How the 1956 massacre has shaped the Palestinian struggle for civil rights.
Kafr Qasim is an Arab village in territory that was annexed by Israel following the 1949 Israeli-Jordanian armistice agreement, and was under strict military rule until 1966. Fifty-nine years ago today, on October 29th, 1956, a group of peasants from Kafr Qasim returned to the village from their fields, unaware that their village was under curfew. Forty-seven of them were executed by the Israeli Border Patrol troops, in a massacre that would become a formative political myth for the Palestinian citizens of Israel. For the next two decades the anniversary of the massacre would be the most important date on their political calendar.
What shaped the memory of the Kafr Qasim massacre as an exceptional case was the political status of the victims as Israeli citizens.
The emergence of Kafr Qasim as a major political myth is not as self-evident as it appears to be, because during the same years Israel killed thousands of other Palestinians whose deaths remained outside of the canonic political memory. What shaped the memory of the Kafr Qasim massacre as an exceptional case was the political status of the victims as Israeli citizens.
In 1956 the Green Line was still in the process of becoming a socio-political border and the choice of Arab leaders in Israel to turn the event into a formative, watershed moment in the state’s political development reflected an emerging outlook, according to which it is possible to turn the nominal citizenship of the Palestinians in Israel into a tangible set of civil rights. It was exactly because the massacre in Kafr Qasim undermined this outlook by targeting Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, that it became necessary to make it a symbol of civil struggle. Paradoxically, the massacre became a milestone in the construction of Israeli civic consciousness among the Palestinians in Israel.