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Don’t wait for Israeli archives to prove what Palestinians already know

Israeli authorities are deliberately concealing historical documents to undermine evidence of the state’s dark and violent origins. And the world is still falling for it.

Illustrative photo of Palestinian refugees fleeing during the Nakba.

Illustrative photo of Palestinian refugees fleeing during the Nakba.

The village of Safsaf (“willow” in Arabic) appears on page 490 of the newest edition of Walid Khalidi’s All That Remains, a seminal book that catalogues 418 Palestinian communities that were destroyed and depopulated during the Nakba. A Palestinian eyewitness account describes the day when Zionist forces conquered the village and rounded up its residents in October 1948:

As we lined up, a few Jewish soldiers ordered four girls to accompany them to carry water for the soldiers. Instead, they took them to our empty houses and raped them. About seventy of our men were blindfolded and shot to death, one after the other, in front of us. The soldiers took their bodies and threw them on the cement covering of the village’s spring and dumped sand on them.

On Thursday, Haaretz published a widely-shared investigative piece by Hagar Shezaf on how Israeli authorities are systematically concealing archival materials relating to the 1948 war, even after they have been officially disclosed. It begins with an Israeli historian stumbling upon a document four years ago that was written in November 1948 by the Haganah’s former chief of staff. The note, which was first unearthed by New Historian Benny Morris in the 1980s, is also quoted in Khalidi’s book:

Safsaf – 52 men were caught, tied them to one another, dug a pit and shot them. 10 were still twitching. Women came, begged for mercy. Found bodies of 6 elderly men. There were 61 bodies. 3 cases of rape, one east of Safed, girl of 14, 4 men shot and killed. From one they cut off his fingers with a knife to take the ring.

It is strangely consoling to see official Israeli admission of the event. As Shezaf’s excellent article shows, and thanks to the vital work of Akevot – an Israeli organization that works to expand public access to documentation about the conflict held in government and private archives – along with other historians, archive research has made it irrefutably clear that Zionist forces consciously carried out brutal acts of violence against Palestinians to facilitate their expulsion.

Though this is hardly news, such archives remain valuable in providing what are essentially “confessions” by officials of the inhumane crimes they oversaw – crimes that are denied by Israel and its supporters to this day.

Yet, for many Palestinians, the bewildered reactions to these discoveries can be infuriating. They remind us of how thousands of Palestinian testimonies, and decades of Palestinian-led research, struggle to stir so much as a ripple in mainstream discourse about Israel’s history. A few Israeli documents, however, can swiftly rile up a storm.

The knowledge of this disparity has been a key reason for Israel’s obstinate archive policy: as one official blatantly told Shezaf, authorities deliberately continue to hide these documents in order to “undermine the credibility of studies about the history of the [Palestinian] refugee problem.” And many still fall for it.

Jewish workers demolish homes in Jaffa following the 1948 battle that cleared the city almost all its Palestinian residents, October 6, 1949. (Fritz Cohen/GPO)

Jewish workers demolish homes in Jaffa in 1948 after the majority of the city’s Palestinian residents were either expelled or fled, October 6, 1949. (Fritz Cohen/GPO)

This cruel double standard over who has “permission to narrate” the conflict has been raised before – and, it seems, it must be raised again and again.

The world should not have to constantly catch up to what Palestinians have always known about the Nakba. Many Palestinians reading about Safsaf in Haaretz would have reached for their copies of All That Remains or other collections, correctly assuming they would find the same facts recorded years before. Descendants of Safsaf’s survivors would likely know the harrowing story by heart, having heard it from their grandparents’ own lips. Like all settler-colonial states, Israel fears the ghosts of its dark and violent origins. Palestinians are those living ghosts. Listen to what they have to say.

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    COMMENTS

    1. Lewis from Afula

      Again, no information here about the JEWISH NAKBA.
      Its defeaning silence screams out in pain.
      Will 972 magazine ever discuss it ?

      Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        @Lewis: If we’re going to engage in irrelevant what-aboutism, let’s do it properly!
        (emphasis mine below)

        “As will become clear, I do NOT conclude, on the basis of my research findings, that the Zionists came to Palestine with the goal of living alongside the Arabs.”

        “War Over Peace: One Hundred Years of Israel’s Militaristic Nationalism” by Uri Ben-Eliezer, page 13.

        Reply to Comment
      • Ray

        Nice deflection.

        Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Of course, +972 Magazine has discussed it—and your accounting trick:

        Spineless bookkeeping: The use of Mizrahi Jews as pawns against Palestinian refugees
        Calls to define Jews from Arab countries as refugees were silenced in the past by Israeli governments. The change of policy has to do with the relatively new recognition that Israel will not be able to escape its responsibility for the Nakba. But leaders of the new campaign should first learn the history of their unfounded idea.
        By Yehouda Shenhav
        https://972mag.com/spineless-bookkeeping-the-use-of-mizrahi-jews-as-pawns-against-palestinian-refugees/56472/

        Reply to Comment
        • Lewis from Afula

          Corrade Ben is a NAKBA DENIER.
          He wishes away the JEWISH NAKBA and hope that it will be forgotten about.
          We will NEVER forget !

