Monday, October 29, 2012

No Archives at the Archives

The Israel State Archives shut down this afternoon. The full story is long, complex and boring. The short version is that a festering zoning issue abruptly reached a crisis point, and we may be forced to evacuate our office building.

The storage facility is unaffected, but the reading room and all other services are down for the moment. We're doing our best to hammer out satisfactory solutions ASAP, but at this moment we can only request the patience of our users.

This blog and its Hebrew sibling can, technically, carry on, since they aren't geographically based; someday this will be at least partially true of the entire archives. But that day is a long way off. For the time being, we'll do our best under mildly adverse conditions.

Skulduggery at the Archives

Here's a fascinating though opaque story about someone who seems to have tried to take advantage of the turmoil in Egypt to smuggle out the documents of the Jewish community, which date mostly from the 19th and 20th century. Since the ISA had nothing to do with this in any way, we can't add any information to what's already in the story; but on the other hand, since we're not privy to the conspiracy, we have no inhibitions in pointing our readers to it.

It's actually a rather thought-provoking article.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Scanning the Archives

This morning, a team of ISA staff members went down to an installation near Tel Aviv where the locals have some very impressive scanning abilities. The intention of the ISA is to launch a large-scale scanning project by the end of the year. Given the size of our collections, we can scan tens of millions of pages annually, and we'll still require decades to scan it all (assuming the day is approaching when there will be less and less new paper coming in). Still, you've got to start somewhere, and we hope to start soon.
The contraption in the picture can take very large numbers of pages, including fragile old ones, and scan them without tearing. The fellow in the background was watching the end result with very skeptical eyes, though eventually he was convinced. The fellow with the beard is the owner of the scanning company, if you're into stereotypes.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Jacques Barzun, Cultural Historian

Jacques Barzun, one of the the 20th century's most important historians, has died at age 104. He was a cultural historian, which means he didn't spend much time in archives; still, his passing is worth the mention even on this blog of an archives. The New York Times has a fine obituary; I posted a few thoughts of my own over here.

Archives in the News: Bretton Woods and Nuremberg

The New York Times and the Guardian each have a prominent article with interesting archival findings on their websites.

The New York Times tells about how someone accidentially found a previously unkown transcript of the 1944 Bretton Woods conference:
Kurt Schuler a Treasury Department economist, was browsing in an “out of the way” section of uncataloged material in the library two years ago when he came across the Bretton Woods document. He flipped through and saw some remarks by Keynes that he was not familiar with, sort of the economists’ equivalent of a Bob Dylan fan finding unknown lyrics.
“I checked them against Keynes’s collected works,” Mr. Schuler said. “And I knew I had something.”
Apparently the chief historical significance of the document is that it shows the Americans and British weren't running the show to the extent later recollections indicated; countries such as Iran, India and China disagreed on significant matters.

The Guardian tells about newly declassified documents from the UK National Archives, regarding the 1945 deliberations prior to the establishment of the Nuremberg tribunals:
The British government opposed the establishment of the Nuremberg war crimes tribunals at the end of the second world war because it wanted selected Nazi leaders to be summarily executed and others to be imprisoned without trial, according to a contemporary account that is declassified on Friday.
Well, that sounds rather ominous - until you read the full article and learn that the British position was actually based on a cool appraisal that not much good would come of aligning themselves with Soviet justice. From the diary of one Guy Liddell, a top MI5 chap:
"Personally I think the whole procedure is quite dreadful. The DPP had recommended that a fact-finding committee should come to the conclusion that certain people should be bumped off and that others should receive varying terms of imprisonment, that this should be put to the House of Commons and that the authority should be given to any military body finding these individuals in their area to arrest them and inflict whatever punishment had been decided on. This was a much clearer proposition and would not bring the law into disrepute.
"Winston had put this forward at Yalta but Roosevelt felt that the Americans would want a trial. Joe supported Roosevelt on the perfectly frank grounds that Russians liked public trials for propaganda purposes. It seems to me that we are just being dragged down to the level of the travesties of justice that have been taking place in the USSR for the past 20 yrs."
In 1946 Liddell was at Nuremberg, and felt the British fears had been proven true:
"One cannot escape the feeling that most of the things the 21 are accused of having done over a period of 14 years, the Russians have done over a period of 28 years. This adds considerably to the somewhat phoney atmosphere of the whole proceedings and leads me to the point which in a way worries me most, namely, that the court is one of the victors who have framed their own charter, their own procedure and their own rules of evidence in order to deal with the vanquished."
Which just goes to show that perspectives change, and hindsight is sometimes very different from sincere contemporary perspectives.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Jerusalem, July 1967: Who Runs This Government?

You may perhaps remember a blogpost we published on September 11th this year, in which an intriguing possibility was mooted: that the poiticians and top civil servants could make as many decisions as they wished, but the gnomes in the Ministry of Finance (MoF) run the show. The document we posted then came from Moshe Sandberg, the head of the Budget Department in the MoF, and in it he essentially contravened previous decisions made above his rank: No, Israel will not offer services in East Jerusalem on the level offered in the west part of town; what we'll do is to continue to offer services on the level supplied by the Jordanians. (An example would have been running water, which was taken for granted in West Jerusalem, while in the Jordanian part of town it was supplied only a few days a week).

In that blogpost, I raised the question if perhaps the MoF hadn't, in fact, ultimately influenced Israeli policy in East Jerusalem rather more than is generally recognized.

Today's document can't answer the large question, but it does demonstrate that other parts of the government intended to put up a fight. On page 1 of the file there's a letter sent out on July 18 1967 by Dr. Yosef Kukia, Director General of the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), to other secretary generals, explaining that the Committee of Ministers for Jerusalem Affairs had been shown the document about limiting service in East Jerusalem, and had countermanded it.
The service given in both parts of Jerusalem will be the same. The ministries are required to give these services, as stated by law. Additional services will be offered in accordance with the capabilities of the ministries.
I'm not certain that was the last word in the matter, but it was a very clear word.

