Thursday, January 31, 2013

1952: In the Face of Stalin's Antisemitism, Can We Block Israel's Communists?

A few short years after the Shoah, Stalin and his accomplices were on the road to anti-Semitic policies in the Soviet bloc. The Slansky Trial in Czechoslovakia was a show trial with strong anti-Jewish overtones; late in 1952, the Soviet regime began preparing what seemed to be an anti-Jewish show trial, allegedly revealing a plot against the regime: the Doctors' Plot. We'll never know how far things would have gone since Stalin's death in March 1953 halted the proceedings and the underlying policy.

A classified letter from the acting Israeli ambassador in Moscow, Shmuel Eliashiv, reveals his uncertainty about the developing story and the proper response to it. The same week in January 1953 the Knesset was to debate the matter, so the cabinet ministers held a preliminary discussion to determine the government line (January 18, 1953).

Truth be told, there wasn't much Israel could do. Faced with a potentially lethal wave of Jew hatred which might affect large numbers of Soviet Jews, Israel's cabinet members were reduced to debating the pros and cons of making a stink at the UN or keeping a low profile in the hope things would blow over.

So what could be done? Well, perhaps the local, Israeli Communists, could be blocked. As Pinchas Lavon, Benzion Dinur, and Golda Meir all said, it was a scandal that Israelis who support an anti-Semitic regime should be allowed to express their opinions in public, to publish their support of Stalin in their newspapers, and the members of Knesset among them allowed to travel the world freely on Israeli diplomatic passports and badmouth their own country. These aren't patriots with radical opinions, they're foreign agents, or close to it, and someone's got to do something about it! Here, listen to Golda Meir:
Now about the Communists. What we really need to do is declare their organization is an enemy of Israel and they've got no right to exist in Israel. I don't know if perhaps we won't reach that point, but not yet, because if you say that seriously you must then do something, and I don't know if we can do that, but we can say it in the Knesset so that every Jew in the country, every teenager should know that they're against the country and they're beyond the pale.
I don't know if we can pass a law that will forbid them from renting public halls [for their assemblies], but we should create such a public opinion that owners of such venues will refuse to rent halls to them...
As for the law which grants immunity to Knesset members--Tufik Toubi, Mikounis and Willner, they can travel throughout the world on their diplomatic passports and besmirch us: it's shocking! It's as if the country has decided to commit suicide!
Were they serious, or were they merely letting off steam? Probably the latter. Moshe Shapira tried to cool things down by alluding to McCarthyism, which was rampant in the United States in those days: "They've got quite a witch-hunt going in America, but they haven't disbanded their communists, and they haven't shut down their newspapers, and I don't see how we can do so." Near the end of the meeting, Pinchas Rosenne, the Minister of Justice, cooled everyone off. Look folks, he essentially said, none of the things you've been suggesting are legal, and we're not going to do any of them.

So they didn't. And then Stalin died and that particular danger passed anyway.

The Cabinet Protocols: Late August 1948

OK, our original game plan hasn't quite worked out on this thread. The original intention was to put up a weekly post, following the weekly cabinet meetings from May 1948 onwards, to give a feeling of the pace of work of the cabinet and the subjects it dealt with. For whatever reason, we've not been keeping pace. Still, interested readers are encouraged to follow the posts marked with the "govt protocols" label. Also, keep in mind that these are brief protocols, not wordy stenograms which capture everything said in the meetings.

The protocols of late August and early September 1948 are sparse in information, so today's post presents four meetings of two weeks, between August 25th and September 5th.

August 25, 1948:
The cohort born in 1931 are to be enlisted for military training. A second decision will be necessary before sending them into combat. Special dispensation will be made to allow them to complete their high-school studies and examinations after the war. (We're talking about 17-year-olds).

The President, his wife, and Israel's ambassador to the UN are given Israeli citizenship. (Before the rest of the populace, as the procedures are not yet finalized.)

The peace negotiations with the UN mediator continue.

The Finance Minister (Eliezer Kaplan) gives a presentation about taxes, but no decisions are made.

August 28, 1948:
After what appears to have been a lively discussion and a series of specific votes, the cabinet determined rates of income tax. Unmarried individuals would start paying once their annual income was 240 Pounds, and families would pay if their income was greater than 340. The highest rate would be 75% (!). Corporate tax would be 20%. There would be an emergency tax on fuel. Two separate administrative decisions were made pertaining to the payment of wages of laborers working for the government and of clerks. This seems to reflect an important distinction in the mind of the (mostly socialist) ministers.

The September 1st meeting opened with ministers' queries: Is it true Arab families are being evicted from their homes in Haifa? Is Haifa under military rule? Ben Gurion said not, but Yizhak Grinbaum, the Minister of the Interior, said he'd have go and see for himself. The most puzzling exchange was when Bechor Shitrit asked if Arabs would be able to vote in the approaching elections, and Ben Gurion said this wasn't a legitimate query. (Puzzling because the only possible answer was Yes, according to the Declaration of Independence and also everyone's intentions.)

There was a report about Israel's relations with the United States, and then the cabinet adjourned after deciding that construction of the Burma Road, which broke the Arab blockade of Jerusalem, would be under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Labor and Construction.

September 5, 1948:
Decision: official forms will be in Hebrew and Arabic.

Decision: lots of officials from lots of ministries will participate in meeting of the Board of Agriculture.

