Israel's President Apologizes for 1956 Kafr Qasem Massacre

'I bow my head in memory of the 49 people murdered, bow my head before you, their family members, and before the residents of Kafr Qasem,' President Isaac Herzog says

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President Isaac Herzog in the Kafr Qasem on Friday.
President Isaac Herzog in the Kafr Qasem on Friday.Credit: Amos Ben Gershom/GPO
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

President Isaac Herzog apologized on Friday on behalf of himself and the State of Israel for the 1956 Kafr Qasem massacre of Arabs in the Israeli village, at a ceremony commemorating the victims.

“I bow my head before the memory of the 49 victims. I bow my head before you, their families, and before the inhabitants of Kafr Qasem throughout the ages," Herzog said, "and on behalf of myself and the State of Israel, I ask for forgiveness.”

Although he gave his address in Hebrew, the president then repeated the apology in Arabic.  

“The killing and injury of innocents are absolutely forbidden. They must remain beyond all political arguments," Herzog said. “On this day, 65 years after the catastrophe, we shall pray and hope that the memory of the victims will stay with us as a lesson and a compass, and that from the depths of the pain we shall sprout forth together a shared future, one full of hope.”

Israeli Border Policemen carried out the massacre in the village on October 29, 1956, the first day of the Suez Crisis. Forty-eight men, women and children were murdered, including a pregnant woman. Her fetus is counted in the village as the 49th murder victim.

Herzog said in his address that he supports adding the massacre to the school curriculum "in an organized fashion." "All across the State of Israel, students at school, youth movement participants, soldiers, commanders, and officers in the IDF and all the security forces learn about this terrible event and the lessons learned from it," he said.

Herzog is not the first Israeli official to issue an apology for the massacre. In 2007, then-President Shimon Peres also apologized for the massacre during a visit to the city. "In the past a tragedy had happened here, for which we're very sorry." Former Education Minister Yossi Sarid had also apologized and promoted the topic in the Israeli educational curriculum.

A bill introduced by the Joint List of mainly Arab parties that would have officially recognized the massacre and added it to the curriculum failed to pass a Knesset vote this week.

The resolution divided Arab lawmakers. Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Freige, a Meretz MK and resident of Kafr Qasem, accused the Joint List and its MK Aida Touma-Suleiman, who submitted the bill, of "exploiting our pain" for the sake of votes and internal politics. 

Prior to the Knesset session, there were  talks between coalition representatives and the Joint List’s Hadash faction with the aim of delaying the vote and agreeing on an outline. This would help spare coalition parties like Meretz and the United Arab List – which would be expected to vote for the bill on ideological grounds – the embarrassment of voting for an opposition party's bill. The sides were unable to reach an agreement. 

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