Reuven Rivlin at ceremony for new road dedicated to Shamir.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Despite the escalation of violence in the Arab sector of Jerusalem and attempts by security personnel and certain right-wingers to dissuade him from visiting Kafr Kasim today, President Reuven Rivlin remains resolute about keeping his word to visit the Arab city in the center of the country as a gesture of reconciliation.
On October 29, 1956, the first day of the Sinai Campaign, Kafr Kasim was the scene of a massacre by Israeli border policemen.
Like many Arab towns and villages at the time, it was governed by a military administration.
Battalions of Border Police were deployed in the area for fear of infiltration by terrorist fedayeen that might attack nearby Tel Aviv.
A curfew was placed on all the villages in the area on October 29, with orders that anyone on the streets between 5 p.m. and 6 a.m. the following morning was to be shot.
The Border Police received the order at 3:30 p.m., but most of Arab residents were unaware of it.
Many Arabs were at work in the fields and elsewhere, and it was therefore impossible to give them advance warning.
Col. Issachar Shadmi, who was the commander of the forces in the area, issued the order that anyone seen breaking the curfew was to be shot on sight.
Maj. Shmuel Malinki, who was in charge of the Border Police unit in Kafr Kasim, demurred, saying that some villagers would not know on the first night that a curfew had been imposed.
But Shadmi was adamant, and warned that this was not a time for sentiment. He made it clear that there would be no arrests – no leniency.
The order was shoot to kill.
The upshot was a massacre in which 49 men, women, and children, plus an unborn baby, were killed. Many more were wounded and could not be treated because their families could not leave their homes during the curfew.
At the time, censorship of the media was much stricter than it is now. The massacre was not reported in the press, but word leaked out nonetheless and reached the public, some of whose members called for the perpetrators to be brought to be brought to justice.
Eventually 11 Border Police officers were charged with murder, and eight were convicted, but Shadmi was not one of them. He was separately charged with needlessly extending the curfew, and was fined a symbolic 10 agorot.
Malinki, on the other hand, was sentenced to 17 years in prison and others to slightly less, but the sentences were reduced again and again and all the men involved were eventually pardoned three years after the massacre.
In November 1957, some 400 people – including cabinet ministers, Knesset members, trade union officials, and Arab notables from Kafr Kasim and the area – held a reconciliation gathering, which some people, both Arabs and Jews, regarded as a farce, but it did give public acknowledgment of the fact that a crime had been committed.
Over the years various ministers apologized to the people of Kafr Kasim and asked for forgiveness, while Yuli Tamir, when minister of education, insisted that study of the massacre in Kafr Kasim be part of the school curriculum.
In December 2007, then-president Shimon Peres visited Kafr Kassem to bring Id al-Adha greetings to the residents, and while there once more apologized for the Kafr Kasim massacre.
Sheikh Abdullah Nimr Darwish, the founder of the Islamic Movement in Israel, also spoke during the visit and urged religious leaders on both sides to come together to build bridges of understanding.
Prior to his election, Rivlin pledged that he would visit the city if he won the race. Today he is to visit the museum that was created in memory of the victims of the massacre and will later make a statement at the local community center.