Friday, November 5, 2010

Covering for a war criminal of the Kafr Qasim massacre

Fifty-four years have passed since the terrible massacre at Kafr Qasim (29 October 1956) on the first day of the Sinai-Suez war Israel launched against Egypt, in which Israel was quickly joined by its co-conspirators, Britain and France. Since the Israeli Establishment has a tendency to deny, it is our duty to remember, to expose, and to keep investigating. Recall what Tamar Trablusi-Haddad wrote on 10 October 1999: "Kafr Qasim? Never heard of it."
This year in 23 October 2010, the subject boiled over again, on Moshe Timor's programme "Shishi Ishi" ["Personal Friday" – trans.] on Channel 2 of the Voice of Israel [state radio]. In this program the journalist and former Mossad agent Gad Shimron took pride in the fact that he covered and continues to cover for one of the main perpetrators of the massacre: Lieutenant Gabriel Dahan. He did not explicitly mention Dahan's name, but provided enough identifying details. It was indeed that same Dahan who commanded the platoon that deployed in Kafr Qasim and who implemented to the letter the order that had been given to him, which was not done in other places. Consequently his soldiers stopped residents as they were returning to the village from their places of work on foot and in vehicles, shot 49 of them to death, including 9 women and 17 children and youths, and wounded 13 others. Some of what happened on that day was recounted on when the testimony of some of the residents was read out in a memorial evening that took place in Kafr Qasim on 24 October 2009 (Hebrew summaries).
Eleven soldiers and officers who were involved in the massacre at Kafr Qasim were put on trial. Eight of the accused, including Gabriel Dahan, were convicted and sentenced to sentences of 7 to 17 years. Dahan himself was sentenced to 15 years in prison. But like the other convicts, he did not serve his full sentence – far from it. Two months after the verdict, the military appeals court, of which the leftist Meir Pa'il was one of the judges, reduced the sentences of the murderers. Dahan's sentence was reduced to ten years. In May 1959 the Chief of Staff reduced his punishment by two more years. By the end of 1959 all of the convicts were released from prison due to an amnesty given to them by the President of the State, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi. The convicts spent their term of "incarceration" – before, during and after the trial – under quite comfortable conditions, and not in some stinking prison.
In an investigative article that the journalist Dalia Karpel published 30 years after the massacre under the heading: "We are from the same village: what happened to the Kafr Qasim murderers" (Ha-'Ir, 10 October 1986, in Hebrew), Private First Class Shalom Ofer, one of the those who were sentenced for their part in the Kafr Qasim massacre, revealed that "we had a wild time in Schneller [military base in Jerusalem – SE]. We would go to shows every day accompanied by a policeman. We went to the market, we made wonderful meals. We had everything we wanted. We went out with female soldiers from the base, we wore uniforms and received our salaries. If anybody gave us any trouble, Melinki (the battalion commander and the primary defendant in the trial) would write a letter to Ben-Gurion and the matter was taken care of. Chaim Ben-David, Ben-Gurion's military aide, was our liaison."
In the same 1986 article, Karpel indicated further that "today Ofer is still sure that the orders that he received back then came from above," and quoted him as saying that "during the trial it became clear that if a substantial investigation were done, it would reach the head of the Central Command, General Zvi Tzur, Chief of Staff Moshe Dayan and Defence Minister David Ben-Gurion. After the trial we were made to sign secrecy forms. Anyone who talked would get 15 years in prison." After the trial, Ofer further revealed that "we sat for a year in Tel-Mond. The conditions were good. We lived together and ate in the guards' kitchen. We got whatever we wanted."
Ofer, who did not regret the criminal acts that he and his comrades had done, admitted to Karpel in the article, "thirty years after he ordered his soldiers to 'mow them down,' Shalom Ofer says with frightening and shocking dryness: 'we were like the Germans. They stopped trucks, took the Jews out and shot them. Same with us. No difference. We carried out an order like German soldiers carried out orders during the war, when they were ordered to slaughter Jews.' "
Gad Shimron did not and does not intend to minimize the seriousness of the crime at Kafr Qasim, but that he is misguided by dubious journalistic and moral considerations. He related that in 1996 the Maariv editors wanted him to find Dahan, who meanwhile had changed his name, and interview him, because there were reports that he was working for a governmental organization. Through his contacts Shimron succeeded in finding out Dahan's new name, but he took care not to divulge it or the place where he was living. For some unknown reason, a conversation with Dahan convinced the journalist that the man had paid his debt to society and that he was also a private person who was of no interest to the public. Shimron also claims that not he did not find evidence that Dahan worked for a governmental institution. Despite heavy pressure from his editors, Shimron decided not to publish the story in order not to harm unnecessarily a private man. To this very day he is proud of that decision.
