Israel uses a secret department to disappear 1948 documents in order to discredit accounts of its historical ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.
Israel has a secret department which makes critical documents disappear, especially documents related to what the Palestinians refer to as the Nakba of 1948, the year that marks the foundation of the state of Israel and the displacement of more than 750,000 Palestinians from their villages, towns and cities in lands that make up the border of Israel.
An investigative report by Haaretz revealed that an Israeli Defense Ministry department called the “Director of security of the Defense establishment” or MALMAB (its acronym in Hebrew) is tasked with wiping out archives on Nakba, or catastrophe in Arabic, which opposes the Israeli version of the event.
The Israeli rendition of the event says that Palestinians left their lands after Arab politicians asked them to do so. However, documents deleted by Malmab suggest otherwise, prompting the Israeli secret agency to seek to hide them as historical records show the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians at the hands of the Israeli military.
The department was said to secure sensitive information about Israel’s secret military program but in reality, it is more about concealing the actual history of Nakba in favor of an Israeli narrative.
Malmab was founded in 2007 by Yehiel Horev who told Hareetz that the program is still ongoing. Horev also said that it is better to conceal the events of 1948 otherwise the exposure of the archives would cause unrest among the Palestinian population.
Malmab, whose budget and activities are classified, has removed a number of documents about the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) killing Palestinian civilians, destroying villages, as well as expelling Bedouins during the first decade of Israeli statehood.
According to a report by the Akevot Institute for Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Research, Malmab has illegally sealed public documents which had been previously cleared for release by the military. Many directors of public and private archives said the staff of Malmab considers the documents as their property and often seal them without any authority.
Many documents vaulted by the department had been previously published. When Haaretz inquired about the reason for concealing those, Horev said it is done to undermine the credibility of scholars and historians who referred to those documents while writing about the events.
In the late 1980s, historians like Benny Morris, Ilan Pappe, and Avi Shlaim, also known as the “New Historians”, challenged the Israeli version of Nakba.
Morris cited one such document in his 1986 work. He was referring to notes by Mapam central Committee member Aharon Cohen on a briefing in 1948 by Israel Galili, the former chief of staff of the Haganah militia (current IDF).
“Safsaf 52 men tied with a rope. Dropped into a pit and shot. 10 were killed. Women pleaded for mercy. [There were] 3 cases of rape. Caught and released. A girl of 14 was raped. Another 4 were killed. Rings of knives,” the note said.
Morris quoted the document in the footnote of his seminal work “The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949.” However, when another historian Tamar Novick tried to find the document later, it was not in the archives where Morris mentioned.
“I don’t remember the document you’re referring to, but if he quoted from it and the document itself is not there [i.e., where Morris says it is], then his facts aren’t strong. If he says, ‘Yes, I have the document,’ I can’t argue with that. But if he says that it’s written there, that could be right and it could be wrong. If the document were already outside and were sealed in the archive, I would say that that’s folly. But if someone quoted from it – there’s a difference of day and night in terms of the validity of the evidence he cited,” said Horev.
The 25-page document which became one of the most important sources for Morris’ work, was written by an unnamed security officer and gave minute details of the events in each village in Palestine. It was later compiled and named “The Emigration of the Arabs of Palestine.” After Morris published his article, the document was sealed and made inaccessible.
However, a few years later the Akevot Institute found a copy of the text and ran it past the military censors.
According to it, 70 percent of the Palestinians left due to Israeli military operations. Out of eleven reasons, the top three are related to “hostile Jewish [Haganah/IDF ] operations against Arab settlements.”
In the conclusion, the document says, “To summarize the previous sections, one could, therefore, say that the impact of “Jewish military action” (Haganah and Dissidents) on the migration was decisive, as some 70% of the residents left their communities and migrated as a result of these actions.”
In the appendix of the document, the author explained specific causes of emigration in each locality like, “Ein Zeitun – “our destruction of the village”; Qeitiya – “harassment, threat of action”; Almaniya – “our action, many killed”; Tira – “friendly Jewish advice”; Al’Amarir – “after robbery and murder carried out by the breakaways”; Sumsum – “our ultimatum”; Bir Salim – “attack on the orphanage”; and Zarnuga – “conquest and expulsion.””
The Malmab also concealed a series of interviews with former public and military figures conducted in the early 2000s by the Yitzhak Rabin Center, a research center in Tel Aviv.
Large parts of those interviews, which Haaretz obtained, have been classified. They mainly deal with the expulsion of Palestinians from their homes or stopping refugees to return to their lands.
For example, in one interview, retired Major General Elad Peled told historian Boaz Lev Tov, “Look, let me tell you something even less nice and cruel, about the big raid in Sasa [Palestinian village in Upper Galilee]. The goal was actually to deter them, to tell them, ‘Dear friends, the Palmach [the Haganah “shock troops”] can reach every place, you are not immune.’ That was the heart of the Arab settlement. But what did we do? My platoon blew up 20 homes with everything that was there.”
For Horev, who headed the Defense ministry’s security department from, 1986 to 2007, its important to hide documents that “could harm Israel’s foreign relations and the defense establishment.”
He also admitted he was the one to start concealing documents.
“I don’t remember when it began but I do know that I started it. If I’m not mistaken, it started when people wanted to publish documents from the archives. We had to set up teams to examine all outgoing material.”
Horev is also un-flinched about reports that Malmab’s activities are illegal and unauthorized.
“If I know that an archive contains classified material, I am empowered to tell the police to go there and confiscate the material. I can also utilize the courts. I don’t need the archivist’s authorization,” he said adding that all the sealed documents are “100 percent justified” meaning creating public amnesia about Israel’s brutality on Palestinians during Nakba and since then, is justified for the occupying power.