Israeli Arabs have expressed unease at an upcoming visit by President Reuven Rivlin to Kafr Qasim for a ceremony marking the 58th anniversary of the massacre of residents of the Arab town.
A senior activist from Kafr Qasim told Ynet that "at first, there was controversy over the president's visit," and explained that the general sentiment among the residents was that "if he does not recognize the massacre, it's best he does not come. It's time for the State of Israel to apologize for killing people in cold blood."
Rivlin's decision to make his first visit as president to the Arab village was first published by Nahum Barnea in Yedioth Ahronoth. Although many locals are against the visit, some are in favor of it. Said Sarsur said: "I am pleased that the president will be visiting us."
The massacre occurred on October 29, 1956, when Israeli Border Police officers shot to death 49 Kafr Qasim residents and injured 13, including women and children. At the time, a curfew was imposed on the Arab town, but unaware of the restrictive measure dozens of villagers returned to the village and were shot and killed.
The massacre sparked public protests which led to the trial of 13 soldiers, eight of whom were found guilty and sentenced to prison terms.
In 2007, then-President Shimon Peres visited Kafr Qasim and extended an apology: "A most difficult incident happened here, which we deeply regret."
The residents said they expected the current president to apologize as well. Hanah Amer (80), who sustained wounds to her leg and head during the massacre, said: "I want to ask Rivlin to recognize the massacre, to apologize on behalf of the State of Israel. They should treat us as terror victims, just like those who were wounded in terror attacks. We expect him to surprise us – we want to hear what needs to be heard, and hope he won't disappoint us."
Another victim of the incident, Ismail Badir, also has expectations that an apology will be offered. "They say that Israel is a democratic state. I hope the president will prove that to us on Sunday, after we were abandoned for many years. No one wants to recognize us as terror victims.
"To this day we are treated as victims of a work-related accident. The president will make history by recognizing the massacre. After 58 years, it's time for this day to be recognized – otherwise, we won't have anything to discuss," Badir said.
Among those supportive of the visit is Said Sarsur, a resident of the city. "I'm very pleased that the president will be visiting us in honor of the memorial service. This is a positive and welcome step."
Sarsur added that he believes the president's visit "signifies that he expresses solidarity with the residents and the entire Arab sector, and treats us as if we are equal citizens in Israel. We wish him well on his path."
Another resident, Malek Frij, expressed a similar sentiment: "The president should be applauded for his courage. This is a responsible person who respects all citizens of Israel. He deserves respect and appreciation."