For decades, Israel has kept documents describing its ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in 1948 under wraps.
Under laws that limit the time documents can be kept secret, Israel’s reports of war crimes and massacres by its armed forces—and what happened to Palestinian refugees—should now be public.
If published, they would reveal more of the truth about what really went on when Israel was created that year.
But a little-known body—the Ministerial Committee on Access to Restricted Archival Material—has made sure they stay locked away.
Now, via a freedom of information request, Israeli research organisation Akevot has at least managed to get a list of which documents the committee keeps censored.
They include Israel’s official file on the notorious massacre at the Palestinian village Deir Yassin. In a planned operation, militias that went on to form Israel’s army entered the village and went house to house killing the people who lived there.
No one knows precisely how many Palestinians the militias killed, because the official file is secret—estimates say around 110.
But it came to symbolise the many massacres that Israeli forces committed to clear Palestinians from the land.
That’s why, in 2000, the committee decided not to declassify the file, because “The matter concerns the image and reputation of the State of Israel.”
Perhaps more revealing, is the decision to classify documents from Israel’s Ministry of Minority Affairs that “mention the expulsion of Arabs, the confiscation of Arab property and acts of cruelty committed against the population by soldiers.”
It was in response to a request to publish these documents in the early 1980s that Israel’s then prime minister, Menachem Begin, formed the committee.
Begin himself had been a commander in the Irgun militia that carried out the Deir Yassin massacre.
Israel’s state archivist at the time said the government “vehemently opposed” publishing the documents.
Not only did they relate to “expulsion” but also “actions taken by local commanders, sometimes very important commanders, prominent in our political sphere.”
So the committee decided the documents would stay sealed “because of national security and foreign relations concerns.”
Other files kept under wraps include a report on war crimes by Israeli soldiers during operations in late 1948. These include, in the words of the state archivist, “not just a description of the horrific events, as made familiar in other documents, but also the names of witnesses.”
A government report on why Palestinian refugees fled also remains censored. So does the Riftin Report on Israeli soldiers’ war crimes, and 39 pages of government minutes.
All in all, Akevot says the committee’s main focus is on “hiding war crimes and other incidents from 1948-49.”
In this, Akevot says, the committee is simply following a long standing tradition in the Israeli state of covering up what really went on in 1948. The organisation even got the state to release a document of “topics” on which documents must stay censored.
These include materials relating to the “expulsion of Arabs” as well as anything that might “damage the reputation of the Israeli army as an occupying force without moral principles.”
The list is supposedly no longer in use but, says Akevot, the fact that files stay under wraps shows Israel still follows its guidance.
Israel does this not only to protect the reputation of its army, but to impede discussion about “the origins of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
That “official state narrative” denies Israel expelled Palestinians in 1948—and that the Palestinians today have a right to return.
Its own documents tell the truth. Israel was built on racist, violent foundations—that’s why it’s remains a racist, violent state today.