On the occasion of the beginning of the school year there appears to have been another lively discussion, at the end of which a series of decisions were made; their thrust was that various strategic decisions regarding how education would be done and its relationship with the government would be postponed until there was an elected government; in the meantime, the government would work with the Jewish Agency (which had been functioning as a government-in-waiting before the creation of the state). Also, the Agudat Yisrael schools would have to choose how their system would relate to the national one. (This issue has yet to be resolved in 2013.)

A ministerial committee of four was set up to allocate empty apartments in Jaffa.

May 1935: Yehudit Yavetz From Mannheim Writes to King George V

"We lost everything in Germany, here we can hardly make a living, yet we are happy in the land of our ancestors" wrote Yehudit (Judith) Yavets, a twelve-year-old immigrant from Germany living in Haifa, to King George V and his wife in May 1935, in a letter in Hebrew congratulating him on the twenty-fifth anniversary of his accession to the throne. The letter was found in the files of the Chief Secretary of the Mandate administration held in the Israel State Archives.

Site of a neighborhood for German immigrants in Kiryat Bialik near Haifa (Yad Vashem photograph collection)
As we have mentioned in several posts in English and Hebrew, January 2013 marks the 80th anniversary of the rise of the Nazi party to power in Germany. 1933 also saw the beginning of the persecution of the Jewish community, and as a result most of the German Jews left the country. Some 60,000 of them came to Palestine in the Fifth Aliya or wave of immigration. They were known as "yekkes", and made an important contribution to the social, cultural and economic life of the Yishuv. But the yekkes did not have an easy time. Some were Zionists, but many were not. People from the great cultural centers of Europe found it difficult to learn Hebrew and to settle down in the Middle Eastern backwater where they found themselves.

King George V, coronation portrait
For the children, of course, things were easier. Yehudit writes that her family had left Mannheim only 18 months previously, yet her letter is written in good, even flowery Hebrew. She prays that God should allow the King and Queen "to reign over Britain and the other peoples sheltering under their rule in justice and honesty for many years" and thanks Britain for its help to the Jewish people and the Jewish national home in Palestine. She apologizes that her English is not good enough to write a letter and hopes that the Hebrew language will be music to the ears of His Majesty. She describes the attack of the Nazis on the Jews of Mannheim and the destruction of the synagogue, which led to the family's decision to emigrate to the "land of their fathers, the land of the past and the future."

According to the stamp on the letter, it reached Buckingham Palace but was sent back, perhaps because it was in Hebrew. George V died shortly afterwards, in 1936. What happened to Yehudit Yavetz? We don't know, and if anyone knows about the Yavetz family from Mannheim, we would be glad to hear.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

1968: Housing Projects in Jerusalem

Back in 1968 (and perhaps before and after, our file doesn't say), the management of the Ministry of Housing and Construction used to convene once a month or so to review policies and programs. The minister (Mordechai Bentov in 1968) participated, as did the general manager, David Tene, and lots of top officials. They didn't set national housing policy, but their reviews covered all the large projects they were running and they discussed their pace of progress or - often - how budgetary constraints were preventing them from reaching their goals. In general, the protocols of these meetings would delight urban planners who are also history buffs, or historians of urban development; economic historians interested in how Israel's government tried to control the housing market may also take joy in these files.

The rest of us - well, let's just say one can find more dramatic files in the archives. Yet before we shrug and move on to the next file, let's glance quickly at file ג-4457/1 which contains the records of three such meetings, in May, June and August 1968.

On May 29, 1968, Bentov opened the meeting by talking about a recent cut of IL140,000,000 to the ministry's budget (the money was being transfered to the Ministry of Defense). There was some good news, however, such as an added IL26,000,000 for construction in East Jerusalem (p. 2). Tene then commented that Jerusalem was about the only area where the ministry's large projects were progressing quickly (p. 4); the government had decided that Jerusalem and Beer Sheva had the highest priority. Further on, one of the participants noted that since construction in Jerusalem had been slow in previous years, there would be a shortage of new apartments until the current projects would begin to come onto the market, in 1969-70 (p. 6). Bentov also noted that the Prime Minister had urged him to set up a few dozen shacks near Mount Scopus so that someone would start moving in already.

At the next meeting, on June 5, 1968 (exactly a year after the Six Day War), Bentov opened his review by noting that on the land which had been expropriated in East Jerusalem, the ministry intended to build 2,500 housing units--1,200 in the first stage and the rest in a second stage. The original intention had been to start with 400 private homes on what is now known as Givat Hamivtar, but now it seemed better to allocate plots for only 250 of them and to use the rest for apartment buildings. This then set off a lively discussion, as more than 1,200 families had already signed up for the project. There was also a plan to build cheaper apartments near Sanhedria for religious families. (Well, that certainly happened.) (p.9-10)

Much of the meeting of August 22, 1968, focused on the various construction projects in East Jerusalem - certainly more than any other single area. One of the construction companies was already working, another two were expected to start very soon. One problem they were going to encounter was a lack of professional construction workers; discussions with the ministry of Labor were already underway to employ a few hundred laborers from the West Bank, some of whom would need to be sent through training courses. (p.14-ff).

All the construction projects being discussed in Summer 1968 were in the north-east of town: Sanhedria, Givat Hamivtar, French Hill, and perhaps the area which would later be named Ramat Eshkol (PM Levi Eshkol died in 1969).

