A document unsealed after 60 years reveals the Israeli government’s secret intentions behind the imposition of a military government on the country’s Arab citizens in 1948: not to enhance security but to ensure Jewish control of the land
Safety copy below the fold, we expect Ha’aretz to be censored soon.
Israel’s defense establishment has for years endeavored to conceal historical documentation in various archives around the country, as was revealed in an article in Haaretz last July.
That article, which followed up on a study by the Akevot Institute for Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Research, noted that for closed to 20 years, the staff at Malmab – the Defense Ministry’s secretive security department (the name is a Hebrew acronym for “director of security of the defense establishment”) – had been visiting public and private archives and forcing their directors to mothball documents relating to Israeli history, with special emphasis on the Arab-Israeli conflict. This was done without legal authority. The article sparked a furor, and dozens of researchers and historians urged the defense minister at the time, Benjamin Netanyahu, to halt the clandestine illegal activity. Their appeal received no response.
What sort of documents did Malmab order the directors to hide away in their archives’ safes? The many and varied examples include: thick files kept by the military government under which Israel’s Arab citizens lived for 18 years; testimony about the looting and destruction of Arab villages during the Independence War; cabinet ministers’ comments on the Arab refugee situation, following that war; evidence of acts of expulsion and testimony about camps set up for captives; information about Israel’s nuclear project; documents relating to various foreign policy issues; and even a letter sent by the poet and Holocaust survivor Abba Kovner about his own anti-Arab sentiments.
It’s not clear whether Malmab has reduced its activity in the archives since the article was published. However, it can be said that during the past six months, files earlier ordered closed by Malmab have been reopened, adding to our knowledge of the history of the two peoples who share this land. Though none are earth-shattering in historical significance, these are important documents that shed light on significant aspects of various events.
One such document is a secret codicil to a report drawn up by the government-appointed Ratner Committee in early 1956. The document, restored from oblivion in a safe at the Yad Yaari Research and Documentation Center at Givat Haviva, is titled, “Security Settlement and the Land Question.”
The importance of the information included in the codicil can be seen within the context of the history of the military government imposed on Israel’s Arabs in 1948, just months after independence, and abolished only in 1966. There were about 156,000 Arabs in Israel at the war’s end. Following the armistice agreement with Jordan (April 1949) and the annexation of the Triangle – a concentration of Arab locales in central Israel – 27 villages, from Kafr Qasem in the south to Umm al-Fahm in the north, also fell under the jurisdiction of the military government.
Administratively, the latter was divided into three regions: north, center (Triangle) and Negev. Sixty percent of Israel’s Arab citizens lived in Galilee, 20 percent in the Triangle and the rest in the Negev and in various so-called mixed cities, such as Haifa and Acre. In practice, about 85 percent of all Arab citizens were under the rule of the military government, subject to nighttime curfews and regulations requiring them to obtain a travel permit before leaving their area of residence.