17. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Israel 1

83026. Subject: Terrorism and Reprisals. Ref: State’s 72151 and 75924.2

During lunch tour d’horizon with Ambassador Harman December 6, Under Secretary Rostow reviewed sequence of border violations, terrorist raids, and Israeli reprisals. He said we concerned about [Page 32] destruction of villages, which raises serious questions international law. Our legal adviser had come to view that some of these episodes probably violated accepted principles of international law and Geneva Convention of 1949,3 to which both Jordan and Israel were parties. There were no military operations justifying razing of villages. Referring to Atherton-Yaish conversations (reftel) Rostow said episodes were having adverse political effect on Israel’s reputation and on general political atmosphere. He said he had found feeling in Europe that Israeli position is “hardening,” even among officials who knew that Israel’s official goals for negotiation have not changed.
Harman commented that problem of terrorism—all, in his view, emanating from Syria—could be dealt with only in three ways. Jordanians could interdict terrorists within Jordan (he said there had recently been a raid coming directly into Israel from Syria; the others all crossed via Jordan). Or Israelis could interdict in territory held by Israel. Or, after a time, if that didn’t work, Israelis might have to undertake another raid to cool situation a bit. In retrospect, worst mistake Harman had to reproach himself with, he thought, was the recommendation that Israel to go Security Council in fall of 1966 rather than strike directly against Syria. The Soviet veto in the instance and the weakness of the Western position, led straight to Samu, and then to May and June. Could war have been prevented by a hard blow against Syria a year ago?
Rostow said we recognized full gravity of problem of terrorists. We were inclined to think that for moment a stronger U.N. presence between Israel and Jordan could be helpful.
Harman dismissed the idea. U.N. forces had done no good. Problem was too large to be dealt with by a border patrol. It had to be met within Jordan, or, if saboteurs penetrated the West Bank, by Israel within the area. Israel was getting good cooperation from West Bank people, who were more and more disenchanted with Amman, and inclined to help Israelis. In any event, U.N. forces had proved their inadequacy. Right procedure was that of cooperation between the Israeli and Jordanian forces. When Jordanian interests were involved, Jordanians met Israelis at Allenby Bridge. But when issue was that of stopping terrorism, Jordanians raised an issue of political principle. With Security Council Resolution passed, Jordanians should begin to take a less belligerent posture, and forget absurd idea that they cannot talk with Israelis.
Re para 1 above, following is basis of our conclusion that Israeli destruction of Jiftlik and other villages is violation of Geneva Convention Relative to Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War:
Article 2 provides that Convention applies to cases of partial or total occupation of territory of a Party;
Article 33 states that “no protected person may be punished for an offense he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties … are prohibited. Reprisals against protected persons and their property are prohibited;” and
Article 53 specifically prohibits destruction by occupying power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons or public authorities, except where such destruction is rendered “absolutely necessary by military operations.” Israeli measures such as destruction of Jiftlik do not constitute “military operations,” since hostilities are ended and cease-fire is in effect.

We think it would be useful for Embassy, drawing on foregoing, to seek appropriate opportunity in discussions with GOI to follow-up Under Secretary Rostow’s comments to Harman in this connection.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 ARAB-ISR. Secret. Drafted by George B. Lambrakis; cleared by Davies, Atherton, Houghton, Robert H. Neuman (L/NEA), and Day; and approved by Eugene Rostow. Repeated to Amman, Jerusalem, Beirut, London, Paris, USUN, and CINCSTRIKE.
  2. Telegram 72151 to Tel Aviv, November 20, noted that the Embassy had taken up with the Foreign Ministry reports of destruction of West Bank settlements by Israel, which the United States found “most disturbing.” In telegram 75924 to Tel Aviv, November 28, the Department reported that the Israeli Embassy explained that the West Bank villages were destroyed because they had been abandoned during the June war and had subsequently become centers for infiltrators from Jordan into Israel. (Both ibid.)
  3. Reference is to the conventions signed at Geneva on August 12, 1949, on the protection of victims of war. (6 UST 3114, 6 UST 3116, and 6 UST 3117)