Sunday, December 22, 2013

When Nelson Mandela Met the Mossad

Over the weekend, there's been some media attention on a document pertaining to Israeli agents having contact with Nelson Mandela in 1962. Here's the document [link] (file חצ 3388/1):

For more information on Israel and Mandela, see the special publication presented by the Israel State Archives on December 8, 2013, on attempts to prevent a death sentence in the Rivonia Trial.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Israel Bans the Beatles

The Beatles in America (Wikipedia)
Attempts to bring the Beatles to Israel in the 1960s walked a long and winding road before the Liverpool lads were turned down by the Israeli committee in charge of hosting artists and performers.

Following vociferous public debates that reached as far as the High Court of Justice and the Knesset, the committee ultimately decided to keep the Beatles out of Israel. The band's music, they said, was of "no artistic value," and there was fear their phalanxes of fans might cause a security problem.

To mark 33 years since John Lennon's assassination in New York on December 8, 1980, we've published a number of documents from the Israel State Archives on this dispute. You can see the originals on our Hebrew blog here.

Why were the Beatles kept out of Israel? You could blame it on teen heartthrob and singer Cliff Richard, for one, whose 1963 appearance here had the committee recalling the madness that had accompanied the visit, as it often did on the Fab Four's itinerary, and worrying about a security risk.

Hundreds of crazed Cliff fans had gone to Ben-Gurion Airport to greet him and some even gathered on the tarmac. They welcomed him with screams and yells and the police were unable to keep order. That wild reception contributed to the fear of public disorder if The Beatles were allowed entry.

This, however, was only one of the reasons that the cultural committee--established in the mid-fifties, and tasked with coordinating bringing performers to Israel and evaluating their artistic level, as well as preventing problems during their performances--opposed The Beatles's visit.

The decision was presided over by then-Education Ministry Director-General Yaakov Schneider, father of future left-wing MK and education minister Yossi Sarid.

"There is some kind of fable that my father prevented The Beatles from entering Israel," Sarid said in an interview on Ynet in 2008. "I tried to look into it and didn't find any evidence to support this. I decided, however, that it's a nice legend, so who am I to destroy it?

"I assume that they told my father, who wasn't a great Beatles expert, that the band members have long hair and take drugs, and will surely corrupt Israeli youth."

The committee included representatives from the Education, Finance, and Interior ministries, the Israel Broadcasting Authority and other government bodies. Deputy Education Ministry Director-General Avner Israeli headed it, and their work revolved mostly around the Israeli promoters, or as they were called, "the impresarios."

In January 1964, Israeli promoters Avraham Bugtier and Ya'acov Ori asked the committee for approval to invite The Beatles to perform here.

The committee turned them down on the grounds that it feared the band would have a bad influence on Israeli youth (Document 1). The two appealed the decision in February. A month later, the committee decided not to allow John, Paul, George and Ringo to perform in the Holy Land because the band's music was of no artistic value and its appearances had led to mass hysteria among the youth where they performed. That decision (Document 3) was based on numerous foreign and local newspaper articles about the group and impressions of the Foreign Ministry's Division for Cultural Relations.

It prompted Baruch Gilon, head of the Israeli promoters association, to write a letter of protest to committee chairman Israeli. He accused the committee of overstepping its authority, arguing it had not been authorized to judge the artistic level of any bands. He asked the committee to retract the ban and allow The Beatles to appear, adding that the committee's authority was limited to matters of values and security (Document 3). In response, the Education Ministry's legal adviser wrote that the committee had explicitly been formed -- based on the original letter outlining its responsibilities -- to "ensure the professional level" of performers appearing in Israel.

In August 1964, committee chairman Israeli wrote to the two promoters that even a Washington official dealing with youth had called for banning the group from performing, based on problems that had occurred at their concerts: rioting, mass hysteria (teenage girls screaming, fainting, and massing in places where the group was scheduled to appear), causing injuries and the need for police intervention. No serious promoter should take the risks that accompanied The Beatles concerts, he argued.

In response to a letter of protest (Document 4) from a teenage girl expressing her disappointment over the committee's ban, the Education Ministry spokesman wrote that in this case it was not a matter of the generation gap between the "square" older people and the youth. It was not an attempt to deny them pleasure, the spokesman wrote, but a real fear of negative phenomena which had accompanied the band's appearances elsewhere.

The Beatles debate made it as far as the High Court of Justice. In April 1965, it ruled that the committee indeed had the authority to ban foreign performers and bands from abroad from performing in Israel.

In February 1966, the Beatles issue even rocked the Knesset. MK Uri Avneri posed a parliamentary question to Deputy Education Minister Aharon Yadlin regarding the committee's reasons for not allowing the Beatles to perform in Israel (Document 5). He explained that the band members, who had also become favorites with members of the British establishment, had even received awards from the Queen.

In his response, Yadlin too noted the band's low artistic level. "From an artistic standpoint, this group of singers has no real value," he said, adding that the mass hysteria that broke out when they appeared would require the call-up of many police. He concluded by noting that Beatles performances in other parts of the world ended in brawls, sending some people to the hospital.

The dispute over The Beatles reflects how the band was perceived by the Israeli establishment. The committee, as a representative body of that establishment, expressed in its decision its fear of foreign influence and the undermining of Israeli youth's values.

In the end, however, the Israeli government saw the error of its ways. At a ceremony at The Beatles Museum in Liverpool in January 2008, Israeli Ambassador to the UK Ron Prosor met with John Lennon's sister, Julia Baird, and presented her with an official letter, YNet reported. The letter read: "There is no doubt that it was a great missed opportunity to prevent people like you, who shaped the minds of the generation, to come to Israel and perform before the young generation in Israel who admired you and continues to admire you."

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

December 9th, 1917 - General Edmond Allenby marches into Jerusalem

 We promised to bring more posts on concerning the centenary of the First World War, and here's the first one – How the British army conquered Jerusalem on December 1917.

The Palestine theater of war (there was another battle zone in the Middle East – the war in Mesopotamia/Iraq in which the British suffered one of their worst defeats – the siege of Kut el-Amara) was secondary to the European war (especially the western front, but also the eastern front) but on the other hand, it was a more dynamic and fast going war, unlike the static and indecisive war on the western front.