On a related matter: Moshe Sanbar (Sandberg), the MoF budget director who tried to limit the government's expenses, passed away earlier this month. He arrived in Israel as a destitute Holocaust survivor, held that important job in 1967, and went on to make a lifelong contribution of great significance to Israel's economy; whether he won this particular argument about Jerusalem or lost it, he certainly did his share for the country. May he rest in peace.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Reposting: June 19, 1967, Israel's Peace Plan

A few months ago we put online the declassified stenogram of the discussion in Israel's cabinet immediately after the Six Day War. At the time I blogged about this at my old, dormant blog. Today I'm moving the post to this blog, which didn't exist at the time, because this is the place it belongs, and anyone looking for it in the future is more likely to find it here.


At the end of the Six Day War, Israel controlled wide tracts of territory and someone had to decide what to do with them. Israel's Cabinet first discussed the question at length on June 18-19, a week after the war. The ministers decided the Sinai and Golan would be returned to Egypt and Syria for peace. Jerusalem would not be re-divided. The deliberations about the West Bank were not concluded.

On the 45th anniversary of the discussion, the Israel State Archives has put online the declassified transcript. Some 200 pages long and in Hebrew, the document shows that on many points there was unanimity among Israel's political leaders, while on other matters the differences of opinion were so significant that agreement was not possible. (There is also a five-page English extract here.)

I have summarized the outlines of the discussion for the benefit of hebraically-challenged readers. Non-Hebraically challenged readers are urged to read the document itself, which is rich in drama and nuance.

The immediate context: There were intense post-war diplomatic maneuvers going on at the United Nations. Abba Eban, Israel's Foreign Minister, needed orders. The deliberations in Jerusalem were not intended as a fundamental policy statement, but rather as a hurried set of directives to Eban. Many of the ministers feared that showing cards or appearing conciliatory would harm Israel's ability to negotiate. Although their deliberations were classified as Top Secret, any number of times they stopped short and refused to say how far they might be willing to go, for fear that their positions might leak. (They seem mostly not to have, which is what makes the declassified document so interesting.)

The broader context: The ministers had spent the previous five weeks under intense pressure, frantic preparations for war, even more frantic attempts to stave it off by diplomatic means, and – crucial for understanding the present document – the collapse of the internationally-sanctioned framework for Israeli-Egyptian co-existence put in place in 1956 when Israel had been forced hurriedly out of the Sinai. Then there had been the week of war itself. Rather than suffering destruction, Israel had won an astonishing victory. Yet the ministers seem to have expected the great powers to re-apply the pressure of 1956. The BBC, as they repeatedly mentioned, had already begun to report about harsh Israeli measures in Jerusalem's Old City, and they expected growing international impatience. Most of them thought Israel's forces would be back behind the previous lines within two months.

Ideologically they were a diverse bunch: this was a National Unity government, with representatives from four socialist parties, two liberal ones, one Orthodox party and a nationalist one. They were all Zionists. They were all men. (Golda Meir, their next leader, was not in the government.) None were young: Moshe Dayan, at 52, and Yigal Allon at 49 were the only ones not born before WW1. Some had been adults before that war, and all were adults before WW2. All had lived their lives in a world where wars changed borders and moved populations. None had ever met an NGO – the very concept lay decades in the future – and they had no trust in the United Nations even as they recognized it as an important international forum.

Yet while their perspective was different than ours, the positions they staked were mostly cool-headed – the parts they agreed on, and the parts they didn't. They all hoped there would be no more wars. They intended the new conditions to be leveraged into a stable and just coexistence with the Arab world. They assumed the fate of the Arab refugees from 1948 was the irritant that was motivating the conflict and that it could now be resolved.

They implicitly accepted that land could not permanently be taken from sovereign nations by act of war. So they all accepted that the Egyptian Sinai and Syrian Golan would eventually be returned to their owners. Syrian-born Eliyahu Sasson, one of only two non-Ashkenazi ministers and the only one who explicitly grounded his position in a life-long acquaintance with Arab culture, insisted that since no Arab government would make peace with Israel, the Golan and Sinai should be returned for something less than full diplomatic peace. Stringent demilitarization and freedom of Israeli shipping should be enough. Most of his colleagues didn't want to be so pessimistic, but interestingly, Menachem Begin agreed. When in 1978 he agreed to evacuate Israeli forces from the entire Sinai, pundits the world over hailed his flexibility and willingness to change course. Well: read the transcript and you'll see that Begin actually got more in 1978 than he had expected in 1967. In 1967 he was willing to evacuate the Sinai for less than full diplomatic recognition and peace.

In the event, the resolution at the end of the meeting was that both areas would be held until peace was brokered. The West Bank and Gaza were another matter, however.

Sometime in the 1980s the general perception of the conflict changed. No longer seen as Arab rejection of a Jewish State, the conflict was understood as a conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, which the Arab world would maintain only until the two central protagonists reached an accommodation. Since the Israelis and Palestinians have not yet reached accommodation, this proposition has never been tested, a fact which contributes to its explanatory power. 1967, however, was before the 1980s, and participants and observers the world over saw the conflict as an Arab-Jewish conflict, with the local Arabs playing a subordinate role; they were not generally referred to as Palestinians.

I know this is hard to believe, but it's true.

