Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Basic Law: Jerusalem, 1980

We've been declassifying documents about Jerusalem in 1967. Yesterday, July 30th, was the anniversary of the 1980 Basic Law: Jerusalem.

Israel has no constitution - an interesting story for another day. What it does have, however, are a series of Basic Laws, which are intended cummulatively to make up a constitution, eventually. As the previous documents in this series have shown, at the time of the secret discussions in 1967, Menachem Begin's position was often decisive on the question of Jerusalem: where all his ministerial colleagues agreed that unified Jerusalem must be under Israeli sovereignty and must be the capital, Begin stood out in his insistance this should be declared openly and clearly. At the time, his position was not always accepted. Perhaps it's not a coincidence, then, that when he was prime minister and at the head of a coalition grounded by his party, he took the most declarative step possible, and enacted a Basic Law whereby: united Jerusalem is Israel's capital and is the seat of government; the religious freedom of the various denominations and their access to their holy sites will be preserved; and the government of Israel will take steps to ensure the development of the city.

Neither the legal status of the city nor the reality on the ground seem to have been changed by the enactment of this law, since previous laws had already achieved the same goals with lesser fanfare. In response to the legislation, the UN Security Council on August 20th 1980 passed resolution 476, which directly censured and rejected Israel's law. The resolution passed by 14 votes, with the United States abstaining. Where the Israeli law had been entirely declarative, the UNSC resolution had one practical implication. It called upon the few countries which still maintained embassies in Jerusalem to remove them, and most did. (The last two, Costa Rica and El Salvador, were removed in 2006).

In 2001 the Basic Law: Jerusalem was modified and paragraphs 5-7 were added. These determined the specific line defining Jerusalem; that no section of Jerusalem could be transfered to any foreign power; and that this law itself could be changed only by enacting a contravening Basic Law by a full majority of members of Knesset (and not be a simple majority of MKs who might be in the Chamber at the moment of enactment). These additions, obviously, were the result of the Oslo Process and its failure, and were intended to ensure that any future change to the status of Jerusalem or any part of it be the purposeful decision of a solid majority of legislators, not a decision by the government.

The city line cited in the 2001 addition to the law is the line defined back on June 28th 1967.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Keter of Aleppo

Ronen Bergman has an absolutely fascinating article on the Keter Aram Tsova, the Aleppo Codex. Keter means crown, and Aram Tsova is the Biblical name of Aleppo. As the Syrian army grinds the ancient city under its artillery and armour, it's fitting to take a moment to remember perhaps the single most important document in Jewish history, which spent some 600 of its 1,400 years there, until the local mob attacked their Jews in 1947 for the crime of being co-religionists with the Zionists. As the article tells, much of the book is now back in Jerusalem from which it was taken long before Columbus discovered America - but where is the rest of it?

Ah, you'll say, aren't the Dead Sea Scrolls even more important? Well, yes and no. Yes, in that the information they contain has transformed our understanding of 2nd Temple era Jewish life in Judea. No, in that they were then lost for about 2,000 years. The Keter was used as the authoritive Biblical text for centuries. The Crusaders stole it. The Rambam used it.

I've asked some of my colleagues to see if we've got any really interesting files on the Keter, and if so I'll report later this week. In the meantime, I seriously recommend finding the time to read Bergman's report. It's fascinating, as I've said, and it's about Aleppo, which is in the news anyway.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

July 1967: The United Nations in Jerusalem

On the 10th of July 1967 the Cabinet set up a committee to figure out what to do with the UN headquarters in Jerusalem. It was a prickly subject.

Government House was built by the British at the beginning of the 1930s, and opened in 1933.
According to Noam Dvir, a reporter for Haaretz who was recently there with a photographer, it's one of the most impressive buildings in Jerusalem. If you read Hebrew, I recommend his report. If you don't, I recommend the many photographs in the report. The ocasion for his article was the intention of the UN to invest millions of dollars in a major renovation of the building. From which you understand that the UN owns the building.

This was not always obvious. It was built for the British High Commissioner, before there was a United Nations. At the end of the 1948 war, neither the Israelis nor the Jordanians controlled the highest hill in southern Jerusalem on which it stands, and when the city was divided it remained in no-mans-land, the only remnant, perhaps, of the idea of a Corpus Separandum.

In the summer of 1967, when Israel decided to annex Jerusalem, the UN headquarters at Government House posed a problem. On the one hand, as Moshe Dayan told his fellow ministers, we can't say we're the sovereign in Jerusalem without behaving as a sovereign, and that includes agreeing with the UN on the status of their building in our sovereign territory. On the other hand, as Justice Minister Yaakov Shimshon Shapira and others recognized, the UN was hardly about to sign an agreement with Israel accepting the building for its use, since that would entail UN recognition. And so the ministers went back and forth, seeking a resolution which would satisfy all sides. Eventually they decided to write the UN Secretary General that Israel was putting the building and its gardens (but not the large surrounding area) at the disposal of the UN, and would not insist on a contract or even an official confirmation. We know all this because we've just declassified the stenogram of the meeting, which took place on the morning of July 10th 1967.

Menachem Begin alone insisted that the letter say specifically that the Israeli government was putting "its building" at the disposal of the UN. The following morning there was a vote on his version in the full cabinet, and he lost.

The document of July 10th is in file א-7910/30
The document of July 11 in in file ג-12796/12

Pictures of the Holy Land

Here's a sister blog, so to speak, at which they present a daily photo of the Holy Land from the collections of the Library of Congress, along with annotations or other interesting comments. Today's pictures deal with Tisha B'Av, the 9th day of Av, on which we commemorate the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem (today). No, the Library of Congress doesn't have any photos of that event, but it does have photographs of the Western Wall in the 1860's, about the time Abraham Lincoln was in the White House.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Death of Eva Peron: Israel's ambassador shakes his head

Eva (Evita) Peron died 60 years ago today. The story of her precipitous rise from abject poverty to the pinnacle of power, from anonymity to immortality, and her death at the age of 33, give her story mythical proportions - and of course, we've all encountered the musical with her name.

