Wednesday, August 1, 2012

New series: The cabinet protocols

Most of what we've been offering so far on this blog has been tidbits, anecdotes, and quick and limited glances into the enormous wealth of documentation in the Israel State Archives (ISA). Some of it comes from files our staff has seen as part of their daily work. Some have been documents we've sought out and declassified specifically for publication, as in the ongoing occasional series of documents about Jerusalem.

Today we're launching an additional series of a different type: the cabinet protocols. It will be marked with the "govt protocols" label.

Israel's cabinet generally meets once a week, normally on Sunday morning (which is the beginning of the work week, not part of the weekend). The discussions are transcribed in their entirety; the transcriptions are often dozens of pages long and at times many hundreds long. After each meeting a very brief protocol is published, from which one may learn about the topics of discussion and the decisions made. Nowadays the cabinet decisions are put online (Hebrew).

The transcripts themselves are classified, obviously, as they are in any country. Depending upon their sensitivity, declassification will be likely after 30 to 50 years, though some transcripts can be published early, and some sections of others will remain sealed for longer, of course.

Today we're starting to put online the short protocols of the cabinet session in a systematic way one ofter another. Some touch upon fascinating or memorable matters; others tell about forgotten meetings by forgotten officials about forgotten issues: much of the human endeavor is not preserved in communal or even individual memory. (Does anyone remember the daily concerns of Henry the II? How many people remember the existence of Henry the II, beyond that he came six Henry's before Mr. Eight?)  Our assumption is that such an orderly presentation of the matters which reached the table of Israel's cabinet is in itself an interesting service to our readers, even without the full transcripts.

We may also start putting the full transcripts online, but those need to be waded through. They're quite wordy.

So here goes:

The first three meetings of the provisional government of Israel took place on May 16th, 19th and 20th, 1948. May 16th, you'll remember, was a Sunday morning; the previous Friday, May 14th, Ben Gurion had proclaimed the creation of the State of Israel; by Sunday morning the US had recognized the new state, and the neighbors had all invaded. The meeting that morning started with a mildly optimistic report about how the American recognition had happened, and what efforts were being made to acquire more recognitions. The first official decision was to approach the Arab governments.

Moshe Shertok, the acting foreign minister took upon himself to present a proposal for appointing ambassadors.

Ben Gurion reported on the state of the battlefields (after Shertok's report. An interesting sequence).

There was initial discussion of how to decide who would head what ministry.

Pinchas Rosenblit presented a draft decree of founding the State. (Unlike the declaration of the previous Friday, this was an essential legal neccessity).

Dr. Haim Wiezman was chosen as the provisional President.

May 19th 1948, five days into statehood and five days into the invasion:

Ben Gurion reported on the state of the war.

There was further discussion of the Founding Decree, with a few corrections.

David Remez was appointed to propose a flag and stamps. (Remember those?)

It was decided to have an aditional meeting the next day to decide about the ministries and ministers.

It was decided to demand naval assistance from the British to protect the ships bringing refugees from Cyprus - to which the British had deported them.

The Tel Aviv hospitals should be put under Red Cross auspices (Tel Aviv was being bombed).

May 20th, 6pm:

Reports from the war. Including a decision to enquire if the Soviet Union would be willing to send a diplomat to Israel, and also offer military support. Regarding the British, they were to be asked what its position was regarding the war with Transjordan.

The United Nations was to be informed that Israel would not respect the partition lines of 1947 unless there was an Arab partner (today we would call it a Palestinian state) as stipulated in the Partition Plan of 29th November 1947.

Three ambassadors were appointed: to the US, France, and Czechoslovakia.

The clock was turned forward by two hours.

A budget was allocated to remove women and children from some battle zones.

A legal device for the aquisition of Arab property was to be promulgated.

The flag would remain unchanged: that of the Zionist Movement.

A subcommitte of four was appointed to submit a plan for creation of ministries and appointment of ministers.

David Ben Gurion was appointed prime minister.

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