Editorial Open the
 'Nakba File'

Declassifying documents is crucial to studying history. The attempt to deny the Nakba encourages the occupation and stifles any chance for peace.

Palestinian refugees leaving a village near Haifa, June 1948.Corbis

Israel has a fairly liberal policy on opening state documents to public scrutiny, including protocols of cabinet sessions. Some states are less liberal, some more. Declassifying documents is crucial to studying history. Getting to know the past and understanding it are every nation’s right and duty, and vital to preventing future errors.

Thus, the decision to extend the confidentiality of a study commissioned by Ben Gurion in the early 60s – in a bid to prove that Israel wasn’t to blame for creating the Palestinian refugee problem in 1947-48 – is troubling, foolish and dangerous.

It’s foolish because anyone who is interested will have no trouble finding testimonies that the Israel Defense Forces was involved in the expulsion of the Arab population in the War of Independence. A large part of the information on this issue can be found in official Israeli papers that are open to scrutiny in the State Archive, the IDF archive and other archives. Some of the testimonies were voiced by Ben Gurion himself, who even witnessed the expulsion of Palestinians on certain occasions with his own eyes.

Ben Gurion wrote as much in his diary and numerous documents have reports of war crimes perpetrated by IDF soldiers, including murder, rape and plunder. The decision to keep the file requested by historian Dr. Shay Hazkani sealed can only strengthen the argument that Israel is hiding more war crimes, probably more awful than those already released for publication.

The country’s politicians and officials are acting as though they have a monopoly on history. The state’s policy on opening state documents to public scrutiny is based on the assumption that classification is the norm and opening the files is a privilege. They don’t share the decision on declassifying files with historians, who represent the public’s right and duty to know the truth. The courts also tend, in most cases, to uphold the classification of files as secret.

The attempt to hide the expulsion of the Arabs began in real time, with the expulsions themselves, first as part of Israel’s foreign policy. The not unreasonable assumption was that Israel’s moral image was crucial if it was to enter the family of nations and obtain military, economic and diplomatic assistance, which were then vital to its existence.

Over the years the memory of the Nakba has developed into a major factor among the components of Palestinian identity. Many Israelis see it as a threat both to their identity and to Israel’s right to exist. To get past this, the truth must be faced. Nobody knows whether the Palestinians will ever agree to receive Israel’s recognition of its responsibility or even a historic apology, in an honest effort to mend, as much as possible, the injustice it caused them.

One way or another, the attempt to deny the Nakba encourages the occupation and stifles any chance for peace. It’s hard to shake off the impression that this is the purpose of keeping these documents sealed.