How Palestinians came to be ethnically cleansed into Gaza in 1948
This is the testimony of Amnon Neumann, an Israeli Jewish soldier, in which he
explains how large numbers of Palestinians, including women and children, were
expulsed from their farms and villages to Gaza, where many of them still live in
a giant walled ghetto, cut off from the rest of the world, to this day. His
testimony dispels many of the prevailing fictions about what happened to the
Palestinians, such as the fantasy that they fled on the instructions of Arab
leaders, which still wouldn't explain why they didn't return to their villages
and farms when the fighting was over.
The following testimony was given at a public hearing at Zochrot on June 17, 2010. The audience consisted of about twenty
people. The hearing was initiated and organized by Amir Hallel. The testimony was video-recorded
by Lia Tarachansky and can be viewed at the YouTube link above. Miri Barak
prepared the transcription. Eitan Bronstein edited, summarized, and added
footnotes. The transcription was translated to English by Asaf Kedar.
Certain passages have been bolded for emphasis by Michael R. Burch, an American
editor and publisher of Holocaust and Nakba poetry. As he worked on this page in
the middle of a thunderstorm, he saw an enormous rainbow, so perhaps the
testimony of Amnon Neumann will bring light to the darkness and help illuminate
the path to peace, which must begin with an admission of the wild injustices
suffered by Palestinian farm families at the hands of Israeli military and
Amnon Neumann: I was in the Second, Eighth, and Ninth Battalions of the Palmach
from February 1948 until my discharge in October 1949. I was there for this
whole period, except for a few months after I had been wounded and after my
father had passed away.
The most significant period for me in terms of the Nakba was April-May 1948,
when the battles or clashes with the locals took place, until the Egyptian Army
arrived. At first we escorted convoys traveling on the road from `Iraq Suwaydan,
from Rehovot, [through] `Iraq Suwaydan, Kawkaba and Burayr, to Nir-`Am
where our company headquarters were located. Then an armed group of Arabs
situated itself in Burayr and didn’t let us through, so we took a different
route, from near Ashdod where Isdud was located, through Majdal, Barbara,
Bayt Jirja, to Yad Mordechai. From there we drove to Nir-`Am. Those were the
two routes [we used] until the Egyptian army arrived. When the Egyptian army
arrived, it was a completely different situation. The Egyptian army arrived when
we had wiped out all Arab resistance, which wasn’t that strong. It would be an
exaggeration to say we fought against the Palestinians … in fact there were no
battles, almost no battles. In Burayr there was a battle, there were battles
here and there, further up north. But there were no big battles; why? Because
they had no military capabilities, there weren’t organized. The big battles
started with the entry of the Egyptian army, and those were very difficult
problems, especially from May 15th, when we were still an organized army—the Palmach—semi-military. But their soldiers were organized by British methods,
they fought like the British. But they had no leadership and they had no
motivation. So when they attacked, it was very lousy, they hardly knew how to
attack, but they did know how to defend themselves. They knew they were fighting
for their lives. But as far as all the rest, it was a fifth-rate army. They had
terrible cannons that killed us like hell. They had all kinds of tanks of
different types, and they were a problem for us. We didn’t have anything, we had
armored vehicles, those fluttering ones that were impossible to fight with, not
against tanks and not even against a halftrack, right? But we more or less
managed with them.
The villagers’ flight, and I understand this is the main issue here, happened
gradually. I only know about what happened from the `Iraq Suwaydan road,
[through] Majdal, to `Iraq al-Manshiyya. We were to the south of this area,
and to its north there was the Givati Brigade. The day the Egyptians entered the
war, the Negev was cut off and that was mostly our fault, my platoon’s fault …
I’ll say more about it later. But that wasn’t significant. The Egyptians’
attacks were significant. They beat the hell out of us and killed us
The villagers’ flight started when we began cleaning these convoy escort routes.
It was then that we started to expel the villagers … and in the end they fled by
themselves. There were no special events worth mentioning. No atrocities and no
nothing. No civilians can live while there’s a war going on. They didn’t think
they were running away for a long period of time, they didn’t think they
wouldn’t return. Nor did anyone imagine that a whole people won’t return.
First we expelled those … and then we started expanding sideways. To Najd, to Simsim, and that was a later stage.
