By Richard Edmondson
This afternoon I logged onto the Internet and began perusing through some of the blogs I regularly follow, at which point I came upon a fairly fascinating post at Aletho News—it was an article by an artist who has done a series of drawings of the Kafr Qasem massacre and who plans to publish them in book form.
I say it is fascinating and here’s why: I don’t know if the artist intended it as such, but her article and drawings (which I reproduce below) brought home for me in a very visual and compelling manner why the state of Israel needs to be peacefully dismantled as quickly and as rapidly as possible and its nuclear weapons secured.
Most people have heard of the Deir Yassin massacre, carried out by Jewish terror gangs in 1948 as the state of Israel was being established. The much less-known massacre at the Palestinian village of Kafr Qasem took place in 1956, eight years into the state’s existence, and though the death toll was not as high as Deir Yassin’s, in some respects it was every bit as horrific. Perhaps even more so. I say that because the people killed that evening were innocents—they were tired workers returning home from a day of work—and they were fully recognized as such by the Israeli border police who slayed them. Many were women and children. There was no possible threat to the Israeli state from any of them. Why did the Israelis do it? Was there any logic to it? Or was the Kafr Qasem massacre merely the inevitable byproduct of a nation founded and operating upon the principles of the Old Testament?
Those same principles, we see, have been in effect, through one war after another, all though the 66 years of the Jewish state’s existence, and were on display again as recently as yesterday when the Israeli prime minister threatened more violence upon besieged Gaza.
On December 20 Israeli soldiers shot and killed Oudeh Hamad, a Palestinian man collecting scrap metal near the Gaza border fence. Hamad’s brother, who accompanied him at the time, was injured. (See video below). On December 22, Israeli soldiers shot and wounded another man in Gaza. Two days later, on December 24, a sniper in Gaza fired upon and killed an Israeli contractor doing maintenance work on the border fence. Israel responded by ordering missile strikes on six locations across Gaza, wounding ten more people and killing three-year-old Hala Abu Sbeikha.
For years now Israeli leaders have talked openly of maintaining a policy of “disproportionate response” in imposing its occupation. This is what we see in the recent violence in Gaza: Israel commits an act of aggression against Palestinians—Palestinians answer back in some way—and then Israel responds “disproportionately,” inflicting an augmented level of punishment with vengeance. It is a pattern, one deployed over and over through the years, and it is straight out of the Old Testament, found in such passages as Deuteronomy 20: 16-18 or I Samuel 15:3. What does this mean for the future of the planet? And what does it imply in terms of a possible future faced by the Jewish people themselves? There seems to be a growing animus towards Jews in general. You can see it in reader comments posted at this website and countless others. The existence of the state of Israel has long been viewed by many Jews, even by those who don’t live there, as a factor helping to ensure their safety in the event of some presumed future outbreak of anti-Semitism. But is it possible the reverse is true—that Israel, with its mounting aggressions, its perpetual wars, hostilities and attacks upon other countries, rather than being the “safe haven” they believe it to be, is in fact their greatest peril?
This possibility, of Israel’s aggressive actions posing a danger to Jews around the world, was even addressed in a column in Haaretz:
Israel was founded, first and foremost, to be a safe haven for all Jews. In that respect, actions that are meant to contribute to Israel’s security should in fact contribute to the security of Jews living outside Israel. Except those Jews are at once exposed to grave physical danger in the form of reprisals for Israel’s said actions.
Of course it isn’t only the Jewish state’s treatment of the Palestinians or its military aggressions against its neighbors; there are also the activities of Jewish lobbies in Western countries that seem intent upon instigating new wars and involving their host countries in them. This too is creating anger, particularly in America. Does this pose an actual physical danger to American Jews? Probably not at this point. But if Israel’s bad behaviors aren’t reined in at some point that could begin to change. At any rate—something to keep in mind as you browse through the material below.
Here is what you’re going to see in order: first the article by artist Samia Halaby, along with some of her drawings of the Kafr Qasem massacre. Halaby is a Palestinian artist whose family was expelled from Palestine in 1948. She presently lives in America. Beneath Halaby’s article I present an account of the massacre by a Jewish writer, Roberta Feuerlicht, from her work, The Fate of the Jews, a book which was met with hostility from her fellow Jews upon its publication in 1983. When you read the passages below, you’ll see why. Beneath the two passages from the book, you’ll see a short article by Feuerlicht herself, published in 1985, describing how the book was received, or more precisely not received.
