The Zionist slave labor camps in 1948

Yossi Schwartz, ISL the RCIT section in Israel/Occupied Palestine), 29.12.2022

It is clear to those who follow up the news from Israel that the new government led by Benjamin Netanyahu is the most right-wing government in the history of Israel. It is an extreme nationalist and racist government committed to the annexation of most of the West Bank and in support of open discrimination which means for example the right of doctors not to treat Arabs or members of the LGBT community. It intends to give itself the power to override, by a narrow majority in the Knesset, any of the Court’s objections to their bills, even if they violate the Basic Laws, which serve as Israel’s elements of constitution. A full constitution is beyond the power of the racist MK’s. They also want to allow the appointment of judges according to the political majority of the moment, like in the United States. And similarly for the attorney general and the government’s legal advisors.

Yet the Zionist labor party under Ben Gurion was much crueler when it came to the Palestinians. By the ethnic cleansing of most of the Palestinians in 1948. So was the military government running the lives of the Palestinians citizens of Israel until the eve of the 1967 war. Yet the enforced labor camps during the 1948 war are much less known. What is not known are the forced labor camps working for the Zionist army that at the end of the wars those who survived the camps were expelled from their country. On this aspect Salman Abu Sitta and Terry Rempel wrote an article by the name The ICRC and the Detention of Palestinian Civilians in Israel’s 1948 POW/Labor Camps based on files of the Red Cross.

“In early 1948, the second ICRC delegation to Palestine, comprising de Reynier, Jean Munier, and Roland Marti, began to investigate the situation on the ground and prepare recommendations for Red Cross intervention as a neutral intermediary. Specifically, the delegation proposed setting up a mission in Palestine by 1 April 1948 that would consist of eighteen Swiss nationals (eight delegates and ten nurses). Its purpose was to ensure that international humanitarian law be applied to all victims of the conflict, to protect institutions engaged in humanitarian work, and to generate and coordinate the distribution of emergency assistance” [1]

“Treaties governing the conduct of war consisted of the 1907 Hague Regulations, which prohibited deportation from occupied territory, and the 1929 Geneva Convention, which called for the repatriation of POWs following the cessation of hostilities. Neither of these adequately addressed the issue that would arise in the fighting to come: the treatment of civilian noncombatants in conquered territory. The Red Cross, as guardian of the Geneva Conventions, was well aware of the inadequacies of the existing international instruments in situations involving civilians, and it had been keen to update the conventions” [2]

“The new conventions were not ratified until after the Palestine war was over. In such a situation, the ICRC had to face the reality that without “the formal commitment of the parties to apply [international humanitarian law to civilians] during the events in Palestine, the principles of the Geneva Convention of 1929 would remain a figment of the imagination [with] no practical effect” [3]

The ICRC appealed to the Jewish Agency and to the Arabs High Committee to respect the spirit of the convention. Both sides agreed. Significantly, however, the JA tempered its agreement with a crucial proviso: “the Zionist forces would protect the civilian population only “to the extent that the [1929 Geneva] Conventions applied to civilians.” [4]

“The establishment of the ICRC’s mission in Palestine in early April 1948 coincided almost exactly with the Haganah’s launch of Plan Dalet, the Israeli high command’s plan for the wholesale eviction of Palestinians and destruction of Palestinian villages in areas allocated by the UN partition plan to the Jewish state and beyond.27 From then until Israel’s unilateral declaration of statehood on 14 May 1948, most of the major Palestinian and “mixed” towns (i.e., Haifa, Jaffa,Bisan, and Tiberias), along with some two hundred Palestinian villages (including all those in the Jerusalem corridor west of the city), had fallen despite often fierce resistance” [5]

“Israel’s policy with regard to captives changed with the end of the so-called civil war phase on 14 May 1948 and the start of the “international conflict” the following day, when the armies of Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and Transjordan, responding to Israel’s declaration of statehood, entered Palestine with the aim of preventing those parts of the country “assigned” by partition to the Arab state from falling into Jewish hands. From then on, Israeli forces began taking prisoners, both regular Arab soldiers (for eventual exchange) and able-bodied Palestinian (noncombatant civilians). Throughout the war, Palestinian civilian prisoners consistently outnumbered Arab military prisoners by a large margin in all four of Israel’s official POW camps” [6]

“Marwan ‘Iqab al-Yahya, then a fifteen-year-old boy, recounts that after the massacre in Tantura, he was herded into a truck with other men of the village while soldiers struck any head that stood above the others with their rifle butts.

