At last – the truth about Kafr Qasem – the village in which Israel murdered 51 people

At last – the truth about Kafr Qasem – the village in which Israel murdered 51 people

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The massacre at Kafr Qasem was supposed to be the Prelude to Transfer

Photographs of Victims of the Massacre at Kafr Qasem
On
October 29 1956, on the eve of the Suez War and Israel’s attack on Egypt,
martial law was declared in the Arab village of Kafr Qasem on the border with
Jordan.  The orders of the Border Police
Unit were to shoot to kill anyone breaking a curfew which was imposed at 5 pm.
Villagers coming back from working in the fields were not to be excepted.
Up
till now the accepted Israeli
version
of this
story has been that this was a tragic series of misunderstandings
combined with the normal Israeli contempt for Arab life. Israel was about to
engage in its first war of expansion, colluding in an attack on Egypt with
Britain and France and it didn’t want the Arabs of the Triangle to play the
part of a fifth column in the event of war with Jordan.
At the
subsequently trial of Colonel Shadmi, the Israeli Defence Forces Commander of
the Border Police, Major Shmuel Malinki testified that:
‘[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]’.
Shadmi
Shadmi
has always denied this conversation. Israeli historian Adam Raz has now written
a history of the Affair which points to a different explanation.  Israel hoped to use what is normally called
the fog of war in order to expel the Arabs of the Triangle, a group of Arab
villages near the Jordanian border, into Jordan.  This would solve the ‘problem’ of a major
concentration of Israeli Arabs in the Galilee.
The murders in Kafr Qasem were supposed to be the start of such a transfer.
The only problem is that there never was a war with Jordan.
It
is also now abundantly clear that the ‘trial’ of Colonel Shadmi was never
intended to be anything other than a show trial for the benefit of the
international community. He was in the end fined one-tenth of one shekel.
Tony
Greenstein
Kafr Qasem Memorial
‘Yiska’
Shadmi, the highest IDF officer tried for the Kafr Qasem massacre, admitted
before his death that his trial was staged to protect military and political
elites. Historian Adam Raz believes that behind the horrific 1956 event was a
secret plan to transfer Israel’s Arabs
By
Oct 13, 2018
In mid-July,
a strange performance played out in the Military Court of Appeals at the Kirya,
the defense establishment’s headquarters in Tel Aviv. The judge, an Israel
Defense Forces general, called Meretz MK Esawi Freij, from the Israeli Arab
town of Kafr Qasem, to the witness stand, and asked him just one question:
Would publication of classified documents relating to the massacre in his
village in 1956 be likely to stir up its residents?
Freij,
several of whose family members were among the dozens of victims
killed by the Border Police
, responded that the anger has not dissipated in
the 62 years that have passed since the incident. However, the MK emphasized,
the villagers are not looking for revenge.
We have no interest in disrupting the
security of the state or the life of any person,”
he said, adding that
people know exactly where Brig. Gen. (res.) Issachar “Yiska” Shadmi, the
highest-ranking officer to be brought to trial after the event, lives.
Shadmi, the
commander of the brigade responsible for that area at the time – and under
whose orders the massacre was carried out – was not far away at the time,
sitting in his spacious home in the upscale neighborhood of Ramat Aviv. He
didn’t know that his name was once again being raised in connection with the
affair that had hounded him for his entire adult life, like a mark of Cain
imprinted on his forehead.
The trial,
which is still ongoing, involves a lawsuit by historian Adam Raz, who is
demanding that the IDF and Defense Establishment Archives declassify documents
relating to the affair. “Most of the
material is still classified,”
says Raz, 35, who works for the Berl
Katznelson Foundation, in a recent interview with Haaretz. “I was surprised to discover that it’s easier to write about the
history of Israel’s nuclear program than about Israel’s policies regarding its
Arab citizens.”
The court has yet to hand down its judgment, but Raz’s
Hebrew-language book “Kafr Qasem
Massacre: A Political Biography,
” is being published this month by Carmel
Press. It is the first such comprehensive study of the affair.
