MEMORIAL on the 50th Anniversary of the Kafr Qasem Massacre
Interview with Abu Naser of Kafr Qasem on October 30, 1999Recorded and translated by Samia A. Halaby
Hakime Rabi, a Kafr Qasemite, accompanied me on several visits to interview survivors of the 1956 massacre. It was 11:00 am on October 30, 1999,when we drove up to the house. It was the day after the annual memorial march that the townspeople organize to commemorate the massacre. Abu Naser was sitting outside in the sun. I begged to go inside to the shade after he offered the two alternatives.
The interview was with Omar Ahmad Hamdan Amer known as Abu Naser. I began to type what he was saying that there was no water or electricity in the town and barely five radios operating on batteries. Then he stopped me. He wanted to settle some issues before allowing me to continue typing. He began by asking me weather I wanted the literary version or the reality version. I replied that at that stage I was less interested in seeing the work of other artists and writers than hearing scientific details>
Abu Naser had begun to collect testimonies beginning on the third day after the massacre. He told me that he had written a book that that he had shown to members of the communist party (Tawfiq Touby or Emil Habibi) who wanted to publish and he had promised to send it but in the end changed his mind. He says that it is an invaluable document of the massacre and that it will stay hidden till after his time, at which time his sons might publish it.
I asked Abu Naser one question: What do you remember of October 29, 1956, the day of the massacre? His reply is one quotation filling the rest of these pages. Brief clarifications are in square braces.
“In the morning of the day, it was my day off… But first, the day before I was in Petah Tikva. On my return I saw some unusual things. On the road I saw electric lines laid down by and for the military in yellow and black colors. They stretched from Ras Al-Ein to us in Kafr Qasem. They were laid on the ground on the side of the road. You must realize how things were then. In our town all things that connected us to the police or to the military created fear. The shepherds and workers returning home were even afraid to pay attention to the lines. And it was known that the military did not enter the town in those days. The lines were stretched to military points in Wadi Jabal, Abu Imran, the highest spot, and in Hisbet al Japra. And they were connected to another high spot where was a military installation, and another spot, and between them these wires. [Abu Naser named all the spots but I was not fast enough to catch them all.] I thought that something would happen on the borders. Because, a month and half earlier there was a skirmish between the Jordanians and Israelis.
On the day of the 29th, no one knew that there would be orders. Military vehicles were not present. We did not see any. In the morning of that day I wanted to go to see about getting work as my father was urging me. But I found none and I was glad to be free and out of the house and wanted to make myself scarce so that my father would not be on my case. I was sixteen years old; and because my father wanted me to find work, while I felt the need to relax, I ran away. I had to be hungry in order to be free because I did not go back to eat. I was playing all day. I was playing chess with friends in an evergreen glade. I was absorbed in playing chess. I like it. You make a central place and three in each of four directions.
I was playing with friends there and I stayed free escaping from my father till about four o’clock in the afternoon. At that moment the town crier began calling “You folks of the town, those present inform the absent that there is an order from the government that there is a curfew, a prohibition of movement, which will begin at 5:00 PM and endure till further notice.”
I felt that I had been happy and suddenly I felt upset. I was expecting something upsetting. We left off playing the game and we began to look at the people. Those who heard the news began to run in fear. I could hear people saying go, go call such and such a person. Go call them. Go call such and such. I saw many running and some going by bike. That is what I saw in front of me right after the town crier. I felt that the world had turned yellow. That is what I felt I saw. I do not know how to describe it. I was standing in front of two small stores and I saw one of them who likes… I saw a man who was coming from the west, that is from near the orchard of Abu Hamdi -- a stand of olives. They were saying that at the high spots of Abu Abdalazziz there were two military tents. So when I heard I went slowly to go see what is to be seen. What did I see? I saw some running westward, some going like me, and some calling their children.
The houses then were small and humble and built in a simple way with Zingo (corrugated tin) roofs. Also on the little hill where the town was located…from the high spot of the town there was a view downwards, and it was all empty. There were no tents. I was walking towards the east, towards where the massacre took place. I had no identity card, stillyet I wanted to see. I came near the house of Dar Awad. I saw Ismail Dirbass he was coming from the direction of the soldiers and telling the workers with him to run and he was shaking with fear. He told me ‘where are you going’ and I said I was going to take a look and he told me to return. But I continued till the school walking and suddenly there was no one in view. I walked to where the offices of Mr. …, the lawyer, are now. I saw the vehicle of Mahmoud Habib come and I saw it leave. He let down some female workers and drove back quickly westward. I saw a man who also told me where ‘are you going’ and he told me to return. And at that moment I began to be afraid. I reached the school and then I began to return. [The massacre occured 10 to 15 meters from the school.]
