“The police searched among the bodies and, if they discovered that someone was still alive, killed him or her by shooting again. In some cases, the police stomped on the heads of the dead and sunk they bayonets in the bodies of the women.”
The Kafr Qasem massacre: Palestinians deserve more than an annual commemoration
On October 29 1956, under cover of the Suez crisis, Israel embarked upon yet another round of ethnic cleansing of Palestinian civilians as part of the ongoing Nakba which started in 1948. A curfew was imposed on eight Palestinian villages starting at 5pm. Israeli troops were ordered to shoot anyone outside curfew hours.
The curfew was communicated to Kafr Qasem a mere half hour before it came into effect; in other words, it was premeditated murder. Palestinians returning home from work outside the village, unaware of the curfew, were ambushed by Israeli soldiers, lined up, and shot. In all, 48 Palestinians were murdered, among them 13 women, one of whom was pregnant. The next day, Palestinians from a nearby village were forced to dig graves to bury the victims without proper burial rites.
Covering up the Kafr Qasem massacres was a priority for Israel. It imposed a media ban which was defied by Tawfiq Toubi from the Communist Party, when he found a way to distribute press releases in Arabic, English and Hebrew. The international community learned of the massacre 25 days after it happened.
A year after the massacre, Israel attempted to impose a “Day of Reconciliation” to intensify the oblivion. Kafr Qasem commemorates the massacre with an annual march on each anniversary, calling for Israel’s recognition and accountability for the killings; a demand which, of course, remains unheeded.
In terms of recognition, the Kafr Qasem massacre does not attract attention as much as other massacres such as Deir Yassin. However, remembrance is important both in terms of this particular event, as well as Israel’s tactics of ethnic cleansing and memory erasure.
Toubi’s press release, produced in full in Samia Halaby’s book, Drawing the Kafr Qasem Massacre (Schilt Publishing, 2017), is based upon his interviews with residents and witnesses of Kafr Qasem. Among the documented atrocities and the dehumanisation of Palestinians, the press release states:
During these operations, the police searched among the bodies and, if they discovered that someone was still alive, killed him or her by shooting again. In some cases, the police stomped on the heads of the dead and sunk they bayonets in the bodies of the women.”
Israel prepared its fabrication of this massacre by juxtaposing the atrocities against a purported war. Salman Abu Sitta links the massacre of Kafr Qasem to Israel’s plans for land grab since 1949, while ridding the land of its Palestinian inhabitants. The perpetrators of the massacres were shielded by impunity in Israeli courts while Colonel Issachar Shadmi, who gave the curfew orders and instructions for the massacre, was cleared of murder and charged only with neglect in procedural duties.
Kafr Qasem is proof that Israel continued with its policy of ethnic cleansing and massacres as in the 1948 Nakba. Israel has often justified the earlier atrocities before the establishment of the state as not falling under state responsibility, despite the fact that the perpetrators from the paramilitary groups carrying out the massacres were incorporated into the Israeli Defence Forces.
With Kafr Qasem, however, there could be no reliance upon the earlier narrative while adopting the same tactics. Yet Palestinian memory was silenced through other means. The diversion provided by the Suez attack, as well as the international community approval of Israel’s existence and its allegiances to the colonial state, paved the way for the initial normalisation of Israel’s colonial violence. Kafr Qasem’s relegation to an annual remembrance is an affront to Palestinian memory. In doing so, the residents are being deprived of their right to share in the Palestinian people’s collective history and memory.