Nazism Passes from Living Memory

The German Scholar Jan Assman writes, in his seminal Cultural Memory and Early Civilization: Writing, Remembrance, and Political Imagination about what he calls "the floating gap" in history: the 80-year mark. Events which happened up to 80 years ago are retained in living memory, which means that at any given point in time 80-year-old events are slipping out of it. Then there's history which is based on other things, such as documents, creating a memory which is different than living memory but less vulnerable to the passage of time.

Of course, there is no sudden break; it's not as if living memory is vibrant and strong until its 80th year at which point it abruptly ends. Indeed, as longevity grows, the 80-year gap may be inching up. Yet the concept is clear, and very plausible. When Abraham Lincoln spoke of the founding of the United States four score and ten years before his time, this was an event which had recently slipped beyond living memory; during WW2, Lincoln's war was also slipping out of it.

80 years ago today, Hitler came to power in Germany. As those of us who keep track of such matters know, this means that the dramatic events which led to that moment are mostly no longer living memory; over the next decade or so, WW2 itself, along with the Shoah, will inexorably pass from living memory to history. Living memory of the context of the creation of the State of Israel is already eroding. Some time next decade it, too, will end.

Archives don't create history, yet they do offer one of the most reliable tools for doing history beyond the 80-year floating gap.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

ID Cards for Arabs in East Jerusalem (1967-70)

Yesterday I introduced the Advisor on Arab Affairs, and we looked at one of his files on East Jerusalem. Here's another one, of a very diferent character however. As the front page of the file indicates, its title is bland and uninformative: "ID cards". Could mean all sorts of things, no?

The file contains three distinct types of records, all of which indeed fit under that title. The first are a few letters dealing with the practicalities of handing out Israeli ID cards to the Arabs of East Jerusalem.

On page 2 of the file we've got a handwritten summary of a conversation one of the officials had with Mr. Zarfati fo the Ministry of Interior on November 14th 1967: The ministry continues to hand out ID cards to anyone with a note of participation in either of the two census actions taken since the Six Day War in East Jerusalem. People who were not counted and registered, and thus have no notes, are not granted ID cards at this stage. Apparently, there are thousands of them. Requests for re-unifiation of families should be submitted to Zarfati if they're in Jerusalem, or to the Military Governor if they're elsewhere in the West Bank.

Pages 3-5 are the Arabic original and the Hebrew translation of a letter by the head of the Arab Chamber of Commerce to the Minister of the Interior, Mr. Barakat. Barakat noticed the long lines and interminable hours of waiting required of people trying to pick up their new ID card, and he had all sorts of suggestions for improvements: more clerks, informing people in advance which day they should come to the office to get their ID card, and creating a separate line in a separate section of the building for women, so that they not need to stand among the men (October 30, 1967). As we saw yesterday, the Arabs of East Jerusalem took it for granted that Israeli officials either knew Arabic or would make the effort to translate their incoming mail.

Much of the file contains dozens of letters by individual Arabs explaining how come they came not to have census notes ("my wife was in the hospital that day") and requesting their ID cards. These letters were still being written in 1970. (I didn't scan this section of the file for privacy purposes.)

The part of the file which seems most significant is the attempt by Eli Amir, an official in the office, writing to his boss, the Advisor on Arab Affairs himself, Shmuel Toledano. Toledano later went on to be elected to the Knesset, while his underling, Amir, grew up to be an important novelist and public figure; in 1968, however, it's a safe bet they were both mostly unknown to the general public. On June 12, 1968, exactly a year after the unification of Jerusalem, Amir summarized the status of issuing ID cards:

1. There were two census actions. The first by the Ministry of the Interior in July 1967; the second by the Municipality in September.

2. Most people were registered in the first census, and they've been given ID cards. A small group, comprised mostly of young men, was registered but didn't request their cards. We don't know why. When they come now, almost a year later, they must give a satisfying explanation before cards are issued to them.

So far about 65,000 cards have been issued. We assume about 6,000 people have yet to request them:

a. Families. Estimated at about 5,000 people in complete family units, they were missed in the first census and identified in the second.

b. Individuals. Estimated at about 1,000, they are divided as follows:

b1. Unmarried people of all ages who live with identifed parents. They are given ID cards when they prove they live with their parents.

b2. Uncles, grandparents etc: likewise. As soon as they demonstrate that they live with registered relatives they're issued cards.

b3. Unmarried singles without registered families. They are not issued ID cards at this stage.

b4. Families with only one registered parent. Probably about 250 people, and they're issued cards.

3. The municipality counted 65,857 people. About 65,000 ID cards have already been issued, yet there are still those 6,000. So there seem to be about 71,000 Arabs in East Jerusalem. Where did the last 5,000 come from?

Three possibilities:
a. The census wasn't accurate.

b. People are infiltrating from outside Jerusalem.

c. Both of the above.

4. The East Jerusalem branch of the Ministry of the Interior reports that there continue to be new applicants. We don't know how to explain these ongoing applications - why did people wait a year? How did they live their lives for a year with no papers?

5. Conclusions:
     1. There seem to be significant numbers of infiltrators.
     2. Perhaps we should stop accepting new applications.
     3. The groups of legitimate applicants (above) should be given ID cards.
     4. A committee should be created to decide about the unclear 6,000 people: interior, police, security.
     5. Assuming the committee will identify infiltrators, we need a decision as to what happens to them.
So did Toledano sit down and write a full response to Amir? Apparently not. A month later, on August 9, 1968, Amir wrote again: We need a policy. Legitimate people are hamstrung, and also the press is sniffing around the story (p. 8). Another month passed, and on September 2 Amir wrote again: "I'm sorry for being a nag (nudnick) but we really do need a policy." On September 3, someone inserted a tiny note into the file:
Sima in Toledano's name says the Cabinet will set up a committee.
The file has nothing helpful to add.