I saw Subhi with a few women and most of the women began to scatter and go home and then my father saw me and he began to call me and yell at me. When I saw My father I began to be afraid more of my father and I returned to the shops and they were closed and most places were closed. And all places were closed or empty and I began to really be afraid. I saw my father from a distance and he was afraid and confused making signs for me to return and he yelled at me “you are going out during curfew! Do you want to be killed?” He told me to go check on my mother. Then he went to his home. He lived apart from us. I went to our home next to the Mosque and I saw that the house was closed. I saw that my mother was not home and I got frightened. My father said from his distance that I should go look for her in the bakery. I met her carrying the bread and returning home. I began to be confused. I took the bread and took her hand so she would not to fall because she had low vision and was old. When we reached home I gave her the pail of bread and tried to close the door. I heard many shots and a scream and it was the shot that killed Talal Shaker, and a light came which showed the shop of… At that moment I saw cows coming from various direction. When I saw the cows, I decided that the cows prove that people are out. But then, I saw a light, a vehicle coming with headlight on. I saw the jeep separate the cows and come to our street. It was a land rover coming to our street with three soldiers. AT that point, I was frightened. I entered the house and closed the door.
My mother said that we have no water and we have not cooked. We had a bit of oil and olives and the bread and tea and no other food. I had a radio and there was no news so I closed it. I heard the noise of a vehicle, a high noise. I wanted to see but returned to eat and I began to hear intermittent shooting and it stayed that way till 6:00 PM. I thought that there would be war between Jordan and Israel and feared that the path of the war would go through our town, so I reopened the radio to Mahatat Al-Shark Al Adna from Cypress. I heard there was shooting between Israel and Egypt. I though this was good because the war was far from us.
What puzzled me was the question of why there was shooting in our town if the war was so far away, and at that moment my radio battery ran out. I sat in front of the house door from inside; it was dark; I was eating by the light of an oil lamp. I was hoping to read while the curfew was on but the vehicle kept coming and going and I was afraid they would see the light from the cracks in the wooden door. I had a book called Radar Two and Alf layle Wa Layle and many others and I was trying to spend my time reading.
And so the evening was spent, but I did hear the screaming of the women when they killed the women -- the screaming of the women and the shooting -- and then it stopped and everything was quiet. I read till the next morning. And that is the first day.
On the next day, the town crier called that the curfew will continue one more day. Our neighbor, Sheik Saleh called and asked if we needed water or bread. They had a well and I said that if we need water we would call. Sheik Saleh dared the curfew, carefully hiding behind the stone wall, to make us his offer of help.
That second day which would be a Tuesday, I was planning to spend working. It was very quiet all day. No one went out. No one was to be seen.
[At this point we stopped for a rest as Abu Naser was affected. I closed the computer and we drew a plan and Abu Naser showed us the events of the killing of the shepherd and his son. Then he continued describing the third wave on the western road to the village.] The son, a 12 year old boy, was coming home with his flock and was crossing the main road from the west just behind where the border guard had set up their killing station. He said that the boy might have passed unharmed had not the father come running from the direction of the town, from home, towards his son trying to urge him to hurry. The son was coming with the flock from the fields just then crossing the road. When the border guards heard the father call and were alerted, one of them who had been standing, approached him and shot him. The boy being small was a bit hard to see behind the numerous flock but he yelled in anguish and shock when he saw his father fall to the ground in the middle of the street and thus he called to his father and ran to him and they shot the boy dead over the body of the father.
I saw the spot where they killed them, I saw their blood on the road.
[Abu Naser next describes the first wave of killing on the western road.] Of the four quarry workers, two died immediately and one pretended to die and escaped. One escaped hiding behind the sheep and goats which were scattering.
[Abu Naser is now describing the second wave.] At that point the cart came with the old man and his 8 year old daughter Sameeha. There were two carts an elongated cart and another normal cart. Abu Samaha came riding his mule. The girl Sameeha was walking behind the cart. And the Soldiers stopped them. Tawfik Al Hamoude came with them. Awfar asked them where they were from. they replied that they were comming from the plains. They [the border police] gave the order to shoot. Abu Samaha died quickly Ismail Mahmoud was not hit. Dahan [one of the border police] came at that moment and let Abdalraheem and Sameeha go, but made Ismail Mahmoud, Ghazi, and Tawfik stay. As soon as the children left, Ismail Mahmoud Budeir saw the bodies of the others and asked them not to kill them. But Ismail was shot and fell Sameeha saw her father when he fell but di not yell. She went home. She said nothing to her mother who had cooked dinner. The mother later related that the child came and asked her “why do you prepare dinner? My father will not be coming to eat“. It appears that that is all that the child was able to say at that point in time.