There were no battles, except for one
battle in Burayr. In the north there were battles, with Givati, but we didn’t
have any battles. We did ok with them … (silence). One village was left, between
Dorot and Nir-`Am, that’s Kufr Huj, they didn’t run away and we didn’t expel
them. There was probably an agreement at a higher level that Huj [was] not to be
The first time I entered Kawkaba and Burayr I was amazed by their poverty. There
was nothing there. No furniture and no nothing, there were shelves made of straw
and mud, the houses were made of mud and straw. They lived there for thousands
of years without any changes, and the only thing that happened to them was the
disaster of the Nakba in “Tashah” . Because we didn’t come to collect
taxes. We came to inherit the land from foreigners. That was the foundation of
our thinking. We drove them out because of the Zionist ideology. Pure and
simple. We came to inherit the land. Who do you inherit it from? If the land is
empty, you don’t inherit it from anyone. The land wasn’t empty so we inherited
it, and whoever inherits the land disinherits others. And that’s why we didn’t
bring them back. It was everywhere, in the north and the south, everywhere.
That’s the most important point.The land wasn’t empty as I was told when I was
a child. I know it, because I lived with Arabs. I remember I was wounded and I
went home, after April 1948, after they had expelled the Arabs in Haifa, they
had run away. Our villages, Yajur and Balad al-Shaykh, didn’t exist
anymore either. They were empty. And I came home and my father told me, Come
sit, son. Sit. He told me, You know what happened? And I told him, Yes, I passed
through Balad Al-Sheikh and there was no one there. And he said, Yes, there was
a disaster. That’s not what was intended. That’s not what I intended. He came
with the second Aliyah. And he said: that’s not what I intended. So nobody
thought in these categories, maybe the Yishuv leaders did. My father was a
simple man, a worker his entire life. And then I went back to the Negev and we
did the same thing. At that time I didn’t see anything wrong with it. I was
educated to it just like everybody else. And I followed through with it
faithfully, and if I was told things I don’t want to mention—I did them without
the least of a doubt. Without thinking twice. For fifty or sixty years I’ve been
torturing myself about this. But what’s done is done. It was done by order. And
I won’t go into that, these are not things that … (long silence).
In the north they fought. In the south they didn’t, they didn’t have anything.
They were miserable, they didn’t have anywhere to go, or anyone to ask.
Eitan Bronstein: What happened in the village Burayr?
Amnon Neumann: There was a battle, and there was a slaughter…
Eitan Bronstein: Can you say a little bit more about that?
Amnon Neumann: I don’t want to go into these things, leave me alone! It’s … it’s
not things we go into. Why? Because I did it. Is that a good reason? (Long
I can tell you about one thing. We received an order to occupy the intersection
near `Iraq Suwaydan. There was a huge police station there which dominated the
whole area. We went out with five jeeps and five armored vehicles. We stood at
the intersection, and suddenly we heard the sound of tanks from the direction of
Majdal. With our rifles and machine guns we couldn’t stand up to tanks. The
moment we saw them we fled to Kawkaba, half a kilometer away, and hid in the
village. Then the tanks came, stood there and started rotating their cannons,
didn’t shoot or anything.
Dan Yahav: Whose tanks?
Amnon Neumann: The Egyptians’. Only they had tanks (laughing), we didn’t have
any tanks back then. A few minutes later they started shooting at us from all
directions. We sat in the armored vehicles, the fire wasn’t so … but they were
shooting from all directions. Until we decided to find out who was there. We
went out, looked around, ran a little. It was the villagers who had run away
from Kawkaba that were shooting at us. Then our company commander, a nice guy,
suddenly appeared with his pickup truck, took out a pistol and said, You
abandoned the intersection, do you realize what that means?! It won’t be
possible to pass through to the Negev anymore. So we told him, Moishe, go ahead
and drive to the intersection, look closely, can you make it to the
intersection? So he relaxed a little and then the Egyptian Spitfires came,
bombed us and destroyed his pickup truck. He jumped into the sabra bushes and
came out alive.
Eitan Bronstein: So who did the shooting, I didn’t understand who did the
Amnon Neumann: The Arabs who had lived in Kawkaba, [they] saw that we were running
away, so they revealed themselves.
Eitan Bronstein: And then they shot at you, the Arabs from Kawkaba?
Amnon Neumann: Yes, that’s right they shot at us from the hills, from the wadis.
Lia Tarachansky: In Kawkaba there were no more people left anymore?
Amnon Neumann: There was nothing there. The only thing I remember are the
terrible fleas there, they devoured us.
Eitan Bronstein: How many people were you?
Amnon Neumann: We were a platoon, thirty people. I was in the scouting platoon.
There were other platoons, in Nir-Am, in Dorot, in those places.
Amir Hallel: Did you get to see the Arab residents?
Amnon Neumann: Yes, I got to see them in one place, in two places, when we
expelled them by night.
Dan Yahav: What kind of weapons did you have?
Amnon Neumann: From the 15th or 17th of May, we received the Czech guns. Both
that and Bazot. But until then, I had a 1904 English rifle, with a broken
butt that I tied with a steel wire.
Eitan Bronstein: When did you join the Palmach?
Amnon Neumann: I joined the Palmach in 1946, at the age of sixteen and a half.
