Damascus: On the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War, the Israeli government has released 150,000 pages of previously classified material dating back to the early summer of 1967.
Still in Hebrew, they are yet to be translated into other languages. The releases were made public under mounting pressure from a recently established centre by Israeli scholars, lawyers, and activists, aimed at promoting transparency and human rights.
Netanyahu was originally not too enthusiastic about the idea, having signed an earlier order extending the classification of Israeli archives from 50 to 70 years.
Meaning, documents related to 1967 were supposed to have been released in 2037.
During that war, which Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser famously called a “nakba” or “disaster,” Israel crushed the armies of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan, occupying the entire West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Sinai Peninsula, and the Golan Heights. Through the minutes of 36 cabinet meetings, the ground-breaking documents speak volumes about attitudes and fears within the Israeli government, led at the time by Levi Eshkol, the fourth prime minister of the Zionist state.
On day one, Eshkol was clearly uneasy, fearing a “real massacre” of Israeli troops at the hands of Egypt’s army, with Defence Minister Moshe Dayan saying: “There are limits to our ability to defeat the Arabs.”
Future Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was then Chief-of-General Staff of the Israeli Army recommended striking first.
In just six days Israel dealt a humiliating defeat to Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian armies.
Dayan boasted at the time “within a few hours we can be in Beirut”, while Foreign Minister Abba Eban noted: “Israel is expanding and expanding and the world is applauding.”
After Israel’s occupation, Eban, a seasoned Israeli diplomat, said Israel was now perched on a “barrel of dynamite.”
Eshkol dismissed his worries, noting: “If it were up to us, we would send all the Arabs to Brazil!”
Justice Minister Yaakov Shimshom Shapira objected, “They are inhabitants of this land and today you are ruling over it. There is no reason to take Arabs out of here and transfer them.”
Menachem Begin, then minister without portfolio, proposed giving a seven-year residency to the Palestinians of the West Bank, while denying them the right to vote for the Knesset (Israel’s parliament), arguing that meanwhile Jewish emigration from Europe should be expanded, while boosting the Jewish birth rate.
“Much security-related material, vital to understand the workings of the post 1967 occupation, is still not available at all and access is difficult if not impossible. But as far as I know state archives are closed everywhere in the Arab world, or selectively available only to “trusted” historians,” Ian Black, the former Middle East Editor at The Guardian told Gulf News.
Palestinian scholar Kamal Khalaf Al Tawil, an expert on Abdul Nasser, and former director-general of the Beirut-based Centre for Arab Unity Studies, thinks that the document release is good for researchers, telling Gulf News: “I trust the Israeli archives, because of their previously proven dependability. Israel can afford to let its secrets out in the open.”
Back in the 1980s, Israel had released documents related to the first Palestine of 1948, only to put them under lock and key again, after they were reviewed by three seasoned Israeli historians; Ian Pappe, Benny Morris, and Avi Shlaim. Those documents revealed plenty about the founding years of Israel, how it had summarily executed Palestinians and forcefully uprooted them from their homes.
The Israeli documents can be found on: www.archives.gov.il/en/p1967