Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Cabinet protocols: Altalena

The Altalena affair played out in mid-June 1948, reaching its dramatic and tragic crescendo on June 22.

The Altalena was an IZL-owned ship which reached Israel on the evening of June 20th 1948 with tons of arms and more than 900 new immigrants on board. The IZL leadership, with Menachem Begin at their head, had been negotiating the dispensation of the cargo with the provisional government; Ben Gurion insisted that it be handed over in its entirety to the newly founded IDF, while Begin demanded that parts of it be retained by his organization. Most IZL units had been incorporated in the national army by this date, but in Jerusalem they were still fighting as independent units.

In the clashes between the conflicted sides 16 IZL men and 3 IDF troops were killed. Palmach forces commanded by Yitzchak Rabin shelled the ship at the Tel Aviv beach. The incident poisoned the political discourse for decades. Seen from today's perspective I think it's plausible to say, even on an a-political blog such as this, that the event was an important milestone in the development of Israel's democratic institutions.

The provisional government convened three times that week, on the 20th, 22nd, and 23rd. On the 20th they discussed various matters of conscription, such as the question of telephone operators: Mordechai Bentov complained that their conscription was hampering service. The government set up a committee to investigate. It was also decided to conscript people born between 1908-1912 (i.e people in their late 30s).

Bechor Shitrit wanted to know about reports that the Arab villages Kubeiba and Zarnoka had been demolished. Felix Rosenblit asked about a story in Haaretz that military courts were pardoning tax penalties. Itzchak Grinbaum reported on conditions in Jerusalem.

Near the end of the meeting the IDF was authorized to block the transfer of Altalena arms to IZL units, hopefully without the use of force.

On the 22nd, as the events were approaching their climax, the provisional government decided that the arms must be offloaded and stored until after the end of the truce, in accordance with the UN decision.

On the 23rd, after the violent events, the government convened for a stormy meeting. The incident was the only item on the agenda, which focused mostly on what was to be done with the hundreds of people who had been arrested. Rabbi Fishman-Maimon demanded that they all be set free immediately, but Grinbaum's proposal that a judge be appointed to determine who would be freed and who not, was adopted. In response Fishman-Maimon and Moshe Chaim Shapira resigned in protest. (They later returned.)

This document is an obvious case where the stenogram of the meeting must be vastly more interesting than the protocol. Note to self: Nu?

No comments:

Post a Comment