Middle East

The memory of Kafr Qasem has been sealed by Israel for far too long

Israel’s Military Court of Appeals has ruled that documents pertaining to the Kafr Qasem massacre, which happened in 1956, may now be declassified. In February 2017, Israeli historian, Adam Raz from the Akevot Institute for Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Research filed an application with the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) Archive, as well as with the Israeli Military Court of Appeals, asking for access to classified documents about the Kafr Qasem trial.

The Kafr Qasem massacre happened on 29 October, 1956, just half an hour before a curfew imposed on the village took effect, resulting in the ambushing and killing of Palestinians who had not yet returned home, since there was no time for the directive to be properly communicated. Israel imposed a media ban which was defied by Tawfiq Toubi from the Communist Party, who prepared press releases in English, Arabic and Hebrew for media dissemination. It took 25 days for the international community to learn about the Kafr Qasem massacre.

Only Colonel Issachar Shadmi was charged for Kafr Qasem, but only on technicalities of procedure – that of exceeding his authority when giving curfew orders, which was a task assigned only to the military governor. The sentence Shadmi received was as much a farce as the trial – a symbolic fine equivalent to one tenth of an Israeli pound. In an interview with Haaretz, Shadmi revealed that, “I was told that I could object to the judges who were appointed, if I didn’t trust them.” He was also reassured, beforehand, by senior IDF officers that he was merely participating in a show trial.

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In 2018, the Israeli Military Prosecution refused the request, stating that “any declassification of ‘Kafr Qasem trial’ hearing transcripts that goes beyond what is already publicly accessible would harm national security and foreign relations and, in specific cases, also harm the privacy and safety of individuals – with a high level of certainty that legally precludes declassification.”

Another argument brought forth by the Israeli Military Prosecutor was that the documents were only requested for Raz’s private research and interest in the case, prompting Raz to request MK, Esawi Frej, and resident of Kafr Qasem who has regularly called for recognition of the atrocities carried out against the Palestinians of the village, as witness to wanting the truth to emerge about the massacre.

Speaking about the lawsuit in 2018, Raz had declared, “I was surprised to discover that it’s easier to write about the history of Israel’s nuclear program than about Israel’s policies regarding its Arab citizens.”

The declassified documents will be made public in late July this year, after it was deemed that no damage to state security or foreign relations would ensue from declassification, prompting Raz to question what difference would it have made had the documents been made accessible five years ago, when the request was filed. Kafr Qasem was another episode in the Zionist history of ethnically cleansing Palestinians from their land, yet one that Israel has strived hard to keep from public scrutiny. Justice for Kafr Qasem most likely will not be served, yet opening the archives needs to be ultimately politicised beyond research in order to shift attention to the importance of Palestinian historical memory and the need for decolonisation.

READ: Israel exploits the Palestinian trauma of the Nakba

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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