Truth Commission Report on the Responsibility of Israeli Society for the Events of 1948-1960 in the South

Editing: Jessica Nevo, Tammy Pustilnick and Ami Asher

Language editing and translations: Ami Asher

Cover design: Nirit Binyamin and Gila Kaplan

Graphic design: Tali Eisner Friedman, Noa Olchovsky

Printing: Hashlama Print

Production: Zochrot (580389526)


Introduction: Transitional Justice without Transition - The First Truth Commission on the Nakba
Tammy Pustilnick & Jessica Nevo - Zochrot / p. 4

1. Model Rationale and Development / p. 7

2. Expert Testimony: The Conflict Shoreline - Climate Change as Colonization in the Negev
Prof. Eyal Weizman, Goldsmiths, University of London / p. 11

3. Circles of Silence: On the Difficulties of Collecting Testimonies from Jewish Fighters in 1948
Ami Asher, Zochrot / p. 14

4. Testimonies / p. 19
4.1 Excerpts from Testimonies of Jewish Fighters
4.2 Testimonies by Bedouin Palestinian Refugees

5. Recommendations / p. 26


Thank you to all the witnesses. 

Thank you to the Bedouin Palestinian activists resisting the impact of the Nakba to this day. 

Thank you to the experts who have testified before the Commission: Dr. Safa Abu-Rabi’a,
Dr. Tom Pessah, Prof. Eyal Weizman and Prof. Oren Yiftachel.

Thank you to Zochrot team members: Debby Farber, Amaya Galili, Umar al-Ghubari, Niva
Grunzweig, Raneen Jeries, Dana Mirtenbaum, Jessica Nevo, Liat Rosenberg, and Eliyahu Zigdon.


Introduction: Transitional Justice without Transition The First Truth Commission on The Nakba

Tammy Pustilnick Arditi and Jessica Nevo

The Jewish-Israeli community which formed in Palestine in the late 19th and early 20th century had two aspects: national and colonial. Founded in Europe in the latter half of the 19th century, Zionism was significantly influenced by European national models and sought to apply them to the Jewish community. Another source of influence was the European colonial project in Asia and Africa, which reached its apex at the time. The solution offered by Zionist leaders to the hardships suffered by the Jews was national, but its realization in Palestine had a significant colonial dimension: the immigration and settlement of tens and hundreds of thousands of Jews eventually transformed the country’s demography and landscape. The justifications offered for the Jewish settlements were many: European anti-Semitism; the biblical roots of Jewish national identity; and the modernization they brought to the Middle East. But the result followed the familiar colonialist pattern: dispossession, displacement and refugeehood.

This demographic transformation swept the entire country, including the Naqeb/Negev area in southern Palestine, where 14 Jewish settlements were established as early as the 1940s. This report exposes and analyzes the radical changes experienced in this area during the 1948 war and its aftermath, when the majority of the local Bedouin Palestinian population was displaced. 

On the heels of British colonialism and after the three-decade mandate of Palestine designed to promote the establishment of a Jewish national home at the expense of the country’s indigenous population, On November 29, 1947 the UN voted in favor of a plan to partition the mandated territory between the indigenous Palestinians and the Jewish immigrants. This, and the subsequent establishment of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948, spelled national disaster for the Palestinians. Called the Nakba, it involved the expulsion of 700,000 refugees and internal displacees, the dispossession of their lands and properties and the subsequent denial of return and restitution.

Previous attempts to expose the responsibility of Jewish fighters to the events of the ongoing Nakba have been largely anecdotal and limited in scope, lacking in the impact required to persuade Jewish-Israeli society to acknowledge its wrongdoings. This process of recognition and accountability, followed by practical steps such as the return of refugees and the restitution of their status and property, is known in other postcolonial societies as transitional justice.

The Israeli NGO Zochrot promotes innovative transitional justice mechanisms to expose information about the Nakba events – to a large extent still silenced and denied in Jewish-Israeli society – and encourages Israeli society to take responsibility for its part in the Palestinians’ national disaster. The present endeavor is a natural outgrowth of this conceptual framework – a civil society initiative to create the first (unofficial) Truth Commission on the Responsibility of Israeli Society for the Events of 1948-1960 in the South.

In recent decades, official and unofficial truth or truth-and-reconciliation commissions have been active in multiple countries and regions transitioning from dictatorial or colonial rule to expose and acknowledge past human rights abuses and large-scale atrocities in order to contribute to long-term reconciliation and democratization of societies in need of healing, and to offer remedies to the victims according to restorative justice principles.

While transitional justice practices have begun as formal initiatives in the context of a clear political transition, the present unofficial Commission is informed and inspired by other civil society initiatives promoted successfully before the conflict has ended – as in Guatemala, Brazil and more recently also Colombia.

This ongoing conflict context poses tremendous difficulties in collecting testimonies and archival evidence and in reaching out to a society still ensnared in a settler-colonialist regime and a nationalist ideology – a society which profits both materially and symbolically from the perpetuation of the conflict. Nevertheless, we believe this initiative is essential to promote truth-telling and expose the lies that have blinded broad sections of Israeli society. Allowing the truth to come to light will not only promote acknowledgement, accountability, and redress. As José Zalaquett says in his Introduction to the Final Report of the Chil- 6 ean Truth and Reconciliation Commission, it is also “at the same time a means to heal the wounds, one by one, and thus to contribute to the building of a lasting peace”.

