Thursday, November 29, 2012

Another, Unconventional Way of Looking at Sadat's Visit to Israel

Here's another, unusual way of looking at Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's historic visit to Israel in November 1977. On his blog, Journal of a UFO Investigator, David Halperin dubs Sadat's visit a "Close Encounter of the Fifth Kind," which he explains to denote when hostile aliens meet to understand each other as fellow-citizens of the universe. (Halperin invented the "fifth kind" category for this purpose, as "fourth kind" is already in use for UFO abductions.)

We're not writing to ridicule Halperin's post, especially when the rest of what he records is so touching and real--his feeling during the historical moment, his memories from Israel at the time, and his views on the events of 1977 in retrospect. To us, it's just another--if unconventional--way to see the events of that fateful November.

Here are our posts on Sadat's visit: first, our official collection of historical documents surrounding the visit on the archives site. Second, our blogged account of Israeli President Katzir's meetings with Sadat. And finally. our post on the visit of Sadat to Israel.

Oh, and here's a link to the trailer for Steven Spielberg's classic Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

29th of November

It's no coincidence the the Palestinian Authority has chosen the 29th of November to launch its bid for recognition at the United Nations. The 29th of November, after all, is the anniversary of the day in 1947 when the UN adopted the plan to replace the British Mandate with a partition of the land between two states, a Jewish one and an Arab one.

The Israel State Archives has an interesting copy of the original scorecard of the General Assembly vote that day. It's a copy on which all the major actors later signed: Harry Truman, Haim Wiezman and many others. See if you can identify any of them, and tell us in the comments.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Tale of Two Presidents: Another View of President Sadat's Visit to Jerusalem, 1977

"An exciting and moving event, which was undoubtedly one of the highlights of my term as president."

This is how the fourth president of Israel, Ephraim Katzir, described Anwar el-Sadat's visit to Israel in his autobiography. Yesterday the Israel State Archives published a collection of documents about the visit, and here we show the events from the point of view of President Katzir.

Protocol dictated that Katzir, as head of state, was Sadat's official host, and he felt very keenly the responsibility involved. Katzir received the distinguished guest on his arrival at the airport, walked at his side on the red carpet and drove with him to Jerusalem. He thus had a unique opportunity to get to know the Egyptian president personally.

Katzir led the way for Sadat into the Knesset for his historic speech to Israel's parliament and hosted the farewell ceremony which took place at the President's Residence.

Knesset speaker and future prime minister Yitzhak Shamir, President Sadat and President Katzir

In his speech on this occasion, Katzir, a distinguished scientist, voiced his hope for cooperation between Israel and Egypt.

On his return to Egypt, Sadat sent Katzir a letter of thanks for the hospitality he had received in Israel and asked him to thank Prime Minister Begin personally for the invitation to come to Jerusalem, and for the productive talks. "The audacious step taken by us amounts to an historical turning point in the history of our region, whose security and stability are closely linked with the security, stability and welfare of the whole world," wrote Sadat.

Katzir received the letter while on an official visit to Mexico, and during a conversation with US ambassador Samuel Lewis--a transcript of which we published here yesterday--Begin telephoned Katzir about the letter. He told Lewis that Sadat liked Katzir very much and appreciated his scientific knowledge.

In several articles which he published after leaving office, Katzir described his impressions of Sadat and his hopes for scientific cooperation with Egypt, which unfortunately were not realized.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

"One of the Great Events of our Times": Sadat Comes to Jerusalem, November 1977

Most Israelis over 50 can remember what they were doing on November 19, 1977, 35 years ago this month. On that day, Anwar el-Sadat, the leader of Egypt, Israel's longtime enemy, arrived in Israel as an honored guest, after his sudden decision to come to Jerusalem and to address the Knesset. But for younger people these events must seem very far away. After the events of the last week, when Israel's relations with Egypt were again in the news and the peace agreement between the two countries was put to the test, it seems more relevant than ever to look at the beginnings of direct Israeli relations with Egypt and the negotiations that led to the historic accord between them.