The Perpetual Archives

The sort of folks who read this blog will not, I fear, be the sort of folks who'll be able to make head or tail of this article. Me, I didn't even try very hard. Yet the beginning and end are actually quite intriguing. If the author is correct, sometime soon - say, a decade or three - it will be possible, feasible and perhaps even plausible to put the entire archival collections of the ISA, including all the as yet uncreated documentation of the entire 21st century, into a cabinet-sized box which will then retain the data in a stable form for the next 1,000 years, or 10,000. Long after the last vestiges of our paper documents will have degraded into dust, the cabinet with the digital versions will still be sitting under someone's desk, or in a basement, or hopefully in a cozy purpose-built cave, waiting for someone to request to see the film of that football game in 1935.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Islamic Council and the Israeli Prime Minister

A major theme of this blog so far has been Israel's actions in East Jerusalem after the Six Day War. Today we'd like to look at the subject from a new perspective: the relations with the Islamic Council and with the Mufti of Jerusalem himself, in the early 1970s. Today's file comes from the office of the Adviser on Arab Affairs, which was a unit in the Prime Minister's Office from the early years of the state until the turn of the century when it was abolished. (The abolition reflected the understanding that the affairs of Israel's Arab citizens should be dealt with, like those of all other citizens, in each respective ministry, rather than by a separate one).

File גל-13922/13 was active between 1970-1974. Much of its content are letters from various Arab institutions or groups to the Prime Minister, complaining about Israeli actions or warning of their dire consequences; in one case the file also contains a response. It's interesting to note the authors of the letters - the Islamic Council, the Mufti himself, but also lesser figures such as the mayor of Jenin or the head of the African community in East Jerusalem - all wrote to Israel's Prime Minister and other officials in Arabic. Their working assumption was that the Israelis would not be troubled by this. The one letter of response, by Deputy PM Yigal Allon (pages 7-8), was written in Hebrew, then translated and sent in Arabic. Allon himself actually spoke Arabic, but since the file contains a number of versions of his letter in Hebrew, clearly it was translated by a professional; Allon wouldn't have wanted to offend his interlocutors with his pidgin Arabic.

This blog doesn't have the expertise to say if such a practice is standard in the annals of conflicts.

Much of the correspondence deals with the Arab dissatisfaction with Israeli actions near the Temple Mount (or Haram a-Shariff, depending on whether you're reading the Hebrew or the Arabic), although one of the letters, from August 1972, describes a plan to remove some families from their homes as part of the construction of Hebrew University as "threatening the lives of innocent children" (p. 13).

By way of giving a feel for the tone and content of the letters, here's a rough translation of the last one in the file, from the Mufti Saad Adin El-Alamy to the new PM Yitzchak Rabin on June 4th 1974 (pages 21-26):
Your Honor,

On the event of the appointment of the new government, I wish to bring to your attention the many transgressions against the Muslims, their mosques and courts, in the hope that this government will desist from harming the Muslims, as has been happening in spite of hundreds of letters of protest. Among the transgressions:

1. The El Aksa Mosque has been repeatedly attacked and once was even ignited. The government knows this, but has never informed us about anyone being punished.

2. The key to the Mugrabi Gate [to the Temple Mount]: the army took the key by force, against the will of the Muslims. Such aggression has never happened anywhere in the world, that a key to a holy place is taken from the believers. What is your response to the fact that it has happened at El Aksa, which is holy to 700,000,000 Muslims in the world. Therefore I demand that the key be returned to the Muslims so that they be soothed and allowed to practice freedom of religion.

3. The el-Tankzia School: this school was built in 1328, and includes a mosque. It was active until the Israeli occupation. The Israeli army shut it down and Muslims are not allowed in. We demand it be returned to the Muslims. How is it possible for the Muslims to protect the holiest of their mosques in this land while foreigners hold the key to its gate and the also control a building which looks out upon it.

4. The Abrahamic Mosque (in Hebron): This Muslim mosque is desecrated by Israelis who enter it with their shoes on, have placed Jewish objects in it and pray in it as if it was a Jewish synagogue, and all this in violation of the basic principles of Islam which forbid any use of their mosques for the purpose of other religions or their use for any purpose which is not Muslim prayer; therefore I demand that this mosque be respected exclusively as a mosque, the removal of any non-Muslims, and the forbidding of any use beyond Muslim prayer. I'm enclosing a report about the trespassing in this holy place.

5. Archeology: the archaeological digs south of the Haram [Temple Mount] must be stopped.

6. The government has taken over much Arab property, including Waqf property. It must be returned.

7. The Mosque of the Prophet Samuel. The building is a mosque, yet Jews pray there as if it was a synagogue. This is forbidden by Muslim law.

8. The Shariya Court in Jerusalem. This is the oldest court in the land, and has been active since 1320. In the past it was a central agency of government, and its activities included land registration, relations with foreign citizens and consulates, criminal justice and other matters. Recently its writ has been limited to marital affairs of the Muslim population, but the government doesn't even recognize its authority in that sphere.

Finally, I'd like to point out that the actions of the Israeli occupation authorities ignore the facts that it is:

a. An occupation government which is forbidden from any actions except protecting its own security, while all previous laws and rules must remain in place;

b. The occupying force is forbidden from any intervention in the religious affairs of the occupied populace;

c. It is forbidden, by all international laws, to make any changes to any holy sites;

d. The UN Security Council and UNESCO and human rights commissions have all condemned any Israeli action on conquered Arab land and called for their reversal.

