The Kafr Qassem law was rejected in the Knesset plenum on Wednesday by a huge majority of 93 against, 12 in favor. Members of the Arab coalition partner Ra’am voted in favor of the law, contrary to coalition discipline. Meretz members went out during the vote, except for MKs Jida Rinawi Zoabi and Ali Sallah, who voted in favor of the law.
Yet on Friday President Isaac Herzog was planning to speak at the annual memorial for the 1956 “Kafr Qassem massacre,” according to his spokesperson.
President Reuven Rivlin attended in 2014 and condemned the “massacre.”
The Kafr Qassem episode took place on the eve of the Sinai operation, October 29, 1956, in the Israeli Arab village of Kafr Qassem on the Green Line border between Israel and the Jordanian-governed “West Bank.” It was carried out by the Israel Border Police, who killed Arab civilians who were returning from work during a curfew of which they were unaware. The curfew had been imposed earlier in the day, ahead of the planned operation against Egypt, in anticipation of a Jordanian attack.
48 people died, of whom 19 were men, 6 women, and 23 children. 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. The brigade commander was sentenced to pay the symbolic fine equivalent to 10 cents. The Israeli court found that the command to kill civilians was “blatantly illegal.”
In December 2007, President Shimon Peres formally apologized for Kafr Qassem.
To say that the vote on the Kafr Qassem law on Wednesday was tumultuous would be an understatement. Minister Issawi Frej(Meretz), who is a native of Kafr Qassem himself, attacked the members of the Joint Arab List who submitted the bill and said: “Shame on you, looking to make political gains on pain.” He added: “For 73 years you have been trading in the feelings of the Arabs.”
Knesset Speaker Miki Levy ordered Frej off the podium as the minister was shouting at his Arab opponents in the Knesset: “Hypocrites, you should be ashamed of yourselves.”
MK Aida Touma-Suleiman, who authored the bill, replied: “He sits in the government of change and must fill his mouth with water when it comes to the massacre of his own people. The pain is probably unbearable, to sit in a government that crushes you and your history.”
Issawi Frej said on Thursday that he had approached MK Touma-Suleiman two hours before the Knesset debate, and “I asked that we transfer the matter to the Education Committee, and at the same time I would sit down with the ministers and advance a decision-makers proposal that the government can live with. I would have caused the issue to remain on the agenda. She did not agree and wanted to embarrass me,” Frej told Reshet Bet radio, adding, “I am very sorry that instead of everyone being united on this issue – this happened.”
Finally, here is the text of the initial bill to commemorate the memory of the victims of the massacre in Kafr Qassem, 5777-2016, which was re-submitted by the Joint Arab List this week:
1. Moral recognition of the massacre in Kafr Qassem
The Government of Israel recognizes its moral, political, and social responsibility for the massacre in Kafr Qassem that took place on the 24th day of Cheshvan 5717 (October 29, 1956), by the security forces, and to the families of its victims.
2. Homeroom hour in the schools
The Education Ministry, in the curricula, will require the dedication of a homeroom hour on or near the date stated in section 1, to mark the massacre and to draw lessons from it, in all the schools in the country.
The State Treasury will budget for the Association to Commemorate the Victims of the Massacre in Kafr Qassem so that it can bring the lessons of the massacre in Kafr Qassem to the attention of the general public.
I wrote on Monday (While Cabinet Approves Plan to Curb Arab Sector Murders, Arab Politicians Demand Promotion of their Narrative) that the loaded word “massacre” brings to mind angry pogromists with their pitchforks and torches, but what took place in Kafr Qassem was a mistake, committed by misled troops.
Turns out that 93 MKs felt the same way.
At a time when the two conflicting narratives, the Jewish and the Arab, are clashing as they’ve never clashed before inside Israel, it would have been nice if our President (he’s Jewish) would not dance the ma yafita before Arab society. Two presidents have already done it (although the late Shimon Peres only apologized, he didn’t attend the commemoration), they know we’re sorry, they know it wasn’t a matter of policy to kill those Arab civilians, it was a panicky eruption, the result of miscommunication.
Incidentally, speaking of massacres, Israel does not have a special annual commemoration of a real massacre, planned and carried out in Hebron by an Arab mob on August 24, 1929. It is mentioned as part of the Israel Memorial Day, on the eve of Independence Day. Also, On August 5, 2009, the Ministerial Committee on Symbols and Ceremonies decided that every decade, on the year that ends with a 9, the Hebron massacre would be commemorated in a state ceremony. That’s it. No special home room sessions, and no apology from any living Arab for the massacre. And those despicable murderers killed and desecrated the bodies of 67 peaceful Jews with no mitigating circumstances, only because they hate us.
Will President Herzog go visit Hebron? This Friday would actually be a very good time, seeing as it’s Parshat Chayei Sarah.