Kafr Qasim massacre
|Kafr Qasim massacre|
|Part of the Suez Crisis|
Memorial at Kafr Qasim
|Location||Kafr Qasim, Israel|
|Date||29 October 1956|
|Deaths||48 to 49 (see text)|
|Perpetrators||Israel Border Police|
The Kafr Qasim massacre took place in the Israeli Arab village of Kafr Qasim situated on the Green Line, at that time, the de facto border between Israel and the Jordanian West Bank on October 29, 1956. It was carried out by the Israel Border Police (Magav), who killed Arab civilians returning from work during a curfew, imposed earlier in the day, on the eve of the Sinai war, of which they were unaware. In total 48 people died, of which 19 were men, 6 were women and 23 were children aged 8–17. Arab sources usually give the death toll as 49, as they include the unborn child of one of the women.
The border policemen who were involved in the shooting were brought to trial and found guilty and sentenced to prison terms, but all received pardons and were released in a year. The brigade commander was sentenced to pay the symbolic fine of 10 prutot (old Israeli cents). The Israeli court found that the command to kill civilians was “blatantly illegal”.
Issachar (Yissachar) “Yiska” Shadmi — the highest ranking official prosecuted for the massacre — stated, shortly before his death, that the curfew and the massacre were planned as phases within an operation to ethnically cleanse Israeli Arabs from the region, and that his trial was staged to protect Israeli political and military elite, including Prime Minister Ben Gurion, from taking responsibility for the massacre.
On the first day of the Suez War, Israel's intelligence service expected Jordan to enter the war on Egypt's side. Acting on this intelligence, soldiers were stationed along the Israeli-Jordanian frontier.
From 1949 to 1966, Arab citizens were regarded by Israel as a hostile population, and major Arab population centers were governed by military administrations divided into several districts. As such, several battalions of the Israel Border Police, under the command of Israel Defense Forces brigade commander Colonel Yissachar Shadmi, were ordered to prepare the defense of a section close to the border officially known as the Central District, and colloquially as the Triangle. It contained seven villages close to the border, not far from Tel Aviv, where about 40,000 Israeli Arab citizens lived. It was regarded as a strategically weak point by Israel, and regularly patrolled by soldiers to halt infiltration of fedayeen and other Arabs across the border.
On October 29, 1956, the Israeli army ordered that all Arab villages near the Jordanian border be placed under a wartime curfew from 5 p.m. to 6 a.m. on the following day. Any Arab on the streets was to be shot. The order was given to border police units before most of the Arabs from the villages could be notified. Many of them were at work at the time. That morning, Shadmi, who was in charge of the Triangle, received orders to take all precautionary measures to ensure quiet on the Jordanian border. On Shadmi's initiative, the official nightly curfew in the twelve villages under his jurisdiction was changed from the regular hours. Shadmi then gathered all the border patrol battalion commanders under his command, and reportedly ordered them to 'shoot on sight' any villagers violating the curfew. Once the order was given, the commander of one of Shadmi's battalions, Major Shmuel Malinki, who was in charge of the Border Guard unit at the village of Kafr Qasim, asked Shadmi on how to react to those villagers who were unaware of the curfew.
Malinki later testified as follows:
'[Shadmi said] anyone who left his house would be shot. It would be best if on the first night there were 'a few like that' and on the following nights they would be more careful. I asked: in the light of that, I can understand that a guerilla is to be killed but what about the fate of the Arab civilians? And they may come back to the village in the evening from the valley, from settlements or from the fields, and won't know about the curfew in the village - I suppose I am to have sentries at the approaches to the village? To this Col. Issachar replied in crystal clear words, 'I don't want sentimentality and I don't want arrests, there will be no arrests'. I said: 'Even though?'. To that he answered me in Arabic, Allah Yarhamu, which I understood as equivalent to the Hebrew phrase, 'Blessed be the true judge' [said on receiving news of a person's death]'.
Shadmi, however, denied that the matter of the returnees ever came up in his conversation with Malinki.