Turkey entered the war on November 2nd 1914, after concluding a secret pact with Germany. The war in the Middle East started at the end of that month, when a British force, sent from India, landed in Basra and conquered it. On February 1915, a Turkish force (under German command) attacked the British-controlled Suez Canal - and was repulsed. The British decided that the best way to defend the Strategic Canal was by capturing the Sinai Peninsula and advancing on Palestine. On January 1917 the British took Rafah and on March and April tried to capture Gaza (the gate to the land of Israel since ancient times) and failed.

After the failure in the second battle of Gaza (in which the British used Gas and Tanks), the British commander, General Archibald Murray was recalled and replaced with General Edmond Allenby. Allenby, a veteran cavalry officer, had commanded the 3rd British army on the western front and commanded the Arras offensive in France in the spring of 1917.   Although the initial stages of the attack were successful (relatively for the western front) the battle soon deteriorated into regular static trench warfare. Allenby was removed from his command and was returned to Britain.

Allenby received the command of the Palestine front in the summer of 1917 and started preparing  for another attack on Gaza, but this time in another fashion: He made the Turks and the Germans believe that he was about to attack Gaza again but instead attacked Beersheba. Australian, New Zealand and British cavalry (The Palestine front saw the deployment of large cavalry forces – including French and Indian cavalry units – something that the western front's trench system and fire power did not allow) and conquered it after a fierce fight. From there Allenby's forces moved north from Gaza to outflank the Turks. The Turks retreated towards the Yarkon River and Jerusalem. The British moved towards Jerusalem in the end of November 1917 in three main routes – north of Jerusalem (today's Route 443 – the ancient road to Jerusalem), the main highway to Jerusalem (today's Route number 1) and from the south – via Hebron and Bethlehem.

At the beginning of December 1917 the Turks began to retreat from Jerusalem (the Germans managed to dissuade the Turks from their plan ofexpelling the Jews of Jerusalem, as they did to the Jews of Tel Aviv and the neighboring towns) and on December 9th the mayor of Jerusalem, Hussein el Husseini, went out with a group of dignitaries to present to the British the surrender of Jerusalem. With them came an American photographer, a member of the American colony in Jerusalem, named Lewis Larson. According to SimonSebag-Montefiore in his book "Jerusalem – the biography", the delegation met two British soldiers, cooks of a commander in the 60th Division (a 'Cockney' unit from east London) who were in a mission to find eggs for their commander's breakfast…The cooks refused to accept the city's surrender – "We don’t want the surrender of the 'oly city, we want heggs for ur hofficer" (I hope I got the cockney accent right…). The delegation moved on, and soon encountered two more British soldiers (from the same division), sergeants Sedgwick and Hurcomb, who were scouts for their unit. They too refused to accept the surrender of the Jerusalem but were willing to be photographed with the delegation and accepted cigarettes from them… (At the place where this meeting happened, a monument was erected in memorial to the surrender of Jerusalem to the British army and the soldiers of the 60th division that fell in the First World War. The monument can be found today behind Jerusalem's central bus station, in the Romema neighborhood).

After being rejected by a British artillery officer, the delegation met Brigadier Watson, commander of the 180th brigade, who accepted the surrender of Jerusalem. After the short ceremony, Watson informed his commander, General Shea (commander of the 60th division) the he had accepted the surrender of Jerusalem. Shea canceled the surrender to Watson and demanded that el Husseini surrender to him. Husseini again came out of Jerusalem and surrendered to Shea. Shea entered Jerusalem and declared martial law. He then informed Allenby that he accepted the surrender of Jerusalem. Allenby cancelled the two former surrenders and demanded that the city surrender to him and to him only. At this point el Husseini became ill and the third surrender took place without him. (He later succumbed to pneumonia – no doubt from too frequent exposure to the cold Jerusalem December mornings).

Allenby rode his horse to the Jaffa gate but entered the city on foot – as a sign of respect to the holiness of the city (and in striking contrast to Kaiser Wilhelm II pompous entry to Jerusalem 20 years earlier) with his staff marching after him. He walked to the entrance of Jerusalem citadel (known as Tower of David), met the heads of the different communities in the city and declared martial law in the city.

The war in Palestine continued until September 1918. After a winter and a spring of static warfare, Allenby attacked the Turkish lines with his typical deception, feinting an attack on Trans Jordan while sending a large cavalry force covered by large numbers of airplanes towards Nazareth and Haifa. It was a textbook operation, still regarded to this day. The British arrived in Damascus on October 1st and on October 31st Turkey surrendered.

The Israel State archives hold several movies and photos showing Allenby's historical entrance to Jerusalem:

1)      A part of a newsreel from the First World War, 10 minute long, which shows Allenby marching into Jerusalem.
3)       Posters of the declaration of martial law in Jerusalem written in English, French, Arabic, Hebrew, Greek and Russian. 

Israel and Nelson Mandela, 1962 -1965: A Call for Freedom

Following the passing of Nelson Mandela, the Israel State Archives posted a publication documenting the effort Israel made to prevent the execution of Nelson Mandela and his comrades in 1964. These individuals were tried for different charges, including forming a terrorist organization and training for terrorist acts. The Israeli Foreign Ministry, led by Golda Meir, initiated a joint manifesto by philosopher Martin Buber and writer Chaim Hazaz, calling for the release of the defendants and ending apartheid in South Africa.

This publication is the forerunner of a wider publication--part of a series on Israel's foreign relations--on Israel's relations with South Africa during the 1960s, which will be published on the archives' web site in the coming weeks.

The importance of the publication on Mandela (and the larger publications following it) is challenging the mistaken and often malicious claim that Israel supported South Africa's apartheid regime. Israel did not sympathize with apartheid and did not support it. Israel expressed its opposition to the racial discrimination in South Africa and voted against it in the UN. Israel had contacts with the African National Congress (ANC), and invited its exiled leader, Oliver Tambo, to visit Israel in 1964. Israel, as will be revealed in the documents soon to be published, recalled its Legate from South Africa (Israel didn't have an embassy in South Africa but held a legation) at the end of 1963, and replaced him with a Chargé d'Affaires until the 1970s. All this was done in accordance with UN Resolution 1761, which called all states in the UN to break off their relations with South Africa. Israel didn't completely end relations with South Africa out of consideration for the large and important Jewish community there.