Below that you will see a video of Raddad Hamad, the brother of Oudeh Hamad, giving an account of his brother’s murder by Israeli soldiers on December 20, this followed by some closing comments of my own.
Drawing the Kafr Qasem Massacre: An Introduction to the Ongoing Project
When I first accepted the challenge of drawing the Kafr Qasem massacre, I wanted to represent its events as though I were a camera on site. Documentary drawings, I thought, could recreate what photography might have given us if done on a historical basis. I would learn all I could and present the specific individuals and the documented events. I worked on the project in three major periods, each occupying most of a year or several years. I began work in 1999 and continued into 2000. In 2006, on the occasion of the fiftieth memorial of the massacre, I created both a web page and an exhibition of the drawings. In 2012, I returned to the project with the intention of finalizing it by making large-scale drawings and developing a book.
The story of the Kafr Qasem massacre is compelling. At first hidden from the world, it was members of the Communist Party who broke the military and information blockade in order to call attention to the horrific massacre; a detailed press release was finally published by party member Tawfiq Toubi twenty-six days after the massacre on 23 November, 1956 in Arabic, English, and Hebrew. His comrade, the distinguished Palestinian writer, Emile Habibi covered the massacre in issues of the CP organ, Al Ittihad, and in 1976 published a booklet on the subject. In one chapter, Habibi recounted the events and provided a structure whereby the chronology of events were numbered and termed “waves” of killing.
Israel’s military campaign against Egypt and the Suez started at 3pm on 29 October, 1956. One and a half hours later, at 4:30pm, the mukhtar (mayor) of Kafr Qasem was informed of an imminent curfew to begin at 5pm. Twenty-five minutes after this sudden warning, at 4:55, soldiers of the Israeli Border Police began killing anyone they found outside their home—be they man or woman, child or elder. Many were workers unaware of the curfew, as they were just then returning home. At the end of the night, forty-nine civilians lay dead on the roadways. Although each event of the massacre was nightmarish, the last one seemed to shock the villagers most of all, as fourteen women who had been olive picking were forced off a truck and shot at continuously from close range until they all fell dead over each other. The sole survivor of this wave of killing was a fifteen-year-old girl, who, when heavily wounded, lost consciousness, and lay under the corpses of the other women for most of the night. To add terror to brutal injury, the Israelis buried their bodies while their relatives were imprisoned in their homes on pain of death through the use of a twenty-four hour curfew.
A massacre is like a hammer blow that shatters a hard mass to smithereens. At first the pieces, the individuals who suffer this blow, do not all see who wields the hammer nor are they able to attack it. Anger and blame are bottled up. Painful energy flies in all directions. The town receiving the blow is shattered, broken to pieces, and as the pieces settle, loss, recrimination, shock, disbelief, and desperation emerge. Added to all this, as in the case of the Kafr Qasem massacre, is the poverty and depression resulting from a brutal military occupation.
What does a father tell his wife when he returns home alive but their eight-year old child whom she sent to warn him dies in the massacre? Why is a small girl unable to tell her mother that her father lies dead or wounded in the street except to say that dinner need not be prepared for him? Why do men and women, unable to believe their own experience, return to the scenes of the massacre to confirm its reality with those who shared it only to find death instead of fellowship? Why was the only survivor of one of the events of the massacre insensitively asked why she was the only one to survive? Why does a wounded man who had escaped, return on seeing the Israeli soldiers killing fourteen women only to be shot dead himself? Why did some whisper that the pregnant woman in her final month dropped the baby in the agony of her death?
When I first met Aishy Amer of Kafr Qasem, the beautiful scent of revolution permeated her words and manners. We had met through the internet and from her first visit to my loft she began to persuade me that, as an artist, I must do drawings of the massacre. Aishy and I eventually visited Kafr Qasem together, where she introduced me to her large family and friends and opened the way for me into a tightly knit village society made up of only five extended families. Following this first visit, she would assign her friends to help me. After interviewing some individuals several times over a period of thirteen years, they came to trust me as a friend. In fact in 2012, during my last visit to attend the annual memorial march, I found myself receiving extended interviews while members of the press were disregarded.