Malinki issued a similar order to the reserve forces attached to his battalion, shortly before the curfew was enforced: "No inhabitants shall be allowed to leave his home during the curfew. Anyone leaving his home shall be shot; there shall be no arrests." (ibid., p. 141)
The new curfew regulations were imposed in the absence of the laborers, who were at work and unaware of the new rules. At 4.30 p.m., the mukhtar (mayor) of Kafr Qasim was informed of the new time. He asked what would happen to the about 400 villagers working outside the village in the fields that were not aware of the new time. An officer assured him that they would be taken care of. When word of the curfew change was sent, most returned immediately, but others did not.
Between 5 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., in nine separate shooting incidents, the platoon led by Lt. Gabriel Dahan that was stationed in Kafr Qasim all together killed nineteen men, six women, ten teenage boys (age 14-17), six girls (age 12-15), and seven young boys (age 8-13), who did not make it home before curfew. One survivor, Jamal Farij, recalls arriving at the entrance to the village in a truck with 28 passengers:
'We talked to them. We asked if they wanted our identity cards. They didn't. Suddenly one of them said, 'Cut them down' - and they opened fire on us like a flood.'
One Israeli soldier, Shalom Ofer, later admitted: 'We acted like Germans, automatically, we didn't think', but never expressed remorse or regret for his actions.
The many injured were left unattended, and could not be succoured by their families because of the 24-hour curfew. The dead were collected and buried in a mass grave by Arabs, taken for that purpose, from the nearby village of Jaljuliya. When the curfew ended, the wounded were picked up from the streets and trucked to hospitals.
No villagers in other villages under Shadmi's control were shot, because local commanders gave direct orders to disobey Shadmi's and Malinki's orders by holding fire. Also, among the platoons stationed in Kafr Qasim itself, only the one led by Dahan actually opened fire.
The military censor imposed a total ban on newspaper reportage on the massacre. Nonetheless news of the incident leaked out after communist Knesset Members Tawfik Toubi and Meir Vilner managed to enter the village two weeks later and investigate the rumours. However, it took two months of lobbying by them and the press before the government lifted the media blackout imposed by David Ben-Gurion. The government started an internal inquiry on November 1 involving, among others, the Criminal Investigations Division of the military police. To limit publicity, a military cordon was maintained around the village for months, preventing journalists from approaching. David Ben-Gurion made his first public reference to the incident on November 12.
Following public protests, eleven Border Police officers and soldiers involved in the massacre were charged with murder in a military court. The trial was presided over by Judge Benjamin Halevy. On October 16, 1958, eight of them were found guilty and sentenced to prison terms. Malinki received 17 and Dahan 15 years imprisonment. The court placed great emphasis on the fundamental responsibility of Shadmi, though the latter was not a defendant. Shadmi was subsequently charged as well, but his separate court hearing (February 29, 1959) found him innocent of murder and only guilty of extending the curfew without authority. His symbolic punishment, a fine of 10 prutot, i.e. a grush (one Israeli cent), became a standard metaphor in Israeli polemic debate. The fact that other local commanders realised they had to disobey Shadmi's order was cited by the court as one of the reasons for denying Dahan's claim that he had no choice. None of the officers served out the terms of their sentences.
The court of appeal (April 3, 1959) reduced Malinki's sentence to 14 years and Dahan's to 10. The Chief of Staff further reduced them to 10 and 8 years, then the Israeli President Yitzhak Ben-Zvi pardoned many and reduced some sentences to 5 years each. Finally, the Committee for the Release of Prisoners ordered the remission of one third of the prison sentences, resulting in all the convicted persons being out of prison by November 1959. Soon after his release, Malinki was promoted and put in charge of security for the top secret Negev Nuclear Research Center. In 1960, Dahan was placed in charge of "Arab Affairs" by the city of Ramla.
The Kafr Qasim trial considered for the first time the issue of when Israeli security personnel are required to disobey illegal orders. The judges decided that soldiers do not have the obligation to examine each and every order in detail as to its legality, nor were they entitled to disobey orders merely on a subjective feeling that they might be illegal. On the other hand, some orders were manifestly illegal, and these must be disobeyed. Judge Benjamin Halevy's words, still much-quoted today, were that
- The hallmark of manifest illegality is that it must wave like a black flag over the given order, a warning that says: "forbidden!" Not formal illegality, obscure or partially obscure, not illegality that can be discerned only by legal scholars, is important here, but rather, the clear and obvious violation of law .... Illegality that pierces the eye and revolts the heart, if the eye is not blind and the heart is not impenetrable or corrupt—this is the measure of manifest illegality needed to override the soldier's duty to obey and to impose on him criminal liability for his action."