Issachar “Yiska” Shadmi testifying at his 1957 trial, as reported in the weekly Haolam Hazeh. Haolam Hazeh
One of the
people Raz interviewed was Shadmi, who
died last month
at the age of 96. Back in the summer of 2017, this
writer joined Raz for the conversations with Shadmi, which took place at the
latter’s home. With the frankness often reserved to those who have reached a
ripe old age, Shadmi provided a rare, troubling behind-the-scenes look at one
of the formative events in the history of the State of Israel, and especially
of its Arab community. Among other things, the incident gave rise to the
concept of a “blatantly illegal order,” and led to an exceptional apology by
the president of Israel for a crime that the state’s soldiers committed against
its citizens.
Now, in the
wake of Shadmi’s death and the publication of Raz’s book, we are publishing the
former IDF officer’s testimony for the first time. At its center is his
contention that the 1958 court case against him was nothing more than a show
trial, staged in order to keep Israel’s security and political elite –
including Prime Minister Ben-Gurion, IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Dayan, and GOC
Central Command (and later chief of staff) Tzvi Tzur – from having to take
responsibility for the massacre.
Shadmi told
us that the trial, in which he was initially accused of murder but later
acquitted, was intended to mislead the international community with regard to
Israel’s ostensible pursuit of justice. For his part, Raz is convinced that the
background to ostensibly staging the trial was pressure from above to conceal
“Operation Mole” (Hafarperet), a secret program to expel to Jordan the
population of the so-called Triangle of Arab towns, located southeast of Haifa
– details of which have never been revealed.
Shadmi was
blessed to have been able to age in dignity. In his final years, he was lucid
and enjoyed good health. When he died, he was buried in the cemetery of the kibbutz
of which he had been an early member, Sdot Yam in Caesarea. In our long
conversations with him, he recalled minute details of the formative incident in
his life.
“This subject has always disturbed me. Why? Because
when people say ‘Kafr Qasem,’ they say ‘Shadmi.’ ‘Shadmi, the guy from Kafr
Qasem,’”
he said. “There are those who step
on a land mine and lose their legs. I stepped on a land mine. Its name was Kafr
Qasem.”
‘Good Arabs,
bad Arabs’
Yiska
Shadmi’s life was replete with all the episodes one would expect in the
biography of a member of the so-called 1948 generation, the generation that
founded the state. Were it not for the stain of Kafr Qasem, he would have
entered the history books as one of the first senior commanders of the IDF, and
perhaps he would even have gone into politics, like his friend and peer Yitzhak
Rabin.
Shadmi was
born in 1922, the sabra son of two immigrants from Eastern Europe, Shoshana
(née Goldberg) and Nahum Kramer. The family name, meaning “grocer” or “peddler”
in German, was Hebraicized to Shadmi, a derivation of the biblical word shdema,
or field. “Agriculture, not commerce and the stock market. This was the Zionist
revolution,” he wrote in his memoir.
Nahum had
served in the Red Army, and became one of the first commanders of the Haganah
pre-state army and then of the nascent IDF. Yiska, an only child, spent his
earliest years on the agricultural settlement Bitanya, near Lake Kinneret,
before moving with his parents to the nearby community of Menahemia.
As a boy, he
received initial training for the Haganah. In his memoir, he writes of his
first military operation, serving as aide de camp to Haganah officer Yigal
Allon, who would later serve as the legendary commander of the elite Palmach
strike force. At about the same time, during the years of the Arab Revolt
(1936-1939), Shadmi became aware for the first time of the Jewish-Arab
conflict.
“I grew up together with Arab children. We were
friends and would play together. To me, Arabs were not foreigners that one
needed to hate or fear. I grew up with them, I spoke with them, they spoke
Hebrew and Yiddish, and I spoke Arabic mixed with Yiddish,”
he wrote in
his personal diary. “When the riots broke
out, a rift was opened. There were good Arabs, who worked, and bad Arabs, who
shot guns. In the context of the fears that gave rise to the conflict, I began
to discover the figure of the Jewish hero, riding a horse with a keffiyeh and
an abaya [robe].”