The relations between Israel and South Africa began to warm after the Yom Kippur War. Other African states, in which Israel invested money, manpower and goodwill, broke off relations with Israel en masse during and after the war (several, especially Uganda, broke off relations already in 1972). In reaction, Israel improved its diplomatic, economic and even military relations with South Africa. Nevertheless, Israel continued opposing apartheid, but not as intensively as she did during the 60s. More on this to come.


Monday, December 9, 2013

Commemorating the 35th anniversary of Prime Minister Golda Meir’s death

Following the sudden death of Prime Minister Levi Eshkol in February 1969, Golda Meir was chosen as the Prime Minister of Israel, thus becoming the world’s second woman to hold this position, receiving the vote of confidence from the Knesset.
Thousands paying tribute at the grave of former prime minister
 Golda Meir at the Mt. Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem.
December 1978 / Government press office
In tribute to Golda Meir, the Israel State Archives has prepared an online collection of audio visual recordings. Below you will find an interview conducted by correspondents from abroad with Golda Meir before the elections for the 7th Knesset. 

Golda was asked if Israel was drifting towards another war.  She replied, I believe not. It's not reasonable to think that Israel will launch an attack against Egypt in the near future. Had Nasser not called for war, the borders would still be peaceful. Hence, there is no intention from our side to start a war. 

To listen and see more Hebrew and Yiddish clips, such as Golda's journey to the United States, click here.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A Photograph Album for the British High Commissioner

One of the main collections of photographs in the Israel State Archives is the collection of Herbert Samuel, the first British High Commissioner in Palestine, given to us by Edwin, his son.

Edwin Samuel (1898-1978) served as an official in the Mandatory government and stayed in Israel after 1948, becoming a senior civil servant and university lecturer. He deposited a rich collection of documents and photographs in the Archives about his and his father's activities and their family.

One of the most beautiful and important items in the collection is an album called MIZPAH. It is bound in suede leather and the pages are connected by a white drawstring. It contains 51 high-quality photographs (on 26 pages) and three pages with 78 signatures, many of them identified as belonging to the American Colony in Jerusalem.
 The American Colony was founded in 1882 by American Christian immigrants, later joined by a group from Sweden. One of the occupations of part of the group was photographing Palestine. Later descendants deposited the negatives of their photographs in the Library of Congress.
Anna Spafford (1842-1923), the founder of the American colony, in the courtyard of the building which is now the American Colony hotel.
Most of the photographs were taken during Herbert Samuel's term of office (1920-1925). Two of them are earlier: one of the surrender of Ottoman Jerusalem (December 1917), and one of the Zionist Commission (1918). Apparently, the album was given to Samuel shortly before the end of his term on June 30, 1925 by members of the American Colony.
Winston Churchill and Herbert Samuel in Jerusalem, March 1921

You can see the photographs on the website of the Israel State Archives. To find out more about the Samuel family see also Edwin Samuel's fascinating memoir, "A Lifetime in Jerusalem."

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Golda Meir: JFK Conspiracy Theorist

The Israel State Archives just published a series of documents commemorating 50 years since President John F. Kennedy's assassination. Half of the documents are in English, but one of the more interesting ones is in Hebrew: the minutes of the Israeli government--and Golda Meir--discussing conspiracy theories as to who killed him.

On December 1, 1963, eight days after the assassination of JFK, Golda Meir (then foreign minister) spoke in Israel's government meeting. She'd just returned from Kennedy's funeral and shared her feelings and thoughts with her colleagues.

Here are some of her words (my translation): "After that [the assassination] happened, there was a feeling that in that moment, the world changed for the Americans--not only for the Americans but the entire world. There was a feeling of personal loss for everyone, and it was not artificial. They say that 2 million people were in the streets in Washington. I haven't seen something like that – complete silence, not a word. It was a cold morning, people stood for hours. It was real mourning – a personal loss."

Then came an interesting conversation about the unsolved mysteries of the assassination--mysteries that plagued the public discussion regarding it and Kennedy's presidency in general: "In my opinion," said Golda, "there are some 'dark corners' that I doubt will be ever be cleared… The fact is there is something strange about the Dallas police. A policeman enters the building [the Texas School Book Depository] to check if everything is all right, a guy [Lee Harvey Oswald] with a package passes. The officer asks him 'what's that?' and the guy answers 'a curtain.' The policeman, instead of checking the package and verifying that it is indeed a curtain, lets him go and when someone says to the policeman 'he works with us,' he doesn’t check it as well."

"Oswald was registered as a Castro man, a communist. He tried to be in Russia, as if they [?] knew that he was in Dallas. Very strange things, but the strangest thing is the Jack Ruby affair. …He was seen on television, Oswald saw him a second before Ruby approached him, and he [Oswald] recoiled and it was obvious that Oswald recognized him [Ruby]. How did Ruby enter there? How does a stranger enter the police building? How does he park his car in the police parking area? Later a policeman said: 'if I would have seen him, I would have chased him away; we know him, he has a police record.' If one policeman identified him, probably others identified him as well. How did he enter?"

"And the American government – they now have an investigation not only into how Kennedy was assassinated, but who is Ruby and why and for what reason did he murder Oswald. A high ranking official told me that the question of whether Ruby did this on his own initiative or in order to silence Oswald is a question of war and peace for us [the US]."

"...If he [Oswald] was an emissary of Castro--if there's a clandestine group of Castro sympathizers that murdered the president, and it's organized in way that they silence the murderer … I would say this is as severe as Kennedy's murder. ...Not only am I not a detective, I don't even like detective stories, but I ask myself--I think that Ruby was someone's emissary..."

The rest of the conversation deals with Vice President Johnson, thrown into the president's seat so abruptly, and his attitude towards Israel, as well as the funeral and Jacqueline Kennedy's noble and brave demeanor that impressed Golda Meir. She also described the answer she received to the telegram of condolence she sent to Secretary of State Dean Rusk (which we published last year) and other matters.

