The ICRC and the Detention of Palestinian Civilians in Israel's 1948 POW/Labor Camps
The internment of thousands of Palestinian civilians in Israeli-run prisoner of war camps is a relatively little known episode in the 1948 war. This article begins to piece together the story from the dual perspective of the former civilian internees and of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Aside from the day-to-day treatment of the internees, ICRC reports focused on the legal and humanitarian implications of civilian internment and on Israel’s resort to forced labor to support its war effort. Most of the 5,000 or so Palestinian civilians held in four official camps were reduced to conditions described by one ICRC official as “slavery” and then expelled from the country at the end of the war. Notwithstanding their shortcoming, the ICRC records constitute an important contribution to the story of these prisoners and also expose the organization’s ineffectiveness—absent a legal framework as well as enforcement mechanisms beyond moral persuasion, the ICRC could do little to intervene on behalf of the internees.