October 29, 1956
IDF troops kill 48 Israeli Arabs returning from their fields at dusk.
The Israeli invasion of the Sinai started that day, so IDF units in the Arab Triangle region abutting Jordan are on high alert for a Jordanian assault. IDF Col. Yissachar Shadmi illegally makes the curfew applied to Arab-heavy parts of Israel from 1948 to 1966 much earlier in Kafr Kassem. The village mukhtar does not have time to warn his people of the change. When villagers return from their fields, unknowingly violating the curfew, they are fired on by soldiers operating with orders to shoot to kill. Although all but one of the platoon commanders under Shadmi refuses to carry out his orders, 48 men, women and children are killed.
The Kafr Kassem massacre outrages Israeli Jews and Arabs, and the resulting legal proceedings transform military doctrine and reinforce the equality of Arab citizens of Israel.
An Israeli court rejects the soldiers’ defense that they were merely following orders. Instead, the court creates the concept of a “manifestly unlawful order,” an order so clearly against basic decency that soldiers are obligated to disobey it. The court also rejects the idea that a commander’s authority is absolute. Instead, military personnel are subject to civilian law and its principles, including the use of minimum necessary force.
Finally, the court reiterates that Arabs are full and equal citizens of Israel.
Political reactions are also strong. Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion says, “Israeli Arabs are not strangers, but citizens with equal rights. … Such a thing will never be done in Israel again.”