Sunday, March 24, 2013

Settlements at Pesach, Chapter 2

Our intention was to follow up our recent post about the founding of Hanita shortly before Passover in 1938 with some documents about the founding of Kiryat Arba in 1968. Sadly, a snag in the declassification process has slowed us down. Since we're shutting down all operations until after Passover, we're going to pass.

So, this is to wish a good Pesach to those of our readers who observe in whatever way, and to assure all readers we'll be back in about 10 days.

Supplying Matzot: Central Planning or Free Market?

Surely, you'd say to yourself, founding a Jewish state would ensure there'd never again be any problem of having enough kosher-for-Pesach stuff, first and foremost Matzot. Surely, you'd be wrong.

A recurring theme in Israel's early years was the lack of an adequate supply of Matzot for Passover. There are any number of files in the ISA with officials and politicians kvetching about how again there hadn't been enough to go all around and how could that possibly be?!

In 1962, for example, the general manager of the Ministry of Trade and Industry appointed a committee of three to figure out what had just gone wrong and make recommendations for 1963. It was headed by Y. Gal-Ad, his deputy, who was joined by two external experts; the committee also had talks with a parallel committee set up in the Tel Aviv Rabbinate. The comittee submitted its recommendations in September 1962 - except that its members hadn't managed to agree.

There were structural problems, such as the fact that Matzot are prepared under strict conditions in the few monsths before the holiday, but mostly purchased only in the final week; what isn't sold by the end of the holiday won't be sold at all. There were complex issues about estimating how much would be required, and these included knowing how much the population had grown in the past year, even while noticing that in 1961 Pesach had effectively been one day longer since it had ended on Friday, so Saturday (i.e. Shabbat) was also Pesach-like. There were administrative problems, such as that the rabbinate was not willing to permit working in three shifts. There was the problem with the rumors about how the matzot were running out and this caused hoarding at various parts of the supply chain.

The committee members did manage to agree that having a free market in which the prices were fixed from above didn't help. Clearly, the structure of the market needed to be changed - but how? The two outsiders recommended that as of 1963 the market be opened and allowed to do its own thing. Sooner or later that would have to happen, they said, and there's no purpose in further delay, even if it caused one additional season of confusion. Gal-Ad wasn't convinced, or perhaps, being an insider, he was apprehensive of the fallout should the issue reappear the following year.

Our file doesn't say what happened in 1963. Perhaps we'll go looking for the next file, next year.

Golda: Canny Politician and Fresh Chicken Soup

A few months ago we posted Golda Meir's chicken soup recipe. Our point at the time was actually a bit political, not culinary, in that we told how Golda held some of the most important meetings of her premiership in her kitchen (really), and in doing so she also added a term to modern Hebrew's political vocabulary: Mitbachon, kitchenette, means the innermost circle of confidantes to a political leader.

Some of the media stories which picked up our blogpost were a bit skeptical, sniffing that they'd seen this particular recipe before and we weren't showing anything new.

We're an archives, so essentially nothing we publish is exactly new, but often we publish brand-newly declassified stuff, which no-one of the general public has previously seen. In the case of Golda's chicken soup, however, the back-office story is interesting. So, on this eve of the Passover Seder and the opportunity to eat chicken soup, here goes: the story of how Golda used chicken soup to promote her popularity.

When Golda Meir became Israel's prime minister in 1969, women serving as heads of government were still quite rare. Lots of people, it turns out, assumed she had spent much of her time in the kitchen, and unilke male leaders, she must have interesting recipies. Soon there was a stream of requests from authors of cookbooks, community rabbis and fundraisers to have a recipe from her with which to adorn their cookbook, or fund-raising cookbook. If she might please send them a recipe it would enhance their ability to raise funds for Jewish scholarshps, or awareness for Soviet Jewry, or simply emphasize the fact that Israel was a progressive state with a head of government who contributes recipies to general cookbooks.

Did Golda have any time for any of this? Of course not. But her staff had a standard response, which included a sentence of appreciation for being asked, and, it just so happens, "Mrs Meir has authorized us to send you her chicken soup recipe". (As well as to everyone else, of course.)

Since these letters were all in English, you can read some of them for yourself. (File ג-6479.28)

And in case you missed it, here's the recipe itself once again.

We don't know to say if she had lots of other recipes. Canny politician that she was, the one recipe she declassified was for a stereotypical dish. Did she also make matbucha? Kubeh? Hamburgers?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Settlements at Pesach Chapter 1

On March 21, 1938, 75 years ago tomorrow, the kibbutz of Hanita was founded, as part of the "tower and stockade" program. In this program, more than 50 new settlements, most of them kibbutzim, were set up between 1936 and 1939, against the backdrop of the Arab uprising against the British Mandate. The idea was to broaden the areas settled by Jews, in the anticipation that someday the British or someone would introduce a viable partition plan, and its contours would reflect areas of settlement - as indeed happened in 1947. The moniker reflects an old Ottoman law which was still in force, forbidding the destruction of a roofed building. Settlers in the project would arrive on a plot of Jewish-owned land and hurriedly set up a tower, a roofed shack, and a wooden stockade to withstand any attack; they would also begin to plough a field, acquiring additional legal protection.

Hanita was not the first nor the last, but it remains one of the most famous. Situated on the rocky ridge between the western Galillee and southern Lebanon, it didn't seem likely to be able to support itself through agriculture; it was also remote from other Jewish settlements (well: remote is a relative term in this very extremely small land).

Ten of the settlers were killed in the first few day after the founding of the settlement in skirmishes with locals.

Here are some photos from our Zoltan Kluger collection, taken that day. Notice the diversity of people in them, from recognizable haluzim, to Rav Holzberg from distant Rosh Pina who came with a Torah scroll to bless the (secular) pioneers, to Moshe Shertok (later Sharet, Israel's second prime minster, third from the left in the last picture), and an assortment of beasts of burden including camels. No trucks, however, for them to haul the stuff up the mountain. The first picture features the tower, on its way up.