Eitan Bronstein: And since then did you train regularly?
Amnon Neumann: Yes … Should I start telling the details?
Lia Tarachansky and Eitan Bronstein: It’s important.
Amnon Neumann: We were in training in Yagur. After four months in the Palmach,
all our commanders were killed in a convoy on Haziv Bridge. We became orphans.
Amnon Neumann: A week later, the British army surrounded us and took us into
custody at `Atlit. After being two weeks or a month in `Atlit, we were released
and transferred to Gvat. And from there we were transferred after a while to
Heftziba. We were there for about a year, and then one day they called us for
roll call and said, Tomorrow you will be discharged from the Palmach (we had
been in the Palmach for a year and nine months) and driven to a kibbutz near
Rehovot. The next day, trucks came and took us, we got there in the evening,
they put us in the dining hall and said, Now we’ll tell you what’s going on. The
Haganah’s largest munitions factory is here. You will start working there,
you’re no longer Palmachniks or anything, that was the arrangement then. We
worked there until the war broke out four months later.
Eitan Bronstein: What did you work at?
Amnon Neumann: I made caps [for guns], nothing could be more boring. It was a
huge factory, it’s still there, for example, at Kiryat HaMada in Rehovot, in
Givat HaKibbutzim. It was underground. Yes, yes, I was a member of [Kibbutz]
Maagan Michael, I had no choice. Nobody asked me. The factory is really
impressive, we were also impressed by it at the time. It was in Rehovot next to
the train station, very close to the train station, and we worked there until
the war broke out. When the war broke out we continued to work there. And then a
friend of mine comes to me and says, Look, we are trained soldiers, we’ve been
taught and we are knowledgeable soldiers. What are we doing here making caps? So
I told him, You know what? Go over to Palmach headquarters and find out, and so
it was. He went and then he says, Tomorrow I’m leaving the kibbutz. I said, I
can’t leave, and they won’t let you leave here so quickly. And he said, I’m
leaving. He left, and a week later I told the Kibbutz I’m leaving too. We
thought of going to Jerusalem. They sent us to the Negev. When I got to the
train station in Rehovot I heard a terrible explosion, I looked back and saw a
train rolling down the slope. I understood what happened. The Etzel (Irgun) or
the Lechi (Stern Gang) did it.
Dan Yahav: The Lechi.
Amnon Neumann: They blew up the trains carrying the English army to Egypt. I ran
breathless to Rehovot and then I went to the Negev.
Dan Yahav: You didn’t manufacture only caps, but also 9mm bullets, didn’t you.
Amnon Neumann: Sure, but I made caps.
Eitan Bronstein: What else did they manufacture there?
Amnon Neumann: Sten bullets, and they inspected Sten parts. They would inspect
them there, there was a special place for shooting. It was a big factory,
something like fifty people worked there. Going down there, seven meters, it was
… you can go visit the place to this day.
Amnon Neumann: I did a scouting course so they put me in a scouting platoon and
there was another platoon there. When we got there my friend told me, Don’t you
have a pit? There are cannons here. I told him, So what if there are cannons?
I’d never heard [of] a cannon. So he says, It’s a terrible thing. Go dig
yourself a pit and cover it, until midnight. We did it, we covered it. The next
morning I see he’s dying of fear. A brave guy, a great guy, but dying of fear.
It told him, Ptachia, what’s the matter? He answered, There are cannons! We
wanted to go eat at eight o’clock, so he told me, No, we’re not going to eat at
eight, we’ll go later. At eight fifteen the terrible cannons of Beit Hanoun,
there were something like ten there, opened concentrated fire. Now I understand
that what they had done earlier was ranging. But nobody knew what a cannon was,
and nobody knew what ranging was. So they ranged them a day earlier, before I
even got there, and they saw—they had great observation posts—that everybody is
getting into the dining hall, it wasn’t in Nir-Am but in Mekorot, before Nir-Am,
and then they opened very heavy fire. We sat there for three hours, until they
finished destroying the whole place and it became quiet. We got out, the platoon
commander approached me and told me, A friend of mine from Kfar Yehezkel came to
visit me, he’s lying in the trench, look, and then I saw all the dead. The whole
trench was full of dead people. The whole dining hall was full of dead people.
Whoever didn’t have a head cover was either killed or escaped, managed to
escape. There were some who managed to escape. That was the Egyptian army’s
welcome reception. After that they advanced and got to … The two-week long
battle over Be’erot started … near Yad-Mordechai. We tried then to bypass the
Egyptians but it didn’t work out. Only in the last night when it was decided
that we’re leaving them, that we’re leaving the place, were we able to get the
Question: What years are we talking about?
Amnon Neumann: July 48, until the first break in the fighting. By the time of
the first break there were no more Arabs in the area.