Monday, November 18, 2013

November 11 - 95 years since the end of the First World War

95 years ago this month, the guns in Europe fell silent. After four years of terrible carnage, millions of casualties, destruction, famine, plague (the Spanish influenza), and genocide (the Armenian genocide), the Great War came to an end. In other theaters of conflict it had already ended--the war in the Middle East ended on October 30, when the Ottoman Empire surrendered to the Allies. In other places, it went on. The German troops in Eastern Africa kept on fighting for another two weeks. The Russian civil war, an offshoot of the Great War, kept on for another three years.

This coming year, 2014, will be the centenary of the beginning of the war, and in many places in the world (in Europe especially) ceremonies are being prepared, memorials erected, and new publications are coming out, revealing new material and recalling the history of that great struggle. We, in the Israel State Archives, also plan to publish documents and other material connected to the First World War.

The First World War is a fault line in history. It was an end point and a beginning point simultaneously. The effects of the war are felt to this day. Although there is a tendency to regard the Second World War as more important (due to its global size, its enormity in death and destruction, and its horrible barbarity), the first war is just as important, since it began changes that the second war finalized.

The First World War brought an end to four great dynasties that ruled their countries and shaped history for centuries: The Hapsburgs, who had ruled central Europe and other parts of the continent since the 12th century; The Romanovs, who had ruled Russia since the 16th century; The Ottomans, who had ruled the Middle East and parts of Europe since the 15th century; and the Hohenzollerns, who had ruled Prussia since the 18th century and the whole of Germany since the end of the 19th century. The First World War saw the rise of Bolshevism and the revolution in Russia. It also directly affected the rise of Fascism and Nazism, even as it spurred the emergence of ideas such as self-determination, human rights, women's suffrage, and international organizations such as the League of Nations.

The outcome of the First World War is felt to this day in different places in the world, especially in the Middle East: The secret Sykes-Picot agreement, signed covertly during the war, carved the Arab-dominated areas into British and French influence zones, shaping the borders of the Middle East to the present moment. The Syrian civil war and the ongoing sectarian war in Iraq can be seen as the collapse of this arrangement. The Kurdish people who were separated into four different countries by the Sykes-Picot deal are still trying to establish their own national home. The First World War also gave rise to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk – the founder of modern, secular Turkey. His heroic defense of Gallipoli in 1915 made him a hero, and Gallipoli became a rallying point for his supports and adherents. Elsewhere, countries like Australia and New Zealand regard the First World War (especially the landing in Gallipoli) as a kind of founding moment for their statehood and a source of national pride (April 25 – ANZAC day).

We have posted in the past several stories regarding the First World War:

1)     Photographs of the First World War – a series of photographs showing German soldiers in the First World War, part of President Ben-Zvi's collection.

2)     The story behind a photograph of the German commander of the Middle East, Erich von Falkenhein and the story of his daughter, photographed with him in the old train station of Jerusalem.

As mentioned before, we hope to bring to light more information from the archives regarding this momentous period in history.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Haifa port is opened, 80 years ago today

On October 31, 1933, the new port of Haifa, the first modern port in Palestine, was opened. The Mandatory government chose this site because of its natural harbor and its proximity to important shipping lanes, to rail transport to the rest of Palestine and Egypt, and to the Hejaz railway to Jordan and Syria. Haifa was also the administrative center of the north.

To mark the anniversary, we present here a selection of official documents from our holdings on the project, which began in 1927. They deal with the building methods, the demands of the Zionist organization that Jewish workers as well as Arabs should be employed in building the port, and the sensitive question of the differential in wages between Jewish and Arab workers. As usual, the costs of the actual building overran the estimate.

A grand opening ceremony was planned (see the programme) but four days before it, riots broke out among the Arabs against the first wave of Jewish immigration from Nazi Germany. A modest ceremony without an audience was held instead.

Haifa port today

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Israel's Foreign Policy Documents at Geneva, October 2013

At the beginning of October 2013, the 12th International Conference of Editors of Diplomatic Documents was held in Geneva, Switzerland. Israel was represented there by the ISA, which publishes a series of books and online publications on Israel's foreign policy. In 2011, the 11th conference took place in Jerusalem. It was the first time the ISA had ever held an international conference, and we enjoyed showing the city to people, most of whom had not visited Israel before.

The 12th conference was held at the Palais dès Nations, the U.N. building at Geneva, a magnificent site which previously housed the League of Nations. One of the themes of the conference was the history of the idea of global governance and of international organizations, many of them based in Switzerland. We also talked a great deal about the future of our publications in a digital age and the need to use social media, forums and blogs like this one to tell the public about our work. The ISA's representative made a presentation on the translation of our Hebrew publications into English and its pitfalls.

The participants also enjoyed good food and wine (France is next door to Geneva) and a boat ride on the lake, which did much for the atmosphere of international friendship and cooperation!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Charles Tegart's Police Forts in Israel

Here is an article from the BBC about Sir Charles Tegart, the founder of the "Tegart forts" in Israel. The "Tegart forts" were built in British Mandate Palestine from 1936-39 (and some afterwards) as part of the war against Arab terror. The initiator of the project was Sir Charles Tegart, a former commissioner of the Indian Police. Tegart fought terror in Bengal in the 1920s and was invited by the Mandatory government to advise them about fighting Arab terror in Palestine. Tegart recommended building a series of police forts across the country, to serve as well-defended positions and bases for suppressing revolt, and to prevent the infiltration of armed Arab guerrillas from Syria and Lebanon. The forts were also to be used as government offices in areas that were regarded as unsafe.

Tegart strengthened the Criminal Investigation Department (about which see this post), imported Doberman dogs for police work, and suggested forming horse-mounted police units, comprised of British and Arab policemen. Tegart also introduced interrogation methods he used in India, which included torture. (Here are links to the Tegart papers in St Antony's College, Oxford University and the British Library, Asia, Pacific and Africa Collections.)

