Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Update on the "Campaign to Eradicate Illiteracy" Publication

Yesterday (September 9), the first part of the Hebrew publication on the Campaign to Eradicate Illiteracy was published on our Hebrew blog.

Another post in English based on a booklet published in 1965 called "School Comes to Adults" appeared on our English website.

An illustration from the booklet:
Arab fathers and sons study together

Monday, September 8, 2014

World Literacy Day, 8 September: Israel's Campaign Against Illiteracy, 1964

Today is UNESCO World Literacy Day. To mark the occasion and the 50th anniversary of the first campaign in Israel against illiteracy, the Israel State Archives presents a new publication on adult education on its Hebrew website.
When mass immigration started after the establishment of the state in 1948 , many of the newcomers came from countries with a poor educational system or had missed schooling due to World War II and other upheavals. Although efforts were made to teach them Hebrew, it was often assumed that the first generation was a "lost generation" who would manage as best they could; their children would be educated and know Hebrew well.
 In 1961 a second wave of mass immigration began, mainly from North Africa and Romania. In the same year a census was held for the first time since 1948. The census also measured the level of education of Israel's citizens and showed that illiteracy was a serious problem, affecting almost a quarter of a million adults aged 14 and up. Over 162,000 could not read or write at all in any language, two thirds of them women. 96 thousand were semi-literate (defined as those who had attended up to 4 grades of elementary school). At the time there was free compulsory education only up to age 14.Most of the illiterate came from Asia and Africa, but there were also 20,000 illiterate people and 50,00 semi-literate people from Eastern Europe. Illiteracy was also found in the Israeli Arab community, which had lost much of its educated classes when they fled abroad during the war in 1948.
On the initiative of Education Minister Zalman Aranne, it was decided to take action against illiteracy and to teach Hebrew to adults. In January 1964, the "Campaign to Eradicate Illiteracy" was launched, which continued into the 1970s. The first head of the campaign was Yitzhak Navon, then head of the Culture Unit in the Education Ministry and later Israel's fifth president. The participation of women soldiers was organized by Colonel Stella Levy , commander of the Women's Corps of the IDF.
Yitzhak Navon watches a mother of ten learning to read, 1 May 1964
Photograph: Government Press Office
The subject of tension between the Mizrachi immigrants (from Asia and Africa) and the old established, mostly Eastern European veteran population, which was in charge of absorbing them, is a sensitive one, even in Israel today. Navon came from an old established Sefardi family from Jerusalem, while Levy was born in Syria. The Campaign to Eradicate Illiteracy is an example of the efforts made as early as the 1960s to help the immigrants to improve their economic situation and social status and to overcome the gap which had opened up between them and their own children.  
Soldier teaching women students in their home.
Photograph: IDF Archives
Women soldiers doing their compulsory service, who volunteered to teach students in remote settlements where illiteracy was very high, played an important part in the programme. The soldiers were given a short preparatory course and further instruction at intervals. The documents in our collection shows that they learned about teaching reading and writing and how to prepare a lesson,  but also about the history and culture of the Jews in the Middle East.
The full publication, which includes 30 documents, photographs, films and a map, most of them presented to the public for the first time, will appear over the next few days. 

Monday, September 1, 2014

Temporarily shutting down the Israel State Archives

"The Jews Stand By Great Britain and Will Fight on the Side of the Democracies" : 75 Years Since the Outbreak of the Second World War, 1 September 1939

Over the last few months, archivists, historians and the media have been preoccupied with the 100th anniversary of the First World War. However, this week also marks the 75th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War, which had such devastating consequences for the Jewish people.

At the time the Zionist movement faced a major clash with the British government. In May 1939 Britain issued a White Paper severely restricting Jewish immigration to Palestine and Jews' right to buy land, as part of its efforts to end the Arab revolt and to win Arab support in the coming war with Germany.  This decision condemned masses of Jews trapped in Europe, who might have found refuge in Palestine, to persecution and later to death. Nevertheless Chaim Weizmann, the president of the World Zionist Organization, realized that if Britain was going to fight Nazi Germany, the Jews could not stand aside. They would have to support it and even to join the British Army.