In a
different entry, from 1938, he wrote:
“Today we are in a terrible
situation in this land, a whirlpool of blood. Self-restraint is weakening and
acts of vengeance are taking its place. We don’t have the strength to bear it
any longer. The beast-like instinct within us is awakened by the scene of blood
flowing throughout the land… The rifle is the tool that gives every one of us
the privilege of living. Were it not for the rifle, we would not be able to
stay alive in this cruel world… I respect the device that kills!!!”
In 1939, Shadmi
joined Kibbutz Sdot Yam, which had initially been founded in 1936 north of
Haifa but moved south to Caesarea in 1940. He served in the British Mandate’s
coast guard, and later as a Palmach platoon commander at Beit Ha’arava, near
the Dead Sea, and as a commander in the Haganah Field Corps in Samaria. During
“Black Sabbath” in 1946 (when Mandatory forces rounded up several thousand
Jewish soldiers and officials, following a spate of violent actions by Jewish
forces), he was arrested and taken to a British detention camp. In the War of
Independence, he commanded the Fifth Battalion of the Harel Brigade and the
Seventh Battalion of the Negev Brigade. Afterward, he climbed the ranks in the
IDF and served, among other positions, as commander of the Officers Training
School and of the Golani Brigade.
Then 62
years ago this month, Shadmi stepped on his land mine. It all began on October,
29, 1956, the first day of what would be called the Sinai Campaign. Shadmi,
then responsible for a Central Command brigade, was tasked with defending the
area abutting the Jordanian border, and ordered the ongoing curfew that was
then in effect, under martial law, to begin earlier than usual that day on the
Arab villages in the vicinity, among them Kafr Qasem.
The soldiers accused of perpetrating the Kafr Qasem massacre. The commander of the battalion, Shmuel Malinki, is on the left.
The
commander of the Border Police battalion, Shmuel Malinki, said later during the
trial held for him and the soldiers involved in the events, that Shadmi’s order
said to shoot at anyone who violated curfew. The words that he attributed to
Shadmi have since entered the history books:
During the
hours of the curfew, they can be in their homes and do as they desire… but
whomever is seen outside, who violates curfew, will be shot. Better that a few
go down, and then they will learn for the next time.”
Malinki also
said that in response to his question: “What
will be the fate of the civilians who return to the village after the curfew
[takes effect],”
Shadmi said: “I
don’t want sentimentality; I don’t want detainees
.” When Malinki persisted
in his request to receive a straight answer, he claimed that Shadmi said, “Allah Yerhamu” – Arabic for “God have mercy
[on their souls].”
At his
trial, Shadmi denied ordering the killing of curfew violators. Whatever the
case, the result was a disaster. Between 5 P.M. and 6 P.M. on that fateful day,
47 Arabs who were returning to their homes in Kafr Qasem – boys and girls,
women and men – were shot to death by Border Guard troops. An additional
victim, who was elderly, had a heart attack after he learned that his
grandchild had been killed. In the end, according to the villagers, the total
number of victims was 51.
Eight of the
11 IDF officers and soldiers put on trial for the shootings were convicted and
sent to prison for varying terms, but later their sentences were commuted, by
the president and chief of staff, among others. By 1960, all had been released
without having served most of their jail terms. Some were even awarded
desirable state jobs – Malinki, for instance, was appointed chief of security
at the nuclear reactor at Dimona by Ben-Gurion.
A little
more than two years after the bloody massacre at Kafr Qasem, Shadmi became the
highest-ranking officer to be brought to trial for it. He was accused of the
murder of 25 villagers (half of the victims, because there was no proof that
the order to shoot violators of the curfew had been intended to include women
and children, as it was interpreted). In the end, Shadmi was exonerated of the
murder charges: The judge determined that the accusations against him were “unproven and unsubstantiated generally and
in principle.”
The ruling stated that “the
orders to shoot violators of the curfew could not be understood in any way as
orders to shoot people returning from work to the area under curfew.”
Shadmi was
convicted on only one procedural and technical charge – of “exceeding his authority” and giving
orders regarding the hours and parameters of the curfew, when only the military
governor was authorized to do so. The punishment he received infuriated the
residents of Kafr Qasem: a symbolic fine of 10 prutot, or one-100th of an
Israeli pound, and a reprimand.