During her short life and for decades thereafter, however, she was an intensely polarizing figure, loved or hated with fierce intensity. This polarization was so extreme that it caused Yaacov Zur, the acting Israeli ambassador to Argentina, to send back to his superiors two almost contradictory reports about the events after her death.

On August 4th 1952, Zur criticised his superiors in the Foreign Ministry: we (Israel) should have done more than we did, as the Argentinian government, media and public are keeping track of the international responses. Intially the Israeli embassy responded to Evita's death on its own, but in spite of our repeated entreaties, there was no adequate response from home; eventually we had to act as if we were receiving condolence cables even though we weren't. Political considerations aside, it should have been possible to respond with greater human empathy to such a tragic death of a young woman.

The very next day Zur sent his description of the mourning and mass psychosis - or was it, as he seemed to imply, cynical manipulated political spectacle? He described the anguish of masses of the poor, who regarded Evita as their guardian mother and saint, and her death as a cataclysmic event, with the hospitals full of hysterical women.
And yet, as it happens in this country with its incessant propaganda, the genuine mourning has been transformed into a demonstration of vulgarity and idolatry. Every day the media spreads additional harebrained commemoration schemes and no-one dares point out their ludicrousness. Altars are set up to her on street corners, schools and hospitals. Factory workers and restaurant waiters put down their tools and stand in her memory a quarter hour every hour. The minister of education has decreed that government announcements about her be read in every school every day. The minister of health has ordered a gigantic 100-kg candle that will burn for a hundred years, and he will put it out and re-light it every day at the hour of her death. [This seems not to be happening today]. The under-minister of propaganda has decreed that the daily news will be at 8:25, not 8:30, because that was the hour of her death. The Tango has been outlawed until further notice. And of course, one of the unions sent a telegram to the Vatican demanding her Cannonisation...

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Summer 1967: Jerusalem uniting?

In previous posts, I've looked at Israeli government discussions in June and July 1967 about how to join the two separate halves of Jerusalem. In future posts, I'll return to the topic since there's much to be said about it. Today, however, we'll jump forward in time, to the other end of that summer, and some initial attempts to sum up the first events.

On September 5 1967, the Economic Department of Israel's Foreign Ministry sent out a circular to the various embassies (here, in Hebrew) covering two reports recently written in English for representative of the UN about the situation in Jerusalem. The package's cover letter underlined, for the benifit of the ambassadors, that Israel wasn't claiming that no damage had been caused in East Jerusalem during or since the war. Rather, it maintained that while there had been dislocation and interruptions to normal life, things were now returning to normal, and that for the traders of East Jerusalem the advantages of integrating into the large Israeli market were already beginning to outweigh the costs.

The double report (in English) focuses on two fields of activity. The first gives an overview of commercial activity in Jerusalem: All the shops in East Jerusalem are open, and many are attracting Israeli patrons. (Store owners in West Jerusalem are grumbling about their loss of business.) Stocks are being renewed through Israel. Fruit and vegetables come in, as previously, from the West Bank. The Israeli authorites are assisting East Jerusalem traders in navigating their way through Israeli bureacracy. (Ha! Fat chance. --Ed.) Taxes in East Jerusalem, income and municipal, will be equal to taxes in West Jerusalem. In this context, the report claims that though the new East Jerusalem taxes will be higher than under Jordanian rule, the services will also be better. Water supply, for example: under Jordanian rule, water was piped into Jerusalem once or twice a week; under Israeli rule, there's water all the time.

The second report focuses on tourism. Its thesis is that tourism to East Jerusalem under Jordanian rule was cumbersome (it required diverse licenses), was generally not allowed to include travel to sites in Israel, and Jews were not allowed in at all; since the unification under Israeli rule, all these limitations have been removed. In addition, the Israeli authorities are encouraging East Jerusalem hoteliers to make use of Israeli loans and support. The report includes an (English language) Jordanian document stipulating who may or may not enter Jerusalem and under what conditions. It also includes a letter from an East Jerusalem hotelier listing those of his colleagues who wish to join the Israel Hotel Association.

More names to faces, please

Last Wednesday we began asking our online audience to help us identify people who appear in pictures we've got in our collections. By Sunday we had published the first results, which were more interesting than we'd dared to hope.

So, today being Wednesday once more, here's the next installment: five men photographed by Benno Rothenburg. Rothenburg, a well-known photographer of Israel's early years, made aliya from Germany in the 1930s; the collection of his photos in the ISA covers 1947-1951.






Personally, I think Mr 7 and Mr 8 are the same person, but I've been proven wrong on more important things in the past so who knows.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Oy, how embarassing. But also funny.

Archives are serious business. Except when they're not.

Many years ago some fellow in some ministry packed up lots of files into boxes and sent them to the State Archives. Since the files were classified, no-one ever ordered them. This morning a staff member of the declassification department ordered the box so as to go over its files. There they were, untouched after all these years... along with some unexpected items:
Ah, in case you didn't know: If you take a plastic bottle and set it aside for decades, eventually there will be a bit of evaporation, and the bottle will begin to shrink. This is the kind of thing one can learn in archives.

40 Years Since the Expulsion of Soviet Advisers from Egypt: The Riddle of the Sphinx

The election of the new president of Egypt, Mohamed Morsi, has again focused attention on the future of Egypt and its relations with Israel. In the past, Mr. Morsi's party attacked the peace treaty Egypt signed with Israel in 1979, but upon his election, Morsi declared that Egypt would honor all international agreements.