Along with my interviews, I conducted extensive research for historical materials and found a gold mine in the locally published magazine, Al-Shorok, each October issue of which is dedicated to the massacre. In it are countless long interviews conducted by Majd Sarsour, editor and principal of one of the town’s high schools. In general, the outside press did not match this valuable source of detailed information. It was rare to find newspaper articles that contained more than small bits of quoted information. Yet Al-Shorok allowed each individual to fully tell his or her story. Al-Shorok also insisted on detailing not only the names of victims and their ages, but also those of their children, the gender of the children, and their ages at the time of the parents’ death. In one particular article, the magazine detailed the ages of over four thousand offspring of the victims who had already given birth. An intense need to replenish the village overtook the survivors.
I came to truly respect the village, now grown into a town, regardless of its various types and admire the combination of earthy nobility, innocence, and wisdom they possessed. I learnt of the depth of pain they experienced, causing many to be unwilling to tell their stories. I learnt to value their trust and grew to understand that documentation should respectfully memorialize, avoiding sensation and spectacle.
I began drawing immediately after the first visit and continued to do so in separate periods of intense focus. As I worked and my knowledge grew, many of my initial aesthetic decisions matured. I determined that I would avoid simply showing piles of dead bodies. I would show people in their dignity at the last moments of their life. There would be no blood. I determined that the individual victims should face out towards the viewer, be in control of the aesthetic situation if not the original situation, which brought their violent end.
I began drawing in an illusionist way in the traditions of Renaissance art, but as the project progressed, I often questioned whether I perhaps should use an expressionist method. I admired Diego Rivera and thought that working in that manner, which many of the Palestinian artists of the Intifada were influenced by, might be a more modern path. However, after a lot of thought, I decided that the expressionism and semi-cubist style of Rivera did not suite the ambition of presenting people as specific individuals in documented events.
There is a paucity of visual information on the massacre, leaving written material as the basic source. Transforming verbal description and researched information into visual images presented serious problems. Words can focus on one subject and describe it accurately but not wholly. Pictures describe a scene wholly (from one point of view) but cannot show what happened just before or after. Pictures lack the specificity of time while words lack the specificity of space.
Truthful witness statements can hold up in a court of law but they lack the type of information pictures need regarding the appearance of a whole scene, information about color, light, background, relative positions of parts, and a host of other scenic details. This forced me into a certain amount of invention, which seriously conditioned my ambition to be a camera.
One of my initial inquiries was how to represent the killers, the soldiers of the Israeli Border Police who had executed the massacre. Based on things that I have seen in Palestine combined with my loathing, I made several horrifying renditions. In the end, I decided that the story was not about them and eliminated them from the drawings. However, in the final set done in 2012, I included fragments of them in outlined silhouette although I rendered their weapons carefully. By then I had researched the weapons and noted that they were semi-automatic weapons and that some of them were British made, reminding me of the part British colonialism had in arming and organizing the Zionist terrorists.
I asked for a great deal of criticism from residents of Kafr Qasem and from friends, and their opinions helped me greatly. I was not on a research mission to discover new formal languages but rather on a mission to tell a piece of Palestinian history in comprehensible visual form. I received a rating of seventy over one hundred on my drawing of the sixth wave of killing. I was flattered to have such a high grade for the man grading me, Omar Ahmad Hamdan Amer, known as Abu Naser, was the town’s historian, a man who lived his entire life immersed in the history of the massacre.
Did I meet my own challenge? An inner voice says: do it all over again and do it better. But another voice says: another way to fail is to disregard time. For now, I will be happy when my planned publication of drawings on the subject of the massacre is complete. The book will be called “Drawing the Kafr Qasem Massacre.” It will include a detailed history, a timeline, numerous witness statements, the drawings with my commentary, a roster of victims, and essays by scholars.
