A report published by the Akevot Institute for Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Research reveals that for 17 years, the Director of Security of the Defense Establishment (DSDE), a Ministry of Defense division, has, without any legal authority to do so, ordered denying public access to individual documents and entire files in various official Israeli archives relating to the Nakba, the 1948-49 ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. The report, Silencing: DSDE’s Concealment of Documents in Archives, summarizes the findings of two years of research by Akevot Institute.
Since 2002, teams, usually composed of two individuals, would periodically visit various archives in Israel. Archive staff refer to these teams as “State Archive declassifiers” or “IDF Archive Officials.” Others know their true organizational affiliation. The teams instruct the director of the archive to give them certain files, and sometimes large batches of files stored in the archives. The teams then go through the materials and order the archive director to place entire files, or individual documents, in a vault and deny archive users access to these materials.
“Our research indicates that the teams are mainly interested in three issues: materials connected to nuclear issues; materials regarding the 1948 war, particularly those concerning the uprooting of the Palestinian population during and after the war, and materials relating to Israel’s foreign relations.” Akevot report said.
Along with the release of this report, Akevot Institute has published for the first time a key document removed by the DSDE: a comprehensive 1948 IDF intelligence report that contradicts the common Israeli narrative about the major factor in the displacement of Palestinians during the 1948 war. According to the 29-page report, during the early months of the war, operations by Jewish combatants were the major cause of Arab displacement, and the role played by the Arab leadership in encouraging “flight” was negligible. Akevot has released both a digital copy of the Hebrew original and an English translation of the complete document.
In its recommendations, Akevot Institute calls on the DSDE to end all operations in Israeli archives immediately and on the Deputy Chief State Archivist to inform public and private archive directors in Israel that they are under no obligation to follow DSDE instructions to remove materials. Akevot has also recommended the Association of Israeli Archivists (ISA) appoint a professional to advise archives on issues related to providing public access to records that appear to be sensitive.
Public access to historical records in Israel is subject to close monitoring by the security establishment. The IDF and Security Establishment Archive, the largest archive in the country, has so far opened only one percent of its records to public access. The General Security Service (Shin Beth) archive, which contains extremely valuable historical records is completely closed to the public and does not allow any research of its materials. The Israeli Military Censor has recently posted an officer to the ISA, as part of what was presented as a pilot program, to review archival records before they are made accessible to researchers and the public at large. The ISA has been holding back on uploading records to its website, the only channel open for public access at the ISA, citing, as the reason, that they had yet to be reviewed by the censor. The work of the DSDE in these archives impedes access to historical records, which is the foundation of reliable, independent research. “The cumulative effect of this is distortion of public and political discourse about major chapters and events in the history of the country and its peoples,” the report says.