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Fiftieth Anniversary Of Kafr Qasem Massacre

Fiftieth Anniversary Of Kafr Qasem Massacre

Compilation/Comment by Sol Salbe

Politics is often a matter of timing. And you could not get much worse timing for whitewashing ethnic cleansing than the fiftieth anniversary of the major massacre of the intended victims of that ethnic cleansing. So the Israeli Labour Party’s Central Committee’s vote today on sharing the government’s benches with Yisrael Beitenu could not have come at a less fortuitous time. Yisrael Beitenu under the leadership of Avigdor “Ivet” Lieberman is a far-right political party with a platform of removing the citizenship of Palestinian Israelis. [Called “members of minorities” in the official Israeli parlance, “Israeli Arabs” in the Foreign Ministry’s jargon and “1948 Palestinians” by some Palestinian nationalists.]

Lieberman and his platform have received some considerable attention in the Australian and international media, although probably not enough. But Lieberman’s ascendancy and the impending capitulation of the Labour party deserve to be dealt separately. This compilation is more concerned with the infamous Kafr Massacre on 29 October 1956. On that day Israel launched an attack on Egypt. That attack was the agreed upon pretext for its two colonial power allies, France and Britain to launch their own disastrous Suez war. In his regular Friday column in Haaretz historian and journalist Tom Segev tells what happened next.

“It happened on Monday, October 29, 1956, a little after 5 P.M. The Sinai Campaign began at about the same time. For several days, there had been talk that the Israel Defense Forces might stage an incursion into Jordan, apparently in order to disguise the true intent to invade Egypt. As part of the preparations, the army planned to evacuate the Arab villages in the ‘Triangle’ area and transfer their residents to holding facilities in the center of the country.

“The plan was given the code name ‘Mole.’ The Border Police had thought of an alternative plan: to block passage from the Triangle villages to deeper inside the state, and expel their residents across the Jordan. Both plans were cancelled when it became evident that the war was going to take place in Sinai. But according to writer Rubik Rosenthal, who exposed this story many years later, the expulsion plans ‘remained in the air.’

“A curfew was imposed on the villages of the Triangle; violators were to be shot on sight. Several dozen residents, including women and children, unaware of the curfew, were late in returning to Kafr Qasem. They came in groups, on foot, by truck or riding bicycles. Following their orders, Border Police troops stood them in rows and shot them to death, as they continued to arrive in group after group. The official count says that 47 people were killed that day; the monument erected in the village adds an old man who died of a heart attack upon hearing that his son was among the dead, and the unborn baby in the womb of his mother, who was killed.”

Naturally there was an attempt at cover-up. But a member of HaHorshim Kibbutz wrote to Meir Ya’ari of Mapam [one of the components that amalgamated into today’s Meretz.] and told him about the massacre. As Segev tells it: “It wasn't the first time he had heard of soldiers behaving this way. Ya'ari didn't like such letters, but this time he couldn't ignore the information he had received because it was clear that something truly terrible had occurred. So he sent [Latif] Dori to look into it. Dori was then the secretary of the Arab Division of the party. He took down eyewitness accounts and those testimonies were later used in the trial of the perpetrators.

Segev describes the attempted cover-up: “The military censor prohibited its publication, and for several weeks the story was only spread by word of mouth. Communist MKs Tewfik Toubi and Meir Wilner mentioned the massacre in the Knesset plenum and their words were stricken from the protocol. Human rights and peace activists also spread word of the story. An initial, somewhat hazy item on it first appeared in Haaretz; the full story was first published in Uri Avnery's weekly, Ha'olam Hazeh.”

Segev went to Kafr Qasem to research his report. He met Sheikh Abdullah Nimr Darwish a founder of the Islamic Movement and a resident of Kafr Qasem. For him the Kafr Qasem massacre is still going on.

“[Darwish] sees a direct line from the Deir Yassin massacre to the Kafr Qasem massacre to the events of Land Day, the October riots of 2000 and all that has happened from then until today, in Israel and the territories.”

Beside the acceptance of Lieberman the week’s news gave another sharp reminder of what Darwish was talking about. In October 2000 after Israeli troops killed a large number of protesting Palestinians at the beginning of the second Intifada, Palestinian Israelis protested, blocking roads and stoning cars. The riots were met by volleys of live ammunition by the end of which twelve Israeli Arabs and one Palestinian from the Territories were dead. No one has ever been put to trial over the shooting. [Right-wing and religious rock throwers have never been shot at in Israel.] The saga of the attempts of the victims’ families to get justice is in front of the courts at the moment. But an incident that threw salt on the wounds of the family even the limited administrative penalties meted out seem to have been ignored. The commission of inquiry headed by Judge Or recommended that police Brigadier-General Bentzi Sau, who was one of the police officers in charge on the day, be denied promotion for seven years. However, Israel’s Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter (Kadima) appointed him as head of Dichter’s operation staff. When the high court overruled Dichter lambasted the court and suggested that its powers should be limited. (The full story by Jonathan Lis is in Haaretz.)

Israel can and is proud of the trial that followed the Kafr Qasem massacre. Segev again: “The trial was open to the public for the most part. It sparked a public discussion of basic questions of ethics and democracy. Since it happened 12 years after World War II, this discussion took place against the backdrop of the Holocaust. Judge Benjamin Halevy, who would later be one of the judges presiding over the trial of Adolf Eichmann, asked one of the defendants if he would also justify a Nazi soldier who obeyed an order.

“Halevy felt that the order to kill residents of Kafr Qasem was ‘manifestly unlawful’ and defined it thus: A black flag should fly over such an order, like a warning: ‘This is unlawfulness that pierces the eye and agitates the heart, if the eye is not blind nor the heart closed or corrupt.’ This was a literary definition, not a legal one. It is not sufficient, but to this day no one has come up with a better one. Hence its importance.”

In fact the term “black flag” has become part of the Israeli idiom. But while the trial is something that Israel can be proud of, what followed the trial was the exact opposite. But you have to do some research. If you rely for example on the Jewish Telegraphic Agency you’ll find out that “the three policemen involved were jailed.” There were in fact 11 border policemen involved but that is not the point. The JTA is being disingenuous. And so was the first report in Haaretz which did not specify the jail terms. Even Segev’s report is incomplete: “The eight defendants, including an officer with the rank of major, Shmuel Malinki, were given prison sentences ranging from seven to 17 years. On appeal, the sentences were reduced, and not long afterward, the men were granted clemency. An officer with the rank of colonel, Issachar Shadmi, was acquitted on most of the charges and fined just 1 grush (1 cent in the old Israeli currency), for imposing a curfew without proper authority. Malinki went on to become the security officer for the atomic reactor, and later took over a gas station. First Lieutenant Gabriel Dahan, who was initially sentenced to 15 years, changed his name to Dagan and moved to Paris, where he worked as an Israel Bonds representative.”

More information is available in Wikipedia and the details are confirmed in Israel, Army, Defence: A dictionary by Ze’ev Schiff and Eitan Haber (Hebrew). The sentencing took place on 16 October 1958 (just under two years after the massacre). The sentences got reduced first of all on appeal, then reduced further by Chief of Staff. Some of got one third off for good behaviour and two days later the rest were pardoned by the State’s President. By 12 November 1959 they were all free. What’s more according to a letter from Yehuda Mor in the 29 October 2006 Haaretz all the culprits received substantial rehabilitation assistance from the state. As he says, it does put into doubt the state’s commitment to present the events as a crime worthy of condemnation and denunciation.

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