In a word, this is how an Israeli officer ordered his soldiers to kill Palestinians in Kafr Qassem 65 years ago

Friday, October 29, 2021, will mark the 65th anniversary of the Kafr Qasim massacre in Palestine, which was committed by the Israeli “Border Guard” forces, which resulted in the death of 51 residents of the town, including children, women and the elderly.

The “Kafr Qassem massacre” in 1956 was only one of the many massacres carried out by the Israeli occupation in Palestine over the years, but it gained a special dimension because it coincided with the incident of the tripartite aggression against Egypt.

An episode in the series of Israeli massacres

Specialists in Palestinian history say that the Kafr Qassem massacre was carried out as part of a plan aimed at deporting the Palestinians of the “Border Triangle” area (between 1948 Palestine and the West Bank, which was then part of Jordan), in which the town of Kafr Qasem is located, by intimidating its residents similar to the Deir Yassin massacre and massacres other.

They assert that Israel – which could not tolerate the large number of Arab residents of this area – killed in cold blood during 1949-1956 of the Palestinians 3,000, most of whom tried to return after their displacement to neighboring countries, and these massacres were carried out by a special unit led by Ariel Sharon known as “101 “.

In this atmosphere of killing and the dominance of the mindset of massacres in Israel came the Kafr Qassem massacre, before which Israel carried out 3 massacres, the first on September 11, 1956, when it killed 20 Jordanian soldiers in an attack on their camp, then it killed 39 Palestinians in the village of Husan in the Bethlehem district, and 88 others in Qalqilya in the same month.

Although these massacres – and their counterparts from those that preceded or followed them – were close in ugliness to the Kafr Qassem massacre or were superior to it in impact, the political context in which the latter took place gave it a greater dimension, because it coincided with the first days of the tripartite aggression launched by Britain, France and Israel against Egypt, after it was announced Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal.

The Israeli occupation forces called “Border Guards” took advantage of the world’s preoccupation with the Suez War to carry out this heinous massacre, and when implementing it, the Israeli forces surrounded the town from three sides, while keeping the eastern side towards the West Bank open, reflecting the occupation’s determination to displace its residents.

Curfew and shooting in cold blood

The massacre began when the leadership of the Israeli occupation army gave an order to impose a curfew on the Arab villages in the “border triangle” that extends from Umm al-Fahm in the north to Kafr Qassem in the south, starting from five in the evening on October 29, 1956, until six in the morning the next day.

The decision was firm, as it was accompanied by a security decision authorizing the soldiers to shoot and kill anyone who wanders after the curfew took effect – not his arrest – even if he was outside his home at the moment the curfew was announced, because the army command was saying, “It does not want to deal with the population with emotions.”

Forces from the occupation army were distributed over the Palestinian villages in the triangle (among them Kafr Qassem, Kafr Barra, Al-Tira, Jaljulia, Al-Taybeh, and Qalansuwa), and they were led at the time by Major Shmuel Milinki, who receives orders directly from the commander of the army battalion on the border, Lieutenant-Colonel Ischar Shadmi.

A group of soldiers headed to the town of Kafr Qassem and was divided into 4 teams so that one of them remained at the western entrance to the town. Its commander, officer Yehuda Zeczynski, informed the “Mukhtar” of the town at that time Wadih Ahmed Sarsour of the curfew and asked him to inform the residents of his commitment, starting at five o’clock.

Sarsour told the officer Zczynski that there were 400 people working outside the village and had not yet returned, so he promised him that they would pass safely upon their return and that no one would harm them.

However, that evening marked a pivotal stage in the history of Kafr Qassem and the Palestinian people in general. At five in the evening, the sound of heavy gunfire resounded inside the town, deafening the ears of most of its residents, after the soldiers opened fire on a group of people who were returning from their agricultural fields in the evening to their town, killing them. 49 people were injured and dozens were seriously injured, under the pretext of violating a curfew, they did not know about his sudden announcement.

A monument in Kafr Qassem contains the names of the martyrs of the massacre in which elderly men, children and women were killed (Al-Jazeera)

Among the dead in the Kafr Qassem massacre were elderly people, 23 children between the ages of 8-17, and 13 women. The population of Kafr Qassem at that time did not exceed two thousand people. At the western entrance to the town alone, 43 martyrs were killed.

List of killers who carried out the massacre

The massacre was linked to the names of a number of Israeli soldiers, such as the officer Ischar Shadmi, who summoned Shmuel Milinki and informed him of the decision to assign him the task of guarding the borders and imposing a curfew in villages, including Kafr Qassem, and then gave instructions to commit the massacre.