In August 1939 the Zionist Congress was held in Geneva. In his speech to the Congress Weizmann harshly criticized the British government for its betrayal of the Mandate and the Jewish people. On 22 August news arrived of the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact between the USSR and Germany, making the invasion of Poland possible. The Congress was hastily wound up, and, as the borders closed, Weizmann and his family returned to London.
Slogan on a German troop train on its way to Poland
 "We're going to Poland to thrash the Jews"
Photograph: Yad Vashem
 On 29th August he wrote to Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain to  confirm previous declarations "that the Jews stand by Great Britain and will fight on the side of the democracies…The Jewish Agency has recently had differences in the political field with the Mandatory Power. We would like these differences to give way before the greater and more pressing necessities of the time." You can see this document in the ISA's commemorative volume (in Hebrew) on Chaim Weizmann, who became Israel's first president.

Weizmann and the heads of the Zionist movement saw recruitment to the Army as a duty, but also hoped to form a Jewish fighting force which would pay political dividends after the war. This hope was only partially realized. Nevertheless Palestine played an important role in the British war effort in the Middle East and the ISA holds many files of the Mandatory Government on wartime production, emergency organization and related subjects. We'll show you some of these another time.

Weizmann and his wife Vera paid a heavy price during the war, when they lost their son, Michael, a pilot in the Royal Air Force, who failed to return from an operational flight over the Bay of Biscay in February 1942. Weizmann's other son Benjamin served as an anti-aircraft gunner in England and suffered a breakdown from which he never fully recovered.

Michael Weizmann in RAF uniform
 Photograph: Yad Chaim Weizmann,Weizmann Archives, Rehovot, Israel

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Operation Betzer: An Operation Against Shirkers and Deserters in Israel's War of Independence

On August 22, 1948, the IDF initiated Operation Betzer (Strength), which took place during the "Second Truce" in Israel's War of Independence (a truce organized by the UN from July 18 – October 15, 1948). The target of the operation was not one of the invading Arab armies, but rather citizens in Tel Aviv, or more accurately: shirkers and deserters.

As it is today, in the ongoing public debate on "carrying the burden" (service in the army vs. avoiding military service), Tel Aviv was regarded as the center of shirking and avoidance of military service. During the Second Lebanon War in 2006, the head of the manpower branch of Israel's General Staff, Maj. Gen. Elazar Stern, was quoted as saying "In those [Tel Aviv] houses there is no bereavement, hardly any." The reality is more complex, as usual. But Tel Aviv, being a most central and celebrated city in Israel, attracts more attention, and any display of shirking is intensified and enlarged. (The geography of residence of the fallen in the current military operation, "Protective Edge," shows that casualties in fact came from every part of Israeli society.)

These feelings were far more intensified during the desperate days of the War of Independence. The existence of draft dodgers, while the Yishuv was literally fighting for its life, was regarded as a threat to the cohesion of the Jewish population. In his book, Social Mobilization in the Arab/Israeli War of 1948: On the Israeli Home Front, the Israeli historian Moshe Naor described the background of the unusual military operation, Betzer, which aimed to combat this phenomenon.

The story began in December 1947, when the "Center of the Census for Popular Service" was formed. This institution spelled the end of voluntary enlistment to the different underground movements and the beginning of compulsory enlistment, and the formation of a large conscript army. This center was responsible for the fact that the Yishuv managed to build an army of 100,000 soldiers out of a population of 650,000 in 1948, a force that was augmented with an addition of 15,000 volunteers from MAHAL (Jews from other countries, many WWII veterans from the USA, South Africa, Britain and Canada) and GAHAL (Foreign enlistment – Jews from the displaced camps in Europe and the internment camps in Cyprus).

On August 22, 1948, Operation Betzer commenced. It was executed by troops from the "Kiryati" brigade (then a Haganah brigade, formed from recruits from the Tel Aviv area), soldiers of the military police, the Women's Corps, the Guard Force (a stationary military unit of the Haganah that was responsible for guarding the Jewish villages), navy sailors and volunteers from the civil guard. The Tel Aviv area was put under curfew, roadblocks were erected and all entering and leaving Tel Aviv had to present their papers to the soldiers. All men from the ages 17 – 50 and women in the ages 16 – 35 were called to present themselves at different identification posts, which were spread across Tel Aviv. More than 150 search details scanned the city in search of shirkers and deserters.