Below is a selection of drawings from the series with the artist’s captions:During less than two hours on 29 October, 1956, Israeli Border Police killed forty-nine people in the Palestinian village of Kafr Qasem. They were mostly workers and children returning home in the evening. Most were killed on the western entrance, while inside the village it began when eight-year-old Talal Easa went out to retrieve a goat after the suddenly announced curfew. Talal’s father, Shaker, heard the shots and dashed out to his son. He was also shot. Talal’s mother, Rasmiyya, and, right after, Talal’s teenage sister, Noor, ran to their bleeding family and suffered the same fate. They remained where they fell, bleeding until morning when they were hauled off by truck to a hospital. Talal died. The grandfather, Abdallah Isaa, then ninety years old, was left alone and saw the massacre of his family. The following morning, Abdallah was found dead. In the northern fields of the village, three shepherd boys were out watering the family’s flock of sheep not knowing that Israel had launched a surprise attack on Egypt just hours before, nor did they know of the curfew imposed on their village. The oldest boy, Abdallah Easa was sixteen and the youngest, Abed Easa, was nine years old. Ibraheem Easa, their uncle who was thirty-five years of age, had learnt of the curfew and left the safety of his home to bring them back. They returned immediately with Ibraheem leading. Abed and Abdallah were just behind him while the third boy, Sami Mustafa, was watching the rear of the herd. The boys were met by Israeli soldiers of the Border Police, who immediately shot and killed Ibraheem, Abed, and Abdallah. Sami saw them being shot and fell to the ground, played dead and survived. Five minutes before the curfew, and unaware of it, four quarry workers were returning home to Kafr Qasem on bicycles. When confronted by Israeli soldiers, with whose harassment they were familiar, they reached for their identity cards. Instead, an order to “harvest them” was given. Two, Ahmad Freij, age thirty-five, and Ali Tah, age thirty, died. Both were fathers of young children. Two others, Mahmoud Freij and Abdallah Badair, managed to escape. Mahmoud was wounded in the thigh and managed to crawl to an olive tree and hide until morning. The twelve-year-old shepherd boy, Fathi Easa, was leading his family’s herd of black goats home after pasture. His father was driving the herd from the rear having heard of the curfew and had come to hurry his son home. There were three weapons in the hands of the Israeli Border Police all aimed at the boy, an Uzi, a Bren, and a rifle. All were fired, and the boy collapsed and died. Evening was darkening as the Israeli Border Police ordered thirteen or more workers to lineup on one side of the road. They had arrived on bicycles and a mule wagon. One of the workers, seventeen-year old Saleh Easa, had arrived with his two cousins. They had heard about the curfew and only feared a beating. When the execution style shooting began six fell dead. Saleh, wounded, playing dead, was dragged to the pile of bodies. He remained quiet, gritting his teeth in spite of extreme pain. He witnessed the rest of the massacre and later crawled to safety. Night had fallen when the truck arrived at the location of the massacre. Among the victims of the ninth wave were two men in the cab of the truck and fourteen women with two boys in the back. The driver, seeing the scattered dead, tried to escape at high speed. This interrupted the singing women, who unwittingly began to scream, thus alerting the recumbent soldiers resting at the school’s well. The soldiers ran after the truck, shot its tires and gas tank, and stopped it. Safa Sarsour, having just seen her sixteen-year-old son, Jum’a, dead on the side of the road, now witnessed her second son, fourteen-year-old Abdallah, being killed with the men. The women, some pregnant, elders and girls, pleaded for their lives. The only survivor was Hana’ Amer, fifteen years of age, who said that the women clung to each other for protection, even the two girls who had managed to escape returned to the circle. As they were being shot, they turned in a big group and one by one they fell. The soldiers continued shooting into their heads to insure their death. How does it measure western civilization when soldiers of the Israeli border police line up defenseless women—some pregnant, tired, returning home from work—and kill them with cold deliberation?
*All images copyright the artist.
The following is an excerpt from the book The Fate of the Jews, by Roberta Feuerlicht, published in 1983. The account of the massacre differs from Halaby’s in certain small details, such as total number of victims, but otherwise is substantively the same. Likely Feuerlicht relied principally upon media accounts, whereas Halaby spoke directly to village residents—this would perhaps explain the minor discrepancies.
The Fate of the Jews
The Israelis did not work out their subjugation of the Arabs only on paper, and only after Begin was in power. On October 29, 1956, because of the Sinai War, the curfew on Israeli Arab villages near the Jordanian border was moved forward from 9 p.m. to 5 p.m. This decision was made after the villagers left for work that day, so they were unaware of it.