When he left
the courthouse, Shadmi excitedly waved his hand, grasping a 10-prutot coin. A
photo of this was published in the press and Shadmi’s coin thus became a
watchword among Arab citizens of what they saw as the cheapness of their lives
in the eyes of the regime.
Issachar “Yiska” Shadmi, after his trial, holding the 10-prutot coin he had to pay as a symbolic fine. Residents of Kafr Qasem were infuriated by the punishment.
‘Not Don
Quixote’
Shadmi
celebrated his “victory” with Prime Minister Ben-Gurion, who described in his
own diary how “we drank to his
exoneration
.” A party was held at Sdot Yam, with Chief of Staff Haim Laskov
and other IDF generals in attendance. Yet in retrospect, Shadmi told Adam Raz
and myself, the expressions of joy were mostly for public consumption; he was
not at all surprised by the verdict he received. He told us that the outcome of
the trial, which he called a “play
and a “show trial,” was fixed from
the start. From his descriptions – some of which also appear in his
self-published memoir – it seems that the legal proceedings were conducted in
defiance of all accepted norms.
From the
start, he claimed, he was promised the best legal defense. The state appointed
the highly respected attorney Yaacov Salomon – and paid for his services. In
light of this, Shadmi said he felt the balance of power between the weak
military prosecutor and the superlative defense he was awarded was always
tilted in his favor.
Moreover,
according to Shadmi, “I was told that I
could object to the judges that were appointed if I didn’t trust them.”
He
also received assurances from another senior IDF and legal figure, Meir
Shamgar, deputy military adjutant general at the time and later president of the
Supreme Court. Shamgar, Shadmi recalled, “took
me aside and said: ‘Listen, this is a show trial,’” and urged him not to worry.
Shadmi added that “Shamgar whispered to me that this was to my benefit.”
Asked now
for his response to Shadmi’s comment, former justice Shamgar told Haaretz that
he did not remember saying such things.
Eventually,
Shadmi said he understood that he had truly become an actor in a grand
performance – after his attorney, Salomon, “tried to brainwash me and persuade
me to take a defensive position that I didn’t like and didn’t match the facts
as they were known to me. Facts that gave me moral courage in asserting the
justice of my case and of my honest and simple claims.”
For some two
weeks before the trial opened, he and Salomon stayed at a Tel Aviv hotel,
working on their arguments “every day
until 2 A.M.
,” Shadmi recounted. “He
wanted to break me, so that I would accept the version that he would dictate to
me, what I should say in court…. He tried to plant things in my head.”
Behind his
words hid Shadmi’s most serious criticism, according to which Salomon, as
Ben-Gurion’s emissary, tried to use Shadmi as a means to distance senior IDF
commanders and the political echelon from the Kafr Qasem massacre – as a kind
of punching bag to stand trial in their stead and prevent the indictments of
others.
In the
center of the drama stood Tzvi “Chera” Tzur, who was Shadmi’s superior officer
at the time of the massacre and later became the IDF’s sixth chief of staff.
Shadmi was convinced that the judges “needed to protect Chera” and that his
attorney “was not protecting me, but
protecting the IDF and Tchera and the rest of those…. So this wouldn’t climb
any higher,”
in his words.
David Ben-Gurion. GPO
These
comments may sound conspiratorial, but Raz found support for them from yet
another source. In a meeting of the cabinet on November 23, 1958, about a month
before the opening of Shadmi’s trial, Ben-Gurion was already predicting, “From talking with Shadmi, I assume that he
will not say that he received an order like that, that one needs to fire…. Tzur
isn’t on trial. Shadmi won’t say such a thing.”
Shadmi also
noted that his father, who until 1958 was president of the Military Court of
Appeals, was a friend of Shamgar’s: “Shamgar
told my father ‘Explain to your son that they aren’t out to get him, but want
to protect the IDF.”
According to
Shadmi, Ben-Gurion, by means of his underlings, made sure that the military
judges appointed to conduct the trial would be among those who had been under
Tzur’s command in the Givati Brigade, so they would not exactly feel
comfortable incriminating him. “They were
not chosen by chance,”
Shadmi told us. “And
in their outlooks and political positions, they were aligned with the same
party of which Ben-Gurion was an admired leader.”