A few years ago, when declassification of documents on the peace process started, the Israel State Archives decided to embark on a major project to collect and publish a selection of these documents. Today we published online the "first fruits" of this project, "No More War": The Peace Plan of the Israeli Government and President Sadat's Journey to Jerusalem, November 1977.
Begin and Dayan meet with Sadat and Mustapha Khalil, later Prime Minister of Egypt, in the King David Hotel
The publication includes 42 documents, dating back to the election of Menachem Begin as Prime Minister of Israel. We survey the peace policy put forward by his government, the unsuccessful attempts of the Carter administration to convene a Middle East peace conference in Geneva, secret contacts between Israel and Egypt, and Sadat's decision to break the deadlock by going to Jerusalem. Documents on the visit itself include notes by Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan, and the accounts from Begin and his team of the government meeting, which was specially declassified for this purpose. We haven't found any official minutes of the meetings with Sadat, though we're still looking.

We end with the plans for further meetings and a report by the Mossad on Dayan's secret meeting in Morocco with the Egyptian Deputy Prime Minister in December 1977. Although some of the most interesting documents are in Hebrew, such as the protocols (stenograms) of government meetings, many of them have English equivalents or translations. For example, you can see here Begin and Dayan's account of the Sadat visit to Samuel Lewis, the popular American ambassador.

Israeli Responses to Zionism is Racism Resolution at the United Nations

In our last post on this subject, we wrote about the fight over UN General Assembly Resolution 3379, which equated Zionism with racism. It's interesting to see the reactions to this resolution, which was a political defeat for Israel by any measure (if an unavoidable one).

On the day of the vote in the United Nations, Prime Minister Rabin and the Knesset published two separate announcements condemning the resolution which, they said, "calls for the destruction of the state of Israel, recognition of terror organizations and harms the efforts to reconvene a new peace conference at Geneva."

Ambassador to the UN Chaim Herzog tried to find some rays of light in the darkness of failure in the great media buzz surrounding the 3379 resolution. He noted that Western states found themselves committed to stand with Israel, the Jewish public abroad united behind Israel, and that Israel got a chance to explain what Zionism was to the Jewish people and the world. Herzog tells how Fiji's Ambassador to the United Nations decided to vote for Israel after reading a book on Zionism that was delivered to him by the Israeli delegation.

Other responses, much harsher, were expressed by Foreign Minister Yigal Allon, Deputy Director-General of the Foreign Ministry Shlomo Argov (who later served as Israel's Ambassador in London, where the assassination attempt on his life triggered the first Lebanon war), and the legal adviser to the Foreign Ministry, Dr. Meir Rosen.

Allon asked for a detailed plan to harm the UN's finances by (a) discretely cutting Israeli payments to the UN and (b) working with states who have (as Allon put it) "a true and real Parliament" to suspend payments to the UN (not including payments to support peace-keeping forces). He also called for changing the names of streets in Israel named after the United Nations to new ones having to do with Zionism.

Argov proposed leaving the International Labor Organization; joining with sympathetic nations to raise issues that would embarrass states hostile to Israel; expelling the UN from the Government House (the former British High Commissioner's residence) in Jerusalem; and discontinuing the activity of UNRWA to demonstrate that the Palestinian refugee issue was a political problem, not a humanitarian one.

Rosen offered to work in the US to have the UN headquarters moved from New York to another location, but admitted that the chances of success for this campaign were slim. He also advocated expelling the UN from the Government House in Jerusalem.

All of these proposed responses gave voice to the feelings of frustration and isolation in Israel after the "Zionism is racism" resolution. Were they logical and possible? It seems that only one of them was ever really implemented: the United Nations Avenue in Haifa became (and remains to this day) Zionism Avenue.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Government Protocols, July 25-28 1948

The cabinet convened twice during the week of July 21, 1948. No meeting since the creation of the state two months earlier had resembled a standard cabinet meeting - assuming there is a standard - and the meetings this week were no exception. The state and its administration were still at war, and also still organizing themselves, and everything the cabinet discussed reflected this. Thus, the first item on the agenda of July 21 was about setting up a committee of five cabinet members to run the war (the topic was ultimately put off for a later meeting). A series of ministers raised various questions about how things were to be run:
* Why is the IZL (Irgun) still running a radio station? (The Minister of the Interior answered: they didn't ask anyone.)

* Is there an official censor (the Minister of the Interior: there should be one in my ministry but there seems to be one in the Ministry of Defense - to be discussed later.)

* Is it alright that anyone can broadcast without a license? (Interior: Ask the police or justice minister.)

