JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli President Reuven Rivlin visited the Israeli-Arab village of Kfar Kassem and attended a memorial ceremony marking the 1956 massacre that killed 47 town residents.
Rivlin on Sunday became the first sitting Israeli president to participate in the annual ceremony.
“We must look straight at what happened in the Kfar Kassem massacre and teach all the future generations about it,” Rivlin said during the ceremony. “A serious crime was committed here and needs to be repaired.”
Rivlin said that the Arab sector in Israel “has suffered from years of discrimination” and that “many Arabs in Israel are faced with racism from Jews.”
At the same time, he called on the Arab-Israeli community “to act responsibly and denounce violence and terrorism.”
Rivlin asserted that: “The Arab population will always be part of the flesh and blood of the state of Israel.”
He promised that no one would be “pushed out” of the country, but at the same time stated that “the Arab population of Israel must be brought to internalize and accept that State of Israel is the national home of the Jewish people. As long as there exists any aspiration to eradicate the Jews from this land, there will be no chance of building a true partnership. Along with this, the Jewish public must understand, that the ambition of so many, to live alongside a Zionist Arab minority, which proudly sings the Hatikvah (national anthem), will not and cannot be realized.”
The ceremony was held at the local community center and was attended by members of the municipal council, representatives of the families of those killed and injured in the massacre, community leaders, and students from Kafr Kassem and the neighboring Jewish community of Rosh Haayin.
Israeli President Shimon Peres in 2007 apologized for the massacre during a visit to the village for the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha in December.
The massacre occurred on Oct. 29, 1956 on the first day of the war in the Sinai. A curfew had been imposed on the village, but the town’s residents were not aware of the curfew. They were shot and killed by Israeli troops as they returned home from work.
Eight of the soldiers were found guilty and sentenced to prison.