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For Palestinian citizens, 1956 massacre is not a distant memory

If Israel was able to inflict fatalities in 2000 just as it did in Kafr Qasim in 1956, with no accountability to the victims and affected families, how can Arabs feel safe about their rights as citizens?

By Amjad Iraqi

Israeli police fire tear gas toward and forcefully disperse demonstrators during a protest against the Israeli government’s Prawer-Begin Plan, on road 65 near the northern town of Ar’ara. (Photo: Activestills.org)

This week, Palestinian citizens of Israel marked the 57th anniversary of the Kafr Qasim massacre, when an Israeli paramilitary unit shot dead 49 Arabs (almost half of whom were children) as they returned from their farms, unaware of the new military curfew that had been imposed on their village. The perpetrators served meager jail sentences, with several officers promoted upon their return to the security forces.

Although there has never been an incident as grave as the 1956 massacre, the legacies of Kafr Qasim are far from being a distant memory for the Palestinian community in Israel. This past month, Palestinians also marked the 13th anniversary of the October 2000 killings, when Israeli police shot 13 Palestinian citizens during protests against escalating military violence in the Occupied Territories. Despite years of vigorous advocacy and a landmark government commission issuing extensive recommendations, not a single police officer was brought to court. One of the killers even got a promotion in the security forces several years later.

The October 2000 events, and many other episodes before that, are shocking echoes of the violence and absence of accountability that were seen in 1956. Though Palestinians citizens are no longer under military rule, the mechanisms that allowed those two incidents to occur remain the same. The state continues to believe that Arab citizens remain a collective danger to the state, that Arabs who protest in the Israeli public sphere are a threat, and that Arabs must be kept in their place – as a marginalized fragment of Israeli society.

This mentality is consistently seen in the state’s responses to countless exercises of Arab rights. In the months after the Kafr Qasim massacre in 1956, Palestinians across Israel held large demonstrations in anger at the brutal deaths and in protest of the discriminatory policies that were growing in the nascent Israeli state. My grandfather, who lived in Tira at the time, told me how he watched the town’s demonstration from the roof of his home: as the peaceful marchers approached the military roadblocks, police opened fire at the crowds to disperse the protest. Other villages faced the same response.

Fifty-seven years later, in 2013, I watched as Israeli police violently broke up Arab demonstrations against the Prawer Plan with clubs, tear gas and stun grenades and arbitrarily arrested dozens of Palestinian participants. The police gave them only one hour to protest and argued that the demonstrators were trying to block major junctions. What they did not explain was why a social justice protest organized by Jewish citizens in Tel Aviv that same week, which blocked the Ayalon highway, was allowed to continue late into the night without hindrance.

The differences in the state’s treatment of Jews and Arabs are widespread and well known, but there are still many Israelis who do not comprehend the impact of this pervasive and historic discrimination. By allowing these forms of mistreatment to continue, Palestinian citizens are being told to accept their inferior status: that we are not allowed to enter the public sphere, that we should fear for our freedom of expression, and that we will not find justice for any actions taken against us. While many Palestinians overcome those threats and assert their presence nonetheless, many more remain fearful of the unpredictable consequences. If the state can inflict fatalities in 2000 just as it did in 1956, with no accountability to the victims and families it is affecting, how can Arabs feel safe about their rights as citizens?

These fears continue to exist as Israel enacts more discriminatory laws, attacks minority civil and political rights and implements policies like the Prawer Plan that further entrench Arabs’ status as second-class citizens. None of these even begin to mention Israel’s actions in the Occupied Territories, where Palestinian life is repressed by direct and structural violence on a daily basis. Regardless of whether they are on this side of the Green Line or the other, Israel’s goal of restricting the space and freedoms of Palestinians is enforced by the racist belief that non-Jews are an inherent problem to its survival. Remembering Kafr Qasim is therefore not just a commemoration of the lives lost in 1956, but a reminder that the attitudes that permitted such events to occur have not changed.

Amjad Iraqi works at Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel. The views in this article are the author’s alone and do not represent the views of Adalah. The author thanks Fady Khoury for his assistance.

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  • COMMENTS

    1. The Trespasser

      For Jewish citizens 1929 massacre is not a distant memory.

      Muslim racism is enshrined in Koran, so it is only fair that Muslims are facing some discrimination.

      Reply to Comment
      • Janet

        You really are a disgusting excuse for a human being. Every religious text has racism is enshrined in it, but the Quran has far less racism in it than the Talmud or Torah but you don’t find many people claiming that this is a reason to justify Anti-Semitism.

        Reply to Comment
        • The Trespasser

          >You really are a disgusting excuse for a human being. Every religious text has racism is enshrined in it, but the Quran has far less racism in it than the Talmud or Torah but you don’t find many people claiming that this is a reason to justify Anti-Semitism.

          A typical response by a leftist idiot: A weak ad-hominem attack supported by an obvious nonsense.