Some Tegart forts were the focus of intense fighting during the War of Independence. The most well-known of these were the battles for the fortress of Nabi Yosha (or the Koach Fort – named after the 28 IDF soldiers who died trying to conquer it; Koach is numerically 28 in Hebrew letters), the Latrun Fortress, and the Iraq–Suidaan fort (now the Yoav Fortress) a.k.a. "the Monster," which was occupied after 8 attempts.
Nabi Yosha fort today (Wikicommons)
Iraq-Suidaan fort after been taken by the IDF, November 1948 (Wikicommons)
Tegart fort in Sasa (Wikicommon)
Latrun fort and the Armor Museum and memorial for the fallen (Wikicommons)

Yoav fortress (Wikicommons)
Some of the fortresses today are memorials (Yoav Fortress - a memorial to the Givati ​​infantry brigade; Latrun - Museum of Armor and the memorial site of the Armored Corps), prisons (Megiddo prison - where Adolf Eichmann was held) and various police precincts. Some of the forts were abandoned. One of the Tegart police forts which passed to the Palestinian Authority became the famous "Mukataa" in Ramallah. Other police buildings became major Palestinian government installations. During Operation Defensive Shield in May 2002, the Tegart fortress used by the Hebron police was destroyed by the IDF.

Another fact about Tegart, less known, is that he was the architect of the dormitory of the Jewish Institute for the Blind in Jerusalem. According to architectural historian David Kroyanker, the design was very conservative but crafted with a deep understanding of the needs of the blind. (It is not clear when Tegart planned the building, since it was built when Tegart was a member of the Secretary of State's Council in India. Maybe one of the readers of this blog can enlighten us on this subject.)
Front of the Jewish Institute for the Blind in Jerusalem during visit of High Commissioner Wauchope in 1935

Monday, September 2, 2013

Secret British WWII Intelligence Files in Mandatory Palestine

68 years ago, on September 2, 1945, World War II ended with Japan's surrender. The surrender ceremony took place on the deck of the Battleship Missouri as shown in this clip. (Here's another film of the event in color, but with no sound.)

The fighting in the Far East did not quite hold the attention of the population in British Mandatory Palestine during World War II, however. The German threat, in the figure of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel and his Africa Corps in 1941-42, was more severe, as was the news of the Holocaust in Europe. The vast majority of the volunteers for the British army from the Jewish community in Palestine served during the war in the Mediterranean zone of operations. (Citizens of Mandate territories were not obligated to join the British Army, unlike the citizens of British colonies, and those who volunteered for service were limited to the Mediterranean zone.) But some served in the Far East. This Ha'aretz article mentions two Israel-born soldiers who fell while serving in the Australian Army and two others who were captured in Indonesia during their service in the Royal Air Force. One of them, Abraham Kissin, wrote a book about his experiences in Japanese captivity -- "Captive by the Soldiers of the Mikado," which was published in Hebrew in 1970.

The cover of Kissin's book
The Israel State Archives possesses, among the documents of the Chief Secretary of the Government of Palestine (Record Group 2), an intelligence document of the British Intelligence Corps in India entitled Who's Who in Japan, 1945. The document is an alphabetical list of high ranking officials and military men in Japan. The list is organized by region (China, Korea, Home Islands etc.). The document also details the various governments in Japan from 1930 onwards.

How did the document come into the possession of the Palestine Government? One can only guess. But it's a very interesting document. According to the opening remarks on its cover, it was regularly updated with information flowing into the Intelligence Center. An example: in the penultimate review from May 1944, there is a mention of the name Kuribayashi, Tadamichi - former commander of the Tokyo Division. In the following document from June 1945, his name no longer appears as he was the commander of the Iwo Jima Island and was killed in May 1945. Kuribayashi was presented as a heroic figure in Clint Eastwood's impressive film, "Letters From Iwo Jima." (The actor who played the character was Ken Watanabe.)

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Menachem Begin's Hundredth Birthday

Prime Minister Begin asks the Knesset to approve the peace treaty with Egypt, 20 March 1979. On his right, Knesset Speaker Yitzhak Shamir. (Photograph: Ya'acov Sa'ar, Government Press Office)
On August 16, 1913, Menachem Begin was born in Brest-Litovsk, which was then part of the Russian Empire and is now in Belarus. Begin was the commander of the Irgun Zvai Leumi underground movement (1943-1948) and in 1977, he became Israel's sixth prime minister. He resigned in 1983 and died in 1992.

Next year, the Israel State Archives will publish a collection of documents on the life of Menachem Begin. Several online publications have already been issued by the ISA, some of them based on these documents. To mark the centenary of Begin's birth, we are listing these publications here. The following have an introduction and some documents in English:

The Israeli Government Discusses the Results of the Six Day War, June 1967
"No More War":President Sadat's Journey to Jerusalem, November 1977
Moshe Dayan's Meeting with the Egyptian Deputy Premier, December 1977
Now or Never: US President Jimmy Carter's Visit to Israel, March 1979
The 33rd Anniversary of the Peace Treaty with Egypt, March 1979
The "Elon Moreh" High Court Decision of 22nd October 1979
The Kahan Commission on the Sabra and Shatilla Massacre, 1982-1983
Prime Minister Menachem Begin on Justice and the Rule of Law: Selected Documents

Monday, August 12, 2013

Slow Blogging

Blogging has been very slow recently.  We've been working on some very major programs, and now it's August and summer break time. We do hope for improvement later on, honestly.

1968: Budgeting East Jerusalem

Today's document is a wee bit confusing. It was written by Yehuda Tamir, PM Levi Eshkol's man for dealing with East Jerusalem, and it details what the construction for the next year is to be. Except that nowadays, at any rate, that's decided by the Budget Department of the Finance Ministry, and even if the prime minister himself wants to have a certain result, it still goes through the FM, where the locals look at the suggestion balefully before eventually acquiescing (it is the prime minister, after all). Tamir's letter reeks of the confidence of someone who knows that his words, assumed to be those of his boss, will be acted upon.

It's a different world.

Another minor thing you need to keep in mind is that in the late 1960s, Israel's annual budget year ran from April 1 to March 31. An odd system, thankfully done away with for the complications it engendered. Why anyone would maintain such a system is beyond us.

(Yes, we know.)

