The 1972 expulsion of thousands of Bedouins from the Rafah Salient area was the epicenter of one of the major petitions to the High Court of Justice in the early years of the occupation. The report of the military commission of inquiry, declassified only following a lengthy litigation process and available in full here (Hebrew), reveals that the expulsion was meant to serve Israeli settlement in the occupied territories, rather than security purposes, as the state had argued in court.
In January 1972, the IDF expelled thousands of Bedouins from their homes and land in the northeast of the Sinai Peninsula, an area known also as the Rafah Salient. IDF Chief of Staff Lieut. Gen. David Elazar found out about the expulsion after the fact, and appointed a military commission to investigate. The commission handed its report to Elazar on March 9th, 1972. The report was never publicly released.
The nine sheikhs of the expelled tribes petitioned the High Court of Justice for an order that would instruct Defense Minister Moshe Dayan and GOC Southern Command Ariel Sharon to allow them to return to their homes in the Rafah Salient. In its response, the state argued that the expulsion served a security purpose – creating a buffer zone between the Gaza Strip and the Sinai that would end hostile actions in Gaza and northern Sinai. The court accepted the claim and dismissed the petition.
Later, Israeli communities, including the town of Yamit, were built on the land from which the Bedouins were expelled.
Years later, historian Gershom Gorenberg asked to access the documents in the IDF and Security Establishment Archives, as part of his research on the origins of Israel’s settlement project. When archive management refused, he petitioned the High Court, represented by Adv. Avnner Pinchuk, from the Association of Civil Rights in Israel. After lengthy deliberations, the IDF Archive finally agreed to give Gorenberg access to several files, including the report of the commission of inquiry set up to investigate the expulsion of the Bedouins from the Rafah Salient. It turns out that the report carries no trace of the “security considerations” the State has argued in Court: The expulsion was perpetrated solely for the purpose of Israeli settlement in Sinai.
The affair was recently described in detail in an article by Gershom Gorenberg and Prof. David Kretzmer “Politics, Law and the Judicial Proceeding: The case of the High Court and the Territories” (Hebrew) and in Gorenberg’s article in The American Prospect.
For a detailed description of the expulsion of the Bedouins from the Rafah Salient, see Chapter 8 in Gorenberg’s book, “The Accidental Empire, Israel and the Birth of the Settlements 1967-1977”.