With the 60th anniversary of the Kafr Kasim massacre just days away, local leaders opened a harrowing audiovisual exhibition on Tuesday to keep alive memories of the carnage and to back their demands for formal recognition by the state of its responsibility for the mass killings of Arab civilians.
“The panorama is so important so that coming generations won’t forget the massacre,” said Issa Salah, who as a 20-year-old knew many of the 48 people who were killed and who himself narrowly escaped death. “They should not forget so that it doesn’t happen again.”
On October 29, 1956, just before the campaign to conquer the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, border policemen killed the 48 who were returning to Kafr Kasim from work, unaware that a curfew had been imposed. The orders of the Border Police were to shoot anyone violating the curfew.
Twenty-three of the dead were children, aged eight to 17.
The troops who had participated in the killing were placed on trial, found guilty and sentenced to jail, but they were granted pardons. The brigade commander was sentenced to pay 10 prutot, old Israeli cents, as a symbolic fine.
Speakers at a news conference voiced bitterness that after all these years, the state still has not recognized its responsibility for the massacre.
“Sixty years have passed and the memory of the criminal massacre remains, and the wound in our heart does not heal,” said Kafr Kasim Mayor Adel Bader. “The state of Israel still shirks its responsibility.”
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One of the most poignant exhibits in the panorama depicts the border police commander telling Kafr Kasim’s mukhtar, or notable, that a curfew is being imposed. The mukhtar asks “what about those outside the town who won’t know?” Then a policeman is heard asking the commander “how do we deal with those who don’t know about the curfew?” The commander answers by invoking an Arabic blessing for the dead “Allah yirachmu.”
Then a loudspeaker blares “Close your doors, close your houses oh people of Kafr Kasim,” as the curfew begins.
Then at the next exhibit, a voice comes on saying “Israel decided to execute them. It was a massacre unprecedented in history.”
The sound of automatic weapons resound. The exhibit shows four bloodstained mock corpses around a bicycle. This blends into a mural showing border policemen shooting clusters of people as well as individuals. Two border policemen fire into an open truck filled with people, another fires at a small child and at his father, others fire at those already prone on the ground and bleeding.
The next exhibit shows how Arabs from the nearby village of Jaljulya were ordered to bury the victims in the local cemetery.
A truck loaded with corpses is depicted. “The people of Jaljulya could not control their grief over their neighbors,” a voice says, adding about those buried “their names are many, their death is one.”
The next exhibit shows Arab men seated eating at a large table, and relates how the military authorities sought to force residents to participate in a sulha, or reconciliation ceremony, in order to avoid its responsibility for the massacre.
“Most families didn’t go, those who did came from outside the town,” the exhibit says.
At the end of the panorama, after an exhibit about the trial of the border policemen, the viewer sees a huge mural of Kafr Kasim today, with a youth leading a crowd and holding up a flag that says “we will never forget.”
The audio was in Arabic, but organizers said there is also a Hebrew version.
Samer Badawi, a young man whose grandfather Ismail Badir was wounded during the massacre and survived by pretending he was dead, praised the exhibition as being “very important.”
“It tries by using all senses to give the experience before, during and after, so that everyone can feel what happened there and take a memory from it. In another 10 years there will be no survivors alive, so it is vital that the exhibit gives a palpable sense of what happened. I feel a responsibility to pass things on to the next generation.”
An Israeli government official, who asked for anonymity, declined to comment about the demand for recognition of responsibility for the massacre.
In 2007, then president Shimon Peres issued an apology for the massacre during a visit to the town. In 2014, President Reuven Rivlin came to Kafr Kasim to attend the memorial event for victims of the massacre, laid a wreath at the memorial and apologized, calling it a “terrible crime” that needs to be repaired.
But leaders stressed yesterday that this fell far short of the formal declaration by the cabinet of government responsibility that residents have been seeking for decades.
“Rivlin took a courageous step, but we want a government decision,” said Esawi Frej, a Meretz MK and resident of Kafr Kasim. “It needs to be a recognition of moral responsibility for the massacre,” he said, and to include provisions for reparations payments to families as well as a commitment to develop the town.
In Frej’s view, continued ignoring of this demand puts a “heavy cloud” over relations between Arabs and Jews.
“The same climate of hatred of Arabs that there was before the massacre is there today, perhaps in even stronger form,” he said. “We are still seen as fifth columnists.”
Frej is also demanding that both the Jewish and Arab school systems devote lessons to the massacre, so that Jewish students “will be exposed to the Arab narrative.”
Bader, the mayor, told The Jerusalem Post
that the past, present and future need to be addressed through the government taking responsibility for the massacre, and also improving life for residents. The town is discriminated against in funding compared to nearby Rosh Ha’ayin and Hod Hasharon, including in education, he charged.
Moreover, Bader said, some residents have faced demolitions of their homes for being built without permits, even though until recently the town lacked an approved master plan enabling them to build legally.
“Three years after the massacre, hundreds of dunams were expropriated that were turned into an industrial zone for Rosh Ha’ayin,” he said. “This should be returned and be an industrial zone for Kafr Kasim. That would be part of correcting a historic injustice.”
The main memorial ceremony for victims of the massacre is scheduled for Saturday.
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