Question: I don’t know if you will get back later to the topic I want to ask
about. You said “we expelled” the villagers, can you describe an expulsion
action for us, how it was done?
Amnon Neumann: Yes, until then some of them fled and some were expelled. We shot
and they fled to Gaza. But we expelled systematically in the last day of the
break in the fighting. During the break there were also a few battles. They
tried to penetrate through the Gaza-Beersheba road and we stopped them. The
Egyptians! There was no one else to stop.
Eitan Bronstein: Can you say in this context, do you remember what was the order
you received regarding the Arab villages?
Amnon Neumann: I’ll tell you. I don’t like it, but I’ll tell you. In the last
day of the break we were told that the Egyptians smuggled 20mm cannons to the
villages Kawfakha and al-Muharraqa and tomorrow they would act with them
and we need to destroy these villages. We drove there … and the men had fled,
that was the usual practice. The men would run away first, leaving the women and
the children, and then … (silence) we would expel them, right? And so it was in
Kawfakha. I was in Kawfakha, others were in al-Muharraqa. It’s about 15km from
Gaza. We surrounded the village, started shooting in the air, and everybody
started to scream, yes, and … and we drove them out. The women and the children
went to Gaza.
Lia Tarachansky: Were there people who didn’t agree to go?
Amnon Neumann: Nobody dared. I’ll tell you why: their mentality was that whoever
dares will be killed anyway. They would do it too, if it were the other way
around. These are no saints. It’s in the people’s culture, that this is how it’s
always been. Whoever resisted would be killed with a sword or by shooting. It’s
not an uncommon thing. By morning no one was there. We burned the houses that
had straw roofs.
Eitan Bronstein: Just a second, I don’t understand, what exactly was the order
in this context, was there an order in some villages to destroy the whole
village and not in others? What exactly was the procedure?
Amnon Neumann: No, no, no. These villages were in our rear, and from a military
standpoint it made sense. Nobody knew … we didn’t find any cannon there – that’s
clear. But now it became an even surface, an open area that you could maneuver
Amir Hallel: Before then, if you had approached that area would it have been
dangerous, would it have been disruptive?
Amnon Neumann: Nobody would have dared go into an inhabited village. We never
entered villages to stay there but only to expel them. Someone asked earlier how
they were expelled. This is how it was. Then the same thing happened with the Tarabin and with the Bedouin tribes. That was half a year later.
Amir Hallel: You said that in the whole area of the villages further to the
north—when the Egyptians shot at you from Beit Hanoun in June in the whole area
except for Huj—you said there were no Arabs. So what happened to those
Amnon Neumann: There were no Arabs, either they fled or we expelled them. We had
already conquered Burayr in battle. The others, they saw that there’s nothing in
Hulayqat so they ran away. The big battle of Hulayqat was between our army
and the Egyptians. There were no civilians.
Amir Hallel: And in Burayr, which battalion was that?
Amnon Neumann: That was the Second Battalion of the Palmach.
Amir Hallel: They attacked Burayr?
Amnon Neumann: Yes.
Eitan Bronstein: But who was resisting there, who was the battle against?
Amnon Neumann: The villagers couldn’t do anything against armed units entering
the village, we called them gangs. But what does “gangs” mean? Those were groups
of local soldiers that weren’t trained at all. The battle in Burayr wasn’t a big
battle either, they ran away.
Amir Hallel: The inhabitants of the village?
Amnon Neumann: No, the armed people were foreigners there, they came to defend
the village. Qawuqji told them, Fight, fight the Jews—we’ll come help you from
Acre. No help and no nothing. At Sumayriyya near Regba it was the same thing. It
characterized them in the south too, where I was, and also in the north. With
the locals there was almost … in the north there were more battles, even
Eitan Bronstein: You’re saying it was a battle with armed people who were not
the inhabitants of the village, in Burayr. But at the same time there were still
residents of Burayr in the village?
Amnon Neumann: Yes!
Eitan Bronstein: So, there was a battle?
Amnon Neumann: There was a battle, and there was also a small murder and similar
things and then the inhabitants ran away completely.
Eitan Bronstein: Yes, there are testimonies about a massacre having taken place
Amnon Neumann: You’ve heard about it?
Eitan Bronstein: Yes.
Dan Yahav: I wrote about it, it appears in my “Purity of Arms”.
Amnon Neumann: It does?
Dan Yahav: Yes.
Amnon Neumann: I don’t want to deal with it.
Dan Yahav: And in other villages as well.
Amnon Neumann: I know, I don’t want to deal with it!
