Classified protocols from the trial of perpetrators of the 1956 Kafr Qasem massacre may now be published, Israel's Military Court of Appeals has ruled.
Even though the court made its decision in March, a gag order was imposed on the ruling that remained in force until Monday. Haaretz reported last week that a ruling had been issued but nobody was allowed to know what it said, prompting public criticism that led to the gag order being lifted.
Consequently, the decision can now be reported, and hundreds of pages of the protocols will be released soon.
The trial took place in the late 1950s. The defendants were border policemen who shot and killed almost 50 Israeli Arabs in the town of Kafr Qasem after they unknowingly violated a curfew on the eve of the Suez War with Egypt.
Some of the documents to be released touch on a secret plan to deport Arabs from Israel’s Triangle region to Jordan. The plan was never put into operation, and its full details have yet to be revealed.
However, the court is still barring publication of the plan itself, as well as photographs from the scene of the Kafr Qasem massacre.
The court’s decision came in response to a suit filed five years ago by historian Adam Raz of the Akevot Institute for Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Research. Until recently, the military prosecution vehemently opposed releasing most of the classified material about the massacre that had been presented in court during the trial.
After consulting the Foreign Ministry, the prosecution argued that releasing this material would undermine national security and damage the country’s foreign relations.
In December 2021, however, the military prosecution withdrew its objections for reasons that have yet to be explained. This led to the court’s decision in March to allow the material to be released. But as noted, that ruling remained under a gag order until Monday.
Judge Doron Piles wrote that the prosecution initially argued that any further disclosure of the protocols and evidence from the trial, beyond what had already been released, “would almost certainly harm the country’s national security and foreign relations, and there’s a reasonable chance that in certain cases, it would even lead to violating an individual’s privacy or well-being.” But the court later changed its stance, saying it no longer objected “to releasing the vast majority of the material sought,” he added.
- Israel's Historical Conspiracy of Silence
- Recognize, Apologize and Educate About the Kafr Qasem Massacre
- Kafr Qasem Doesn’t Want an Apology
“What exactly happened over the last few years that now, national security won’t be harmed by releasing the material?” Raz asked rhetorically on Monday. “What happened in our foreign policy that now it’s permissible but a few years ago it wasn’t? Obviously, nothing happened.”
Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Freige, a Kafr Qasem resident who appeared as a witness in the suit seeking publication of the protocols, said on Monday that the decision to release them “is the correction of an injustice that has gone on for more than six decades and the beginning of the road to healing the wound that still bleeds in every home in Kafr Qasem.”
“The country also needs to deal with the less pleasant chapters in its history,” he added. “Today’s decision begins to do that, to the benefit of all its citizens, Arab and Jewish, who will have the privilege of knowing the truth.”
The Israeli military responded to the matter: "The decision regarding certain materials remaining unpublished is based on matters of privacy, respect for the dead, national security, and the maintenance of foreign relations. As for the court's current decision pertaining to publication – professional opinions on the relevant political and security factors, brought forth by the military prosecution, were taken into account – according to which it was decided that releasing the information for publication will not damage state security or foreign relations. In accordance with this decision, the protocols and materials allowed for publication will be public as of late July 2022."