Sunday, August 9, 2015

Military Escalation, a Presidential Message and a Political Decision: Israel Accepts the Rogers Plan, Part 2

For Hebrew documents, see the ISA's Hebrew blog.

For Part 1, see here

The fighting with the Egyptians continued alongside the diplomatic activity, and on 22 July the Soviets moved a squadron of MIG 21 pilots to al-Mansurah airfield, 70 kilometres from the Suez Canal. They began to patrol together with the Egyptian pilots at a distance of 40 kilometres from the canal.

On 23 July it became clear that this time the Arabs would not oppose the initiative to start negotiations.In his speech on the anniversary of the Free Officers’ revolution, Nasser said that Egypt would accept Rogers' proposal of 19 June. However he ignored the sentence requiring the parties to appoint representatives for negotiations, and claimed that the plan required Israeli withdrawal from “all the territories” occupied in 1967, and not “from territories” according to the Israeli interpretation of Resolution 242. Three days later Jordan too accepted the ceasefire.

Now that Egypt had taken a position, on 24 July Nixon sent Golda a message asking Israel to reconsider the Rogers Plan and to give a positive answer. He added that Egypt would probably demand Israeli withdrawal from all the occupied territories and a solution to the refugee problem based on Resolution 194, allowing the refugees to return to their homes or to receive compensation. Nixon assured Golda that the US would not press Israel to accept these demands, that it believed that the borders should be fixed in negotiations between the parties and that “no Israeli soldier should be withdrawn from the occupied territories until a binding contractual peace agreement satisfactory to you” had been achieved. He reaffirmed the US commitment to Israel’s existence and security.

Sisco told Rabin that the US would veto any resolution in the Security Council demanding complete withdrawal or the return of the refugees. They were willing to declare in advance that if there was a change in the Egyptian deployment after the ceasefire, Israel would be free to use force, with the blessing and support of the US. In view of Nixon’s message, the government held a series of meetings on 26, 29, 30 and 31 July and on 4 August to decide on its reply.

At the same time the clash with the Soviets escalated. On 25 July the pilot of a MIG 21 fired a rocket at an Israeli Skyhawk returning from a mission west of the Suez Canal. The plane was hit but the pilot managed to land. The Soviet pilots continued to fly close to the canal .

In the government meeting on 29 July Eban presented the ceasefire on the Jordanian front and the question of possible terrorist attacks across the border afterwards. He explained that the Americans would allow Israeli to react, as long as the position of King Hussein was taken into account. Attacks on the Jordanian army would not be tolerated.

The government also decided to take action agaist the Soviet pilots, and on 30 July this decision was carried out in Operation Rimon (Pomegranate) 20. The Israel Air Force sent four Mirages on a photographic reconnaissance mission over the Gulf of Suez, accompanied by two Phantoms, and two more staged an attack south of Suez City. On Dayan’s instructions, they were not to penetrate deep into Egypt. Nevertheless, the Soviets sent more than 20 MIGs to intercept them. Then eight Israeli Mirages came out of hiding and joined the battle. An IDF electronic warfare unit managed to jam the communications systems of the Soviet pilots and even to confuse them with false orders. It was estimated that between four and five MIGs were shot down and three Soviet pilots were killed.
Soviet MIG21 with Egyptian Air Force markings
Photograph: Wikimedia


An hour later the Soviets transferred their squadron from Al-Mansurah to an airfield inside Egypt. But they also prepared nightly ambushes of SA2 batteries dug in close to the canal. These batteries were used against Israeli planes attacking visible missile batteries, some of them decoys. In this way they succeeded in shooting down a Phantom on 3 August. Another was hit, but the pilot managed to land. In total, the IAF had lost five Phantoms since the Soviets had joined the air war. This development threatened Israel’s air superiority. Attacking the batteries was likely to bring heavy losses and to endanger its ability to act if the Egyptians tried to cross the canal.  Without US backing and replacement of damaged planes and spare parts, Israel would find it difficult to continue the fight.

Air battle during the War of Attrition - video clip

There was satisfaction in the government at the results of the battle. In the meeting on the same day, Bar-Lev said that the Russians were in battle for the first time “and their lack of experience was certainly felt. We concentrated our top pilots here."  Eban mentioned the decision not to publish the fact that the pilots were Russian. Begin was sceptical, and Golda said that the Army censor would try to prevent publication but news might leak out to the press: “There are masses of journalists here, and near this building stands an army of all the TV journalists in the world….I assume they will find a way of passing on the news. It cannot remain secret.” And indeed, although Israel did not publish the results of the battle, a report appeared in the British “Daily Express” newspaper.
COGS Bar-Lev and Secretary Rogers on a flight over Sharm el-Sheikh, 7 May 1971
Photograph: Moshe Milner, Governemt Press Office

Nevertheless, the government was moving towards a decision to accept the ceasefire. Golda shared her misgivings with her colleagues: “My question is: my God, with whom are we waging battles here? I must admit that I am taking this step with an aching heart, and not with joy of any kind, certainly not….With whom have they not allied and with what devil are they not willing to join? All this against the small group of the Jewish people in the state of Israel. It is not a great joy to me to accept it but God did not promise me that I would have only joys in this country.” She added that when she first heard about the air battle she was happy, but afterwards she began to ask questions: “Will this be the end of it? Will this be the last battle?” Shlomo Hillel answered her: "At the moment the situation is that the Russians have agreed to this proposal, the Egyptians have agreed, the Jordanians have agreed and we cannot change it now. We are in an uncomfortable strategic position.”


