Tuesday, April 30, 2013

1971: Planning for Jerusalem in 1980

In December 1971 Uri Mor wrote a report titled The Arabs of East Jerusalem, A Forecast for the 1980s. We recently met Mor, a staffer of the Office for Arab Affairs in the Prime Minister's Office. The copy in file גל-13908/2 is unfortunately truncated, and ends abruptly at page 13, but since by then it has covered quite a bit of ground, it seems safe to assume we've looking at most of the original.

Making predictions is always tricky, as the saying goes, and especially predictions about the future; making predictions about the future of Jerusalem seems, frankly, like a fool's errand. Making predictions about the future of Jerusalem then filing them in an archives whence they can be extracted and re-read in light of what actually transpired is, well, not recommended.

Mor prefaces his predictions about Jerusalem in 1980 by enumerating many of the things that could skewer his assumptions: there might be political changes in the West Bank or in Jordan. A new Pan-Arab hero such as Nasser might rise and excite the Arabs of Jerusalem. He notes various alternatives in which the Arabs of the West Bank and Jerusalem might coalesce around a leader of their own (though he doesn't see an obvious candidate). There might be negotiations between Israel and Jordan, which would inflame Arab public opinion on the West Bank where King Hussein is so hated following his massacre of Palestinians (in 1970 - and interestingly, he manages not to use the word "Palestinians"). Nor is he comfortable in projecting what the economic relations between Israel, West Bank and Jordan will be in the coming decade. Having said all that, however, he then sets out to make his projections.

He starts with demographic projections. In 1967 there were 68,500 Arabs in the city, and 200,300 Jews. In 1980 there will be 97,000 Arabs and 292,000 Jews. Of the Arabs, some 82% will be Muslim, and the rest Christians. Here is a demographic report from 2010 - 30 years later than Mor's target date - which comes from this useful website. So far as I can make out, Mor's figures for 1980 weren't far from the mark, though the trends were a bit different: a steady 3-1 relation of Jews to Arabs in Jerusalem has eroded significantly in the interval (it's now about 2-1 and sinking); the proportion of Christians among the Arabs has eroded even more.

He correctly foresees a sinking birthrate of Jews and Arabs, and fails to see that the death rate would also sink. He wonders if there's any chance of unifying Jerusalem with Bethlehem and Ramalah, apparently an idea he'd heard somewhere, but saw no sense in it. On the other hand, he also speculates that Ramalah might someday become the capital of the West Bank (true, since the late 1990s). He suspected there might be significant immigration of Arabs from the Hebron area into East Jerusalem, and wondered what this would do to the internal political dynamics of the Arabs.

On employment, he seems to have correctly foreseen that a significant chunk of the Arabs would work in construction in the Jewish sector. He didn't see much future for Arab light industry (there's isn't much heavy industry in Jerusalem and never has been). He did expect there to be a growing number of jointly-owned Jewish-Arab commercial or light-industry enterprises. This didn't happen. He saw a growing problem of educated Arabs who wouldn't find proper employment in Israeli institutions.

Interestingly, he expected growing integration to result in a growing number of Arabs acquiring Israeli citizenship.Within a decade, he dared to expect, they'll all be voting in the municipal elections. In national-level elections he expected Jerusalem's Arabs to support the Israeli Arab leaders. None of this happened, not in the 1980s, and hardly in 2013, either.

He went back and forth on what to expect regarding security and violence, but seems to have decided, on balance, to expect an encroaching pseudo-peace. As a projection for 1980, this wasn't bad.

He was considerably more optimistic about the Christian Arab community than time warranted. He knew they'd been declining for years, but expected, for some reason, that Israel's presence would reverse this process. It didn't.

Finally, he turns to the relations between Jews and Arabs. He felt the most significant factor would be how Israel relates to the Arab leadership - and then he continues his discussion on page 14 which we don't have.

Monday, April 29, 2013

It's Our Train Company - or: Salaries Will Come Later

Still rummaging around in the special ISA Independence Day publication, here's the story of the first day of a Jewish train company in 2,000 years.

On Sunday, May 16, Moshe Paikowitz came to his office in Haifa. It was his first day of work on the first day of operations at the brand new Israel Train Company, of which he was now in charge. That the train company was up and running on that day was actually a moment of historic significance. Bear in mind that Israel is one of the only countries among dozens and dozens of post-WWII states which managed to remain a democracy throughout its existence, while maintaining a functioning state bureaucracy and society. Figuratively but also practically, the ability to come to work on the first workday after independence and have the trains run, was crucial to this success. Countries which can hit the ground running, will run; the ones which can't, won't.

Perhaps the first thing Paikowitz did that morning was to dictate a proclamation to the workers of the company. It began with high pathos: "It is a great honor for me and for you ... so far we've been employed by a foreign nation; now we're working for our own nation..."