Dan Yahav: Allow me a minute, I see the topic of the expulsion is a very
sensitive topic. You were a soldier, I was also a soldier, and when I fought I
wouldn’t know exactly what was happening in the area. But there are wonderful
descriptions in the Negba archive. There is a wonderful description of a kibbutz
member! He sees the expulsion, he sees the convoy with the children and
everything and it reminds him of terrible things the Jewish people has been
through. The same thing is available at Shmaria Gutman’s in Na’an, regarding Lud,
Lud and Ramle, about the expulsion.
Amnon Neumann: Oh, right, right.
Eitan Bronstein: Today it is sensitive for you to recall it?
Amnon Neumann: (quietly) Yes, it is.
Amir Hallel: You said there was a time when you would pass through Bureir and at
some point you stopped.
Amnon Neumann: Yes, we couldn’t pass through them because the shooting was too
strong, and our miserable armored vehicles couldn’t handle it. So we drove
through Ashkelon, Isdud, Ashkelon, Barbara, Bayt Jirja, down to Nir-`Am. Part of
the route was even a dirt road. I want to note that the people I was with over
there, in our platoon everyone were born in this country. In the other platoon
there were others, including immigrants and people who hadn’t grown up with the
country’s air of decency, an air of people who knew what they were going to do,
who gave their lives without thinking twice.
Eitan Bronstein: What was the atmosphere among the people in terms of the
feelings they had about what happened then, during that time?
Amnon Neumann: It was a horrible period: we were sure that the Egyptians would
wipe us out, especially after they had cut off the Negev. We didn’t know that
the Ninth Battalion was getting organized in the north and would come and break
the siege, we didn’t know that. That was later on, in Operation “Yoav”.
Eitan Bronstein: So in terms of the feeling, there was a feeling that it was
like the end?
Amnon Neumann: That’s what I observed, unpleasantly. There was also a second
platoon with us in Burayr. One guy, an Egyptian Jew, came here and said—excuse
me—“I fucked her and shot her”.
Eitan Bronstein: Did you hear him say it?
Amnon Neumann: No, I was told about this later, I didn’t see him. And then they
ran, the people who were there and saw her, a 17-year-old girl, he had put a
bullet through her head. I approached the platoon commander, who was from Tel
Yosef, and I told him, I told him, I think he should be killed. So he said, Stop
it you! We’re all going to die in a week or two, what are you messing around
with here … that was the mood back then. Later on the situation got better. We
saw the Egyptians weren’t worth much, and they can be wiped out, and we really
did attack the cannons and destroyed them and killed lots of Egyptians there.
And after that the situation stabilized.
Amir Hallel: What happened to that guy?
Amnon Neumann: Nothing. What happened to him? Don’t ask! Don’t ask what
Amir Hallel: You told me…
Amnon Neumann: I told you? So why do you need me to say it here? It’s not
important. Just as I wasn’t important. He was killed later, but killed in a
terrible way. But why is that important? A lot of my friends were killed not in
a terrible way.
Eitan Bronstein: Can we get back to that harsh expression you mentioned. From
that word you understood that there had been a rape there followed by murder?
Amnon Neumann: I didn’t see it, but people ran and saw it. They saw that girl
lying there with a bullet in her head.
Dan Yahav: But they had washed her there, she was clean.
Amnon Neumann: I didn’t see and didn’t ask, how do you know?
Dan Yahav: I’m telling you, I know.
Amnon Neumann: This particular case?
Dan Yahav: Yes.
Amnon Neumann: With this Egyptian?
Dan Yahav: Yes, yes.
Amnon Neumann: I see you’ve done some research.
Dan Yahav: They washed her, prepared her and then did what they did. (Silence)
Amnon Neumann: I didn’t know these details and I never wanted to go into the
thick of things.
Dan Yahav: By the way, the IDF archive is unwilling to this day to open
documents related to cases of rape. It’s still [a matter of] “Israel’s
security”. (Long silence)
Amnon Neumann: After that I was in Beersheba. There was a short battle there. It
wasn’t a big battle, four or five hours and that’s it. There was a chain of
Egyptian military posts there, 10km after Beersheba, and we attacked them, and
it was the first time I encountered, in Beersheba, what we called the “French
commando”. It was a unit made up of immigrants from Morocco. They were trained
in Beersheba, in the alleys of Beersheba, and they attacked there. It was ok, we
drove out the Egyptians, the Egyptians didn’t hold out anywhere for very long.
It was the first time I saw soldiers walking around among the dead Egyptians. It
turned out they had been looking for gold teeth in the officers’ mouths. I went
crazy. My conceptual world was different.
Lia Tarachansky: Were there cases of disobedience to orders? Did anyone get up
and leave rather than go all the way through with it?
Amnon Neumann: Where? With us? No. Never. Everyone went all the way through with
it and to the bitter end.
Eitan Bronstein: You know, Amnon, we once met a soldier who had fought in
Beersheba and he told us they shot people who had fled from Beersheba, people
ran away and soldiers shot them, shot civilians.