Israel accepts the ceasefire and Gahal leaves the government

When the debate resumed the next day, 31 July, the leader of the National Religious party, Josef Burg, read out the NRP's decision to accept the American proposal and called on Gahal not to leave the government. Yisrael Galili presented a draft for a decision to accept Nixon’s proposal of 24 July (and not that of Rogers) while continuing to maintain the government’s existing policy guidelines. A representative would be sent to the Jarring talks on the basis of Resolution 242. He proposed to agree to a temporary ceasefire and to set up a committee to draft the reply. His proposal was accepted by a majority of 17. A clause was added specifically rejecting the previous Rogers plans and his proposals of 17 June. Begin’s alternative proposal to reject the plan received six votes. As a result, he initiated a decision by the governing body of Gahal to resign from the government.

On 4 August, while the battles in the south continued, the decisive meeting was held. The six Gahal ministers announced their resignation. Begin explained their decision and praised Golda’s leadership and the friendly atmosphere in their meetings. He said: “We have gone through a considerable period together in mutual trust…We know that no-one around this [table] is happy about our leaving.  I know that all the members of the government, even those who while they were sitting here thought it might be better for Israel if Gahal left, are sorry about it today. We certainly did not wish  it. But the matter was inevitable in my opinion…. I at all events will always view these three years as one of the best chapters of my life. We will go into opposition. It is not a new task for us.” Yosef Sapir noted that Gahal had joined the National Unity government in June 1967 unconditionally to save the state from danger. In 1970 the situation was different, although he saw new dangers and no prospect of peace. Ezer Weizman, the ex-commander of the air force, emphasized that only an air attack could destroy the missile batteries. The advance of the missiles towards the canal had created a new situation.
Golda Meir and the National Unity goverment with President Zalman Shazar, December 1969
Photograph: Moshe Milner, Government Press Office


Golda did not argue with Begin and the Gahal ministers. She too said that they had worked well together in mutual confidence despite their differences of opinion and regretted their premature departure. At this point the ministers left the meeting. Golda said that “the Americans must know that we are going to this [ceasefire] with difficulty, with doubts and debates.” They had rejected the previous Rogers plans, but who knows what plan Rogers might yet come up with, worse than the previous ones, when he started to talk. They could rely to some extent on its relations with the president, “but much as I like him, I do not want to make him responsible for Israel’s fate.” The government adopted the decision proposed by the committee unanimously. They emphasized that Israel’s withdrawal from the territories must be to secure, recognized and agreed borders.When Rabin presented the decision to Kissinger, he emphasized the decisive role played by the president’s letter. Israel was taking on itself major political and military risks. The government  was sceptical about the success of the initiative and would not accept Soviet missiles along the length of the canal. If they were deployed there, Israel would break the ceasefire.


On August 4 Golda presented the government’s stand to the Knesset. Gahal Knesset member Esther Raziel-Naor tried to embarrass the government with a proposal to continue to seek a negotiated peace according to its own guidelines. Her proposal was rejected by 63 votes to 30, and the government’s policy was approved by a majority of 66, with 28 against and 9 abstentions.

On 8 August the ceasefire came into effect and the guns fell silent. But under its cover the Egyptians brought more missiles up to the canal, a move which had serious implications for the future. Meanwhile the Israeli soldiers were able to come out of their bunkers and look around, as we see in this videoclip.

The War of Attrition was accompanied by political protest and criticism of the government in Israel. Two posts on aspects of this protest, the letter by a group of twelfth graders to Golda and the antiwar satire by Hanoch Levin, “Queen of the Bathtub’ can be seen on our Hebrew blog.





"Stop Shooting and Start Talking": From Opposition to Acceptance of the Rogers Plan, June-August 1970, Part 1

45 years after Israeli acceptance of the Rogers Plan to end the War of Attrition with Egypt, the ISA reveals for the first time the government discussions leading to the decision.

On 8 August 1970, the ceasefire  between Israel and Egypt came into effect, bringing to an end the war on the Suez Canal. This conflict, now largely forgotten, had continued intermittently since March 1969 and claimed the lives of hundreds of Israeli soldiers, while thousands were wounded.  Egypt too paid a high price in human life and economic damage.

The "War of Attrition" campaign ribbon
 Photograph: Wikipedia

45 years after the guns fell silent, the ISA has declassified and published a series of dramatic government meetings held in June-August 1970 on Israel's reply to the initiative of US Secretary of State William Rogers to end the fighting and start talks between the Arabs and Israel. At the time a National Unity government was in power, headed by Golda Meir and including the right wing Gahal party led by Menachem Begin. At first, the ministers rejected the plan, but under heavy pressure from US President Richard Nixon, they eventually agreed to accept a slightly different version. The Gahal ministers  opposed this decision and resigned.