Anyway. Not only was the budget year odd, they also didn't use Excel in those days, which makes deciphering the budget a bit challenging. I think he's talking about a sum in the excess of 12 million IL, some to come from bank loans, but I may be misreading. The items in the letter are pretty clear. There is to be construction for Jews on Jerusalem's north side, at Givat Hamivtar, French Hill and elsewhere. The planning of what later became East Talpiyot was to be completed so as to begin construction in 1970. The government offices on the road to Mont Scopus are to be promoted.

Yet there was also a budget for Arabs; homes were to be built for Arabs in Wadi Joz and Beit Hanina. The construction at Beit Hanina really did happen and the buildings are still there; I don't know about Wadi Joz.

(File א-7921/3)

Abba Eban, The Stateless American Who Couldn't Vote in Israel

Of all the large Jewish communities in the modern world, that of the United States has probably sent fewer immigrants to Israel than any other. If you know where to look - Katamon, say, or Har-Nof in Jerusalem, or Ra'anana - they are quite visible, and in some professions they simply can't be overlooked. Reform rabbis, for example. But in large swathes of Israel they're quite thin on the ground. All Israelis have been in America, more or less, but Israel's Jews are not American Jews. Different agendas, different worldviews, different sentiments.

In the political sphere, there have been more Americans than many people realize, especially if you count Canadians such as Dov Josef. Two, however, stick out. There was the one who served as prime minister in the early 1970s. And there was Abba Eban, who actually never held American citizenship but stood out from a mile away for being as un-sabra as they make them, and whose English was easily better than that of any run-of-the-mill Oxford don.

Martin Kramer (an American who lives in Israel) tells the oddly touching story about how Eban magnificently represented Israel in America for its full first decade, and then, when the time came to go home, was informed he wasn't an Israeli at all.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

On the Chaos of Mass Immigration - Updated

During Israel's earliest years, the number of new immigrants, most of them nearly destitute refugees from Europe (Holocaust survivors) and Arab lands, was greater than the total number of Israelis - and many of the veteran Israelis hadn't been there more than a few years themselves. A few months ago, we even posted a statistical summary from 1952, and our "Immigration" label will show you other posts we've done on the topic.

Today we're presenting two reports from the end of October 1950. The first was submitted on October 29, 1950 by Captain Dr. H. Shkedi, Acting Medical Officer of the Southern Command, to the CO of Southern Command; it contained his description of a visit he and a number of his fellow physicians had just made to the ma'abara (immigrant camp) of Ajour:

Our first impression was bad. The camp is filthy, crowded, each tent is shared by two or three families, they do their cooking in the tents, there are no sidewalks, and skinny and undernourished children wander about.

The public toilets are a disaster. The showers seem alright, but there's no hot water. There are 250 families, about 900 people, but there's only one doctor. He himself is sickly, he lacks adequate medications, has no support staff, and is overwhelmed.

The camp is about four months old. There is known to be malaria in the area, but no one has done any disinfection.

We examined 100 people to gauge the frequency of sicknesses. All were unhealthy, many with symptoms of long-term malnourishment, along with skin and eye diseases.

We instructed the doctor how to treat the most common ailments we identified, but he doesn't have the medications anyway. We sprayed the entire camp, all its tents, and the people in it, with DDT. (This was standard in those days, before the dangers of DDT were understood).

Our recommendations: more medications, more medical staff, regular disinfections, hygiene instruction for the immigrants, construction of proper toilets and facilitating hot water, construction of a clinic for sick children, improvement of the tents.

The general apparently received the report in the morning, because the very same day he sent a team of logistics officers, this time headed by a colonel, to fix things. Colonel Israel Mintz submitted his report two days later:

1. Food:
1.1. There are sufficient basic, rationed, foodstuffs.
1.2. Unrationed foodstuffs: there aren't any. The owner of the store says he can't bring in additional supplies because the tires of his truck won't bear the unpaved road.
1.3 Clearly, no-one can survive on the basic, rationed foodstuffs alone; in Ajour the situation is even worse as the Yemenite immigrants are unfamiliar with some of the types of food and don't know what to make of them. The men are employed at hard physical labor. It's unacceptable that the Histadrut is paying so little for their labor; a Histadrut company needs to think about more than the bottom line.

2. Housing: The immigrants live in American military tents. They don't know how to maintain them, and with the arrival of the first winter storm the camp will be a disaster. Either better housing must be found, or at very least the men must be instructed on how to maintain the tents.
Someone needs to deal with the lack of hot water, the construction of public toilets, and the construction of separate shower stalls for men and women.

3. Clothing: the immigrants are clothed in rags. Margulin told me that he hopes they will soon be given ration cards for clothes, but I don't see where they're expected to buy the clothes.

Given an adequate budget, I don't see why the army shouldn't be able to resolve most of the issues.

On the margins of both reports, an unidentified Moshe scribbled that the local physician has been instructed, and we'll deal with the hot water and showers. We haven't yet solved the matter of the food. This was on October 31.

Is this a success story? A disaster? A tale of indifference, or of inadequate good intentions? Tellingly, no-one thinks the United Nations or any other external agent needs to be involved.

Update: A well-informed reader writes to tell us that since at the time the commanding general was none other than Moshe Dayan, he's probably the unidentified "Moshe" scribbling in the margins. After all, he would have been scribbling for some immediate purpose, not for posterity (that's us), and all the immediate actors would have been quite clear who the boss was.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

"Stop the cheap laborers!"

On September 18, 1967, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Labor Yigal Allon wrote a short letter to the ministers of defense (Moshe Dayan) and police (Eliyahu Sasson) alerting them to the danger of large numbers of laborers from the newly-controlled territories entering Israel in search of work. They're illegal, he wrote, they undercut the wages of Israeli laborers, and of course they're a security threat. The Labor Bureau is trying to halt their entry, but the employers are disregarding its efforts. There's been a meeting of top officials, but no effective solution has been identified. It appears that the only way to combat the phenomenon is for the police and the army to prevent these laborers from leaving the territories. 