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            This descends from sophisticated accounting fraud to robbing the bank in broad daylight with eyes glazed over while screaming “it’s mine all mine!” ==>
            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RKMNPQ35OUc

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            Of course not, this is all about remembering Jewish history. The shootings, stabbings, bombings, rapes, hangings and persecutions of Mizrachi Jews is a key part of this memory. The thieving of lands (equivalent to 5x the entire state of Israel) is a serious matter in our past.

            Our friend, Comrade Ben, is desperately trying to arrange we forget all this.
            But he will NOT succeed.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            LfA: Yehouda Shenhav has got it right. The misuse of Mizrahi Jews is the real story you are trying to cover over.

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            In desperately trying to forget the JEWISH NAKBA, Comrade Ben and his Leftist disciples impose a real danger to Jews everywhere.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Regarding real danger to Jews everywhere, I still admire the aptness of Rivka Koen’s observation: “I don’t hate myself, I just hate the kinds of Jews who talk exactly like the people who shoot up synagogues in this country. Hating kapos like you is an act of self-preservation.”

            Reply to Comment
    2. David

      Israel is a “settler colonial” state says the guy whose last name indicates his ancestors immigrated from Iraq.

      Here’s the deal. We all know the IDF did shady things in that war, but it was all started by Palestinian Arab militias launching a genocidal campaign against the Jewish population. So I recognize your suffering but to many of us it would be in the same context as German civilian suffering during WWII.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        We know that this is the simplistic Israeli Mainstream Narrative that is deeply inculcated in “many of us” by decades of Israeli propaganda–similar to propaganda efforts about who started the six day war–but the Mainstream Narrative is just wrong, a carefully crafted deception built on half-truths at best. Why don’t you start by reading the book that Bruce, above, links to:

        “As will become clear, I do NOT conclude, on the basis of my research findings, that the Zionists came to Palestine with the goal of living alongside the Arabs.”
        “War Over Peace: One Hundred Years of Israel’s Militaristic Nationalism” by Uri Ben-Eliezer, page 13.

        At the same time, we can put aside the historical complexities you refuse to look at and I doubt will ever acknowledge and just simply move on to the present for the past fifty years and realize that (1) Amjad Iraqi’s ancestors did not colonize Palestine with occupation troops and settlers, and (2) the Allies occupied Germany and Japan only as long as necessary and never once transferred in a single American, British or French citizen or ever aimed to colonize Germany or Japan, and they packed up and left within a few short years. (And this analogy is about the issue of occupations, alone–it is not to tacitly assent to the idea you sneak in that Palestinians = WWII invading Germans–see my first paragraph.) Now the Soviets did occupy their half of the German pie as long as they could get away with it and set up the Stasi-State to do that, though they never did transfer in Russian civilians to settle it (though they did do that to occupied Lithuania and Latvia).

        So are you telling us that your model for the Israeli state and its occupied territories is Soviet Russian or East German Stasi behavior? Because, you know, that did not end well. And the Soviets, no slouches, were very good at indefinite confiscatory occupations, too. And Putin to this day resents how it ended. You with Putin?

        Reply to Comment
    3. Ben

      Yehouda Shenhav has got it right. The misuse of Mizrahi Jews is the real story.

      Reply to Comment
      • Lewis from Afula

        Uri Ben-Eliezer is the latest figure in Comrade Ben’s repetoire of great heros.
        I just looked at the guy’s photo and it appears that physiognomy is real. Those tired, perplexed eyes radiating confusion, guilt and fatigue over Israel’s very existence. Indeed, that is what his great book seems to say.

        An academic in sociology at Haifa University. Yawn !

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          About the Book:
          “Violence and war have raged between Zionists and Palestinians for over a century, ever since Zionists, trying to establish a nation-state in Palestine, were forced to confront the fact that the country was already populated. Covering every conflict in Israel’s history, War over Peace reveals that Israeli nationalism was born ethnic and militaristic and has embraced these characteristics to this day. In his sweeping and original synthesis, Uri Ben-Eliezer shows that this militaristic nationalism systematically drives Israel to find military solutions for its national problems, based on the idea that the homeland is sacred and the territory is indivisible. When Israelis opposed to this ideology brought about change during a period that led to the Oslo Accords in the 1990s, cultural and political forces, reinforced by religious and messianic elements, prevented the implementation of the agreements, which brought violence back in the form of new wars. War over Peace is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the role of ethnic nationalism and militarism in Israel as well as throughout the world.”

          Reply to Comment