[Abu Naser next describes the sixth wave.] There came many more [men and boys] and they collected those coming by bicycles and shot them in two rows and some ran and some fell. But only two or three died immediately and the rest were wounded but living. But later when the border guard began to make sure that they were dead, they shot them again and the ones had fallen to the ground died.
There is witness information from those who ran and escaped unharmed even as the border guards continued to shoot to make sure all are killed. Among them are Salim Ahmad Budeir and Jamal Salim Tah and other. They say that onE cried in pain saying either save me or kill me. When the border police heard him, they finish him.
[Abu Naser is next talking about the seventh wave.] Jamal fell next to his brother and both were untouched dnd Jamal said “Ya Abdalraheem I am ok are you”? The child Jamal thought the brother died. The soldiers came and shot Jamal dead and double shot them all to make sure of their death. The brother, Abdalraheem was wounded in many places but survived.
In court the border guards said that “We stopped a vehicle with some Arabs to ask where they came from and they began to run and so we shot them.” They shot Mustafa Budeir
At the door of the hospital, Assad Isaa said that there was in the papers a notice saying that on October 30 in a village in the triangle, there was a curfew and the people threw stones, and that the soldiers (border guards) began to shoot on them. A doctor who came to see one of the wounded from Kafr Qasem asked “what did Israel ever do to you? Why did you give us trouble?” The wounded man said that he could not answer. Assad Isaa is the man who said that. It is true they tried to make it go away.
The martyred were many. In fact Kafar Fahem was prepared in advance that they wanted to kill people and encourage them through fear to cause them to run. They wanted a repeat of Deir Yaseen and 1948. Many of the military sections left the northern bordeer and came to this area and they planned to lead us to Baldat Hiwwara [near Nablus] and force people to go through a section of the border they left purposefully unguarded and open. They wanted people to evacuate their homes and lands from that section. They were trying to evacuate people, but people refused to leave.
There was an agreement between England and Jordan to take the West Bank. Kafr Qasem was under military rule and nightly curfew from 1949 till the day of the massacre and after. There was a curfew very night from ten PM till 6 AM. People were prohibited from leaving their homes. When people escaping the massacre saw that the town was totally quiet and since they did not know of the early curfew they might drew the conclusion that every one was killed in Kafr Qasem. This is possibly why so many of the wounded and those who escaped were persuaded that all were dead or that all had run away.
[Abu Naser describes the seventh wave. Raja is the father of the 8 year old Riad who had been sent to bring him home and who died in the massacre] Raja Began to tell the story of what hapened to him. He said that they finished their work in the plains and that he and some of the workers under him left their jobs in a tractor. Its lights failed, so they left it and began walking when suddenly they saw a light. They knew of the curfew but could not decide whether to sleep the night right there or to continue. They had no idea of the killing but they feared being stopped if caught after dark out on the road. [This because if so cuaght they would be fined.]
Normally the majority of workers went to work riding bicycles or donkeys or carts. They were poor and a fine of 25 pounds was a harsh fine.
And since there was water and sacks they thought they might safely spend the night at a spot in the plain. Then they saw the headlights and found that it belonged to Atta Yacoub Sarsour who stopped for them. He had fifteen workers with him and told them that he dared not take them as he would be forced to pay all their fines, but they promised pay the fines if they were caught.
They buried the people and left the vehicles. I saw the vehicles on Wednesday morning but the carts were gone.
Raja is a foreman of workers and he thought that he had some privilege. They got everyone from the truck and when he came to open his pocket to give them his identity card … the workers were by then lined up in two rows. Raja was trying to get his card from his shirt pocket and then his 8 year old son called him wanting his father to bring him down from the truck. He went back to get his son and just as he put him on the ground the order to kill was given and Raja put his son down and ran leaving his son. He ran smack into the cactus fence and could not get through it. He hit his head on it and it filled with thorns. He ran in the middle of the road and he went down until until he reached the houses of the badu. He then went to the plain till he reached the well with which he was familiar. He climbed to the top of it and pulled up the ladder and stayed over the well till morning.
He knows the life of farmers. Thus, when morning came he saw that no one was coming out of the town to work in the fields and thought that no one was left in town. He did not know if they were all dead or if they had left. He could not decide what to do. He asked himself if he should go to Petah Tikva or to Jordan or go back to the village and die with the rest. He was confused and drunk from shock as he began to go to the village. It was by then the following day, Tuesday. On the way he ran into the Military governor and then saw Yousef Dankour, the military judge whom he knew. The judge asked him what he was doing and Raja told him. The judge took him to his house in the village in his own car. When Raja saw his wife he was happy, but she asked him where Riyad was. He said nothing. When she continued to ask about Riyad he said that Riyad is coming.