That protection accorded to a confirmed war criminal who certainly did not receive the punishment he deserved and has not been forgiven by the relatives of the victims is more than a little puzzling. Recalling the parallel drawn by Shalom Ofer, we may very well ask Shimron if he would do the same for a Nazi criminal. We must recall that one of those who refused to obey the manifestly illegal order that led to the massacre at Kafr Qasim, Nimrod Lampert, said in an interview in Haaretz that Dahan was very extreme and even during the trial alleged that Lampert was "not a man" because he had not opened fire. Lampert also received death-threats for two years after the trial. Although Lampert did not disclose the names of those who threatened him, he indicated that they were people who had been impacted (by the trial).
After his release from prison Dahan returned to Ramle where his family lived, and the municipality appointed him head of special security functions, which included dealing with the Arab residents of the city. Only after a protest from members of the municipal council was the appointment revoked. Shortly afterwards he moved to Europe and according to the family he began to work as a cutter in a men's clothing factory, allegedly he did not receive any assistance from Israel and got rich and became an important man through his own efforts. Dahan's lawyer in the trial, the retired judge Yitzhak Oren, met him around 1971 and related to Karpel that "as part of his duties he met people whom in his wildest dreams he had not dreamed that he would get to shake their hands. I was at a reception that he arranged for one of the richest Jews in the world in a luxurious hotel. Pinchas Sapir was also there, wearing a black suit and brown shoes. Gabriel Dahan acted as if he was a special emissary of the State. That was the image he wanted to project."
Journalists like Dalia Karpel, Ruvik Rosenthal and Tom Segev did not share Gad Shimron's approach and they all divulged that Dahan had changed his name and lived in Paris where he apparently worked for Israel Bonds, the organization that since 1951 has been selling bonds to the Jews of the world for the purpose of helping to finance the budget of the State of Israel. Former Deputy Minister of Finance Yossi Beilin put it this way: "it is an organization that pays insane and irrational salaries." Because as far as is known the appointments were probably decided in Israel, apparently there was a "good soul" in the Establishment who took care of the war criminal Dahan. To this very day that scandal has not been investigated.
Unlike the others, Segev disclosed Dahan's new name in Paris: Dagan. Karpel, who spoke with Dahan/Dagan on the telephone, chose not to indicate his new name. In her 1986 article in Ha'Ir that is quoted above, she wrote:
"Gabriel Dahan lives in a European capital, where he is a manager for Israel Bonds. He is the only one of the perpetrators of the Kafr Qasim massacre who changed his family name. Today his younger sister Gracia lives in a moshav in central of Israel. Like other members of the family, she requests that her identity not be disclosed. At the beginning of the conversation she exhibited full willingness to talk about her brother's successes in Europe. She did not manage to say much. Her husband burst out in anger from the other room and ordered her in French to talk about anything, but not about Gabriel. Before that she had managed to say, "David Ben-Gurion shook my brother's hand and told him, 'you were the sacrificial victim of the state.' [2] Menachem Begin
also honoured him, and many other important people."
Karpel writes further: "some of the accused at the Kafr Qasim trial remember that when the verdict was handed down, members of Dahan's family exploded in the courtroom and had to be restrained. His mother and sisters cried and shouted and cursed the judge Binyamin Halevy, and tore up their identity cards in protest."
In Karpel's opinion, it is hard to determine how Dahan acquired his position in the Israel Bonds. A spokeswoman of the organization in Israel refused to answer, but the man who was the deputy general manager at the time, Zion Mizrahi, did not deny the hiring of a war criminal but told the journalist: "the issue is very sensitive. You know that there has been this story of Kafr Qasim over the years. It makes the subject very delicate and also liable to harm the man's security."
In a conversation with Karpel, Dahan expressed no remorse and tried to portray himself as a victim:
"It is a matter that hurts me very much … I think that I paid a very high price. (…) Do you think that any of us deliberately did something wrong? Fate took us to that place. It hurts me and will hurt me until my last day. Time cannot heal the pain."
"With his own eyes Dahan saw that the people returning to the village, whom he ordered to be killed, were not combatants," read the judgement against him, "but peaceable civilians, unarmed and defenceless. According to the order itself that instructed to kill men, women and children indiscriminately, there was no room for doubt that it was not a military or battlefield order, but an order for murder that we have here … the acts that he ordered to be executed, in the execution of which he participated and, clearly showed him that what he was executing, in compliance with the battalion commander's orders, was literally murder. The cruel and systematic murder of helpless people."
According to a report in a French Internet website that provides information on commercial enterprises Dahan/Dagan manages a company that deals in antiques and decoration, called Antiquité et Décoration.

Is it possible to cancel an amnesty once it has been given?

Translator's notes

  1. The phrase "you were" in this quotation (one word in Hebrew: heyitem) was in the plural form in the original Hebrew text.

Hebrew originals:  

First publication:
Further  publications: 
Translated from Hebrew by George Malent

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