Monday, March 18, 2013

The Rabbi and the Goat: How the Peace Treaty was Saved, March 1979

Yesterday we published a series of documents here about US President Jimmy Carter's visit to Israel and the crisis in the peace talks with Egypt, which nearly derailed the treaty at the last minute. The media in Israel took great interest in the publication and especially in the clashes between Carter and Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Yet the treaty was signed in the end. What happened?

The heroes of the last ditch rescue were Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan, and a lesser known collection of Israeli ministers. The talks broke down over Egypt's demand to send liaison officers to implement Israel's autonomy plan in Gaza, and Israel's demand to include an Egyptian commitment to sell it oil in the peace agreement. The Egyptians were willing to sell the oil--they just didn't want to say so. On March 12, after yet another fruitless meeting, Vance had an idea. "You have got two issues that were not rooted in Camp David … one of them is the Gaza issue. One is the question of oil. Suppose one drops both of those issues, and inasmuch as oil is a more weighty kind of issue, that could be taken care of". The US was willing to give a guarantee that if Egypt let Israel down, America would supply Israel's oil requirements.
Yigael Yadin and Menachem Begin
Photograph: Chanania Herman, Government Press Office
Yigael Yadin, the deputy prime minister, said that Vance's suggestion reminded him of the old joke about the rabbi and the goat. The rabbi was asked by a poor Jew to solve the problem of an overcrowded house. He told the Jew to put in a goat as well. When he took it out there was much more room. Vance was suggesting taking out the two "goats" of Gaza and the oil. However, Yadin did not see how Israel could drop the demand for oil which was part of normalizing relations with Egypt. Begin agreed: Israel would accept 50% of Vance's proposal and drop Gaza (See the record of this meeting, Document 7).

The meeting ended. Exhausted after an all-night Cabinet meeting and feeling ill, Begin went home to rest. Vance went back to his hotel. Carter had agreed to stay till the next day, but his press secretary was already briefing the press on the failure of the president's mission. Ezer Weizman, the defense minister who was close to Sadat, accused his colleagues of missing the chance for peace and hinted at resignation.

The ministers were determined not to allow further erosion of Israel's position in the negotiations, but the prospect of the president leaving empty-handed was grim. A group of ministers stayed behind, apparently asked by Yadin to find a way out--Dayan, Eliezer Shostak, Gidon Patt, Josef Burg, Ariel Sharon (yes, Sharon the "extremist"), Aharon Abuhatssira, Shmuel Tamir and Yadin himself. It was this group which brought about the breakthrough. They proposed a formula on oil, which Dayan thought the Americans might accept. He phoned Begin, who authorized him to go back to Vance. Vance agreed to ask the Egyptians not to mention Gaza in the treaty, if the oil issue was settled. (Egyptian access to Gaza already appeared in the agreement on normalization). Dayan said that Israel would accept a general commitment by Egypt to sell oil to Israel like any other country and an American guarantee for twenty years. They eventually settled on fifteen years. After calling the president, Vance and his staff drafted a clause to be added to Annex III of the treaty on trade relations. Carter invited Begin to breakfast at Dayan's suggestion.

The following morning Vance and Dayan joined Carter and Begin at breakfast. Carter presented the clause as his proposal, and Begin said he would bring it to the government. Carter also requested some gestures towards the Palestinians, and Begin agreed to consider them. Before he left for the airport, Carter proposed to Begin that the question of Gaza be dropped, and Begin accepted gladly. Sadat still required some persuasion, but Carter made it clear that this was the best offer he would get. He wrote to Begin that Sadat had agreed (Document 8). Begin and Carter may not have seen eye to eye, but they could not let slip the chance for peace with Egypt.
Begin, Carter and Sadat in Washington, March 1979
Photograph: Ya'acov Sa'ar, Government Press Office

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Now or Never: US President Jimmy Carter's Visit to Israel, March 1979

The Last Lap of the Peace Negotiations with Egypt
Prime Minister Begin, President Jimmy Carter and Israeli President Yitzhak Navon, March 10, 1979. Photograph Government Press Office
The Camp David accords were signed by President Anwar Sadat of Egypt and Prime Minister Menachem Begin of Israel and witnessed by President Jimmy Carter on September 17, 1978. These agreements provided the framework for the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel and were greeted as the dawn of a new era in the Middle East. However, the celebrations soon gave way to frustration. Even after a draft treaty had been approved by the government of Israel, there were several issues on which the sides could not agree. For months they were in deadlock.

In February 1979, Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan and Egyptian Prime Minister Mustapha Khalil met again at Camp David, but it was clear that Dayan did not have the authority to break the impasse. Carter asked Begin to come to Camp David but he refused. Instead he flew to Washington for talks with Carter himself. After some progress, Carter decided to take the plunge and go to the Middle East himself. He planned to meet with Sadat, to present the latest proposals agreed with Begin and to finalize the details of the treaty, so that it could be signed during his visit.

In Israel, many wondered if Carter's visit was not too big a gamble, in view of the gap between the sides. However, Dayan told senior staff at the Foreign Ministry that Carter's decision was not a gamble but a political necessity, in view of the latest developments in the Middle East and the fall of the pro-American regime in Iran. (See Document 1)

Carter stayed in Egypt for three days and met with Sadat, but the Egyptian president rejected the proposals. On March 10, Carter came to Jerusalem to meet with the Israeli leaders and to give them the message that it was "now or never." Carter's visit was marked by tense and dramatic meetings between the president, accompanied by his top advisers--Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski and Defense Secretary Harold Brown--and the Israeli delegation. The Israelis strongly opposed Egypt's latest demands and at the height of the argument, Begin said bluntly to Carter: "Mr President, we shall sign only what we agree to and we shall not sign anything to which we do not agree" (See Document 5). At the last minute, when it seemed that Carter would return to Washington empty-handed, a breakthrough was achieved which enabled him to return to Cairo and to obtain Sadat's agreement to the treaty. "That is the best news of my life, wonderful news," said Carter when Begin called to tell him that the Israeli government too had approved the latest proposals and the way was clear for the signing ceremony (See Document 9).

