Mass Graves Discovered in Jaffa

After the discovery of mass graves from the 1930s in Jaffa, locals postulate that there could be many more in and around the city.

al-monitor A general view shows Jaffa, just south of central Tel Aviv, Jan. 7, 2010.  Photo by REUTERS/Gil Cohen Magen.

Topics covered

violence, palestinian cause, palestinian, israel, human rights, history

May 29, 2013

Fate alone led to the discovery of mass graves in Jaffa, some of which date to before the Palestinian nakba of 1948. These graves contained the remains of hundreds of martyrs, including youngsters, and with them hundreds of stories that the occupation forces buried under the sands of time, perhaps wagering that they would be forever forgotten.

While Palestinians are in no need of additional proof about the crimes of the occupation and its Zionist gangs — both before and after the nakba and until now — these mass graves, containing hundreds of skeletons, do raise questions about the position of international law in this regard. They also raise questions about the lost rights of Palestinians, and some form of redress that would compensate families and the grandchildren of victims for their suffering.

Chance led Jaffa residents to discover unknown graves concealed by time in the Al-Kazkhana cemetery. These graves belong to Palestinians and Arabs who perhaps were killed by Israeli occupation bullets 65 or more years ago, and buried in this mass grave. The identities and stories of these remains are still unknown but raise questions about how and when they were executed and interred.

In an interview with As-Safir, the head of religious affairs at the Al-Aqsa Association for Religious Endowment (Waqf) and Heritage, Abdul Majid Eghbariyeh, said: “We discovered mass graves forgotten by time inside the Al-Kazkhana cemetery, which covers an area of 25 dunums [2.5 hectares or 6 acres]. The presence of these graves might have been known by some of Jaffa’s elderly residents, but their true stories remain a mystery. Today, fate led us to discover them anew so that their real stories may be told.”

Researcher and historian Mahmoud Obeid, a Jaffa resident, told As-Safir, “We discovered six mass graves, two of which we dug up. Our estimate is that they contain around 200 bodies, with an unknown additional number in the other graves. The remains belong to people of different ages, including women, children and the elderly, some of which bear signs of violence.” But he indicated that “the bodies were buried following Muslim traditions, and were therefore probably victims of the nakba. But, in truth, we lack any other evidence [as to the nature of these deaths].”

According to Obeid, the coming days will reveal more about the victims buried in these graves. He stated that Jaffa residents await a legal decision by the religious affairs court to open the rest of the graves in order to ascertain what their contents are. He pointed out that “upon opening them, we might discover documents that would indicate the identities of those buried in the graves.”

Obeid also quoted one of the city’s residents as saying that he remembered his father being summoned by the Israeli military governor of the city following its occupation, who asked him and a group of other residents to “collect the bodies scattered around the city and bury them.” As a result, Obeid thinks that “this place undoubtedly contains those remains.”

The Al-Aqsa Association cited Mohammed Ashkar, the person responsible for the Al-Kazkhana cemetery renovation project, as saying that the mass graves might date back to the Palestinian nakba and the revolution of 1936 against the British occupation.

Eghbariyeh, on the other hand, preferred not to commit to a single explanation and said, “Further documentation and in-depth research is needed to find out what the truth is about these graves. We are certain, however, that the remains belong to our ancestors killed by occupation forces.” The identity of those who buried them remains a mystery, as Eghbariyeh added, “We are not certain if all the remains were buried by our people, or if occupation forces secretly buried some of them, only to be later found out.”

Efforts are under way to uncover the true stories of the victims interred in the newly discovered mass graves. Eghbariyeh indicated that this task would take quite some time as the Al-Aqsa Association searches for Jaffa residents who lived through the nakba able of offering information pertaining to these graves and the circumstances surrounding their use.

It is possible that the new discovery might give Palestinians who were forced to abandon their land a chance to recount their histories. Abu el-Abed Toufaha, who originally hailed from Jaffa but was displaced to the West Bank, said: “I was 12 years old when we were expelled from Jaffa. I don’t know if our murdered families were buried in the city or not. I am unaware of the location in which they were interred. These might, in fact, be their graves.”

It should be noted that Zionist gangs committed many massacres before and during the occupation of Jaffa and surrounding villages and areas in 1948.

“Our role now is to ascertain the truth about these graves and the identities of those buried in them so that we may be able to document the occupation’s massacres, lest we need this evidence to obtain convictions if we resorted one day to the international courts. The occupation forces’ transgressions are clear as day, however, requiring no further proof other than the international will to hold them accountable,” as Obeid said.

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