Then he addressed what might have been feelings of inferiority among his staff, given the battles that were being fought in many corners, even as they were being called on merely to run trains: "At this crucial moment, the trains are a small but important cog in the national defense machine. Let each and every one of us regard themselves as soldiers on the field of battle." And also "We must all adhere to orders, be steadfast in our discipline, and remember that we're all in this together!"

Only near the end of his proclamation did he refer to individual motivations: "Of course I never forget that we've always been underpaid and over-worked. I assure you I'll work to convince our government that we deserve better! But first, we must win the war!"

Friday, April 26, 2013

Reluctance to Declassify

According to the Guardian, the British athorities have decided not to open various files with sensitive information from the latter stages of their empire, in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.

The 1960s were fifty years ago.

We haven't seen the files and dont know what the considerations were, so we're not in a position to say if the decision was reasonable and defensible or not. We're merely bookmarking the fact that even in the profoundly democratic UK, some files take a very very long time to be declassified.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Who Needs a Constitution?

Israel, famously, has no constitution. Fact. The reason, according to general opinion, is that back in 1948, the religious parties didn't want one, because it might conflict with the Bible, so the secular politicians humored them at the time, and what started as a temporary act of politics became a permanent condition.

Here's the transcript of the cabinet meeting of December 13, 1949 (not 1948) where the issue was discussed at length, and the decision was made. (And note that it's part of our Declaration of Independence project.) Listening in on the discussion contains some surprises: yes, the Minister of Justice, Pinchas Rosenne, was in favor of enacting a constitution. And yes, the Attorney General, Yaacov Shimshon Shapira, agreed with him. And yes, one of their main considerations was the need to protect the rights of individuals. And yes, the religious representatives were skeptical, though not because they felt the Bible could serve as a rule book for the particularities of life in modern Israel, a claim they didn't make. And yes, many of the discussants felt that enacting a constitution in the fractured Israeli political climate would be divisive and challenging.

But that wasn't the dynamic that foiled the intention to have a constitution.

The reason the cabinet decided not to work towards creating a constitution was David Ben Gurion. Ben Gurion had no interest in there being a constitution, and so he hijacked the discussion in its fourth minute (at the latest), and by the time he stopped talking the issue was dead, even though the conversation went on for another hour or more; then, when at the last moment Rosenne tried to salvage his position by suggesting the government tell the Knesset it would set up a committee, Ben Gurion shot that down, too.

The reason for Ben Gurion's strident position? "There's no time." Actually, he offered three reasons, though he said it was two, but only one was really important. The first of the three and the one he didn't count was that he didn't see any reason for having a constitution. Why should some laws be stronger than others? And why think that today's legislators are any wiser than those 300 years hence? (He probably had a low opinion of any number of the ones of his day, but that's just speculation.) There need to be good laws, yes; and the United States needed a Constitution to stitch together all the colonies, but Israel has other challenges. The second reason, and the first he admitted to, was that a session of the Knesset dedicated to formulating a constitution would be given over to posturing and grandstanding - he didn't single out any particular party or group as the main potential culprit.

The real reason he gave, at great length, was that there were vastly more important things to do. So he gave a long speech about bringing in 3-400,000 additional immigrants and making a place for them; about settling the Negev and using its resources; about building ports and railways, towns and highways; and also all the regular, mundane laws needed to run a country. "The coming few years are the most important in our history. If anyone thinks that declaring independence or winning the war (of 1947-1949) were what was needed to found the state, they're wrong. The work is all ahead of us."

On the edge of the discussion, there was a humourous little exchange between Ben Gurion and Golda Meir, who basically accepted his argumentation, but nevertheless said that in principle she was in favor of having a constitution. "That's because you're American," Ben Gurion shot at her. "Yes, that may be," she responded.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

1972: Strengthening Israel's Control of East Jerusalem

It has been a while since we've posted about East Jerusalem. Today's document is interesting because it's not clear what its significance might be. It's a six-page handwritten draft, on the back of discarded official correspondence, signed by Uri Mor and addressed to his boss, Shmuel Toledano, the Advisor for Arab Affairs. In the top left corner, there's a squigly which looks like Toledano's initials, so he may indeed have read it. The file itself, גל-13908.2, we've already met (here), and it's from Toledano's office. The date is March 27, 1972. All in all, then, though at first glance it looks like a half-baked draft that should have ended up in the wastepaper bin, it is probably a valuable document for understanding the mindset of anonymous mid-level Israeli officials working on the unification of Jerusalem, five years after the act of unification itself. Did it inform policy? Did it create any action? Who knows?

Mor's thesis is that true unification of Jerusalem will happen when Jews and Arabs live together. Even commercial transactions, he says, aren't the goal, merely a way to create coexistence. Yet his recipe for achieving the goal are unconvincing.