These documents mark three stages in the dramatic story of the last lap of the peace negotiations, when the president of the United States took the unprecedented step of holding direct talks with the entire government of Israel. They are part of a collection of eleven documents presented by the Israel State Archives in honor of President Barack Obama's visit to Israel and to mark the 34th anniversary of President Carter's visit. The documents were chosen from the Prime Minister's Office and the Foreign Ministry collections and form part of an ongoing project on the peace negotiations with Egypt, in which the US played a vital role. (See also the ISA's publication on President Sadat's visit to Israel in November 1977.)

A. Introduction: What was the argument about?

In mid-October, talks on an American draft of the peace treaty began in Washington. After the initial euphoria of Camp David, the differences between the parties again began to emerge. The angry reaction of the Arab world forced Sadat to prove that he was still committed to the Palestinians and to an overall peace treaty. Begin, under attack by his friends and supporters for abandoning all of the Sinai, was determined to make no more concessions. Although agreement was quickly reached on most of the treaty, several issues remained in dispute:

· Diplomatic relations: Israel feared that Egypt might get all or most of its territory back before the exchange of ambassadors, while Egypt wanted to link the exchange to the elections for a self-governing Palestinian authority. Israel wanted to make it clear that there was no "linkage" between the peace treaty and the agreements on autonomy, by means of Article VI (2) of the treaty, which says that the parties will carry out their obligations without reference to any other agreement.

· The timetable for autonomy: The Egyptians were afraid that Israel would not carry out the autonomy plan, in view of Begin's refusal to freeze settlement activity in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) and Gaza "during the negotiations". Carter was sure that he had agreed to a freeze until the end of the negotiations on autonomy, but Begin insisted that he had agreed to three months only. Israel accepted an Egyptian proposal that Begin and Sadat should sign a joint letter to accompany the treaty, committing them to hold negotiations on autonomy in the West Bank and Gaza. However it did not want to set a target date for the establishment of autonomy.

· Autonomy in Gaza first: After it became clear that King Hussein of Jordan would not co-operate, Egypt proposed to implement autonomy first in Gaza, where it had more influence, and to allow it a special role there. Israel was opposed.

· Priority of obligations: Another problematic article was Article VI (5) which deals with a possible clash between the peace treaty and other treaty obligations. Egypt did not want to say in public that the peace treaty counted for more than its obligations to other Arab states.

· Oil supply: Israel was concerned about its oil supply after withdrawal from the oilfields in Sinai and wanted a long term Egyptian commitment to sell oil to Israel. Egypt saw special treatment for Israel as an infringement of its sovereignty in Sinai.

During the talks in Washington, Defense Minister Ezer Weizman offered to speed up the first stage of withdrawal and to hand over El Arish within two months. Carter pressed the Egyptians to agree to an exchange of ambassadors one month later. But Begin rejected earlier withdrawal and refused to accept a target date for the autonomy talks, in view of the danger of Jordanian non-cooperation or PLO disruption. He also demanded agreement with the US on financial aid to cover the costs of the evacuation.

On November 21, the Israeli government approved the final US version of the treaty, but rejected a target date. After Jordan and Saudi Arabia attacked him at the Baghdad Arab summit, Sadat demanded revision of Articles VI and IV (on security arrangements in Sinai) and refused to send an ambassador to Israel as agreed. A compromise arranged by Vance was rejected by Israel. Confrontation between Israel and the US seemed imminent. But the fall of the Shah's regime in Iran in January 1979 led Carter to seek a foreign policy success. Egypt's role as a moderate force in the region became even more important and Israel needed a substitute for Iranian oil. Carter decided on a final effort to wrap up the talks.

B. "A new mission in the service of the oldest of human dreams – the dream of peace": Carter's visit to Egypt

Before leaving for Egypt Carter made a statement saying: "I leave today on a new mission in the service of the oldest of human dreams – the dream of peace. Nowhere is the hope of peace more fervent, more alive, than in the Middle East. Nowhere is the path to the realization more difficult, nowhere might the price of failure be more terrible…" He was convinced that President Sadat and Prime Minister Begin, and the peoples of Egypt and Israel, shared his determination to see these negotiations bear fruit.

On March 7, Dayan gave an assessment of the factors which had prompted Carter's visit to senior staff of the Foreign Ministry (Document 1). Yeshayahu Anug asked if Carter's move was a "gamble" or if his success was virtually assured. Dayan answered "I think that for Carter this is a political necessity. The United States has a major need to stabilize the situation in the Middle East after Iran … It is not a "gamble" either way, even if nothing comes out of it." Even if an agreement was not reached, the US would need Egypt, but it would be much easier to obtain assistance from Congress if there was peace with Israel. Dayan said that his talks with Khalil at Camp David were inconclusive because Begin and Sadat were not there. He did not know why Sadat had not come, and the president himself was being forced to "shuttle" between Cairo and Jerusalem (as Secretary of State Kissinger had done after the Yom Kippur War).

On the same day, a report from Cairo (Document 2) suggested that the Egyptian reaction to the new proposals was generally positive, although the signing of the treaty was not yet ensured. Later, the Israelis learned from Carter that Sadat had demanded changes in the text of Article VI which Begin and Carter had agreed in Washington and additions to the joint letter. Sadat proposed that if the details were settled he would come to Jerusalem to sign and afterwards Begin would come to sign in Cairo.