This dissonance of historical perspectives is essential to understanding the discussion about the future of the territories. Israel's entire Cabinet in 1967 agreed that Egypt and Jordan had no more claim to Gaza and the West Bank than Israel did, as all three had conquered them through war; since Israel was now in possession it had superior claim. There were serious disagreements, however, as to what that meant. Many ministers were wary of returning the area to King Hussein, assuming that his long-term chances of survival were not good and whoever overthrew him wouldn't respect his commitments. (Hussein died on the throne in 1999 and his son is still there. Forecasting the future is tricky.)

Many of the speakers felt the previous 20 years had shown there had to be Israeli forces on the River Jordan, but refused to countenance Israeli control over the large number of Arabs on the West Bank. Minister of Justice Ya'acov Shimshon Shapira was implacable on the matter of citizenship. Israel can give citizenship to the Arabs it controls or it can stop controlling them, but there's no third way. Most of his colleagues accepted this. Some thought the entire area should be handed back to Hussein, while a few thought it could be split along demographic lines, with the sparsely populated Jordan valley under Israeli control but the crowded mountain area to Hussein. A number of speakers so disliked the thought of handing territories to Hussein, that they suggested finding some local Arabs to hand it over to – what would later be called the two-state solution. Menachem Begin was the only speaker who demanded the entire area remain part of Israel, but even he didn't know what to do with the local Arabs, suggesting merely that the question be revisited in "6 or 7 years". Yigal Allon presented the first outline of the plan that would later bear his name: the Jordan Valley and the Hebron area should be annexed to Israel while the populous northern part of the West Bank should be either returned to Hussein or somehow handed to the locals. He was the only speaker who explicitly recommended creating Israeli settlements; even Begin didn't go that far. Levi Eshkol sardonically summed up the diversity of opinions: You do realize you're playing chess with yourselves, don't you?

Jerusalem: everyone in the room agreed Jerusalem must remain united in Israeli hands, even if this meant Hussein would refuse to reach an agreement which would take the Arab population off Israel's hands in return for some sort of peace. The lines of the city had not yet been drawn, and the official decision would be taken later that month, but those were (important) technicalities. Left to right, atheists to believers, no-one had any doubts. If there was any apprehension regarding Jerusalem, it was that the Christian world would refuse to countenance Jewish control of the city and would relaunch the demand for internationalizing the city.

Gaza: Seen from our perspective, the deliberations about Gaza were the strangest. As with the West Bank, no-one regarded Gaza as Egyptian. Yet nor did anyone see it as part of a future Palestinian State, since no-one, anywhere, including at the UN, had such a State in mind. So everyone agreed that Gaza must be annexed to Israel. Many of the speakers accepted this to mean the Gazan populace would be given Israeli citizenship, but others thought those among them living in refugee camps could perhaps be resettled: to the West Bank (and thus handed to Hussein or whoever); to the El Arish area of the northern Sinai, or perhaps even to other Arab countries. Eshkol shot down all these proposals. Why do we need Gaza and its population, he asked. There's no water in El Arish, you can't settle them in the mostly empty Jordan Valley and dream of holding on to it simultaneously, no far-flung Arab country will even give you the time of day. He speculated, rather wistfully, that if a general agreement with the Arab world could be achieved perhaps the Lebanese might be willing to pipe water down to the West Bank to help settle the refugees, but by the time the meeting moved to concrete proposals he had dropped that idea. No better one appeared, and the Gaza part of the discussion sort of petered out.

The Americans were informed of Israel's positions. It is not known if they relayed them to any Arab leaders. In September the Arab leaders convened in Khartoum and rejected any possibility of peace with Israel. The paradigm Israel's leaders thought they were operating in was irrelevant, and the reality developed in directions they hadn't foreseen. But that's a story for another day.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Vienna: The Court Will Decide

According to this report in Haaretz, the Jewish commnity of Vienna will request that the State Archivist's decision not to authorize the return of the community's archives be revoked by the district court in Jerusalem.

The case will set an interesting precedent, no matter what its outcome, since no Israeli court has yet been required to rule on the State Archivist's authority in this matter, which seems to be implied in paragraph 14a of the Law of Archives (1955).

Here's an English-language summary of the decision, along with a link to the Hebrew original.

Cabinet Protocols, Early July 1948: On the Practice of Political Discourse

It's been a while since we've had an installment in our series of cabinet protocols (introduced here, previous chapter here). Now we're back, with protocols of another two meetings.

On July 2 1948, Israel's cabinet dealt with three topics. The first was the ongoing arrest of people who had been on the Altalena. Most had already been released, but it appears there was a degree of chaos or at least lack of clarity as to whether they were all free, or perhaps a handful were still under arrest, and who, actually, was in the position to know.  The second was about the positions to be taken in the cease-fire negotiations: it was decided to wait for the next meeting. Finally, there was a kerfuffle about appointments in the brand new IDF. Some of the ministers felt some officers were being promoted for political reasons, or because of their connections.

The meeting of July 4th dealt with another matter having to do with forging an acceptable political discourse in the brand new country: is it permissible for cabinet ministers publicly to express their disagreement with decisions made in the cabinet? There's no necessarily "correct" answer to this question; different societies will be comfortable with different answers. Israel in July 1948 however didn't yet have a political tradition to break.

Other matters discussed on July 4th were the negotiating stances to be taken in the cease-fire talks: Not to relinquish Israeli control of Jerusalem, for example, to preserve the battlefield results since the beginning of the war, and to assure free and unhampered immigration. Finally, a number of ministers posed questions about how the Arab population was being treated. The terse protocols don't say much about the content of the discussions, and for that we'd need to read the far longer stenograms of the meetings.

The Attorney, the Minister, and the Insinuations

Continuing our reading of the documents about the High Court of Justice's ruling to disband the settlement of Elon Moreh in 1979 and the government's response:

One of the discussions on the margins of the main event was about how the government lost the case. In a number of the cabinet meetings (we'll talk about them later) Ariel Sharon muttered, and later said outright, that the Attorney General's staff hadn't prepared the case correctly, and they were to blame that the government had lost the case and was now forced to dismantle the settlement.