That evening, in the village of Kafr Kasem, the first workers to return were four men on bicycles. They were halted by the Israeli border police. When they identified themselves, the Israeli police opened fire. Two died at once; two survived by pretending to be dead.
Soon after, a wagon came with an Arab and his younger daughter, followed by two men and a boy on foot. The children were permitted to pass into the village. One of the men, seeing the bodies of the first Arabs, asked, “Why do you want to shoot us?” He was told to “shut up.” Then the three men were shot.
As others returned to the village, some were arbitrarily permitted to enter unharmed; others were just as arbitrarily murdered. By the end of the evening, forty-three Israeli Arabs were dead, including seven children and ten women. None of this happened in the heat of battle; Israelis simply stood at the entrance to a peaceful village and decided who shall live and who shall did. Some victims were killed while they lay wounded on the ground. One man was shot from behind after he was given permission to enter the village.
Israeli officials tried to keep details of the murders secret. Two weeks after the massacre at Kafr Kasem, the government said that the earlier curfew was declared “in order to protect the lives of the villagers,” and that “several villagers were hurt.” When a member of the Israeli parliament spoke of the massacre, the censor had the speech removed from the public record. For two months, Israeli newspapers were forbidden to print news of what had happened at Kafr Kasem.
But news of the massacre could not be suppressed forever. Israeli officials told the men involved that if they would plead guilty “fast and quietly” they would be given prison sentences of only two years. However, Israeli public opinion and the International Red Cross forced the government to hold a public trial.
At the trial it was revealed that the border police had been given orders to enforce the new curfew in a manner that would impress the inhabitants of all the local Arab villages: Violators were to be shot, not arrested, even though they did not know about the curfew. Several of the defendants testified that the police officer in charge had said that if some Arabs were killed it would make the task of enforcing the curfew that much easier. The officer also said he did not want any wounded, or special treatment for women and children. The police officer said he was obeying the orders of the military officer in charge; the military officer denied this.
Several of the defendants said they were just obeying orders. The Israeli judge, Binyamin Halevi, rejected this defense, saying they should have been able to recognize an “illegal” order. Halevi said that when an order has a “clear criminal character…if the eye is not blind and the heart not corrupted…the soldier is free from his obligation to obey orders and is responsible for the criminal acts.”
Some of the defendants received prison terms ranging from seven to seventeen years, but the military officer was freed with a nominal fine of the smallest Israeli coin. On appeal, all of the prison terms were reduced; one year after sentencing, the defendants were free.
(Below is an additional passage from The Fate of the Jews—concerning observations on the treatment of Palestinian prisoners by an Israeli human rights lawyer):
Langer, who often represents Palestinian suspects, has seen the inside of West Bank prisons. She has seen distinguished Palestinians—doctors, editors—thrown into solitary cells to eat off the floor and live in their own filth.
She has described crowded prison conditions, bad food, inadequate medical care. Prisoners are beaten, tortured, often on the genitals. They are given pills that bring on hysteria and hallucinations. They are hung upside down. Noxious, poisonous gases (“Made in the USA”) are thrown into their cells or sprayed into their faces. Cigarettes are stubbed out on their bodies.
Their jailers spit into their mouths and threaten to rape their wives and sisters in front of them. Some are made to stand for days in special boxes too small for them to either sit or lie down. Some are made to stand for a week or more, usually without food or toilet facilities, their heads covered with layers of bags, the hands cuffed behind their backs.
Langer has written, “Prisoners are being put to death…This crime is occurring gradually and is being covered up efficiently.”
The Fate of Author of “Fate”
By Roberta Strauss Feuerlicht
I am the unknown Jew. Just as there are monuments to the unknown soldier and the unknown political prisoner, there should be a monument to the unknown Jew. We are Jews who oppose Zionism, who deplore Israeli oppression and aggression, who fear that Judaism may not survive Israel. We are probably a majority of Jews, but no one knows this because we have been effectively intimidated and suppressed by the Zionist minority.
The degree of suppression is inconceivable in a democratic society. I wrote a book called The Fate of the Jews, which was published in August, 1983. It argues that Jewish ethics and Israeli power are incompatible; that Jewish obligations to love thy neighbor, do justice and love mercy, oppress not the stranger, are being obliterated by Israel; and that the Israelis are surviving, but not as Jews.
