Thursday, October 31, 2013


We think of the past, present, and future as real and separate.  In fact, they are neither.  There is no past, there is no future, there really isn't exactly even a present.  There is just...and gone.

Sort of, anyway.

This is not to say that things that happened yesterday don't have an impact on things that will happen tomorrow.  The presupposition of what we experience, are, do today is what happened "before."

On October 29, 1956 something horrible did happen.  A massacre of innocent Palestinians took place on the eve of the Suez War at Kafr Qasim.  

“You won’t find any mention of the massacre in any Israeli schoolbook sealed by the ministry of education,” Lina Badr, a 19-year-old from Kafr Qassem, said in an interview with The Electronic Intifada.
“So Arab schools around the country make sure to dedicate the week before the anniversary each year for educational events, school trips to the [Kafr Qasim massacre] museum, and distributing literature about the full story of what happened during the massacre.
“Plus, each year for over half a century we hold a huge demonstration on 29 October to make sure it is clear: there will be no forgetting.”

Thousands of Palestinians on Tuesday marked the 57th anniversary of the massacre.  Nader Sarsour, the mayor of Kafr Qasim said that the families of martyrs, thousands from the city and delegations from other Arab cities and villages participated in the rally. Other leaders of the Palestinian community and a number of Jews also attended the rally. 

Kafr Qasim, is a hill-top Arab city located about twenty kilometers east of the Israeli city of Tel Aviv, near the Green Line separating Israel and the West Bank. 

Lina Badr is absolutely correct.   You won't find much about the actual even in Israeli text books.  What you might find is something about the special court martial of some of those involved in the killings. The specific results of the court martial were varied.  Some soldiers were sent to prison, some others were not.  Even those who were imprisoned were released rather quickly by the Israeli establishment, "pardoned" as it were.

Many hailed the judges ruling concerning the obligation to refuse an unlawful order a victory for Jewish morality over crime and lawlessness.    The words of his ruling were seminal:
“The distinguishing mark of a ‘manifestly unlawful order’ should fly like a black flag above the order given… not formal unlawfulness, hidden or half hidden, nor unlawfulness discernible only to the eyes of legal experts…. Unlawfulness appearing on the face of the order itself… Unlawfulness piercing the eye and revolting the heart, be the eye not blind nor the heart stony and corrupt, that is the measure of ‘manifest unlawfulness’ required to release a soldier from the duty of obedience.” (Gary D. Solis, The Law of Armed Conflict, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010, p.360)
Of course, there is another way to look at this ruling and its effect on history.

Danny Orbach writes at length about it on his blog.  I will quote him here at some length as well.

... when we examine the story of the massacre, we discover that all of the actors in the tragedy behaved chaotically. No one relied on rules, laws and regulations. The murderers and perpetrators, along with the majority of officers who refused to commit such crimes, just felt that they are doing the right thing. Captain Yehuda Frankental, perhaps the real hero of the Kafr Qasim story, prevented massacre with his own hands, because he felt that the order is immoral. He had a clear sense of morality, righteousness and military honor, but neither he, nor anyone else, had a clue about the legal consequences of their actions.

The true legacy of Justice Benjamin Halevy is hence in promoting a legalistic approach to war. In his ruling, Halevy attempted to fashion criteria according to which every soldier could decide if his commands are legal or “manifestly illegal”. A soldier has to follow the law, which is naturally based on moral principles, never to shoot unarmed citizens. The severe punishments that he imposed, though shamefully mitigated by the political and military establishment, have set glaring rules for the future: thou shall not massacre civilians; thou shall not follow an order to massacre civilians. Atrocities, of course, were committed by Israeli troops also in subsequent wars, but an organized, cold-blooded massacre of unarmed civilians, as in Kafr Qasim, never repeated itself....

On the face of it, it may be naïve to argue that soldiers refrained from massacring civilians only because of a judicial ruling. However, a close reading of the testimonies shows, that the actors were not certain whether massacre of the unarmed is a crime or a duty. Even some of the officers who refused to commit murder were ashamed of their conduct in court. For all of these perplexed military men, Justice Halevy clarified what is the norm. Simultaneously, he legitimized the conduct of the soldiers who refused to shoot, and removed the shield of “following orders” from the perpetrators. The Army Chief of Staff, General Haim Laskov, whose responsibility for the outrageous paroles of the perpetrators was considerable, nevertheless reinforced the effect of Halevy’s ruling in a famous “order of the day”, in which he denounced the massacre and echoed Halevy’s doctrine of a “manifestly unlawful order.” Thus, the legalistic approach to war was allowed to take root in the Israeli armed forces.

We can see, therefore, that the Kafr Qasim massacre was followed by a struggle between two approaches to the rules of war. One chaotic, represented by the paroles given by Ben Gurion, the president and the Chief of Staff, and the other legalistic, as shown in the ruling of Justice Halevy. Even now, fifty five years after, these two approaches co-exist in Israeli political and military thinking.

 It is impossible to conclude this article, without expressing some grave fears for the future. Supposedly, these who wish to forestall future massacres should reinforce the legalistic approach, while limiting the chaotic one to the possible minimum. However, in certain circumstances, legalism could be more dangerous and murderous than a chaotic state of affairs. Israel has never reached this abyss, but all of us know, based on our recent history, what happens when a country harnesses its legal institutions to promote an organized project of mass murder. The legalistic approach could, under certain circumstances, undergo a mutation and turn to be much more dangerous than its chaotic counterpart. The later can lead to horrendous, but relatively limited acts of violence. The former can result in organized mass murder at a bigger scale. Hence, there is nothing more destructive than murderous legalism.