The situation in the city, as Mor saw it, was that the Arabs of East Jerusalem had gotten used to Israel's control; the municipality was giving them good service; and the connections to Jordan were fraying. And yet, he mused, many of the Arabs now had needs for services which are supplied by the government, not the municipality, such as restitution for damaged property, and also, the smooth relations with local Arab leaders might perhaps not reflect the opinion of the general populace. He recommended creating an active cadre of hundreds of locals who would meet Israeli officials regularly and mediate between them and their communities. Apparently his office was to spearhead this effort, thereby increasing its importance.

Mor also noted various social trends. The Christian community is diminishing, while the Muslim population is growing. This growth is fueled by a high birthrate and also by immigration from the West Bank into Jerusalem because of the better economic conditions in town. He advocated close monitoring of the social and economic trends, though it's not clear that he had any way of influencing them. He suggested encouraging the publication of a pro-Israeli Arab newspaper, and repeated that there must be better connections with prominent Arab figures.

It's a rather odd document. The claim that the Arabs of East Jerusalem were already integrating into Israel in 1972 sounds over-optimistic. The measures he recommends veer from monitoring - which is a type of intelligence gathering - to some form of top-down encouragement. Surprisingly (or not), the document reads more as a justification of the office than a blueprint to create significant change on the ground. Full of good intentions and fine sentiments, lacking in any malice or arrogance, but strangely hollow.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The First Two Weeks of Immigration to Independent Israel

The earliest document in Ben Gurion's "immigration file", ג-3013.12 (see our previous post), was a report by Haim Barlas, a high official in the Jewish Agency, to Moshe Shapira, the brand new minister of immigration, written in Tel Aviv on May 31, 1948. It summarized the actions of the two weeks since independence.

(Why the Jewish Agency, you ask? Ah, that's a large question. The short answer is that prior to May 15, 1948, there was no State of Israel and also no government of it, so the Jewish Agency filled the main functions of the government-in-preparation. Once there was a state, the relationship between the old institution and the new one was interesting and a bit complicated. In the long run, the state took on the functions of the state, and the Jewish Agency did some things through outsourcing. And mostly, it faded away. As of today, 65 years later, it still does things here and there, and has not yet fully faded away.)

Here's a short English-language version of Barlas' interesting report, which starts with a single sentence of pathos and then gets down to work:
On the day of the declaration of the resurrection of Israel, ships of olim (immigrants) arrived in the ports of Haifa and Tel Aviv and were received as free immigrants without any limitation decrees of foreigners. Three ships with a total of 1040 immigrants. However, the bombing of Tel Aviv by enemy planes, and the prevention of immigration in Haifa by the British who still control the port, means the immigration is now coming in through smaller, unofficial ports such as Acre and Cesarea. [The second century Talmudic scholars would have been tickled by the use of Cesarea, but that's a different story.] During the first two weeks, 4839 immigrants arrived, from Marseilles, Genoa, and the British-run detention camps in Cyprus.
Our orders were to prefer immigrants between the ages of 17-35, but that didn't work out, and we brought in people of all ages. Still, 2150 of the immigrants were of military age, and they were sent straight to the military induction center.
Cyprus: we had a plan to transfer more than 24,000 immigrants who are detained in the camps there. However, various problems slowed the process: the British who still control Haifa [they left only at the end of June], potential attacks on the ships by enemy planes, and the need to register the ships under Israel's flag. We're still working on this; some of the immigrants may yet be brought in by plane, and we've found armed escorts for the ships.
We're creating a ministry of immigration, with an administration, a unit of visas, immigration police, and a consular and citizenship department. There are also offices in Europe: Munich, Salzburg, Rome, London, Warsaw, Bucharest, Prague, Stockholm, Paris, Budapest, Brussels, and also New York. [A list which reflects the aftermath of the Holocaust, of course.]
We're trying to integrate the Jewish Agency immigration officials in Israel into the government system.
Fees have been set for immigrants (1 Pound per immigrant, 20 cents for children, 1 Pound for a visa and also for a travel permit for Israelis).
Measures we urgently need:
1. A law of immigration.
2. Appointments of officials.
3. Adapting the European offices to the new needs.
4. Budget. [Heh.]
5. A plan to integrate the 50,000 immigrants we expect in the next two months. [Is it possible Barlas didn't understand the first two months, and the first 50,000 immigrants, would merely be the tip of the iceberg?]

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Immigrants to Israel, 1948-1952

File ג-3101/12 contains hundreds of pages of letters, reports and statistics about immigration to Israel between May 15, 1948 and the end of December 1952, as filed by someone in David Ben Gurion's office. Our previous post, about the tragic chaos in the immigrant camps, comes from this file; since it has lots of interesting things in it, we'll return to it in a future post or three. Now, however, we'd like to present the last document in the file, a list which was apparently drawn up in July 1953, summing up the statistics of the immigration.

