How Did Jewish
Settlements Begin?
It's A Secret

By Aryeh Dayan

A vehement disagreement, which will be settled only in the High Court of Justice, has been going on for a year and a half now between Jerusalem journalist and researcher Gershom Gorenberg and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) on the one hand, and the Israel Defense Forces Archive and the supervisors of its activity at the Defense Ministry on the other.
The affair began in September 2003, when Gorenberg applied to the archive with a request to view material that would help him write a new book. Despite its name, the IDF Archive is not a military institution but rather a civil institution that operates through the Defense Ministry and constitutes part of the Israel State Archives.
In addition to IDF documents, the archive also contains civilian documents that have their source at the Bureau of the Minister of Defense. The State Archives are supposed to extend services to every researcher granted the status of "authorized researcher." Gorenberg's request to receive this status was rejected.
Gorenberg, 49, was born in the United States and has been living in Israel for nearly 30 years. In the 1980s he worked at The Jerusalem Post, and since 1990 he has been working at the weekly Jerusalem Report. In 2000 he published "The End of Days: Fundamentalism and the Temple Mount," a book about the political and religious aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over control of the Temple Mount.
In 2003 he began to gather material for his second book, which also deals with a loaded issue: Israel's policy on Jewish settlement in the territories during the first 10 years after the Six-Day War (under the government of the Alignment, the precursor of today's Labor Party).
When he applied to the IDF Archive he heard from its director, Michal Tsur, that he first had to submit an application for the status of authorized researcher. For the committee that discusses such applications to be able to discuss his request, she explained to him, he had to submit a list of the subjects he wished to research.
As the catalogs at the archive are confidential, he would have to submit a list of subjects, the members of the committee would review it and find the documents connected to the subjects, and if they could be revealed, his request would be approved. "Her whole explanation sounded a little strange to me," recalled Gorenberg last week. "Until then I'd never encountered an archive where the researcher was not allowed to see the catalogs."
The list of subjects that Gorenberg prepared for the committee included the following items: minutes of conversations that defense minister Moshe Dayan conducted with Rabbi Moshe Levinger and Hanan Porat in connection with the establishment of the first Jewish settlements in Hebron and Gush Etzion; documents having to do with discussions in Dayan's bureau about allowing Levinger and his friends to remain at the Park Hotel in Hebron after the famous Passover seder eve in 1968; documents having to do with defense minister Shimon Peres' contacts with the heads of Gush Emunim in the Sebastia affair; correspondence between defense minister Dayan and prime minister Golda Meir and minister Yisrael Galili about the formulation of the Alignment election platform in 1973 and the formulation of the "Galili document" (two documents that dealt with the establishment of the city of Yamit in Sinai and Jewish settlement in the Rafah Salient); the report of the military investigation committee that examined the expulsion of Bedouin from the Rafah Salient in 1972 (and the part played by GOC Southern Command Ariel Sharon in the affair); documents in which the judge advocate general Meir Shamgar analyzed the legality of the establishment of the first Jewish settlements in the territories; "legal material on permission for Israeli citizens to stay in the territories" and on "the seizure of lands for purposes of settlement" and "the decisions by the military prosecution in the mater of Jewish settlers who stayed illegally in the territories during the period of the Gush Emunim settlement attempts."
The material is too sensitive
After three months went by without any answer, Gorenberg phoned Tsur and heard from her that his application had been rejected. "It's a matter," she explained, "of material that is too sensitive, especially in today's circumstances."
Gorenberg did not give up, and Tsur suggested that he try another application in which there would be "fewer items of definite security and military significance," and that he should focus on "items of political and diplomatic significance."
In his new list Gorenberg included the following items: The correspondence between Dayan and prime minister Levy Eshkol or other ministers on the matter of his proposal to establish four Israeli cities on the mountain ridge; Shimon Peres' correspondence with Hanan Porat, Pinhas Wallerstein, Yehuda Etzion and Rachel Yanait Ben-Zvi on the subject of a work camp at Ba'al Hatzor / Ein Yabrud / Ofra,; the minutes of a meeting between Dayan and Porat and others from Gush Etzion in the summer of 1967 on the matter of the resettlement of Kfar Etzion; and documents having to do with the negotiations over the Galili document in the summer of 1973.
This application was also rejected, and this time too on the grounds that the requested documents dealt with issues that were "too sensitive."
At this stage Gorenberg asked for the help of ACRI, and contact with the archive was put into the hands of attorney Avner Pinchuk of the association. In a long and detailed letter he sent to Tsur, Pinchuk refuted the right of the IDF Archive to deny access to political and diplomatic documents - which according to the regulations must be declassified 30 years after they were created - even if they are kept in an archive that is run by the defense establishment alongside security documents, which can be kept secret for 50 years.
Attorney Yishai Yudkevitch of the office of the legal advisor to the defense establishment replied that the committee for approving authorized researchers decided not to recognize Gorenberg after it had sorted his requests into a number of categories, and examined the possibility of allowing him to read documents included in each of them.
