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Kafr Qasim massacre

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Kafr Qasim massacre

Kafr Qasim massacre
Part of the Suez Crisis
Memorial at Kafr Qasim
Location Kafr Qasim, Israel
Date 29 October 1956
Target Arab villagers
Attack type
Deaths 48 to 49 (see text)
Perpetrators Israel Border Police

The Kafr Qasim massacre took place in the Israeli Arab village of Kafr Qasim situated on the Green Line, at that time, the de facto border between Israel and the Jordanian West Bank on October 29, 1956. It was carried out by the Israel Border Police (Magav), who murdered Arab civilians returning from work during a curfew, imposed earlier in the day, on the eve of the Sinai war, of which they were unaware. [1] In total 48 people died, including 6 women and 23 children aged 8–17. Arab sources usually give the death toll as 49, as they include the unborn child of one of the women.

The border policemen who were involved in the shooting were brought to trial and found guilty and sentenced to prison terms, but all received pardons and were released in a year.[2] The brigade commander was sentenced to pay the symbolic fine of 10 prutot (old Israeli cents).[3] The Israeli court found that the command to kill civilians was “blatantly illegal”.[4]

In December 2007, President of Israel Shimon Peres formally apologised for the massacre.[5]


Kafr Qasim memorial

On the first day of the Suez War, Israel's intelligence service expected Jordan to enter the war on Egypt's side.[6] Acting on this intelligence, soldiers were stationed along the Israeli-Jordanian frontier.

From 1949 to 1966, Arab citizens were regarded by Israel as a hostile population, and major Arab population centers were governed by military administrations divided into several districts. As such, several battalions of the Israel Border Police, under the command of Israel Defense Forces brigade commander Colonel Issachar Shadmi, were ordered to prepare the defense of a section close to the border officially known as the Central District, and colloquially as the Triangle. It contained seven villages close to the border, not far from Tel Aviv, where about 40,000 Israeli Arab citizens lived. It was regarded as a strategically weak point by Israel, and regularly patrolled by soldiers to halt infiltration of fedayeen and other Arabs across the border.


On October 29, 1956, the Israeli army ordered that all Arab villages near the Jordanian border be placed under a wartime curfew from 5 p.m. to 6 a.m. on the following day. Any Arab on the streets was to be shot. The order was given to border police units at 3:30 before most of the Arabs from the villages could be notified. Many of them were at work at the time. That morning, Shadmi, who was in charge of the Triangle, received orders to take all precautionary measures to ensure quiet on the Jordanian border. On Shadmi's initiative, the official nightly curfew in the twelve villages under his jurisdiction was changed from the regular hours. Shadmi then gathered all the border patrol battalion commanders under his command, and reportedly ordered them to 'shoot on sight' any villagers violating the curfew. Once the order was given, the commander of one of Shadmi's battalions, Major Shmuel Malinki, who was in charge of the Border Guard unit at the village of Kafr Qasim, asked Shadmi on how to react to those villagers who were unaware of the curfew.

Malinki later testified as follows:

'[Shadmi said] anyone who left his house would be shot. It would be best if on the first night there were 'a few like that' and on the following nights they would be more careful. I asked: in the light of that, I can understand that a guerilla is to be killed but what about the fate of the Arab civilians? And they may come back to the village in the evening from the valley, from settlements or from the fields, and won't know about the curfew in the village - I suppose I am to have sentries at the approaches to the village? To this Col. Issachar replied in crystal clear words, 'I don't want sentimentality and I don't want arrests, there will be no arrests'. I said: 'Even though?'. To that he answered me in Arabic, Allah Yarhamu, which I understood as equivalent to the Hebrew phrase, 'Blessed be the true judge' [said on receiving news of a person's death]'.

Shadmi, however, denied that the matter of the returnees ever came up in his conversation with Malinki.

Malinki issued a similar order to the reserve forces attached to his battalion, shortly before the curfew was enforced: "No inhabitants shall be allowed to leave his home during the curfew. Anyone leaving his home shall be shot; there shall be no arrests." (ibid., p. 141)

The new curfew regulations were imposed in the absence of the laborers, who were at work and ignorant of the new rules.[7] At 4.30 p.m., the mukhtar (mayor) of Kafr Qasim was informed of the new time. He asked what would happen to the about 400 villagers working outside the village in the fields that were not aware of the new time. An officer assured him that they would be taken care of. When word of the curfew change was sent, most returned immediately, but others did not.

