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Herzog to speak at memorial for 1956 Kafr Qasim massacre

President will be second head-of-state, after Rivlin, to attend annual event commemorating killing of 48 Arab Israelis by Border Police

President Isaac Herzog attends an event in northern Israel, on October 11, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)
President Isaac Herzog attends an event in northern Israel, on October 11, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)

President Isaac Herzog will speak Friday at the annual memorial for the 1956 Kafr Qasim massacre, his office announced.

Herzog will be the second Israeli president to address the event. His predecessor Reuven Rivlin attended in 2014 and condemned the massacre, in which Border Police officers killed 48 Arab Israeli men, women and children for violating a wartime curfew near Kafr Qasim.

In 2007, then-president Shimon Peres formally expressed regret over the massacre, but was not at the memorial.

A statement Thursday from the president’s office didn’t give any indication what Herzog might say in his remarks.

Israel has not taken formal responsibility for the massacre and a bill proposing to have the state do so was overwhelmingly voted down Wednesday. Arab Israeli parliamentarians regularly propose the bill near the October 29 anniversary, but the Knesset has repeatedly rejected proposals to acknowledge state responsibility.

The Kfar Qasim massacre was a pivotal event in the relationship between Israel’s Arab citizens and the young Israeli state. On October 29, 1956, the first day of the Suez Crisis, a curfew was placed on Arab villages near the Green Line, which served as the effective border with Jordan, due to fears of unrest. Border Police officers were directed to shoot to kill anyone violating the curfew.

Many locals had not heard of the curfew, and later that evening, the Border Police shot and killed 48 men, women and children who were outside. Almost all of them were from Kafr Qasim and one of the female victims had been pregnant.

A monument marking the 1956 massacre in the village of Kafr Qasim, in central Israel, where 49 villagers were killed by Border Police officers. (Avishai Teicher/Public Domain/Wikipedia)

The Supreme Court later convicted and sentenced several members of the Border Police for the killings. While they had been following orders, the court ruled, it should have been clear to the officers that the orders were patently illegal. Ultimately, the officers’ sentences were reduced and none spent more than a few years in prison.

In Kafr Qasim, memories of those killed in the massacre remain very much alive. A monument in the city center commemorates the dead, and a yearly march of mourning has been a ritual for decades.

Aaron Boxerman contributed to this report.

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