2794 citizens were arrested in the operation (1044 men and 1720 women). 652 men and 352 women were sent immediately to mobilization. 189 men and 1365 women had their induction postponed and 203 men and 3 women were arrested as deserters. The operation sparked great criticism in Tel Aviv because it displayed it as a city of draft evaders, and the way the operation was handled reminded many of the British army sweeps during the British Mandate's war against the Jewish underground movements. There was also a claim that using an army for this kind of operation would distance it from the general public. (David Ben Gurion raised this concern, in his war diary in the entry on September 5, 1948.)

Here are some photos of the operation, taken by Benno Rothenberg (learn more about him at Haifa University's site):

Aside from these photos, we found the Betzer operation in another place in the archive: inside foreign passports, as part of the Israel State Archives collection of passports, travel documents and identity cards. Inside one of these passports we found the stamp of Operation Betzer.

The Israel State Archives holds a collection of passports, travel documents and identity cards from different countries in the world. The source of this collection may have come from the immigration department of the British mandate in Palestine. The regular procedure to receive citizenship in British-mandated Palestine was relinquishment of one's former citizenship and passport. This procedure held during the first years of the state of Israel until 1951, when this requirement was nullified.

The collection was transferred to the archives from the Ministry of Interior during the 80s. It is only a sample collection and does not include all the passports handed over to the Ministry of Interior. Most of the documents were destroyed by the Ministry of Interior. We also know that many did not hand over their passports when they received Israeli citizenship--and kept them.

We have published in the past a gallery of different passports including the passport of Rudolf Kastner, with the permission of his granddaughter, MK Merav Michaeli.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Dramatic Decisions During the First Lebanese War: Ariel Sharon's Authority is Curtailed, 12 August 1982

In the summer of 1982, 32 years ago, Israel was also involved in a military campaign against Palestinian terrorists across the border. "Operation Peace for Galilee," known today as the First Lebanese War, began on 6 June 1982. In the government discussions beforehand, Defense Minister Ariel Sharon said it would last no longer than 48 hours, and he hoped it would not cause a clash between Israel and Syrian troops in Lebanon. When it was decided to launch the operation on June 5, it was limited to an advance of 40 kilometers into Lebanon – the range of the Katyusha rockets threatening northern Israel. Chief of Staff Rafael Eitan (Raful) drew the 40 kilometer line on a map shown to the ministers before they approved the operation. But the IDF became involved in fighting with the Syrian Army and it lasted weeks which turned into months. Israel only withdrew from most of Lebanon in January 1985, leaving a small "security zone" held by the South Lebanon Army militia with Israeli help until 2000.

Defense Minister "Arik" Sharon briefs journalists on Operation Peace for Galilee, June 11, 1982. (Photograph: Yaacov Saar, Government Press Office)
The factor which disturbed a growing group of ministers in 1982 was that the area held by the IDF was moving more and more to the north until Beirut and the Beirut-Damascus road were reached, well beyond the 40 kilometer line. From time to time Sharon brought the government proposals to occupy various sections of Lebanese territory, and sometimes these proposals were rejected. But the main criticism of him was that he was presenting the government with a fait accompli, after the IDF had already moved north, seized territory and begun to lay siege to West Beirut, which was held by the PLO, a Syrian brigade and Muslim Lebanese forces.

On 8 August, after the IDF had taken Beirut airport, Deputy Prime Minister David Levy protested against the move, which had damaged the confidence of the United States in Israel and said that Prime Minister Menachem Begin was not informed beforehand. Begin replied: "I assure you, David, that I am always informed, either in advance or after the fact." We can conclude that Levy's claim that the IDF, on Sharon's orders, took Beirut airport without Begin's authority was probably correct.