* Shouldn't the Minster of Justice bring a list of judges? (Ben Gurion: that's a statement, not a question.)
Ben Gurion announced there would soon be a military parade in Tel Aviv.

Then there was a discussion about the territories taken during the hostilities and their Arab inhabitants. It was decided to appoint a ministerial committee to make particular decisions. In the meantime, however, Arabs who left would not be allowed back, as a general rule with possible exceptions. The Ministry of Finance would manage unclaimed property. An inquiry would be made into the reasons for the departure of the Arab population. The ministerial committee would have the authority to destroy empty villages. A military commander would be appointed to administer the territories.

The meeting then dealt with the ongoing process of moving authority from the Jewish Agency to the government. It was also decided to hold two regular weekly cabinet meetings, one for practical discussions and the other for general discussions. (Good luck with keeping that distinction!)

On the 25th, Aharon Zisling, Minister of Agriculture, wanted to know why the censor had shut down the left-leaning Al Hamishmar newspaper. Ben Gurion explained, but other ministers demanded the subject be urgently discussed at an upcoming meeting. (This was the censor in the Ministry of Defense, in case you were wondering: Ben Gurion was the minister there.)

Most of the meeting focused on Jerusalem. It was determined that a military governor be appointed for the city, but the cabinet would closely follow decisions regarding the city. Ministries were encouraged to set up offices in Jerusalem.

Near the end of the meeting there was another discussion about the censor. The Minister of the Interior was told to prepare a paper on the matter.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Nanny State? Baby Sitter State!

As recently as the 7th of October 1975, Yisrael Kargman, a powerful member of the Knesset who at the time was head of the Knesset Finance Committee, sent a letter to Prime Minster Yitzchak Rabin warning about the possibility that the single state television station was preparing to extend its broadcasting hours from 11pm to midnight. Given that it was a state-run operation, it's not surprising that one of the top bean-counters in the land was worried about higher electricity bills; what's notable were the non-financial considerations which led the MK to request the intervention of the PM to shut down the television broadcasts early:
The problem isn't merely budgetary. We are a working nation, and we arise early to get to work. Morning shifts start at 6am, and commuting often takes an hour. Expanding the programming schedule by an hour will cause people to remain glued to their televisions until after midnight, and there won't be enough time for the working person to sleep. It will be even worse with the youth.

The contention that people don't have to watch television so late disregards the fact that people do; televisions encourage people to watch thrillers and other programs. Nor does it help to shut the family TV, since the neighbors still have theirs on, broadcasting loudly.

I hereby request that you use your public stature to stop this development.
Yet it appears that perhaps 1975 was closer to today than Krugman's letter indicates. A week later Eli Mizrachi, Rabin's Chief of Staff, responded to Krugman: "we asked around and it's legal." By way of consolation he added that the Minister of Education would talk to the relevant committee and convey the unease of the Finance Committee.

That was probably the end of the matter, if today's multi-channel permanent broadcasts are any indication.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

49 years since the assassination of President John F. Kennedy

49 years ago, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. The murder shocked the world - the young, handsome, idealistic president fallen at the hands of a murderer.

Here is the hastily-written telegram Golda Meir, then Foreign Minister, sent to US Secretary of State Dean Rusk after receiving news of the assassination:

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

November 10th, a Day of Infamy at the UN: Zionism is Racism

More than a week ago -- November 10 -- was the anniversary of the lowest point in Israel's experience in the United Nations: In 1975, United Nations General Assembly Resolution 3379 "determine[d] that Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination." The resolution was revoked in 1991 by UN General Assembly Resolution 4686.

The story of this diplomatic battle began with an Arab effort to have Israel expelled from the UN. This initiative was blocked by African states who refused to even consider suspending Israel and by the United States, who threatened to reexamine her participation in the UN (or in other words – stop funding the UN). The new strategy adopted by the Arab countries (with the assistance of the USSR and the Eastern bloc) was to vilify Zionism. They chose the UN's Third Committee on Social, Cultural, and Humanitarian (SOCHUM) affairs. During the discussions of "A decade for action to combat racism and racial discrimination," Somalia proffered 7 amendments. According to these amendments, Zionism was a form of racism, and therefore moral and material assistance to national liberation movements fighting Zionism and to victims of Zionism is mandated, as is investigation into Zionism's (so-called) colonial roots.