On this
point, however, Shadmi qualified his statement: “I am not at all convinced that the judges consciously saw themselves
as someone else’s emissaries.”
And indeed, according to him, “those who dispatched them to the court
intended, quite clearly, that they would assist naturally in building an
obstacle against accusations, even partial ones, involving the most senior
ranks.”
Ultimately,
as Shadmi admitted, he went along with his attorney’s game and adapted himself
to the defense dictated to him.
“I also set a barrier for myself
at the beginning of the trial, because I knew the legal rule – that if someone
with a higher rank than mine is implicated in the accusations, that doesn’t
relieve me of responsibility. And that is also the reason I did not try to
press my attorney to call the general [Tzur] to testify at the trial.”
Added
Shadmi,
I was an IDF man, and if needed,
I would keep silent about all sorts of things about which I knew more or
differently. I didn’t sally forth like Don Quixote to fight for my justice,
because I knew what they wanted from me.
Wrapped in
cotton
Shadmi
thought that his trial was intended to prevent the case from reaching the
International Court of Justice, which had been established by the United
Nations in The Hague following World War II. “They explained to me that they needed to put me on trial, because if I
had tried in my own country and convicted, even if I was fined only a penny, I
wouldn’t go to The Hague…. If they didn’t prosecute me… I would be tried at The
Hague. And that is something that neither I nor the country were interested
in.”
It bears
mentioning here that in those days, the ICJ did not operate in a way that would
made it possible to put Israeli officers or politicians on trial. However, as
historian Raz notes, “the fact Shadmi was
mistaken about the international judicial system, didn’t mean that there wasn’t
real concern in the Israeli upper echelons about an international response.”
According
to Raz, from Ben-Gurion’s response to the affair, it appears that the Israeli
leadership was in fact “very worried
about the potential international response.”
But if there is any
documentation of this in the state archives, it is not accessible to the
public.
Shadmi’s
account, as we heard it last year in his home, are borne out by the facts
appearing in the archival documents. Indeed, Raz did encounter other testimony
in the army archives suggesting that already then, people were calling for more
senior figures than Shadmi to stand trial.
Thus, for
instance, Transportation Minister Moshe Carmel wrote:
“We will not be able to avoid
asking questions and won’t be able to flinch from investigating if indeed the
final and ultimate responsibility falls upon Col. Shadmi, and on him alone…. A
commander does not operate, in the end, on his own say-so, but within a
framework of plans, orders and guidelines, formed somewhere else, invented for
him by a higher commanding authority…. The public seeks to know, and rightly
so, what orders and guidelines were given to Col. Shadmi by his superiors,
according to which he operated and dispatched subsequent, more particular
directives…. And also from whom he received his orders.”
Later on,
the grandson of Yitzhak Greenbaum, Israel’s first interior minister, related
the following:
“When the Kafr Qasem massacre
occurred, my grandfather explained to me how an order for a massacre is handed
down from the senior members of government to operational personnel, without
the senior ranks saying anything explicit that might seem like an order.”
In 1986, in
an article by Dalia Karpel in the Tel Aviv weekly Ha’ir, Malinki’s widow was
quoted as saying:
“Part of the trial was conducted
behind closed doors and it was clear that it was impossible to go up the chain
of command looking for responsible parties, and to reveal the part of the GOC
Central Command, chief of staff or even the government in this affair. It would
mar the image of the state in the world. Ben-Gurion told my husband: ‘I am
asking for a human sacrifice on behalf of the state, just as there are
sacrificial casualties, people who fall in war. I promise you that your status
and rank will be returned to you.”
On the basis
of testimonies, written and recorded, that he gathered, Raz is convinced of
Shadmi’s version of events, according to which the whole trial was fixed:
“Ben-Gurion sought an insurance
policy that would enable him to point to Shadmi as the one who gave the order,
and to stop there…. Shadmi would be prosecuted because Ben-Gurion and his
colleagues needed to prove to the public and the political establishment that
the chain of command led no further than the brigade commander. And in the end,
as noted, [Shadmi] was also exonerated.”
