President Reuven Rivlin visited the Israeli Arab village of Kafr Qasem on Sunday to attend the memorial ceremony for the 1956 massacre that left 47 dead.
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Israel must "look straight at what happened in the Kafr Qasem massacre and teach all future generations about it," Rivlin said at the ceremony, while calling on the Arab public to acknowledge the fact that Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people.
"A serious crime was committed here and needs to be repaired," Rivlin said, adding that the Arab population "will always be part of the flesh and blood of the State of Israel."
Rivlin acknowledged that Israel "needs to be honest and admit that the Arab sector in Israel has suffered from years of discrimination" and that "many Arabs in Israel are faced with racism from Jews."
Rivlin promised that Israel would never try to push anyone out of the country, additionally calling upon the leadership of Israel's Arab population to act responsibly and denounce violence and terrorism.
The mayor of Kafr Qasem, Adel Badir, praised Rivlin for coming and for his work toward coexistence. However, he called on the president to move ahead a decision by which Israel would recognize the victims of the massacre as victims of hostile actions. “The wound has still not healed and in every corner of the city heads are bowed. We remember and we do not forgive what happened on that day - the killing of 49 victims and the wounding of dozens,” Badir said.
Dozens of the town’s residents attended the reception for the president, including MK Ibrahim Sarsur (United Arab List-Ta’al), MK Isssawi Freij (Meretz) and the founder of the Islamic Movement, Sheikh Abdallah Nimar Darwish. Freij said: “In these tense days, the president coming to Kafr Qasem is a step that requires public courage.” Some people in the city were indifferent to the visit, saying it was just another visit of an Israeli public figure like others over the years.
Rivlin's predecessor, Shimon Peres, apologized for the incident in 2007 while on a visit to the village during the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha. However, Rivlin is the first Israeli president to attend the annual memorial ceremony, where he will lay a wreath at City Hall in memory of those killed.
On October 29, 1956, during the first day of the Sinai war, three Israeli Border Police officers received a command to shoot anyone who broke the curfew imposed on the village.
The three troops killed 47 of the village's residents, including women and children, as they were making their way home from work, unaware of the newly imposed curfew.
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).