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Sheetrit. One city after another
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Arab village of Kfar Kassem declared a city
Mayor Sami Issa supports integration into Israeli society, says 'instead of living around hate and revenge, we have chosen to take a different path. Hope will grow out of the pain of the massacre'
The Arab village of Kfar Kassem was declared a city Tuesday. The residents and their mayor, Sami Issa, view this as a milestone in light of the distance they have made since the massacre which took place in the village in 1956.

 

"The pain is not erased," said Issa, "but on the other hand there is great happiness. We were educated that hope and love will grow out of the pain, rather than hate. We will continue to educate along this path."

 

The change has no practical significance, excluding a slight upgrade in the terms of some of the local council's employees. It will not affect the services the residents receive or the property tax.

 

More than 17,000 people live in Kfar Kassem today.

 

Fifty-two years after 49 of the village's residents were shot to death by the Israeli Border Police, the children born many years later are well familiar with the story, as if it had only happened yesterday.

 

"It's a story that passes from generation to generation. Every year, the children draw the penny of Shadmi, the region's commander, who was convicted in a courtroom and ordered to pay one penny," Issa said.

 

The mayor, who was born six years after the massacre, was told of the grave incident by his parents and uncles when he grew up.

 

"This is a story which accompanies us to this day, but instead of living around hare and revenge, we have chosen to take a different path," he noted.

 

Kfar Kassem has grown in recent years, and Issa, who has been serving as the local council head for 10 years now, is considered an unusual figure among the political Arab leadership, supporting integration and coexistence

 

Every Saturday, residents of the area flock to the town to do their shopping, and next month a cornerstone for a Jewish-Arab industrial zone will be laid.

 

"I am one of the people who believe in coexistence. We were sentenced to live together and we must be more tolerant, or else we will fill our lives with pain and tears. In Kfar Kassem we prefer to live in happiness," Issa said.

 

He noted, however, that the State could do more. "We are receiving the status of a city of right and not on sufferance. This has nothing to do with the pain and does not ease the pain. I would be glad to see, even once, a government representative at the Kfar Kassem massacre memorial."

 

Young resident 'don’t feel part of Israeli society'

The Interior Ministry approved Kfar Kassem's new status after an appeal made by the local council and after finding that it met all criteria to become a city.

 

"This is a day of holiday for Kfar Kassem," said Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit in a speech delivered during a ceremony held at the local youth cultural center, which is staled to turn into the City Hall.

 

"The terrorists do not distinguish between Arabs and Jews, and we must all understand that we are one State," Sheetrit added.

 

The hall where the minister spoke was crowded with guests and dignitaries, but the atmosphere outside was not as festive.

 

Residents who gathered at the "parliament" at the local al-Fassel barber's shop seemed indifferent to the event, while other residents sat on benches outside the barber's shop and responded with cynicism.

 

"The money invested in the municipality should be taken and transferred in its entirety to Petah Tikva and Tel Aviv," said Munir, one of the residents.

 

Some of the city's young residents were also not moved by the event. "We don't feel part of the Israeli society," one of them said.

 

"First they should recognize the massacre they carried out here, they should give us some pennies earned by the Rosh Ha'ayin industrial zone, which is located in Kfar Kassem, and then they can speak to us about a status of a city and other such things."

 

Sheetrit, who views himself as Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's potential successor as the leader of the Kadima party, has been exerting great efforts recently in strengthening his status among the Arab population, and seems to be establishing an Arab lobby inside the party.

 

Earlier Tuesday, the interior minister declared that he was planning to found a new Arab city in the Galilee, for the first time in the State's history.

 

Tani Goldstein contributed to this report

 

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