by: Sami Moubayed
Last summer, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed off on a law extending classification of state archives related to the early years of the Jewish State’s foundation. That means all documents related to the war of 1948 and its monumental aftermath will remain under lock and key until 2018, exactly 70 years after what the Arabs refer to as the Palestinian Nakba, or “Catastrophe.”
Documents about the 1967 Arab-Israeli war will, therefore, remain classified until 2037, while anything related to the 1982 siege of Beirut will remain off-limits until 2052. Records of Yasser Arafat’s 2004 death will not be opened until 2074 while Israeli archives of what happened in Beirut on that fateful day in February 2005, when a massive bomb killed Lebanon’s Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri, will hauntingly remain labeled “top secret”” until 2075.
Netanyahu’s move came only after the Shin Bet applied pressure to prevent the opening of state archives. According to State Archivist Yehoshua Freundlich, the material will remain classified because “it has implications over (Israel’s) adherence to international law.” He added: “I’ve been convinced that in the current situation these materials are not fit for public viewing,” and noted, “Don’t ask me what will happen in 70 years. In eight years we’ll all meet here and I hope, deal with this matter again.”
Archives that already have been made public, according to Haaretz newspaper, “…would again be hidden away.” Netanyahu’s office said the decision was taken after consultations with historians, human rights activists, and authorities from the Israeli State Archive. It speaks volumes about how comfortable Israel is with its own history, and more worrying than the ban extension is the fact that the entire story received no more than a passing mention in the Arab and Palestinian press.
If Israel’s crime is extending a ban on the release of its archives, the Arab world’s crime is that they have no archives at all to show the world, or even their own people, the real story of what happened in the Middle East after 1948. The Palestinians had an excellent documentation unit in Beirut, but it was stormed and ransacked by the IDF during the siege of 1982, when maps, land titles, photos, and official correspondences dating back to British Mandate Palestine were bundled up and either destroyed or taken back to Israel. Apart from that, most records of what happened in the Arab world can be found either at a center in Nantes, a city western France located on the Loire River, where records of the Mandate era are kept, or at the Public Records Office in London.
All this talk about archives and confidentiality serves as a particularly interesting subplot to the groundbreaking news that controversial website WikiLeaks has released 251,000 cables from US embassies around the world. Since it began posting online last Sunday, less than 300 cables have been released but they have already raised alarm bells across the globe. The leaks are embarrassing, to say the least, for world leaders like Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who is described by US diplomats as “feckless, vain, and ineffective.” Russian President Dmitri Medvedev is portrayed as nothing but a figurehead for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, “who plays Robin to his Batman,” while Nicolas Sarkozy is described as an “emperor with no clothes,” who is “authoritarian” and an “opportunist.”
The scandal doesn’t end there; cables carrying Hillary Clinton’s name, dated July 2009, mandate US diplomats to spy on Chinese, Russian, French, and British diplomats at the UN. They are asked to provide forensic, technical, and biometric information about leading figures at the UN, including Ban Ki Moon, along with passwords, personal encryption keys, credit card numbers, emails, even flyer account numbers. In one cable, US diplomats are asked to collect similar information about Margaret Chan, the Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO).
What is mentioned in these files is identical to what we find at the Public Records Office in London, for example, regarding the 1930s and 1940s. The only difference is that these files were released from the 1970s onwards, over 30-years after particular events had passed. All those mentioned in those records, by time of their release, would have been either long dead or retired. Releasing them — or having them leaked — would have grossly endangered the lives of those involved, had they still been active in their respective countries. It is one thing to release these documents in 30-years time, but a completely different case to release material 70-years down the track. Correct moral conduct, lies somewhere in the grey area between what Israel has done, and what WikiLeaks is doing.
In a world where public access to information is so scarce — thanks to policies like those of the Israelis — the world is so hungry to read what WikiLeak’s generous offering. Perhaps WikiLeaks will one day tell us, for example, what the Israelis are purposely hiding about the pre-Bush era.
The world must know, for example, if Israel knew exactly where Egyptian warplanes were stationed at 7:45 am on June 5, 1967, when the Israeli Air Force launched a mass attack on Egyptian airfields, destroying virtually all of the Egyptian Air Force — on the ground. On that day, 300 aircrafts were grounded and 100 pilots were killed. We must hear Israel’s side of the story of how Lebanese warlord and future president Bashir Gemayel literarily talked Tel Aviv into invading Beirut and took Ariel Sharon by hand into the Lebanese capital in 1982, with the common objective of abolishing the Palestinian resistance. If all of that has become history and trivia, someone must tell us what happened in the upper echelons of Israeli power right after 9/11, how Yasser Arafat died of mysterious causes in 2004 or what was happening in Israel prior to the massive bomb that killed Rafiq al-Hariri in 2005.
Did the Israelis have anything to do with Hariri’s murder, as Hizbullah leader Hasan Nasrallah said last August? If nothing is going to come out until 2075, few of us will be around to hear the story. And like countless other crimes covered-up and hidden, no-one will be held to account.
Sami Moubayed, Ph.D, is editor-in-chief of Forward Magazine, Syria’s leading English monthly, since December 2006. He is also a political analyst who writes extensively on Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and the Arab-Israeli Conflict. He is a weekly columnist in Asia Times in Hong Kong since 2005 and Gulf News in Dubai since 2000. His articles have appeared in other publications, including the London-based al-Hayat, the Egyptian al-Ahram Weekly, and the Washington Post