C. Now or never: Carter in Jerusalem

Carter arrived in Israel on Saturday night, March 10, 1979, and met with the prime minister. Begin said that the treaty could not be signed during the president's visit, since Begin was committed to hold a government meeting on the autonomy plan first, as well as to present the treaty to the Knesset. This news surprised and angered the president. In his diary he wrote: "I couldn't believe it. I stood up and asked him if it was actually necessary for me to stay any longer." Carter asked Begin if he really wanted peace. The prime minister insisted that he did, but Carter was convinced that he was trying to block a treaty. His only hope was to appeal above Begin's head to the government, the Knesset and the Israeli public.
Aliza and Menachem Begin at dinner with Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter at the Prime Minister's Residence, March 10 1979. Photograph: Government Press Office
On Sunday, March 11, Vance gave Dayan a copy of the proposed Memorandum of Understanding between Israel and the US, including guarantees of Israel's oil supply like those given in 1975, when Israel withdrew from the Abu Rodeis oil field. He showed him the latest version of the joint letter. Dayan said that if the Egyptians insisted on implementing autonomy in Gaza first, Israel would see this as the end of their role in the process. Vance was worried about the Knesset vote, but Dayan said it was a foregone conclusion if the government approved the peace treaty. (See the record of the meeting, Document 3)

After a visit by Carter to the president of Israel, Yitzhak Navon, to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, and to Mt. Herzl, the talks began. The Israeli delegation consisted of Begin and a group of ministers, together with Attorney-General Yitzhak Zamir and other top aides. Begin insisted that Carter should chair the meeting, since a president outranked a prime minister. Carter described his talks with Sadat and the "outpouring of sentiment" in Egypt for peace. He presented the situation as "now or never": if the treaty was not concluded during his visit, it would be very difficult to do so later. He mentioned the Egyptian request to change the word "derogate" in Article VI. Begin emphasized that this article was vital to prevent Egypt joining in a war between Israel and Syria. Nevertheless, he agreed to try to find another word. To prove that Egypt had not abandoned its hostility to Israel, Begin quoted from slanderous attacks on Israel and the Jews in the Egyptian official press.

Sadat's proposal for an addition to the joint letter--to send Egyptian liaison officers to Gaza--aroused bitter opposition in Israel. Carter said that Egypt had only made the suggestion on "Gaza first", which did not appear in the Camp David Accords, in order to be helpful, after Jordan and the Palestinians had refused to take part. Much suspicion was felt in the Arab world, which he shared, that Israel wanted to delay implementation of the autonomy plan, especially in view of Agriculture Minister Ariel Sharon's plans to settle a million Jews in Judea and Samaria. Begin and Deputy Prime Minister Yigal Yadin insisted that autonomy was an Israeli initiative and the government stood behind it (Record of the meeting, Document 4).

Summing up the talks that afternoon, Carter said that he could not devote any more time to the Middle East. He would like the treaty "not to be just a piece of paper that both sides have signed reluctantly … with remnants of animosity and distrust" but to revive the atmosphere of genuine friendship and mutual trust of Sadat's visit to Jerusalem and the Camp David summit. He believed that the problems of oil supply and the exchange of ambassadors could be solved, especially if Israel would reconsider a commitment for early withdrawal in Sinai. He asked the government to be "forthcoming and generous".

A late night government meeting was called to approve new formulations. Before this Vance met with Dayan to tell him what the Egyptians might accept. Dayan argued that the subject of liaison officers should be postponed to the autonomy talks. It would be much easier to persuade the government without it. The government meeting, which lasted till 5 a.m., approved the new formulations on Article VI and agreed that Israel would reconsider early withdrawal from Sinai. But it remained adamant in opposition to an Egyptian presence in Gaza and demanded a permanent Egyptian guarantee to sell a fixed amount of oil to Israel. The Israeli side did not realize that, in effect, Carter had full authority from Sadat to negotiate as he saw fit. They expected Vance to go to Cairo to receive a reply.

D. "We shall not sign anything to which we do not agree": Crisis in the talks

At 10:30 the following morning, after receiving the government's decisions, Carter again met with Begin, this time with the entire government present (Document 5). He admitted that they had indeed "been forthcoming, in some instances very generous" but asked for more concessions. He argued that the request to omit all reference to Gaza in the joint letter undermined the US commitment, as a signatory to the Camp David accords, to ensure that autonomy was implemented. He asked for details of the stages of the withdrawal and insisted that the US guarantee of Israel's oil supply was sufficient. Begin demanded that the phrase on liaison officers be removed. After normalization there would be free access to Gaza for the Egyptians. Carter was insistent: "To me it is a very crucial issue and your response has not been adequate". This was the first time in all the negotiations that the US had taken a position that it considered important to its own integrity. "[And] unless there is some assurance that the [Egyptian] negotiating team can have access to the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, I do not feel that I can carry out my commitment to the American people nor to you nor to the Palestinian Arabs nor to Egypt. It is a crucial issue to us and I think it is something you will have to decide."

Begin replied: "Mr. President, we shall sign only what we agree to and we shall not sign anything to which we do not agree." Israel would carry out every word of the Camp David agreement but it could not be forced to accept an addition to it. He agreed to call another government meeting. After Vance said that he had tried and failed to persuade Egypt to give Israel a guaranteed supply of oil, Justice Minister Shmuel Tamir argued that Egypt was perpetuating the Arab boycott. Israel had made great sacrifices for peace, but Egypt refused to give this assurance of good faith. (Record of the meeting, Document 5)

The meeting was cut short as it was time for Carter and Begin to speak in the Knesset. In Carter's speech he said pointedly: "The people of the two nations are ready now for peace. The leaders have not yet proven that we are also ready for peace enough to take a chance." Begin's speech was interrupted repeatedly by members of the right and the Communist party, and MK Geula Cohen was removed from the chamber.

