What happened at the Arab village of Kfar Kassem in 1956?
On October 29, 1956, on the eve of the Sinai Campaign, the Israeli army ordered all Israeli Arab villages near the Jordanian border placed under a wartime curfew that was to apply from 5 p.m. until 6 a.m. the next day. Any Arab on the streets was to be shot. The order was given to Israeli Border Police units at 3:30 before most of the Arabs from the villages could be notified. Many of them were at work at the time.
At Kfar Kassem, villagers began to arrive from work to their homes after the curfew.Israeli Border Police opened fire on them. A total of 47 Israeli Arabs were killed(some sources say 51 dead). The news of the killings was censored and the general Israeli public did not learn what happened until several weeks later when Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion announced the findings of a secret inquiry.The event was shocking to the Israeli public who demanded, and got, a full investigation.Prime Minister Ben Gurion said the act, "struck at the holiest principles of human morality", perhaps reminded of Nazis who claimed they were "just following orders".
The extensive investigation revealed that the local commander had issued an illegal order.As a result, about two years after the event, eleven border policemen were charged with crimes and eight were convicted of murder on the grounds that it is immoral to fire on unarmed civilians and no possible military order could justify that act. Among the convicted were the unit?s commander who had instructed his soldiers to "kill anyone who violated the curfew." Major Meilinki and Lt. Daham were sentenced: the former to 17 years and the latter to 15 years. Those who were imprisoned had their terms reduced; no one served more than three and a half years in jail.
The Israeli Supreme Court made a new ruling on the right and duty of soldiers to disobey unlawful orders. That ruling has been incorporated into Israeli martial law. On the 43rd anniversary of the incident (1999), Israeli civics teachers were instructed to lead a one-hour discussion on Kafr Kassem in their classes. Israel wants its future soldiers to understand the need to identify and disobey an illegal order in accordance with the Supreme Court ruling.
In contrast to Israel's Arab opponents, Israel takes the responsibility to protect civiliannon-combatants very seriously indeed. Kafr Kassem has not been forgotten by Palestinian Arabswho refer to it inaccurately as a purposeful massacre. Israelis have not forgotten it either, as an exampleof a continuing need for a disciplined army, directed by civilian authority, that will live upto the high moral standards of the country.
Note: Many possible spellings: Kafr al-Qassem, Kufr-, Kufur-, Kafr-, Qassem, Qassim, Kassem, Kassem, ...
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