Israel Didn't Aim to Distort History by Concealing Nakba Files, Former Defense Official Says

The Defense Ministry's secretive security department hid evidence of massacres and forced expulsions of Palestinians in 1948 only to 'ensure information security,' former director says following Haaretz report

IDF soldiers guarding Palestinians in Ramle, in 1948.
Collection of Benno Rothenberg/The IDF and Defense Establishment Archives

A secretive Israeli Defense Ministry department "had no intention … to distort history" by concealing documents on the 1948 mass emigration and deportation of Palestinians by Israeli forces, the department's former director told Haaretz, confirming the controversial project reported by Haaretz earlier this month was launched during his tenure.

"There was an attempt to hold classified documents in a place that ensures their information security," said Yehiel Horev, who headed the department for two decades up until 2007.

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 34Haaretz

He added that "Some documents … cannot be published due to the damage they might cause to foreign affairs or state security."

According to a Haaretz investigative report published in early July, Malmab, which is charged with "the security of the defense establishment" and whose activities and budget are classified, has been removing documents from public and private archives that include evidence of massacres, forced expulsions and other misdeeds toward Palestinians during the 1948 war, generally referred to by Palestinians as the Nakba, and soon after.

>> Read more: Burying the Nakba: How Israel systematically hides evidence of 1948 expulsion of ArabsIsrael’s concealing of Nakba documents is totalitarian | Benny Morris ■ The Nakba isn’t going away | Editorial

Yehiel Horev greeted by then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and then-Defense Minister Ehud Barak as he ends his tenure as Malmab director, July 31, 2007.
Moshe Milner/GPO

The phenomenon was first detected by the Akevot Institute for Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Research, which presented in a report cases of documents that had been published by researchers but then concealed and made inaccessible to historians. Horev, as quoted in the original report, argued an historic allegation backed up by original documents is not the same as an allegation that cannot be verified or refuted.

Following the Haaretz report, a group of civil society organizations, historians and archivists urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who also serves as defense minister, and current Malmab head Nir Ben Menashe, to put an end to the department's policy on archival material. In a letter sent Sunday, they demanded איק concealing of documents be stopped immediately and any documents that had been removed from archives be returned, warning of serious damage to Israeli democracy.

"Malmab's activity causes serious damage to historical research in Israel, and hinders the realization of the basic role of national archives in a democratic society: To bring the information they are entrusted with to the public, within the legally defined limits," the letter read, calling Malmab's policy "a direct attack on the credibility of researchers."

It also argued that "Revising history through governmental manipulation of archival documentation undermines the society's democratic nature. Malmab has no legal authority to conceal archival materials and thus damage freedom of expression and freedom to research."

Horev defended his actions, saying the claims made in the letter "distort Malmab's activity … during my tenure. In a young country, everyone started a private archive, and all we did was worry about information security."