Israel Classifies its Past as Top Secret: An Analysis

Israel is a land built on myths. It is, of course, not unique in this. Indeed in this way Israel is very much like its patron, the United States. In order to build and maintain a mythical status a nation must create a picture of itself from its very inception and pass that picture down generation upon generation. For the U.S. it is the idea that the nation is a beacon of both democracy and capitalism unto the world and what it does in terms of foreign policy, and even when at war, is always done altruistically. For Israel, the myth is that the nation is democratic and the last bastion of safety for the world’s Jews. Everything it does, even when that amounts to imperial expansion, is done defensively.

In order to maintain these myths one must control history. The story line must be taught in the schools and supported by the nation’s multiple media sources. One must raise up a population that is so well inculcated with its mythic worldview that if something occurs which contradicts it, it can be readily dismissed as an exception to the rule. In the case of the United States, two hundred years of indoctrination and a long term status as a great power has allowed its myths to survive, in the minds of its own people, the horrors of Viet Nam, Iraq and now Afghanistan. Israel is a much younger nation with only three or so generations of indoctrination under its psychological belt, so to speak. And, while it may be a regional superpower, its reputation in the Middle East is built on fear. With the rest of the world that reputation is associated with equally unstable and temporary attitudes, like Holocaust guilt. In essence, apart from the convinced Zionists, Israel’s sustaining national myths are still fragile.

A number of years ago Israel applied its law that required the government archives to be opened for public review and research following a thirty year waiting period for political affairs and fifty years for military affairs. This brought many of the government documents referring to seminal years of 1947 and 1948 into the open. The result was a serious, evidence based, revision of the founding legends of Israel. In other words, the state lost momentary control of its own history. The result undermined the nation’s mythic self-image amongst observers outside of Israel and caused significant unease within the country. So powerful was the reaction of the elites against this revised interpretation of the past that the “new historians” who brought it forth are now either teaching abroad or have, as in the case of Benny Morris, recanted.

In the interim things have only gotten worse for the Zionist defenders of the idealized Israel. Multiple invasions of Lebanon and the essentially defenseless Palestinian cities and towns, the slaughter of the innocent, the reduction of Gaza to an open air prison, the on-going confiscation of land and property in the Occupied Territories, rampant settler violence, and the repeated election of racist governments have resulted in a worldwide civil society effort to isolate Israel and induce it to reform itself in the same manner as South Africa. Except in the United States, Israel’s claim to act only in self-defense is not seen as credible and the accusation that all who disagree are anti-Semites not taken seriously. Yet outside disenchantment, as dangerous as it might be in the long run, is not nearly as threatening as the erosion of one’s domestic population’s adherence to their national myths. That adherence must be maintained at all cost otherwise the nation will metamorphose into something that no longer supports its present elites. The fate of the “new historians” has demonstrated just how determined the Israeli establishment is to prevent that sort of erosion.

That being the case, Israel’s present Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has extended for an additional twenty years the period during which government archives can remain closed.

The Haaretz article announcing this decision says that the Prime Minister acted because of “pressure from the intelligence agencies,” but Netanyahu probably did not need much convincing. The period of time for which documents will now remain classified include such events as the 1954 Lavon Affair, the 1956 Sinai invasion, and the 1967 war which saw the heinous attack on the USS Liberty and the seizure of the Golan Heights. The State Archivist, Yehoshua Freundlich told Haaretz that “some of the material was selected classified because ‘it has implications over [Israel’s] adherence to international law.’” This is probably an understatement. To add insult to injury, Haaretz reports that there is a good possibility that the government’s decision to classify much of Israel’s past as top secret will mean that “archives that had already been made public would again be hidden away.”

If you study the new historians’ revisionist history of Israel you are struck by the Machiavellian behavior of men like David Ben Gurion who made a profession of being “economical with the truth.” So devious were many of Israel early establishment figures that their political competitors, such as the neo-fascist Ze’ev Jabotinsky and the terrorist Menachem Begin, appear almost refreshing in their frightful honesty. Today we have the worst of all worlds in Israel–leaders who are both terrorists and shockingly devious. Now by their own admission, today’s Zionist leaders must hide away their nation’s sins lest the entire world turn away from Israel, and perhaps even their own citizens begin to fear that their national myths cannot stand honest and objective examination.