Bear in mind that in May 1948 when Israel became independent, there were some 600,000 Jews in the country. By the time the battles subsided, towards the end of that year, 110,000 immigrants had arrived, 6,000 Jews had been killed in the war, and the stabilizing borders contained 100,000 Arabs or perhaps a bit more. 800-850,000 people all in all.

By the end of 1952, 738,891 immigrants had arrived (this includes the 110,000 who arrived in the second half of 1948). Of course, the immigration didn't end in December 1952, but that's beyond the scope of our file.

Muslim countries:
Turkey                                       35,025
Syria and Lebanon                    34,608
Iraq                                          124,226
Yemen and Aden                       48,375
Other Asian countries                 7,579
Tunesia, Marroco, Algeria        52,584
Lybia                                         32,129
Egypt                                         17,114
Total Muslim countries:           377,251 of  889,700

Communist satelite states:
Poland                                      106,751
Romania                                  121,537
Bulgaria                                     37,703
Czechoslovakia                         18,815
Hungary                                    14,519
Yugoslavia                                  7,757
Total Comunist states:            307,082 of   729,000

Western states:
South Africa                                   538
Other Africa                                   576
Germany & Austria                   11,013
Other Europe                             19,605
Latin America                             2,025
Total Western states:                 33,706 of  1,746,230

USA & Canada                           1,809 of  5,200,000

Unidentified                              18,989

Grand total                              738,891 of  8,564,930

The USSR is not on the list.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Lost Child of Beit Lid

In the chaotic first years of Israel's existence, many hundreds of children went missing -- at least 800, perhaps more than a thousand. These children were younger than three, and their families were new immigrants living in tent camps (ma'abarot) where they were temporarily parked upon arrival. The children were sent to hospitals and never came back. When their bewildered and frantic parents went looking for them, they were told their children had died and been buried. In some cases, letters from the military arrived in the late 1960s, requiring the teenagers be screened for service. By then the parents were no longer bewildered and disoriented refugees, and when they realized there were others like them, they demanded an investigation. Since then, there have been four separate public investigations. Since most (but by no means all) of the children were from Yemenite families, the issue is know in Israel as The Case of the Yemenite Children.

The various investigations have shown that indeed, most of the missing children really did die at the time - but not all of them have ever been accounted for. Some people continue to believe that there was a conspiracy to remove children from large immigrant families and to hand them over to wealthy childless Ashkenazi families. Also, keep in mind this earlier post, which told how many Yemenite Jews had never encountered a physician, which partially explains some of the context.

One of the documents we published as part of our Declaration of Independence collection deals with one of these cases. (ג-3013/12)

On November 3, 1950, Yehezkel Sahar, the Chief of Police, wrote to Minister of Health Moshe Shapira. A few months earlier, there had been a report in the media about an infant who had gone missing in one of the camps. Sahar assured Shapira that he put his best investigator on the case, and here's the result: a three-page detailed report written by S. Sofer.

We think the report undermines the conspiracy theory, but it does demonstrate a frightening degree of callousness in the chaos:
February 29, 1950: The story appeared in Davar.
March 17, 1950: A social worker from the Beit Lid camp confirmed that the 7-month-old child was transferred from there to the hospital on Dec 21, 1949. Having been cured, he was sent mistakenly to a different camp, Ein Shemer. At Ein Shemer they have his discharge paper from January 8, 1950 -- but they don't have him. Nor can they explain how they have his discharge form.
A doctor at the hospital confirms that the child was brought from Beit Lid on December 21. He was sent back on January 8 -- to Ein Shemer. She doesn't know who the ambulance driver was.
The parents reported that their baby son was sent to the hospital but not returned, and when they asked they were told he was sent to Ein Shemer. (Oddly, the dates in their recounting are a bit later, in February.)
A doctor at Ein Shemer fond no record of a child by this name, but confirmed that on January 8, an unnamed child was brought from the hospital.
A registrar at the hospital recorded all patients. But when they're sent back, it's with an ambulance service from Ramat Gan.
A doctor at the hospital remembers discharging the child and sending him to Ein Shemer.
The ambulance driver has a record for children transferred to Ein Shemer on January 8, one with this name. There is a procedure for handing over children, and he acted accordingly.
A doctor at Ein Shemer said that they refuse to accept children whom they didn't send. Sometimes, he says, drivers leave children and quickly depart so as not to be stuck with them.
A police sergeant found no records at Ein Shemer. He brought the mother to the children's home but she didn't identify her son. On April 7, he returned to Ein Shemer and heard from an administrator that there's lots of confusion in their records.
Officer Sofer completed his report with the comment that it might be possible to investigate further but he didn't see how this would help find the child. He recommended that someone look into the matter and determine who is responsible for the lax procedures. He complimented the original social worker who had invested time and her own money in traveling back and forth in her efforts to investigate.
At the ISA, we asked ourselves if we have any documentation about the child at a later stage of life. Since his name was common, however (we've withheld it in the publication), that wasn't possible -- and anyway, if we assume that he didn't starve in the Ein Shemer camp but was probably picked up by some other family, there's no way to know what his name was. If he's still alive he must be 64 years old. If.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Living by the Declaration of Independence