This Truth Commission is specifically designed to unconceal the truth, silenced by the Israeli regime for over 67 years, about the role played by the State of Israel and Jewish settler society in displacing and expelling some 90,000 Bedouin Palestinians from their homes in the Naqeb/Negev. Also silenced are the subsequent internal displacement of the remaining Bedouin population and its concentration in an enclosed area subject to martial law. Although outside the purview of this Commission, the Nakba continues to this day in the form of massive house demolitions and the denial of land and other rights.

Following a two-year preparation period the commissioners were appointed in October 2014. The Commission's mandate was to expose the injustices committed against the Palestinian population in the Naqeb/Negev, especially from 1948-1960, and publish a conclusive report that will facilitate public discussion of Israeli society’s moral, political and legal responsibility and provide recommendations for redress.

To this end, the Commission heard testimonies by Palestinian displaced persons and refugees, as well as Jews who lived in the south and Jewish fighters who took part in displacement and expulsion operations in the area. The Commissioners also heard testimonies by four experts and perused relevant archive materials. On International Human Rights Day, December 10, 2014, the Commission held an open public hearing in Be'er-Sheva/Bi'r a-Saba', featuring seven Bedouin and Jewish witnesses. We concluded our work by December 2015.

We are taking the liberty of stating that we have undertaken this honorable task knowing that ours is but a preliminary, partial step towards the clarification of the circumstances of the Bedouins’ expulsion from the Naqeb/Negev. Considerable efforts remain to be made before these circumstances and those of the ongoing Nakba in general could be exposed.

The current truth commission believes that through a comprehensive transitional justice approach, Israelis and Palestinians can overcome the past. When the Israeli society and state acknowledge the crimes and injustices involved in the ongoing Nakba and when the state is ready to redress the victims of human rights violations according to international human rights standards, peace will be possible.

Guided by these principles, the current truth commission submits its report to the Israeli society. 

For the first, second, third and forth chapters please download the full report


Chapter 5

The Commission’s recommendations have been formulated based on testimonies by Jewish
fighters and Bedouin-Palestinian victims of the Nakba, as well as testimonies by expert
witnesses on the Negev/Naqeb and its population, and the ongoing reality of dispossession,
discrimination and human rights violations of its indigenous inhabitants. These and
other sources of information have led us – members of the Truth Commission – to formulate
recommendations regarding (1) the relations between the State of Israel and Jewish-Israeli
society on the one hand and the Bedouin victims of the ongoing Nakba on the other; (2)
raising awareness of the Nakba and in Israeli society and future truth commissions; (3) the
particular victimhood of women; and (4) innovative forms of awareness raising and protest
on the ground. These recommendations have been informed by current conceptions of transitional and restorative justice that emphasize taking remedial steps to facilitate mutual
existence and reconciliation between the parties to the conflict.

(1) Israeli State and Society and the Victims of the Nakba
1. Israel and Jewish-Israeli society must acknowledge their responsibility for the injustices
and crimes of the 1948 war and its aftermath towards the civilian Bedouin population and
their extreme suffering and denial of basic human rights as refugees and internally displaced
persons – a status that has remained unchanged ever since. This responsibility taking
and acknowledgment must be publicly and explicitly articulated in the form of sincere
and official apology and comprehensive redress including the right of return, restitution of
property as well as compensation, based on international law.

2. As indicated by the testimonies and other materials in this report, an estimated
85%-90% of the Naqeb/Negev’s indigenous Bedouin inhabitants were expelled or
forced to escape from their lands and homes due to deliberate intimidation – both
during the 1948 war and in the decade or so after it – and today they and their descendants
live in neighboring countries. Most are subject to Israeli occupation in
the West Bank and Gaza Strip, while others live in the Sinai Peninsula and in Jordan
and Lebanon, many of them in refugee camps. This population is included in the Palestinian
refugees of the Nakba, and any sustainable solution of the conflict would
have to include them and be based on the restorative justice principles of return,
restitution of property as well as appropriate compensation and redress, material
and symbolic, as well as guarantees against future recurrence.

3. Ignoring and denying the wrongdoings of the Nakba serves an ongoing policy of excluding,
discriminating and denying basic civil rights to the Bedouin population in the Naqeb/
Negev that we are seeing before our very eyes on a daily basis. The “solutions” implemented
or suggested hitherto for the so-called “Bedouin problem” are all informed by
discriminatory approaches that represent a non-democratic if not outright racist policies
towards these inhabitants, whose status as Israeli citizens is often little more than an
empty formality.

4. As a first step, we recommend a clear and official revision of the current policy, involving
recognition of the Bedouins’ property rights, the return of Bedouin lands that have not been
settled by others and compensation for any property that cannot be returned. At the same
time, or as part of the comprehensive compensation, the 2012 Master Plan for Recognizing
the Unrecognized Bedouin Villages in the Negev formulated by the Regional Council for the
Unrecognized Villages must be implemented.