The uncertainty about Egypt's future course recalls the checkered history of its relations with Israel. Forty years ago, President Anwar el-Sadat made a sudden and dramatic move when he expelled 20,000 Soviet advisers from Egypt on July 18, 1972. In hindsight, this step can be seen as the beginning of Egypt's move away from the Soviet orbit and towards rapprochement with the United States of America. At the time, Israel believed that the move would weaken Egypt militarily, and this belief strengthened the view that war with Egypt was unlikely in the near future. Only a minority wondered if the step would make war more likely by untying Sadat's hands.

The Prime Minister of Israel at the time, Golda Meir, took the opportunity to call on Sadat, in a speech in the Knesset, Israel's Parliament, to adopt a new policy of peace. "I appeal to the President of Egypt as the leader of a great people, a people with an ancient heritage, whose future is ahead of it, with all the feeling of responsibility which must beat in the heart of a responsible leader. Is it not meet [sic] that we decide to halt today and to strike out on a new path, never to return to the course which has led to death, destruction and frustration, without bringing peace?"

In this speech, Meir also refers to the contacts between Egypt and Israel through the United States on a limited agreement to open the Suez Canal and other steps towards peace, contacts which so far had failed to yield broader results. In a letter to the Chancellor of West Germany, Willy Brandt--published here for the first time--Meir analyzes the situation in Egypt after the expulsion of the advisers.

She describes Israel's willingness to make concessions and asks Brandt, an anti-Nazi and fellow Socialist who had close ties with Israeli Labor party leaders, to help Israel and to prevent other European leaders from interfering in the negotiations. Finally, Meir expresses the hope that Sadat would decide on direct negotiations with Israel. This hope was to be realized only in 1977, after another round of fighting between the two nations.

Monday, July 23, 2012

60 Years Since Israel's First Olympic Appearance -- and a Government Inquiry into its Performance

Remember that part in the movie Airplane where the old woman asks the stewardess for something light to read and gets a pamphlet entitled "Jewish Sports Legends"? Well, the coming London Olympics marks the 60th anniversary of Israel's first appearance in the Games, an event that added some substance to the annals of Jewish athleticism. A good description of the debut Israeli team in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics appeared in Israel Hayom last week (in Hebrew).

That first appearance was followed by another kind of Israeli sport, so to speak - a Committee of Inquiry. Prime Minister David Ben Gurion, influenced by an uproar in the Israeli media over the (under)performance of the Israeli delegation (consider this article entitled in Hebrew "These are the transgressions of Helsinki" - a deliberate evocation of the condemnations of the biblical Prophet Amos), launched the committee to evaluate the performance of the Israeli team and its relations with the Jewish community in Helsinki.

The committee concluded that the overall performance of the delegation had been satisfactory, considering the fact that it was Israel's first Olympic Games and that out of the 70 delegations that competed, only 30 countries won medals. Israel's failure to do so, then, was not exceptional. The committee recommended more government investment in sports education in Israel, including the training of more athletic instructors at the newly-founded Wingate Institute, Israel's sports college. The Israel Olympic committee later published a communique regarding the findings of the Committee of Inquiry (which you can read in Hebrew).

This post has an interesting real-world backstory: the original idea for it came after we provided the Prime Minister's office with the two documents mentioned above (the Committee of Inquiry's report and the Israel Olympic committee's communique) for reference during Prime Minister Netanyahu's meeting with this year's Israeli Olympic team. We convinced the Prime Minister's press office that the story of Israel establishing a Committee of Inquiry after an Olympics would make for a fun anecdote. The Prime Minister evidently agreed, as those of you who can follow the Hebrew can see here a minute into his remarks to the team.

By the way, you may be wondering why Israel only first competed in the Olympics in 1952, and not 1948. In 1948, as in 2012, the Games were held in London. Israel, however, was barred from participating due to the assertion of the British Foreign Office that "as the state of Palestine does not exist any more, you have no right to participate." The Israeli Olympic Commission tried to convince the Israeli Foreign Ministry to intervene, but Foreign Minister Moshe Sharett believed that the time was not right for a diplomatic effort on this matter. With the recent row between Israel and the BBC over the broadcaster failing to acknowledge Jerusalem as Israel's capital, it seems that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The joys of crowdsourcing or: If it looks like Herzl, maybe it is

Last week we launched an experimental project of putting online old photos we've got lying around in boxes, in the hope that someone out there knows more about the people in them than we do. We scanned five pictures, put them up, and waited.

Four days.

That was all it took for the first two identifications. Perhaps not surprisingly, it turns out the fellows in the old photos in the dusty boxes in the State Archives are actually figures of some historical significance. Not that we'd have had any problem in learning that they were "merely" somebody's grandparents, mind you, but it just so happens that their names already appear in the archives, only we didn't know enough to connect the faces to the names.

First there's the distinguished-looking tall man with the Herzlian beard.

He was Dr. Yitzchak (Isidor) Schalit, 1871-1954. Born in the Ukraine, he spent a number of years in Vienna, where he served as the personal secretary of... Theodore Herzl. In 1938 the Nazis took over Austria, and he escaped to Mandatory Palestine.

The second man our readers identified for us was Prof. Josef Klausner, (1875-1958).
Klausner was a famous Jerusalem historian, who wrote about messianism and Jesus among other things. He was an important supporter of the right-wing Revisionist movement headed by Ze'ev Jabotinsky. His neighbor, the Nobel literature laureate Shai Agnon, wrote acidly about him in one of his novels. His nephew, Amoz Oz, wrote about him at some length in his monumental Tale of Love and Darkness - and if you haven't ever read that book, shame on you.

The funny thing about identifying Klausner's picture is that if only we had thought of it, we could have recognized him from his pictures on his (Hebrew) Wikipedia page. For that, however, we'd have had to know whose picture it was...