Each time Sharon said this, Yitzhak Zamir, the Attorney General, objected. Eventually, on January 6th 1980, Zamir sent a letter of protest to Menachem Begin. The allegations, he said, were never true and even had the specifics they were based on been true, there was nothing in them to change the court's decision. Since the minister kept on repeating them, however, he asked the Solicitor General to look into the matter. Zamir attached the result of that investigation to his letter. He also suggested that politicians might wish to be considerate of civil servants doing their jobs.

A few comments come to mind. First, politicians the world over, from all political camps and ideological stripes, sometimes like to propagate sloppy versions of events which subsequently become urban legends. Israeli politicians are as human as any others in this respect. Second, sometimes such fibs can be shot down early in their flight, but most of them can't, and sending a letter documenting the truth is not a particularly effective way of doing the shooting. Third, eventually the archives can reveal what was actually going on, and historians, unlike politicians, journalists and bloggers, can be expected to relate to the facts, not only the myths. (Assuming anyone still cares.)

Finally, on a totally different note: the three legal types involved in this particular exchange - Zamir the Attorney General, Gabriel Bach the Solicitor General, and the young department head in the Ministry of Justice who carried out the actual investigation and reported on her findings, one Dorit Beinish - each eventually ended up as a justice on the Supreme Court. Beinish was even the Chief Justice until she retired earlier this year. Israel is a small place, but not so small that by heaving a single brick you're likely to hit three future Supreme Court justices. Rather, it's a place where sometimes talent concentrates in specific corners, and once there is propelled forward as far as it can go.

Just as in other countries, I expect.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Minister and the Settler, Part II

Yesterday we posted the contents of two letters written by Daniela Weiss, a leader of the settlers, telling Ariel Sharon, then Minister of Agriculture, how very wrong he was to remain in the cabinet which was about to dismantle the settlement of Elon Moreh (November 1979).

This morning one of my colleagues, who was involved in the publication about the governments' response to the court decision against Elon Moreh, told me he recently contacted Ms. Weiss. He asked her if Sharon ever responded to either or both of her letters. (Politicians usually respond to letters from constituents.) She said he never did.

Perhaps not surprising, but an interesting historical tidbit worth being recorded.

The Lawyer and the Prime Minister

Yesterday I wrote about Daniela Weiss and her letters to Ariel Sharon in November 1979, which offered us an interesting glimpse into the frame of mind of a leader of the settler movement in its heyday. Today, let's look at the response of the government's top lawyer, to the decision of the High Court of Justice to dismantle the settlement of Elon Moreh (based upon our publication last week on how Israel's government dealt with the court's order).

The Attorney General of the day was Prof. Yitzhak Zamir. On November 23, 1979, as the cabinet was seeking a precise formulation with which to accept the court's order but also to protect the settlement project, Zamir wrote a classified letter to Prime Minster Menachem Begin presenting his legal position. The proposed draft formulation included the statement that "the government will use legal tools to prevent harm to any Jewish settlements anywhere in the Land of Israel and will work to preserve them." Zamir was wary of this statement, for a number of reasons:

1. Such a declaration, while essentially being of a political and not a legal nature, has problematic legal implications.

2. One could interpret the statement as an attempt to save Elon Moreh, and that, of course, cannot be done in light of the court's order to dismantle it.

3. The declaration says the government will work to defend any settlements, and this would seem to include future settlements, which do not yet exist. What if such settlements are clearly illegal? Obviously the government can't take upon itself to defend illegal settlements!
4. Further, a government proclamation to defend all settlements has far-reaching implications, including even the interpretation that the government is effectively annexing the territories, or takes upon itself to pass legislation which has not yet been formulated. This may contravene international law, and it may appear to contradict the Camp David Accords [which Israel had recently signed with Egypt]. Furthermore, it's not clear what gain such a proclamation will generate. On the one hand, there may be no need for it [if no further settlements need to be dismantled], and on the other, if circumstances arise which do call for such legal action, those actions may prove ineffective [as the in present case in which the government lost the Elon Moreh case and had accepted the obligation to dismantle it].
Based upon all these considerations, Zamir suggested the government not make any such far-reaching and broad proclamation.

A few days later Zamir sent Begin another letter about Elon Moreh, this one not classified (December 26, 1979 - and keep in mind that Israelis don't celebrate Christmas, so it was a perfectly normal work week). On November 18, the cabinet had decided to accept the court's order and dismantle Elon Moreh within "four, or at most six, weeks." As always happens with government timetables, the final date was going to be missed, and Zamir had been asked to go back to the court with a request for a delay. He felt this was a bad idea:
1. The court order dealt specifically with part of the land on which Elon Moreh was built, and those specific plots have already been evacuated. Thus the government has already complied with the direct order of the court, and there's no need to request a delay of execution.

2. The court found the entire settlement to be illegal, as it was set up on private land, and the government must desist as soon as possible from being a party to an illegal act.

3. The cabinet assumed, when it made its decision, that the settlers would announce their intention to comply with the evacuation order, and thus it was reasonable to allow them a delay so that they could move in an orderly way. In the meantime, it's not at all clear they're going to move out of their own accord, so the cabinet's assumption may have been wrong [and the justification for the delay, weakened].

4. Should the cabinet now announce its intention to delay the evacuation further, it is to be expected that the owners of the currently occupied plots, who themselves didn't sue, will do so. The government cannot expect to win such a case, and indeed should avoid even getting into the situation of such a case being initiated against it.
For all these reasons, Zamir summarized, the settlers should be evacuated soon and without delay.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Settler and the Minister

Last week we published a number of previously classified documents from the early days of the settler project in 1979. We put up an English-language synopsis of the documents, which are all in Hebrew. Over the next few days we'll describe some of them in greater detail for our Hebrew-challenged readers.