Carter believed that Begin took pleasure in showing him the strength of Israeli democracy. However, in the government meeting which followed Begin was angry and upset, and complained that the Americans too did not appreciate Israel's sacrifices, which had led his opponents to call him "Petain" (the French collaborationist president In World War II). Begin had now realized that Carter was negotiating on behalf of the Egyptians, and would not discuss any proposals which he thought they would not accept. Begin regarded the demand for details about the stages of the withdrawal as Egyptian effrontery, backed by the Americans. The ministers voiced suspicions that Egypt wanted a foothold in Gaza in order to restore Egyptian rule or to encourage the establishment of a Palestinian state. Most of them called for a determined stand against further concessions.

However several ministers, among them Health Minister Eliezer Shostak, Housing Minister Gideon Patt and Finance Minister Simha Ehrlich, felt that some of Israel's demands were unreasonable. Shostak said they should not insist on specific quantities of oil and long term arrangements. On Gaza and Carter's suspicions of Israel's intentions over autonomy: "they have a right to suspect us and it is a very sensitive point". Like Dayan, he wanted to postpone the discussion to the autonomy talks. He did not reject the possibility of liaison officers, to which Sharon objected: "That means a Palestinian state within the month." Ehrlich was also willing to compromise on oil, although he said no more concessions should be made that day. He rejected suggestions for another meeting with Carter, which would only end in offending the president.

The meeting took place in an atmosphere of confusion and despondency. Patt complained that no one was listening and Religious Affairs Minister Aharon Abuhatssira said that it was impossible for a group of thirty people to conduct negotiations. According to the schedule, Carter was supposed to leave, and roads and Israeli air space had been closed in preparation for his departure. Eventually, the government decided not to change its decisions and to ask Carter to transmit them to the Egyptians (Record of the meeting, Document 6).

At 4:45pm, the delegation met with Vance and went over the same ground. At the end of the meeting Vance proposed an idea: "You have got two issues that were not rooted in Camp David … one of them is the Gaza issue. One is the question of oil. Suppose one drops both of those issues, and inasmuch as oil is a more weighty kind of issue, that could be taken care of, that we are prepared to give our guarantee". Yadin replied that the suggestion reminded him of the old joke about the rabbi and the goat (the rabbi solved the problem of a crowded house by putting in a goat as well. When he took it out there was much more room). However, he did not see how Israel could drop the demand for oil which was part of normalization. Begin concurred: Israel would accept 50% of Vance's proposal and drop Gaza (Record of the meeting, Document 7).

After the meeting, exhausted from lack of sleep and feeling ill, Begin went home to rest. Vance went back to his hotel. Carter had agreed to stay till the following day, but his press secretary was already briefing the press on the breakdown of the talks and the failure of the president's mission.

E. Last minute solution 

The government was determined not to allow further erosion of their stand, but the prospect that the president of Israel's most important ally would leave empty-handed was a grim one. According to his memoirs, Weizman accused his colleagues of missing the chance for peace and hinted at resignation. A group of ministers remained, apparently asked by Yadin to try to find a way out--Dayan, Shostak, Patt, Burg, Sharon, Abuhatssira, Tamir and Yadin himself. It was this group, several of them little known to history, which brought about the breakthrough. The meeting was not recorded, but it seems that they proposed another formula on the oil question, which Dayan thought the Americans might accept. Dayan telephoned Begin, who authorized him to discuss it with Vance. The two met again and Vance agreed to propose to the Egyptians not to mention Gaza in the treaty, if the oil issue was settled. (Egyptian access to Gaza was already promised in the normalization agreement.) Dayan said that Israel would accept a general commitment by Egypt to sell oil to Israel in the peace treaty and a long term American guarantee. He asked for twenty years, and they eventually agreed on fifteen. After calling the president, Vance and his staff drafted another clause in the peace treaty, which was added to Annex III on trade relations. Carter invited Begin to breakfast at Dayan's suggestion.
Working breakfast at the King David Hotel to settle the final details of the agreement, March 13. 1979. Photograph: Government Press Office
The following morning, Vance presented the new clause to Dayan. They then joined Carter and Begin at breakfast. Carter presented the formula as his proposal, and Begin said he would bring it to the government. Carter also requested some gestures towards the Palestinians, including freedom of movement (which at that time they already enjoyed) and association, and the release of political prisoners. Begin agreed to consider them. Dayan requested that the official press in Egypt should stop its personal attacks on Begin. Before he left for the airport, Carter proposed to Begin that the question of Gaza be dropped, and Begin accepted gladly.

Carter telephoned Begin from Cairo to tell him that Sadat had agreed to the new proposals. That same day, Carter sent Begin a letter summing up their agreements (Document 8, see also Document 11 in Hebrew). If Israel reinstated its proposal on phased withdrawal, Sadat would renew his agreement to the exchange of ambassadors. Sadat had agreed to the addition on oil to Annex III and even offered to construct a pipeline from the oil wells to Eilat. Carter added that he looked forward to seeing him and Sadat in Washington, where the treaty would be signed.

Begin read out the letter at another government meeting on March 14 and presented the understandings. The new formulations were approved and Begin called Carter to tell him of the government's decision (Record of the conversation, Document 9). Carter responded "That is the best news of my life, wonderful news." Begin congratulated Carter on the speech he had made on his return in which he said "risk of failure should never deter us from a worthy end. No goal is higher than that of genuine peace"

We can see Carter's own view of the talks in a briefing to leaders of Congress on March 14. According to a report by Zvi Rafiah of the Israeli embassy (See Document 10), he praised Sadat, Begin and Dayan, but noted that it was much easier to deal with Sadat, who could settle the knottiest problems in half an hour and left the details to his foreign minister. Begin was a "semanticist" who wanted to check everything. (Senator Daniel Moynihan tried to explain that Begin was a lawyer, and when he wrote something he really meant it.) In Jerusalem, Carter had learned with horror about the delays Begin wanted, because Sadat could not wait any longer for an agreement. Carter was also worried about Arab opposition. Sadat said that he would deal with the Arabs if Carter would take care of Israel. Carter added with a smile "I don't know who got the better deal". Egypt needed massive economic and military aid; Israel too would receive large sums.