The publication includes nine stenographic records of government meetings, giving a first-hand view of the full and authentic record of events. These records are in Hebrew and are shown on our Hebrew blog, but they contain large sections in English, including exchanges with the US. They are supplemented by documents from the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and other English documents from the ISA and by photographs and video clips on the War of Attrition from our holdings.
Israeli troops returning from the Shadwan Island operation, 23 January 1970
Photograph: Moshe Milner, Government Press Office
The publication is in two parts: the first on the discussions until 19 July and the second ending with the government meeting of 4 August and Golda’s parting words to the Gahal ministers: “I confess that when I took on this position I didn’t really believe in it, but I wanted us all to see the day when peace will come. And if not – then at least to succeed as [her predecessor] the late Eshkol did, to preserve this partnership. I am sorry that we have not reached peace. I am very sorry that it was my lot to head a government which lost a group of its members.”

Background: The War of Attrition and UN and US Peace Initiatives

As a result of the Six Day War Israel and Egypt faced each other across the Suez Canal. At first the situation was calm, and a film clip made in December 1967 shows unarmed Egyptian soldiers fishing in the canal opposite  IDF soldiers on the other side. But at the beginning of March 1969 President Gamal Abd-el Nasser announced that Egypt was no longer bound by the ceasefire of June 1967. Soon afterwards a war of attrition began along the canal. There were repeated and lengthy shooting incidents, as well as border incidents with Jordan and Syria. In the clashes with Egypt, Israel lost over 300 soldiers and the Egyptians some 10,000.The cities near the canal, damaged after the sinking of the Israeli destroyer “Elath” in October 1967, were completely destroyed.

To restore the ceasefire two diplomatic initiatives were made: the first by UN mediator Gunnar Jarring and the second by US Secretary of State William Rogers. In December 1969 he proposed a plan based on UN Security Council Resolution 242and demanded that Israel return to the international boundary with Egypt. The government rejected the plan and  stood by its decision of 31 October 1968, demanding a land corridor to Sharm el-Sheikh. The Egyptians also rejected the plan and the USSR said it was one-sided. In June 1970 Rogers proposed a second plan and this time he was successful.

The US Proposal and Israel’s Response

After Israel carried out deep penetration bombing raids into Egypt, in January 1970 Nasser went to Moscow to demand surface to air missiles, which needed Soviet crews to operate them.  In March 1970 Soviet missiles were deployed near Cairo and Alexandria.

A CIA report on missile sites in Egypt as of May 1970
Source: Wikimedia
Realizing that the war involved a danger of confrontation with the USSR, on 19 June 1970 the Administration proposed a plan for negotiations between Israel and Egypt, with a ceasefire as the first step. It was presented to Golda Meir and Foreign Minister Abba Eban by US Ambassador Walworth Barbour, and by Rogers to Israeli Ambassador Yitzhak Rabin in Washington. On 20 June it was presented to Egypt and Jordan and also passed on to the USSR.

On 21 June Golda told the government of an" important development in relations with the US".  Eban reported on the paper they had received from Barbour, which expressed US concern that the war of attrition would cause Egypt and Jordan to abandon Resolution 242, with dangerous implications for moderate Arab states such as Lebanon, Kuwait, Morocco, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia. As Israel had asked, the US had protested to the Soviets about their actions which endangered Israel's security and survival. But it proposed a diplomatic initiative, as well as a military one, to counter the Soviet threat. The commitments of the parties should be tested: Egypt to the principle of peaceful coexistence with Israel and Israel to the principle of withdrawal as expressed in Resolution 242. In order to allow resumption of the Jarring mission, the US proposed a ceasefire from 1 July until 1 October. The agreement would include provisions on preservation of the status quo on the canal front and preventing shooting and incursions.

The Americans asked Israel not to reply publicly until Egypt's reply had been received. If the Arabs rejected it, the onus would be on them. But if Egypt responded positively, Israel would have to do the same and to accept a proposal for peace "substantially within its 1949–1967 borders."

The talk with Barbour was also a reply to Israel's request for more planes. The plan specified that US supply of arms to Israel would continue but the supply of planes would be limited while "efforts to get the parties to stop shooting and start talking" continued. The Americans agreed to give Israel three Phantoms in July and three in August. The planned order for six Phantoms in 1971 would not be affected. They also agreed to earmark 18 Phantoms and 16 Skyhawks in the future in order to make up for expected losses.  They expected Israel to continue to refrain from deep-penetration bombing. (At the time the US needed war planes for its own forces in Vietnam.)

According to Eban, Golda had said that she was deeply disturbed by the linkage between arms supply and political demands. She would have to inform the government of this capitulation to Nasser.  She both rejected a temporary ceasefire or the prospect of opening negotiations before the firing had ended, while Soviet arms flowed to Egypt but arms to Israel were held up.  She warned that she would recommend to the government to reject the proposal. After a long discussion the ministers decided unanimously to adopt Golda’s negative reply to Barbour, but not to publish its reply until after a statement by the Administration.

In the next government meeting on 25 June Golda said: “I know what I have to hold onto with regard to public opinion: this is [stoppage] of arms supply, this is a ceasefire which is a death trap.” However she postponed her reply to a message from Nixon and proposed to call Rabin home for consultations. On 29 June she would make a political statement in the Knesset. On the same day Rogers told a press conference about the initiative for a ceasefire and for talks under Jarring's auspices. However he refused to give details or to discuss publically military assistance for Israel.  


