Thousands of people marched in the Arab town of Kafr Qasem on Saturday to mark 60 years since the massacre of 49 residents by Border Police officers on October 29, 1956, after they returned home past curfew.
The curfew, which was imposed by the government at the time, was shortened by an hour unbeknown to local residents. The villagers — including women and children — returned home at the original hour, but were fired on by officers who believed they violated the curfew.
Mahmoud Frij, now aged 84, was 24 years old at the time. He told Channel 2 television on Saturday how he escaped death, even as he watched family and friends shot dead before his eyes.
“I was shot at point blank, those who were killed – were killed, and I was wounded. They didn’t know I was alive. If they knew I had only been wounded they would have finished me off,” Frij recalled. “As I fell, [another resident] arrived, and so they dealt with him and left me alone. I heard people talking to [the police], I could recognize them by their voices, and I knew each person who arrived was killed.”
Frij told Channel 2 that the town, situated just 20 km from Tel Aviv and along the Green Line border with the West Bank, has asked many Israeli leaders to officially admit the state’s culpability, but were always rebuffed.
“We ask that they claim responsibility, but they won’t. Until today they say ‘No, we didn’t do it.’ They say ‘it was a mistake.’ The people responsible never paid a price, nothing. Not even one dime. There are people who until today don’t believe there was a massacre in Kafr Qasem,” he said.
— חדשות 10 (@news10) October 29, 2016
The commanders responsible for the massacre were punished, but lightly. Most received 11 months imprisonment and among those sentenced, many were paroled or successfully appealed their terms.
The incident has come to be the defining case of what constitutes a “blatantly illegal order” — a legal army definition of an order that must be disobeyed or an order that would constitute a crime if obeyed.
Arab-Israeli leaders on Saturday led the march commemorating the massacre. Organizers of the event declined to invite members of the government, saying they wouldn’t do so until they received a formal apology for the massacre.
A large monument stands in the center of the town, inscribed with the names of the slain residents. In 2014, President Reuven Rivlin laid a wreath at the site during the annual memorial of the massacre, becoming the first Israeli head of state to attend the ceremony.
“The Arab population in Israel is not a marginal group,” Rivlin said at the time. “We are destined to live side by side and we share the same fate.”
He harshly condemned the massacre, calling it a “terrible crime” that weighed heavily on Israel’s collective conscience.
“The criminal killing that took place in your village is an irregular and dark chapter in the history of the relationship between Arabs and Jews living here,” Rivlin said during the ceremony. “A terrible crime was committed here…We must look directly at what happened. It is our duty to teach this difficult incident and to draw lessons.”