The struggle against this proposal was led by Israel's ambassador to the UN, Chaim Herzog (later the 6th President of Israel) and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the United States's ambassador to the UN. Both understood that they could not block the vote altogether, due to the automatic majority of Arab and Islamic states (together with the Eastern Bloc), but they could prevent the vote on the amendments. After heated discussions, the committee voted on a new draft forwarded by Somalia on October 15, 1975, which passed 75 to 22, with 26 abstentions, and which included the amendments.

The struggle moved to the General Assembly, and after long, heated discussions full of threats, pressures and maneuvers of all kinds, the vote equating Zionism with racism was successful on November 10 -- 72 against 35, with 32 abstentions and 2 missing. Ironically, the vote was taken on the 37th anniversary of Kristallnacht.

During the debate in the General Assembly, Chaim Herzog gave an historic speech in which he defended Zionism and tore up the official paper of the UN decision. We published the text of the speech in the Hebrew language version of this blog on Herzog's 95th birthday.

Here are some interesting documents (in Hebrew) relating to the affair:

  1. In a general circular dated October 3, 1975, the General Manager of the Foreign Ministry delivers an assessment that the real motive behind the vote in the UN is an effort by Syria and Libya (with the backing of the USSR) to derail the negotiation on an interim agreement between Israel and Egypt (signed on September 1, 1975). (file HZ 5809/1)
  2. Ambassador Herzog is requested not to leave the General Assembly while President Sadat is speaking. Herzog is advised not to respond sharply, but rather in a measured tone if Sadat chooses to deliver a sharp attack on Israel. All this is part of the efforts to promote the process of the Interim Agreement. (file HZ 6813/3)
  3. Herzog offers to highlight speeches of Foreign Minister Yigal Allon and of Defense Minister Shimon Peres on 'Home Rule' for Palestinians, as a positive note during the discussions in the UN. (Also included is a response of David Ramin, an old UN hand in the Foreign Ministry, claiming that 'Home Rule' reeks of colonialism and publishing these ideas will kill the efforts of creating some form of self-rule in the west Bank). (file HZ 6813/3)
  4. A speech by Herzog in which he promises that Israel and the Jewish people will not forget who stood on their side and who did not.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Newsreel of Missiles at Israeli Civilians, in... 1969

Here's a section from a newsreel of August 1969, including a short report about Katyusha rockets shot at Kiryat Shemona. One woman was injured and property damaged. Richard Nixon was president at the time. The Beatles were (just barely) still recording songs together. Humanity was all agog about Apollo 11's trip to the moon. Angelina Jolie's birth was still six years in the future. Queen Elisabeth was on the throne. And Palestinians were shooting rockets at Israeli civilians.
 Carmel Newsreels 546
 קב-401.6 ISA file  

Monday, November 19, 2012

Vienna offers an important legal precedent

Last month, we published the decision of the State Archivist in the matter of the archives of the pre-Shoah Jewish community of Vienna. (See the summary here.) Last week, just as the news from southern Israel was pushing aside most other matters, Judge Gila Canfi-Steinitz of the Jerusalem District Court handed down her decision on this.

Initially it was a legal case, in which the Jewish community of Vienna claimed that it still owned this important collection of documentation, and wanted it back. When the Central Archvies of the Jewish People refused to hand it back, saying that the transfer in the 1950s was intended to be permanent, the community sued in court. Then the court did something unexpected, since it was unprecedented. Instead of ruling, it transferred the case to the State Archivist. After the State Archivist ruled, the case went back to the same court. The community continued to claim its property irrespective of what anyone might say, insisting this was the only relevant fact. The Central Archives, however, now said that the State Archivist, as a state official, had determined otherwise and his position was weightier.

The judge has now fully accepted the ruling of the State Archivist (the 4-page ruling is here, in Hebrew of course). Moreover, her reasoning shied away from resolving the issue of straight ownership, preferring the broader considerations of the State Archivist. According to his reasoning, the Law of Archives (first passed in 1955 and modified since) includes the authority to forbid the removal of documents and collections from public archives, irrespective of ownership. The philosophical underpinning of this is that a society needs to preserve the documentation of its actions and its heritage; archives are an important tool for executing this preservation; and once documents have been legally integrated into public archives and thus into the national heritage, they are not to be removed unless the top relevant official sees justification for such a removal. (In this case, no sufficient justification was found.)