Thursday, July 19, 2012

1949: Promoting Large Families, Jewish and Arab

63 years ago today, on July 19th 1949, Israel's cabinet made two important decisions. The first was to bring the remains of Theodor Herzl from his grave in Vienna to a final resting place in Jerusalem. The second was to encourage families to have more children by granting a sum of 100 lirot to any family with 10 living children.

To partake in this pro-natal program, eligible families would fill out a form listing their children. Here's the form of a family originally from Aden (in Yemen) with 12 children, ages 6 to 31, three of them already married. Another registered family had 11 children, seven of whom had been born in Baghdad, and the youngest four in Haifa. And here's another family, all born in Jerusalem, later living mostly in Petach Tikva, with all 11 children married except for the youngest (who was widowed at the age of 26). We're not certain this already well-established family was the sort the government had in mind.

The initial estimation of the program's accountants was that there would be about 100 eligible families: they had already identified 40 families, expected another 30 to come forward immediately, and projected that by the end of the year another 30 eligible families would have been found. Beyond that estimate, there was the question of Israel's Arabs. Their families too would be eligible, but the official in Prime Minister David Ben Gurion's office did not have any idea how many of them there were; should their number be larger than expected, he reserved the right to come back for additional funding. In this letter, penned by someone in the Prime Minster's secretariat to the military governor of Jaffa, the author explains how Arab women should fill out the form, in Hebrew if possible, and while presenting the ID cards of their children.

The program provoked a range of reactions. Some were strongly in favor, others more critical. This fellow thought the policy was a wonderful idea, but wondered if there was a way to augment it: what Israel really needed, he argued, was for its wealthier families to have ten children because this would make for larger numbers of well-off citizens and all the concommittant advantages. The problem, of course, was that wealthy people wouldn't be influenced by a mere 100 lirot incentive. The only thing that might entice them, suggests the respondent, is a total tax exemption.

The policy remained in place until the enactment of Israel's social security child support policy in 1959.

Golda Meir's "Popular Housing Scheme" Arouses Political Passions, July 1951

People in Israel today are again asking whether the government should be involved in building public housing. Many recall the government's herculean efforts to provide housing for all citizens in the early years of the state. In this post, we recount some of the story of the Popular Housing (Shikun Amami) plan of 1951, a linchpin of those early efforts. (For further primary source material, see the ISA website.)

In the early 1950s, immigrants arriving in Israel were housed in immigrant camps and ma'abarot (transit camps). They created enormous demand for housing, which was already in short supply. Despite serious budgetary problems, the government spent large sums on public housing, mostly built by the Ministry of Labor.

In apportioning this housing, Minister of Labor Golda Meir gave preference to those in need and to immigrants over "private houses or other magnificent buildings on Mt. Carmel." This policy left much of the veteran population without proper housing and many young couples could not find a home. They complained about discrimination and the government's failure to help them. "I am a sub-tenant living in one room with no facilities at all, I cannot make myself breakfast or supper in the kitchen or even take a bath," a nurse wrote to the Ministry of Labor.

Surveying this discontent, the ruling party Mapai (Labor) feared that it would lose seats in elections to the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, which were coming up in July 1951. And so in May 1951, the government decided on a program of public housing for all--the Popular Housing Scheme--which was rushed out on the eve of the elections. The government promised to build 48,000 high quality apartments in four years in all parts of the country, to be allocated by lottery among those in the worst housing conditions. 10% of the apartments were set aside for people who married during the program. The government would give the purchasers a mortgage of 700 lirot for 10 years.

Much publicity was given to the plan and it was very popular. Mapai's opponents attacked it as a political ploy and the press, except for the Labor daily Davar, called it "an election bluff." Ma'ariv editor Azriel Carlebach called on the public not to be seduced by the "deceitful" plan (a pun on the word "amami") and not to register for it. Labor countered by arguing that the scheme had become the target of the Right, "which has never approved of government building schemes which remove housing from the sphere of the 'free market.'"

As its opponents had warned, after a few months, the plan ran into trouble due to problems in finding suitable land and a growing shortage of building materials. Moreover, the government's new economic plan in 1952 caused a rise in building costs. The price of the apartments and mortgages were raised and many individuals cancelled their registration. The plan ended in 1955, helping only 13,000 families. Nevertheless, it served as the basis for later plans, which enabled tens of thousands of families to buy homes with government assistance.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Do You Know Who I Am?

Starting today, the Israel State Archives is embarking on a new project: every week, we will publish several pictures online and ask for the public's help in identifying the people, events and places depicted in them. This week, we ask our readership to assist us in understanding the pictures below, part of Benno Rothenberg's photo collection which was entered into the archives in 1970. Rothenberg, who came to Israel on aliya during the 30s, was one of the leading photographers in Israel during its early years. His collection in the archives dates from 1947-1951.l

If you recognize the people in the pictures or can tell us something about the event being photographed, please comment on this post or let us know through the email address that appears to the right and we will publish it for the benefit of the public.l

Thank you and good luck to us all! l


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Jewish Law in Jerusalem

Yesterday, we put online the declassified transcript of the cabinet discussion about enacting Israeli law in east Jerusalem after the Six Day War (two days after, to be precise). For the sake of completeness and context, here's the record of the earlier government discussion that took place regarding Israeli-controlled west Jerusalem from August 1, 1948.

Back in 1947, the United Nations had authorized the partition of Mandatory Palestine, leaving Jerusalem and Bethlehem outside both states as a Corpus Separatum. But in reality, none of the warring sides had much interest in Jerusalem being internationalized, whatever that might mean. So once the Jordanians and the Israelis understood that the line between their forces in Jerusalem was likely to be there for quite a while, each side moved to formalize their domination over their part of town. The provisional Israeli government deliberated the method of this enactment on August 1 1948, and chose what it deemed to be the politically safe middle ground between a minor announcement by a military governor and a major proclamation by the Prime Minister: the Defense Minister decreed that in order to maintain normal civilian life in Jerusalem, the laws of the State of Israel would apply to any territory controlled by his forces. (Now, it just so happened that the Defense Minister shared his name and his mane of white hair with Prime Minister David Ben Gurion.)