The first two documents were written by Daniela Weiss to Ariel Sharon. Weiss was one of the most vocal and well-known of the settlers; Ariel Sharon was in his first ministerial position, Minister of Agriculture, after an illustious and sometimes controversial military career. Where Prime Minister Menachem Begin was openly in favor of settling Jews on the West Bank - which he now insisted be officially called Judea and Samaria - Sharon was the person in charge of making it happen. Most days of the week Weiss and Sharon were partners in a project they were both committed to. On November 22, 1979, however, after the High Court of Justice had decreed that the settlement of Elon Moreh had to be dismantled for having been constructed on land owned by local Arabs--with the government having accepted the ruling and begun preparations to move the setlers elsewhere--Weiss had no patience for the politicians, not even for Ariel Sharon. So she wrote him two irate letters, one short official one, and the other five pages long.

The first, addrssed to "Mr. Ariel Sharon, Minister of Agriculture," called upon him to resign. "Dismantling Elon Moreh will be a surrender to the PLO. We must protect Israel's honor. Everyone knows the last moment to achieve benefits from the Camp David Accords is now, before we hand over the oil fields [in the Western Sinai] to the Egyptians. The PLO and the Egyptians understand that dismantling a settlement is like desecrating Israel's honor, and that must be prevented. Israel's government dare not desecrate Israel's honor. If the government can't change the legal status of the settlements then you must resign and salvage Israel's honor." (underline in the original)

In an 8-sentence letter Weiss referred to Israel's honor no less than four times.

The second letter, addressed simply to "Arik," went into greater detail, and is far more interesting, for all that the themes of both letters are similar. Unlike the first, it has no file number and no Gregorian date. This was Daniela writing to her friend, or at least close aquantance and political accomplice. The first was probably leaked to the press; the second wasn't. It reflected what the writer really thought, and in a tone she expected the recepient to understand and respect. She numbered her points, at least until her emotions took over:
1. Dismantling Elon Moreh will be a victory for the PLO. The day the court's decision was published mayors of West Bank towns were interviewed in the media and they all said they expected the decision would cause the dismantling of all the settlements.

2. Sadat has a seismograph in his head, and he constantly measures our national strength [she may have meant something closer to national fortitude]. He understands perfectly well that whichever side has the upper hand in this contest of national wills will write an important page in his nation's history. What I don't understand is how you don't understand this. Now, at the last moment before we hand over the Sinai oil wells to Sadat, is the time to snatch a national achievement and legalize the settlements.

3. Following your recommendations, we've been concentrating on capturing strategic points step by step. Yet in the face of the approaching Palestinian autonomy [agreed upon between Israel and Egypt in the peace treaty of 1979] it is doubtful if such an incremental policy has much of a future. The Palestinian autonomy will lead to a Palestinian State, and we won't be able to create any additional settlements.

4. Most important of all: the power of ideas. Jewish history is motivated by ideas. Powerful ideas inculcate physical [or political] power, not the other way around. As we wonder how we'll explain to our children how we left Elon Moreh, it seems to us that the problem was simple: Israel's government lacked the courage to say that Judea and Samaria are part of our homeland and we'll build there just as we build elsewhere in the homeland. Any child will respond that in such a case, the government is bad.

Of course, you'll respond that a child doesn't have the ability to see the full picture, such as for example the fact that a different government would be worse. But this isn't so. If the government is worse we'll have clarity, and we'll struggle against it.

I assume I won't live long enough to see the fulfillment of the settlement project, but I know that since we've done the correct thing in educating our children it will go on until fulfillment. That's why a change of course and its resulting conceptual weakness is so dangerous to the process.

Finally, were the government to act cannily it would extend its law over Judea and Samaria, and thus enable creation of many more settlements. If instead the government decides to confront us, following the dictums of "Peace Now," we will know that our historic task is to resist. We hope the government will come to its senses, but if it doesn't I will take my daughters to Elon Moreh and we'll demonstrate our physical attachment to the land; the strength of our determination will thus be branded into the minds of our children, and they'll spend their lives determined to return to Elon Moreh, and they'll restore Israel's honor.
The term honor, interestingly, appeared only once in the second letter, in its final line.

Daniela Weiss is still alive, though it has been some years since anyone turned to her for an opinion. Even the settlers today use different terminology--but that's one of the fun things in archival documentation, that it offers a window into the minds of past actors in earlier historical contexts.

The next post in this series will look at the top lawyer in the story, who saw the world in very different terms.

"A Symbol of Political Hypocrisy": Yitzhak Ben-Zvi on the Passfield White Paper, October 1930

We don't know how much Sidney Webb, a lawyer, economist and member of the early Socialist Fabian Society, is remembered these days in England. But in the history of the Zionist movement and Israel, as minister for the colonies in the early 1930s under his title of Lord Passfield he plays quite an important role. This week sees the anniversary of the publication in October 1930 of the British White Paper on Palestine, known here as the "Passfield White Paper," which followed the Arab attacks on the Jewish community, the Yishuv, in 1929. The authors of the White Paper accepted the argument that dispossession of Arab tenant farmers had led to the riots and imposed severe restrictions on the development of the Jewish national home in Palestine.
Lord Passfield, courtesy of the Weizmann Archives, Yad Chaim Weizmann, Rehovot.
The Israel State Archives, as its name indicates, holds mainly documents deposited by government and other bodies since the founding of the state in 1948. But it also has a collection of material from the earlier governments of Palestine, including the Ottoman administration and the British Mandate. The personal archives of the first British High Commissioner, Herbert Samuel, are here, together with the archives of prominent Jewish and Arab lawyers and other public figures from that period. You can see the angry reaction of one of them, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, a leader of the Yishuv, to the White Paper, on our Hebrew blog. He described it as "a symbol of politicial hypocrisy" which deprived the Mandate and the Balfour Declaration of their soul under the guise of preserving them.