The incident was partly responsible for gradual changes in Israel's policy toward Arab citizens of Israel. By 1966, the military administration was abolished.
On November 20, 1957, 400 distinguished guests and representatives from different sectors of Israeli society, including Knesset members, cabinet ministers, members from the then ruling Mapai party, national trade union officials, and notable members from neighboring Arab villages, held a reconciliation ceremony in memory of the victims at Kafr Qasim. The ceremony was designed as a "sulha", explicitly referring to a Bedouin clan-based conflict resolution custom. The government subsequently distributed reparations to the family of the victims. At that time, the mainstream press (such as JTA or Histadrut owned Davar) gives a favorable account of the ceremony, unlike the Arabic-language press (such as al-Ittihad and al-Mirsad, sponsored by MAPAM and MAKI parties) who denounced it as a fraud. In a 2006 academic article focusing on the massacre's commemoration, Shira Robinson considers the sulha as a "charade" which villagers were highly pressurized to participate in, designed to position the conflict "within a contrived history of symmetrical violence between Arabs and Jews," staged by the government for the purpose of escaping its responsibilities and lightening the weight of the court's verdict, making the ceremony itself "part of the crime that Palestinians commemorate today." In a 2008 academic article, Professor Susan Slyomovics corroborates this perspective on a ceremony "forced upon the villagers." In this paper, Slyomovics notably relies upon Ibrahim Sarsur's testimony, which concluded: "Until today in Kafr Qasim, there is no one who agrees with the manner of treatment of the government of Israel concerning the massacre and its consequences."
In October 2006, Yuli Tamir, the education minister in Israel, ordered schools around the country to observe the Kafr Qasim massacre and to reflect upon the need to disobey illegal orders. In December 2007, President of Israel Shimon Peres apologised for the massacre. During a reception in the village for the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha, Peres said that he came to Kafr Qasem to ask the villagers for forgiveness. "A terrible event happened here in the past, and we are very sorry for it," he said. The founder of the Islamic Movement in Israel, Sheikh Abdullah Nimr Darwish, also spoke at the ceremony and called on religious leaders on both sides to build bridges between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
The townspeople of Kafr Qasim annually observe the massacre and several memorial monuments have been raised since 1976. According to Tamir Sorek, the Israeli government financially supported the first monument in 1976 in order to ensure sanitized non-political language. Therefore, the inscription on the first monument describes the massacre merely as a “painful tragedy” without mentioning who was responsible for it. Later expressions of spatial commemoration have been much more explicit about this aspect. A museum dealing with the events was opened on October 29, 2006.
On 26 October 2014 Reuven Rivlin, keeping an electoral promise, became the first sitting President of Israel to attend the annual commemorations for the fallen at Kfar Qasim. He called it an 'atrocious massacre', 'a terrible crime' that weighed heavily on the collective conscience of the State of Israel.
Approximately 1/3 of the court hearings were held in secret, and the transcript has never been published. According to journalist Ruvik Rosenthal, the court received descriptions of a secret plan called Operation Hafarperet ("mole") to expel Israeli Arabs of the Little Triangle in case of a war with Jordan.). A similar opinion is held by historian Adam Raz. Shortly before his death, Shadmi also described the massacre as pre-planned and part of an Operation which would result in the expulsion of the Arab Israelis from the region. He described his trial as staged so as to "keep Israel’s security and political elite – including Prime Minister Ben-Gurion, IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Dayan, and GOC Central Command (and later chief of staff) Tzvi Tzur – from having to take responsibility for the massacre."
- Kafr kasem (1975 Syrian drama film)
- List of massacres in Israel
- Killings and massacres during the 1948 Palestine War
- Qibya massacre
- Sabra and Shatila massacre
- Khan Yunis massacre
- Rafah massacre
- Lucas, Noah (1975). The Modern History of Israel. New York, New York: Praeger Publishers. p. 356. ISBN 0-275-33450-3.
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- Shira Robinson is Assistant Professor of History and International Affairs at Georgetown University: 
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