The Makings of History / Army Speak

There is no mention of the Bus 300 affair. By no means do we learn about the failings of the wars in Lebanon, especially the second one, and there is not even a smidgen of truth about Operation Cast Lead.


The Arab village of Ghabisiyya near Nahariya was conquered and evicted a few days after the state was founded. A while later a few of the villagers returned to their homes, but in January 1950 they were relocated to a neighboring village, Sheikh Danun.

Miri Regev
Moshe Milner

Members of some kibbutzim in the Galilee protested against this expulsion, prompting the Israel Defense Forces Spokesman's Office to instruct Israel Radio to announce on behalf of the so-called Committee of Western Galilee Bloc Communities that the villagers were not actually bitter about the expulsion. Actually, they viewed it as "an ordinary and perfectly understandable action." The IDF spokesman added: "The complaints by the Western Galilee communities regarding the operation to evict the residents of Ghabisiyya were not over the eviction in principle, but rather the harsh winter conditions during which the eviction took place."

This directive is included in a new book of select IDF spokesman press releases between 1948 and 2009. "The IDF Spokesman's Office Announces: The Statements that Accompanied Our Lives" is an initiative of the current spokesman in cooperation with Yedioth Books.

It is unclear why the IDF spokesman saw fit to intervene in the political dispute over the Ghabisiyya expulsion - and the book's editor, Merav Halperin, does not clarify the matter. The High Court of Justice subsequently ruled that the residents of Ghabisiyya were expelled illegally, but the expulsion was somehow "rendered kosher" and Ghabisiyya became the moshav now known as Netiv Ha'shayara.

Current IDF Spokesperson Avi Benayahu has described this book as an attempt to present Israel's military history through the spokesman's press releases. Government statements never offer the full historical truth, and this book demonstrates that the IDF Spokesperson's Office, too, does not settle for the facts, starting with a press release from February 1948: "The Egyptians would like to exit the fray, but do not know how."

The use of the term "the Egyptians," which is perhaps clear in the context of the War of Independence, morphed into "the Palestinians." To this day the IDF Spokesperson's Office has not decided how to spell the word in Hebrew - it has been known to use more than one spelling in the same press release - but the equation that "the Palestinians" equals terror appears consistently, as in: "We are witnessing the collapse of any human norm on the part of the Palestinians."

The IDF Spokesperson's Office would try to dictate its commentary to military reporters by including in its press releases the heading "Our military correspondents' comments." The IDF Spokesperson's Office had significant influence on the press.

As the years went by the press releases were often embellished with verbal imagery such as "heinous and ugly murder" (about the lynching in Ramallah, October 2000 ) - as if there exists such a thing as a beautiful murder.

At some point between the helicopter disaster of 1997 and the abduction of three soldiers in 2000, the spokesman succumbed to the rules of American political correctness and switched from "spokesman" to "spokesperson." During the preparations for the Gaza disengagement in 2005, the IDF Spokesperson's Office started lending its press releases a touch of Jewish warmth by adding the Hebrew calendar date.

Several of the statements in the book show that the IDF Spokesperson's Office has lied on more than one occasion, such as at the beginning of the Yom Kippur War, but its credibility is damaged primarily due to what it does not say. The book does not rise above semi-official half-truths, and what is left out is evidently intended to prettify history. Not a word about what happened between 1949 and 1955, including the 1953 massacre in Qibya under Ariel Sharon's command. In that operation some 60 villagers were killed, and Israel initially claimed that it was not the IDF that killed them but "enraged civilians."

This book also does not reference the mistakes that accompanied the conquest of East Jerusalem in the Six-Day War; there is not a word about the strike on the USS Liberty. Gone is the 1968 Karameh operation, regarded as a failure; neither is there any mention of the Bus 300 affair. By no means do we learn about the failings of the wars in Lebanon, especially the second one, and there is not even a smidgen of truth about Operation Cast Lead. Most glaringly, the IDF press releases selected for publication do not reflect the oppression of the Palestinians or the construction of the settlements.

The book was poorly edited. The background explanations are paltry, and dates are missing; the Qalqilyah operation is listed as happening in 1865, not 1965. The book does not have an index. It was produced in a similar format to a book Yedioth Ahronoth put out in 1991, to mark the Income Tax Department's jubilee year: a glossy album suitable for a coffee table.