FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

A History of Silencing Israeli Army Whistleblowers: From 1948 Until Today

by

shutterstock_175655165

One might expect that only historians would care to revisit the 1948 war that created Israel. And yet the debate about what constitutes truth and myth from that period still provokes raw emotions.

Much rests on how those events are reconstructed, not least because the shock waves have yet to subside. Israelis fear, and Palestinians crave, a clearer picture of the past because it would powerfully illuminate the present. It might also influence the international community’s proposed solutions for the conflict.

That is why the unearthing of an Israeli soldier’s letter from 1948 detailing what was probably the war’s worst massacre – one long buried by Israel – is of more than historical significance.

It comes as Moshe Yaalon, the defence minister, this week accused Breaking the Silence, an Israeli organisation that exposes military abuses, of “treason” for collecting evidence from the army’s current whistle-blowers.

Western understandings of the 1948 war – what Palestinians term their Nakba, or catastrophe – are dominated by an enduring Israeli narrative. Israel’s army, it is said, abided by a strict moral code. Palestinians left not because of Israel’s actions but on the orders of Arab leaders.

In this rendering, the Palestinians’ mass dispossession was the fault of the Arab world – and a solution for the millions of today’s refugees lies with their host countries.

For decades Israel’s chief concession to the truth was an admission that a massacre took place just outside Jerusalem, at Deir Yassin.

Israel claimed the atrocity was the exception that proved the rule: a rogue militia killed more than 100 villagers, violating Israel’s ethical codes in the chaotic weeks before statehood was declared.

Palestinians have always known of dozens of other large massacres of civilians from 1948 carried out by the Israeli army. The barbarity, they say, was intended to terrorise the native population into flight. This account puts responsibility on Israel for taking the refugees back.

But history is written by the victor.

In recent decades a few brave Israeli scholars have chipped away at the official facade. In the late 1990s a Haifa University student collected testimonies from former soldiers confirming that over 200 Palestinians had been massacred at Tantura, south of Haifa. After the findings were made public, he was pilloried and stripped of his degree.

A decade ago, the historian Ilan Pappe wrote a groundbreaking book, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, arguing that massacres like the one at Tantura were exploited to drive out Palestinians. He and others noted the suggestive titles of military operations such as “Broom” and soldiers’ orders to “clean” areas.

Pappe now lives in academic exile in the UK.

The biggest obstacle to shifting Israeli and western perceptions of 1948 has been the lack of a clear paper trail connecting the political leadership to the massacres. Israel locked away bundles of documentation precisely not to jeopardise the official narrative.

But things are changing slowly.

Last year a key deception was punctured: that Israel urged many of the war’s 750,000 Palestinian refugees to return. In a letter to Haifa’s leaders shortly after the city’s Palestinians were expelled, David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, demanded that any return be barred.

Now another letter, located by Israeli historian Yair Auron and published last week for the first time in English by the Haaretz newspaper, trashes the idea of an ethical Israel army.

Written by Shabtai Kaplan, a soldier and journalist, the letter confirms long-held suspicions of a massacre – one that dwarfs Deir Yassin – at Dawaymeh, near Hebron. Soldiers executed hundreds of men, women and children who offered no resistance.

The massacre, near the end of the war, was carried out by elite troops under the command of Yitzhak Sadeh. He developed the Israeli army’s famous doctrine of “purity of arms”.

Kaplan argues that the Dawaymeh massacre was part of “a system of expulsion and destruction”, with a clear goal: “The fewer Arabs who remain, the better.”

Kaplan’s letter was consigned to the vaults, as were so many other documents from 1948 that officials considered too damaging.

Nearly seven decades later, in an age of 24-hour news and social media, Israel is still desperately trying to conceal its darkest episodes by bullying the army’s current whistle-blowers.

Last week Benjamin Netanyahu’s government launched an investigation into Breaking the Silence. On Sunday Netanyau called the collection of soldiers’ testimonies “intolerable”, indicating that he may try to ban the group.