Shadmi’s
silence with respect to those above him paid off, even if not immediately. On
the military level, his promising career came to an end in 1962, and he was not
promoted to the rank of full general like his peers. He continued to serve in
the reserves, fighting in the Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War, in which he
was seriously wounded in a helicopter crash.
Brig. Gen. (res.) Issachar “Yiska” Shadmi at home in Sdot Yam, in 2017. Ofer Aderet
Behind the
scenes, though, as Shadmi claimed, a deal was cooked up that paid off later for
both sides. “Chera wrapped me up in
cotton
,” he said, referring to Tzvi Tzur. “I got anything I wanted,” he recalled candidly.
The details
of the entire affair, had they surfaced today, would have been tagged
immediately as being tainted by corruption and liable to land people in court.
Nonetheless, all these years later, Shadmi was quick to acknowledge that
because of the “debt” that Tzur owed him, for not revealing all he knew in the
courtroom, he was well compensated as a civilian: “I turned into a major Defense Ministry building contractor.”
Shadmi went
into some detail regarding the lucrative work from his defense work, but
requested that these parts of the interviews not be recorded. He added that
Tzur took care of him “with an open hand
in this regard. The reason, he emphasized time and again, was that, “I kept quiet, I didn’t speak out against the
IDF. Tzur understood that I saved him.”
‘Operation
Mole’
Adam Raz is
convinced that there was a reason that Shadmi’s trial was staged and aimed to
protect his superior officers, as well as for other reasons. Raz believes there
was an effort at the same time to hide the existence of a secret program called
“Operation Mole,” whose goal was the expulsion of Arabs from the Triangle,
which included Kafr Qasem, to Jordan.
Historian
Adam Raz.
“The public is familiar with the ‘Mole’ program
only as a rumor,”
says Raz, noting that it has been mentioned in the
press only a handful of times over the years, since the 1960s. In 1991, the
journalist and linguist Ruvik Rosenthal dealt with the subject in the newspaper
Hadashot, and later expanded his article in a collection of essays he edited
about the Kafr Qasem massacre. But details of the program were never fully
revealed, and much of the documentation remains classified in the IDF archive.
The evidence includes closed-door discussions held during the Kafr Qasem
trials. The speakers used only code, referring to a “famous order” dealing with
“an animal of the mammalian family.”
Still Raz
managed to follow the scent of the secret scheme by means of other sources,
among them lawyers involved in the trial of Malinki and the soldiers, other
testimony, interviews with the “heroes of the affair,” etc. In a meticulous
archival investigation, he unearthed tidbits, such as: “A. Surround the village; B. announce the evacuation to the village
elders and the option to cross the border within the established period (three
hours).”
In addition,
Raz was able to find the written testimony of Gen. (res.) Avraham “Avrasha”
Tamir, the architect of the program, according to which “Ben-Gurion requested a plan to deal with the Arab population of the
Triangle
” in the event that a war would break out with Jordan. Tamir’s
account accords with the explanation given by Ben-Gurion himself, in 1953, at a
cabinet meeting on the subject of martial law – to the effect that there was a
solution to the ostensible problem of the Arabs in the Triangle, and that it “depended upon whether there would be a war
or not.”
Tamir’s
testimony states:
“The plans were more or less
mine… I took what the Americans did to the Japanese in World War II
[imprisoning them in internment camps out of concern that they would constitute
a “fifth column”]. To put it simply, if war broke out, whoever did not flee to Jordan
would be evacuated to concentration camps in the rear; they wouldn’t stay on
the border. These were the plans, to evacuate them to the rear so that they
wouldn’t impede the war effort…. The way to Jordan would remain open for their
flight if they so chose. But whoever remained – we would need to evacuate them
to the rear to facilitate freedom of action in which the defense forces could
maneuver.”
To
understand the historical context connecting Operation Mole, the Sinai Campaign
and the Kafr Qasem massacre, one must remember that in roughly that same
period, up until the Six-Day War, when Israel conquered the West Bank, Arab
villages like Kafr Qasem were situated very close to the border with Jordan. In
the weeks before the massacre, tensions rose and many infiltrators penetrated
Israel. The IDF was increasingly worried about cooperation between the latter
and their countrymen in the Israeli villages. Until 1966, martial law was in
effect in those communities, among them Kafr Qasem.