At the end of the day, the case has had three important implications. One, the collection stays in Israel. Two, the legal standing of the State Archivist has been set in judicial precedence. And third, the original intention of the legislators has likewise been judicially strengthened.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Missiles on Tel Aviv

Contrary to what the media may be implying, air attacks on Israel's cities and towns aren't actually anything new. True, in the Yom Kippur War of 1973 there were no attacks on Israel's cities, and in 1982 there were no such attacks on the large cities in central Israel. Nor in the short war of 1956, for those of our readers who even remember that there was such a campaign. But in WW2, in 1948, in 1967, in 1991, and of course in 2006 and 2009, air attacks on Israeli urban civilians were integral parts of the wars. Not to mention places such as Beit Shean, Nahariya or Kiryat Shemona, whose citizens spent years or even decades under hostile fire; and not to mention non-aerial attacks such as bombs in rubbish bins, mines planted under roads, and of course suicide bombers.

What is a bit curious, if one takes the time to stop and think about it, is the matter of the world's response. When do foriegn media feel attacks on Israeli citizens newsworthy, and why then and not at other times? Even more interesting, when do foreign leaders feel a need to demonstrate solidarity, and when can't they be bothered?
President Herzog visits the site of a SCUD missile hit
(Government Press Office)
The most extreme case of foreign concern was probably the month in early 1991 (mid-January to mid-February) during which Iraq launched 39 SCUD missiles with relatively large payloads at Israel, most of them at Greater Tel Aviv, some at Haifa. Only one Israeli civilian was killed, but the missiles damaged thousands of apartments and seriously disrupted normal life. All warring sides in Operation Desert Storm (of which Israel wasn't) had an interest in Israel's response. Prime Minister Yitzchak Shamir, recognized that the American-led coalition was going to beat the Iraqi military with or without Israeli intervention, while an Israeli response would hamper the Arab participation in the coalition's effort, and so held back and refrained from any military response.

Out of concern that Israel might not restrain itself, or because of the obvious cynicism of the Iraqi ploy, or for whatever other reason, Israel was inundated with international support. Here, for example, is an exchange of letters (in English) between the German president, Dr. Richard von Weizsacker, and his Israeli counterpart, Haim Herzog. File נ-426/23

Monday, November 12, 2012

Ben Gurion, the Negev, and the Vision Thing

In his magnificent autobiographical novel A Tale of Love and Darkness, Amos Oz tells the story of his dawn meeting with Ben Gurion, after a short story he had written as an aspiring young author had caught the eye of the father of the nation. It's one of the best portraits around of Ben Gurion in action--the prime minster and minister of defense and literary critic. Afterwards, Oz summed it up to himself: Ben Gurion had decided in his youth that the Jews needed a state, and that he would be its leader. He may have asked himself what the cost of implementing these two decisions might be, but had answered himself that whatever the price, both decisions had to be realized.

Probably as plausible a summary of Ben Gurion's life as any 500,000-word biography.

The man had The Vision Thing, in spades.

Yet not all his visions came to be realized; only those two main ones. The broad flow of human history is stronger even than the most capable of visionaries, and some things they imagine turn out very different.

Yesterday we took a quick look at Ben Gurion's fascination with the Negev; today we're offering a slightly closer look. Everyone knows how in 1954 he abruptly resigned his post as prime minister and went to join the newly founded kibbutz of Sdeh Boker deep in the Negev, to prove that settling the Negev was more important even than leading the government. (He returned the following year, though when he finally did retire, it was back to Sdeh Boker.) So all Israelis knew about his ideas about the Negev, but they didn't necessarily agree.

One of our staff recently dug up a short summary of the idea, from a three-page set of responses Ben Gurion wrote for a journalist in 1959, anticipating the conditions in 1968, which would be Israel's 20th anniversary:
In 1968, 500,000 people will live in the Negev. There will be four urban centers: Beer Sheva, Dimona, [Mitspe] Ramon and Eilat. 20,000 families will make their living from agriculture, once we complete the National Water Carrier and develop desalination capabilities. Another 20,000 will work in the mining industries, producing phosphates, copper, iron and other minerals. We'll develop a chemical industry and in the cities there will be additional industry, and 50,000 heads of family will be employed there. Thousands will be employed in the port of Eilat, and perhaps 10,000 in transportation. 80% of the people will be immigrants, and 20% will be haluzim from existing settlements, and university trained teachers and doctors. We'll pave a new road the length of the Arava, since the present narrow road to Eilat isn't sufficient; the geologists think we might find oil south of the Dead Sea.
Well, no. If in 1959 there were fewer than 2 million Israelis, there are now 8 million, yet the population of the Negev reached 500,000 only in 2003. Dimona has remained a small town, Mitspeh Ramon is tiny, Eilat is a major tourism town but its port is marginal. No-one ever found that oil. One of the most significant sources of population growth came from the Beduin communities, who seem not to have been in BG's focus at all. There is agriculture in the Negev, here and there, but it doesn't support 20,000 families, not remotely. There's a large-ish mining industry based on phosphates, but no copper or iron.

