Kafr Qasem’s journey to healing has just begun

Al-Aqsa Square monument commemorating the 1956 massacre, June 2021

Esawi Freige writes in Haaretz on 1 August 2022:

Like every child in Kafr Qasem, I grew up in the shadow of the massacre. The trauma that struck the village seven years before I was born was present through the years I was growing up. I remember my parents’ frightened looks in the rare instances when they were forced to agree to my leaving the village – to go to Jewish areas.

We all shut ourselves in, frightened. In the early 1980s, I was among the first Kafr Qasem residents to study at university. It was only then, 20 years after the massacre, that the sense of fear began to dull. But the wound didn’t heal.

Generations of children have been born into the knowledge that from the Israeli government’s standpoint, reporting the truth about a massacre that hit nearly every family in the village would mean “harming state security.” It’s not as if we didn’t know. We knew everything.

We knew that the murders had been planned, that the eastern gate out of the village had been left open at the time of the shooting in the mistaken hope that the residents would flee for their lives to Jordan. We knew about the plan code-named “Mole” to expel the residents of the Arab Triangle, that the clearly illegal spirit of the commander that was issued on the evening of October 29, 1956, with a figurative black flag flying over it, came from much higher levels than the commanders on the ground.

We knew, but the government preferred that this knowledge remain “unsubstantiated allegations” in the view of Israel’s Jewish citizens – and it remained unmoved in its refusal to release the full transcripts from the trial following the massacre. It also refused to have the contents of the Mole plan released.

I remember a moment in 2016 when we marked the 60th anniversary of the massacre, that the tourism minister at the time, Yariv Levin, approached me in the Knesset and said: “The massacre at Kafr Qasem is a lie.” His was a rewriting of history that could have only existed by concealing the truth.

Sometimes the determination of one person is enough to bring major change, and it this case, it was the work of historian Adam Raz of the Akevot Institute who took it upon himself to wage the legal battle for the disclosure of the records – and he was successful.

In July 2018, Raz asked me to come to military court to represent the residents of Kafr Qasem. The judge asked me if the concern was well-founded that release of the documents might cause unrest among the town’s residents. My response was that we were not seeking revenge. It was only the truth that we were looking for.

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. It’s true that the Mole plan itself was not allowed to be released, but it is present on every page of the transcripts. And from now on, it’s no longer an “allegation,” but a fact.

Other things were also not released. Pictures of those murdered are still confidential, in addition, as I noted, to details of the plan that the massacre was due to be a part of. But the truth has come to light.

This truth has the capacity to begin to allow the wound to heal. It’s true that in the past, Presidents Rivlin and Herzog had sought forgiveness, but as long as the concealment continued, genuinely confronting what had happened had not begun. Now this journey is beginning.

The release of the transcripts doesn’t “harm state security.” Instead, it is essential to providing hope, not just for Kafr Qasem but for relations between Jews and Arabs in the entire country and for building a cooperative future. 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.

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