President Shimon Peres apologized Friday for the 1956 massacre in Kafr Qasem, in which Border Police officers killed 47 residents of the Israeli Arab village.
During a reception in the village for the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha, Peres said that he deliberately chose the holiday for a visit 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.
On October 29, 1956, during the first day of the Sinai war, three Border Police received a command to shoot anyone who broke the curfew imposed on Kafr Qasem.
The troops shot and killed 47 of the village's residents as they were making their way home from work, unaware of the newly imposed curfew. Among the dead were women and children.
The soldiers involved in the incident were sentenced to lengthy prison terms, but all received pardons. The brigade commander was sentenced to pay the symbolic fine of 10 prutot (old Israeli cents).
Cabinet ministers have expressed remorse several times in the past. Former education minister Yossi Sarid publicly apologized for the event and worked to add it to the national history curriculum in the 1990s. Former tourism minister Moshe Katsav, who was later appointed president, also said that the families of the victims deserve an apology.
President Peres also said: "The Arab citizens do not need charity, but opportunity. The link between religion and violence should be severed. We are all children of the same god, who has not given us permission to kill, oppress and humiliate others."
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.