In July 1967, a month after the Six-Day War, the members of Kibbutz Nahshon in central Israel assembled for a stormy discussion of a sensitive matter that was on the agenda.
They initially wanted to publish the minutes of the proceedings in the kibbutz newsletter, Alei Harekhes. Ultimately, though, after the bulletin was printed for distribution on the kibbutz, they were so alarmed by the result that they censored it by gluing the two pages of the report together.
Fifty-five years have passed since then and, finally, the censored report has been revealed.
It turns out that the archivist – a woman with a sense for historical documentation – decided to set aside a complete, uncensored copy of the original bulletin, rescuing it from the brink of oblivion. A note was also attached to the copy: “It was decided not to make our deliberations public in the pages of the bulletin and therefore the pages were glued together.”
The discussion around which the storm raged dealt with the fate of three Arab villages where the inhabitants had been expelled and the houses demolished a short while earlier during the Six-Day War – Imwas, Bayt Nuba and Yalo, all of them in the Latrun area. Some 8,000 inhabitants were expelled to the Ramallah area, and then Israeli bulldozers flattened their homes. Moshav Mevo Horon was established on the land of Bayt Nuba; Canada Park now sits on the lands of Imwas and Yalo.
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“We have been suffering recently from mixed feelings,” notes the editor at the beginning of the bulletin. “We visited the Trappist Monastery, with the monks and the room, the winery and the church, and we nearly forgot about Imwas, standing in its ruins beyond the monastery walls, and the inhabitants who were exiled and deprived of their property. No sooner had the rejoicing over the victory ended and we are already concerned about the outcome of the political struggle. There are also concerns connected to working the villagers’ lands and harvesting their crops.”
We Do Not Take Over the Lands
The accompanying editorial in the kibbutz bulletin was titled: “We Do Not Take Over the Lands.” This expressed a decision by the members of the kibbutz – which was established in 1950 in the Ayalon Valley by members of the left-wing, Zionist youth movement Hashomer Hatzair – not to take part in looting the abandoned property or the collecting of spoils from the abandoned villages.
'The fact that more than a quarter of a million Palestinian and Syrian Arabs became refugees in the Six-Day War is not well-known to Jewish Israelis'
“Attempts will be made to locate the owners and return the property to them,” the minutes of the meeting stated. “It was decided that we will not cultivate the lands and will fight to prevent others from taking them and cultivating them.”
Among the reasons for this unusual decision was fear of damaging the image of the kibbutz.
“Many comrades” – the language at the time was still very much the language of socialist ideals – “expressed concerns that, despite our goodwill, the actions that have been taken will serve as a tool for needs diametrically opposite to our intentions,” the bulletin stated. “Hostile media could twist our motives concerning the harvest and use them against us. Our denials and explanations will not help a lot ... we will be condemned in the press.”
'These scenes reminded me and many other reserve soldiers of other, not distant, times in which Jewish families looked exactly the same, straggling in occupied Europe'
Comrade Yakir said in this context: “By harvesting the wheat and moving onto the land, aren’t we abetting the establishment of facts on the ground with regard to dispossessing the refugees?”
Yosef responded: “My opinion is: we didn’t sow, we won’t reap.” Arik, meanwhile, expressed concern that “this is about a political harvest, aimed at establishing facts.”
Not everyone was in agreement about the exceptional attitude taken by the kibbutz with regard to the Arab property. Comrade Motti said he believed it was necessary to harvest whatever was possible. He didn’t understand the approach of retreating and going backward that was expressed in the remarks of the comrades who were opposed to taking over the land and harvesting the grain, the bulletin reported. “In that way, we will always remain in the same place. What’s in it for us if we remain honest?” he asked.
Comrade Yossi also supported harvesting the grain left behind by the Arab farmers. Among other reasons, “it would be for the purposes of bargaining, in case of distribution of the lands if they are not returned to the villagers. If they are returned – we will be the first to relinquish the lands, while others are liable to fight for them.”
'People are trying to carry with them a small part of their property, children are crying, adults and old people are straggling along slowly on the sides of the road'
Comrade Shoshanna proposed a novel idea – donating the money from the harvest to the Arab refugees.
The affair has been brought to light by the Akevot Institute for Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Research. “We arrived at the kibbutz archive as part of a study of a different incident, and there we also found the documentation touching upon the kibbutz members; dilemmas concerning the expulsion and use of the lands of the villages that had been destroyed,” said the institute’s Adam Raz.
“The fact that more than a quarter of a million Palestinian and Syrian Arabs from the Golan Heights became refugees in the Six-Day War is not well-known to Jewish Israelis, even though this constitutes an integral part of the results of the war,” he noted.
Ultimately, only one comrade in the kibbutz vote supported taking over the lands and harvesting the Arab villagers’ grain. All the rest voted against.
The kibbutz members also voted on whether “to conduct a serious public struggle in the matter of the destruction of the villages.”
Comrade Dan saw the destruction as “a political rather than a security act.” Comrade Shoshanna called for “dragging various people into the mud with us, so they won’t keep quiet and ignore this.”
The decision to censor the debate was justified by the kibbutz members thusly: “The problem is that there are elements who will understand and will want to understand this incorrectly, as though we are taking over the lands. And yet if we do cultivate them now, perhaps when they divide up the land among the communities in the area, it will remain ours.”
The expulsion of the Arab residents was documented at the time by soldier and photographer Benaya Ben-Nun, who sent his pictures to a compilation of war photographs organized by Haaretz in the summer of 1967.
The late author Amos Kenan, who also participated in the fighting in the area as a soldier, described what happened at the time: “In the afternoon, the first bulldozer arrived. It demolished houses, with all the objects and property that was inside them. Then a group of refugees appeared who mistakenly thought they could return. They walked for four days on the road – old people, mothers with babies, children thirsty for water. They said they were being kicked out everywhere, they had no food or water,” Kenan said.
Kibbutz member Ze’ev Bloch also recounted his memories of the expulsion. “People are trying to carry with them a small part of their property, children are crying, adults and old people are straggling along slowly on the sides of the road. … These scenes reminded me and many other reserve soldiers of other, not distant, times in which Jewish families looked exactly the same, straggling in occupied Europe. It was hard to avoid the comparison and our hearts were broken by these sights,” Bloch wrote.