1956 – Kafr Qasim Massacre

IDF soldiers smiling

Massacre Perpetrator: Israel

On the eve of the Suez War, Israeli Border Patrol orders a curfew without notifying Arab villagers and then opens fire on all curfew violators.

The Suez War broke out on October 29, 1956, with Israel joining Britain and France in attacking Egypt after Nasser had nationalized the Suez Canal.

Kafr Qasim was an Arab village near the Jordanian border. From 1949 until 1966, Arab citizens were regarded by Israel as a hostile population and Arab populations were governed by the Israeli military. The Israeli government believed that Jordan would enter the Suez War on the side of Egypt, and on Octover 29, the first day of the Suez War, the Israeli military declared a curfew from 5pm until 6am, that would go into effect that very same day. Anyone violating the curfew was to be shot on sight.

Major Shmuel Malinki, who was in charge of the Border Guard unit at the village of Kafr Qasim, asked IDF Colonel Yissachar Shadmi on how to react to those villagers who were unaware of the curfew.

Malinki states ‘[Shadmi said] anyone who left his house would be shot. It would be best if on the first night there were ‘a few like that’ and on the following nights they would be more careful. I asked: in the light of that, I can understand that a guerilla is to be killed but what about the fate of the Arab civilians? And they may come back to the village in the evening from the valley, from settlements or from the fields, and won’t know about the curfew in the village – I suppose I am to have sentries at the approaches to the village? To this Col. Issachar replied in crystal clear words, ‘I don’t want sentimentality and I don’t want arrests, there will be no arrests’. I said: ‘Even though?’. To that he answered me in Arabic, Allah Yarhamu, which I understood as equivalent to the Hebrew phrase, ‘Blessed be the true judge’ [said on receiving news of a person’s death]’.

Between 5 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., in nine separate shooting incidents, Israeli troops killed nineteen men, six women, ten teenage boys (age 14–17), six girls (age 12–15), and seven young boys (age 8–13), who did not make it home before curfew.

The commanders in neighboring villages told their troops to disobey the orders and notify the Arabs of the curfew rather than kill them.

The military censor imposed a total ban on newspaper reportage on the massacre, under the orders of David Ben-Gurion. A pair on communist members of the Knesset heard rumors and launched their own investigation, visiting the village. It took several months more before the government would lift the media blackout.

Following public protests, eleven Border Police officers and soldiers involved in the massacre were court-martialed for murder. Eight were found guilty and sentenced to prison. IDF Colonel Yissachar Shadmi, who ordered the massacres, was found not guilty and fined one cent.

In the few years that followed, the Israeli government heavily policed memory of the event. Celebrations of how the survivors had been rehabilitated by the Israeli government were encourage, but commemoration of the massacre itself was forbidden. “This sort of interference in the lives of Israel’s Arab citizens was common. The purpose, in this instance, was to prevent criticism of the government, and particularly the ruling party, Mapai – Workers’ Party of the Land of Israel.” (Akevot.org) Official documents proclaimed “commemorating the victims and such is no more than shedding crocodile tears.”

Solidarity was also discouraged. A group of Palestinian women from Nazareth held a bazar to fund raise for the victims, but for a year the Israeli authorities prevented the women from traveling to Kafr Qasim to give the people the funds they had raised.

Those convicted of the massacre claimed that the orders came from David Ben-Gurion himself and that their convictions were to keep blame away from him.

In 2017, historian Adam Raz (Akevot.org) appealed to the military appellate tribunal for release of documents relating to the massacre, including the trial minutes. In 2021, the tribunal refused the request and imposed a gag order on the entire case, even including the fact that a ruling had been made. One year later, it became legal to note the existence of a ruling, but not its content. In May of 2022 the court permitted publication of the ruling and many, but not all, of the primary documents related to the massacre. However, the existence of the massacre is still officially denied by the Israeli government.

There was also discussion of invading and conquering Jordan. See Operation Hafarferet.