Hundreds gathered Thursday, October 29, in the central Arab city of Kafr Qasim to commemorate the 1956 massacre in which Border Police officers shot and killed four dozen residents. Participants marched through the town to lay wreaths on the tombs of those killed, as well as on a monument to their memory in the center of the city. All Hadash members of the Knesset participated in the ceremony, alongside Adel Amer, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Israel and resident of the town.
“We’ve come out to say that we haven’t forgotten, nor have we forgiven. The memory moves from one generation to the next. It is the memory of sumud, of steadfastness, of the deepening our roots in the land of our forefathers,” said Hadash parliamentarian Youssef Jabareen (Joint List).
On October 29, 1956, the first day of Israel’s imperialist Suez War, along with Britain and France, against Egypt, its intelligence service expected Jordan to enter the war on the side of Egypt. The army ordered that all Arab villages near the Jordanian border (then delineated by the Green Line) be placed under a wartime curfew from 5 pm to 6 am on the following day. Israel forces were directed to shoot to kill any Arab outside of their home during the curfew hours. 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. In the evening Border Police detained and summarily executed Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel, residents of Kafr Qasim, who were on their way home from a day of work in the fields, and who had thus inadvertently “violated a wartime curfew on their village” about which they had no previous knowledge. Forty-eight were killed, one being a pregnant woman whose fetus also died.
News of the massacre leaked out almost immediately. However, it took two months of lobbying by communist Knesset Members Tawfik Toubi and Meir Vilner and members of the press (from Kol Ha’am, Al Ittihad communist newspapers and the weekly leftist HaOlam Haze) before the government lifted the media blackout imposed by Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. To limit publicity, a military cordon was maintained around the village for months, preventing journalists from approaching.
A court later convicted and sentenced several members of the Border Police. While they had been following orders, the court ruled, a “black flag waved over them,” signaling that it should have been clear to the officers that the orders were patently illegal. Ultimately, the officers’ sentences were reduced and none spent more than a few years in prison.
The yearly march at Kafr Qasim has become a ritual in the town, where memories of those killed in the massacre remain very much alive. While the memorial activities normally draw thousands and involve hours of activities and lectures, last Thursday’s ceremony was smaller and shorter to avoid coronavirus infections associated with mass gatherings. Municipality officials also sought to enforce mask-wearing and social distancing requirements.
On Wednesday night, the Knesset debated a bill proposed by Joint List MK Aida Touma-Suleiman (Hadash) that would have conferred full state recognition on the massacre and introduced mandatory instruction about the massacre into school curricula. “All of these demands share one thing in common: that recognizing the harm is a necessary stage in its repair,” Touma-Suleiman said. The Knesset with 51 against and 21 in favor struck down the bill. The Joint List voted in favor, joined by a smattering of parliamentarians from Meretz and Blue & White. Likud, Shas and Yamina MKs opposed the proposed legislation, preventing its enactment.
Related: The speech by Hadash MK Aida Touma-Sliman before the Knesset plenum on Wednesday, October 28 (Hebrew with English subtitles): https://twitter.com/AidaTuma/status/1321794289593188354