-Agrudi put up stiff resistance. Israel replied by bombing raids and artillery shelling on the town, which exacted heavy losses in civilian lives, and troops accompanied by an armoured column took the town on November 3.[8]

Men suspected of having born arms were executed on the spot, in their homes or places of employment, while all males from 15 years to 60 years of age were forced to muster. Two massacres of civilians then took place. The first occurred when citizens were machine-gunned down after being forced to line up against the wall of the old Ottoman caravanserai in the city's central square.[8] Local residents number that the number of Palestinians shot dead in this action amounted to 100, according to oral memories collected by Joe Sacco.[11] The other massacre took place in the Khan Yunis refugee camp.[8]

Israel's purpose was to root out the fedayin from Gaza, though the massacres were largely wrought on civilians. According to Jean-Pierre Filiu, the process of identifying 'fedayin' was inexact, it sufficing to have a picture of Nasser on one's wall to become suspect, or be arrested because one had a similar name to someone on Shin Bet 's suspect list.[8] Occasionally local children were used as human shields in areas where snipers were suspected of lying in wait, or where sites might have been booby-trapped.[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.[12] 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.[13]

Refugee camp

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.[14] 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.[15]


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.[16]

United Nations report

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.[17] According to the UNWRA report, which put together what it considered a credible list of people executed on November 3, some 275 were executed that day. Palestinian sources list the number at 415 killed, and a further 57 who were unaccounted for, or disappeared. According to the future Hamas leader Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi, an 8 year old child in Khan Yunis at the time who witnessed one of the executions, of his uncle,[18] and who was in turn later assassinated by Israeli forces in 2004, 525 Gazans were murdered by the IDF.[8]

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."[19]

Cultural references

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.[20] 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."[21] Israeli historian and politician Meir Pa'il 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."[20]

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.[22]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 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. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Graphic novel on IDF 'massacres' in Gaza set to hit bookstores. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "ap" defined multiple times with different content
  6. הטבח בחאן יונס
  7. Sacco, Joe (2009). Footnotes in Gaza. Metropolitan Books. p. 39. ISBN 978-0-8050-9277-6. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 8.6 8.7 Jean-Pierre Filiu, Gaza: A History, Oxford University Press, 2014 pp.95-100.
  9. Yezid Sayigh,Armed Struggle and the Search for State: The Palestinian National Movement,1949-1993, Oxford University Press, 1997 p.65.
  10. Sacco, Joe (2009). Footnotes in Gaza. Metropolitan Books. p. 81. ISBN 978-0-8050-9277-6. 
  11. Sacco, Joe. Footnotes in Gaza. Metropolitan Books. pp. 98. ISBN 978-0-8050-9277-6. 
  12. Footnotes in Gaza. Metropolitan Books. 2009. pp. 84–86. ISBN 978-0-8050-9277-6. 
  13. Sacco, Joe. Footnotes in Gaza. Metropolitan Books. pp. 87–89. ISBN 978-0-8050-9277-6. 
  14. "Who is Abdullah Al Hourani?". Retrieved 24 August 2013. 
  15. Sacco, Joe. Footnotes in Gaza. Metropolitan Books. pp. 106. ISBN 978-0-8050-9277-6. 
  16. Palumbo, Michael (1990). Imperial Israel. Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 32. 
  17. "A/3212/Add.1 of 15 December 1956". 15 December 1956. United Nations. Retrieved 24 August 2013. 
  18. Max Blumenthal, Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel, Nation Books, 2013 p.88.
  19. Sacco, Joe. Footnotes in Gaza. Metropolitan Books. pp. 118. ISBN 978-0-8050-9277-6. 
  20. 20.0 20.1 "Graphic novel on IDF 'massacres' in Gaza set to hit bookstores". 21 December 2009. Retrieved 24 August 2013. 
  21. "‘They Planted Hatred in Our Hearts’". 24 December 2009. Retrieved 24 January 2014. 
  22. "Gaza marks Khan Younis massacre". 5 November 2010. Retrieved 29 September 2014. 

External links

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).