Newly declassified documents regarding the Kafr Qasem massacre have revealed that Israeli soldiers believed that they were obeying orders when they went on a killing spree which led to the massacre of 53 Palestinians.
In one of the worst massacres in Palestinian history, Israeli border police killed 53 Palestinian residents of Kafr Qasem, including women and children, in an hour-long killing spree aimed at terrorising the indigenous population into uprooting themselves and leaving their homes, thus triggering another wave of ethnic cleansing.
The massacre was carried out on the same day as the botched Suez Campaign, in which Israel, Britain and France conspired to topple Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser in order to regain control over the Suez Canal, which the then Egyptian President had nationalised three months earlier. The hope was that a major international conflict would divert attention and provide sufficient cover for the occupation state to expel more of the indigenous population in its unrelenting takeover of Palestine.
Historian Adam Raz is the author of "Kafr Qasem Massacre: A Political Biography". He believes that, behind the horrific 1956 event was a secret plan to expel ("transfer") Israel's Palestinian citizens from the much-coveted territory known as the Triangle in central Palestine. At the time of the massacre, Palestinians who managed to escape Israel's ethnic cleansing lived under Martial Law, a situation that continued until 1967.
The Israelis have maintained that, though a plan had existed, it was shelved. The newly declassified transcripts of the trial that followed the massacre, however, disprove the Israeli claim. At best, the implementation of the plan appears to have been surrounded by a deadly ambiguity which soldiers interpreted as orders to clear out the Palestinian towns, as they have done on many occasions previously.
The goal of expelling the native Palestinian population had already become entrenched within the Zionist DNA and that of the early Jewish settlers. When their first majority opportunity to expel the native population came in 1947/48, more than half the Palestinian population were ethnically cleansed and over 600 villages were razed to the ground.
In the case of Kafr Qasem, the idea behind the plan, as the Israeli Haaretz pointed out, was to exploit a future war with Jordan for the evacuation of Arab villages in this Triangle. Some of the population would flee to Jordan, while others would be sent to detention camps in Israel.
The transcripts quote a few phrases regarding the secret, allegedly shelved, plan. Among them is "evacuation notice to village elders" – evidence that there was a plan to transfer some, or all, of the Arabs in the Little Triangle should the war escalate. Some of the witnesses speak of deporting them east, meaning toward Jordan. Others indicate that the intention was to expel them from their homes to other places within Israel.
Testimony of Israeli commanders shows that the Israelis were instructed to kill. "It's desirable that there be some fatalities," Chaim Levy, who commanded the Border Police's southern company, whose sector included Kafr Qasem, said according to the 1957 trial about the massacre. Replying to Levy's claim that it was desirable to have fatalities, a lawyer asked: "Despite this, he emphasised not to commit murder, right?" to which Levy replied: "I see no difference." Levy went on to reveal that he was given the order to kill. "Today I find this unreasonable. At the time, I thought it was reasonable," he said when probed by the lawyer.