More than a year ago, we decided it would be a cool idea to publish a collection of documents which reflect how Israeli society lives with the noble sentiments written in its Declaration of Independence. A couple of our top researchers looked into the idea for a bit, and then we held a first brainstorming session. We regretfully decided not to try and bring the story up to date, because the closer you get to the present day, the more documents are still classified; even if their content isn't particularly problematic, declassifying recent stuff is a hassle. So we decided to concentrate on the first two decades of Israel's history, the period between the founding of the state in 1948, and the Six Day War in 1967.

A careful reading of the Declaration revealed the following themes:
1. The historical context of the founding of the State of Israel;
2. The Holocaust, remembering it, and the survivors;
3. Building the country;
4. The status and equality of Israel's non-Jewish minorities;
5. Holy sites (and especially non-Jewish holy sites)
6. Foreign relations;
7. Security policies;
8. Israel and its neighbors;
9. Israel and the Jewish diaspora;
10. Education and culture;
11. Religion and state;
12. The national institutions;
13. Law and justice;
14. Immigration.
We also decided to do a section on the document itself (the Declaration).

So we had a team of 7-8 veteran staffers scouring the archives. Each researcher was given a subject or two, and off they went. Sometimes they went looking for well-known documents (Ben Gurion announcing the capture of Adolf Eichmann, say); often they sought out documents no-one had ever looked at which told interesting tales. As they passed the thousand-interesting-document milestone we slowed the search and began the winnowing out. We expected to be able to publish a few hundred documents, which meant that most of the candidates wouldn't be used.

Then we faced the technology issue. The current ISA website was set up a number of years ago with the most minimal of all budgets. It's a lot better than nothing, but on the other hand, no-one ever intended it to be a state-of-the-art showcase. We do intend to have such a website someday, but even if our current projections all work out, this won't happen before 2015. The website we have is not well suited for the task at hand.

So we cast around, and found the Center for Educational Technology (CET), an outfit with much more advanced web prowess than anything we can offer at the moment. On the other hand, the CET doesn't have an archives in which one can find just about anything, so the match was mutually beneficial.

Given the time constraints and the fact that we were a new quantity for the CET team, we decided (a bit regretfully) to cut down the number of documents even further, while beefing up audio-visual parts. This means that after combing the archives and identifying more than a thousand "good" documents, we then chose only 10% of the cull. Sad.

The result has been up at the CET website for the past week or so. Ah - in Hebrew, which is Israel's main language (Arabic is the second official language) and the tongue in which most school-children can be expected to learn. If you aren't Hebraically-challenged, we warmly recommend perusing the trove of documents. If you are Hebraically-challenged, we'll be presenting some of the documents here on the blog. But not all of them, so you might want to polish up your Hebrew anyway.

Here's an English-language translation of the Declaration of Independence itself.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Independence Day

Independence Day starts in a couple of hours, so we won't be blogging tomorrow. Happy 65th, Israel!

4th of Iyar - Gush Etzion's Last Stand

On the 4th of Iyar 5708--May 13, 1948--the day before Israel's declaration of independence, Gush Etzion fell. Gush Etzion, which consisted of the settlements Kfar Etzion, Massu'ot Yitzhak, Ein Tzurim and Revadim, was built between 1943-47. The majority of residents were members of the religious Zionist movement (with the exception of Revadim, which belonged to the secular Ha'shomer Ha'tzair movement). After clashes broke out following the UN partition resolution on November 29, 1947, the residents of the bloc found themselves in a hostile Arab region and under attack from the Arabs of Hebron and Bethlehem. The bloc was of strategic importance of the first order, since it controlled the axis of traffic from south to north towards Jerusalem, and held back large irregular Arab forces, which could otherwise have attacked Jerusalem.

Hagana headquarters in Jerusalem tried to bring supply convoys to the bloc, but this became impossible after the destruction of the "Convoy of the 35" (known by its Hebrew name – the Lamed Hey) in mid-January 1948, and the Nebi Daniel convoy on March 1948, which was attacked on the way back by irregular Arab forces; 14 of its fighters were killed and the rest surrendered their weapons and gear to the British, in exchange for free and safe passage to Jerusalem.