Amnon Neumann: Yes, yes, yes. They ran away to the east and the south and they
were shot. That’s because it was, I saw it… ok, I did that too. Are we done? Why
should I go into details?
Eitan Bronstein: But you can describe exactly this thing, how you as a soldier,
you’re shooting people who you see aren’t shooting at you, how… how did you
understand it back then? Over there? That you had the full right to do it?
Amnon Neumann: I didn’t understand, I was 19.
Eitan Bronstein: So you just did it?
Amnon Neumann: I was a fool and I didn’t know. Yes. That’s why I’m in such
despair, because soldiers are always 19-20 years old, and they never sober up
until they’ve been through four battles. That’s the main point. And there will
always be new 19-year-olds.
Amir Hallel: Was there an order to do it?
Amnon Neumann: Where I was, there was an order in one case. As I said, the
horrors of war are more difficult than the battles of war, which are not easy
Eitan Bronstein: I heard recently about a testimony given by a Palmachnik, [who
had been] I think in Simsim, were you in Simsim?
Amnon Neumann: I was there after the village had been destroyed.
Eitan Bronstein: So maybe you’ve heard soldiers’ testimonies saying they saved
the Palestinian women from Palestinian men shooting their wives?
Amnon Neumann: They didn’t save, our soldiers didn’t save anyone. Look, in the
heat of battle you don’t save anyone. And save just one person, yourself. Right?
You don’t save anyone. After that there was the big battle over Be’erot Yitzhak.
Really, a big and terrible battle. Half of the men of Be’erot Yitzhak were
killed there. How many were there? There were 100, 40 were killed there,
something like that. And we came from the direction of Sa`ad to save them and
the platoons of the “Negev Animals” came from the other direction and then there
was a battle. We shot and they shot. In the end, they fixed their machine gun
and mowed down the Sudanese. It was a lucerne field there. Straight, even. And
then I saw from a distance, for the first and only time, how the Egyptian
officers walk with pistols with the soldiers ahead of them, shooting, lying
down, getting up, shooting. That was one of the elite units of the Sudanese
army, which afterwards stayed in `Iraq Suwaydan as well, until they conquered
Amir Hallel: What do you mean when you say that those officers walked with
Amnon Neumann: What reason did a poor Sudanese have for going and getting
killed? For what? Did he even know? Those were the British methods, that there
should be order. But the British didn’t have … it was also that way in World War
I, rest assured. No one wants to die just like that. What did the Sudanese have
here? They were tall, giant, muscular negroes. After the battle our platoon went
to collect the booty and the documents. That was our part.
Eitan Bronstein: What do you mean the documents?
Amnon Neumann: Of the dead! What unit was it, what they did, right? We walked
there among … we turned everyone over, and … all that. Back then I didn’t feel
anything for these dead people. They were enemies and it’s good that they died,
right? I didn’t feel anything special.
Amnon Neumann: In March 1949 the race to conquer Eilat began. We went down as
far as Wadi Abiad, where `Ovda is. And we would kill poor Egyptians over there
too, those who had got cut off from their units and we shot them from the
hillside. Right? No one … they were abandoned, no one paid attention to them.
After a week we were told, Operation `Ovda—going to conquer Eilat. Our platoon
split into two, there was a group that led the whole Negev Brigade. And we
drove, I was the scout commander, we drove an hour after them. In one of the
wadis I suddenly heard a sound that was already familiar to me, a land mine
exploded, I looked back and saw the jeep behind us rising into the air and
collapsing. And immediately they opened fire on us. Me and my driver… (laughing)
we jumped under the jeep. I left the MG machine gun hanging there (laughing).
And he told me, his name was Basri, he was from Iraq, he told me, Amnon this is
the end. We had been a year together. This is the end. We saw the heads, the
kafiyas of the Legion soldiers above us, about twenty meters. So I told him,
there’s nothing else to do; here, each one of us has a rifle, let’s shoot five
bullets, the whole magazine, and run, whatever happens happens. And so we did.
We shot, ran and hid. A few days later our commander said we conquered Eilat and
we’re driving down there. We drove until we got to Wadi Paran. They I told him,
Listen, let go 10km in here and see what happened to the jeep. He said ok, and
then we were all tensed up, maybe there’s an ambush or something. And I followed
with the map and said, Here there’s 300m left until we get to the jeep, and so
it was. 200m before the jeep I saw a Jordanian lying dead, with his kafiyah. We
went down to him, he had gotten a bullet here (point to his head), from the ten
bullets we had shot. And then we saw the mines. Our jeep which first went
through squeezed it with the wheel and it didn’t go off. The second jeep drove
over it. We got to Eilat and the war was over.