The government recently put together a program to promote the Negev by 2015. Some of the ideas were formulated by Ben Gurion 60 years ago, but now they've got a modern terminology: The government needs to build infrastructures so as to attract private investors; the fields the planners hope to develop are hi-tech, tourism, solar energy and so on. The program explictly includes the Beduin poulation.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Ben Gurion Spars with a Voter

On March 27, 1962, a schoolgirl from the kibbutz of Nahal Oz in the northern Negev wrote to David Ben Gurion, then in the 13th year of his prime ministership. Her letter was a combination of gushing awe that she was writing to the prime minister, and budding criticism from a young citizen who demands answers from her leaders and isn't sure she's going to accept what she'll be told.
I am a member of the youth group of Nahal Oz. We are 35 kids. We're also the first youth group here. We've been here 5 months and feel great. Recently we decided to study the region in detail. Today our discussion reached the Bsor area, and a question arose in class: Why has this area been neglected? Are there plans to continue the development of the area? I'm writing to you because our teacher said you were a strong supporter of the development of our area. I hope someday to receive a response from you to this troublesome question, because we feel it's very important to develop the Negev. And we're in favor of more people coming here and developing the region. We would be very happy if you would come and visit us someday. We know that you must be very busy, and we don't wish to bother you. But we hope that  someday you'll find the time and the moment to visit us. We wish for you that you live for many years, and that you be our prime minister in our land for all those years.

"The Oz Group"
Nahal Oz
The Negev
You get the strong whiff of the irreverant  political culture that was to develop in Israel.

Ben Gurion responded within the week, on April 2nd 1962:

To the "Oz Group"

I recieved your unsigned letter of March 27th. I am very glad to hear there's a youth group at Nahal Oz and that you are happy there. You ask: why have we neglected the Bsor area? We haven't "neglected". The Negev is broad and wide (compared to the size of the country), and many years will be required for its development. Important things are happening there: Mitzpeh Ramon is being built, Arad is being planned,  Eilat is growing, Dimona is expanding. Agricultural settlements are being nurtured in Yotvata, Ein Gedi, Sdeh Boker, Neot Hakikar and elsewhere. It's impossible to do everything at once.

If I can find the time I will gladly come and visit you, but I don't think this will happen in the coming months. I thank you for your nice letter, and next time sign your name to what you write.

In friendship,

D. Ben Gurion (no signature) (at least, not on the copy which remains in the file)

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Kreisky is Gone, Yippee!

The Austrians once had a chancellor by the name of Bruno Kreisky. He held the job for 13 years, routinely won elections, and - unusual for Austrian politicians - attained significant international recognition. (Quick, don't stop to think: who's the Austrian chancellor today?)

He was also Jewish, though he preferred to describe himself as "being of Jewish descent" (juedischer Abstammung), which was a way of distancing himself.

He was cordially detested by most Israelis. Rumour was that he had a brother in Israel, and a nephew who was a pilot in the Israeli air force, but this, if anything, made matters worse. The nadir of Kreisky's relationship with Israel came in September 1973, when a group of Palestinian terrorists took as hostages a group of Soviet Jews who were in Austria on their way to Israel. The terrorists demanded that Austria cease in assisting the transit of Soviet Jews immigrating to Israel, and Kreisky complied with indecent alacrity. This was known as the Schoenau incident, named after the Austrian castle which had been serving as a transit facility.

