Wary Israel Tried to Conceal East Jerusalem's Annexation in 1967, Documents Reveal

And it wasn’t the only time Israel tried to hide its actions for fear of the world's response

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In front, from left: Generals Rehavam Ze'evi and Uzi Narkiss, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan and Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin near the Western Wall in Jerusalem during the Six Day War.
In front, from left: Generals Rehavam Ze'evi and Uzi Narkiss, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan and Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin near the Western Wall in Jerusalem during the Six Day War.Credit: IDF archive

Three weeks after the Six Day War Israel enacted laws to annex the conquered East Jerusalem, but tried to hide the move from the international community, according to recently revealed documents.

The Foreign Ministry sent a telegram to Israel’s ambassadors around the world instructing them to describe the annexation laws as “municipal fusion,” intended to enable running services properly.

The telegram, together with many other documents, was exposed recently by the Akevot Institute, which uses archive material to advance human rights. This wasn’t the only case in which Israel tried to conceal its acts in East Jerusalem for fear of the International community’s response, according to the documents.

Two of the laws passed on June 27, 1967 pertained to government, legal and municipal procedures, while a third was about protecting holy sites.

The Foreign Ministry was extremely concerned about how these laws would be seen by the international community. A day before the Knesset debate on the proposals, Israel’s ambassadors received a telegram guiding them on how to deal with the issue.

“In view of the situation in the (UN) assembly, our public diplomacy [hasbara, in the Hebrew original] must stress the law regarding the holy sites and conceal the first two,” the telegram said. But its writer wasn’t optimistic. “It’s not clear to what extent we’ll succeed in doing so,” he wrote, and recommended presenting the annexation as “a practical necessity stemming from the desire to run the whole city properly. It is not to be described as an annexation but as a municipal fusion, which will enable operating services regularly, such as water, electricity, public medicine, welfare and education. If asked you can confirm that the currency in the whole city will be Israeli.”

Israel was well aware of the precedent set in 1957, when it retreated from Sinai (after the Suez Crisis, also known as Operation Kadesh or the Sinai War), says historian Dr. Amnon Ramon of the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research. “Then, despite Ben Gurion’s declarations of the Third Kingdom of Israel, Israel was forced to withdraw due to the ultimatum issued by the two superpowers.”

In 1967, in contrast to a decade earlier, the Americans agreed not to give Israel an ultimatum to withdraw. However, they made it clear that they would not accept unilateral moves in Jerusalem. This is clearly reflected in cabinet protocols and correspondence.

The Foreign Ministry, headed by Abba Eban, was a key player in the attempt to block, delay and conceal Israel’s acts in Jerusalem. Ramon cites the example of the head of IDF Central Command, Gen. Uzi Narkis, who had to stop a move to demolish houses in the Jewish quarter after an Armenian factory owner complained and Prime Minister Levi Eshkol told him: “Stop the demolitions. Abba Eban may be in New York, but he’s sitting on my shoulder and not giving me a rest. It’s enough for now.”

Three months later, in September 1967, the government decided to advance the Jewish Quarter’s renovation and the finance minister announced that the state was expropriating the quarter’s lands. At the time, 3,500 Arabs, left from the Jordanian period, lived in the neighborhood, most of them refugees who fled from the villages around Jerusalem in 1948.

'This will require hasbara ...'

Here too the Foreign Ministry was concerned. “This decision could be interpreted in the world as land expropriation and evicting property owners in the former Jewish Quarter area, especially in view of the assembly debates,” said a telegram sent to Israel’s embassies in the world.

“This will require hasbara, if reports in a negative spirit are published in your country,” the telegram said.

Ambassadors were told first to emphasize the sanitation-and-health issue, saying “there is an urgent need to deal with sewage, water and other similar problems.”

They were told to distinguish between “hard seizure – which means temporarily freezing the property rights until an agreement is reached with the owners - and expropriation.”

They were also told that the quarter’s two mosques were excluded from the area to which the decision pertained, and that they must make clear that Jewish and Arab property owners in the quarter will be treated alike.

Finally the telegram said that if in the future the point of “evacuating the area” should come up, the ambassadors should say that “every evicted person will receive an apartment in exchange,” and that this is self-evident.

The quarter’s evacuation lasted about two years. The government did offer the evacuees alternative housing in al Azzariyeh village, but only some of them ultimately received apartments, while many of them dispersed in East Jerusalem neighborhoods.

In December 1967 the Foreign Ministry had to address the Jerusalem issue again, when the government decided to relocate the Central Command headquarters to the vocational school in Beit Hanina neighborhood.

Amos Ganor, the Foreign Ministry’s representative in the military administration of the conquered territories, warned: “The responses won’t be restricted to Jerusalem and the West Bank. This issue will draw the attention of the international press.”

This time the solution was, apparently, to carry out the move while the world’s attention was elsewhere. Someone added in handwriting on the back of Ganor’s letter: “Not before Christmas.”

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