Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Will Deir Yassin Documentation Become Available?

Army may release all Deir Yassin docs

Are the events that took place in Deir Yassin so sensitive that 62 years later, the state still refuses to release all of the documents and photos stored in the IDF archive to the public?

That is the question facing Supreme Court Deputy President Eliezer Rivlin and Justices Edna Arbel and Neal Hendel in the wake of a petition heard earlier this week.

The petition was filed by Haaretz, its reporter Gidi Weitz, and Neta Shoshani, a student at the Bezalel Art School in Jerusalem.

The battle of Deir Yassin, a village on the western outskirts of Jerusalem, was one of the most controversial of the War of Independence. It took place in April 1948, one month before the State of Israel was declared. There have been charges that units of the Etzel (Irgun) and Lehi (Stern Group) undergrounds massacred dozens of Palestinian civilians in the village and forced the survivors to flee.

According to the current Archive Law, the state may withhold publication of state documents for 50 years if the material is regarded as endangering Israel’s security or foreign relations or for other reasons determined by the state archivist.

If, at the end of 50 years, the material is still regarded as too problematic to be revealed, the state archivist may ask a ministerial committee responsible for this matter to extend the publication ban.

In 2006, Shoshani asked to see the material on Deir Yassin that she wanted to use for her art school final project. The moratorium on the disclosure of the material related to Deir Yassin had ended in 1998.

Nevertheless, Shoshani was allowed to see only some of the material in the archive and was refused access to other documents and photos she had requested. She was told the ministerial committee had extended the ban beyond the 50 year-limit.

Shoshani then turned to a lawyer who wrote several letters to the Ministry of Defense asking it to explain why she had been refused. The last letter was sent on September 10, 2007.

On September 19, 2007, the secretary of the ministerial committee wrote to the lawyer, informing him that 10 days earlier, the committee had extended the ban on publication of some of the documents and photos pertaining to Deir Yassin for five more years, until 2012. It seemed obvious to the petitioners that when Shoshani had first asked for the photos, some time between March and June 2007, the publication ban had expired and not yet been extended.

Haaretz took up Shoshani’s cause and petitioned the High Court of Justice.

In addition to the photos sought by the student, the paper demanded to see reports on the conquest of Deir Yassin written by military historian Meir Pa’il, at the time an intelligence officer in the Hagana, and several other documents and photos.

The state told the court that publication of these documents could harm Israel’s foreign relations, especially in view of the peace negotiations with the Palestinians, and could exacerbate tensions with the Israeli-Arab community.

Attorney Paz Mozer, representing the petitioners, argued that not only had the state extended the ban only after Shoshani had asked to see the documents, the public had a right to obtain more information about the battle, whose details have been in dispute all these years.

“Many stories have been published about Deir Yassin and the importance of the event is obvious,” he argued. “There is no reason that after 60 years, not all of the material found in the archive should be available to the public.”

After the attorneys for both sides
completed their pleas, Shirman presented the censored documents and photos to the panel of three High Court justices, Rivlin, Arbel and Hendler. The justices briefly cleared the courtroom and began studying the material, but after a few minutes called the parties back and told them they would hand down their decision at a later date.
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