Yes, well. As anyone who knew Israel in the 1970s and 1980s can attest, large numbers of mostly unskilled Palestinians from the territories were a central part of Israel's economy in those days, mostly in construction and low-level services. In the 1990s and afterwards this changed, but that's a different story.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

King David Hotel bombing - 67 years later, still a controversial issue

67 years ago, on July 22, 1946, the Irgun blew up the luxurious King David Hotel in Jerusalem. Housed at the Hotel was the Chief Secretariat of the British Mandate government (essentially, its prime minister).
The King David Hotel after the bombing (Wikipedia)
The bombing was part of the operations of the "Jewish Resistance Movement" – the alliance of the paramilitary organizations Haganah, Irgun (National Military Organization) and Lehi (Fighters for the Freedom of Israel) in the British Mandate of Palestine. The movement was established in October 1945 by the Jewish Agency, and existed between the years 1945 and 1946, coordinating attacks against the British authority. The King David bombing cost the lives of 91 people (British, Jews, Arabs and other nationalities) and was the cause of the breakup of the Jewish Resistance movement.

There is a long-simmering controversy over whether warning was given to the British before the bombing. The British always denied that such warning was provided--especially Sir John Shaw, the Chief Secretary, who was blamed for ignoring the warning--while the Irgun, and especially Irgun member Adina Hai-Nisan, insisted that it was. Hai-Nisan claimed she called the hotel switchboard 30 minutes before the explosion. During the early 80's, Israeli television produced the much acclaimed documentary "The Pillar of Fire" cataloging the history of Zionism and the establishment of the state of Israel. In chapter 16, Adina Nissan told her story opposite Sir John Shaw (12:30-17:30, Hebrew, no subtitles).

Here are some relatively unknown facts about the King David Hotel Bombing:

1) In 2011, Dr. Eldad Harouvi published his doctorate thesis in a book called Palestine Investigated: The Story of the Palestine CID, 1920-1948 (Hebrew only).

Haruvi, the director of the Palmach House Archive, studied the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) documents in the Hagana Archive in Tel Aviv as part of his doctoral thesis. This collection is actually a copy of the original CID archive, which was transferred to Egypt in May 1948. The Hagana's intelligence service, known as the SHAI (Information Service in Hebrew acronym) managed to photocopy it several days before it was shipped out of Israel. The copy was kept by the ISA (Israel's Security Agency, known by the Hebrew acronym SHABAK) until 1991, when it was transferred to the Hagana archive.

In his book, Harouvi reveals some interesting facts: First, the CID had intelligence showing the Hotel as a possible target for attack by the Irgun in December 1945 – 6 months prior to the attack. The CID asked to raise security in the hotel, including putting armed soldiers at the 'Regence' restaurant at the entrance of the hotel. The Chief Secretary refused to consider these suggestions, with the justification that there were not many places for recreation and fun in Palestine, and he did not want to foreclose another. He continued to refuse to take action (or even to pass on the information to the High Commissioner of Palestine) when the CID approached him again with newer information on the attack plan (the CID had the plan of attack, but did not know exactly when it would be carried out).

Second, another fact that is not common knowledge is that the Irgun carried out a diversion bombing minutes after the bombs were planted in the King David Hotel, in which a wagon with explosives was blown outside shops next to the hotel. The CID's assessment was that this second bombing (which broke windows, but did not hurt anyone) was intended to cause panic and encourage evacuation of the building. One of the CID officers Harouvi interviewed for his book flatly blames Shaw for the death of so many, since he could have evacuated the building on time (pages 293-297).

2) One of the people killed in the bombing was Jeffrey Walsh, the Economic Adviser of the British government in Palestine. Walsh, one of the most senior officials killed, left a large number of files and documents that were scanned and may be viewed on the Israel State Archives web site. The record contains material on different aspects of the economy in British Mandate Palestine during the Second World War. Walsh was also Controller of Food, a wartime assignment. In 1940, the British Palestine government formed the War Supply Board--a civilian command and control body for handling economic and supply problems during the War. The British believed that they would be unable to regularly supply the Middle East (that is – their colonies and lands under their rule) during wartime, and formed different control bodies for non-military supply. The headquarters for these bodies were based in Cairo. East Africa, Palestine and Trans-Jordan, and the Indian Subcontinent all had boards dealing with food, medical supply, industry (light & heavy), etc. Walsh, who headed these efforts in Mandatory Palestine, was buried in the Mt. Zion graveyard together with the other British individuals killed in the blast.
Jeffrey Walsh, Economic Adviser and Food Controller
One of the files of the Food Controller contains a study on Palestine's food problems. It is entitled Tantalus, probably after the mythological figure denied food and drink by the gods. Inside this dry, bureaucratic document, someone decided to lighten up and integrate cartoons with quotations from the study. One of them shows a lion and an African warrior, and is perhaps meant to be a little joke on Walsh – a former official in the Tanganyika colonial government. Here are two other cartoons – one connected to the War and another one showing the American Wild West.

3. Another British casualty of the bombing was Brigadier Peter Lockwood Smith-Dorrien, head of the Commerce and Industry Department. While his name does not ring a bell these days, it was very familiar in Britain, as he was the son of Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien, one of the more controversial British generals during the First World War. General Smith-Dorrien had a long and colorful career in the British Army, including being one of the 50 British survivors of the Battle of Isandlwana--where the Zulus repelled a British invasion into their lands (Monty Python used it as the basis for one of their skits in the Meaning of Life)--and the war in Sudan at the end of the 19th century and in the Boer War (1899-1902). Peter Smith-Dorrien commanded a regiment during the failed British mission in Greece in 1941, and managed to evade capture by escaping to Crete on a boat with British and New Zealand soldiers, as described here. His elder brother was killed in Italy in 1944. All of the Smith-Dorriens served in the "Sherwood Foresters" regiment, named after Robin Hood and his merry men.