It is hard not to see parallels between the cover-ups of 1948 and those of today. Breaking the Silence’s disclosures, especially those relating to Israel’s series of attacks on Gaza, each of which has left hundreds of civilians dead, similarly give the lie to the army’s continuing claims of ethical behaviour.

In his 1948 letter, Kaplan observed of the failure by the political leadership to hold anyone to account for the massacres: “Inaction is in itself encouragement.”

Israel’s politicians hoped then that the Palestinians could be quickly terrorised from their lands. Decades later, the atrocities continue – and to the same end. But Israel must face facts: the days when such systematic brutality could be kept under wraps are now over.

A version of this article first appeared in the National, Abu Dhabi.

More articles by:

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is www.jkcook.net.

November 22, 2017
Jonathan Cook
Syria, ‘Experts’ and George Monbiot
William Kaufman
The Great American Sex Panic of 2017
Richard Moser
Young Patriots, Black Panthers and the Rainbow Coalition
Robert Hunziker
Fukushima Darkness
Lee Artz
Cuba Libre, 2017
Mark Weisbrot
Mass Starvation and an Unconstitutional War: US / Saudi Crimes in Yemen
Frank Stricker
Republican Tax Cuts: You’re Right, They’re Not About Economic Growth or Lifting Working-Class Incomes
Edward Hunt
Reconciling With Extremists in Afghanistan
Dave Lindorff
Remembering Media Critic Ed Herman
Nick Pemberton
What to do About Al Franken?
November 21, 2017
Gregory Elich
What is Behind the Military Coup in Zimbabwe?
Louisa Willcox
Rising Grizzly Bear Deaths Raise Red Flag About Delisting
David Macaray
My Encounter With Charles Manson
Patrick Cockburn
The Greatest Threats to the Middle East are Jared Kushner and Mohammed bin Salman
Stephen Corry
OECD Fails to Recognize WWF Conservation Abuses
James Rothenberg
We All Know the Rich Don’t Need Tax Cuts
Elizabeth Keyes
Let There be a Benign Reason For Someone to be Crawling Through My Window at 3AM!
L. Ali Khan
The Merchant of Weapons
Thomas Knapp
How to Stop a Rogue President From Ordering a Nuclear First Strike
Lee Ballinger
Trump v. Marshawn Lynch
Michael Eisenscher
Donald Trump, Congress, and War with North Korea
Tom H. Hastings
Reckless
Franklin Lamb
Will Lebanon’s Economy Be Crippled?
Linn Washington Jr.
Forced Anthem Adherence Antithetical to Justice
Nicolas J S Davies
Why Do Civilians Become Combatants In Wars Against America?
November 20, 2017
T.J. Coles
Doomsday Scenarios: the UK’s Hair-Raising Admissions About the Prospect of Nuclear War and Accident
Peter Linebaugh
On the 800th Anniversary of the Charter of the Forest
Patrick Bond
Zimbabwe Witnessing an Elite Transition as Economic Meltdown Looms
Sheldon Richman
Assertions, Facts and CNN
Ben Debney
Plebiscites: Why Stop at One?
LV Filson
Yemen’s Collective Starvation: Where Money Can’t Buy Food, Water or Medicine
Thomas Knapp
Impeachment Theater, 2017 Edition
Binoy Kampmark
Trump in Asia
Curtis FJ Doebbler
COP23: Truth Without Consequences?
Louisa Willcox
Obesity in Bears: Vital and Beautiful
Deborah James
E-Commerce and the WTO
Ann Garrison
Burundi Defies the Imperial Criminal Court: an Interview with John Philpot
Robert Koehler
Trapped in ‘a Man’s World’
Stephen Cooper
Wiping the Stain of Capital Punishment Clean
Weekend Edition
November 17, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Thank an Anti-War Veteran
Andrew Levine
What’s Wrong With Bible Thumpers Nowadays?
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
The CIA’s House of Horrors: the Abominable Dr. Gottlieb
Wendy Wolfson – Ken Levy
Why We Need to Take Animal Cruelty Much More Seriously
Mike Whitney
Brennan and Clapper: Elder Statesmen or Serial Fabricators?
David Rosen
Of Sex Abusers and Sex Offenders
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail