Jerusalem24 – Newly declassified documents reveal that the 1956 Kafr Qassem massacre of Palestinian men, women and children was intentional and even “desirable” in the eyes of Israeli commanders involved.
It was thought that casualties would encourage Palestinians to leave the area known as the “Triangle” for Jordan or other areas of Israel.
The Israeli Defense Ministry published the declassified documents on Friday, which include transcripts, minutes and testimonies from the trial of the men who committed the massacre, as well as details of plans to transfer the Palestinian population from the Triangle to Jordan. The official plans themselves – codenamed “Hafaperet” (“Mole”) – remain classified.
The Israeli Military Court of Appeals ruled on 31 May that hundreds of pages of classified documents related to the massacre must be released, after a nearly five-year-long legal process spearheaded by Akevot, the Institute for Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Research.
No distinguishing between children and adults
Kafr Qassem is a Palestinian village that was taken by Israel after the Nakba in 1948. Because it is situated on the Green Line – at that time, the de facto border between Israel and the Jordanian West Bank – the villagers came under constant pressure by Israeli forces to leave their homes.
The massacre took place on 29 October 1956. It was carried out by the Israeli border police (“Magav”), who shot Palestinian civilians as they returned home during a curfew imposed earlier in the day on the eve of the Sinai war. A total of 50 people were killed, including six women (one of whom was pregnant) and 23 children aged 8 to 17.
The border policemen involved were brought to trial in the late 1950s and found guilty. They were sentenced to lengthy prison terms, but all received pardons and were released within a year. The brigade commander was made to pay a symbolic fine of 10 Prutot (old Israeli cents).
According to the transcripts released, the border police and their commanding officers knew the villagers were unaware of the newly-imposed curfew when they returned to the village in the evening after working.
Commander of the border police’s southern company Chaim Levy was asked during the trial: “Doesn’t your reason tell you that ‘violating a curfew’ means by someone who knows that there is a curfew?” Levy replied in the affirmative.
He was later asked: “How can you say that someone told you to kill people who don’t know that there is a curfew?” To which he replied: “Because I was given such an order… Today I find this unreasonable. At the time, I thought it was reasonable.”
The border policemen were also given instructions not to distinguish between adults and children, and were told that “the same goes for them as anyone else.”
“Desirable” casualties and a “voluntary” population transfer
The transcripts reveal that Colonel Issachar “Yiska” Shadmi, who oversaw operations in Kafr Qassem, said “it is desirable that there be some fatalities,” as quoted by Levy.
According to the soldiers, it was understood the overall goal was to frighten to remaining population into acting “like innocent sheep.”
A soldier testified that he responded to a request be a major general to “have a few casualties” by saying: “It would be best to knock out a few people… so that in the future there would be quiet, and we would not need to have this much manpower overseeing these villages.”
Another soldier said: “The immediate goal is to keep them in their houses, and the second goal is to not need to intimidate them in the future, as well as to require less manpower because they will eventually be like innocent sheep.”
Another goal hinted at in the testimonies, understood to be a reference to the “Mole” plan to transfer the Palestinian population out of the Triangle, was to terrify the residents into fleeing.
“There was a tendency to leave a few dead in each village so that tomorrow the borders would be opened and the Arabs would divide into two: those who escape through the border; and those who remain and will be like innocent sheep and not do anything,” said one soldier.
Reckoning with history
The military prosecution fought for five years to keep the documents classified, on the grounds that their release would “almost certainly” harm the country’s security and foreign relations or even result in harm to human life.
The Israeli government has never publicly or officially admitted that the massacre took place.
In October 2021, a Joint List bill to have the massacre officially recognized was turned down in the Knesset.
Joint List legislator Aida Touma-Suleiman said on Friday: “Today what we said from the first day was revealed: the shocking massacre in Kfar Kassem in 1956 was a deliberate murder, part of a plan to deport the residents of the Triangle.”
“The published protocols prove that Israel not only murdered 50 Arab citizens in cold blood but also planned the ‘establishment of pens’ and the ‘transfer of the people,’ not only in 1948 but also under the military regime in the 1950s.”
However, a Haaretz editorial published on 1 August notes that following the documents’ release, “aside from a few tweets by Arab Knesset members, no earthquake occurred.”
“A curse and a blessing”
Esawi Freige, a Kafr Qassem resident who “grew up in the shadow of the massacre”, recalls his parents’ and the villagers’ collective trauma in an opinion piece penned for Haaretz, as well as the feeling of vindication the release of the documents has brought about.
“The release of the transcripts in full does bring us closer to the truth – the fact that the murders had not been the result of a mistaken understanding of the orders from above but rather part of a broad plan originating at the political level.”
“The central position of Kafr Qasem is a both a kind of curse and a blessing – bringing about the massacre and now also bringing about the flourishing of the village.”
“Now we can concentrate on the blessing and begin the work of healing the wounds from the curse.”