Amir Hallel: Just a second Amnon, what about the Bedouins? You started saying
something about them.
Amnon Neumann: Right, I forgot. The Azazme, and the Tarabin. We were there for
two months, we marked the roads that would later be constructed on the Negev
Plateau. We got to every remote corner there, really, to every corner. That was
when I saw the Azazme and the Tarabin. They would be hiding in all kinds of
places, in narrow wadis. I don’t know what they lived off from. I don’t know
where they drank water. It was in the Negev Plateau, there was one well there
where we would go once every two weeks to wash. Bir Malihi. The good well.
Malihi in Arabic means good. It was then that I saw how they lived there. And
they were terribly afraid. When we would appear with the jeeps, the men would
mount their horses and run away, leaving the women and the children. We never
touched them, right? These are not the people we wanted to hurt.
Question: There were no orders to expel them, to transfer them?
Amnon Neumann: No, no. You are reminding me of the Jahalin. The same week we
conquered Eilat, our platoon had only three or four people who were taken to the
conquering of `Ein-Gedi. When they came back, after two weeks, we all came back
so I asked them, What did you do? So they said, Nothing. There were Jahalin
there, we shot in the air and they ran away. We didn’t kill anyone, do anything,
and Ein-Gedi is occupied. Later I heard about the Jahalin from a number of
places. It was a large tribe in the east of the country and part of it was also
in Jordan. A year ago, I visited … how do you call this place … where Sima went.
Dan Yahav: Ma’ale Adumim, they are still there.
Amnon Neumann: Yes, yes, Ma’ale Adumim. I visited there and saw the Bedouins. I
said, Hannah, I have to approach them. And then I approached them. The
youngsters received us, Hannah stayed in the car because it was a very warm day.
The youngsters received us with such hatred: Get lost, why should we talk to
you, are you a journalist? I told him, No, I’m not a journalist. So he told me
again, Are you a journalist? I told him, No. and then I saw an old man standing
there, on the side. I approached him and told him, Who are you? So he says, We
are from the Jahalin. I told him, Where are you from the Jahalin? So he says,
From Arad. I told him, No my friend, you are not from Arad, from the Arad area.
So he says to me, How do you know? I said, I know. You were in the Dead Sea. I
told him in Arabic. So he says, How do you know? So I said, They expelled you 60
years ago, didn’t they. He said, that’s right, after that we were in Arad. But
before that we were in the valley below. There weren’t many to expel there.
Question: You also said they burned houses.
Amnon Neumann: That was in the south.
Eitan Bronstein: So in the south the houses were demolished immediately
following the occupation, when the people left them.
Amnon Neumann: It wasn’t a problem to demolish them. These were mud and clay
Questions from the audience: How did they do it? How did they demolish the
Amnon Neumann: It was enough for an armored vehicle to drive by and give it a
blow and the whole building would collapse.
Amir Hallel: What would you do if people tried to return to their village, what
did you do?
Amnon Neumann: Oh, yes. People who were in Gaza wanted to return to their
villages. They would come back at night and do two things: first, there was
special agriculture, in the sand dunes, further up north. The vines would bloom
and they would need to be pruned, so they would come there at night. The didn’t
know they would never ever come back. And we waited for them, it was impossible
to let them walk around there, so we waited for them.
Eitan Bronstein: Wait a minute, what would they come for, you didn’t say.
Amnon Neumann: To take care of the vine, to take all kinds of things from the
village, I never looked into their sacks. And we would snipe and kill them. That
was part of the horrible things.
A woman from the audience: One of the women-soldiers, the women who served in
the Palmach, told about how during the war as well as afterwards throughout her
life, the moral paralysis was so strong that it had to be accompanied by
aggressiveness, and what she says is that after several decades of repressing so
strongly what she had done and the demolition of the villages and the expulsion,
that it took decades until she was walking in a certain forest and suddenly she
remembered that she was standing in a place where a village had once stood. Have
you also had experiences of this kind?
Amnon Neumann: Oh, experiences of this kind? Yes. I did but I wasn’t shocked
anymore. I used to be shocked by what I’d been through.
Question: Can you maybe tell us?
Lia Tarachansky: You don’t want to talk?
Amnon Neumann: Come on! Do you want me to tell you that I shot at a pickup truck
full of people? (coughing) Nonsense. It didn’t change the essence of the whole
From the audience: But if we can understand how you repressed it, maybe we’ll be
able to understand how the whole people of Israel still doesn’t know about the
Woman in the audience: How come you, members of the battalion, never tried to
sit together, to talk, to bring back memories?
Amnon Neumann: No. Uh, no, we had reunions years later.
