Israel’s 1956 Sinai Campaign included the massacre of 50 residents of the Palestinian town of Kafr Qasem for violating a curfew that they had not been told about. Testimony indicates that Israeli soldiers were told to “leave a few dead in each village” in hopes they would frighten the rest of the residents to flee to Jordan…
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. Israeli historian Adam Raz believes that behind the horrific 1956 event was a secret plan to transfer ‘Israel’s Arabs’, i.e the indigenous Palestinians…
Two articles below from Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz:
by Ofer Aderet, reposted from Ha’aretz, July 29, 2022
Newly uncovered transcripts from the trial of the infamous 1956 Kafr Qasem massacre quotes an Israeli Border Police company commander as saying that “it was desirable for there to be a number of fatalities.”
The company commander operated in the sector where the massacre took place, and his comment has remained secret in the ensuing decades until being revealed in the trial transcripts released for the first time on Friday.
During the massacre, 50 Arab civilians, including children, were killed by Border Police troops when they returned home without knowing the time a curfew began had been changed.
Israel forced to declassify transcripts
The transcripts have been revealed to the public by the Defense Ministry following an appeal by historian Adam Raz of the Akevot Institute for Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Research. The state initially refused to release the transcripts, claiming their content could jeopardize national security.
Chaim Levy, who commanded the Border Police’s southern company, whose sector included Kafr Qasem, was asked during the 1957 trial by attorney Asher Levitsky: “You always [say] the commander allegedly said that it’s best if there be some casualties.”
The commander in question was Col. Issachar “Yiska” Shadmi, who oversaw the sector that included Kafr Qasem. To this, Levy replied: He said, “It’s desirable that there be some fatalities.’” Later, the lawyer asked: “Despite this, he emphasized not to commit murder, right?” to which Levy replied: “I see no difference.”
The Kafr Qasem massacre took place on the first day of the Sinai Campaign, in October of 1956. Arabs in the country were still subject to martial law at the time. At the time, the IDF feared that the clash with Egypt on its southern front would ignite an all-out war that might also include Jordan on the eastern front, then very close to Kafr Qasem. The village was placed under curfew.
Gunned down children, elderly villagers
But some of the residents didn’t know of the change in the curfew time, as they were still working outside the village. Upon their return, they were gunned down by Border Police troops. The number of dead as the people of Kafr Qasem count them is 50, including children, elderly residents, and a pregnant woman.
In his testimony, Levy confirmed that he heard the order “the same goes for them as anyone else” regarding the order to shoot at citizens coming back from the fields after curfew hour, even if they didn’t know that it had been brought forward.
Levy was asked: “Doesn’t your reason tell you that ‘violating a curfew’ means by someone who knows that there is a curfew?” Levy replied in the affirmative. He was later asked: “How can you say that someone told you to kill people who don’t know that there is a curfew?” To which he replied: “Because I was given such an order… Today I find this unreasonable. At the time, I thought it was reasonable.”
Levy was further asked: “From what you understood, the policy was to get rid of Arabs?” To this, he replied that the order wasn’t given in writing, but verbally. “The company commander said that the eastern side should be open. When they want to leave, they’ll leave… I understood that it would be no great calamity if they took this opportunity to go away.” Here Levy referred to a plan – active or passive – to deport the Arabs of the Little Triangle area in central Israel to Jordan.
This plan, code-named Hafarperet (Mole), was ultimately shelved. It was first revealed by the journalist and author Ruvik Rosenthal, but its full details have never been revealed. The testimony now uncovered in the court minutes allow a partial glimpse into the details of the plan, as related behind closed doors by witnesses at the trial of those accused of ordering and carrying out the massacre.
The transcripts quote a few phrases regarding the secret, 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.
Either way, the plan remained on paper. Levy’s testimony referred to two other aspects of the plan: “Creating enclosures” and “transporting people,” as he put it. This can be translated into the detention of Israeli Arabs in camps and expulsion from their homes.
Levy was asked in this context: “What do Arabs fleeing have to do with the order to shoot curfew violators?” He responded: “The connection is that as a result, part of the population would get scared and decide that it’s best to live on the other side. That’s how I interpret it.”
He was later asked: “Enforcing the curfew could have helped increase the desire to flee in relation to Mole?” – in other words, did he understand there to be a connection between the curfew and encouraging the expulsion of Arabs? He replied in the affirmative.
The transcripts also include parts of the testimony of Col. Shadmi, who commanded the sector and was the most senior officer to stand trial for his part in the massacre. He was eventually acquitted of murder. “Anyone versed in the matter knows that Israeli Arabs may pose a very troublesome problem, perhaps an obstacle, to any operation that might take place in the Little Triangle,” he said in his testimony.
When asked, “do we heartily encourage them to leave our borders?” he replied: “I don’t think that’s a secret.” Replying to the question of whether a curfew or shooting at curfew violators may encourage the residents of Kafr Qasem to flee across the border, he replied: “It may encourage that thought…that the killing of a few people as an intimidation measure can encourage movement eastward, as long as we hint to them [the Arabs] about the movement eastward.”
There is also testimony by soldiers who interpreted the intention of the curfew order on the area’s villages to terrify their residents or encourage them to flee to Jordan.
“The immediate goal is to keep them in their houses, and the second goal is to not need to intimidate them in the future, as well as to require less manpower because they will eventually be like innocent sheep,” one of the soldiers testified.
When asked whether he explained to his platoon that there was an intention to leave several people dead in each village, one soldier answered in the affirmative, adding that “the major general said that it would be desirable to have a few casualties, meaning dead… I said it would be best to knock out a few people… so that in the future there would be quiet, and we would not need to have this much manpower overseeing these villages.”
Another soldier testified that the method was “to seriously frighten them with a curfew. There was a tendency to leave a few dead in each village so that tomorrow the borders would be opened and the Arabs would divide into two: those who escape through the border; and those who remain and will be like innocent sheep and not do anything.”
According to additional testimony, the goal was to scare Arabs “so that some run away and those who stay become more loyal to the state and sit quietly.”
The head of Central Command at the time, Tzvi Tzur (later chief of staff) was asked whether the assertion that, in case of war, “The Arabs’ eastward migration would be looked on favorably,” Tzur said he was “willing to agree that there was a place for this thought, too.” However, he emphasized that there was no such policy, but just a “thought” about the matter.
Tzur added that while “it might appear strange,” the goal of the curfew imposed on Kafr Qasem was to protect its residents and avoid a friction between them and the Israeli army.
Regional Cooperation Minister and Kafr Qasem resident Esawi Freige, who lost relatives in the massacre, said after the release of the transcripts: “I’m finally reading the words I dreamt to read my entire life. The testimonies on this planned murder, on Kafr Qasem’s eastern gate that was left open in the hope that the survivors would get the message and run away. But alongside the pain there is peace.
“After 66 years, the truth comes out. For so long, our government wished to hide the truth from us about the massacre that hurt every family in Kafr Qasem, including my family, and this follows us to this day.”
Freige added that after Israel asked for forgiveness and published the transcripts, “We have only left to ensure that the memory of the massacre and its lessons are not forgotten. That it will be mentioned in school books, and not just as a footnote.”
General’s Final Confession Links 1956 Massacre to Israel’s Secret Plan to Expel Arabs
By Ofer Aderet, reposted from Ha’aretz, 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 Freige, 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?
Freige, 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.
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 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.
‘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.
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.
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.
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.”
Shadmi said he was well compensated as a civilian for not revealing all he knew in the courtroom.
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.
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.”
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.
“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.
‘What did they want of Shadmi? They wanted him not to tell the truth,’ historian Adam Raz says.
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.
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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