Golda Meir and Yitzhak Rabin, 2 October 1969
Photograph: Moshe Milner, Government Press Office
On 28 June the government renewed its discussion, together with Rabin. He warned against a negative answer to the president and a possible crisis in relations with the US. Nixon already knew from Barbour and Rogers's reports that Israel’s stand was negative. Begin fiercely opposed the American initiative and claimed that it would return Israel to the borders of 4 June 1967, quoting Eban’s well- known saying that "this map represented Auschwitz". Minister Yisrael Galili proposed conveying Israel’s reply to Nixon secretly. Moshe Dayan’s main concern was the fear that the plan would lead to the return of the refugees. Golda repeated her opposition to any plan based on complete withdrawal to the 1967 borders. Although the Americans kept begging Israel not to publish its stand and to let Egypt take responsibility for the plan's failure, the head of military intelligence Aharon Yariv warned that this time Egypt and the Soviets would not reject the initiative as they had the first Rogers plan.

On 29 June Golda told the Knesset that Israel was in continuous dialogue with the US Administration, but she would not give details until the US had published its plan. She argued that Nasser had no intention of reaching a true ceasefire or peace negotiations, citing his speech in Benghazi on 25 June  "fanning the flames of hostility and giving the conflict a pan-Arab character". He demanded full Israeli withdrawal and rights for the Palestinians.

On July 1 Golda wrote to Nixon repeating her negative stand. She added that over the last two days the Soviets had started to deploy SA2 and 3 missile batteries to cover the area up to the Canal Zone. These batteries could be used to protect a Canal crossing, and Israel had no choice but to destroy them. In these circumstances it needed increased supplies of planes.  The letter was given to Joseph Sisco, the assistant secretary for Middle East affairs, by Rabin and reported to National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger. This report noted that the US was deeply concerned over the new developments and that it was clear that the Israeli government was strongly opposed to the US proposals.

Golda also called Barbour to her office in Tel Aviv on half an hour's notice. Accompanied by the Chief of the General Staff, Haim Bar-Lev, she briefed him about the deployment of the SAMs near the Canal. Each battery was manned by a few Soviet troops. The air force had lost two Phantoms within an hour from attacks on the batteries, and a Soviet major had been severely wounded.  Barbour reported to Rogers that Israel was urgently requesting planes and new electronic equipment. Nixon decided to give the electronic equipment at once and to speed up the supply of planes.

One of the greatest fears in the Prime Minister's Bureau was of a confrontation with the USSR, which would use its full force against Israel.  The Israeli decision makers knew that the IDF was designed to fight Arab armies, but it could not take on the Soviets.  They wanted to know how the US would react in such a case. The head of the bureau, Simcha Dinitz, sent a message to Rabin asking Kissinger to arrange a personal meeting between Golda and Nixon. She wanted his help in deterring the Soviets before they had strengthened their hold in Egypt. Dinitz added that "the prime minister is not afraid personally to start a campaign which she has no reasonable hope of winning. Our view of the situation is so serious….that considerations of prestige or effort are not a factor." Rabin met Kissinger but his impression was that there was little enthusiasm. A visit in September would be approved, on condition it was not to be devoted only to arms requests.

On 12 July in another government meeting, Yosef Sapir of the Liberal party said that as Nasser had gone to Moscow for help,  Golda should go to Washington to see Nixon. Golda warned that she could not propose a visit unless she was sure the US would agree. Eban described the increased arms supply from the US and added that there was only one explanation: the Americans wanted Israel to succeed in the current battle. "In order to sit on the eastern bank of the Canal and do nothing, there is no need for all the equipment they are rushing to us."

On 15 July Nixon sent Golda a reassuring message through Arthur Burns, head of the Federal Reserve Bank who was visiting Israel. In her reply she thanked him for his concern but warned that Israel was facing increasing Soviet involvement. "It is natural that this should deepen our anxiety and strengthen our resolve. Both your words and deeds are crucial for us." In the government meeting Eban reported no new developments. It was unlikely that the Soviets would reject the American initiative outright. There were signs that Egypt would accept a limited ceasefire, and Israel would be in a delicate position. World opinion did not care about the semantics of a ceasefire resolution, but it was worried about an international clash. He concluded: "We have differences with the United States. But if there is one point of agreement, it is that we must stay on the Canal line until [there is[ peace….in order to preserve what they call superiority."
Abba Eban receives Rogers at Lod airport, May 1971
Photograph: Fritz Cohen, Government Press Office


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Kidnapping of Yossele Schumacher – A Domestic Quarrel that Divided Israel in the 1960s

The Yossele Schumacher affair was basically a domestic quarrel that got out of hand. It took two Supreme Court decisions, a nationwide police search and ultimately a joint Mossad-Shin Bet operation to find the kidnapped boy. The affair exposed a rift between religious and secular Jews. The cry "Where is Yossele?"directed in defiance towards ultra-orthodox (Haredi) Jews became a rallying call, if not a battle cry, for the secular Israeli public of the early 60's. The father of this writer remembers vividly seeing a truck full of soldiers in one of the main streets of Jerusalem singing this chant when they saw a Haredi man walking in the street.

Since the affair was initially an internal Israeli one, the vast majority of documents we are publishing here, including police reports, letters from both sides to the president and to Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Nissim, stenograms of government meetings and more, are in Hebrew. See them on our Hebrew blog.