(2) Awareness Raising and Future Commissions
1. We recommend ongoing activities to raise the awareness – particularly of the Jewish society in Israel – of the Nakba events in the Negev. These should include, at the very least, (1) continuous collection and national and international dissemination of testimonies and other information about the events of 1948 and the following decade; (2) publication of this information in various media and formats; and (3) construction of both virtual and physical memorial sites.

Special attention must be devoted to collecting as many testimonies as possible
about the war of 1948 and the policy of denying the return of refugees thereafter.
Given the difficulties in accessing direct and candid testimonies by Jewish fighters,
archival sources and even indirect second-generation testimonies must be used, together with research efforts to cross-reference and analyze the information available to reach valid and reliable conclusions on the basis of these diverse sources. These testimonies and related scholarly texts must be published and disseminated.

In the absence of a foreseeable solution for the conflict, we recommend creating a joint
study group of Bedouin Palestinians and Jews from the area – and if possible, also refugees
currently living in the Occupied Palestinian Territories – who will discuss and plan a mutually
agreed solution for the ongoing refugeehood and internal displacement of the Naqeb/Negev’s
Bedouins. Such a solution will necessarily be based on the right of every refugee and
internally displaced person to return to her place of origin or opt for another form of remedy
of her own free choice.

2. Creating additional truth commissions for other areas in Israel affected by the Nakba. Based
on the experience accumulated in the first commission, we recommend that in future commissions, members receive theoretical training with emphasis on the role and objectives of
truth commissions (as opposed to legal tribunals), as well as practical training regarding the
techniques, practices and ethics of interviewing witnesses, victims and perpetrators alike.

Given the special needs of both Palestinian and Jewish witnesses, a dedicated team will be available to support all witnesses. This team will include mental health professionals
involved in the conflict (such as PsychoActive volunteers) who will have learned
from global experiences of work with witnesses using transitional justice practices, and
adjust their support services to the unique Israeli-Palestinian and regional context.

(3) Women’s Perspectives and Gender Analysis
1. The experience of war, displacement and refugeehood is different for women in every conflict
involving massive depopulation, including the Nakba in the Naqeb/Negev. For reasons
related to gender power relations in Bedouin society and the silencing and denial of the
Nakba by Israeli society, very few testimonies of Bedouin women are available in recordings,
and even fewer in writing. Given that lacuna, the Commission recommends paying particular
attention to collecting first- and if need be second-generation testimonies about the Nakba
from Bedouin women. This recommendation is consistent with Zochrot’s emphasis on nonhegemonic approaches to memory and applies also to other areas to be addressed by future commissions.

2. By extension, future research efforts should also pay more attention to the experience of
Bedouins who have experienced the Nakba at a young age, given the fact that children of
have often shared the experiences of women as a group separated from the men due to the
events of the war or segregation enforced by occupying troops. Indeed, some testimonies
heard and read by the Commission referred to direct threats and crimes perpetrated against
that group. 

3. Finally, the little evidence we have from both Jewish and Bedouin sources suggests that
the Nakba in the Naqeb/Negev involved sexual harassment and violence against women
and girls, including acts of rape. Although such crimes are indirectly corroborated by
reports from other areas in Israel/Palestine and historical records of similar events elsewhere,
the dearth of direct evidence – for obvious reasons – calls for the urgent establishment
of a special team by Zochrot, perhaps in collaboration with other human and women’s rights organization, to collect further testimonies on this issue.

(4) Innovative Forms of Protest
One of the expert witnesses, Oren Yiftachel, challenged the Commission and Zochrot during his
presentation at the public hearing to plan three Bedouin settlements for internally displaced
persons on their lands. Beyond offering at least symbolic justice for these victims of the Nakba,
this would also represent an original form of protest against ongoing state efforts to build exclusively Jewish settlements on Bedouin lands – particularly the recent plans to build 18 new “villa settlements” in the Naqeb/Negev.

A precedent of sorts is already available in the form of the settlement built by members of the
Tarabin A-Sane‘ tribe expelled from the area used to build the Jewish settlement of Omer on the
outskirts of Beersheba; they built their own settlement, albeit not on their own land. Naturally,
no such plan could ever be materialized in the foreseeable future, but it will start a discussion.
The first planned settlement should be al-`Araqib.

The Truth Commission was a preliminary attempt to imagine transitional justice in the difficult
reality of an intractable conflict with no end in sight. Its recommendations address that challenge, despite conflicts of opinion among Commission members and the hostile national environment in which it operated. We believe that this bold step would offer an example and inspiration for future truth-seeking and other civil society efforts, along the lines of our recommendations and also in ways that cannot yet be imagined. We truly hope that the experience we have gained in this work would contribute to raising the awareness of the
Nakba, assuming responsibility for it and redressing its consequences.

We conclude by thanking Zochrot for having invited us to participate in this project, the Bedouin
victims who have placed their confidence in us and shared their heartbreaking stories
and the Jewish fighters who in breaking their silence are helping to heal a broken society
and contribute to the building of a lasting peace. 

For the full report in Hebrew, including the testimonies given to the commision, click here

For the full report in English click here

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