And thus, 1,878 years after the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans, Jews once again applied their laws to (part of) Jerusalem.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Towards the annexation of Jerusalem: June 12th 1967

A few weeks before we activated this blog, we put online the transcript of the discussions in Israel's Cabinet on June 18-19th, 1967. (Documents here, discussion of their content here). That document has been known for years but never been seen online. Today we're presenting a document which has just been declassified for publication: a meeting of a Cabinet subcommittee on June 12th, two days after the end of the Six Day War.

Surveying the scene at the close of the war, one thing just about all Israelis agreed upon was that Jerusalem must never again be divided, and must remain united as Israel's capital. And so, the day after the war, the Cabinet decided (Decision 536) to appoint a subcommittee with the revealing title "Committee of Ministers to Determine the Status of United Jerusalem."

With a name like that, what was there left to talk about?

The main issue was not if, but how. Back in 1948, Israel had been careful not to make a show of exerting its writ (legal authority) to the western Israeli-controlled part of Jerusalem for fear of provoking actions of internationalization. (We've already mentioned this here and here.) Some of the participants in the June 12th dicussion were in favor of duplicating this low key policy in East Jerusalem, perhaps by having the Minister of Defense quietly publish a decree about East Jerusalem being under Israel's jurisdiction. They feared any Israeli fanfare would rouse Vatican pressure to internationalize the city, although they recognized that the Muslim world was against the idea.

Most of the participants, however, disliked this proposal, for various reasons. Some felt it important to pass an openly declarative law that would clarify Israel's determination never to leave Jerusalem. Others, most prominently Yaacov Shimshon Shapira, the Minister of Justice who was chairing the meeting, saw no need for declarative shows, but did think Israeli control of the city should be enacted by law, not by administrative stealth. Otherwise, they warned, some wise-alecs would move to the east of the city and refuse to pay taxes. These policymakers were also worried about the legal implications of individuals and institutions moving back to where they had been before 1948 with no clear legal framework to govern them. Shapira summed up his position by noting that while not everyone accepted the Israeli position that Jerusalem is Israel's capital
...and most of the foreign diplomats don't come to Jerusalem, or they come only at night but not in clear daylight, I've given up on solving that problem. I don't care if even ten years from now the French or even the American ambassador doesn't come to Jerusalem for our Independance Day celebration. I can live without them and I don't need their declaration that they accept Jerusalem as our capital. What I need to do now is to unify the city, to unify the Old City and the Mount of Olives and Mount Scopus. By the way, I haven't yet had the time to go look for my father's grave on the Mount of Olives. I don't want to touch Bethlehem, which is as ancient a city as Jerusalem on its own right. If I remember correctly, the Bible mentions Bethlehem even before Jerusalem.
Menachem Begin: Yes, and Hebron is also mentioned earlier.
Shapira: Hebron, no question.
Begin: As Kiryat Arba.
Shapira: That I can't say; I'd have to look in Rashi. But the Bible was written before Rashi.
(Secular Israeli politicians today rarely have such conversations.)

The committee agreed on a smaller group of its members who would formulate a law which would exert Israeli jurisdiction over the eastern parts of Jerusalem (the line to be defined later), with the expectation that the full cabinet would adopt it and the Knesset enact it, all within a week.

Along the way, the participants discussed other aspects of controlling Jerusalem. Zerach Wahrhaftig, Minister of Religious Affairs, was peeved that no-one had yet called in his experts, so that the various holy places were not yet open to the public; he was particularly irritated that a delegation of four Israeli Kadis (Muslim holy men) had tried to visit el Aqsa Mosque for the first time since 1948, and had been turned away by Israeli troops. Zvi Zur, the deputy Minister of Defense, assured him the Kadis would be allowed in the following Friday. Zur and everyone else agreed that the Israeli soldier who had placed an Israeli flag on the Omar Mosque on the day of the battle shouldn't have done so.

Zur also informed the meeting that IDF experts were trying to figure out what the perimeters of the city should be, and had found three different Jordanian answers. The official municipality of Jordanian Jerusalem was the Old City and a sliver of land around it, no more. But the municipality had also had some authority beyond the line, including on the Mount-Scopus/Mount-of-Olives line. And someone had dug up a Jordanian plan (which had not reached fruition) to broaden the city lines all the way north to the Calandia airport and south to the edge of Bethlehem.

Finally, there was a spirited discussion of the fact that Israeli bulldozers had knocked down the Arab Mughrabi neighborhood in front of the Western Wall. Most of those present, including Wahrhaftig who was the only religious minster, thought this had been a bad idea. Zur defended the action on technical grounds: the military commander had the authority to give the order, and he had consulted the mayor and various experts before giving it. Shapira, consistently legal-minded thoroughout the meeting, took a different view on this particular issue: he was unconvinced there was a military need to demolish the homes, but was convinced it had nonetheless been the right decision:
I have visited the Kotel tens, no, hundreds of times. I used to live in Jerusalem, and then, after I moved out I used to visit the Kotel when I came to town. It was a terrible scandal [the narrow passageway offered the Jews]... now they should make a respectable plaza there.
The document is in file ג-7/12782.

The Jewish Olympic Games

On July 27, the 2012 Olympic Games will open in London. This will be the 30th Games of the modern era, dating back to 1896 when Baron Pierre de Coubertin‏ first conceived and implemented the idea. The Zionist movement also embraced the spirit of ​​the Olympics--for Jews--in the form of the Maccabiah Games. In 1932, the first Maccabiah Games were held in Tel Aviv; the next will take place in 2013. Over the years, many famous Jewish athletes from around the world have participated in the Maccabiah.