Yosef (Joseph or 'Yossele', an affectionate Yiddish nickname) Schumacher was born in 1952 in the Soviet Union. In 1957, Yossele and his parents, Ida and Alter, came on aliya. Due to economic hardship the parents left Yossele with Ida's father, Nachman Shtarks, who lived in the Haredi Jerusalem neighborhood of Geula.  Shtarks was a former prisoner in the Soviet gulag, where he was tortured for his steadfast religious beliefs. He didn't falter.
After settling down and improving their economic status, the parents asked the grandfather to return their son. The grandfather refused. Shtarks wanted Yossele to learn in a Haredi yeshiva. He believed that his son-in-law (with whom he wasn't on the best of terms) was a communist and wanted to return to the Soviet Union. He claimed that Alter was subjecting his grandson to Shmad – forced conversion to another religion (in this case – to Communist atheism). Shtarks received a Psak Din (a religious verdict) from Jerusalem's chief rabbi, Pesach Zvi Frank, which allowed him to keep his grandson in his custody, in order to prevent him from being forced to leave Judaism. (It later became clear that Rabbi Frank was not in full possession of the facts.)

After filing a complaint with the police, the parents took the case to the Supreme Court of Justice. The Supreme Court issued a Habeas Corpus order on 10/2/1960, ordering the grandfather to return the child to his parents. The grandfather refused. The court issued another order a month later demanding the immediate return of the boy and instructed the police to carry out the order. The grandfather did not comply, basing his objection on Rabbi Frank's Psak Din. In May 1960, the court ordered the arrest and imprisonment of Nachman Shtarks until he complied with the order. The grandfather remained in jail until the end of the affair in autumn 1962.

But what had happened to Yossele?  After the complaint to the police and the first verdict, the boy was taken out of his Yeshiva in Rishon leZion and moved to different locations, including the Haredi village of Kommemiut (in the south of Israel, near Ashqelon) and later the city of Bnei Brak.

New faces entered the fray, such as Neturei Karta (Guardians of the Walls in Aramaic), the extreme anti-Zionist Haredi group, which joined the efforts to hide the boy and invited a Frenchwoman--a convert to Judaism named Ruth ben David--to help them in their efforts to smuggle the child abroad. Ben David (whose original name was Madeleine Ferraille) was a successful Maquis resistance courier during World War II and managed to smuggle Yossele out of Israel as her daughter (here is an article from the Jerusalem Post about her).  Passport control at Lod airport was looking for a boy – not a girl.

Yossele was moved to several European countries – Switzerland, France and Britain. In July 1960, a police report mentioned the possibility that he was in London, from hints in postcards sent by Shtark's son Ovadiah who lived there. In March 1962, the principal of a boarding school in Gateshead, a major center of the Haredi community in England, complained to the Israeli ambassador in London, Arthur Lourie, about a search of the school. Feldman wrote that the local police and representatives of the Haifa police had descended on the school during morning prayers and held all those present for questioning, although there was no evidence that the boy was there.

Meanwhile Yossele was transferred to New York, under the supervision of the Satmar Hasidim, who (like the Neturi Karta) were virulent anti-Zionists. Meanwhile the parents' lawyer, Shlomo Cohen-Zidon, formed a public committee to return Yossele to his parents, and a wide range of public figures were approached to try to end the dispute. 

Due to the Israel Police's failure to find Yossele and rising tensions between religious and secular Israelis, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion ordered the head of the security services, Isser Harel (the overall director of both the Mossad and Shin Beth) to find the boy. Dozens of Mossad agents and volunteers were sent to Jewish communities in Europe, especially Haredi ones. Ruth Ben David's name came up and Harel believed that she could be the key person in the affair. Ben David was lured to a house in France and was held there for weeks, while Mossad agents tried to convince her to tell where Yossele was being held. Ben David refused to cooperate and only when Harel himself arrived and convinced her that it was for the boy's own good, she agreed to tell them the truth. Harel was so impressed that he offered her a job in the Mossad – but she declined.

Yossele was found in Brooklyn, New York in the residence of Rabbi Zanvil Gertner, a Satmar Hassid. He was reunited with his mother in the Israeli consulate in New York.
Following the return of Yossele to Israel, the government decided to stop all legal proceedings against the people involved in the kidnapping, except for Shalom Shtarks, Yossele's uncle, who denied involvement and left Israel to live in Britain. After his involvement was revealed, he was extradited to Israel after a long legal battle (here are the minutes in the House of Lords concerning the extradition of Shtarks), in which he claimed that as a resident of Jerusalem, Israel had no jurisdiction over him (which didn't endear him on to many of Israel's citizens). He was sentenced to 3 years in jail, but received a pardon in 1963. These moves were made to reduce tensions among the Israeli public. 
                                             Here is a part of a newsreel showing the return of Yossele to Israel
   
Yossele Schumacher joined the IDF in 1970 and served as an officer in the artillery corps. He worked in IBM Israel and lives today in Sha'arei Tikva (near Rosh Hayin).