They took us to Zichron Ya’aqov and we were led to a damp dark cellar. . .. We were about three hundred. There was standing room only. We stayed three days without food. . .. Then suddenly the door opened. . .. We were packed in waiting trucks. Again, they knocked and beat all standing heads. There was so much blood splashed. Under guard we were driven to [the village of] Umm Khalid. There we were taken to a concentration camp with barbed wire and gates and put to forced labor” [7]

According to the ICRC reports:

Four “official” camps were established for the civilian Paletinians. “These had been used during World War II for the internment of German, Italian, and other POWs.” Two of the camps—Atlit (no. 792), established in July about twenty kilometers south of Haifa, and Sarafand (no. 793) established in September near the depopulated village of Sarafand al- ‘Amar in central Palestine—had been used in the 1930s and 1940s to detain illegal Jewish immigrants. All four camps were administered by former British officers who had defected when British forces withdrew from Palestine in mid-May 1948. From various prisoner accounts, it would appear that many of the camps’ guards and administrative staff were former members of the Irgun and the Stern Gang who had been integrated into the Israeli army. There were other camps that were not officials. The establishment of the POW camps highlighted a problem that was to preoccupy the ICRC throughout the war—namely, Israel’s failure to distinguish between the bona fide POWs, or soldiers in regular armies, and the Palestinian civilian non combatant detainees.”

It is painful to see these poor people, especially the old, who were snatched from their villages and put without reason in a camp, obliged to pass the winter under wet tents, away from their families; those who could not survive these conditions died. Little children (10–12 years) are equally found under these conditions. Similarly sick people, some with tuberculosis, languish in these camps under conditions which, while fine for healthy individuals, will certainly lead to their death if we do not find a solution to this problem. For a long time, we have demanded that the Jewish authorities release those civilians who are sick and need treatment to the care of their families or to an Arab hospital, but we have not received a response” [8]

With tens of thousands of Jewish men and women called up for military service, Palestinian internees constituted an important supplement to the Jewish labor employed in maintaining the Israeli economy during the war under emergency legislation. According to a November 1948 report, civilians were being interned for what appeared to be the express purpose of aiding the Israeli economy. Thus, the report goes on, Atlit was “essentially a camp for workers.” [9] Even before the establishment of the official POW labor camps, captured civilians were put to work. Reporting on a visit to Acre on 30 May 1948, ICRC delegate de Meuron stated that the men, “whether soldiers or not,” were being “employed under the orders of the Haganah for public work, drying of wetlands, and military” [10]

At the end of the war these people were expelled. Ironically the Arab members of the Stalinist party were among these forced laborers even though they supported the formation of Israel and their party helped the Zionist war by bringing weapons from Stalinist Czechoslovakia.

When we read the Holocaust Encyclopedia, we find the following:

Forced Labor: An Overview

Forced labor played a crucial role in the wartime German economy. German military, SS, and civilian authorities brutally exploited Jews, Poles, Soviet civilians, and concentration camp prisoners for the war effort. Many forced laborers died as the result of ill-treatment, disease, and starvation” [11]

While Israel is not a Nazi state but an apartheid state it is very similar on the national question to Hitler’s regime until 1942.

Down with the criminal apartheid state from the river to the sea!

For a Palestine red and free from the river to the sea!


[1] SALMAN ABU SITTA AND TERRY REMPEL (2014) ” The ICRC and the Detention of Palestinian Civilians in Israel’s 1948 POW/Labor Camps based on files of the red cross 

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] Myerson and Ben Zevie [sic] to ICRC in Palestine

[5] SALMAN ABU SITTA AND TERRY REMPEL (2014) ” The ICRC and the Detention of Palestinian Civilians in Israel’s 1948 POW/Labor Camps based on files of the red cross

[6] Ibid

[7] Statement by Marwan ‘Iqab al-Yahya published in Muhammad Nimr al-Khatib, Nakbat Filastin

(Beirut: Dar Maktabat al-Hayat, 1951), pp. 203–14. 

[8] ICRC, Emile Moeri, “Report on the Situation of the POWs in Jewish Hands,” Tel Aviv, 6 February 1949, p. 2

[9] ICRC, Moeri and Lehner, “Report No. 19,” Tel Aviv, 11 November 1948, G59/I/GC, G3/82, p. 2.

 See also ICRC, Maximilien de Meuron, “Report no. 11,” p. 1.

[10] ICRC, de Meuron, “Report No. 9”


Leave a Comment

Scroll to Top