The Israel State Archives holds the newsreel collection of filmmaker Nathan Axelrod (145.2) spanning the years 1927-1958. One of these newsreels is dedicated to the Second Maccabiah Games, which took place in April 1935. You can watch some it below.
About 1,350 athletes from 28 states participated in the event. (Some of them were actually immigrants disguised as athletes in order to circumvent the British Mandate's limitation on the number of Jewish immigrants to Palestine.) Among the participants was a prominent Jewish-American athlete named Lillian Copeland who had won a gold medal in the 1932 Los Angeles Olympic Games with a world record performance in the Discus competition, and a silver medal in the 1928 Amsterdam Games. A year after her participation in the Maccabiah, Copeland would boycott the 1936 Olympics in Germany.

In the spirit of the Maccabiah slogan--"Higher! Faster! Stronger!"--here's to hoping that the London Games will be a success...particularly for its Israeli participants.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Scanning and digitizing in Hebrew

Beginning in 2013, the Israel State Archives plans to start an ambitious wall-to-wall project of scanning milions of documents (mostly in Hebrew) from its different collections. The documents should start going online a year or two later.

A similar project, though on a more limited scale, is the Haifa University and the Israel National Library project of scanning and digitizing scholarly materials written in Hebrew. The materials will be added to the JSTOR database, and it is the largest non-Latin language based project of JSTOR.

We hope the experience generated by the university-and-library project will contribute to the usefullnes of the archives project, too.

Israel's Citizens Army

The current debate in Israel on extending the draft to yeshiva students has raised the question whether the traditional concept of the IDF as a "citizens' army" is outdated. Some observers are even advocating a professional army. 
In the 1950s and 1960s things were very different. Almost all sections of society were mobilised for the defence of the young state, and service was seen as a privilege rather than a duty. For a historical perspective on how things used to be, we present this film from the Ministry of Tourism collection in  the Israel State Archives. The film is in English and shows the achievements of the Israel Defence Forces during the period of Chief of Staff  Haim Laskov (1958-1961).
You can see manouevres by an armoured unit, attended by Laskov and Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, reservists coming to get their equipment and training, girl recruits doing their basic training and serving in a variety of units, NAHAL service on the borders, Air Force Day with the commander of the Israel Air Force Ezer Weizmann, paratroopers and the Navy.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Don't believe in UFOs? Here's the proof!

For all you skeptics who don't believe in UFOs, the UK National Archives has just published another tranche of its UFO files. You can read more about their series, here. For our part, here at the ISA we've gone further: We've got a film from the 16th of May 1970 which proves that UFOs really exist:

If the slightly grainy film reminds you of a standard issue military flare, well, shame on you!

Inserting the documents into the discourse

A few weeks ago we posted the transcript of the discussion that took place in Israel's cabinet on June 18th-19th 1967. This is the famous meeting at which, a week after the Six Day War, Israel's leadership tried to figure out what to do with the territories which had just been conquered. After two days of discussion they voted to negotiate with Egypt and Syria so as to achieve peace in return for the Sinai and Golan. Jerusalem, it was clear to them, must remain in Israel. When it came to Gaza and the West Bank they were not able to reach agreement.

Since this blog was not yet operative, I posted an English-language summary of the meeting on my old blog.

Last week Gershon Gorenberg published a blogpost in which he rejects the story about an Israeli willingness to trade the West Bank for peace in 1967.

This is an apolitical blog, so I'm not going to engage with Gorenberg. However, since one of our goals here at the Israel State Archives (ISA) is to insert the documentary evidence into the myriad ongoing discussions about Israel, we appreciate his use of, and linking to, our online document. We heartily recommend that as many people as possible join him in reading the document, while forming their independent impression as to its significance. As Gorenberg says:
The picture is also unavoidably incomplete: Once-classified Israeli papers are available, showing the gap between public statements and actual positions. A lack of declassified Arab source material makes it harder to chart that gap on the Arab side.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Jerusalem and the United Nations (II) Where You Stand Depends on Where You Sit

Here's some background to the story we posted the other day about Ben Gurion cabling Moshe Sharett to declare that if forced to choose between Jerusalem and the UN, Israel would choose Jerusalem. In the Israel State Archives' collection of documents in memory of Israel's first Foreign Minister and second Prime Minister, Moshe Sharett, you can see the different points of view of Sharett and Prime Minister Ben-Gurion as to how Israel should react to the General Assembly decision to internationalize Jerusalem.
Sharett, who was at the UN in New York, thought Israel should simply declare the resolution unenforceable. Pushed by the Catholic Church, it had passed as a result of a chance combination of circumstances, such as the upcoming elections in Australia and the Catholic vote. There were no practical plans to carry it out, and Transjordan, at which the resolution was also directed, had no intention of giving up East Jerusalem. He wrote on 12 December to the director-general of his ministry: "My line is …..to hasten peace with Transjordan if possible….in Jerusalem itself sit tight, do nothing."
Meanwhile in Israel the public was greatly alarmed. Ben-Gurion feared that the USSR, which supported the resolution, might send forces to Jerusalem, and felt decisive action was needed. In a defiant speech in the Knesset, then still in Tel Aviv, he declared that it would be transferred, together with the government ministries, to Jerusalem, Israel's capital.
Sharett wanted to resign, as he had failed to foresee the success of the resolution and his advice had been rejected. Although they would later quarrel bitterly,  Ben-Gurion replied: "Your request cannot possibly be accepted…..Those who carried out [the establishment of the state on] May 14 should not be parted."