With the intensification of fighting in Jerusalem, the Jerusalem Command pressured the Gush Etzion force to prevent movement of Arab forces on the Hebron-Jerusalem road. Fighters from Gush Etzion attacked traffic on the road, including vehicles of the Arab Legion. The Legion, nominally part of the British army, but in fact an independent force under the orders of King Abdullah of Transjordan, started attacking the bloc with heavy fire. Attacks by an irregular Arab force, under the cover of the Legion, were repulsed on April 12 and on May 4. On May 13, a Legion force, along with hundreds of irregular Arab fighters, attacked and conquered the Etzion bloc in a fierce battle. After their surrender, more than a hundred defenders of Kfar Etzion were murdered by irregular Arab fighters. In other settlements, the Legion intervened and prevented further killing. Wounded prisoners were taken to Jerusalem and prisoners were taken to POW camps in Jordan and released after the Armistice agreement with Jordan in April 1949.

Below, we reproduce a handwritten report and a printed English report by the commander of the Jewish Settlement Police in Gush Etzion, Jacob Altman, on the repelling of a large Arab attack on January 14, 1948 (click to enlarge). Altman fell in battle on May 13, 1948, as the deputy commander of Gush Etzion. His children returned to Gush Etzion after the Six Day War and rebuilt Kfar Etzion, where they, and their descendants, live to this day.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Building the Archives

Back in the 1940s and 1950s, Israel faced various challenges such as housing the 50% of the populace which had just recently arrived, penniless, from devastated European or Arab lands. There was no time to think about many of the normal things countries spend their resources on. Things got better by-and-by, but the national archives never quite made it onto the list of institutions which could command full attention and, more important, budgets. And so, while some national archives look like this:





The archives in Israel, sadly, looks like this
 And its streetfront looks like this
This morning the cabinet discussed the issue, and decided to adopt a proposal to have the state archives live in a more respective domicile. The idea is to team up with the Central Zionist Archvies, who already have an edifice, and build a joint structure which will serve both archives. Assuming this works out, the National Archives will be next to Binyanaei Hauma, in the middle of a new commercial area which the Jerusalem municiplaity is developing, alongside the new central train station, the existing central bus station, and, of course, the Calatrava bridge.

Albert Einstein to Bar Refaeli: Independence Day, 1955

Incidents on the Gaza border, the Israeli Foreign Ministry mobilizes celebrities to improve Israel's image … 2013? No, it's 1955, and instead of super-model Bar Refaeli, the Foreign Ministry wanted world famous physicist Albert Einstein to make a TV appearance to talk about Israel's scientific progress in honor of the country's Independence Day. Einstein, who was known as a maverick, preferred to speak about Israel's clash with Egypt, which he blamed on the Great Powers, but unfortunately he died just before the speech was made. You can read the story on our website, and you can see Bar Refaeli here:

Einstein was an early supporter of Zionism, and in 1921 he toured America to raise money for the movement with Dr. Chaim Weizmann. However he was also a pacifist, and his views sometimes led to clashes with Weizmann and other leaders of the movement. In later life he moderated his pacifism. These documents show clearly that he was determined to make his support for Israel public, even though he was in poor health and busy with his scientific work – up to his last breath.

Einstein, Weizmann and Zionist leaders, 1921

Friday, April 12, 2013

A "sulcha" in Kfar Kassem

As a general rule this blog isn't active over weekends (Friday-Saturday in Israel). Sometimes we make exceptions, however. Today's exception starts with this news item which is up on Y-net today (Y-net being Israel's most popular news site). The item relates a recent event which took place in the Israeli-Arab town of Kfar Kassem. In 2006, one of the men in the town shot his daughter-in-law, which set off a feud between the two families. Now, the mayor, the police, and the family leaders have hammered out a reconciliation agreement, in which the woman's children have been compensated with money and property, and the agreement was sealed with a feast of reconciliation - sulcha - which hundreds of people participated in.

Reading this brought to mind our recent publication of more than 100 documents about Israel's first two decades (here's the Hebrew publication, and here's the Y-net report about it). In the publication, we published four letters about the massacre by IDF troops of 49 Arab civilians of Kfar Kassem, which happened in October 1956, against the backdrop of the Sinai War. The final letter in the correspondence is from the mayor of Petach Tikva (which is near Kfar Kassem) to Ben Gurion, summarizing the work of a committee of five notables, two Arabs and three Jews, who had been tasked with agreeing on restitution payments to the families of the victims. Although the case was worse than the feud of 2006-2012 in its magnitude and the fact that the perpetrators were soldiers in uniform, they were both resolved using the same mechanisms: a police investigation, a trial with convictions, then a negotiation about restitution, and finally a sulcha ceremony.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

"Palestine will be the name of the other state"

A few days before the creation of the State of Israel, a sub-committee of the soon-to-be-government was convened to decide what to call the new country in Arabic, which - it was apparently recognized - was going to be an official language of the new Jewish state. They decided simply to call it Israel also in Arabic, but some of their considerations are instructive. It couldn't be called "Palestine," for example, because that was expected to be the name the Arab state which was to arise alongside Israel would call itself. The name "Zion" was also no good, because it would alienate the Arab citizens in Israel.