After a stormy debate which lasted 28 hours, the Knesset approved the peace treaty on March 21. Begin flew to Washington for the signing ceremony which took place on March 26, 1979. In Begin's speech he paid tribute to the efforts of President Carter who had never accepted defeat. Begin also joked at his own expense about Carter's impatience at his fondness for legal details and his "intransigence": "Our friend, President Sadat, said that you are the 'unknown soldier' of the peace-making effort. I agree, but, as usual, with an amendment. A soldier in the service of peace you are; you are, Mr. President, even, mirabile dictu, an intransigent fighter for peace. But Jimmy Carter, the President of the United States, is not completely unknown. And so is his effort, which will be remembered for generations to come."
Prime Minister Begin and President Carter applaud the speech by President Anwar Sadat during the peace signing ceremony in Washington. Photograph: Government Press Office
For more detail see the full Document list.

Historical editing: Louise Fischer, Hagai Tsoref
English translation and editing: Louise Fischer
Internet content editing: Oranit Levi
Scanning: Shlomo Mark

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Sad Tale of Mekor Haim Street

For the past 20 years, the ISA has been housed in temporary quarters on Mekor Haim Street near the commercial area of Talpiyot in Jerusalem. Someday, we'll move to a real building meant to house the national archives - though, truth be told, we have other, more pressing challenges to face (here, for example, or here). In the meantime, however, we're situated on what was once, many years ago, a quiet residential lane, but now looks like this:

Ah, the good old times...

Or not. Just the other day someone showed me these two English-language letters from 1940, from which one can learn that in March 1940, and also in May, Mekor Haim was anything but a quiet residential lane. Not at all.

Which just goes to show that on Mekor Haim St, the temporary is decidedly permanent.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Passover is here - and here come the locusts!

A large swarm of locusts arrived this past week in the south of Israel. Contrary to popular belief, such an insect invasion is not a rare phenomenon. Every few years--the last time being 2004--locusts come swarming out of Africa, causing damage in Sudan, Egypt, and eventually Israel.

"Locust" is a general term used for several types of grasshoppers that join together into large bands and migrate in search of food. They are considered particularly harmful to agriculture, and are notorious as one of the ten plagues of Egypt that destroyed the country's crops, according to the Bible. Locusts are also mentioned in the Book of Joel, where they are described in an apocalyptic manner.

No wonder, then, that reporting and documentation regarding locusts tends to employ war terminology. In the Israel State Archive, documents about this "war on locusts" can be found from different periods of Israeli and pre-state history.

In 1915, the locusts hit the land of Israel during the first World War. The descriptions of this swarm are of an attack of biblical proportions that added to the already existing misery of war. (It is interesting to note that two of Israel's future Prime Ministers - Moshe Sharett and Levi Eshkol - participated in this battle against the locusts.)

Decades later, during the British Mandate, the High Commissioner received a telegram from the British Minister Resident in Cairo with a request to prepare for the "invasion" of oncoming swarms of locusts, and a warning that failure to deal effectively with the locusts would cause famine in the Middle East. (File M 16/18)

The war on locusts has often transcended other regional animosities, as enemies join together to defeat the common scourge. Thus, here's a letter from the Jordanian delegation to the Mixed Armistice Commission, in which it is agreed to share information about a swarm of locusts that may harm both Israel and Jordan. (File Archive GL 8158/2)

As mentioned above, the locust threat was always treated in the most serious fashion, as were the preparations against it. Here's a General Information Bulletin (in Hebrew), distributed by the Ministry of Agriculture with specific instructions for how to deal with the locusts--who to notify, what not to do when encountering a swarm of locusts on land (do not try and chase them away, as that will cause them to scatter, making it harder to deal with them) and more.

Not only the Ministry of Agriculture was involved in dealing with locusts--here is a (Hebrew) memo by Jacob Nash, director of the planning division of Israel's National Police, detailing a plan for a portion of the force to deal with swarms of locusts. A report on the war on locusts in 1953 (Hebrew) written by Dr. Jacob Peleg, director of the Plant Protection division of the Ministry of Agriculture, describes how the IAF Dakota transport plane dropped poisoned bran aimed to eliminate scattered locusts, in a process that was prepared two years in advance for such a situation. (All documents from the archive file G 3323 / 29)

Letters of thanks for fighting the locusts can also be found in the archives. In one letter, the Minister of Agriculture Kadish Luz (later Speaker of the Knesset) wrote to Gideon Cohen, director of the Plant Protection Department in 1959, that "great danger threatened our agriculture, and was avoided thanks to your activities" (Hebrew). Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak in the Negev sent a letter of thanks to the Ministry of Agriculture and the Plant Protection division's staff, with whom "we stood together, fighting against the invasion of locusts." (Hebrew) (Documents from archive file G 4466/16)

Let's hope this skirmish in the war on locusts ends with little incident or damage.

Political Calculation: Kahan Commission vs. Judea and Samaria

Here's a final installment in our series of posts on our Sabra and Shatila publication. Final, not because we've exhausted all the points of interest in the 250 pages of documents we posted on the matter; simply, it's time for this blog to move on. Hebrew-fluent readers are encouraged to read the entire cache.

On February 8, Yaacov Meridor, Minister of the Economy and an old political ally of Menachem Begin, explained why accepting the recommendations of the Kahan Commission would be unjustified but politically necessary: only thus would the government survive the political crises and be able to continue with its historical mission of settling Judea and Samaria:
If we had a stronger political base perhaps we could respond to the commission's recommendations by sincerely thanking its members for their efforts: 'They were essential, and now we'll study your recommendations. We'll try to prevent future mistakes. But we cannot accept your recommendations regarding the officers and politicians. You're judges, and your task was to uncover the facts. But it's our task to make decisions. That's what we were elected to do. The government chose you to investigate the facts, not to make decisions.'