Monday, July 9, 2012

Yeshiva students in the IDF (or not)

Earlier today we published four documents reflecting the arguments for and against recruiting yeshiva students to the IDF in Israel's first decade. As you see, the issue which is dominating internal Israeli politics these past few months is not new. It has been with us since 1948; indeed, since the beginning of 1948, almost six months before the founding of the state of Israel, when the notionally voluntary Hagana forces where already recruiting, and the heads of Jerusalem's yeshivas were already explaining why their students needed exemptions. They were supported by the Rav Herzog, the Chief Rabbi, and criticised by Yosef Burg, who spent decades as a cabinet minster for the National Religious Party. Our publication also includes a sharp letter from Ben Gurion to Herzog (the two normally corresponded quite amicably):
This is, first and foremost, a great moral issue: whether it is fitting that the son of one mother is killed in defence of the homeland, and another mother's son sits in his room and studies in safety, while most of the young people of Israel are risking their lives". He added: "I cannot, under any circumstances, agree with your words, that 'it is due to the yeshiva students that we have arrived at where we are today'. They did not build this country, nor did they risk their lives for its independence (although some of them did so), and they have no special rights that other Jews do not have.
Yet before you assume things have always been as they are now, keep in mind that Rabbi Herzog was not your regular haredi rabbi. He had a PhD in literature, and indeed back in the 1930s some of the haredi rabbis objected to his appointment precisely because he was thought to be not enough Rabbi, and too much Dr. One of his sons, Yaacov Herzog, grew up to be a top civil servant, while the other, Haim, was a general, a politician, and eventually Israel's 6th president. People are complicated.

An Astronaut or Taikunaut? Or Writing a Telegram in Russian in Latin Letters

Almost a month ago, on June 17, the first Chinese woman astronaut was sent into space. But is she an Astronaut or a Taikunaut – a Chinese term for a space traveler ("Taikung" – "space" in Chinese)? The Chinese, it seems, are not so sure. The Chinese launch was almost 49 years after the flight of the first woman in space – the Soviet Cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova. Golda Meir, the Foreign Minister at the time, and always keen on women rights and achievements, sent her a congratulatory telegram. The telegram is rather peculiar – Russian written in Latin letters, due it would seem to the limits of sending telegrams in Russian. You can read it above. 

Incidentally, according to one Israeli news site, Israel Post is considering canceling its telegram service for being overly expensive and cumbersome. Sic transit gloria mundi ...

Friday, July 6, 2012


This blog is intended as a workday operation, which means Fridays and Saturdays we're not active. Just like our brick and mortar self. Still, today there's an item about us over at The Atlantic, and there you can learn that we're what's called a paleoblog. And what's a paleoblog, you ask? A blog which takes snipppets from the wealth of non-digital human creativity and adds it to the digital repository of human endeavors - or in other words, makes it Google-able. This, in contrast to much of the blogging world which cycles and recycles stuff which is already digital. (I think that using your iPhone to make a snapshot of the guys drinking beer at the game and uploading it to Facebook may not qualify, and not only because the cultural value of some such images can be, well, repetitive.) The paleobloggers are the folks who find stuff from the part of human history which pre-dates the Web (there were such times) and insert it back into the real agora, so to speak, where the public discussion now lives.

The American National Archives (NARA) has a paleoblog, the British sort of have one, and on a far broader scope, the entire Wikipedia-GLAM project is motivated by the same idea: find worthy analog records and make them accessible in digital form.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Jerusalem or the United Nations? Jerusalem.

Here's a document which has been around for a while, even online, but which doesn't seem to have got the attention it's worthy of. It was December 1949, and the General Assembly of the United Nations was discussing Israel, not for the first nor the last time. One of the ideas being discussed was to force Israel to relinquish its hold over its part of Jerusalem. (I don't know if the assembly was also mooting the divestment of Jordanian control over the Old City - that would be a worthy subject to look into). On December 4th 1949 Ben Gurion sent a terse cable to Moshe Sharett, the Foreign Minister, who was in New York:
Convening the cabinet tomorrow morning.

Will propose a declaration in the Knesset that the State of Israel will refuse to accept any form of foreign rule over Jewish Jerusalem or tearing the city from her rule, and should we be faced with the choice between leaving Jerualem or the UN, we will prefer to leave the UN.

Ben Gurion

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Israel justifies its control of Jerusalem, July 1967

Jerusalem is one of the most famous cities in the world - and has been for most of the past few thousand years. Being famous, however, can mean that lots of people are convinced they know all about it, when in fact they know very little, or very inaccurate. So I'm launching a series of publications on this blog about Jerusalem; much of it will be previously unpublished documentation.

Item number one is a 7-page document from July 10th 1967. The first page is in Hebrew and is a brief record of a discussion of a sub-committee of Israeli cabinet ministers who had been given the task to authorize the response Israel was about to send to the Secretary General of the United Nations; the rest of the document is the English-language response itself. This response may be accessible also in the UN archives.

Soon after the end of the Six Day war Israel annexed the eastern part of Jerusalem. (I may post some of the documents from that process in future posts). By June 21st, less than two weeks after the war, the General Assembly had launched a series of  discussions about Israeli control of Jerusalem before adopting a Pakistani resolution condemning it. It's interesting that the Israeli response was deemed so important that the Foreign Minsitry draft response required ministerial confirmation.

