- 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
- 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
- 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
- "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
- 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
- `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
- 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