Monday, July 13, 2015

13 July 1953, Creating Facts: The Israeli Foreign Ministry Moves to Jerusalem



In July 1953 the Israeli Foreign Ministry was about to move its offices to Jerusalem. Israel's leaders knew that this was a controversial move, since, on 9  December 1949, the UN General Assembly had passed Resolution 194 on the internationalization of Jerusalem under UN control. In 1947 Israel had accepted internationalization of Jerusalem as part of the Partition Plan. But after the Arabs rejected the plan and tried to prevent its implementation by force, Israel no longer felt bound by it.

On 5 December 1949 Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion declared in the Knesset that Jewish Jerusalem was an organic and inseparable part of the State of Israel.  At that time Israel agreed to international supervision of the Holy Places, most of which were in any case under Jordanian rule.  We've already shown here the draft of his statement Ben-Gurion  sent to Foreign Minister Moshe Sharett, in which he threatened that Israel would leave the UN if the resolution was adopted.   
After the resolution passed,  despite opposition from Britain and the US, Ben-Gurion announced the transfer of the Knesset and the government ministries to Jerusalem.  Sharett  opposed the announcement and believed that there was no real danger of steps to carry out internationalization. He even threatened to resign  – see his reaction here.


Ben-Gurion, Sharett and Minister Moshe Shapira
 in the first Knesset building
in Jerusalem (Frumin House), 1952
Photograph: Wikimedia
The Knesset and the Prime Minister's Office were transferred to Jerusalem immediately, but other government offices followed gradually. A complex of one storey bungalows in the Givat Ram area of Jerusalem was built to house the Foreign Ministry. Meanwhile Sharett ran the office from the Kirya government buildings in Tel Aviv. In May 1952 the move was announced, to be carried out in the summer of 1953. 

In May 1953 the new US Secretary of State J.F. Dulles visited Israel as part of a tour of the Middle East. He hoped to organize an anti-Soviet defence organization similar to NATO but found little enthusiasm among the Arab states. During the trip he met Sharett, and, according to a letter sent to the secretary in July, the foreign minister told Dulles about the imminent move to Jerusalem, and the secretary did not protest. He asked that the move not take place while he was in the area, and suggested that Sharett repeat previous statements on Israel's attitude to the Holy Places. Sharett gave a statement in the Knesset recognizing Israel's obligations to protect the Christian Holy Places under its control.
Nuns crossing into Jordan at the Mandelbaum Gate
 Photograph: Fritz Cohen, Government Press Office

On his return to the US, Dulles gave a radio speech on his tour. He said that the new Republican Administration should act to allay the fears of the Arabs and to restore the reputation of the US, which they believed was giving one sided support to Israel.  He described his feelings on seeing Jerusalem, which was split into armed camps, but was above all a Holy Place. Dulles, son of a Presbyterian minister, said that the link to Jerusalem felt by religious groups all over the world was a claim preceding the political claims of Israel and Jordan. Headlines in the Israeli press claimed that he had supported the internationalization of the city, the return of some of the Arab refugees and the strengthening of the Arab League.
On June 7 the government discussed the speech. In Sharett's  references to Jerusalem (pp. 5-9) he emphasized that there was no change in US policy. Israel could gain if the Holy Places were put under international control, as it might get access to the Western Wall and to Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem. He warned his colleagues against the illusion that unilateral action by Israel, and faits accomplis such as moving the government offices, could actually solve the problem of Jerusalem.  The rest of the world, and especially the Catholic church, which had much influence in France and Latin America, did not accept Jerusalem as Israel's capital. The unclear situation could be exploited by the Arabs, even though they cared for the Holy Places "as the snows of yesteryear'.  Ben-Gurion also commented on Dulles' speech but his comments centered on other issues.

In the guidelines he sent Israel's diplomatic representatives to explain the coming move, Sharett asked them to emphasize the practical reasons involved. He described at length the difficulties suffered by the Ministry staff, and especially the minister himself, in commuting between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and the harmful effects of their remoteness from the centre of decision making. 

The Foreign Ministry moves in, 9 July 1953.
 Photograph: Yehuda Eisenstark , Israel State Archives
 Sharett knew that the embassies would not leave Tel Aviv but did not expect any particular problem with official visits to the Ministry in Jerusalem. Arab protests were loud, as can be seen below.

 The American reaction was  also harsh, and together with  other Western countries, they announced that they would not conduct any official business in Jerusalem, even if invited by the minister. Sharett wrote to Dulles, arguing that plenty of time had been given to the UN to deal with the Jerusalem issue in a more realistic way, but it had not done so. Before the move the US ambassador and their staff had had no difficulty in visiting government offices in Jerusalem. He added that no change in Jerusalem's status was involved. "New Jerusalem has in any case and to all practical purposes been our capital since 1949, and would have continued to be our capital, with the Foreign Ministry or without it." 

Gradually the ban was relaxed, and on Independence Day, 1954, most of the diplomatic corps attended the president's reception in Jerusalem. 

Most diplomatic representations in Israel remain in the Tel Aviv area, but today all official visits by heads of state are received at the Foreign Ministry . The ministry remained in the hut complex for 50 years, until an impressive new building  was opened in 2003 near the Supreme Court in Givat Ram.  