Woman continuing: To try, after you sobered up didn’t you try…
Amnon Neumann: No, there was no one to do it with. We had company, battalion,
brigade, Palmach reunions, right? In the end I stopped going and my wife got
very angry. I said, I don’t want to hear them. They are always just telling
about themselves. How it was here and how it was there. No one was thinking
critically. How did you put it? Morally speaking, moral paralysis. It was moral
Eitan Bronstein: But now you said something important. You keep saying all the
time that it’s a war and that in a war terrible things happen.
Amnon Neumann: That’s right.
Eitan Bronstein: On the other hand, from your descriptions and from what you are
saying and hinting here and there about having participated in horrible things
as well, that’s not exactly the description of a war. Is this what you mean by
Amnon Neumann: As I told you, the horrors of war are as hard as the battles. I
said it. These horrors, the horrible things that in a war are often worse than
the war. Worse things, that is, when women are killed, when you kill children,
all the horrors surrounding war, not surrounding the battle, they are worse than
the battles. It’s called “moraot” [horrors] in Hebrew. Not “me’oraot” [events],
but “moraot” of the war. The horrible things of war.
Eitan Bronstein: You mean, cases where civilians get killed. Are you referring
to these kinds of things?
Amnon Neumann: Exactly.
Question: Amnon, can you perhaps tell us after all, if not about a specific
event, at least a little bit in principle about the method? Really the method?
Amnon Neumann: There was no method.
Question continuing: The method of the expulsion, how it was done.
Amnon Neumann: Oh, the method of the expulsion! They would come to a village,
shoot in the air, and the villagers had no weapons, they had nothing, they
packed their things and fled. Then sometimes they would shoot after them and
sometimes they didn’t, and that was all.
Question continuing: And what would you do after that, leave the village? Burn
Amnon Neumann: There was so little in the village, as I said, in certain known
cases we burned the village down and in other cases we would leave it. No one…
there was nothing to steal. Look, there was nothing to loot there. They were as
poor as church mice. There was nothing to steal. Me, the only looting I took, I
found this kind of prayer rug, I put it in my pit, where I slept for three
Amir Hallel: In the south, in the area where you were in the south, in the
Negev, were prisoners taken from among the villagers, or were people allowed to
Amnon Neumann: Yes, yes. They were usually allowed to run away. If there were
From the audience: There weren’t any prisoners or things like that?
Amnon Neumann: Egyptian prisoners?
From the audience: No, villagers.
Amnon Neumann: No. If there were prisoners they would be killed immediately.
From the audience: Can you tell about the occupation of Beersheba?
Amnon Neumann: There wasn’t much of an Egyptian force there, and wherever the
Egyptians were attacked they didn’t hold out. I saw it in the cannons, when we
conquered the cannons. We killed about 80 Egyptians there. So what? In two hours
the cannons were in our hands, we had nothing to do with them. No one among us,
even the company commander and battalion commander didn’t know, they had never
in their life seen a cannon.
Amir Hallel: From the cannons did you continue into the town?
Amnon Neumann: No, it was enough. From the second company so many were killed,
from the “Negev Animals”. You don’t move forward just like that. From Beit
Hanoun. It wasn’t Beit Hanoun then.
Woman from the audience: I heard about an expulsion method in which three sides
of a village would be closed off and one side left open where they wanted the
expulsion to go. Was that a method you also used?
Amnon Neumann: That’s right. They would position one squad here, one squad here,
one there, shoot in the air, not even straight at them, and they would run away
by themselves, they had nothing to defend themselves with.
Woman in the audience: But they understood that it’s the only direction.
Amnon Neumann: They knew they had to get to Gaza, and they knew the directions
better than us.
Eitan Bronstein: Amnon, I want to ask you something after all about those
horrors that you find it difficult to talk about, and I understand that, but can
you say something about afterward, let’s say, would it come up in conversations
among the soldiers, for example? After all, you did do things, and you were
adults, you did difficult things. Would you later share your experiences?
Amnon Neumann: It wasn’t difficult. Who was it difficult for? For the squad
commander who gave the order, for the soldier who pulled the trigger? It wasn’t
difficult. It was completely natural—we had to do it. If not, they would
slaughter us. Don’t think that if it were the other way around it would have
been better. It would have been much worse. There is no doubt about it.
 Between today’s Otzem and Negba
 Near today’s Moshav Kochav Michael.
 Next to today’s Heletz Intersection.
 Today part of Ashkelon.
 Today’s Moshav Mavki’im.
 Next to today’s Zikim Intersection.
 Today part of Kiryat Gat.
 Two kilometers north of Sderot.
 Between today’s Or HaNer and Gvar’am.
 Today “Havat HaShikmim”, between Dorot and Sderot.
 Two kilometers northwest of Kibbutz Yagur.
 Today part of Nesher.
 Medium-size machine gun.
 About two kilometers northeast of today’s Moshav Nir `Akiva.