Most of the requested documents, explained attorney Yudkevitch, were in "Category A," entitled "Material Concerning Borders and Settlement."
"They do not disclose any archival material," wrote Yudkevitch, "within the period of limitations under the regulations that has to do with negotiations or discussions on borders and the planning and establishment of settlements, because of the security and diplomatic sensitivity of the material, until such time as final borders with our neighbors and the negotiators [SIC] are established - this in order not to harm future negotiations."
The material concerning the construction of Yamit, the contacts regarding the formulation of the Galili document and the affair of the expulsion of the Bedouin from the Rafah Salient does have to do with "borders that have already been determined," but releasing it "is liable to damage Israel's foreign relations."
"Category B" consisted of only one of Gorenberg's requests - to examine defense minister Dayan's appointments diary for April 1968. Gorenberg explained in his application that he needed the diary in order to resolve a historical disagreement: Dayan stated in his autobiography that during the week after Passover that year, when the military government in Hebron refrained from evacuating Levinger and his people from the Park Hotel in the city, he was in the hospital due to injuries in a pirate archaeological dig he had carried out. Dayan's political rivals refuted this claim, and said that he had been a full partner to the decision not to evacuate the settlers.
In May 2004, the IDF Archive determined that Dayan's appointments diary for April 1968 could not be released because it concerns "the privacy of the individual."
"With all due respect to the right to privacy," says Gorenberg of this, "it's a matter of the hospitalization of a public figure, who had been injured while breaking the law."
The rest of Gorenberg's requests were sorted into two additional categories. "Category C" consisted of material that "cannot be viewed because it has not been located," and there is also a "Category D," which Gorenberg was invited to view at the archive, consisting of "unclassified material that has already been made public like, for example, the minutes of Knesset debates."
Upon the receipt of this letter, Gorenberg and Pinchuk realized that they had no alternative but to turn to the High Court of Justice.
`They determine what we will know'
The petition that Pinchuk framed, and which the court began to deliberate on Sunday, contains quotations from the telephone conversation with archive director Tsur in which she informed Gorenberg of the decision to reject his second application.
"We do not reveal such materials because this whole issue of the settlement in the territories has entered a very problematic area of discussions or contact with the Palestinians," Tsur is cited as having said. "You know very well that the settlers did not enter a vacuum, and this certainly touches upon the contacts with the Palestinians. And you see what's happening in the outside world with the whole story about the fence. These are very delicate subjects, very problematic, and I am certain that you don't want to be the one to open these problems to the outside world."
The prevention of access to documents from such motives, writes Pinchuk in the petition, "is damaging to the market of ideas and to the democratic process, and to all the values and interests that they serve."
The Defense Ministry and the IDF Archive, he continues, "are crudely interfering with historical research and the market of opinions, and blocking open and democratic research discourse and public discourse. On the basis of ridiculous and illegal justifications, they are determining for us, the citizens, what we will know."
The petition also a poses a question regarding the propriety of the demand to obtain the status of authorized researcher as a condition for using the archive. Pinchuk cites a State Controller's Report from five years ago in which it is stated that "action must be taken to prevent a situation in which the defense establishment chooses the historians it prefers, and the archive provides them with the documents as it sees fit, and withholds the material from others."
Such behavior, warned Justice Eliezer Goldberg, "is liable to interfere with historical research and to lead to the writing of `officially approved history.'"
The state controllers' suspicion is justified, writes Pinchuk, because many of those who receive the status of authorized researcher are "graduates of the defense establishment or researchers who are acceptable to it."
In Gorenberg's opinion, the problem is not that the IDF Archive allows access to materials "only to researchers who are considered to be `one of them,' " but rather in that it allows access "only to researchers with a security background."
"A researcher with a security background, even if he has a critical approach, will write history from a security perspective," he explains, "and this is the problem. It is as though all history were written from within the department of military history."
At the Defense Ministry they reject these arguments, saying that "the committee on authorized researchers does not discuss requests with respect to the particular individual, but rather with respect to the particular request. The committee's decision whether to approve material for viewing does not depend on the applicant but rather on the nature of the requested material and is made according to egalitarian criteria."
The Defense Ministry's reply to Gorenberg's specific claims, added ministry spokeswoman Rachel Naidek-Ashkenazi, will be given at the Supreme Court during the deliberations on his petition.
Ashkenazi rejected a request to interview the director of the archive or the chair of the committee to approve authorized researchers, but clarified that Gorenberg's request had been "examined according to procedures."



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