PARTICIPANTS STAND for a moment of silence at the Kafr Kasim massacre memorial conference held in that city on Sunday. (Yossi Zelinger).
(photo credit: YOSSI ZELINGER)
“It’s not the traffic that keeps us away, it’s the fear,” said one Jewish participant from Tel Aviv at a conference in Kafr Kasim on Sunday, marking 60 years since the Kafr Kasim massacre in which 49 Arab civilians were killed by Border Police. “I asked a few friends to come and they all said no, they said that it is dangerous in Kafr Kasim,” she remarked.
The conference, hosted by the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI), assembled Israeli-Arab community leaders to assess the state of Israel’s relationship with its Arab citizens.However, it quickly became apparent that 60-year-old wounds are still fresh in Kafr Kasim. Residents here not only deride the state for not accepting formal responsibility in the massacre, but also say they feel rejected by the current government; often pointing to Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman’s proposal for “transferring” Israeli-Arab cities and towns like Kafr Kasim to a future Palestinian State.
“For my regret if we are talking about real changes we are talking about deterioration rather than changes for a better situation,” Joint List MK Aida Touma-Slima told The Jerusalem Post
on Sunday. “The fact that there are those who are calling for transfer of the Arab population sitting in the government, and are ministers in a very important ministries, shows that the situation only deteriorated,” she said, adding that the only path forward with the current government is “to make it fall and go home.”
Thousands donned black shirts the day before the conference for Saturday’s annual memorial march through the city. The 60th anniversary commemoration was the largest in recent memory and drew an unprecedented amount of Israeli media attention.
At the procession, participants demanded formal state recognition and a state apology for what was done. “Israel must recognize the massacre,” marchers shouted.
At the conference on Sunday former Shin Bet chief Ami Ayalon offered an apology for the massacre. “The ‘Mark of Cain’ will only be erased when all of us will tell and teach his children about it. The route must pass from the language of guilt to the language of responsibility,” Ayalon said, “We must not erase the identity of the other – the minority. It’s time that Israeli society will move together from a melting pot to a mosaic that gives expression to all its parts.”
The presence of a former head of Shin Bet at the conference was important to some of the attendees. “I was surprised to see him,” said one resident of Kafr Kasim. “When Arabs hear ‘Shin Bet’ they feel fear.”
Ayalon’s apology notwithstanding, the goal of most Kafr Kasim residents remains official state recognition. “We maintain the hope that the state will recognize and take responsibility for the massacre with all that implies. Even if it will take another 100 years,” Meretz MK Issawi Frej, whose grandfather was killed in the massacre, said on Sunday.
Successive Israeli governments have condemned the massacre, yet fallen short of accepting responsibility for the death of the 19 men, 6 women, 23 children under the age of 18 and the unborn child of one woman who was pregnant at the time. In 2007, then-president Shimon Peres issued an apology for the massacre during a visit to the town, while President Reuven Rivlin, who was the first Israeli president to attend the memorial service in 2014 called the massacre a “terrible crime.”
The Netanyahu government has resisted pressure to recognize the massacre. However, under Netanyahu a 5-year NIS 15 billion plan to develop Israeli-Arab and other minority communities was approved. The development plan faces political hurdles and complex bureaucracy which may prevent a full allocation of the allotted funds.
There are also government- funded programs to recruit Israeli-Arabs into the booming hi-tech sector and to increase Arab representation among the police ranks.
Touma-Sliman regards the government’s economic outreach to Israeli-Arabs as a sleight of hand designed to deflect the conversation away from civil rights. “This government is thinking that by leading slight economical changes in our society, that will make our society forget its identity and its history. This is not a bargaining situation. We are going to insist on our collective rights and citizens’ rights,” Touma-Sliman told the Post
Touma-Sliman’s 13-member Joint List is also faced with arguably the highest level of political isolation in its nascent history. MKs from the Likud-led coalition are planning to walk out of Joint List members’ plenary speeches this week in response to the Joint List boycott of former president Shimon Peres’s funeral. The boycott of one of Israel’s founding fathers, and a highly popular statesmen, caused wide-spread outrage among the Jewish public. Touma- Sliman called the coalition walkout “incitement.”
IDI President Yohanan Plesner said that after 60 years, Jewish-Arab relations are still the greatest source of tension in Israeli society. That reality argues in favor of fundamental disagreements over the narrative and definition of the Israeli state as being the cause of ongoing, significant barriers to Jewish-Arab partnership.
While major barriers to reconciliation were acknowledged, there is no clear solution to the brewing tensions of Arab-Jewish relations. Kafr Kasim Mayor Adel Badir said that the key is education.
“It is our duty to teach our sons our history because it is the key to the present and the future. We educate our children not to hate and not to take revenge but to love and accept the differences,” he said, “I hope that the Jews will educate their children in the same way.”