The Israeli government, headed by David Ben-Gurion, tried to hide the truth of the Kafr Qassem massacre, as the first news about it was published in the newspapers a week after it occurred, on November 6, and the details of it were prevented by the government from reaching public opinion until December 17, 1956.

But the two communist MPs, Tawfiq Tobi and Mayer Flehner, were able to uncover the circumstances of the incident after they infiltrated the town to investigate directly the facts from the witnesses and the injured, prepare documents to be submitted to the Israeli Knesset, and send documents related to the incident to the media, foreign embassies and all Knesset members (Parliament).

Their efforts forced the government to form a fact-finding committee and launch an investigation that resulted in the prosecution of those whom the Israeli government considered direct responsibility for the massacre. A sham trial was held for them, in which officer Shmuel Milinki was sentenced to 17 years in prison, Gabriel Dahan and Shalom Ofer to 15 years in prison, and the other soldiers Imprisonment for 8 years.

One Penny Killer Punishment

As for the commander of the border guards, Lt. Col. Shadmi – who gave the orders to kill – he was acquitted of committing the crime and was fined one penny, and he said – in an interview with the Israeli newspaper Haaretz – that he carried out “higher orders” when he ordered his soldiers to kill civilians, saying: “Harze them.”

Then, the sentences issued against the perpetrators of the crime were changed, and after appeal, they were reduced to 14 years for Mlinki, 10 years for Dahan, and 9 years for Ofer. Then it was reduced again towards its final abolition, as the President of the State intervened and reduced the sentences to 5 years for each of Milinki, Ofer and Dahan. The last of them was released in early 1960.

Despite the passage of tens of years since the Kafr Qassem massacre, the town – as well as the cities and villages of the Palestinian interior in general – continues to witness annually in conjunction with the anniversary of the massacre wide activities to commemorate it. And it ends with a visit to the cemetery of the martyrs to read Al-Fatihah for their souls.

Commemoration of the “Panorama of the Martyrs”

On the anniversary, the Palestinians organize political and artistic festivals and educational events for which they are known.

1974: The Lebanese director Burhan Alawia excelled in communicating many of the details of the massacre to the new generations through his film “Kafr Qassem”, which sheds light on the suffering of the people of Kafr Qassem and the Palestinian interior during the military rule that lasted for more than 18 years.

1976: The Palestinian writer Emile Habibi documented the massacre in his book “Kafr Qassem the Political Massacre”.

2006: A museum was established in the town to introduce the martyrs of the incident.

2007: Under pressure from the efforts of the Arab parties in the Israeli Knesset to push the Israeli government to recognize its primary responsibility, former Israeli President Shimon Peres – during his visit to Kafr Qassem – offered an apology for the massacre.

2014: His successor, President Reuven Rivlin, participated in the memorial ceremonies for its victims, making him the first Israeli president to participate in its ceremonies.

Rivlin described what happened as a “heinous crime” whose repercussions must be addressed. However, he did not apologize for it, saying that the apology of his predecessor Peres was “enough”. “I came here today as a member of the Jewish people and as the president of the State of Israel, to stand before the families of the victims and the injured, to feel the pain of memory with you,” he said.

“The despicable murder in your village of Kafr Qasem is an exceptional and dark chapter in the history of relations between the Arabs and the Jews who live here,” Rivlin added. He considered that “Israel recognized the crime committed here rightly and justly, and apologized for it… I also repeat that here today and say: I committed a cruel crime here.”

Despite this, the people of Kafr Qassem still want a stronger apology, accompanied by the government’s assumption of the primary responsibility for what happened in their town and their families.

2016: The People’s Committee to Commemorate the 60th Anniversary of the Massacre completed a qualitative documentation project that simulates the events of the massacre, which was called the “Panorama of the Martyrs”, and specialists, engineers and experts participated in its implementation.

A special page was also launched on social networks under the name “The 60th Anniversary of the Kafr Qassem Massacre – Official Page”, in memory of the martyrs and to publish accurate information about the massacre and its details.

February 2017: More than 6 decades after its occurrence, the Palestinian artist Samia Halaby revived the tragedy in the “Documentary Drawings” exhibition at Birzeit University Museum in the West Bank.

The exhibition, which lasted for 3 months, included about 16 paintings, some painted with charcoal and others with wax pens, and documented the last moments before the massacre, as the artist focused on the features of the martyrs and their steps towards their killer before they were shot, as in the painting of the four quarry workers.

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