The report about Hebron is attached.
Two comments: First, the terminology of Arab, rather than Palestinian, is in the original. In 1974, the Arabs under Israeli control did not yet regularly refer to themselves as Palestinians. Second, we're presenting the document. We're not arguing with it - but nor are we condoning its content.

Zina Harman – In Memoriam

Last week, on January 21st, former Knesset member Mrs. Zina Harman passed away. Harman, mother of former MK Naomi Chazan, served as director of the International Organizations Division in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Director of the Technical Assistance Division in the Prime Minister's Office, a member of the delegation of Israel to the United Nations and in other public roles.

Besides occupying these impressive positions, Harman was also the wife of Israel's Ambassador to the United States, Avraham Harman. While researching material for our publication on Martin Luther King's Relations with Israel (and this blog's post on the subject), we went through Zina and Avraham Harman's correspondence, and came across two recipes Zina sent – a recipe for eggplants (Hatzilim) for the Congressional Club Cookbook in Washington D.C., the women's club of the spouses of Senators and Congressmen; and a recipe for Falafel, sent to a Mrs. Ethel Geenberg (not clear if this is the real name or a typo).

(Wikipedia / Knesset web site)

Monday, January 21, 2013

Martin Luther King's plan to visit Israel in 1967

Last week, we posted an official publication on our website on the connection between Martin Luther King Jr. and Israel. We showed how Israeli and Jewish groups tried to invite MLK to the Jewish state several times, but to no avail.

King's attitude towards Israel has been a subject of some controversy. At his blog, Prof. Martin Kramer recently re-published a March 2012 article tracing the provenance of a quote attributed to King, in which he rebuked a student attacking Zionism. King was quoted as saying "When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews. You’re talking anti-Semitism!”

In 2004, two Palestinian-American activists suggested that this quote was fabricated or invented. They claimed, in a nutshell, that MLK could not have said it, because he was not and could not have been in the place where he was claimed to have done so -- Cambridge, Massachusetts -- before his assassination. In this very researched and detailed article, Prof. Kramer proves that King could have said that quote -- since he was most certainly in Cambridge in late October 1967.

Prof. Kramer also posted on Facebook a most interesting poster of Martin Luther King's planned visit to the Holy Land in November 1967, after the visit that was cancelled due to the Six Day War. We published on our site the formal invitation to visit Israel sent by Prime Minister Levi Eshkol to Martin Luther King, and King's acceptance of the invitation. In his own words: "I take these means to express my deep appreciation to you for the invitation you extended to me to come to your wonderful country."

While I was writing this post, Prof. Kramer posted another piece, solving a question that had arisen while we were preparing our official publication: Why didn't Rev. King visit Israel in 1967, as he promised PM Eshkol in May 1967?  Prof. Kramer found the answer in the FBI wiretaps of King and his advisers. In a conference call with his advisers, King said that if he went to the Middle East “I’d run into the situation where I’m damned if I say this and I’m damned if I say that, no matter what I’d say, and I’ve already faced enough criticism including pro-Arab” and that "I just think that if I go, the Arab world, and of course Africa and Asia for that matter, would interpret this as endorsing everything that Israel has done, and I do have questions of doubt."

Thursday, January 17, 2013

What was Martin Luther King Thinking?

In honor of Martin Luther King Day next week, we've dug up some documents in the archives about MLK and the State of Israel. The publication is over here, and the English-language documents in the publication are here.

In a nutshell, the Israelis thought it would be a fine idea to host MLK in Israel, and the more important he grew, the more convinced they were that it was something they should make happen. King, from his side, kept on saying all the right words, but kept on not coming.

Those are the facts. What do they mean? Hard to say. Read the publication and see if you find an answer.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Spot of Slowdown

Unfortunately we're having a bit of bother at the ISA these days, having to do--once more--with our building and with various other bureaucratic challenges. Blogging may be a bit slow this week, though the moment we can get back to it we will. We've got some very interesting documents stuck in the declassification pipeline, and hope to have them unstuck soon.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Spot of Snow

Tel Aviv was cut off from Jerusalem last night, on account of the Tel Avivians not being able to navigate the snowy roads up to Jerusalem. Sadly, there was a bit of bother in Jerusalem itself, too, so that most folks simply stayed at home drinking hot soup. Those who set out to reach the Israel State Archives, for example, found that the street in front of the building was partially blocked by a tree which coincidentally fell across it just as it started snowing:
On the other hand, anyone who did make it past the broken tree could choose to park anywhere in the parking lot:
The building itself was unaffected by the swirling snow:
Apparently, we're about to move to a different, more centrally located venue, so next time it snows access may be easier. Perhaps people will even come to work.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Initiating a Large Settlement

How much does the public know about the history of the settlement project? Precious little, actually, in spite of the endless talk about it in the media and in political and diplomatic discourse. (Google "West Bank Settlements" and you get more than 9,000,000 results.) Just about none of this verbiage, however, is based upon the documentary records created by the officials who did the job; we can say this since we're the ones doing the declassification, and we haven't declassified much of the relevant stuff yet. Not as a pattern of concealment, either, simply a matter of declassification priorities.

Recently, we went looking for the origin of the E-1 moniker, and came up with this post. Today we'd like to share a few earlier documents from the same file (גל-15482/11).

