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Israel's Arabs Await Equality, Not Apologies

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President Reuven Rivlin during the annual memorial ceremony for the 47 Arab-Israelis killed by Israeli border policemen on October 29, 1956 in the Arab-Israeli town of Kfar Kassem, Oct. 26, 2014.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

A few men of various ages were sitting in a coffee shop near the municipal square in Kafr Qasem, watching the police prepare for the arrival of President Reuven Rivlin. There was no excitement, only indifference. The president’s arrival Sunday did not shut down the city or change the residents' daily routine. There were neither celebrations nor protests. Nor were there decorations. Just a few black flags of mourning to mark the anniversary of the massacre.

Abdel Rahman Taha was 16 when he lost his mother on that fateful day, October 29, 1956. And he too was sitting at the entrance to the coffee shop yesterday, trying to decide whether to go to the reception for the president.

“The visit is a positive step," he said, "but like every visit of a senior Israeli figure before this – it won’t change much. As a person who lost his mother, I feel no solace; as a citizen, I have no expectations. Whether or not there is an apology [from him] doesn’t matter anymore. What is important to me is that the story of Kafr Qasem appear in schoolbooks: that all the schoolchildren in Israel, Jews and Arabs, read, take it to heart and not forget.”

Taha’s words reflect the general understanding and the pain of the people in Kafr Qasem, located some 20 kilometers east of Tel Aviv, vis-a-vis the commemoration of the massacre: It has become a private event of the inhabitants of the city only, and not part of the collective memory of Arab society in Israel, certainly not part of the national memory of the state and the establishment, which would prefer to forget that day and not to talk about its significance in terms of the country’s relationship to its Arab citizens.

“I came to hold out a hand to you. As [Revisionist Zionist leader Ze'ev] Jabotinsky said: I swear we will never try to drive anyone out of our land. Israel will always be home for a broad Arab population. The Arab population is flesh of the flesh of Israel,” Rivlin said yesterday to cheers.

But the president would do well to translate his words into deeds – especially at this time, when the diplomatic atmosphere is bleak, and to internalize what none of this country's successive governments has yet internalized: that in Kafr Qasem, as in Israel's greater Arab society, people are still waiting – not for an apology, not for an expression of pain over what happened in the past, but for a look ahead for the sake of the generations to come.

The governments have still not internalized that Kafr Qasem and the rest of Arab society is waiting for true equality as citizens of the State of Israel, for whom the allocation of resources and funding, and the closing of gaps are the equivalent of a thousand apologies. That recognition of the pain of previous generations is important, but concern for future generations is more important, otherwise Rivlin’s visit to Kafr Qasem, like that of his predecessors, will go down as just another pleasant visit, no more.

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