High Court Denies Petition Calling for Release of Israeli Secret Service Documents on Mizrahi Protests

Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
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Supreme Court President Esther Hayut, last month.
Supreme Court President Esther Hayut, last month.Credit: אורן בן חקון
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

The High Court of Justice has rejected on Tuesday a petition calling for the release of documents related to Israel's secret services efforts to "suppress insurrection."

The documents, which deal with the Shin Bet activity in Israeli immigrant camps in the 1950s, could potentially "harm national security," the court said in its ruling.

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"These documents can reveal the Shin Bet's methods of operation and harm the safety and good name of the individuals involved," Supreme Court President Esther Hayut wrote in the ruling on Tuesday.

“To preserve Israel's intelligence agencies' ability to recruit sources, protecting the identity of these sources is essential,” Hayut added.

Shay Hazkani, a historian who researches the absorption of Jews from Arab and Middle Eastern countries in Israel, submitted the petition, as part of his academic research.

In 2017, Hazkani filed a request with Israel State Archives to sift through documents from the 1950s dealing with Shin Bet's operations within the immigrant camps and the thwarting of the Wadi Salib riots.

The Wadi Salib riots were a series of street protests and acts of vandalism in the Wadi Salib neighborhood of Haifa in 1959 against the discrimination of Mizrahi Jews.

Hazkani found particular interested in what the Shin Bet had described as “preventing insurrection,” which included surveillance and wiretapping, according to Hazkani.

However, in 2018 the secret service denied his request on the basis of national security. With the help of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), Hazkani petitioned to the High Court and asked for the release of the materials.

While the petition was still pending, the government tightened the restrictions around archival materials. Instead of releasing materials after 70 years, the state now decided that such documents will only be released 90 years after their creation.

The High Court denied Hazkani’s request to release the documents.

During the Shin Bet's examination of the materials, it had found a “number of documents" which could be published if approved by the censorship. The High Court urged "that this publication should be done as soon as possible.”

The judges requested that the Shin Bet will reexamine the materials so that they can be published in the future. The court, however, did not order the Shin Bet to do so, which practically means that there is no deadline for the release of such documents.

In their ruling, the judges criticized the State of Israel decision "to have the Shin Bet operate for purposes of political espionage and surveillance of social protests." However, they felt that the Shin Bet had balanced well between the public interest and national security.

"The bottom line is disappointing," said ACRI attorney Avner Pinchuk, who filed the petition. However, he did acknowledge that in the future this ruling may contribute to expose past injustices and prevent future ones.

Now Pinchuk intends to demand from the Shin Bet to “release the archival materials on the suppression of the Wadi Salib protests,” he added.

Later this year, the High Court is expected to rule in a similar case submitted by historian Nadav Kaplan. Kaplan has asked to release classified documents about the murder of Rudolf Israel Kastner, who was murdered after an Israeli court accused him of collaborating with the Nazis.

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