The Foreign Ministry today
Photographs: The Israeli Association for Diplomacy



Sunday, June 7, 2015

Golda Meir's Political and Personal Struggle After the Yom Kippur War


Many of the posts appearing here are about Golda Meir, Israel's fourth prime minister and the only woman (so far) to head the government. This material comes from a collection of Golda's speeches and letters which will soon be published in a  commemorative volume in the series on Israel's late prime ministers and presidents.  The book will shed new light on her role as prime minister and especially on her leadership during the Yom Kippur war of October 1973.


Cover of a book by journalists published after the war
During the war Golda was acutely conscious of the danger that Israel's military reverses would harm its international standing and its fate in the political struggle which would follow. The prime minister, who was already 75 years old, reacted emotionally to the death of thousands of soldiers.  According to her memoirs she felt guilty that she had not overruled her advisers and insisted on calling up the reserves before war broke out. She wanted to resign, but felt she could not evade her responsibilities, especially the need to discover the fate of the soldiers missing in action and to ensure the return of those held prisoner in Egypt and Syria.

And she could not abandon the political struggle. On March 4 1974, after a stormy party meeting led her to threaten resignation, Foreign Minister Abba Eban wrote to her in typically convoluted style: 
" I understand the depth of the feelings which exploded in you yesterday afternoon, and I have no argument against them. On the other hand I am constantly aware of the international aspects of the problem. The implications are serious and all agree that the events of yesterday indicate a weakening of our position, and especially a weakening of the opportunities which have opened up recently …. which I fear  that the public does not sufficiently appreciate. It seems to me that you deserve – and all of Israel deserves – that your central responsibility in advancing the chances for peace be exerted "

(translated from the Hebrew).

We have already written here about the disengagement of forces agreements signed during the last months of Golda's government, which were indeed the first stage in the process  leading to peace with Egypt.  This month we mark the anniversary of the return of the POWS following the agreement with Syria on 31 May 1974. 
 After the interim report of the Agranat committee left the political leadership untouched, the public demand for the resignation of Defence Minister Moshe Dayan became unbearable. On April 10 1974 Golda resigned, and Dayan had to follow suit. However Golda continued to head a caretaker government until her successor Yitzhak Rabin had formed a new coalition. Meanwhile US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger helped to negotiate Israeli withdrawal from the part of Syria it had captured in October 1973 and from the deserted Syrian town of Kuneitra, which has figured in the fighting in Syria in recent months.  Golda was afraid that any withdrawal beyond the "purple line" of 6 October 1973 would set a dangerous precedent and she had great sympathy for the opposition led by settlers from the Golan kibbutzim whose lands bordered on Kuneitra.

Following the war and the rise in oil prices, Israel's economic situation was desperate. As well as the return of the POWs and ending a war of attrition with Syria, the most important factor in Golda's decision to agree to withdrawal was the need for US military support and economic assistance. On Dayan's initiative, she proposed a long term commitment by the US to accompany the agreement,  ensuring military aid, and a written promise by the president not to demand that Israel to come down from the Golan Heights. On 12 May Golda wrote to Kissinger giving details of Israel's demands. The assurance on the Golan included on a draft of 10 May was left out. She added:

“Mr. Secretary, if I dare put before you, and through you to the President, requests of such dimension, it is because I know that in undertaking the current actions we are assuming grave national risks. We do so because of our firm conviction that these steps are an imperative of the joint course of policy which we both hope will advance the course of peace." 

 President Nixon, already deeply embroiled in the Watergate affair which led to his resignation, was reluctant to give an assurance on the Golan. It was not included in the letters which accompanied the agreement. When Nixon visited Israel in June 1974, Kissinger promised that he would sign the letter on the plane. He didn't. It was finally signed by his successor Gerald Ford in September 1975. But that's a story for another post……
Wounded  Syrian POWs are returned home, 1 June 1974
Photograph: Government Press Office

 

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

British reports on Hassan Salameh, an Arab terrorist leader killed in the War of Independence


Hassan Salameh (indicated by the arrow). Published in the Egyptian magazine "Al Musawar" on 12.1.1948 with the caption "The hero Hassan Salameh; Commander of the Southern front" (Wikipedia)

On June 2, 1948, Hassan Salameh, the commander of a Palestinian military organization in the Lydda and Ramle area, died of his wounds suffered while leading an attack on May 31 against members of the IZL (Irgun Tsvai Leumi or Irgun, the right wing Jewish resistance movement that fought the British Mandate government) who were holding the settlement of Rosh Ha'ayin. Today, 67 years after his death, the Israel State Archives is publishing some documents of the British Criminal Investigation Department (CID) concerning Hassan Salameh (File P 3056/56 in the Archives).

According to the CID documents, Salameh was born in the village of Qula in the Lydda district (not far from the city of Modi'in today) sometime between 1910 and 1912 (the exact year is not clear). From 1937 on, he participated in terror attacks during the Great Arab Revolt of 1936-1939 against British rule. Among his actions was an attack on a train near Ramle on October 14 1937, and he was wounded during the attack. After the failure of the revolt, Salameh escaped from Palestine and arrived in Rome after the beginning of the Second World War, while staying in contact with the leader of the revolt, Hajj Amin al-Husseini (who arrived in Berlin after the failure of the Iraqi pro-Axis insurrection in 1941). On October 1944, German Intelligence parachuted a team of saboteurs composed of German and Arab agents near Jericho, in an operation code named ATLAS. The saboteurs planned, among other missions, to poison the springs in Rosh Ha'ayin, which delivered water to Tel Aviv. Part of the team was caught in a large manhunt conducted by the British security forces (led by the commander of the Jericho police, Faiz Bey al-Idrissi, the highest ranking Arab officer in the Palestine Police) but two managed to run away – Salameh and a German, originally from the German Templar community in Palestine named Deiniger. In the British CID files we find two documents regarding the affair: The first from October 31, 1944 and the second dated November 3, 1944.
 