On 12 August criticism of Sharon reached its height after news arrived of another IDF advance in West Beirut. After a stormy meeting, it was decided to take away some of Sharon's powers over the Air Force and the ground forces and to force him to receive advance authorization from the prime minister. The decision was supported by all the ministers except for Sharon himself and Yuval Neeman. You can read about this and other dramatic episodes during the war (in Hebrew) in the ISA's recently published volume of documents on Menachem Begin, edited by Arye Naor and Arnon Lammfromm.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Israelis Under Fire – Not For The First Time

The recent fighting in Gaza and the south of Israel (Operation "Protective Edge") is not the first time Israeli townships and villages have been attacked by artillery of different sorts. Since the 50s, Jewish communities have been targets for this kind of aggression. The Kisufim, Nirim and Ein Ha'shlosha kibbutzim were bombarded by the Egyptian army (which occupied the Gaza strip after Israel's War of Independence in 1948) in April 1956. In response, the IDF retaliated by bombarding Egyptian targets and inflicted heavy losses on the Egyptians.

After the Sinai war in October 1956, the point of friction moved to northern Israel. The Syrian army, which controlled the Golan Heights overlooking the Hula valley villages and the eastern Galilee, harassed and bombarded the settlements with heavy artillery fire, and many firefights took place in the years 1958–1967.
An Israeli artillery battery in the Galilee (Israel State Archives)
Examining the damage of an artillery shell in Tel Katzir kibbutz (GPO
One of these firefights, on April 7, 1967, deteriorated into a full battle in which the Israeli air force destroyed Syrian artillery batteries, tanks and fortified positions that had bombarded the Gadot and Eib Gev kibbutzim. When the Syrian air force tried to intervene, seven Syrian fighter planes were shot down--several over Damascus itself. Many believe that this incident was a catalyst to the entrance of the Egyptian army into Sinai on May 15, 1967, and three weeks later to the Six Day War.

Following the Six Day War, the settlements in the upper Jordan valley became victims of rocket and mortar fire from Palestinian terrorists, who turned northern Jordan into their stronghold. The Jordanian army and the Iraqi expeditionary force (based in Jordan since the Six Day War) joined in and bombarded kibbutzim such as Ashdot Ya'acov, Sha'ar Ha'golan and Masada, as well as Moshavim (villages) such as Yardena and Beit Yosef. The inhabitants of these communities spent long days and nights in bomb shelters, while the IDF retaliated with artillery fire, tank shells and air force strikes. Here's a part of a newsreel in Hebrew, showing the damage done by the Jordanian artillery and Israeli airstrikes to silence the guns.

Following the intensification of the fire, the Israeli air force bombed the bases of the Iraqi expeditionary force in northern Jordan and inflicted heavy losses. (The Iraqi government used this attack as an excuse to further harass and abuse the remaining Jews in Iraq. This harassment culminated in the hanging of nine Jews in January 1969, as we wrote about previously). The air force bombed the East Ghor Main Canal – a central water project in Northern Jordan. Following the bombings, which rendered the canal useless, King Hussein asked the USA to intervene and stop the bombings and Israel announced that it would do so if the King fought the terrorist organizations. In September 1970, the King did just that when he expelled the Palestinian terrorist organizations and ordered the Iraqi expeditionary force back to Iraq.

The next people to be shelled were the residents of Israel's northern border, especially those who bordered Lebanon. As early as 1968, Palestinian terrorists shelled Kiryat Shmona, Nahariya and other northern towns and villages.

Residents of Kiryat Shmona after a rocket attack in 1968 (Israel State Archives

Golda Meir at the funeral of Daniel Khayo, slain in a rocket attack on Kiryat Shmona in May 1970 (GPO)

The expulsion of the Palestinian terrorists from Jordan to Lebanon intensified the rate of attacks on Israel's northern border communities. The IDF retaliated in raids, artillery fire and air strikes. This situation continued through the 70s to the early 80s.

Children hide in a bomb shelter in Nahariya during a rocket attack on the city in 1979 (GPO)

Residents of Nahariya in a bomb shelter during a rocket attack in 1979 (GPO)

A direct hit in a house in Nahariya, June 1982 (Israel State Archive)

In the early 1980s, the PLO's artillery barrages on Israel's northern border escalated, after the organization started using real artillery--Soviet 130mm cannons and heavier rockets. The First Lebanon War (Operation Peace for Galilee: June 1982 – June 1985) eliminated this threat to the northern border. Later on, when the clashes with the Hezbollah terror organization intensified in southern Lebanon, the threat of rocket fire on the northern border became real again. In 1993 and 1996, in Operations "Accountability" and "Grapes of Wrath" (respectively), the IDF concentrated air and artillery strikes to stop Hezbollah from shooting rockets at northern Israel.

