Opinion |

The Ghosts Haunting Israel's Wars, Past and Present

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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A man looks on while sitting in a chair before a wall showing the Palestinian flag and posters of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, at the Rafah camp for Palestinian refugees in the southern Gaza Strip in November.
A man looks on while sitting in a chair before a wall showing the Palestinian flag and posters of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, at the Rafah camp for Palestinian refugees in the southern GazaCredit: SAID KHATIB / AFP
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

The Haaretz editorial for Sunday calls for opening the archives to reveal the complete truth about what happened here in 1948, including all of the massacres and the war crimes committed by Israel Defense Forces soldiers in 1948-49. There is, of course, no demand for justice.

After 73 years, the citizens of Israel are permitted to know what was done in their name during their country’s first war. The victims of that war are also permitted to know all about the travails of their families and the crimes perpetrated against them. A state that is proud of its past does not conceal it. Only a state that is ashamed of its deeds conceals them. An Israel that conceals its past is a state that knows, deep in its heart, that its righteous birth came about through a great and deep sin.

In the wake of the shocking article by Adam Raz in Friday’s Haaretz, disclosing massacres that were reported to the cabinet and concealed ever since, without any of the criminals being punished appropriately, it is indeed time to face the truth, deal with its implications and learn its lessons. The editorial is convinced that when the truth comes to light, it will provoke penetrating public discussion throughout the country. The editorial is mistaken.

That ship sailed a long time ago. Opening the archives and revealing the truth will neither help nor hinder. The process of repression and denial, of erasing reality and replacing it with an alternative reality, fabricating justifications for any iniquity and the spreading of lies and false propaganda, which began immediately after the war and has never stopped, has succeeded above and beyond all expectations.

The door to the truth is closed to Israelis. Most do not see Palestinians as human beings like themselves, and therefore anything is permitted of the state. Tell them now about massacres, and most will shrug their shoulders. Only Haaretz will agree to publish the stories, and few readers will be shocked: They will be derided as “purists.”

The vast majority will adhere to the “truth” that has been drilled into their heads: There was no choice, we don’t want to think about what would have happened had the situation been reversed, we were the few against the many, the Arabs started it, they rejected partition – and of course, the Holocaust. No massacre story, however barbaric, can change anything now. Israel has barricaded itself inside its narrative, and nothing can crack the wall. Penetrating public discussion? More like a penetrating public yawn.

It is not by chance that Israel finds itself in this situation. It is not its past that haunts it. It is not the past it denies. Israel conceals its past in order to justify its present. The dark side of its past did not end in 1948 – it has never ended. Methods changed, as have the dimensions, but the policies, the moral standards and the attitude to Arabs haven’t changed an iota. If we admit to the 1948 Hula massacre, we would also have to admit to the criminal killing Friday of the ninth protester from the village of Beita. If we admit that we concealed and covered up the connection to the 1948 Al-Burj massacre, we would also have to admit to lying about the justification for executing the stabber at Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate on December 4th.

Therefore, it’s best for Israel to keep on covering up the destruction and the killing by planting more and more Jewish National Fund groves, meant to ensure that the truth never peeks out through the pines. It would be hard to deal with, after so many years of being told that we are always right, that we are the victims, that we have the most moral army in the world, that we were the few against the many and that Arabs are natural-born killers.

Had 1948 ended in 1948, had its crimes ceased then, there would have been no problem admitting the truth today, to regret, to apologize, even to pay restitution. But because 1948 never ends, and what we did then to the Palestinians we continue to do now, only more forcefully, we can’t get worked up over what happened then, lest it undermine the faith in what we are still doing. Therefore, dear editorial, the mechanisms of whitewash and justification will cover up any disclosure from 1948. No public discussion will be provoked. Please don’t disturb, we are carrying on – with the same crimes, or similar ones.

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