4. The bombing caused great damage to the Mandate government's archive, especially the Chief Secretariat's archive (the British didn't have a central archive, only departmental archives). Here is a cover of a file with a comment on it: "Original lost on 22.7.46." The British tried to reconstruct the files lost or recovered from the debris (some, I believe, still contain dust from the destruction of the building!).The bombing of the King David Hotel is one of the reasons for the absence of many British files from the Israel State Archives collections. The other reasons include planned destruction by the British before leaving Palestine in May 1948; partial destruction during the bombing campaign by Jewish underground movements (especially immigration files); partial destruction during Israel's War of Independence; and some ruin due to neglect. (We believe that the Egyptians may hold part of the Gaza district files, while the Jordanians hold files from the Samaria & Jerusalem districts, as well as other files from different departments.) In one file that did survive, we can find the Jerusalem sub-district coroner's summary on the cause of death of those killed in the King David Hotel bombing.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Electrifying the Territories

The things a prime minister has to deal with, I tell you. We think we've got it tough, being so busy these past weeks that blogging has mostly stopped. Well, back in the first years after the Six Day War, the PM's office seems to have been involved with every tiniest detail pertaining to Israel's actions in Jerusalem, and if not every one of them, at least a startling range of things.

Here, look at this document from September 15, 1968. Yehuda Faust, the deputy manager of operations in East Jerusalem, sent a letter to the electricity company (and to the ministers of defense, justice, development, the mayor of Jerusalem and various others) reporting on a recent meeting where it had been decided to lay high-voltage cables to the Jewish neighborhoods in north-east Jerusalem such as French Hill and Givat Hamivtar, and also to series of military camps, mostly to the north. Alas, meetings and decisions were one thing, and actions on the ground were another, so Faust was nagging.

He also included various technical data. There were to be 89 km of cable, at a cost of IL3,240,000.

On page 3, which was apparently added a bit later, Mr Rakover (whoever he was) announced he couldn't string up cables in East Jerusalem without someone in authority OK'ing it, and he didn't know who that might be.

Page 5 mentions that to the south of Jerusalem, some of the installations are settlements, not military camps.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Catching the Bus to the Kotel

On February 16, 1969, a fellow by the name of Bazrai (whose family must have come from Basra) sent a letter to Yehuda Tamir, Levy Eshkol's top aide for Jerusalem affairs, reporting about a meeting he had recently held with representatives of Egged, the main bus company.
At the meeting it was decided to launch a regular bus line through the Old City, from Jaffa Gate to the Western Wall (the Kotel). It will stop at the Kishle police station, Zion Gate,  The Jewish Quarter, and Dung Gate near the wall. It will come by every 15 minutes, meaning there will need to be two buses. The smallest buses in service can just inch by the arch in the Armenian Quarter, and it would be nice if someone could widen the alley at that point.
The line will connect to lines 18 and 20 and for 35 cents (agorot) passengers will be able to get a connecting ticket; a single ticket will be 20 agorot, while a normal single bus ticket on all the other lines is 25 agorot.
The service will operate between 6am (for early risers who want to pray the morning service at the Kotel) until 9:30pm. 
The arch in the Armenian Quarter was of course never tampered with; it's still there and the small buses still inch by.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Cabinet Transcripts are Off-Limits Even if You Were There

Blogging has been very slow recently, and sadly, will probably remain slow. There's been a parallel uptick in our activities on at least four tracks, and what with blogging being a luxury, well, we've not had the time. At least two of the projects may generate visible or reportable results by summer's end; the others will take longer but will generate lasting change which is intended to benefit our public.

Still, since I've got at least three files open on my desk, I really ought to flip through them before sending them back. One is Levy Eshkol's East Jerusalem file which has supplied grist for a number of recent posts. One of them was about the reconstruction of the Hurva synagogue, which ultimately didn't happen until 40 years later.

Apparently on January 1, 1969, the Cabinet discussed the idea. By now, 2013, the transcript of that meeting has been declassified and I could call it up and tell you what happened at the meeting if I wasn't otherwise engaged. Yaacov Lipshuetz, the Haifa attorney who had been nagging for months and not allowing the matter to slide, had to write the Cabinet secretary for a copy of the transcript at the time.

Nope, he was told. Cabinet transcripts don't get published or even sent in the mail. Anyway, since you were there, you know what transpired.

Helpful, huh? Readers of this blog, of course, can and do see such transcripts with some regularity, which just goes to show that you need to be wise in choosing your decade of birth.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Happy Fourth of July – and Please Give Us Arms: Golda Writes to Dulles, 4 July 1956

On June 20, 1956, Golda Meir replaced Moshe Sharett as Israel's foreign minister, and on the Fourth of July, the 180th anniversary of American independence, she wrote a letter to Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, still signing with her old name of Golda Myerson. Israel's leaders usually sent formal greetings for the Fourth of July to the Administration, but this time Golda used the opportunity to approach Dulles on a subject which greatly occupied the minds of the Israeli leaders – the search for arms to counter the major Czech-Egyptian arms deal in September 1955.
Dulles, accompanied by Harold Stassen and Sharett (on the left), inspects an honor guard on his arrival in Israel, May 1953. Photograph: Israel State Archives
In October 1955, Sharett met twice with Dulles to request American arms. Until then, the US government had sold Israel only outmoded or defensive weapons. Dulles was reluctant to change this policy, as he still hoped to win over the Egyptian leader, Col. Nasser, to the side of the West in the Cold War, and to prevent an arms race with the USSR. In March 1956, he decided that France and Italy should supply Israel with arms, with American encouragement. But the process was slow, and in Golda's letter she urged him to approve direct supply of arms to Israel in order to speed it up. The Israeli ambassador to Washington, Abba Eban, met with Dulles to give him the letter, and repeated these arguments. Israel had approached Canada, France and Italy but they were waiting for an American lead.

Sharett's failure in this endeavor, while the Defense Ministry was succeeding in forging direct ties with military circles in France, was one of the reasons Ben-Gurion forced his resignation in June 1956. Another was the fear that Sharett would oppose a war with Egypt initiated by Israel. On July 26, Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal, and in October, Britain, France and Israel decided to act against him. Golda's letter and Eban's account of his meeting with Dulles can be found in Volume 11 of the ISA's series, "Documents on the Foreign Policy of Israel," which tells the rest of the story of the run-up to the Sinai Campaign. The book has an English companion volume with summaries of the Hebrew documents.
Foreign Minister Golda Meir and former French premier Guy Mollet, 1959. Photograph: Fritz Cohen, Government Press Office
Golda's approach too was unsuccessful. The US administration continued in its refusal to sell modern weapons to Israel until the 1960s, while France remained Israel's main source of arms.