Sadly, however, the commission did make recommendations, and we have no choice but to accept them.

The fate of Judea and Samaria hangs in the balance, that's clear. In Washington, they're just waiting for this government to fall. At this moment, the top priority is to remain and continue bearing our flag. [...] So we have no choice but to make painful sacrifices to protect Judea and Samaria, to protect the Land of Israel, no matter how great the pain, and there is pain.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Death of the Dakar

On January 25, 1968, contact with the Dakar was lost. The Israeli navy's newest acquisition, a submarine manned by a crew of 69, was on its maiden voyage from the UK, where it had been purchased, to Israel. The crew may or may not have known what happened to them; the rest of us will never know. As the submerged ship was on course somewhere between Crete and Cyprus, something malfunctioned and it sunk to the bottom; its remains were found only 31 years later, in 1999.

But none of this was known in January and February 1968. All that was known at the time was that contact with the submarine had been lost, and a flurry of diplomatic activity, international military cooperation, wild rumors, and malicious disinformation filled Israel's media. It turns out, now that the ISA has published a trove of documents from the inner circles of government, that exactly the same was going on there. The generals, diplomats and politicians knew exactly not an iota more than anyone else.

Our (Hebrew language) publication this morning includes more than a dozen documents. There are diplomatic cables to and from Israeli delegations involved in coordinating search operations with the participation of the US, British and Greek navies; the Turks didn't allow foreigners into their territorial waters but searched on their own. A Dutch clairvoyant reported to the Israeli embassy in the Netherlands that the submarine seemed to have been hit by a torpedo and was lying on the sea floor west of Cyprus; for lack of anything better to say, the embassy sent a cable about this back to Jerusalem, marked "Urgent".

The top admiral of the navy, Shlomo Erel, reported to the government about the searches and speculations: had the Dakar perhaps been sunk by the Egyptians? By the Soviets? Did the Americans have information about a Soviet attack which they were withholding?

In early February, even the Israelis understood it was too late to save anyone, and the searches were called off; the crew was declared Missing in Action. On March 6, 1968, the cabinet declared the ship officially lost and the crew dead; the decision was announced in the Knesset later that day.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Yosef Burg: "It's not important what the Goyim say"

Continuing our series on the cabinet's response to Sabra and Shatila, we've reached the meetings of February 8, 9 and 10 of 1983. The Kahan Commission had finished its work and submitted its findings and recommendations.

On the evening of the 8th of February 1983, Moshe Nissim, the Minister of Justice, presented his understanding of the commission's report. There was then a discussion, in which most of the ministers felt there would be no choice but to accept the recommendations. The position of Dr. Josef Burg is representative of the general atmosphere. He was saddened by the findings, and unmoved by much of the public hullabaloo, but saw no alternative to accepting them in their entirety:
I suggest we focus on the essentials and not on minor matters, such as the finding that Yitzchak Shamir didn't pay attention when Mordechai Zippori called to tell him what he had heard was happening, since Shamir and Zipoori didn't get on well. The big problem is that something happened which no-one foresaw. In this world, with problems in Ghana and Nigeria, Bangladesh and Congo and Cyprus, if there hadn't been any noise no-one would have noticed. So it happened. Some of our youth are shocked, and the anti-semites are having a field day. That's the reality we live in. [...]
To the question if we should accept the findings or not, I think we should accept, otherwise we'll look stupid. First we appoint the commission and then we reject its findings? [...] I wish to warn us. If we reject the findings, it's not important what the Goyim say, but what the Jews abroad will say. They've already been fed a large dose of poison by the opposition, and they're confused. They've already received the poison, and if we reject the commission's findings what will they say? Sadly, we have no choice but to accept the findings and recommendations.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Phalangists Clarify: We Weren't Even There!

During the cabinet meeting of September 28, 1982, at which it was decided to set up a commission of inquiry into the events of the massacre at Sabra and Shatila, there was a moment when the ministers wondered if perhaps the commission might want to hear testimony from some of the Phalangist officers who had actually been in the camps, and had actually done the killing. This line of inquiry was felt to be important so as to understand if the IDF could or should have foreseen the horrible consequences of allowing the Phalangists into the camps in the first place.

Minister of Defense Ariel Sharon quashed that hope:
That will be impossible. We have already received word from the Phalangists (and I suggest this not be leaked), that they weren't there at all. If there's anyone here who's naive enough to hope, even if only for one moment, that the commission will be able to investigate anyone except Israelis, well, I think he's wrong. [p.20]

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Frances Levy's FBI File: Thoughts on Declassification

The Washington Post has an interesting - and rather troubling - story about how the FBI interfered in the life of Frances Levy, back in 1945, and she never knew but we now do. Levy, who at the time went by the name Curtis, was a young typist in the Treasury Department, and apparently there was an opening at the White House, but for that she needed higher security clearance. The FBI seems to have decided she was a communist and didn't let her into the WH. And how do we know all this? Because an archivist at the Truman Library is declassifying those sort of files and found Ms. Curtis' blocked request and traced the story.

Frances Levy died in 1995, and her children vehemently deny she could have been a communist or any other sort of danger to her country.

It's more than a simple human-interest sort of tale, because of the complexity of the issues underlying it. Clearly, a country needs to have the mechanisms to check the identities of citizens who need to come into contact with sensitive and classified materials. (We're assuming everyone understands why there must be classified materials to begin with.) And also, it's not hard to see why the individuals being vetted can't see the information being collected about them, or at least some of it. Sadly, it's also inevitable, and probably even desirable, that the vetters will sometimes be overcautious. Better that then not cautious enough.