The other day, one of our professional declassifiers showed me an interesting document. In the course of routine declassification of Foreign Ministry files, he had come across a September 6, 1983 letter from Israel's ambassador to Austria, Michael Elizur, to his boss in Jerusalem. The declassifier thought it was interesting because the new Austrian Chancellor, Fred Sinowatz, had authorized the transfer to Israel of the historical archives of the Burgenland region (which has had no Jewish community since the Holocaust). Look Yaacov, the declassifier said, a tidbit that ties in with the case of the Vienna archvies.

Read the full letter, however, and it's subject is of greater interest: "... we are seeing a process of emancipation of the current government from Kreisky's rule," gloated the ambassador with non-diplomatic glee, and enumerated a list of events which demonstrated improving relations between Austria and Israel. That word - emancipation - is in itself about as close to a cheer as a diplomat can get, even in a letter classified at the time as "secret."

A few years later Kurt Waldheim was elected President of Austria and relations with Israel went into deep freeze, but the ambassador's letters from then are in a different box.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Blowing Up Houses

Here's a short section from a 1968 newsreel about building homes in 24 hours, by inflating a balloon, encasing it with cement, and pulling out the deflated balloon. To be honest, it doesn't look particularly convincing, which may explain why there aren't thousands of such structures all over the country. Yomanei Geva 424, file number 425/7 קב

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

1979: What Are the Settlements For?

Last month, we published a collection of documents pertaining to the decision of the High Court of Justice to dismantle the settlement of Elon Moreh, in October 1979. We also blogged about it, here, here, here, here, here, and also here. Enough already, huh?

We're almost finished. [As an aside, if you think seven blogposts on one topic are too many, you should see this.]

The two longest documents in our collection were the stenograms of the two cabinet meetings that discussed the matter. The first, on October 28, focused on what the government should say in response to the court's ruling. Prime Minister Menachem Begin wished the cabinet to declare that it would respect the ruling and move immediately to find an alternative location for the settlement. A majority of the ministers changed his mind: Of course the government would respect the court ruling, they said, so there's no need for a declaration; since an alternative site had not yet been identified, why tie the two together, and create the mistaken impression that without an alternative, the government might, in fact, not dismantle the settlement?

On the first of November the cabinet held a special meeting (normally cabinet meetings are held Sunday morning). This one was rather long, and as unstructured discussions can be, it was sort of muddled. It began - and eventually also ended - with the need to decide where to put the dismantled settlement, and also whether to request a temporary stay of execution from the court until the alternate site was ready. Since there was as yet no nearby hilltop the lawyers were certain was not privately owned, that decision was relegated to a subcommittee; since there was no alternative, the minsters decided they'd have to remove the settlement on time no matter what, and not risk being slapped down by the court for appearing to drag their feet.

There was also the usual amount of personal needling between the participants, such as when Minister of Agriculture Ariel Sharon introduced his criticism of Deputy Minister of Defense Mordechai Zippori by saying how much he respected him, then aggressively poking holes in his position; Minister of Defense Ezer Weizman then noted dryly "but you respect him greatly none-the-less". There were some lighthearted moments, such as when Sharon compared a recent ministerial report to the infamous British White Paper of 1939, and Weizman suggested the cabinet call his (deceased) uncle Haim Weizman to participate in the meeting. Later on, Sharon told about how when he was younger and thinner he used to have no trouble climbing fragile watchtowers.

As the meeting stretched on, however, it morphed into a basic discussion about the settlement project. One needs to be careful not to read too much into this particular document, which can't on its own sum up the full comlplexity of the issue, but it is an important document.

All of the participants, every one of them, accepted that the settlements must be created legally. They all accepted that settlements not be created on private Palestinian property, and that the Elon Moreh case had been a mistake: at the time of its creation they had thought the land wasn't private. They were united in claiming there was no contradiction between building settlements and achieving peace; though many of them also felt that the impending Palestinian autonomy, agreed upon at Camp David with Egypt, would seriously hamper Israel's ability to construct additional settlements. Almost all were convinced that the settlements were permissable even in international law, since they were being constructed for security purposes.

