Purging the Nakba. Or how an Israeli security agency takes on a monstrosity, the truth

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As I write this, I am in something of a state of shock. If you’d told me, IDF troops are in the habit of invading houses of Palestinians and looting them, I’d tell you I’ve seen this movie. Corrupt cops? A dime a dozen. Prosecutors conspiring against defendants? Tell me something I don’t know. And if you told me — as Jefferson wrote about George III– that the government was protecting IDF troops “by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States,” this would not faze me. Been there, done that, got the bloody shirt.

But what was revealed this weekend is beyond the pale, and should trouble any person who still thinks Israeli is a democracy.

As a report by Israeli NGO Akevot and reporter Hagar Shezaf shows, one of Israel’s most notorious security apparatus, DSDE, has been going through official archives for almost two decades and removing “delicate” documents from them, particularly those recording events during the Nakba.

For example, what follows is part of a report by Yossef Vashitz, a member of MPM’s (United Worker’s Party, a Zionist-leftist party) Arab Section, describing the wiping off the map of the village of Sufsaf, Safed District, on 29th October 1948. This very concise report was submitted by Vashitz to the party hierarchy, which was shocked by the report and submitted a complaint to the Provisional Government. The “they’ Vashitz uses means the soldiers of the 7th Brigade, which conquered the village and committed the massacre.

“Sufsaf: They took 52 men, tied them to one another, dug a ditch and shot them. Ten were still squirming when [unclear]. Women came, begging for mercy. The bodies of six old men were found. There were 61 bodies [in total?]. Three cases of rape. One [of the rapists was?] a Mizrahi man from Safed, a 14 years old girl [was one of the rape victims?], four men were shot and killed. One of them had his fingers removed by a knife so as to take the ring.”

But you will not find this document in the official archives anymore.

DSDE (Director of Security of the Defense Establishment, מלמ”ב in Hebrew) is possibly the most secret of the security apparati. Its fearsome former director, Yehiel Horev, led the organization between 1986 and 2007. Under Horev, DSDE could literally make people disappear. In several cases, people suspected by the DSDE were tried in secret, and hustled off to jail without anyone being informed.

On his own initiative, beginning in 2002, Horev decided to purge Israel’s archives of documents like Vashitz’s report. He used the oldest trick in the book to make the archives obey: By claiming to only wishing to remove any mentions of Israel’s semi-secret nuclear weapons project.

But of course, Horev didn’t stop there. For the last 17 years, his men – Defense Ministry retirees, moving in duos – have been scrounging Israel’s many archives, official and private, and demanding various documents be either moved to vaults or turned over to the DSDE itself. In particular, they were removing official records of the Nakba. Some of the documents were known to researchers, but many were not.

When Shezaf confronted Horev about this, he didn’t bat an eye. “If a researcher quoted a document, but cannot show the document itself, then his facts are not strong. If he says ‘I have the document’, I cannot argue with that. But if he only says it’s written there, it may be true or may be not. If someone [only] quotes something, it’s a difference of night and day regarding the strength of the evidence.” Horev also said that “not everything was published regarding the refugee issue, and there are all sorts of narratives. Some say there wasn’t any flight, that there was only expulsions; some say there was also flight. It’s not black and white.”

And, apparently, it seems Horev took it upon himself to make certain nobody will ever know the truth, at least as it is reflected in the Israeli archives. Here we have an arm of the Israeli government – its most dangerous, almost extra-legal arm – trying to pervert historical research in order to protect Israel’s reputation.

Hagar Shezaf, reporter for Haaretz.

But this is something else. This is undermining the foundations of reality. You won’t be able to argue, because you’ll be robbed of the facts. Those who control the present, control the past; those who control the past, control the future. The reality – those 52 bodies in a ditch, the raped 14-year-old girl, the cut fingers and the ring – will be there, but it will be inaccessible to us.  They are stealing our history, our facts, and they are getting away with this. This used to be the domain of Stalin, the famous re-edited Soviet Encyclopedia; now we have our own NKVD, and they’re twisting our reality. Have been doing so for 17 years without anyone noticing.

And a large section of the so-called public would cheer them; indeed, will not understand why those things were documented in the first place. Which is why, I suspect, Horev was so willing, even eager, to talk to Shezaf: this is his way of going out in a blaze of glory, telling the public the apparatus he led defended them from that most fearsome monstrosity, the truth.

Zionism was always a myth, relying on pseudo-history.

The essential myth is that “all Jews have a right to Palestine”. It is entwined with two others: One, that Palestine was “empty” when the Zionists came; and two, that Palestinians “left” or “fled” in 1947-1948. These latter two myths are an attempt to cleanse the hands of Israelis: There were people here, and they are somehow gone. We are not sitting on their former towns, we did not put people in a ditch and shoot them. We did not rape or pillage. We did not cut off fingers for the rings. No, we had that unicorn on our side, purity of arms. This, after all, was in 1948, a mere three years after that thing, so this is too troubling to think about. Nobody wants to know he is living in a graveyard.

Now our government is making certain all we’ll have will be the myths. The facts will be locked away, so a new generation of Israelis can be indoctrinated. When you fight for human rights, your main tool is historical truth, and the problem is using it correctly to penetrate the wall of denial. The basic concept is an ancient one: You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.

Doing so in the age of misinformation is hard enough. Doing it when the government removed the historical fact is well nigh impossible. In a few bureaucratic moves, the government turned everyone who wielded uncomfortable truths into a conspiracy monger.

And your grip on reality, reality you can share with others, slips. Now the push towards internal exile is stronger than ever. And getting out of it, harder than ever.

(Full disclosure: I worked alongsisde Shezaf and Lior Yavne, Akevot’s director, in the NGO Yesh Din; Shezaf was also my boss for a brief period).

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Someone needs to start designing “Ministry of Truth” t-shirts with the logo above, something like this: https://www.teepublic.com/t-shirt/2940785-ministry-of-truth

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