The massacre
occurred on the day the Sinai Campaign began: In it, Israel, England and France
joined forces in fighting against Egypt, and eventually the IDF conquered the
Sinai peninsula. In a certain sense, the massacre was part of that same war,
but took place on a completely different front, as Rubik Rosenthal wrote in his
2000 book “Kafr Qasem: Events and Myth” (Hakibbutz Hameuchad), the first book
about the massacre.
In the
period prior to the Sinai Campaign, Israel launched a diversionary operation,
in the context of which forces were concentrated along the Jordanian border,
including the area of Kafr Qasem, to create the impression that Israel was
preparing an attack on its eastern front. “The
lower ranking officers and troops that participated in the operations thought
that war really was breaking out on the eastern border,”
writes Rosenthal.
Raz thinks
one must see the Kafr Qasem massacre in this context:
“The massacre wasn’t perpetrated
by a group of soldiers who were out of control, as has been argued until today.
From their point of view they were following orders, which in essence would
lead to the expulsion of the villagers,”
he says. Or,
in other words, they were operating in line with the directives of Operation
Mole, as they understood them.
Raz’s study
presents much testimony that supports this view. In his book he reconstructs
the hour-by-hour chain of events that led to the horrifying outcome on that
fateful day, and thus proves his claim that there is a connection between the
massacre and the secret operation.
Thus, for
example, he provides authoritative documentation about meetings prior to the
massacre between the battalion commander, Malinki, and other top brass, which
dealt with the secret scheme – sometimes explicitly and sometimes without
actually naming it. On October 24, five days before the killings in Kafr Qasem,
Malinki met with the GOC Central Command Tzur.
According to
Malinki’s testimony, he was told that, with war approaching, one of the
missions of his battalion would be to deal with the Arab villages in the
Triangle. “There is a complex portfolio at the Operations Directorate and I
must prepare the mission,” he said.
On October
25, Malinki met with the military governor, Zalman Mart, who emphasized that “the issue is how to motivate them [the
Arabs] to leave the country.”
Several hours later, Malinki met with Tamir,
then chief of Central Command’s operations branch. The latter conveyed the
directives of the plan.
“A plan was conveyed to me,” said
Malinki. “The general context was explained, and the urgency…. We must prepare
the plan as quickly as possible so that it will be ready for immediate
implementation…. This is a most secret plan.”
He later
testified that on October 28, the day prior to the massacre, he met with
Shadmi, the brigade commander, who asked him to wait until he received orders
from Central Command about Operation Mole, “which
I was supposed to execute,”
as Malinki put it. “The Mole commanders discussed issues concerning the treatment of the
Arab minority in the area under martial law…. Execution of arrests…. Imposition
of curfew…. Complete evacuation of the villages if the need arises.”
On the
morning of October 29, Shadmi announced that the plan had not been authorized
in its entirety, but particular clauses would “of course” be authorized by the afternoon. As to what happened in
the meeting between Shadmi and Malinki, a few hours later, it emerges that a
dispute broke out that dogged them both until their final days.
הנשיא ריבלין
באירוע לציון הטבח בכפר קאסם
Malinki, as
noted, testified that Shadmi ordered him to fire “without sentimentality” in order to kill whoever violated the
curfew. Shadmi denied this. Later on, when meeting his soldiers just before the
massacre, Malinki explained to them that war was about to break out. In other
words, the secret plan, whether officially or only as something hovering in the
background, was in the minds of troops of every rank – from the highest
commander to the lowliest foot soldier. After the massacre, Shadmi also
admitted himself that
the final proposal before embarking on the day of the operation took
the form of an Operation Mole directive passed down from Central Command. That
order specified in detail the method of evacuation of the population from the
area along the border during the first stage of the deployment of forces.”