The first document (pp. 7-8) is a memorandum sent on Dec. 1, 1980 by Z. Barkai, the head of the Programs Division in the Ministry of  Construction and Housing, to A. Tayar, head of the Jerusalem  region in the ministry. Barkai summarizes recent discussions at the top civil-servant level of the ministry - which Tayar probably also participated in - about strategic planning for the Jerusalem region:
1. By early 1983, the ministry will have exhausted its current construction capacity in Gilo, Ramot, and East Talpiot (all in what's called East Jerusalem).
2. Manchat and Givat Masua (West Jerusalem) are being planned, and will enable about two years of construction.
3. South Neveh Yaacov is in planning. We forsee construction there for about 5-6 years after 1982. (Presumably this means what is now called Pisgat Zeev.)
4. Giv'on is being planned. Should be available for construction in 1982.
5. In Maaleh Adumim, we forsee construction of 1,000 housing units annually for the next 5-6 years.

1. Accommodating the master plan for Jerusalem calls for 5,000 new units annually, of which 3-3,500 need to be built by the ministry.
2. Ministry construction must bolster the stature of Jerusalem (as an Israeli city, he implies).

Conclusions from the above:
1. Priority should go to construction which promotes the political goals. Ergo, Masua and Manachat (in West Jerusalem) are less important than elsewhere.
2. Giv'on needs to be promoted.
3. Since the current options will be exhausted before the end of the decade, we must identify new ones now.
4. A planning group is to be set up to find large-scale construction potential north of Jerusalem, which will operate along the following guidelines:
a. Easy daily commuting.
b. At least 2,000 units, so as to justify development of local services.
c. State-owned land will be preferred where possible.
d. Reasonable development costs.
e. Easy access to Jerusalem but also Ramle-Lod in the west or Maaleh Adumim in the east.

Scope: Assuming an east-west line through the center of Jerusalem and looking north, the area is to be identified between 09:00-15:00, up to a radius of 12-15 km.

A steering committee will be set up with myself as chair and yourself as director. The General Manager will send out a letter of accreditation. This document will serve as the launching document.
We'll talk about the next stage in this process tomorrow...

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

February 1956: Ben Gurion Demands a New Miltary Doctrine

Today we're publishing an important document about Israel's military doctrine in the run-up to its second war in 1956. The document is a 40-page stenogram from the Ministers' Committee for Foreign Relations and Security, on February 19, 1956. We've looked at some earlier meetings of this committee, and heard how its members often kvetched that they were not taken seriously enough, and that their main job was the worthy but unexciting task of appointing Israeli diplomats to far-flung outposts. For whatever reason, on February 19, 1956, the committee suddenly found itself precisely where it wished to be: in the center of strategic planning, at a time when war with Egypt seemed a distinct possibility.

The beginning of the meeting reflected Ben Gurion's impatience with having to report at all. True, he brought with him Moshe Dayan, Chief of Staff Haim Laskov, Dayan's deputy, and a colonel from near the top of Military Intelligence. Yet he opened the meeting with ill grace: "OK, fellows, I hear you want to have a report. What is it you wish to hear? I'll bet each of you wants to hear about his village and its role in the case of war? Everyone likes to see his name in print. Some people prepare themselves a visiting card, others want a book; they (he seems to have been talking to the generals) want a whole book."

So the generals launched into a detailed report about the size of the IDF, how many tanks and cannons it had, how many airplanes it had and how many had been ordered from France, and so on. Back then, lots of folks in lots of countries would have given their right hand for a time machine to read the ISA blog on Israel's military capabilities; but most of those people are long since dead, and when we submitted this document to the declassifiers and their ilk, they didn't bat an eyelash. 1956 is a long time ago, and there's not much of present value in knowing how many fighter-bombers Israel had at the time and how much it wished it had. Though it is interesting to hear the confidence in the voices of the generals and the doubt in the voices of the civilians ministers: "Are you sure that's enough equipment? Really?"

Then the discussion went off to the section Ben Gurion had suspected was anyway the real point of the exercise: The ministers wished to know how many men would remain in each agricultural settlement, and why the ones important to each of them were being categorized wrongly. A word of explanation: as Dayan explained, each village was catalogued as category A, B or C. Category A villages would see a largish number of men (39) remain at home even in a time of full mobilization, while the reserve of unmobilized men in the other categories would be smaller. The categories had recently been updated, so that some places which had previously been regarded as really important were now degraded - and the ministers were peeved. They went back and forth about the criteria, the considerations, and - while always presenting their positions as principled, not personal - the reader may join Ben Gurion in suspecting otherwise.

The interesting thing is that Ben Gurion had mostly been very quiet so far (more than halfway through the meeting). He had introduced the generals, and since then had said nothing except once, when he muttered that he thought the generals were being far too generous in handing out exemptions.

Then (on page 22 of 40) he suddenly joined the discussion, and changed its entire structure. The problem with everything that has been said here, he said, is that you're all thinking about the previous war [of 1947-49]. That time there were battles over lots of villages, and we protected each and every village, often by arming the villagers and supporting their local efforts. Next time, it wouldn't be like that. Next time, the enemy wouldn't waste its time on little kibbutzes on the road to Tel Aviv: the enemy would aim for Tel Aviv, and Haifa, and Jerusalem. And Israel would protect itself and its cities with a modern mobile army, not a ragtag militia spread out over hundreds of settlements. This army would need mobility, and armaments, but mostly, it would need fighters. And the reserve fighters would be drawn from all over, and they would defend their village on the road to Tel Aviv as soldiers in the army, not armed yeomen in their own front yard. Which is why he was dissatisfied with some of what the generals had been saying, but from the opposite side of the discussion: they were willing to leave too many capable men at home, when they would be more effective in the army.

