'The attempt to suppress official documentation of the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in 1948 is not new.
But efforts by teams from the Israeli defense ministry to remove sensitive documents from Israeli archives – as reported by the Haaretz newspaper recently – must be understood in a new political climate and are not simply an attempt to spare Israeli governments embarrassment, as some have suggested.
Those of us working with Nakba documents – Nakba means “catastrophe” and is the term Palestinians use for the expulsion in 1948 of some 800,000 people from their lands and homes in what became Israel – were already aware of the removal of these documents. For many years, for instance, historians were unable to revisit “the village files,” which formed an important proof in my argument that the 1948 war was an act of ethnic cleansing.
Some of the crucial material Benny Morris used on the Deir Yassin and al-Dawayima massacres could also not be not re-opened. They all detailed a more honest Israeli version of the causes leading to what was termed the “Palestinian exodus” in 1948.
Why are these files being hidden? In 2016, the journalist Lisa Goldman assumed that the reason was that the works of the “new historians” embarrassed the government and undermined Israel’s international standing.
The documents certainly challenged the official Israeli version of a voluntary Palestinian flight and exposed war crimes committed by Zionist and later Israeli forces.
But I think the reasons are far more profound and alarming. They are part of a new assault on Palestine and the Palestinians.
Taking the politics out of Palestine
We need to look at the attempt at censoring these archives in two contexts: the political and the historical.
Politically, the removal of these documents has to be seen as part of an overall American-Israeli initiative (or at least tendency) to try to depoliticize the “Palestine question.”
In Israel, this began with Benjamin Netanyahu’s ideas about an “economic peace,” the attempt to induce the Palestinians to give up their political demands in return for an improved economic reality.
It continued with the legislation of the Nakba Law, which withdrew any government funding for public bodies and institutions that would commemorate the 1948 events as a catastrophe.
An important part of this strategy includes Israeli actions on the ground – settlement expansion, house demolitions, village clearances – that bring us closer to an official annexation of Area C – approximately 60 percent of the West Bank – into Israel and the establishment of small Bantustans in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
A number of Israeli politicians and officials have been quite open about wanting to annex all or parts of the West Bank, including, of course, the prime minister himself.
Finally, there is the Israeli nation-state law, which passed in 2018. This law consolidated Israel as an apartheid state.
One particular clause in the law is relevant to our discussion: it stipulates that the right to exercise national self-determination in the country is “unique” to the Jewish people.
On the American side, meanwhile, the Trump administration has taken a number of steps that complement the Israeli attempt to erase Palestine as a political issue and Palestinians as a national movement.
These measures included the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the transfer there of the US embassy from Tel Aviv; ending financial support for UNRWA, the UN body that caters for Palestinian refugees; removing the PLO delegation from Washington; and a Bahrain conference focused on financial incentives for the Palestinians with no mention of any political rights.
Together, the Israeli and American campaigns amount to a new assault on Palestine and the Palestinians. The Palestinians are very vulnerable at this moment: Arab regimes are deserting them, the international community’s elite is indifferent, and Palestinians themselves are divided between Hamas and Fatah.'
Read more: Israel’s latest attempt to erase Palestine
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