          1 – Hardly all (or even most) religious texts are racist.
          2 – Quran might be only compared to Torah, not Talmud.
          3 – Did you counted all the racist passages in Quran and in Torah? Oh, but of course not. Idiots can’t count, really.
          4 – As a matter of fact, racist – or even appearing to be racist to a less educated – passages from Torah are widely used by hordes of Judeophobes.
          5 – What matters at this point of time-space continuum is not how many racist references are contained in a specific religious text, but rather how are these handled by the followers of said text.

          But a brain-dead leftist would not really care that men are marrying 9 y.o. girls in Yemen, Gaza and elsewhere because they believe that their prophet was a paedophile and see nothing wrong with it.

          Indeed, if one paedophile was allowed to marry a 9. y.o. girl 1500 years ago, there is no reason why more paedophiles should not be allowed to marry 9 y.o. in modern times…

          Reply to Comment
        • rose

          Janet, don’t lose your time, he is sick, ignorant and full of hatred.

          Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            Yep. Your ilk better remain silent. Birds of a feather flock together, you see.

            Reply to Comment
        • andrew r

          This is all beside the point anyway. Trespasser could really give a flaming fart about underage girls who are forced to marry – he hates Muslims because they’re an obstacle to unfettered Jewish settlement of Palestine.

          Of course the big brain here won’t even try to explain why child marriage is practiced all over sub-Saharan Africa where Islam is a minority religion, and in Latin American where it barely exists at all.

          Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            Africa huh?

            “In 2013, Nigeria attempted to change Section 29, subsection 4 of its laws and thereby prohibit child marriages. This was opposed by Islamic states of Nigeria, who called any attempts to prohibit child marriages as un-Islamic.”

            >he hates Muslims because they’re an obstacle to unfettered Jewish settlement of Palestine.

            No, silly. I don’t like Islam because its followers have the highest concentration of scum per capita.

            It is interesting tho, is it Islam which is turning good men into scum, or is it the scum, who finds a haven in Islam…

            Reply to Comment
    2. There was patently no attempt to deal with the deaths of the Nazareth 13 as a gross violation of State power. Investigation was delayed years and, I recall, eventually the Attorney General declared that too much time had elapsed to determine criminal responsibility. This is one of the gravest indicators that, structurally, there is no equal protection across race in Israeli law.

      Reply to Comment
      • Another comment, after attending the Adalah web site. I hope I got the facts straight.

        In 2012 the Knesset passed an amendment (#8) to the Civil Wrongs Law which essentially indemnifies IDF or other State personnel from tort over acts within the Occupied Territories, thereby obviating a High Court decision of 2006. Adalah filed a petition with the Court, but the Court rejected the petition, saying that an intervening Knesset election (of 2013) presented a new opportunity for the Knesset to consider this aspect of law.

        This is bizarre. Courts do not rule on legislature personality (treating the legislature as a person potentially “reconsidering” its past acts) but on law as such. Amendment 8 is law, and it doesn’t matter if the Knesset might repeal it sometime; so long as it is law, its legality in jurisprudence may be questioned. The wording of this rejection, authored by the Court’s Chief Justice or President, seems to me more evidence of an implicit Israeli constitution which operates as a War Council of Court, Knesset, Administration (as the Ministerial Branch, and, as I think significant evidence supports), a semi-autonomous IDF. Council members avoid nullifying one another’s acts, rather cajoling or advising another member to alter its ways in specific instances for the common goal of “security” and communal well being. In the case of the Court, often, a superficial change is implemented (by the Executive or IDF) leaving the underlying policy as applied mostly or totally intact. The Court is an adviser in ethics and legal rationality, most effective when it tells Administration to change a specific regulation or procedure (which is mostly the medium in which its review evolved early on) than when applying, even implicitly, a doctrine of nullification against a law as such.

        The Chief Justice speaking for denial of petition might be avoiding a confrontation to this evolved War Council logic; but, perhaps too, he is saying “take us more seriously–the Knesset cannot nullify our decisions through new law.” There is some evidence that the Court is either tired of the old Council logic or sees the Knesset and IDF as essentially changing that logic on their own. In either case, the Court may be beginning to act more independently, stepping closer to pure judicial review position. The Refugee Detention Decision, ordering closure of the camp no latter than three months after proclamation, is the strongest indicator of this direction.

        I do not see a liberal Court appearing full grown. It is far from clear that the Court will continue down this path upon significant Knesset resistance. But the implicit logic of a War Council means that the Court will more likely respond to protect its institutional (and “constitutional”) position the more it is ignored by other members or pushed back legislatively. If the Knesset continues to push for applied full sovereignty as it has these past few years, it may push the Court into some liberal positions to craft some form of independent judicial review. All of the legal frustrations over this past decade or so may bear some fruit.

        Reply to Comment
    3. Avanii thakur

      Very helpful , thank you .

      Reply to Comment

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