The Archive also has 6,000 boxes of files from the Mandate administration, including the correspondence of the High Commissioners with the Colonial Office, the files of the Chief Secretary and department files on health, education, immigration, police, the Crown prosecution, land registry and more, serving as a rich source of information on this period.

In addition, the Archives holds photocopies of files from the National Archives in London of material from the British Foreign Office and Colonial Office dealing with Palestine (Record Group 174). We present here two documents: first, comments on a letter by British politicians Lord Hailsham and Sir John Simon, by Sir George Rendel, the head of the Eastern Department in the Foreign Office, defending the White Paper and arguing that most of its provisions were temporary and were not contrary to the provisions of the Mandate. The other is a letter by Lewis Namier, the eminent historian who was then the secretary of the Jewish Agency in London, to the Colonial Office on the resignation of the heads of the Zionist movement and their preparations for discussion of the White Paper by the Permanent Mandates Commission of the League of Nations.

After a storm of protest by the Yishuv and Zionists abroad, including supporters in Britain and the US, British Prime Minister Ramsay Macdonald entered into negotiations with Chaim Weizmann, the president of the World Zionist movement, and sent him a letter "reinterpreting" and undoing the harshest effects of the White Paper. But the view expressed there that the government had a "dual obligation" laid down by the Mandate towards the Arab and Jewish communities in Palestine continued to influence the policies of Britain.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Preserving the Syrian Paper Trail

In a most interesting article at The National Interest, Alexander Joffe writes about an archival boon of the so-called "Arab Spring" -- access to the files and archives of deposed dictators. Joffe wonders if we will soon have the ability to cull research from the files of Bashar al-Assad, Qaddafi and others. A lot of these files were destroyed, of course, mostly by the men of the downed despots in an attempt to protect themselves from revenge and future prosecution.
For another example of an archive opened after the fall of a repressive regime, check out the archives of the Stasi, the East German secret police, now opened to the public. (And for fun, here is the scene from the wonderful movie "The Lives of Others," in which the main character receives a whole lot of files in the Stasi archive.)

Elon Moreh: Menachem Begin and the Rule of Law

The material in our latest publication on the Elon Moreh verdict comes from one of the Archives' current projects on Menachem Begin, Israel's sixth prime minister – a collection of his letters and papers which we hope to publish in 2013, as a volume in the series of commemorative volumes about Israel's late presidents and prime ministers.

Biographers of Begin have noted that a main element in his worldview was the belief that the entire biblical Land of Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people, and they are entitled to settle in any part of it by right. He saw no contradiction between this belief and another strand of his ideology – his devotion to democracy and the rule of law. The Israel State Archives published several documents on this subject on our website in March 2012, to mark the 20th anniversary of Begin's death.

In the photograph below you can see Begin and Minister of Finance Simha Erlich with the Attorney-General, Prof. Yitzhak Zamir. Under Begin, the Attorney-General sat in on most government meetings.

Photograph: Chananiah Herman, Government Press Office
Begin's response to the Elon Moreh verdict is another striking example of his devotion to democracy and the rule of law. Many supporters of the settlement movement believed that the High Court decision ordering the evacuation of Elon Moreh should not be carried out. But although Begin must have been disappointed with the verdict, which contradicted the court's earlier decision on the Beit El settlement (which had caused him to exclaim "There are judges in Jerusalem!") there was no doubt in his mind that the decision had to be respected. In the first government meeting on the issue, on October 28 1979, he said: "Naturally we shall not make any announcements, which are completely unnecessary, saying that the Supreme Court's decision should be respected. They are unnecessary, because this goes without saying."

At the same time, he was anxious to find another site for the settlement on government land, which would be approved by the legal authorities. Eventually the Elon Moreh settlement group moved to its new site at Mt. Kabir.
The new settlement, 10 January 1980
Photograph: Chananiah Herman, Government Press Office


No, not the upcoming elections of January 22nd 2013: we're an archive. So it's the first elections in Israeli history, which took place in 1949, even as the War of Independence wasn't quite over and large numbers of Jews were still on their way to the new State of Israel. Here's a newsreel (in English) from those days, as made by the United Israel Appeal - which was, of course, a fundraising organization, and so can be excused the spot of hyperbole:

(file number קב-393.1)

Actually, hyperbole or not, most countries newly set up in the late 1940s (and 1950s, and 1960s) needed decades before they grew into real functioning democracies. So perhaps the self satisfaction wasn't entirely unwarranted.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Dismantling the Settlement of Elon Moreh

Offhand I'd say at least half a billion people have an opinion on the Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Thousands, at the very least, are convinced they know the story, can tell how the settlements came to be there, and who did what and why.

As usual in such matters, what "everybody knows" is based on all sorts of things, but it's not based on familiarity with the documentary evidence, since most of that has never been made public.

So today we published seven documents, most of them newly declassified, from the period 33 years ago before and after the Supreme Court ordered Menachem Begin's government to dismantle the settlement of Elon Moreh. The documents themselves, all in Hebrew, can be found here. Over the next week or so I'll try to write about some of the specifics, which, frankly, I find to be fascinating.

How the Battle of Hastings made Harry Potter

OK, this post has nothing to do with Israel's documented story. But it is fun, and demonstrates the practice of history at its best - and what are archvies about if not the stuff from which the telling of history is done. So go yee and read Walter Russell Mead's mediation on how the Battle of Hastings (946 years ago this week) influences our world today.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Archives of Vienna's Jews stays in Israel

Earlier today we published the decision of the State Archivist in the matter of the archives of the Jewish Community of Vienna.