So far that is not what has happened (although there are those in Israel pushes for it).  

Still, it seems that while  "massacres" are "illegal," occupation, repression, military rule, and murder are not.  It seems that despite the ruling of some court, some military judge, it all goes on...and on.

The following article from +972 will explain that better than I. 

'Bad apple' narrative still rotten 57 years after Kafr Qasim Massacre

Though individual soldiers were convicted in the 1956 Kafr Qasim Massacre, Israel’s courts never even questioned why civilians were under military rule and curfews. Today, individual soldiers are still convicted of crimes but the occupation itself is never questioned and wrongdoing is dismissed as the work of ‘bad apples.’
By Leehee Rothschild

Memorial for the Kafr Qasim Massacre, in Kafr Qasim. (Photo: Avishai Teicher)
Fifty-seven years ago, on the afternoon of October 29, 1956, an Israeli Border Police unit shot to death 49, men, women and children from Kafr Qasim as they returned home from a day of work in the fields.
Kafr Qasim, located in central Israel’s Triangle area, was under military rule like most Palestinian villages and towns at the time. From 1949 until 1966 Palestinian citizens of Israel were governed under martial law, which limited their movement, and subjected them to curfews, administrative detention and expulsions. The Israeli Border Police, a unit within the IDF at the time, was in charge of maintaining the military imposed law and order in Palestinian population centers.
The day of the massacre was the first day of the 1956 Suez War. Instructed to take all precautionary measures to keep the Jordanian border quiet, Border Police Central District commander Col. Issachar Shadmi decided to change the start time of the nightly curfew to 5 p.m. The order was issued only in the early afternoon, which resulted in Palestinian farmers working their fields not hearing about the change of the curfew time. Maj. Shmual Malinki, who was in charge of one of the battalions enforcing the curfew on the ground, asked Shadmi what should be done with those who broke the curfew. Shadmi said, “Allah Yerachmu” (an Arabic blessing for the dead). Malanki passed this message to his officers, instructing them “to shot to kill” every person who violates the curfew. Nevertheless, out of eight officers, only one, Gabriel Dahan, carried out his order. Dahan’s platoon was stationed at the entrance to Kafr Qasim.
As the villagers made their way back from the fields, in trucks and wagons, they were stopped by the soldiers, to whom they offered their identification papers. In response, the soldiers started shooting at them. In nine shooting incidents that day, the border policemen killed 19 men, six women, 17 boys, six girls and injured many more. The dead were buried in a mass grave, dug by Palestinians from the nearby village of Jaljulya who the army brought over for that purpose. The wounded were left unattended. They couldn’t be reached by their families, due to the 24-hour curfew; only after it was lifted were they transported to the hospital.
Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion placed the matter under a media black out, which was only lifted after two months of intense lobbying. Due to public pressure 11 border police officers were charged with murder. Eight were found guilty and sentenced to prison terms (Malenki was sentenced to 17 years and Dahan to 15). In its ruling, the court specifically stated that the soldiers had been obliged to disobey the order to shoot unarmed civilians because it was an illegal order, defining the term for the first time. Following various appeals, a presidential commutation and the decision of a Prison Service committee, however, all of the soldiers involved were freed after less than a year. Malanki and Dahan were promoted after their release to higher offices in the Israeli security forces. In a separate trial, Shadmi was found guilty of extending the curfew without authority, and fined one-tenth of one lira.
The Kafr Qasim massacre is almost completely absent from Israeli educational curriculum. It is mentioned neither in history classes nor in the abundance of memorial and commemoration ceremonies that take place in Israeli schools. It is only mentioned in the Israeli ‘citizenship studies’ book, but even there, is only taught as part of a discussion of refusing “illegal orders.” Its de-contextualization, detaching it from any discussion of the treatment of the state’s Palestinian citizens or of the military administration at the time, is aimed at showing that the Kafr Qasim massacre was a unique failure of a few soldiers, not a telling event. It is built deep into the ‘bad apple’ narrative, which blames war crimes on the individual soldiers who committed them – allowing the system to wash its hands of any culpability.
That the public Israeli consciousness coined the term “illegal order” in the context of the Kafr Qasim massacre in a sense strips it of much of its effectiveness. For an order to be deemed illegal, it needs to meet the level of horrendousness that results from a very direct, very visible massacre. Thus, regularly shooting at fishermen in Gaza, the disruption and detention of farmers in the West Bank, shooting at unarmed protestors and preventing of medical treatment are all seen as legal orders.
Furthermore, the Israeli court system never called into question the military’s very presence in Kafr Qasim, the necessity of the curfew or the legitimacy of the military regime in place at the time. Likewise, in any of its criticisms and rulings on various military actions since 1967, the Israeli Supreme Court has never condemned the occupation itself. By sanctioning certain actions but never doubting the greater plot line over the years, the Israeli court system has in fact given its seal of approval: first to military rule over the Palestinian citizens of the state, and later, similar military rule over Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.
But despite its absence from the Jewish Israeli collective memory, in Kafr Qasim the massacre is still very much alive. Its troubled ghosts haunt the village to this day. Every resident of Kafr Qasim came out to the yearly memorial service on the anniversary of the massacre, MK Dov Khenin reported yesterday, from the youngest to the oldest.
For additional original analysis and breaking news, visit +972 Magazine'sFacebook page or follow us on Twitter. Our newsletter features a comprehensive round-up of the week's events. Sign up here.

No comments: