Israel Used Military Censor to Conceal First Settlements From Public, Document Reveals

The authorities sought to prevent Haaretz and another newspaper from reporting on first settlements; 'We cause entirely unnecessary damage to ourselves by publicizing things that can basically be done quietly.'

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Tents at the Alon Moreh settlement, 1969.
Tents at the Alon Moreh settlement, 1969.Credit: Moshe Milner / GPO

A previously classified document from 1969 shows that Israel’s leaders used the military censor to cover up the establishment of the first West Bank settlements.

According to the document, which has been released to the state archives, the censor banned the publication of articles by Haaretz and another daily, Hatzofe, on the issue.

The document was sent on June 19, 1969, by Eliashiv Ben Horin, the Foreign Minister’s deputy director general, to the office of the foreign minister, Abba Eban. The paper, called “Gush Etzion – Publicity,” deals with the establishment of settlements in the West Bank’s Gush Etzion bloc. The area had ostensibly been seized for military purposes.

The document refers to a Mr. Hillel – Shlomo Hillel, another deputy director general at the Foreign Ministry.

“As you know, on June 5 a ‘seizure order for military needs’ was issued for specific land in Gush Etzion. That was after Mr. Hillel and the undersigned convinced those involved to waive a confiscation order” as opposed to a military seizure order, the document states.

“We also agreed with those connected to the discussion that the only publicity we should engage in is what is required – publishing the order on the bulletin board of the Civil Administration in Bethlehem,” the document states.

“We feared that civilian groups, and in particular groups connected to the plan to build the yeshiva on the seized land, would cause unnecessary publicity, since this would contradict the objectives of the seizure as defined in the order.”

The building of settlements on areas ostensibly seized for security needs was very common in the settlement movement's early days. It was designed to bypass international law, which banned the building of civilian structures in occupied territory.

In the document, Ben Horin notes that information on the deception had reached the newspapers, so the military censor prevented publication.

“Now Mr. Hillel is saying that Hatzofe and Haaretz submitted lists to the military censor about civilian plans on the land that was seized ‘for military needs’ . The seizure for military needs can easily be defended from a legal point of view,” Ben Horin writes. “Civilian enterprises are another thing entirely. The censor did not pass on the two lists above but apparently will be unable to prevent the publication of such reports for long.”

The 1969 document (Hebrew):

Ben Horin explains how the political leaders mobilized.

“Hillel and I believe that there is a need for urgent and vigorous activity among the decision-makers in order to prevent a situation in which, with our own hands, we cause entirely unnecessary damage to ourselves by publicizing things that can basically be done quietly,” he writes. “We particularly recommend working with the interior minister so that he uses all his influence in the desired direction.”

The Akevot Institute for Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Research, which strives to expose archival materials, says the document proves the importance of releasing government documents.

“To this day, various types of censorship and classification are preventing public access to millions of archival documents that could shed light on the development of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” says the institute’s executive director, Lior Yavne.

“The Israel State Archives must stop the trend of increased interference by the military censor in the public’s right to peruse the documents kept there.”

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