Lawrence Davidson is in the Department of History, West Chester University, Pennsylvania. Read other articles by Lawrence.

13 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. yoni said on July 31st, 2010 at 11:16am #

    May I ask just one tiny question – when will Arab countries open their archives of that war to the public?
    Wouldn’t it also be necessary if one aims at understanding what exactly happened there?

    One of course doesn’t need many secret archives to understand:
    “This will be a war of extermination and a momentous massacre which will be spoken of like the Mongolian massacres and the Crusades”

    Azzam Pasha, Secretary General of the Arab League, at Cairo press conference, May 15, 1948

  2. Rehmat said on July 31st, 2010 at 4:17pm #

    I am afraid if they Arab open their archives – they will be labeled as ‘anti-Semitic’ by Israel and its poodles in the West. The archive will prove how the Zionist thugs terrorized the Jewish communities in Arab lands so they have no alternative than immigrate and populate the Zionist dream in Palestine. For example, Zionist got hold of 130,000 of Iraqi Jews.

    Or how the Jew settlers forged Palestinian land documents.

  3. Ismail Zayid said on July 31st, 2010 at 5:31pm #

    Lawrence Davidson’s account, of the myths that are the basis of the whole Zionist history-making, is accurate and well documented, as shown by Israel’s own historians, including Ilan Pappe and Benny Morris, amongst others. Israel’s control of history is augmented by Zionist control of the media as well as the political leaders of the major countries like the US and its allies.

    It is our hope that more principled authors and historians will, in due course, tell the facts as they are and expose Israel’s racist and colonial policies, so that peace with justice will be secured for all the inhabitants of this tortured land.

  4. yoni said on July 31st, 2010 at 7:24pm #

    @Rehmat – maybe the archives will prove that, maybe they won’t. Why not opening them and letting the people see? What are Arab countries afraid of? That the world will see their genocidal aims in this war and understand why the Jews shouldn’t apologize to anyone for winning and surviving?

    My grandparents were deported from Iraq together with hundreds of thousands of Jews who across the Arab world. They didn’t even know Israel exists back then. It’s very easy to blame Israel for the ethnic cleansing of the Arab world from the Jews – and of course not those who actually did the ethnic cleansing, as it is always comfortable to blame the Jews for.. well, anything.

    Instead of keeping the Arab Jewish refugees in ghettos like the Arabs did with the Palestinian refugees, keeping them as pawns, using them to justify their brutal dictatorships, the Israelis gave them a new home. Thank god, I am Israeli.

  5. al92612 said on August 1st, 2010 at 1:34pm #

    Instead of keeping the Arab Jewish refugees in ghettos like the Arabs did with the Palestinian refugees, keeping them as pawns, using them to justify their brutal dictatorships, the Israelis gave them a new home. Thank god, I am Israeli

    Like the open air prison of Gaza, you lying zionazi pig?

  6. yoni said on August 1st, 2010 at 2:08pm #


    We’re already in the “Zionazi pig” stage? man, I thought it’s gonna take at least two more days..
    Not that the situation in Gaza is great, but comparing this to the horrible treatment of the Palestinians by their own brethren (!) in Arab countries – that’s cynicism. Life expectancy and standard of living in Gaza is much much much higher than in most Arab countries (we can only estimate that in Palestinian “refugee camps” – i.e. those places where Arabs lock generations of Palestinians- all indices are at least half of what is known about the country).

    As someone who lives a small primitive Qassam-distance from Gaza, I am offended in the name of my neighbors, who live under a brutal regime called Hamas. It is no surprise to those who care about human and civil rights that Israel does not want to help that regime by normalizing its function – the same regime that brainwashes its people with obsessive genocidal and antisemitic objectives, and that fired thousands of stupid flying pipes on my children’s kindergarten (this is solely for the emotional effect, I don’t have children yet…).

    Free Gaza – from Hamas.
    Free “Leftism” – from Hate.

  7. xavier said on August 2nd, 2010 at 5:19am #

    C’mon people, don’t just insult Yoni, we’re all here to debate and share opinions, right?

