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Kafr Qassem: The long road to accountability

Jerusalem24 – The 1956 Kafr Qassem massacre claimed the lives of 50 Palestinian men, women, and children aged 8 to 17. Israeli border police forces, under direct orders from commanding officers and following a policy set by the higher rungs of Israeli government at that time, gunned down Palestinian civilians as they returned home during a newly-imposed curfew of which they were unaware.

Newly-declassified documents, released last Friday by the Israeli Defense Ministry after a five-year-long court battle resulted in a court order forcing publication, reveal a deliberate intent on the part of Israeli authorities to encourage a population transfer by “having a few casualties” to sow an atmosphere of fear.

Each year, the Joint List submits a bill to the Knesset to have the massacre officially recognized in Israeli law. The latest bill was voted down at the end of 2021.

Aida Touma-Souleiman, a Palestinian with Israeli citizenship who has been a member of the Knesset for the Joint List since 2015, tells Jerusalem24 about the significance of the release of the declassified documents – both for Palestinian and Israeli society – and what she foresees and hopes for in the future.

Below is a partial transcript of the interview.

On the reason the documents have been declassified, despite military opposition:

I think the fact that those who submitted the appeal to the court [Israeli NGO Akevot] insisted and continued the struggle, and recontinued that struggle for so many years. They [Israeli state] couldn’t continue to ignore and claim such false claims that the documents might harm international affairs. What really should harm the image of Israel is committing the massacre itself. […]

Not all the files were revealed by the court order. […] The documents that are tied to the political plan behind this massacre are not yet revealed. So we have to be careful. This is a big success, of revealing the documents, but still there is something to go on fighting for.

On ethnic cleansing, and the intention behind the killings:

The discussion around Kafr Qassem massacre is not about if it happened or not. Israel already admitted people were killed and that the army shot those people. But until now, what they were not willing to recognize is the fact that it was planned to be done, that there was an intention to shoot those people and to create a horror situation and a fear that will make people flee from that area. And that’s how they wanted to actually perpetrate an ethnic cleansing.

On the vindication of Palestinian claims:

Revealing those documents and putting them in the hands of the people shows what we claimed, many years until now, that it was a plan and that there is a responsibility of the army and the political leadership at that point. It’s not like a mistake that happened. It was planned to be like this. And the political level took a decision and sent the army to implement [it].

I still remember the first time in 2016, as I do every year, I submitted the bill [to the Knesset] to have the massacre recognized, and I spoke about the political plan that existed behind it, how I was attacked by all the members of the Knesset – not only from the right-wing, also the center of the political map. […]

Revealing these documents is actually proving what we have been saying for the past 50 years, […] a political plan that shows what was the political atmosphere among the Israeli leadership at that time right after the Nakba.

On potential ramifications for survivors, as well as survivors of other massacres post-1948:

This is, let me say, a long journey that we’ve been on. […] It looks like it’s going to take, again, some time before we are able to reveal more and more and reveal to the general public awareness of what happened – and what is continuing to happening in many cases, either in the West Bank or sometimes in other places.

I hope it’s not going to get to a massacre. But the plan to evacuate people and to transfer Palestinians is happening also these days in the Naqab. So it is important to continue this struggle – legally, and publicly.

On accountability:

The court ordered the reveal of the documents but the state did not take responsibility. We are still far from the recognition of what happened. And we want to include the story of the massacre in the curriculum so that it will be taught for both Arabs and Jews so that everybody understands and knows what happened. […]

We will continue the fight until it is recognized and everybody knows exactly how the Zionist movement and the political leaders of Israel acted at that time.

They are responsible for this crime. They have to declare their responsibility, recognize it – and then we can start talking about how this should be treated.

On the effect of the documents’ release on Israeli society and political circles:

There are more and more, even Jewish forces, joining us. […] Every year we are submitting a bill. This year, if we are able – because of the election [the Israeli general election in November] – I assume the discourse will be different, because now we have the documents. […]

You know, political life in Israel is very dominated by the right-wing, and those of course do not want to even get near what happened. […] So the very few figures who are so-called center or Zionist left – which I don’t believe there is such– to be Zionist and left – but anyway […] the liberals, let’s say: they do not deny, as I mention, they do not deny the event. They do not deny the fact that there was something that happened. But they still look at it as if it is a mistake and not a planned thing. These documents, it needs some time to get awareness. Everyone now is dealing with the elections and do not deal with other issues. […]

I don’t think change will happen in one day. We just manage to get more evidence that will be used in our battle for recognition. […] It’s still a long battle, in my opinion.

Listen to the full interview on Wake Up Palestine.

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