Last Friday, an incident occurred that was supposed to have endangered national security: The Defense Ministry released hundreds of previously classified pages from the protocols of the trials that followed the 1956 Kafr Qasem massacre.
For five years, the military prosecution – that is, the state – fought against the documents’ release in the Military Court of Appeals. Its claim was that releasing the protocols would “almost certainly” harm the country’s security and foreign relations, and that it may even result in harm to human life.
But the protocols were released, and aside from a few tweets by Arab Knesset members, no earthquake occurred. The documents’ release was an important event that should be welcomed. But it also raises several important questions.
In a properly run country that wasn’t afraid of looking in the mirror and grappling with its past, these documents would have been released long ago instead of only after 66 years.
In such a country, they would also have been released at the state’s initiative rather than due to a petition by a historian (Adam Raz) and a research institute (Akevot). Raz and Akevot had to wage a personal battle, on their own time and their own dime, to force the Israel Defense Forces Archive to release the documents, even though they are clearly of public interest.
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To understand just how significant the documents’ release was, it’s enough to read a few sentences from them. Soldiers and officers from both the army and the Border Police said at the trial that the curfew imposed on the first day of the 1956 Sinai Campaign and the shooting later that day of 50 Israeli citizens who unwittingly violated it in Kafr Qasem were intended, in part, to intimidate Israeli Arabs and turn them into “innocent lambs” who would sit quietly and not “make problems.”
Moreover, the most senior officer at the scene, Col. Issachar Shadmi, said the shootings were also intended to encourage them to leave their homes and flee to Jordan. In other words, these documents reveal a massacre of Israeli citizens – among them women, children and elderly people – with the goal of promoting a population transfer. Can anyone deny the importance of their publication?
There are also thousands of other pages hidden in the IDF Archive and the Israel State Archive that contain other pieces of the complex historical puzzle of the State of Israel. These pages document other incidents over which a “black flag” flew.
For instance, the High Court of Justice once rejected a petition (by Haaretz, among others) seeking the release of classified documents about the 1948 massacre at Deir Yassin. Israel must establish an independent committee that will reconsider the state’s policy on publishing historical documents and release information about the country’s past to the public.
This would also help heal relations between Arabs and Jews in Israel, as Meretz lawmaker Esawi Freige wrote on Monday: “As long as the concealment continued, genuinely confronting what had happened had not begun. Now this journey is beginning.”
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.