Prior to the Shoah, the Jewish community in Vienna was Europe's second largest. After the Shoah only a small remnant remained. The leaders of the remnant decided in the early 1950s to transfer their library, the archives of the community, and various other cultural possessions, to the newly founded State of Israel. The collection found a home in the Central Archives of the History of the Jewish People,in Jerusalem.

In 2011, the present leaders of the Jewish community in Vienna sued the Central Archives in the Jerusalem district court, demanding that the collection be returned to Vienna. Earlier this year the court passed the case to the State Archivist, as the official responsible for archival matters in Israel.

One of the important legal tools in the tool-chest of the State Archivist is paragraph 14a of the Law of Archives (1955), whereby archival material which has been deposited in an official archives cannot be removed unless to another official archives, or with the permission of the State Archivist. Thus, a central aspect of the case which the State Archivist had to decide on was whether there are conditions to justify the removal of the collection from its present archival home.

The decision is in Hebrew, obviously.

The main findings of the decision are that the collection was originally transferred as a permanent loan (permanente Leihgabe). A permanent loan in not an oxymoron, but rather a procedure used rather often by museums and sometimes by archives when the owner of an important cultural artifact wishes to transfer it forever to a cultural institution, while retaining some connection to it. Often this is done for tax purposes, but there can be emotional motivations or other considerations. In some rather rare cases the agreement between the depositor and the institution will even foresee the return of the artifact to its original owner if the institution does not live up to its original commitments.

The documentation pertaining to the Vienna collection clarifies that the depositors felt they were strengthening the cultural importance of the young State of Israel as the center of the Jewish people; they were proud about their contribution; and they had no intention of the collection ever returning. Since the Israeli home of the collection offers adequate access to researchers--which the present Jewish community in Vienna cannot immediately offer--there is no justification for the removal of the collection.


It is pure coincidence that the Judge in Tel Aviv decided this week in the case of the Franz Kafka papers, and the next day the State Archivist decided in the matter of the Vienna collection. Nor do the two cases  particularly resemble one another. And yet, it must be said, both decisions do assume that the State of Israel has the right to include in its cultural heritage not only items which were created in Israel and since its foundation in 1948, but also artifacts of cultural importance created by Jews prior to the creation of the State which have in the meantime made their way here. The mere fact of possession and location are not sufficient: both authors took the contravening claims seriously and investigated them while entertaining the possibility that they might be justified. Once they were found lacking, however, the claims of the State of Israel to collect and administer the cultural heritage of the Jews are also part of the equation.

Come and Visit Us!

Those of you who live anywhere near Jerusalem are invited to join us on October 26th, when we'll be having an open house and tours of parts of the archives which generally aren't open to the public. Details here.

In addition, we've got two separate stories about goings-on at the ISA, both of them fascinating in our humble opion, and both embargoed until tomorrow. Perhaps I'll give a sneak preview later this evening. Perhaps.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Kafka Stays in Israel

Judge Talya Kopelman-Pardo of the court for family affairs in Tel Aviv this morning handed down her decision in the case of the papers of Franz Kafka. A few years back the New York Times had a long and fascinating article about the trial, which is worth re-reading now that the court has decided.

The story in a nutshell: As he was dying in 1924, Franz Kafka told his close friend Max Brod to burn all his papers after his death. Brod didn't, thank God. Many years later, when the time came for him to write his own will, he made a hash of it. He left his personal belongings to one Esther Hoffe, along with instructions about how she should dispose of his and Kafka's writings. Hoffe then lived till the age of 101 without having fulfilled his request, at which point her own heirs (two elderly daughters) inherited the whole shebang and tried to sell the collection, presumably to an archives in Marburg, Germany. At this point a seven-sided court case was launched to determine if the papers could be sold, or if they should be transfered to the National Library in Jerusalem where Bord had once worked, or perhaps to some other public institution.

The ISA determined early on that it would not join the proceeedings, and since the National Library was the main Israeli claimant, we would not request that the colleection end up with us. At various point in the saga we supplied support where needed (one of the experts sent to examine the contents of some deposit boxes in various banks was the head of our laboratory, for example).

Apparently the judge has decided that the National Library will get the collection.

If you're interested in the whole decision, and are willing to learn Hebrew to read it: here it is.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

A Palestinian German Wishes to Return Home

OK, let's start with the embarrassing part: I can't say where today's document comes from. The first lecture in Archives 101 is about the extreme importance of provenance, and about always registering the file number of every document. In spite of which, I can't name the provenance of today's document. I found it in a pile of stuff someone once collected from various record groups to use in some internal discussion about something; once the discussion had happend the documents were set aside until someone else showed me this one as a curiosity. Which means I can't even prove it's authentic, though I have no doubt.

It's a letter written by Ernst Appinger on the 15th of December 1946. Appinger was a German POW being held in Velika Gorica, then in Yugoslavia and now in Croatia. Expecting soon to be discharged, he wrote to the "Chief Immigration Officer" in Jerusalem:
I was born in Haifa Palestine on the 1st of January 1910 and lived there till the 30th of August 1939, when I was forced by the German Counsul to leave my home. My parents were born in Palestine too. We were never members of a political party or organization.