After Raja there came another two vehicles. One of them was filled with 27 men belonging to Abdallah Muhammad Ismail Isa. There are many stories about it and we will take the best known one. The Soldier asked them where are you going. After they answered he told them follow me and they followed him. He was in his jeep driving in front of them. They saw nothing as the bodies were not visible. They said that just near the town hall an old man who was 80 years old holding a stick with a white kerchief came to Dahan’s jeep. Where are my sons? He asked about his sons who were outside of the town. Dihan was thus stopped by the old man giving the truck escape at high speed.
Thus the driver allowed them all to escaped. Another opinion says that the owner of the truck had bought it from an Israeli soldier who knew the border guard and that he let him go. Some say that after the truck escaped the border guards searched for the truck but could not find it. The truck was driven to the northern section and there all the passengers went into one house, all 27 of them. In their haste they left the headlights turned on for nearly an hour. After discussion they decided that someone should go out and turn everything off. Ismail later said that they believed that they would all die soon [be attacked]. There were fourty sacks of wheat in the house. Ismail sadi “We thought that the Israelis were going to kill everyone in the town and that they would come to us, so we took the sacks of wheat and put them against the door to hide behind them."
Another Truck immediately behind it came and it had the driver and one near him and behind there were two boys with their bikes. When they came to the spot of the killing, they saw the bodies and they recognized some of them.
The old man near the driver urged him not to stop and to go on; but near Dar Al Rajjal they were forcefully stopped. it was near the small narrow street. The soldiers shot at them and everyone ran. The driver ran to his home leaving the vehicle. He waited, to no avail, for his partner, the old man who was riding next to him, to follow him. When the partner did not come, he sent his son to go see why his partner Mahmoud had not yet come into the house. The driver’s son found Mahmoud dead, as though asleep, in the back of the truck. Mahmoud had been in the front near the driver. The truck was an open truck. Two boys on bicycles who had been riding behind the truck escaped. Later, Mahmoud’s mother, having heard of the curfew and worried about her sone, came to Kafr Qasem to the house of her son Mahmoud’s partner to wait for him. She received a big shock when the the driver’s son, not knowing better, called to his father that Mahmoud was shot dead on the back of the truck.
The last event was the worse and there is much disagreement about the time. Some say that it occurred at 7 or 7:30 and others say it was 8:00 PM. All those who had died earlier were mostly still in their place and when the truck with the women workers came and the women saw the dead in the street, some of them screamed. The women screamed.
The soldiers were sitting on the cement platform of the well at the school. The screams of the women alerted the soldiers. The soldiers ordered the driver to stop, but he refused. When he refused, they shot the wheels and the gas tank. They stopped them and asked the men to come down and line up first. The driver, the man sitting next to him, and two young boys who were in the back with the women, were the four males that they lined up. They asked the driver to bring the women down from the truck and he got a ladder for them and they came down. The soldiers then shot the four men and three died right there and one ran away, wounded into the olive grove. Muhammad escaped among the olive trees.
The old women seeing all this began to beg for mercy but the border guard began to shoot at them and the women gathered together and began to turn as the bullets rained on them. The old women yelled do not kill us. They began to kill the women. They lined them up and began to shoot them. Two of the youngest of them, children, ran off and hid under the truck. It was dark. For for some unknown reason, the two girls ran back into the midst of the women and were shot dead with the rest of the women. Only one woman survived. She was in the middle of the turning huddle of women. When she found herself the last standing one she fainted and knew nothing till the next day.
One man, a survivor of the event of the four bycles, came and told the story of the one who was in pain [the one hiding among the olive trees]. He was in pain calling out " kill me for the sake of god" and they said come and we will kill you. He in fact he got up and began walking wobbling toward the killers and they in fact shot him as he reached the wire fence. They shot him dead right there. we saw his blood on the stones and the wire fence.
Hana, [Hana Amer the single survivor of the ninth wave] when they threw her in the truck she openned her eyes. When they spoke to her, she answered, so they took her to the hospital.
The truck loaded with cement blocks was the one that came after Omar but just before the girls and women [The eighth wave]. Before the women came a vehicle with two people. One man was the owner the truck was carrying a high load of cement blocks belonging to another man who had purchased them. Fearing that his blocks would fall off the truck, he was sitting on top of the load. The man over the blocks could not see anything, but the driver could see the bodies and he was amazed. The border guards yelled for him to stop. Seeing bodies on the road in front of he, and fearing to drive over them, he stopped. He refused their order to get out of his vehicle.
