By Seraj Assi
On October 29, 1956, the Israel Border Police (Magav) announced a sudden curfew on the village of Kufur Qasim located on the Israeli side of the Green Line. Colonel Yiskhar Shadmi, then the Brigade Commander of Israel’s Central District, gathered the border patrol battalion commanders and instructed them to shot and kill anyone found outside his or her place during the curfew, including women and children. When asked what to do with those workers who were unaware of the curfew, he replied with the cynical Arabic term “Allah Yirhamhu (May God have mercy on him).
Less than thirty minutes after the curfew had been announced, village workers returning home were lined up and shot to death. In less than two hours, the massacre claimed the lives of 48 Palestinian citizens all but four of whom were residents of Kufur Qasim. The majority of the victims were children and women. One of the victims was a pregnant woman who was killed with her unborn child.
On November 20, 1957, a sulha (ceremony of reconciliation) was held in Kufur Qasim and attended by over 400 representatives of the Israeli society and Arab villages. Local Palestinian newspapers reported how Israeli military authorities forced representatives from the families of the victims to attend the sulha in an attempt to sweep the crime under the rug of “Arab tradition”.
Shira Robinson has summarized the Israeli responses to the massacre in the refusal to hold public trial, the release of the convicted soldiers, the appointment of the responsible commanders to higher government posts and the imposition of the sulha on the victims’ families.
In fact, Israel’s responses to the massacres were consistent with its founding ideology. Indeed, what made the murder of forty-eight innocent civilians possible and forgivable from the Israeli standpoint was the very idea of the Jewish State that belonged to the Jewish People, in which Palestinian Arabs were seen as permanent enemies. A series of Israeli massacres of Palestinians committed over the past decades was grounded in this ethnocentric vision.
From the Palestinian perspective, the motivation behind the Kufur Qasim massacre was linked to the Zionist commitment to cleansing the country of its native Palestinian population. The massacre was a direct outcome of Israel’s policies towards the Palestinian Arab minority since 1948. These included, as Robinson has pointed out, the suppression of their national identity and collective memory, the deprivation of their civil rights, the confiscation of their land and the cultivation of racist attitudes against them in Jewish schools and public discourse.
Kufur Qasim Massacre left no doubt that Israeli violence towards Palestinian citizens was an end in itself. Its target was the generation of the Nakba whose memory of explosion, loss and family separation was still fresh. The massacre took place in the midst of the military rule (1949-66) imposed by Israel on the remaining Palestinian population, which was completely cut off from the rest of the Arab world, the Palestinian people and from each other. Captured in the iron cage fashioned by the military regime, the first generation of Palestinians inside Israel was born in total isolation.
Two decades passed before the Land Day events of March 30, 1976 culminated in the murder of six Palestinian citizens by the Israeli army and security forces. Twenty-four years later, in September 2000, the Second Intifada broke out in Palestine and spread throughout the Arab villages inside Israel. By early October 2000, thirteen Palestinian citizens had been massacred by the Israeli police. The victims were all from the young generation whose insistence on its Palestinian identity had reached maturity in the course of the annual Land Day commemorations.
These events were met by a young generation whose collective memory was constructed upon the rejection of the old sulha manipulations. This generation knows very well how to draw strong links between the Kufur Qasim Massacre and the other Israeli massacres of Palestinians in Deir Yasin, Qibya, Nahalin, Rafah and Gaza. The strong line etched in the memory of this generation stretched between the Nakba of 1948 and the Intifada of October 2000. It reminds us that the memory of a people can never be suppressed.
During the past decade a new generation of Palestinian filmmakers, rappers, writers and poets came to celebrate the decisive failure of Israel to de-Palestinize their memory. In early 2010, the fresh Palestinian hip-hop band Damar (destruction), composed of two young Palestinian girls from two small villages near Nazareth, sent this clear message:
“You think that the Third Generation will be Israeli? Come on! Time does not make us forget, but remember”
– Seraj Assi is a PhD Candidate in Arabic and Islamic Studies, Georgetown University, Washington DC. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.