Thursday, December 13, 2012

Government Protocols, 1948: What's the Source of Authority in Jerusalem?

Here's the next installment in our series following the protocols of the meetings of the cabinet. In this series, we've reached the last week of July 1948, in which there were two meetings, on the 28th of July and the 1st of August.

As is often the case with these protocols, they're frustratingly sparse in detail; for the ambience and interpersonal relations of the cabinet members you've got to read the word-by-word stenograms rather than the summary 2-page protocols. Yet as we've seen, perusing the protocols does offer an incremental understanding of what issues were important enough to command the attention of the top decision-making forum in the country.

In the middle of the fourth month of the country's existence, with the war still not over, much of the attention of the cabinet was focused on the cease-fire negotiations with the UN mediator, Count Folke Bernadotte. They didn't much like his proposals, that's clear even from the sparse protocols. Of the three resolutions adopted, two were rejections: No to the proposals for demilitarized zones, and an expression of scepticism as to Bernaddotte's goals regarding Jerusalem, since he was on the record as advocating Arab control of the city. The third resolution, however, left the door open to any resolution which would end violence in the city. (Here's a summary of what Bernadotte thought he was doing.)

Other topics included the question of whether government-employed laborers had worked on shabbat to prepare a ceremony - a perennial theme of Israeli politics from day one.

The second weekly session opened with a novelty: three top economic figures were brought in to report on how the state was setting up its currency. Anyone who has ever had anything to do with cabinet meetings these past few decades will tell you such meetings are populated by the cabinet ministers themselves along with multitudes of aides. This seems not to have been the case in the early years of the state, when apparently the only participants of cabinet meetings were the members of the cabinet. How very odd.

The most important part of the meetings dealt with Jerusalem. It was time for somebody to clarify to the populace in the Israeli-controlled part of town what their legal status was, and how they were related to the State of Israel. A draft proclamation was submitted, and the ministers seem to have debated it very seriously, line by line. At the end they had a formulation which was then attached to the protocol, so you can see it at the link above.

The principles were that David Ben Gurion as the Minister of Defense decreed:

1. That the area of Jerusalem was defined as that controlled by the army on August 2nd 1948 or future changes;

2. Israeli law would apply on that territory;

3. The populace was called upon to obey orders of the military commander in matters of public peace;

4. The declaration would be made public;

5. It would apply retroactively to midnight on May 14th, or to whatever date any particular area had been occupied thereafter.

For an idea how very important this document turned out to be, see the discussions in the cabinet after the Six Day War in 1967, when the Minister of Justice looked back at this document and explained its fundamental significance (we described that discussion here).

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