Don't believe me? Here's the document.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Of Cossacks and Jews: A Curious Letter to Israel's President

We have previously posted content drawn from the diverse and rich archives of the second Israeli president, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi. Another item, no less interesting, is the following picture, a reproduction of a larger one entitled "Betrayal of Cossacks at Lienz".

The picture shows British soldiers (Scots, per the Tam o 'Shanter caps) beating a group of civilians as well as unarmed uniformed men, and forcing them to get on the trucks. In the foreground on the left, we can see a poster with the writing: "Better death here than being sent to the SSSR".

This is a picture of an event that took place in Austria on May 28, 1945, just over two weeks after the end of World War II in Europe, in which the British army expelled 32,000 Cossacks of Soviet origin into the hands of the Soviet authorities. The expulsion was carried out as part of the agreements signed between the Allies (mainly the US and the UK) and the Soviet Union at the Tehran (November 1943) the Yalta Conferences (February 1945), in which it was agreed to return all Soviet citizens who were deported by the Nazis to areas under Soviet control. Cossack leaders, Generals Krasnov, Shukro and others, as well as the German General von Panwitz (who aided the Cossacks in the German Army units), were executed and thousands of Cossacks were deported to Siberian labor camps.

The uniqueness of this picture is its address – it was sent to President Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, the second president of Israel. The senders of the picture, according to the assessment of a worker in the archive (who translated the caption beneath the photo from Russian), may have thought they would receive a sympathetic hearing in the state of Israel, an anti-communist country.

This was an odd choice, to say the least. What shared history exists between Jews and Cossacks is a bloody one filled with persistent hatred. One must remember the systematic murder of the Jews of Ukraine and Poland during the Bohdan Khmelnitsky rebellion (1648-9), in which Cossacks massacred more than 300,000 Jews. This event and many other riots, in which Cossacks murdered and abused the Jewish population in Russia, cemented the image of the Cossack as evil and bloodthirsty in the historical memory of the Jewish people. Indeed, Ben-Zvi himself had organized self-defense units in Poltava, his hometown in Russia, in preparation for possible pogroms - pogroms in which the Cossacks were frequent participants.

During World War I and the Russian Civil War, Cossacks stood out for their brutality towards the Jews. Note that in the picture, we can see in the first row three Cossacks wearing German Wehrmacht uniforms. This is because the Cossacks expelled from Lienz to the Soviets were members of the 15th Cossack Corps – a Wehrmacht Unit (although some sources identify them as an SS unit). The 15th Corps was notorious for the atrocities it committed against civilian populations in Yugoslavia and northern Italy. Here you can find more details about Russian Nazi collaborators, from a site dealing with the German armed forces during World War II, including the Cossack units.

On the other hand, the Cossack also had romantic associations in the Jewish imagination. In his book Cossack and Bedouin, historian Prof. Israel Bartal describes a widespread perception among immigrants of the Second Aliyah of the Cossack as a free man, defending his land and protecting it from assailants. As Bartal writes, "The local Israeli fighting for his country was 'translated' into the consciousness of the olim from Eastern Europe to the most feared enemy the Jewish collective memory knew since the terrible slaughter of 1648-1649. This enemy, whose essence was the polar opposite of the traditional Jewish society, was the role model for the lives of the young immigrants!" (Israel Bartal, Cossack and Bedouin. Am Oved publishers 2007, p. 77 – my translation). There are also many songs, translated from Russian, on the heroism of the Cossacks - "On the Banks of the Dnieper ", "On the Steppes of the Don (river)", and others. There is even a Hasidic dance, based on a Cossack dance - Kazak of Chabad.

It doesn't seem those who sent the above picture to President Ben-Zvi were answered. In 1958, just a little more than a decade after the Holocaust, there was probably no place for dialogue between Jews and Cossacks. Today, however, there are signs of Cossacks attempting to find a common language with the Jews in Russia.

Prime Minister Sharett Writes to Nasser, 1954

Another document appearing in the ISA's joint Independence Day collection shown here yesterday, which received much attention in the Hebrew press, is a translation of a message sent to Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt on December 1954 by Israel's second prime minister, Moshe Sharett. The original in English was delivered as an oral message to an Egyptian envoy in Paris by Gideon Raphael, Sharett's advisor.