The response itself shies away from acknowledging that Israel has just annexed the Old City, preferring to describe the policy not the legality. The thrust of the document is that Jordanian control of Jerusalem was illegal and destructive, and now the Israelis are fixing things.
As a result of military conquest carried out in 1948 in violation of the Charter and against the express injunction of the Security Council, the section of Jerusalem in which the HolyPlaces are concentrated had been governed for 19 years by a regime which refused to accord any acknowledgement to international interests. The city was divided by a military demarcation line. Two seperate systems of municipal administration came into existence, and there was no possibility of harmonization in matters of civic concern. Instead of security there was hostility. Free access to the Holy Places of all three religions was not allowed. Houses of worship were desecrated and destroyed.
Since the end of hostility there is peace in the city. Israel has taken upon itself all municipal services and the document lists the many fields of improvement - water supply, freedom of religion, reinstated human conctact between people on both sides of the line and so on.
Where there was hostile separation there is now constructive civic union. Where there was a contsant threat of violence there is now peace. Where there was once an assertion of exclusive and unilateral responsibility for the Holy Places, exercised in sacreligious discrimination, there is now a willingness to reach agreements with the world's religious authorities Jewish, Christian, Muslim, in order to to put the administration of the Holy Places within a universal context.
Finally, the letter closed with anticipation that
The government of Israel is convinced that world opinon will wecome the prospect of seeing Jerusalem thrive in unity, peace and spiritual elevation.
Well, that part didn't really work out.

[The document is in file 7910/28]

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Tablet magazine reports on Israel's Documented Story

An Interview with Dr. Yaacov Lozowick in Tablet magazine

Shamir and Peres disagree on London

The London agreement was one of the hotspots of disagreement between right and left in Israel, concerning the chances of peace and agreements with the Arabs, and the Palestinians in particular.
In April 1987, Foreign Minister Peres signed a joint document with King Hussein of Jordan, outlining an idea of an international peace conference with the attendance of the five standing members of the Security Council. The document stated that Israel would negotiate with a joint Jordanian – Palestinian delegation (not including the PLO) on the future of the control of the West Bank. Peres wanted the initiative to be led by the Americans. According to Peres in his autobiography, Shamir knew about and had approved his trip; Shamir in his own autobiography claims that Peres reported to him, the Prime Minister, only after the agreement had been reached.  Shamir, who had succeeded Peres as Prime Minster according to the rotation agreements of the National Unity government with Labor formed after the elections of 1984, opposed the agreement.  He had a numberof reasons: first, he regarded an international conference as an instrument ofpressure on Israel to make unwanted concessions. Second, he believed that the PLO would manage to maneuver itself into the conference, and was not willing to negotiate with them. Third and last – the personal side: the Unity government was an uneasy co-habitation of two opposing parties, with different ideologies and positions. Moreover, thanks to former Prime Minister Rabin's published memoir Peres was perceived as a wily and conniving politician; the tough, un-compromising Shamir regarded Peres signing an agreement without his approval and without cabinet sanction, as an act of duplicity.
The agreement did not receive the government's approval; Hussein felt betrayed by Israel and backed away. In December 1987 the first Intifada erupted, and in July 1988, Jordan finally renounced its claim to the West Bank.

Yitzhak Shamir and the London Agreement, 1987

Yitzhak Shamir, Israel's seventh Prime Minister, was better known for what he did not do than for the actions he took. For example he was responsible for Israel's policy of restraint during the Gulf War in 1991. A more controversial  step was his blocking of the London Agreement, the unofficial agreement  signed by his Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres, and King Hussein in London in 1987. Shamir claimed that it was made without his knowledge, and certainly without his approval.
When Mr. Shamir passed away last Saturday, the Israel State Archives decided to put out a short publication on the ISA website. Although we knew that Mr. Shamir was seriously ill, we had not made preparations for this event. The files on his activity as Foreign Minister and Prime Minister had not yet been declassified, but it took no more than a day for my colleagues to chose and scan some interesting documents. They were then declassified and the publication was ready.
Several of the documents referred to the London Agreement and a Hebrew copy was found, but the English original was not in the Foreign Ministry files. According to Peres, who published the text in his autobiography, he read the agreement to Shamir on his return but refused to leave it with the Prime Minister for fear of leaks.  I finally located an old photocopy in a file from Shamir's office, and the agreement is now available for the first time in Hebrew and English on our website.
Perhaps future researchers will find the original; we can only speculate what might have happened if Shamir had approved the agreement….

Monday, July 2, 2012

Prior to attacking Osirak

Yitzchak Shamir died over the weekend, at the age of 96. The ISA has declassified and put online a small collection of his documents; many of his documents cannot yet be declassified.

On June 7th 1981 Israel bombed the Osirak nuclear reactor near Baghdad. Word got out only the next day, and on June 9th Shamir, then Foreign Minster, sent out an English-language letter of explanation to his ambassadors. Two details stand out. First, there weren't that many embassies to which to send the letter. Israel had no relations with any Arab nations except Egypt, of course, but nor did it have any embassies in Communist countries of which there were many in those days, nor to almost any African countries; many of the so-called non-aligned countries were firmly non-aligned against Israel. Some people today bemoan or celebrate Israel's status as a "pariah state". Perhaps they should remind themselves how things looked thirty years ago and compare.

The second point to note is Shamir's implied criticism of some unnamed nations:
Israel repeatedly appealed to nations which supplied Iraq with nuclear technology and material, pointing out the grave dangers which such supplies posed to the peace in this region and to Israel in particular. We stressed, that that aid was liable to reignite the flames of conflict in the region and to put to nought the efforts to reach a peace settlement. We reiterated that everything be done to prevent Iraq from obtaining a military nuclear capability. We also urged other friendly governments to use their influence in this direction.
I assume the governments who had been supplying the technology or had been asked to wield their influence to hamper the flow of nuclear aid knew who they were.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Are we or aren't we in favor of this?

Another way of studying history: stealing the documents... Does the end (understanding history better, learning the unknown facts of the past) justify the means (stealing 50,000 documents)? And if the stealing exposes a secret decades-long policy of wreaking havoc and spreading mayhem, even while claiming that the victims are the culprits? Claire Berlinski reviews Pavel Stroilov's upcoming book Behind the Desert Storm, which claims that the motivating force of the Israel-Arab conflict up until the end of the 1980s was Soviet machinations.