Clearing the rubble after a rocket attack on Kiryat Shmona, August 1993 (GPO)

After Israel's unilateral withdrawal from south Lebanon in May 2000, Hezbollah enlarged its rocket stockpile and unleashed it on the northern Israeli communities during the Second Lebanon War (July 12, 2006 – August 14, 2006). Since then, the northern border has remained quiet--aside from several incidents of rocket fire, usually from Palestinian organizations.

On January 30, 2001, an improvised rocket was shot at the Netzarim settlement near Gaza. The Hamas terror organization that fired it nicknamed it "Qassam" after the 30s gang leader Izz ad-Din al-Qassam. In April 2001, the first rocket was fired at Sderot. Since then, thousands of rockets, ever improving in payload and range, have been shot at Israel. The IDF has responded to the rockets with air strikes, artillery fire, and three major air and land operations: Operation "Cast Lead" (Dec. 12, 2008 – Jan. 18, 2009), Operation "Pillar of Defense" (Nov. 14, 2012 – Nov. 21, 2012) and the current Operation "Protective Edge" which started on July 8, 2014.

Every decade in Israel's history finds one part of the country or another under artillery fire, and all Israelis continue to share in this hard chapter of Israel's struggle for peace and quiet.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Altalena Affair - 66 years later

66 years ago, on June 22, 1948, one of the most controversial and divisive incidents in Israel's history took place – the Altalena affair. Even today, more than half a century later, the name Altalena still causes controversy and debate.

The Altalena was the name given to a former LST (Landing Ship, Tank) 138 – an American cargo ship used during WWII for landing tanks and other military supplies – purchased by members of the National Military organization (known in Hebrew as the "IZL," an acronym for Irgun Zvai Leumi) in the United States. The ship had a dual purpose – to bring to new immigrants and weapon supplies to newly-born Israel. The ship was named after the pseudonym of Ze'ev Jabotinsky (the founder of the Revisionist Zionist party - the IZL's political mother party).

The IZL planned to send the ship to Israel on May 15, Israel's first day of independence, but was delayed due to the long time it took to purchase the weapons and equipment in France and to load 900 young immigrants (who were trained by IZL instructors). The ship set out to sea at June 11. The ship's IZL commander was Eliahu Lankin and the Captain was Monroe Fein.

While the ship was en route to Israel, war raged there. On May 15, the armies of Syria, Trans-Jordan, Iraq, Egypt and Lebanon invaded Israel, a day after it declared independence. As the battles raged, the provisional government of Israel approved an order establishing the Israel Defense Forces, which included the three Jewish underground movements:  The Hagana, the IZL and LEHI (Fighters for the Freedom of Israel, known also by its British nickname "the Stern Gang"). On May 31, David Ben Gurion, Israel's prime minister, published an Order of the Day, declaring the formal establishment of the IDF, and on June 1, Yisrael Galili, Ben Gurion's assistant, and Menachem Begin, the IZL commander, signed an agreement amalgamating the latter with the IDF. The agreement specifically forbade the IZL from purchasing weapons independently. The IZL informed the government about the Altalena. However, the agreement was not implemented in Jerusalem, since it was not part of the state of Israel (according to the UN partition plan), and the IZL continued to carry on its own independent operations there.

Here are original photographs taken aboard the Altalena while she was inbound to Israel. The photos show life aboard the ship including drills and weapons training. The photos are part of Zahi Yifhar's photo collection in Israel State Archives.