Between 5 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., in nine separate shooting incidents, the platoon led by Lt. Gabriel Dahan that was stationed in Kafr Qasim all together killed nineteen men, six women, ten teenage boys (age 14-17), six girls (age 12-15), and seven young boys (age 8-13), who did not make it home before curfew. [1]. One survivor, Jamal Farij, recalls arriving at the entrance to the village in a truck with 28 passengers:-

'We talked to them. We asked if they wanted our identity cards. They didn't. Suddenly one of them said, 'Cut them down' - and they opened fire on us like a flood.'[8]

One Israeli soldier Shalom Ofer, later admitted:-'We acted like Germans, automatically, we didn't think', but never expressed remorse or regret for his actions.[9]

The many injured were left unattended, and could not be succoured by their families because of the 24-hour curfew. The dead were collected and buried in a mass grave by Arabs, taken for that purpose, from the nearby village of Jaljuliya. When the curfew ended, the wounded were picked up from the streets and trucked to hospitals.[10]

No villagers in other villages under Shadmi's control were shot, because local commanders gave direct orders to disobey Shadmi's and Malinki's orders by holding fire. Also, among the platoons stationed in Kafr Qasim itself, only the one led by Dahan actually opened fire.

Following events

News of the incident leaked out almost immediately. However, it took two months of lobbying by communist Knesset Members Tawfik Toubi and Meir Vilner, and members of the press, before the government lifted the media blackout imposed by David Ben-Gurion. Meanwhile, the government had started to conduct an internal inquiry, involving, among others, the Criminal Investigations Division of the military police.[11] To limit publicity, a military cordon was maintained around the village for months, preventing journalists from approaching (Robinson p. 400).

Following public protests, eleven Border Police officers and soldiers involved in the massacre were charged with murder. On October 16, 1958, eight of them were found guilty and sentenced to prison terms. Malinki received 17 and Dahan 15 years imprisonment. The court placed great emphasis on the fundamental responsibility of Shadmi, though the latter was not a defendant. Shadmi was subsequently charged as well, but his separate court hearing (February 29, 1959) found him innocent of murder and only guilty of extending the curfew without authority. His symbolic punishment, a fine of 10 prutot, i.e. a grush (one Israeli cent), became a standard metaphor in Israeli polemic debate. (Robinson, Lipmann, Bilsky). The fact that other local commanders realised they had to disobey Shadmi's order was cited by the court as one of the reasons for denying Dahan's claim that he had no choice. None of the officers served out the terms of their sentences.[12]

The court of appeal (April 3, 1959) reduced Malinki's sentence to 14 years and Dahan's to 10. The Chief of Staff further reduced them to 10 and 8 years, then the Israeli President Yitzhak Ben-Zvi pardoned many and reduced some sentences to 5 years each. Finally, the Committee for the Release of Prisoners ordered the remission of one third of the prison sentences, resulting in all the convicted persons being out of prison by November 1959. (Lipmann) Soon after his release, Malinki was promoted and put in charge of security for the top secret Negev Nuclear Research Center. In 1960, Dahan was placed in charge of "Arab Affairs" by the city of Ramla (Bilsky, p322).

Legal impact

The Kafr Qasim trial considered for the first time the issue of when Israeli security personnel are required to disobey illegal orders. The judges decided that soldiers do not have the obligation to examine each and every order in detail as to its legality, nor were they entitled to disobey orders merely on a subjective feeling that they might be illegal. On the other hand, some orders were manifestly illegal, and these must be disobeyed. Judge Benjamin Halevy's words, still much-quoted today, were that "The distinguishing mark of a manifestly illegal order is that above such an order should fly, like a black flag, a warning saying: 'Prohibited!'." (Lippman, Bilsky)

The incident was partly responsible for gradual changes in Israel's policy toward Arab citizens of Israel. By 1966, the military administration was abolished.


On November 20, 1957, 400 distinguished guests and representatives from different sectors of Israeli society, including Knesset members, cabinet ministers, members from the then ruling Mapai party, national trade union officials, and notable members from neighboring Arab villages, held a reconciliation ceremony in memory of the victims at Kafr Qasim. The ceremony was designed as a "sulha",[13] explicitly referring to a Bedouin clan-based conflict resolution custom.[14] The government subsequently distributed reparations to the family of the victims. At that time, the mainstream press (such as JTA or Histadrut owned Davar) gives a favorable account of the ceremony,[15] unlike the Arabic-language press (such as al-Ittihad and al-Mirsad, sponsored by MAPAM and MAKI parties) who denounced it as a fraud.[16] In a 2006 academic article focusing on the massacre's commemoration, Shira Robinson[17] considers the sulha as a "charade" which villagers were highly pressurized to participate in, designed to position the conflict "within a contrived history of symmetrical violence between Arabs and Jews," staged by the government for the purpose of escaping its responsibilities and lightening the weight of the court's verdict, making the ceremony itself "part of the crime that Palestinians commemorate today."[18] In a 2008 academic article, Professor Susan Slyomovics[19] corroborates this perspective on a ceremony "forced upon the villagers." In this paper, Slyomovics notably relies upon Ibrahim Sarsur's testimony, which concluded: "Until today in Kafr Qasim, there is no one who agrees with the manner of treatment of the government of Israel concerning the massacre and its consequences."[20]