The funny thing, or sad thing, is that once Ben Gurion finished presenting his position, everyone professed to agree with him, but then they went back to the previous discussion as if they hadn't been listening. "Yes, of course, but what about Kibbutz Mishmar Haemek? And Meggido?"

Monday, January 7, 2013

Cabinet Protocols: Mid August 1948

In mid-August 1948, the cabinet slowed down for some reason. In the first few weeks after Israel's creation and in the midst of a bitter war for existence, the cabinet had convened three, sometimes even four times a week. Then for a while there were two regular weekly meetings. In the weeks of August 11 and 18, 1948, however, there was only one weekly meeting each - and even these don't appear to have been particularly dramatic. I don't know the reason for the slackness - clearly, it wasn't because everyone was trooping off for their summer vacations, since there were no fewer participants than usual. We'll have to see as this series progresses if this was a new norm.

The scanned protocols are here.

The meeting of August 18 began with two questions from Rav Maimon (Fishman), Minister of Religious Affairs. The first had to do with taxes, and Ben Gurion shot it down, as he did sometimes, by saying it wasn't a real question. I wish I knew how he decided what were and weren't legitimate questions - clearly, his ministers hadn't yet figured this out. Maimon's second question was about political turf-fighting: was it true the responsibility for the Holy Places had been given to the Ministry of Labor and Construction? Answer: oversight of ancient sites has gone to Construction. (If this sounds like hair-splitting to you, you may be right.)

There was a report about the ongoing UN-led armistice negotiations (no details in the protocol) and a presentation about the currency. There was a vote about what to do with the IZL and Lehi troops, and the cabinet was not in a magnanimous mood: an ultimatum would be issued telling them to join the IDF (thereby losing their own organizational identity) or force would be used against them.

The Minister of Interior, Itzchak Grinbaum, reported on the efforts to register the populace in preparation for holding elections. The cabinet preferred the registration to be authorized by decree rather than the less seemly option of using the Emergency Rules, but no final decision was made.

On August 18, Grinbaum wanted to know why the import of non-kosher meat had been blocked. The Minister of Commerce and Industry replied that he hadn't blocked the import, he had merely halted the negotiations about the import because of public opinion. (See if you can find the difference.)

It was decided that the Minister of Labor and Construction had the authority to requisition private homes to make room for foreign diplomatic delegations. The Minister of Transport was tasked with creating a national airline. There was a discussion about licensing private radio stations, but the only decision made was to forbid an IZL-inspired station.

Finally, touching for the first time on a subject which is still contested in 2013, it was decided that Israeli citizens who are abroad on election day would not be eligible to vote.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Killing Meir Tobianski

Running a country necessitates difficult decisions. Even in peaceful countries, someone has to make allocations of funds which impact the lives of citizens. In countries at war, leaders must make direct decisions about life and death. Setting up a country, and especially in the midst of war, calls for hard men (and women) who are capable of very hard decisions. Founders of nations will often turn out not to have been the kind of person you'd invite over for tea.

Yet there are degres of hardness. Today's document deals with a small group of hard men who were present at the founding of Israel, indeed, played significant roles in its early years, yet who were too hard, too ruthless, and who crossed lines which shouldn't have been crossed. These were Issar Beeri, Avraham Kraemer (Kidron), Binyamin Gibli, and David Karon. Together, the four of them killed Meir Tobianski on June 30, 1948, as told in today's chilling document.

Meir Tobianski was born in Kovna (now Kaunas) in 1904, and came to Mandatory Palestine in 1925. For most of his adult life, he was affiliated with the Hagana, mostly concurrently with civilian jobs. In 1947, he began working as an engineer in the Jerusalem electricity company. Once the war started he commanded various bases in the Jerusalem area. On June 29, he and his troops swore allegience to the just-created IDF. The next day he traveled down to Tel Aviv on errands.

While in Tel Aviv he was accosted by some officers who summoned him to an urgent meeting. They took him to a building up the road back to Jerusalem and interrogated him, accusing him of transfering sensitive information to the enemy. He admitted giving some information to British colleagues in the electricity company. At this stage, his interrogators declared themselves a military court, sentenced him to death, and had him shot. All on the same day. His body was dumped in a nearby hole. His wife was told his fate only a few days later.

The document drawn up after the event described who Tobianski was, what he admitted, who was on the court, the verdict, the report of execution, and the signatures of the judges, if judges they were, all on one page.

Issar Beeri was tried and discharged from the IDF in February 1949, for the killing of an Arab Israeli called Ali Kassem who had been a Haganah informer suspected of being a double agent. When, a few months later, the newly appointed Attorney General, Yaacov Shimshon Shapira, insisted he be tried for the unlawful killing of Tobianski, there was some resistance since he had already been discharged. Shapira insisted, in an important case demonstrating the supremacy of the rule of law, and Beeri was convicted. He was sentenced to one day in jail but pardoned that same evening by the president. In 1950, he was called to testify in the trial of Paul Kollek (Teddy Kollek's brother) in the case of yet another unlawful wartime killing, of IZL activist Yedidia Segal in 1948. In spite of his crucial achievements in the creation of a military intelligence branch duirng the War of Independance, his violence seems to have ended his career. He died in 1958, age 57.