Avraham Stavsky (in white shirt), Eliahu Lankin (left) aboard the Altalena. Stavsky, who was indicted for the assassination of Hain Arlossoroff in 1933 (and was acquitted) was killed aboard the Altalena

The Altalena left port for Israel on June 11th, the first day of the first cease fire in the war, and Menachem Begin sent a telegram ordering the ship to postpone its departure (in order not to violate the terms of the much needed truce), but the telegram arrived after the Altalena  was already at sea. A radio message sent to her was not received. Begin informed the Ministry of Defense of the expected arrival of the ship and negotiated distribution of the weapons. Begin wanted to deliver 20% of the ship's cargo to IZL's battalion in Jerusalem and to keep the rest in storage or distribute them among IZL's units inside the IDF.   The government objected to the idea, because it believed it could form an "army within an army" and the Israeli government was attempting to unite all of the factions inside Israel in order to create one united army under one command and government. (5 months after the Altalena affair, the government disbanded the PALMACH headquarters for this same reason). Much of the disagreement between the two sides was based on a great deal of bad blood and complete disbelief in the other side. The IZL and its political origin, the Revisionist party were regarded as "dissenters" and a threat to the Jewish community in Israel, The IZL held very painful memories of the "[Hunting] Season" in which its members   were arrested by Hagana operatives, jailed (even tortured) and given over to the British.

The Altalena arrived at the shore of Kfar Vitkin (just north of Netanya) on June 20th and started to unload weapons and the new immigrants. Although the arrival of the ship was approved by the government, Yisrael Galili (who was responsible for the negotiations with the IZL on the ship) reported that the negotiations failed and that he feared that IZL is about to start a mutiny against the government.

The government ordered the IDF to subdue the IZL, and sanctioned the use of force. On June 21st, The Alexandroni brigade encircled the Kfar Vitkin area and its commander passed an ultimatum to Begin to surrender the weapons to the IDF in 10 minutes. The IZL refused the ultimatum and continued to unload the weapons from the ship. Soon a firefight broke out, in which 2 IDF soldiers and 6 IZL men were killed. Begin escaped to the Altalena, and the ship moved south, to the shore of Tel Aviv, with Begin aboard.

The Altalena reaced to the shore of Tel Aviv on the morning of June 22nd (after being pursued by an Israeli Navy ship during the night).On that day, an emergency meeting of the provisional government was convened. Ben Gurion claimed that the Altalena was "an attempt to murder the state…the moment the Army and state surrender to another armed force, we have nothing more to do" (my translation from the protocol of the Provisional government meeting 22.6.48). Rabbi Yehuda Leib Maimon, the minister of religions called for restraint and warned that bloodshed will create an underground but cause an open rebellion [ibid.].

 However, events soon escalated and a battle erupted in which the Altalena was hit by artillery shells and started burning. Captain Fein lifted a white flag in order to stop the shooting and allow the crew and the passengers to abandon ship peacefully, but army forces kept on shooting, nevertheless. The ship sank with all its cargo. 200 members of the IZL were arrested but were freed on August 27th (except 5 leaders of the IZL) after public pressure for their release. The IZL ceased being independent and its members joined the IDF and served during the war of Independence.
The Altalena on the Frishman beach in Tel Aviv (Benno Rothenberg collection, Israel State archives)

The Altalena on fire (Benno Rothenberg collection, Israel State archives)

The Altalena on Tel Aviv beach (Benno Rothenberg collection, Israel State archives)

Begin, who abandoned ship after all the wounded were taken ashore. He managed to escape the army patrols searching for him and broadcasted in the IZL underground radio (my translation)"We knew. The ship is lost. Maybe all the rest is lost. Explosion after Explosion, we were in sea and the shells keep falling around us. All we have achieved is on fire….We will keep on loving the people of Israel and we will continue to fight for the people of Israel…but I will admit: it's the first time that I'm not sure I can convince my men, I will do everything for our people which  is in an existential threat…help me convince my men….to convince them that a brother must not raise a hand on a brother…Long live the People of Israel! Long live the Hebrew homeland! Long live the heroes of Israel – soldiers of Israel. Forever" (from Menachem Begin, the Sixth prime minister – selected documents, 1993-1992. Israel state archives)

The Altalena affair was a bone of contention between left and right for many years and a source of personal animosity between Begin and Ben Gurion until the Six day war, when Begin called for bringing Ben Gurion back from retirement to lead a national unity government.

 A recent initiative by the Begin Heritage center (and approved by the government) centers on salvaging the hulk of the Altalena (which was towed to sea and sunk after the war of Independence) and placing it as a monument on the Tel Aviv beach. This monument will help heal the wounds of the Altalena affair.