President attends Kafr Qasim memorial and apologizes for 1956 massacre

Israeli President Isaac Herzog apologized for a massacre of Arab citizens of Israel by border police officers in 1956, and appeared at an annual memorial to apologize on behalf of the state.

“I stand here before you today with my head bowed and my heart hurt, on the 65th anniversary of one of the saddest events in the history of our country,” Herzog said at the ceremony in Kafr Qasim, where the killings took place. . place.

Herzog is the second Israeli president to address the event. His predecessor, Reuven Rivlin, attended in 2014 and condemned the massacre, in which the Border Police killed 48 Israeli Arab men, women and children for violating a wartime curfew near the central city of Kafr Qasim. The fetus of a pregnant woman is considered victim number 49.

In 2007, then-President Shimon Peres started construction when he formally expressed his regret over the massacre, but it was not at the memorial.

Israel has not assumed formal responsibility for the massacre and a bill proposing that the state do so was overwhelmingly rejected on Wednesday. Arab-Israeli MPs regularly propose the bill around the 29th anniversary of October, but the Knesset has repeatedly rejected proposals to recognize state responsibility.

However, the president said the severity of the incident “has never been questioned.”

“Because it is clear to all of us: the killing and wounding of innocents is absolutely prohibited. They must remain beyond all political arguments! ” he exclaimed.

“I bow my head at the memory of the forty-nine victims. I bow my head to you, your families and to the people of Kafr Qasim throughout the centuries, and on behalf of myself and the State of Israel, I apologize, ”Herzog said in Hebrew and Arabic.

“I extend a hand of support and embrace, and pray from the bottom of my heart that the merciful and compassionate God is by your side,” he added, in both languages.

A memorial marking the 1956 massacre in the village of Kafr Qasim, in central Israel, where 49 villagers were killed by border police officers. (Avishai Teicher / Public Domain / Wikipedia)

The Kafr Qasim massacre was a pivotal event in the relationship between the Arab citizens of Israel and the young Israeli state. On October 29, 1956, the first day of the Suez Crisis, a curfew was imposed on Arab villages near the Green Line, which served as the effective border with Jordan, due to fears of unrest. Border Police officers were ordered to shoot to kill anyone who violated the curfew.

Many locals had not heard of the curfew, and later that night, border police deployed near Kafr Qasim, an Arab city northeast of Tel Aviv, shot and killed 48 men, women and children outside.

Subsequently, the Supreme Court convicted and convicted several members of the Border Police for the killings. As long as they had been following orders, the court ruled, it should have been clear to officers that the orders were patently illegal. In the end, the officers’ sentences were reduced and none spent more than a few years in prison.

President Isaac Herzog addresses the monument to the victims of the 1956 massacre in Kafr Qasim on October 29, 2021. (Amos Ben Gershom / GPO)

In Kafr Qasim, the memories of those killed in the massacre are still alive. A monument in the center of the city commemorates the dead, and an annual mourning march has been a ritual for decades.

“This is our opportunity, as a society, to say no to prejudice. This is our opportunity, as a human society, to enhance what we have in common as citizens and neighbors, ”Herzog said Friday. “This is not a decree of destiny, but an association of destiny. This is our opportunity to eradicate discrimination and hatred ”.

Aaron Boxerman contributed to this report.

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