    I think it’s not that difficult to agree that yes, transparency on ALL sides is always a good thing…open ALL archives…it would settle many disputes. Wishful thinking…

    As far as the refugee camps for displaced Palestinians vs “new homes” in Israel for Jewish refugees…you might want to ask:

    Why were all these people displaced to begin with? I would argue that in order to establish Israel, the native Arab populations were terrorized (yes, as in terrorism, by the Zionist founders) into leaving. In retaliation, Arab countries expelled Jewish populations.

    Why the difference in their situation thereafter? Well, Jewish immigration into Israel is exactly what Zionist founders wanted, to use the newcomers to take possession of Arab lands. Hell, Israel is still trying to get more Jews to move to Israel today, to settle in stolen Palestinian land in the West Bank and elsewhere, and to maintain a Jewish majority. It even offers them money and cheap homes to do so. So Israel is not beyond using its “brethren” for political purposes.

    While I think that it’s important to recognize that no one is beyond criticism, the so-called “argument” that some Arabs may treat other Arabs poorly isn’t an argument to defend Israeli behavior. The fact that one group, whoever they may be, treat a second group poorly, does constitute an excuse for a third group to do the same. This is especially true for Israel, which, in American fashion, never misses an opportunity to trumpet that they’re a “democracy”, with “western”, “humanist” values.

    Hamas gained influence after Israel initially supported it to counter the PLO. Strangely, Hamas did not seem to be such an ugly monster then (this is reminiscent of Saddam Hussein and the US). After being properly elected and not going along with desired plans, things became very different.

  8. yoni said on August 2nd, 2010 at 5:50am #

    “…the native Arab populations were terrorized (yes, as in terrorism, by the Zionist founders) into leaving. In retaliation, Arab countries expelled Jewish populations”

    Let’s assume for a second that indeed “the Zionists” terrorized Arab countries. What kind of a justification is that to expel, without giving the option to take any property, 800,000 people, just because of their ethnic or religious origin? What can justify that, and what kind of ideology of “social justice” can be manipulated to justify or even explain this brutal act by the Arab countries?
    You yourself wrote that “The fact that one group, whoever they may be, treat a second group poorly, does constitute an excuse for a third group to do the same” – can’t you apply the same principle yourself to admit that the ethnic cleansing of the Arab world from Jews was a horrible, unjustifiable crime??? And the horrible treatment of the Palestinian “refugees”, you also justify that based on what Israel is doing? (why after 60 years and three generations they are still refugees? is there a parallel case in the world of people still considered as refugees after being born in another country?).

    We have here, sorry to say that, a clear case of hypocrisy, a typical one if I may.

    And if you choose to accept such arguments to justify the expulsion of an entire population – would’t you also accept the fact that the genocidal war opened by the Arab world against the Jewish community in Israel/Palestine also justifies their fighting for survival? If they expelled Palestinians, it was still nothing compared to what they would have done to them if the Jews lost. And indeed, the areas of Palestine left under the control of Arab countries were completely purified from Jews – they did not expel the Jews, they massacred them (Gush Atzion massacre, google it).

    Regarding Hamas – yes, Hamas was not a risk and an “ugly monster” when it focused on education and welfare. It became a risk and an ugly monster when it started with its Jihadist, antisemitic incitement and terrorism, and its commitment to the destruction of Israel.
    So what if it was democratically elected? (so were the Nazis in Germany…) Does that mean that Israel should cooperate with Hamas to achieve its goal just because it was “democratically elected”? Should Israel start blowing up buses full with children in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem because Hamas was democratically elected? Should the leaders of Israel meet with Hamas leaders, who wrote in their manifest that it’s the duty of every Muslim to kill as many Jews as he can, and shake their hand, congratulating them for their democratic winning? Do you see how twisted this argument is?

  9. teafoe2 said on August 2nd, 2010 at 2:09pm #

    The zionist propagandists try to counter accurate information about “israel” by pretending that the basic contradiction is between “israel” and some entity they call “the Arab countries”. This is the fallacy of the False Aggregate.

    Most of the regimes in power in Arab-majority countries both at the time of the 1947/48 Nakhba and at present are non-representative dictatorships installed by Colonialism and currently dependent on support from the US. Far from being an injury to “israel”, the expulsions of Jews from these countries that did take place in the post-Nakhba period provided “israel” with an influx of much needed immigrants.