[Abu Naser is here referring to the seventh wave.] One of the victims who escaped by hiding under the truck over the spare, one who was in Raja’s group called Abu Ayyoub, said that his friends, Ahmad Abu Fareed, had escaped during the shooting. He had run all the way downhill but returned to where the killing had taken place, to the same vehicle, and to where the bodies still lay. He crawled back under the truck and asked Abu Ayooub if he could he could hide with him. Abu Ayyoub told him that there was no room. They whispered. So Abu Fareed told Abu Ayyoub that he was going to hide near the back wheel. When the border guards return to move the truck, they saw Abu Fareed and killed him.
Abu Mahmoud, Saleh, [Saleh Mahmoud Naser Amer] saw the shooting and remained safely hidden until he saw the truck of Abdallah Ismail. He wanted to jump onto it but he was too slow and as he tried to jump and grab it from the back his hands gave out and he slipped and fell and stayed on the ground. That is, he was shot and killed. [Abu Naser is here talking about the fourth wave]
[Abu Naser now returns to describing the eighth wave.] Now back to the truck of the cement blocks, they said to Abu Akram, the driver, come down and he refused. They began to pull him to get him out but could not they hit him and so he grabbed the munawela (a pulley system made of metal used in building) from near him and he hit one of the soldier on the shoulders. The soldier fell, but others managed to pull Abu Mahmoud down and they killed him. The man above who had been urging Abu Mahmoud because he apparently did not see things clearly and had said to him stop “inzal ya Ahmed” (descent Ahmad) was also shot and killed. We saw his blood on the cement blocks. He fell to the ground and died. And Mahmoud they killed.
The last vehicle was Saleh Ahmad Sarsour. He was on his way home at nearly at 10 PM. They were finished with the killing. Some where even sleeping. At first when Saleh saw the sights, saw the soldiers at the well, saw the bodies some of whom were his relations, he though they were accidents. He wanted to take the bodies home even though he is not strong. He began to take the dead but had not the energy. He wanted to get help. As he began to go to the town to get herlp, he saw his daughter with the women and he began to take the body of his daughter. At that point the soldiers saw him. They had received the order not to kill anymore. They ordered him to put his arms up which he did. They asked him where he had been. He said in the military. In fact he works for the military and was helping a who keeps charge of him, taking him home and and to work. The Shaweesh was tired and told Saleh drive him to his own home first then to continue alone to Kafr Qasem. [It was unusual and dangerous for Saleh to be out alone at night]. The Shaweesh had given Saleh a paper permitting him to be out after the usual 10 PM curfew. Saleh showed this paper to the soldiers as he put down his dauhters body. They ordered him to follow them. He drove behind them as they went ahead in their jeep till till he pointed out his home. He stopped the car, his family opened, and he went in. They asked him where rest were, but he stayed quiet waiting till the soldiers would leave. He went in and he slept till just before noon of the next day when he could finally speak.
In the neighborhood was the wife of Ata and Mahmoud Al Khader who, breaking the curfew on the next day, went out and began fighting with the soldiers asking about their children. The soldiers lifted the guns but the women refused to leave. About thirty women came out and they began to take soil and throw at the soldiers and at themselves. Order was restored through the intervention of the mayor. The soldiers received order to leave the town but to encirle it and not to let any one out.
They said there were four martyred in the northern section. Ibn Shaker, the little one Ibrahim Abdel Hadi Isaa, Abdullah Abdalhadi Isaa, and Abed Muhammad Abdalhadi Isa. They had ghanam (sheep and goats) in the North. One unkle went to call them. They were watering the flock and they did not realize the seriousness of the situation. Sami mahmouad, known as Abu Marwan was with them. Abu Sami had gone to call them because they were delayed. He told them to quit quickly. They had no watches and could not know the exact time.
Cactus lines both sides of the road. The soldiers were on foot. They saw Ibrahime, the older of them, and shot him immediately. He fell after a short scream. Sami had gone back to get a goat and so escaped. The two young boys when they saw Ibrahime fall, called out “Ya Amna Ya Habibna” (beloved unkle). The sound brought the soldiers who then killed the two boys. Sami threw himself near the cactus. After the soldiers did their killeding, they went toward the west. Sami remained unmoving for about three hours until they came with a vehicle and took the bodies. They did not see Sami. When the moon came out, Sami could see what was to be seen. He could see the blood and he found he was not able to move, but in the end, he was able to walk. He went home in shock, slept till the next day, nor was he able to talk till he got up on the next day.”
Web posting: Samia A. Halaby, September 2006.