In October 2006, Islamic Movement in Israel, Sheikh Abdullah Nimr Darwish, also spoke at the ceremony and called on religious leaders on both sides to build bridges between the Israelis and the Palestinians.[5]

The townspeople of Kafr Qasim annually observe the massacre and several memorial monuments have been raised since 1976. According to Tamir Sorek, the Israeli government financially supported the first monument in 1976 in order to ensure sanitized non-political language. Therefore, the inscription on the first monument describes the massacre merely as a “painful tragedy” without mentioning who was responsible for it.[21] Later expressions of spatial commemoration have been much more explicit about this aspect. A museum dealing with the events was opened on October 29, 2006.[10][22]

On 26 October 2014 Reuven Rivlin, keeping an electoral promise, became the first sitting President of Israel to attend the annual commemorations for the fallen at Kfar Qasim. He called it an 'atrocious massacre', 'a terrible crime' that weighed heavily on the collective conscience of the state of Israel.[23][24][12]

Operation Hafarferet

Approximately 1/3 of the court hearings were held in secret, and the transcript has never been published. According to journalist Rubik Rosenthal, the court received descriptions of a secret plan called Operation Hafarperet ("mole") to expel the Arabs of the Little Triangle in case of a war with Jordan. However, Rosenthal found no evidence that the killings were part of the plan or in any way pre-planned.

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ Ronnie May Olesker, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy (Tufts University). International Law and Organization. The value of security vs. the security of values: The relationship between the rights of the minority and the security of the majority in Israel. 2007. p. 318.
  5. ^ a b President Peres apologizes for Kafr Qasem massacre of 1956 Haaretz, 21 December 2007
  6. ^ Benny Morris, Righteous Victims, p.289
  7. ^ Idith Zertal, Israel's Holocaust and the Politics of Nationhood, Cambridge University Press, 2005 p.172
  8. ^ Yoav Stern: 50 years after massacre, Kafr Qasem wants answers (Ha'aretz, 30 October 2006)
  9. ^ Idith Zertal, Israel's Holocaust and the Politics of Nationhood,p.172.
  10. ^ a b Kafr Qasem Memorial Exhibition 1956
  11. ^
  12. ^ a b 'Rivlin condemns ‘terrible crime’ of Kfar Kassem massacre,' The Times of Israel 26 October 2014.
  13. ^ Robinson 2006.
  14. ^ Sulha Research Center's website
  15. ^ See for example: , , or
  16. ^ Robinson 2006, p. 103.
  17. ^ Shira Robinson is Assistant Professor of History and International Affairs at Georgetown University : [2]
  18. ^ Robinson 2006, p. 114-115.
  19. ^ Susan Slyomovics is Professor of Anthropology and Near Eastern Languages & Cultures at UCLA. [3][4]
  20. ^ Slyomovics & Khleif 2008, p. 197.
  21. ^ , p. 90-91
  22. ^
  23. ^ ',' Ynet 26 October 2014]
  24. ^ Barak Ravid, Jack Khoury,'Rivlin remembers 1956 Kafr Qasem massacre: A terrible crime was committed,' Haaretz 26 October 2014.
  • Shira Robinson, Local struggle, national struggle: Palestinian responses to the Kafr Qasim massacre and its aftermath, 1956–66, International Journal of Middle East Studies, vol 35 (2003), 393–416.
  • Tom Segev, The Seventh Million, Owl Books, 2000, ISBN 0-8050-6660-8, pp298–302.
  • Leora Y. Bilsky, Transformative Justice : Israeli Identity on Trial (Law, Meaning, and Violence), University of Michigan Press, 2004, ISBN 0-472-03037-X, pp169–197, 310-324.
  • Sabri Jiryis, The Arabs in Israel, Monthly Review Press, 1977, ISBN 0-85345-406-X.
  • M. R. Lippman, Humanitarian Law: The Development and Scope of the Superior Orders Defense, Penn State International Law Review, Fall 2001.
  • Israel Military Court of Appeal, judgment (translated), Palestine Yearbook of International Law, Vol II, 1985, 69-118.

External links

  • Kufur-Kassem home page (Arabic)
  • Yoav Stern: 50 years after massacre, Kafr Qasem wants answers (Ha'aretz, 30 October 2006)
  • Rami Issa:kafr-qassem massacre
  • Rami Issa:Kafr-qassem official Home page
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