Attempts were made to bury the book even before publication. For example, a liberal magazine expressed interest in publishing an excerpt, the text of which apparently was given to a prominent liberal Jewish journalist. His reaction was vehement; the magazine changed its mind about the excerpt and the journalist wrote a personal letter to my agent trying to kill the book with one mighty blow. “It is a preposterous book,” he said, “easily the worst I’ve looked at in years.”
So much for Jewish liberalism. Shortly thereafter, Publishers Weekly, the bible of the publishing industry, offered a very different opinion in its prepublication review. “The book is an outcry right out of Jeremiah.” said the review. “Written with courage and clarity, Feuerlicht’s detailed analysis of what she sees as American Jewry’s embrace of a false god in the state of Israel is certain to place her book in the heart of a raging controversy.”
But I was not fated to be at the heart of a raging controversy, because you cannot hear silence. The publisher did not take out a single advertisement for the book. Many bookstores refused to carry it. In one major chain, where it had been ordered, it was on a list of books not to be reordered.
The least expensive way to promote a book is to put the author on television and radio. For a previous book on the Sacco-Vanzetti trial in the 1920’s, I was on 65 or 70 TV and radio shows in just four cities. For this more timely book on Jews and Israel—a story that is in the headlines almost every day—the publisher found no television and only eight minor radio shows in New York. Of the eight, two were cancelled and two that had been taped were not broadcast, at least not when they were scheduled.
Finally, I hired my own publicity person and though some shows did turn me down, I was booked on major TV and radio programs in Washington, Cleveland, Detroit, Boston, and Houston. I didn’t go any farther because I couldn’t afford to and because appearances cannot sell books that are not in bookstores.
I have written children’s books that received more attention than The Fate of the Jews. As far as I know, only three newspapers reviewed it, The Los Angeles Times, The Pittsburgh Press,and, under prolonged pressure, The Christian Science Monitor. The Washington Post praised the Sacco-Vanzetti book on the front page of its Sunday book review; The Fate of the Jews went unnoticed.
When all else failed, I told my story to several well known iconoclastic journalists. All were suitably indignant, all promised me their support, all were either voluntarily or involuntarily suppressed.
Jews are disturbed about Israel. I believe more of them would have read The Fate of the Jews if they knew it existed. Zionists feared the book because they were judged by Jewish standards and found wanting. They didn’t dare openly criticize or burn it because the noise or the smoke might have attracted attention. In the freest country in the world, with the aid and acquiescence of the freest press in the world, a zealous minority successfully suppressed dissent and stoned me to death with silence. The book is now out of print.
The above piece was published at Washington Report on Middle East Affairs in 1985. Feuerlicht passed away in 1991. She seems to have been a talented writer, one willing to speak the abhorrent, unpleasant truths that need to be spoken nowadays, although I’d have to say that I do disagree with her on one point when she says that “Israelis are surviving, but not as Jews.” On the contrary, Israelis today, nourished on a myth of themselves as direct descendants of the biblical Jews, see themselves as–and for all intents and purposes are–the quintessential Jews–that is to say the “Israelites,”in the Old Testament sense of the word.
I have a sneaky feeling we’ll get a comment or two telling us that Feuelicht’s writings have been “debunked.” We actually had a comment posted the other day saying that about Shlomo Sand’s history of the Khazars. It seems to be the tack taken when Jewish authors dare speak certain uncomfortable truths about who the Jews are and what they have become.
At any rate here is the video of Oudeh Hamad’s brother:
Israel isn’t the only state in the world that tortures and kills people, of course. The difference is that in other states where this occurs the savageries are not condoned by religious teachings. Judaism is unique among world religions in that it sets apart one group of people who are regarded as “chosen” and who are given license by “God” to rob and plunder and destroy any nation or group of people opposing them. I think many are now waking up to the fact that the UN made a calamitous error when it voted, in 1947, for the creation of a Jewish state. The question now is whether or not it’s possible to undo this, and if so, how to go about it. As I said above, the state of Israel needs to be peacefully dismantled, and its nuclear weapons secured, as quickly as possible. The “fate of the Jews”—indeed all of humanity—depends on it.