Three weeks after fighting between Jews and Arabs broke out in Palestine which eventually led to the war of Independence, on December 22 1947, the superintendent of police in the Lydda district was asked by the district commissioner for information on Salameh, described as "one of the two most active trouble-makers in the country at present" (he doesn’t mention who the other "trouble-maker" is). The CID replied on December 30, sending a full brief on Salameh and an attached letter. One of the interesting facts arising from the brief (paragraph 8) is that in 1939, after escaping to Syria, Salameh offered his services to the British whom he had been fighting , but they declined his offer.

Salameh's son, Ali Hassan Salameh (1940-1979) joined the FATAH organization and during the 1970s led the "Black September" organization, which conducted a series of murderous terror attacks against Israel. The most notorious of the operations was the attack and murder of the Israeli sportsmen in the Munich Olympics in September 1972. In January 1979, Ali Hassan Salameh was assassinated in Beirut.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The End of World War II in Europe: Wartime Letters from Chaim Herzog to Family and Friends



This May we mark the 70th anniversary of the surrender of Nazi Germany and the end of the Second World War in Europe. Last year we published a post on a letter sent in May 1945 by Israel's future president, Lieutenant Chaim (Vivian) Herzog, to his parents, while serving as an intelligence officer in the British army. Here we bring you more of Herzog's wartime letters in English which were collected for the commemorative volume issued by the Archives.
Chaim Herzog and his brother Yaakov
with their father in Germany, June 1946
Israel State Archives
In the summer of 1938 Herzog, born in Belfast when his father, Rabbi Isaac (Yitzhak) Herzog, was serving as chief rabbi of Ireland, went to England to study law. When World War II broke out in 1939 he was not conscripted, but after qualifying as a barrister in 1942 he joined the British Army. You can read the letter he sent to his parents and brother Yaacov here. He signed it "Vivian", the name by which he was known in the Army, as Chaim was hard to pronounce.

In June 1944 the allied armies invaded Normandy. Herzog too was sent to France and searched for members of his family who had managed to survive the Holocaust. He wrote to his parents about a visit to them in Paris in November 1944 and about his attempts to obtain news of his cousin Annette Goldberg, who died in Auschwitz. In December 1944 he took part in the Allied invasion of Germany and in April 1945 he wrote to his parents from Brussels about celebrating – or rather not celebrating – the Pesach holiday in occupied Germany.   Soon afterwards Herzog wrote to his family on "the morning of the first day of peace in Europe" (May 8) after the surrender of the German forces in the Weser-Elbe peninsula.

After the German surrender Herzog joined the British military government, and on 1 January 1946 he wrote to his old friend Yehoshua (Justus) Justman that he had managed to find Justman's relative Ruth, who had survived. In another letter from September 1946 he described celebrating the New Year in the Belsen D.P. camp which had now become the centre of Jewish life in the British occupied zone. He complained that the German style rabbi sent over from England had failed to rise to the occasion - "Rosh Hashanah before Musaph in a shattered community", and gave a dry sermon, adding in Yiddish "A German [Jew] remains a German."
Chaim Herzog and his mother, Rabbanit Sarah Herzog, in Palestine, 1945
Photograph: David Eldan, Government Press Office Collection
 

Chaim Herzog reached the rank of major, and the experience and knowledge acquired during his service helped him when he became the head of intelligence in the new Israeli army in 1948, and served again in the post in 1959-1961.
   

Monday, February 16, 2015

Google at the Israel State Archives

Google is really good at finding stuff on the Internet; as time passes, it gets ever better at finding the precise stuff we're looking for, and also offering us other related stuff we hadn't actually asked for yet but now that you mention it, hey, that's cool!

Now imagine the Israel State Archives, with literally hundreds of millions of pages of documents the public has never seen. Then imagine the ISA intends putting it all online. Having Google-like abilities to search for the precise needle in the haystack that will be what you need would be a cool thing.

Then keep in mind that the ISA really does intend to launch a new website with the first few millions of pages of scanned documents later this year (2015); and that from then on it intends to add additional collections (or fonds, if you prefer the hi-falutin archival terminology) on an ongoing basis.

You begin to see why the ISA might be interested in having in-house capabilities such as  Google knows to offer, focused specifically on our rich website.

Well, it just so happens this isn't science fiction. That yellow box pictured above is essentially the full power of Google, packed into one Yellow Box (so named because it's, well, yellow and a box). And earlier this month it was installed in the ISA system. From its perch there it will soon begin learning about the ISA materials, so as to devise useful search capabilities that will align queries with data in beneficial ways; then, when we go online it will also start observing patterns of how users behave on our website, and this should give us additional ability to offer useful search results.

It's been a while in the coming, but the ISA really is hoping to start offering a true online archives starting later this year.