The Education Minister Who Thought the Kafr Qasem Massacre Should Be Taught

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President Reuven Rivlin during the annual memorial ceremony for the 47 Arab-Israelis killed by Israeli border policemen on October 29, 1956 in the Arab-Israeli town of Kfar Kassem, Oct. 26, 2014.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Once upon a time there was an education minister who didn’t understand his role. His very appointment was a mistake: Instead of fostering “Jewish values,” he groveled to Arabs and idol worshippers. The damage done during his tenure was nearly beyond repair.

As soon as he took office, he sought to include in the curriculum poems by that bitter enemy Mahmoud Darwish, as if this guy were the Palestinian Bialik. And he didn’t stop there. He also instructed that the curriculum cover issues relating to genocide, particularly the Armenian genocide, much to the dismay of our Turkish friends.

And to make matters worse, he held up the Kafr Qasem massacre as a black flag, so that teenage boys and girls would see and be aghast; for soon they would be drafted and receive orders, whose legality might not always be clear.

I wouldn’t have thought of that minister and his evil deeds had I not received a phone call on Saturday from MK Issawi Freij, who lives in Kafr Qasem. Issawi asked me for the letter I wrote back then, and for a copy of the speech I subsequently made before the Knesset. For now Israel’s president was coming to the village in a belated gesture of solidarity with the bloody memory, and the local MK had also been asked to say a few words.

I looked and I found: A Google search turned up the full protocol of that Knesset session. Reuven Rivlin himself was the first to speak, and expressed reservations about the minister’s initiative: “Amid the reality of Oslo,” he said, “the Israeli side cannot make a gesture or express sorrow toward the Arab side. Any such gesture is immediately perceived as reinforcement of its argument: Look, the Jews also acknowledge that we are the victim, that justice is on our side.”

Since then, to his credit, Ruby has matured and grown more thoughtful, and become a worthy president. The crudeness of the attacks on him this week by his detractors, who hurled curses at him, is a clear testament to the change he has undergone.

What was it that had the Knesset in such an uproar 15 years ago? The letter that was sent to civics teachers, excerpts of which I quote here: “As Education Minister and a civics teacher, I feel obliged to write to you, colleague to colleague, with a request and recommendation to mark the anniversary of the Kafr Qasem massacre a few days from now. Exactly 43 years ago, at the start of the Sinai Campaign, a curfew was imposed on the village and soldiers received an order to shoot violators. Forty-seven residents who were returning from work in the evening and didn’t know about the curfew were massacred in the shooting, including 15 women and 11 children.

“The soldiers’ claim that they were following an order did not exempt them. The military courts convicted them of murder. Unfortunately, even after the massacre, there have been other incidents that have a black flag flying over them. It is our obligation as educators to instill in our students the message: There should be no blind obedience to any authority – governmental, religious or military.

“The Arab citizens in our country also deserve to hear a clear message from us: We are ashamed of what happened in Kafr Qasem. Their pain is our shame. And we shall deal with this shame openly, and from now on – in the schools as well. He who is sure of himself will not hesitate to reveal his flaws.” And I signed it, “Yours, in feelings of partnership”

At the Knesset session, I stated: “There are nations that deal with their past, and thus ensure their future. And there are nations that do not do this, and the past never ceases to haunt them.” You call that an education minister? Unbelievable.

In the years since, Jewish-Arab relations in Israel have not improved; on the contrary. The current education minister ought to craft his own letter to the teachers. For Shay Piron is not another “pathetic coward.”

The massacre itself is not the only thing we need to face up to. There were also the lies, and the winks that came afterward, that were meant to cover up the blood. Yes, the killers were given long sentences, but it wasn’t long until they were pardoned, as always seems to happen with Jewish terrorists. The state and its institutions did not let them rot in jail, and it looked after them when they went free to seek their happiness again. Because back then, we were already highly moral, and the Earth saw.

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