Cablegate: U.S. Archivist Views Orient House Documents

DE RUEHTV #2171/01 2680649
R 240649Z SEP 08



E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: On September 2, U.S. National Archivist Dr. Allen
Weinstein and Director of the Electronic and Special Media Records
Services Division of the National Archives and Records
Administration, Michael Carlson, viewed documents seized by Israel
from the Orient House in 2001. The two were accompanied by Israeli
National Archivist Dr. Yehoshua Freundlich. Israel cites the
sensitive nature of these documents, which are under the control of
the Ministry of Internal Security (MIS), as the reason for generally
denying access and not returning the documents to the PLO. The
visit of the U.S. Archivist is part of a joint U.S. - Canadian
initiative to organize cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian
archivists by providing combined training and digitization
assistance to the two groups. The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)
for the project, which covers records from both the Orient House and
private collections, is expected to be signed by the end of the

Orient House Background

2. (U) Before the Second Intifada, PLO officials used the Orient
House to hold meetings with foreign diplomats and to conduct other
PLO business. Originally the Al Husseini house, the Orient House
was established as a PLO office in 1983 under the name of the Arab
Scientific Association. The Orient House was closed during the
First Intifada, but reopened in 1992, following the Madrid
Conference. The Oslo Accords also permitted operation of the Orient
House, but specifically excluded Palestinian Authority (PA)
activities there, or anywhere in Jerusalem.

3. (U) Israel closed the Orient House again in August 2001 at the
height of the Second Intifada, claiming that it was being used by
the PA in contradiction to previous agreements. In April 2002,
Israel released seized financial records to support a second claim
that terrorist activities were being organized from Orient House.
The PA has called for the reopening of the Orient House. The GOI
has renewed the closure of the Orient House, and seven other
Palestinian institutions in East Jerusalem, every six months since
2001, most recently on August 6.

--------------------------------------------- -
Little Care in Storage of Orient House Records
--------------------------------------------- -

4. (SBU) On September 2, Israeli Archivist Yehoshua Freundlich
brought Weinstein and Carlson to the compound where documents taken
from the Orient House are stored (NOTE: EmbOffs were not invited.
End note). Freundlich had seen the documents for the first time the
day before. The team spent approximately 30 minutes at the site
sifting through boxes of documents, which are stored in cargo
containers at a police impound facility outside of Jerusalem.

5. (SBU) Weinstein and Carlson were only permitted a general survey
of the conditions of the documents, and were not able to look
closely at the holdings. Weinstein noted that the records, which
seemed to include some land holding documents, were stored without
concern for preservation or organization, and without any climate
control mechanisms. He also noted that a thick layer of dust
covered everything and said he doubted anyone had inspected the
documents in years.

--------------------------------------------- --
Difficulties Expected in Orient House Archiving
--------------------------------------------- --

6. (SBU) In a follow-up meeting with the Director of the Embassy's
American Center in Jerusalem (D/ACJ), Freundlich said that he was
unsurprised by the condition of the Orient House materials, and
noted that the materials appeared to only date from around 2000 and
do not constitute historical archives. He said that he had only
found "office materials and computers: some documents monitoring the
Israeli press, documents related to Palestinian land claims and
Israeli settlements, financial information, receipts and grants, and
lots of office stationery."

7. (SBU) Freundlich also said the GOI would return the Orient House
library books if the PLO showed proof of ownership, but the
Palestinians are not interested and "don't want them." NOTE: The
Palestinian owners of the books have told U.S. officials that the
GOI offered to return the books as long as they were removed from
Jerusalem. The Palestinians refused, saying that the library, which
is not associated with the PA, is a Jerusalem institution and should
stay in Jerusalem. End Note.

8. (SBU) Freundlich said he is willing to go through the Orient
House documents, but he has had trouble securing permission from
Ministry of Internal Security. If he received permission,
Freundlich thought it would be possible to include international
archivists in the process, as proposed by the MOU, but not
Palestinians. Freundlich told D/ACJ that only international
pressure would get Minister of Internal Security Dichter to

TEL AVIV 00002171 002 OF 002

authorize this project.

MOU Almost Ready; Goes Beyond Orient House

9. (U) Despite the issues with the Orient House records, Freundlich
said that he anticipates that Israel and the Palestinians will sign
the archiving MOU with the USG and Canada in late October or early
November. The MOU also covers possible digitization of privately
held records, and Weinstein viewed some of these holdings during his
trip. This included a pre-1948 photography collection at the Um El
Fahm art gallery in Haifa and a newspaper archive held by the Givat
Haviva Education Foundation.

10. (U) U.S. National Archivist Dr. Allen Weinstein did not have
the opportunity to clear on this cable.

© Scoop Media

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