    The historical record shows that most of these Arab regimes engaged in rhetorical displays of opposition to “israel” but behind the scenes colluded with it. A prime example is King Abdullah of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Farouk was another.

    So we see the zionist propagandists attempting to draw the line between themselves and their “enemies” in the wrong place. Most of the Arab regimes they verbally attack are in fact sub rosa ALLIES of the racist zionist state.

    Another misleading phrase is “destruction of israel”. By using the loaded term “destruction” they make it seem to the unsophisticated that those of us who want to see the current racist/militarist state structure dismantled are calling for mass slaughter of the Jewish residents or their total eviction from what was once Mandate Palestine.

    This is simply false. Lies.

  10. yoni said on August 2nd, 2010 at 6:28pm #


    In 1948 it was Arab countries (coordinated by the Arab league) who opened a genocidal war against the Jews in Israel. Then it was Arab countries to purify their land from any Jewish presence.
    In 1967 and 1973 they tried again.
    Those are the Arab and Muslim countries that are running the demonization campaign against the Jewish people, teaching their children to hate.
    These are the Arab countries that deny my national rights, and refuse to even let me visit their countries.
    Therefore, the Arab world (in a political sense, not cultural nor individual) is Israel’s enemy.

    Whether the Arab countries are really the puppets of the west, whether they are serving the true cause of Islam and Arab nationalism – this is an internal anti-Zionist argument and frankly I couldn’t care less.

    How does any of what you wrote contradict my argument, that the ethnic cleansing of the Jews from the Arab world 60 years ago is a barbaric, inhuman, criminal, racist, apartheidist act? How does any of what you wrote justify the mass expulsion of 800,000 people, just because they were Jewish?

  11. teafoe2 said on August 2nd, 2010 at 7:23pm #

    yoni, you’ve bought the kookaid, I mean koolaid. All the arguments you regurgitate have been thoroughly discredited so many times anything I might say here would be redundant. So why don’t you stop trying to waste my time.

  12. yoni said on August 2nd, 2010 at 9:08pm #

    Ok I won’t waste your time anymore with facts, truths, reason, logic and everything else anti-Zionists don’t like 🙂

  13. Dennis Brasky said on August 3rd, 2010 at 8:45pm #

    There was strong resentment throughout the Arab world about how Palestinians were being treated in the process of creating a Jewish state in Palestine in the 1930s and 1940s. Only after months of ethnic cleansing – in 1947, culminating in the massacre at Deir Yassin in April 1948 did the vastly inferior and ill-equipped Arab armies enter the fighting, NOT to wipe out the Jews but merely in a desperate attempt to save face.

    The situation of Palestinian refugees cannot be morally equated to the situation of Jewish refugees from Arab lands, not least because Jews do not yearn to return to Arab countries to resume their lives there while
    Palestinians do wish to return to their lives in Palestine.

    The plight of Jews who fled Arab lands is a legitimate issue to be raised in any final settlement of the larger Arab/Israeli conflict. Compensation packages for those Jews from Arab lands who remain in conditions of poverty today in Israel should be one of the elements of a comprehensive reparations agreement whose primary focus should be the compensation of Palestinian refugees and their families

    equating the Naqba with the exodus of Arab Jews –

    First, it holds the Palestinians accountable for actions for which they had no responsibility. In fact, the cost of the exodus of Jews from Arab states was borne chiefly by the Palestinians themselves, whose land, homes and belongings were transferred to these Jewish immigrants.

    Second, although historians are agreed that the Palestinians were expelled by Israel in 1948, there is little evidence that most Arab Jews were forced from their homes.

    According to the Israeli historian Avi Shlaim, whose family left Baghdad in 1950, most of these Jewish migrants left of their own accord, even if under pressure from Zionist agencies. The largest numbers came from Morocco, lured to Israel by Zionist officials who promised them a better life.

    Only in the case of the small Jewish populations in Egypt and Libya was compulsion involved.

    And third, and most embarrassing for Israel, there is overwhelming evidence that its secret Mossad agency carried out false-flag operations in Arab countries that endangered local Jews and significantly contributed to the exodus.

    The involvement of Israel in bombing campaigns in both Egypt and Baghdad – and possibly elsewhere – is mentioned, for example, in the diaries of Moshe Sharrett, the former foreign minister. The explosions were designed, in his words, to “liven up the Middle East”.