Yet there were significant differences of opinion amongst them. At one pole stood Ezer Weizman and his deputy Mordechai Zippori. Weizman noted that there were 750,000 Arabs on the West Bank, and finding an acceptable mode of coexistance with them was itself an important componant of security; more so than the settlements. He emphasized his party credentials and his committment to its values, but then added:
I appologize for being personal for a moment, but when my son Shaul went down to the [Suez] Canal he didn't know what he was going to face there, but I did, because I was in the government. I wrote to him at the time: you are going into battle. When you were born I told your mother I hoped you'd never have to go to war. Now that you are, I ask myself what we did wrong [Shaul was seriously injured in the War of Attrition and never fully recovered].
Mordechai Zippori presented the practical face of his boss' position. He brought maps, and showed that plans had already been authorized to build thousands of apartments in a number of large settlements such as Maaleh Adumim. Why build dozens of tiny settlements all over the West Bank, he asked, and risk additional mistakes such as at Elon Moreh, when the decisions already made were not being fulfilled?

On the opposite side of the discussion were Education Minister Zevulun Hammer, and Ariel Sharon, who were not, however in full agreement with one another. Hammer gave a long speech-like statement full of vague allusions, but eventually seemed to be saying that creating settlements was the most important thing the government could do and decrying that they weren't at the top of the budgetary agenda. He also hinted that security considerations shouldn't be the guiding principle for their creation. Hammer, from the National Religious Party, was the closest speaker in the cabinet to the positions of Gush Emunim, which at the time was the central organization of the settlers (it was disbanded many years ago, but that's a different story).

Sharon's position was the mirror image of Weizman's. Where Weizman spent a chunk of his time reminding everyone of his solid political credentials as a leader of Likud (and its previous iteration Herut), Sharon apologized that he had grown up in the opposite political camp, that of the Socialists. "I come from the camp that built most of the settlements upon which the State of Israel is based", he said; "from the tradition that facts on the ground create reality. Seen from that perspective and as time is running out because of the near advent of the Palestinian autonomy, the most important thing to do right now is to sprinkle as many tiny settlements throughout the West Bank as possible. One they're there, they can later be expanded; but if they're not even there, quite soon it will be impossible to create them in the first place".

Most of the other ministers were somewhere between these two extremes. Some of them complained that the discussion had become far more strategic than they had been told in advance, and hadn't been prepared properly: for such a discussion it was critical to have more data, and see maps of private versus public land on the West Bank.

No general decisions were made.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Cabinet Protocols, Second Week of July 1948: Don't We Need a Flag?

In the week that began on July 7, 1948, the cabinet held six meetings (two on the 7th). This was the week in which the 28-day ceasefire expired and hostilities resumed, even as Folk Bernadotte, the UN's mediator, continued to seek a resolution to end the war. Much of the discussion in the cabinet meetings were dedicated to these efforts. The meeting on July 7 was continued in the evening to deliberate that day's discussions. The stenograms of the meetings may be rich in information about how Israel's leadership ran the negotiations; the protocols, sadly, mostly reflect the fact of the deliberations but not their content.

Since the fighting was renewed, the cabinet talked about miltary matters, too. Yet in a week when the IDF conquered Lod (Lydda) and Ramleh, leading to the expulsion of some 50,000 local Arabs, the events found no echo in the cabinet protocols.

The protocols of that week do tell us that the cabinet adopted a proposal by the Minister of Justice to appoint seven justices to the High Court, which was not yet called the Supreme Court (Bet ha-Din ha-Elyon, not yet Beit ha-Mishpat ha-Elyon). There was lots of discussioon of procedural matters, such as which subcommittee of ministers would deal with which topics and how. There was a decision to operate the oil refinery in Haifa, and a second decision not to decide about employment of additional civil servants.

Most intriguing was the decision, made on July 11, that Israel's national flag would have a bue and white background with seven yellow Magen David stars, as recommended by a sub-committee. This decision seems to have been changed later on, if the flag I can see in front of our building is any indication.

The Israel State Archives re-opens

Having been closed for a week because of a bureaucratic snafu, the ISA is once again open for business. We intend it to stay open.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

It's Not Nice to See Closed Archives

There's a famous song from the 1980s called "It's not nice to see a closed nursery school "Lo nai'm lirot gan naul". It purports to be sung by a little boy whose mother takes him past his closed nursery school late in the afternoon, and it's all shut down. I have no idea why it became so popular, but there you have it: years later, if anyone finds themselves in a situation remotely related to the theme of the song, they'll mutter that it's Lo Naim..., and anyone nearby will immediately hum the tune.

Yesterday, one of our staff made a short film of our empty building, and posted it with reference to that immortal ditty. So once you've listened to the song, watch the archives film while humming its melody: