Israel Shoots Down Bill to Officially Recognize 1956 Massacre of Arab Citizens

A bill tabled by Joint List lawmakers calls on Israel to officially recognize the 1956 Kafr Qasem massacre, in which 48 Arabs were killed by the Israeli army

Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
A memorial to the 1956 Kafr Qasem massacre, in June.
A memorial to the 1956 Kafr Qasem massacre, in June.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Noa Shpigel
Noa Shpigel

A bill calling for Israel to officially recognize the 1956 Kafr Qasem massacre, in which 48 Arabs were killed by IDF forces, failed to pass the Knesset on Wednesday.

In a fiery session in the Israeli parliament, the bill was overwhelmingly rejected, with 93 voting against the bill and 12 in favor. 

The bill was put forth by Aida Touma-Sliman, Ofer Cassif and Ayman Odeh, three lawmakers from Hadash, one of the three parties which make up the Joint List. 

Hadash MK Aida Touma-Sliman in the Knesset, in 2020.Credit: Adina Velman/Knesset

Speaking at the rostrum, Touma-Sliman commemorated the massacre in Arabic. She then called for the government to not only recognize the massacre, but to actively incorporate it into school syllabuses and to declassify all documents pertaining to it. 

Regional Cooperation Ministry Esawi Freije, who is from the town and who lost family in the massacre, told the Knesset that the memory of the incident "has accompanied me for my whole life."

However, he then erupted at the Joint List for proposing the bill, which he said was bound to be struck down, rather than bringing it to the education committee: "You want to turn our pain into internal politics," he shouted. The confrontation elicited applause from the Kahanist MK Itamar Ben-Gvir. 

In recent days, Hadash MKs and senior members of the coalition have met with the intention to postpone the vote, in order to avoid embarrassment among the coalition parties who ideologically support the bill.

Lawmakers from the left flank of the coalition, as well as the other Arab and Druze members of the coalition, said before the vote that they would insist on the right to vote according to their consciences.

The soldiers accused of perpetrating the Kafr Qasem massacre. The commander of the battalion, Shmuel Malinki, is on the left.

The victims of the Kafr Qasem massacre were Arab citizens who were shot to death by soldiers from the Israel Defense Forces and Border Police because they were violating a curfew that most of them probably weren’t aware of.

Among the 48 killed were six women and 13 children under age 15. 

On October 29, 1956, when Israel invaded the Sinai desert at the start of the military campaign coordinated with Britain and France, the government decided to impose a nighttime curfew, effective immediately, on the Arab towns situated along the border with Jordan, to the east.

Kafr Qasem was one of the 12 towns that were subject to the curfew, which prohibited residents from being outside their homes between 5 P.M. and 6 A.M. The village mayor informed the local military commanders that some 400 inhabitants of the town worked in agriculture outside of Kafr Qasem and would not have heard about the curfew. He was told not to worry.

At the same time, however, the IDF officer in command of the region, Col. Yissachar Shadmi, told Maj. Shmuel Malinki, who oversaw Kafr Qasem, that his men should shoot on sight anyone who was found outside his or her home, and that they weren’t to make a distinction between civilians and suspected militants.

According to Malinki, Shadmi even told him that it would be a good example if, early on, the soldiers were to shoot some Arab citizens. Shadmi later denied saying that.

For two months, a gag order prevented the press from reporting on the killings, and even after the order was lifted, the town remained sealed off to journalists.

Eventually, the army tried 11 soldiers for the murders, and, in October 1958, eight of them were found guilty and sentenced to prison. By November 1959, however, all eight of the defendants were free, their sentences having been commuted by President Yitzhak Ben-Zvi. Shadmi himself was tried separately for murder, but acquitted.

David B. Green contributed to this report.

Click the alert icon to follow topics:

Comments