Beeri's three subordinate officers, who had served as the judges and signed the document, fared better. They were not tried, as it was accepted they had been following Beeri's orders, had assumed they had the authority, and had been convinced of Tobianski's treason.

Avraham Kraemer changed his name to Kidron, and eventually rose to become the General Director of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. David Karon worked for the Mossad, spending years in Teheran. Binyamin Gibli remained in the IDF and rose to become a Colonel in an army which at the time had only two higher ranks; among other positions he was the head of Military Intelligence in the 1950s, where he was probably involved in the 1954 attempt to provoke American and British anger at Egypt by attacking their installations there.

Meir Tobianski was entirely exonerated in 1949. Here is his page on the official website of fallen IDF soldiers. He is buried in the military cemetary on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Counting Calories, Importing Experts

I'm not going to stay on the topic of the austerity and rationing polices of 1949-50 much longer--too depressing. Still, here are two interesting snippets. The first (p.2) is a standard form which was sent each month to Dov Joseph, Minister of Supplies and Rationing. It sets out the average calorie intake of the populace in various categories and compares recent months, breaking down: calories, carbohydrates, protein, animal protein, fat, calcium, iron, vitamin A (3 lines), three items I don't recognize, and finally vitamin C. So there's a bureaucracy counting calories of the populace and filling charts with data. Talk about the government interfering with peoples' lives.

Then there are two letters written in English by one Ben-Ami Ben Dor, an official of the rationing ministry. He was in New York, where he apparently didn't have access to a Hebrew typewriter and the battery of his laptop was broken, hence his use of English. (He may also have had in mind the future readers of an English-language blog of the State Archives, who knows.) Anyway, he's trying to figure out if it's a good thing for Israel to lean on official American government experts who know about nutrition. Remember, in 1950 the relationship between the US and Israel was not obvious in the way it later became, and he seems to have expected a bit of prickliness on either side.

On the final page, he also makes an odd comment about the need to import American experts, perhaps on a 103-year contract. I admit that one stumped me; if any reader can offer an explanation I'd appreciate it.

By about this time - late 1950 - it had dawned on Israel's government that the entire policy was perhaps unproductive, and they soon began to dismantle it.

The Vienna Case Goes to the Supreme Court

Haaretz reports that the legal team of the Jewish Community in Vienna has taken the case of the pre-Shoah Vienna archives to the Supreme Court. As we wrote here and here, there's a long-running disagreement between the Jewish community of Vienna and the central archives of the Jewish people as to whether the Viennese can demand the repatriation of the archive, which was transferred to Jerusalem in three shipments between 1955 and 1978. Eventually, the case was brought to the desk of the State Archivist, and then the Municipal Court in Jerusalem accepted his recommendation that the archive remain in Jerusalem. As was to be expected, the final word will go to the Supreme Court.

The article in Haaretz is behind their registration/paywall, but if you can get there, it sums up the current state of matters.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Israelis Eat Well

Yesterday there was an item in Haaretz about the papers of Dov Joseph, one of Israel's early leaders, which are currently on sale on eBay. The story, sadly, is true, and it would be better if Israeli politicians and high civil servants wouldn't take official papers home when they retire.

The lost papers may not necessarly be lost. For all we know, what Dov Joseph took home may (or may not) have been copies of documents he also left on file. We'd need to have them to compare with what the archives have. What we can say with certainty is that there's quite a bit of documentation from Joseph's various offices, still in the archives.

Here's one such document, in English this time. It's a letter from a certain Lord Boyd Orr, from Scotland, on July 10, 1950. Joseph was at the time the minister in charge of rationing, and he'd asked Lord Boyd Orr, apparently of the Commonwealth Bureau of Animal Nutrition, Rowett Research Institute in Aberdeen, to figure out if Israelis were eating well enough.

Boyd Orr's answer: Yes. About as well as in Americans, actually, which, just between you and me, I find faintly surprising, given that the Israelis were living under rationing and the Americans - not. Moreover, using the parameter of infant mortality as a way of measuring nutrition of young mothers, Orr thought Israeli nutrition could be even better than in the UK.

The Right Honorable Lord then signed off by sending regards to Ben Gurion and Weizman. Either he was well-connected, or they were.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

"Let's not miss the Messiah in Jerusalem"

Here's a letter from Prime Minister Levi Eshkol to Minister of Housing Mordechai Bentov, on June 24, 1968. The file it comes from must have been opened by a new secretary who was then moved elsewhere, as it contains only two unconnected letters and a handwritten note - so I can't tell anything about the context, or the previous or subsequent events. All we've got is this single letter, standing on its own. (ג-6420.9).

Yet I think that if I quote it in its entirety, it tells a profound story - or three of them, or six - rather well. It does this so very well that I'm not even going to add annotations, even at the risk that some readers will miss some of the layers of this little gem:
To: The Minister of Housing
From: The Prime Minister

You can imagine that I know a bit about creating new townships, and the distinction between founding a town and baking bread is clear to me. Yet even bread rolls need to be baked properly, but sometimes they're baked hurriedly as our fathers baked on their way out of Egypt. But it's possible to stoke the furnace and prepare the dough concurrently, and there's no need to wait between one activity and the next.

History will forgive us if we miss by a centimeter or two, and it won't be important. I took umbrage at the complacence in your words when you said that there's no hurry, nothing is running away, and Jerusalem will remain ours forever. The reality is that the ground is burning under our feet and any delay could cause us to miss the steps of the Messiah.


Levi Eshkol