Israel expelled Palestinians from the Gaza Strip as collective punishment in retaliation for an attempted attack on Israeli troops, a secret Foreign Ministry document dated June 15, 1967 reveals.
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The document describes a visit by Foreign Ministry officials to the office of the military governor in Gaza, and discusses a decision to expel dozens of Palestinians from Gaza to Sinai after a land mine meant to harm Israeli security forces was planted. The Foreign Ministry’s Avner Arazi, who served in the ministry’s Asian department at the time, wrote the classified document.
Dr. Guy Laron, a senior lecturer in the Hebrew University’s international relations department, told Haaretz: “I didn’t hear about this incident, but there were acts of expulsion and massacres at the end of the war. They were not part of the official history, but they happened.”
He said he had not read of this specific incident, but cited an example of the Shaked commando unit, which happened at the end of the war. “It was under the command of Benjamin Ben-Eliezer on the 10th or 11th (of June),” he said. “There is also the story of Bedouin of Rafah, which happened later, in January 1972. Thousands of Bedouin were expelled, an estimated 6,000-20,000.”
Members of Akevot, the Institute for Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Research, discovered the document. “What is exceptional in this story is that Foreign Ministry officials immediately write a memorandum of understanding,” Akevot executive director Lior Yavne told Haaretz. “It was not their mission. They went to sign an agreement with UNRWA. It seems that they were flustered by what they saw.”
The document describes Arazi’s visit to Gaza on June 14, days after the Six-Day War ended, in which he met with the military governor in Gaza. The officials were briefed on events in the days following the capture of Gaza. “On the 12th or 13th, a land mine exploded in the Gaza vicinity,” the document states. “The investigation found that the land mine had been laid shortly before it exploded. The tracks led to a number of homes in the Al-Tarabshe (sic) refugee camp.”
According to the document, the Israelis demanded that residents of the homes point out the people who conducted the attack. “A short time later, 110 people identifying themselves as soldiers in the Palestinian liberation army appeared, and took collective blame,” the document states.
Arazi describes the repercussions of this stand. “They did not heed pleas to identify who among them committed the act,” he recalled. “They gave them three hours to reveal the perpetrators otherwise they would all be punished – it was decided to transfer anyone who did not reply by the end of the ultimatum to Sinai and to leave them alone! It seems the punishment was carried out in the meantime. Likewise, the army blew up eight homes to where the tracks led.”
The document also describes other incidents of the army attempting to pressure the Palestinian population to turn in weapons and soldiers to the security forces.
“The government demanded of refugee camp residents in the Strip that they hand over all weapons in their possession,” the document states. “They did not respond to this appeal. Therefore, the government asked the local UNRWA representative to designate a warehouse in which weapons holders could put their weapons inside for the night without investigation or the need to be identified. This method was more effective.” It adds: “Assuming that some Egyptian soldiers were hiding in refugee camp homes, camp residents were called upon to hand over such soldiers. There has been no response.”
Laron says that there are eyewitness reports of mass expulsions from the West Bank immediately at the end of the war. “It did happen at the end of the war in the West Bank,” he said. “There was probably some organized plan, about which no documents have been released. However, there are accounts of soldiers arriving in trucks and encouraging residents to leave, and transporting them to expel them,” he added.
“Uri Avnery, in memoirs he has now published, claims that he met soldiers from the unit who said that this was their job – carrying out an organized plan meant to lead to the expulsion of West Bank residents,” Laron continued. “The commanding general, Uzi Narkiss, just before the war said that if they let us, we can kick out the Arabs from the West Bank within 48 hours. Thousands were exiled without a doubt.”
Akevot’s Livne said the testimony in the document by the Gaza governor in 1967 shows that home demolitions and expulsion served as a punishment tool in the territories by the Israel Defense Forces going back to the first days of the occupation. Referring to the officer who spoke with ministry officials, Yavne added, “State jurists tend to deny that home demolitions are part of a punishment policy, but the testimony of Gen. Gaon illustrates the real nature of the act of demolition, which always harms those who are not involved in warfare.”