According to
Shadmi, in testimony he gave to the police, prior to being charged,
“I showed [Malinki] immediately
the Mole orders… according to which we were to prepare the operation. Malinki
answered me … with a self-satisfied smile and informed me that the entire
portfolio of the secret operation was all planned out. Therefore, I saw him at
that moment as an expert about everything that had been discussed.”
Two months
after the massacre, Malinki claimed that he had not been comfortable under
Shadmi’s command, but didn’t do anything about it.
“I thought about calling the commander
of the Border Police, but that seemed like an act of disloyalty with regard to
the officer in question. I didn’t know [Shadmi], but as I was a witness to his
conversations with the general [Tzur] with regard to the Mole and as I had
personally received the order for that operation from headquarters – I was
stunned by the drastic approach that had been decided upon, but didn’t doubt
that this was a decision of the highest authority, and I saw the brigade
commander as a pipeline,”
Malinki
later wrote to Ben-Gurion.
General Tzur
himself responded to the secret plan, in testimony before the investigative
commission that Ben-Gurion convened immediately after the massacre, prior to
the trial. He explained that Operation Mole “relates to the entire country and all are working according to the same
methodology,”
adding that the operation was part of an overall plan of war
vis-a-vis Jordan.
In this
context, Raz believes that plans for Operation Mole “fulfilled a central purpose in motivating the troops to succeed in
their mission [in Kafr Qasem].”
According to him,
“they correctly understood the
harsh curfew order as an initial stage in the expulsion of the residents of the
villages, and acted to the maximal degree to follow their orders … They were
correct in their interpretation: They indeed imposed the curfew, whose
objective was the expulsion of the Arabs in the event that Israel and Jordan
found themselves in a state of war.”
Here is
where the staged trial that Shadmi claims was conducted, enters the picture. In
its course, as noted, he covered for his superiors and did not open his mouth
about Operation Mole.
Raz:
“What did they want of Shadmi?
They wanted him not to tell the truth. And the truth is that the plan for which
the troops and officers were training, and the plan that was put into action,
in large part, was Operation Mole.”
The option
of expelling the Arabs of the Triangle in a future time of war with Jordan, he
adds, “was a policy that could be
implemented, from the perspective of Ben-Gurion, Dayan and others
.” Indeed,
much of the testimony the historian found from a variety of sources support
that view, including that of Dayan, who said at one point: “I hope that in the coming years there will perhaps be another
opportunity to effect a transfer of these Arabs from the Land of Israel.

According to Raz, “the conditions on the
eve of the Sinai Campaign enabled them to progress toward realization of the
plan.”
Based on the
vast array of materials Raz compiled, a small portion of which are detailed
here, he declares: “The fact that Shadmi
ordered implementation of parts of the plan [i.e., Operation Mole] – up to the
expulsion order itself – is not, according to my analysis, in doubt. But it’s
clear that the order for this arrived from on high.”
Shadmi, says Raz, “understood that he was being used as a main
character in a performance intended to cover for those truly responsible:
Ben-Gurion, Moshe Dayan and Tzvi Tzur.”
At present
Raz is waiting for the decision of the military appeals court as to whether he
will be allowed to examine all the classified documents relating to the affair
of the massacre at Kafr Qasem, and more generally those relating to Operation
Mole. For its part, the army claims that declassifying these documents will
impair the security of the state, its relations with foreign entities, and also
the privacy and well-being of various individuals.
As for
Shadmi himself, he raised four children with his wife, Pnina, a math teacher
who died in 2013; there are also grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Their
son, Col. (res.) Yiftah Shadmi, served as a fighter pilot in the air force.
Shadmi’s
memoir was eventually self-published, unlike his personal diary. Leafing
through them, one finds these comments about death:
“Consciously, I force myself not
to be afraid [of it], and have also begun to believe that there is nothing to
fear. For at the very worst, one could be killed. Indeed, it’s a pity to give
up on life, but the awareness that one fell for the sake of the homeland is the
reward and the atonement for the life one gives up. In one sense, I have no
desire to die before I fulfill my obligation, to do the maximum in my power for
the country and the nation. I want there to be no distinction between the
benefit that I can bring during my lifetime, and that which I can bring in sacrificing
myself upon the altar of defense.”

 

 

 

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