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Was the massacre at Kafr Qasem, in which 49 residents were shot, part of a wider plan to expel Arabs, or was it a single event in which border policemen misinterpreted orders? These questions were addressed by a forum convened in the village Friday, ahead of the 50th anniversary of the massacre today.

"That is an open question," Dr. Mustafa Kabha, a professor of history and communications at the Open University and Ben-Gurion University, told Haaretz yesterday. "Not all the relevant archives have been opened, and as a researcher I still haven't reached an unequivocal answer." According to Kabha, most Jewish researchers claim it is a "shocking, localized event" unconnected to a broader policy. Arab researchers tend to question that.

The Arab public is of one mind regarding the massacre, which it see as the first in a series of violent events in which Arab citizens were killed by security forces. These include Land Day in 1976, when six Arab citizens were killed, and the October 2000 riots, when 13 were shot to death by police. "The Arab public concludes that because these kind of events keep occuring, the proper conclusions were never drawn," Kabha said.

On the first day of Israel's 1956 Sinai Campaign, Arab citizens were placed under military rule, which was announced half an hour before it took effect. A few dozen workers did not manage to get home.

Three Border Police officers took position at the entrance to Kafr Qasem. In response to the question of what to do with village residents who were late in returning, their commanding officer said, "God have mercy." Only seven of the 13 survivors are still alive. One, Jamal Farij, told his story last week at a press conference. Farij arrived at the entrance of 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."

Farij, who took cover in a spare tire slot, says he was eventually escorted home by six soldiers. Like many other survivors, he has never recovered and has been unemployed since. Asked if things have changed since then, he asks, "What has changed? Nothing."

The anniversary will be marked with events, including an annual procession from downtown to a memorial at the site of the event. In the evening, there will be a rally on the village soccer field.