July 19, 1999
The Honorable Ehud Barak
Ministry of Defense
Kaplan Street/ Hakirya
Subject: Release of Archival Record of Incident At Deir Yassin
Dear Mr. Barak:
This letter is a formal request, expected to be the first of many, to the Ministry of Defense to release for access to independent researchers, including our own researchers, all archival records of the incident at Deir Yassin (April 9-13, 1948). It is general knowledge that such record exists and certainly includes: a) two rolls of photographs taken at the time of the incident and b) an eyewitness account from an officer, Meir Pa’il (Pilevsky), in the Yishuv’s military intelligence.
We request this for several reasons:
1) General historical knowledge and openness. The incident is well known and a legitimate subject of study, mentioned in almost all textbooks of the period. Many archives have been made public and it would be inconceivable that current military security would be endangered by this release. Since the episode is well known, there is also likely to be no political drawback from release of additional information. Such release would support claims made by the Government of Israel of its democratic and open character. Also, you personally have pointed out that the State of Israel is in a position of strength and therefore need not be needlessly wary in areas where security is not threatened.
2) Specific Projects. We are an organization seeking to accumulate factual information about the incident for present research and future publications. We therefore seek this information as part of that effort. We note also that our board members include nationals of the State of Israel. We further note that our organization is an entity chartered in a nation that has close relations with the State of Israel and its defense forces.
3) Limited Time Constraints. Because over 50 years have lapsed since the incident, there is a strong possibility that persons present at the time of the Deir Yassin incident may not be with us much longer. The person who provided the film and contemporary report in your archives is still living and would be able to provide explanations if there were prompt release. Delaying the release much longer would impair critical historical study, foster wild speculation about the nature of the incident, and perhaps cast a pall over and raise questions of good faith in current peace efforts. On the other hand, prompt release might well foster a sense of goodwill across the Israel-Palestine Authority divide.
4) Specific Accusations. Many works, including a recent publication by the Zionist Organization of America, have challenged the characterization of the incident made by David Ben-Gurion and contemporary Jewish authorities in Mandated Palestine. Also the integrity of many veterans of the Israel War of Independence has been called into question by such publications. Release of the photographic record and contemporary report would certainly help provide factual evidence to resolve these competing viewpoints.
For the above reasons, we request that the suppression of the Deir Yassin archival record be revisited and terminated. We note that there may be concerns that the photographic material could be traumatic to survivors or used for propaganda shock effect. Although sufficient time has elapsed for those no longer to be serious concerns, the material could and should nonetheless be made available for in-house inspection if those concerns prove decisive.
Deir Yassin Remembered