I hope to be dismissed soon and don't know where to go. May I go back to Palestine? Were the Germans of Palestine expropriated? May I become a Palestine citizen? I thank you in advance for your kind informations [sic] and hope that there is a way for me to go back to my home, Palestine.
I have no idea what answer Appinger recieved, but it's highly unlikely the British authorities allowed him back. Clearly, he was a descendant of the Templar Society, a group of Germans who emigrated to Ottoman Palestine in the 1860s and 1870s, and settled outside Haifa, Jaffa and Jerusalem. (Yes, outside. Today the homes they built are all near the centers of town, but that was then). They came for religious reasons, and indeed the first two generations most likely were not affiliated with any political parties; the third, into which Appinger was born, had a tendency to join the Nazi party, but of course that doesn't tell us anything about Appinger himself. At the beginning of WWII, most of them were detained as enemy aliens by the British authorities and eventually deported, although a few may have hung on for another few years. The State of Israel, which hadn't existed at the time of the deportations, eventually paid restitution for their property. RG 67 in the ISA contains the documentation of the German consulate, which dealt with the consular matters of these far-flung German citizens.

In any case, no matter how tidy the historical narratives we sometimes tell ourselves, the reality is always messier.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Freudian Archives

The ISA, as its names indicates, is the archives of the State of Israel, and thus is supposed to contain all the important documentation created by the state bureaucracy; it also has private collections of historical figures who were active in the state, and it even has some documentation of the states which preceded Israel, the British Mandate and the Ottoman Empire. You wouldn't expect it to have documents of historical figures who died before Israel was even invented. You wouldn't expect, but you might be pleasantly surprised.

A few weeks ago I posted an article about letters we've got from the important poet Rachel, who died in 1931 (Hebrew). Today I'd like to point you to letters by Sigmund Freud, who died in 1939 and never set foot in the land of Israel.

The reason we've got these letters is that one of Freud's students and colleagues, Max Eitingon, came to Mandatory Palestine in 1933, fleeing from the Nazis. (We don't know if his professional training had anything to do with his early ability to foresee the Nazi danger.) He was a colorful fellow, and at one point was suspected of being a Soviet spy, but his importance for our story is that he hoped to teach psychoanalysis at the Hebrew University. HU, however, didn't have a slot for that, apparently not considering it a worthy academic topic - an interesting position given the centrality of Jews in psychoanalysis. So Eitingon founded the Psychoanalytic Association of Palestine in 1934, and eventually it became the Israel Psychoanalytic Society, which is still active to this day.
Eitingon is 2nd from the right, and Freud - well, you know who he is.

In 2002, the Society donated much of its historical documentation to the ISA, assuming that the public would be better served by its being in an archive than in the basement of an organization which does psychoanalysis. And indeed, the collection, Rg 72.52, contains a variety of fascinating letters, publications and reports about psychoanalysts facing Nazi Germany in the 1930s, among other things. Some of the letters are to and from Sigmund Freud himself.

This one, from February 1, 1921, which Eitingon brought with him when he migrated, is about various things that academics like to talk about: conferences, publications and so on. The thing that caught my eye, however, was that Freud explained why he didn't like a particular paper submitted by one Blumenthal: Freud thought its contrubution wasn't very important because Blumenthal - said Freud - is neurotic. A spot of professional confusion, it seems? Blumenthal's paper should have been evaluated on its professional value, not on his medical condition, even if his condition was the subject of the profession.

The Panama Canal and the Land of Israel

Can you think of a connection between the Panama Canal and Israel (apart, of course, from Israeli ships going through both)? There are actually quite a few.

Two such links emerge from David McCullough's fascinating book The Path between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914 -- via the infamous Dreyfus Affair. (The Dreyfus Affair, for those in need of a refresher, refers to the late 19th century framing of a Jewish French army officer for espionage, which was followed by a long and arduous effort to exonerate him and expose the real spies and fabricators. The anti-Semitism evident throughout the affair had a profound effect on Theodor Herzl--the ideological founder of political Zionism and by extension the Jewish state--and according to some historians inspired him to his Zionist advocacy.)

So how does the Dreyfus story intersect with the Panama Canal? Well, in 1881, Ferdinand de Lesseps, still basking in the glory of the recently completed Suez Canal, decided to try and forge a more ambitious byway--the Panama Canal. After seven years of digging, however, the project collapsed and many French citizens who had purchased shares in the Panama Canal Company lost their money. Into this most sorry state of affairs came a most unsavory creature -- Édouard Adolphe Drumont, the founder and editor of the anti-Semitic newspaper La Libre Parole. Drumont used the Panama scandal to raise his paper's profile and promote his anti-Semitic agenda. Specifically, he claimed that rich Jews connected with the Panama company were the real culprits in the scandal, and that they had stolen the money of many good, honest Frenchmen. McCullough argues that Drumont's articles made anti-Semitic language and vocabulary part of the French public discourse, thereby sowing the seeds for the Dreyfus affair soon after.

The second connection between Panama and Dreyfus can be found in the person of Philippe-Jean Bunau-Varilla, a French officer involved in the Panama venture. As the project floundered, Bunau-Varilla became convinced that only Americans could successfully build the canal, and began a lobbying campaign in the USA toward that end (ably chronicled by McCullough). He succeeded, and the treaty signed in 1904 that transferred the canal to American control was named after him.

Bunau was also one of Alfred Dreyfus's staunchest defenders. After French newspapers published letters purportedly from Dreyfus offering his services as a spy to the German military attaché in Paris, Bunau-Varilla took action. He knew Dreyfus from their joint studies and military service, and did not believe the allegations made against him. Bunau found a letter Dreyfus had written to him and easily discerned that the handwriting differed from that found in the published letters. He sent the letter to his brother Maurice Bunau-Varilla, the publisher of La Matin. The paper published the letters side by side, thus exposing the forgery and aiding the broader efforts to exonerate Dreyfus. (In an ironic twist of history, Maurice later became a pro-Nazi, pro-Vichy collaborationist.)

The final connection between the land of Israel and Panama is found in the equipment used to build the former's first train line in 1892, which was acquired from the French Panama company by Yosef Navon (the grandfather of Israel's fifth President, Yizhak Navon). We published a post on this train line at our  Hebrew blog.