But what happens when the vetting agency disrupts the life or career of an ordinary citizen without real justification, only imagined justification? Who vets the vetters? What happens when the person being impacted doesn't even know it's happening, and thus never has the opportunity for their day in court?

There's no obvious method to make these quandaries go away. And yes, we're linking to an American story which has been published there, because we've got the same issues here.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Calling Israelis Nazis

Yesterday we presented the deliberations of the cabinet on Sept. 28, 1982, when the decision was made to appoint a commission of investigation into the events at Sabra and Shatila, two weeks earlier. Our post was based upon this newly declassified transcript from that meeting.

Here's a short discussion which took place during the meeting, which offers a glimpse at the intensity of emotions in Israel at that moment - and also at the power of society to shape how people see the world. In the immediate aftermath of the massacres, PLO spokesmen inflated the number of civilian victims to 6,000, a neat little symmetry with Nazi crimes which was lost on no-one; anti-Israeli demonstrators in many countries were denouncing Israel for being like the Nazis. In Jerusalem, meanwhile, the slur was being used in a very different way. Minister of Labor Aharon Uzan, who was born in North Africa and represented the Tami party of religious Sephardis (a precurser of the later Shas party) was explaining why the gigantic anti-government demonstration which had just been held in Tel Aviv had been a bad thing, but holding a pro-government demonstration was also a poor idea:
I think holding a counter-demonstration will cause an even larger conflagration. We hear what happened to the radio station's van in Mahane Yehuda [the central open-air market in Jerusalem, and a bastion of Begin's supporters]. I heard from a dignified elder Sephardic man that some of the rowdies shouted at him "It's too bad Hitler didn't kill you all". A Jew shouted that at a fellow Jew! My friend is light-skinned, so they thought he must be Ashkenazi.
Dr. Yosef Burg [who had escaped Nazi Germany in his youth]: I have the unfortunate honor of informing you that 96% of the magnificent [sephardic] community of Salonika were murdered by the Nazis.
Uzan: I was held in a Nazi labor camp [in Tunisia]. Had they been given two more weeks, they would have murdered us.
Mordechair Ben Porat [born in Iraq]: In Libya they sent Jews to camps, including camps in Europe.
Uzan: My point was to illustrate how tense the atmosphere is in the country at the moment. The government's task is to calm things down, not fan the flames.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Sept. 28, 1982: The Cabinet Bows to the Inevitable

As we've seen in the previous posts on the Sabra and Shatila: The cabinet's first response was to vehemently reject any responsibility for the massacres. A few days later the ministers understood an investigation was inevitable, but they were still trying to limit its potential impact. Then another few days passed. The opposition launched what may have been the largest political demonstration since independence in 1948, and President Yitzhak Navon, whose position is defined as being above politics, announced that there had to be a full investigation. On September 28, the cabinet convened for the third time in less than two weeks; this time, the ministers all understood that they effectively had no choice but to bow before public pressure.

Menachem Begin, the Prime Minister:
Let there be no mistake: none of the members of the cabinet wanted a commission of inquiry. We sought an investigative team, not a commission of inquiry based on the Commission of Inquiry Law. We must admit this, as men [k'gvarim]. In the face of the changed circumstances, we're changing our position.
The meeting then dealt at length with two main subjects. Most of the time was spent defining what the commission was to investigate; the final wording was very simple:
All the facts and the elements concerning the atrocities committed by Lebanese forces against civilians in the camps of Shatila and Sabra.
A recurring theme of the meeting, however, was that the government was being wronged by the opposition and the world's media, and what might be done about this.

Yosef Burg:
I don't think the cabinet is getting the full picture from abroad. I'm receiving phone calls from Jewish communities abroad. We've heard about London, but it's also other communities such as France and Switzerland, where the Jews are debating intensely among themselves. We don't have any better allies than the Jewish communities, and they're in an uproar over the events, and not only because of some Lefty activists and some professors.
Simcha Ehrlich:
If we think the situation is bad here, it's far worse in Europe and the US. The anger about the genocide in Biafra was nothing compared to the hatred and incitement against us. We're facing a deep crisis in our relationship with the world and with the Jews.
Ehrlich and others felt it was of crucial importance that Begin go on television to explain that Israel wasn't to blame, but was setting up this commission of inquiry to show it had nothing to fear from the truth.

Mordechai Ben Porat:
The [giant] demonstration the other night was a serious blow by the opposition against the nation's unity, and a boon for our enemies abroad. I even heard two respectable professors there who begged for forgiveness from the world for what we did.
Menachem Begin:
I take upon myself all the responsibility for what happened. But let's see someone prove there's any guilt. Responsibility? I'm the prime minster, of course I'm responsible, as is the entire cabinet as a collective. But guilt? Did we spill this blood? Did we wish or intend this blood to be spilled? Did we ever imagine the blood would be spilled? I ask this rhetorically. Can anyone blame us for this?

The Gomulka Aliya: Polish Jews in Israel, 57 Years Later

Another fascinating story told by the documents in the Israel State Archives is that of the many groups of Jews from all over the world and their immigration to Israel. In the late 1950s, fifty thousand Jews left Communist Poland as a result of the liberal policy of Party chairman Wladyslaw Gomulka. Although well-integrated into Israel (they include many successful Israelis in the professions, arts and journalism), many of them kept their ties to Poland. Last week they held a conference at Tel Aviv University to mark the "Gomulka Aliya," as described in this article which appeared in Haaretz today.
Wladyslaw Gomulka
Four years ago, the Israel State Archives published a volume of documents in Hebrew and Polish, the result of a joint project with the Polish State Archives on relations between Israel and Poland from 1945 to the Six Day War. Immigration from Poland, and especially the Gomulka Aliyah, played a central role in these relations.

Congratulations to Ewa Wegrzyn, a young researcher from Krakow who spoke at the conference and recently completed her doctorate, the first ever on the subject of this aliya. Ewa did much of her research at the ISA.