When the Free Officers deposed the king of Egypt in 1952, Israel hoped that the new regime would concentrate on land reform and solving Egypt's social problems, and be willing to make peace. But these hopes were disappointed. Nasser, who became prime minister in 1954, wanted to become the leader of the Arab world and threatened a "second round" of war. Incidents on the border with Gaza, then under Egyptian rule, multiplied and were followed by Israeli retaliation, in a spiral of escalation. Another problem area was Egyptian refusal to allow Israeli ships through the Suez Canal.
Gamal Abdel Nasser
The arrest of a group of Egyptian Jews accused of sabotage and spying for Israel in the summer of 1954 increased the tension even more. The involvement of Israeli intelligence in this affair, known as the "unfortunate mishap", became known to Sharett only after the arrest and was kept secret from the public. The government did everything possible to help the accused. Unofficial contacts with the Egyptian junta were held, in which the two sides discussed an understanding between them. The letter to Nasser was part of these efforts. However Sharett's hopes of halting the deterioration of relations with Egypt were not realized. Two of the accused were sentenced to death and the rest to long terms in prison. In 1955, a major retaliation operation in Gaza and Nasser's decision to buy arms from Czechoslovakia, led to further tension, and eventually to the Sinai Campaign. 
Newspaper headline on the execution of two of the agents, January 1955

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Independence Day, 2013: From Declaration to Reality - A Joint Project with the Center for Educational Technology

Next week, Israel will celebrate the 65th anniversary of its independence. In 2008, the Israel State Archives marked the 60th anniversary in a joint exhibition with the Israel Museum, "Blue and White Pages," which centered on Israel's Declaration of Independence, the most important document held by the Archives. In the absence of a constitution, the Declaration laid down the principles by which the new state was to be conducted. The exhibition, which included documents in Hebrew and English, reached a large audience, including tourists and groups of high school students.

The Declaration of Independence
This year, the ISA has produced an online exhibition for teachers and students, in a joint project with the Center for Educational Technology. A selection of documents shows how Israel and its citizens met the challenge of turning the principles of the Declaration into reality in the first two decades of the state, ending with the Six Day War. It covers a variety of subjects: immigration and absorption, religion and state, social problems, relations with the Arab minority, Israel's wars and foreign policy, and many more.

The 120 documents include government meetings, Knesset debates, letters from public figures and private citizens, reports, memoranda and laws, photographs, illustrations, audio and video films. They are all in Hebrew, but we will describe some of them here.

Today we showcase an example of a little-known episode of Israel's history, which sheds further light on our post on President Izhak Ben-Zvi and his refusal to accept a salary raise. Israel in the 1950s and 60s faced many economic problems, among them the deficit in the balance of payments and demands by different sectors for pay increases. However it was also a small and close-knit society, with a strong sense of solidarity and willingness to make sacrifices.

In a letter from February 1966, workers in the Israel Military Industries agreed to give up 5% of their wages ­– if all the workers would do the same. This letter was part of a movement led by a group of university lecturers for voluntary wage cuts, during the economic recession which hit Israel in 1965-6. In the Israel State Archives commemorative volume about Prime Minister Levi Eshkol you can read more about this movement, which demanded that the government attack inflation and reduce the deficit by decreasing its expenditure. The government actually agreed.

Eshkol spoke to the nation on the radio on February 21, calling for restraint in Israel's standard of living. Prosperity had led many sections of society to a frenzy in which each grabbed what it could. He praised the wage cut movement and read out a letter from Avraham Shapira, a disabled war veteran, who had returned a large back payment given after his pension was raised, since he thought the country could not afford it. Eshkol ended with the appeal: "If you are really worried about your tomorrow – do something for it today!"

Prime Minister Levi Eshkol
However the movement did not last long. It was abandoned after the recession led to widespread unemployment, which only ended after the Six Day War.

President Ben Zvi Fights a Rising Salary

Izhak Ben-Zvi, Israel's second president, died 50 years ago this month. In his honor, we've put up a small collection of unusual documents about his salary. If you read Hebrew you really ought to follow the link and read the full story, which is both amusing and, how to put it, rather odd.

The politicians and the gnomes in the Finance Ministry all agreed that the president ought to have the highest salary among the civil servants, what with his being the highest ranking among them. The thing is, Ben Zvi himself had other opinions. Between his taking the job in 1952 and 1962 he ran a successful campaign not to allow his salary to rise. In the early 50s he explained that the country was in dire straights, with hundreds of thousands of new immigrants living in tent cities and the economy groaning under the many burdens of creating a functioning state. By the early 1960s, however, the refugees had mostly been housed and the economy was booming. Ben Zvi still felt that the challenges facing the state were enormous, and still hoped to inspire others to live frugally. Yet if in 1952 his salary had already slipped below that of the Chief Justice, by 1962 it was 40% less than that of his own chauffeur. The Knesset members who had grudgingly humored him for a decade felt he was abusing his office, and took advantage of a trip he was sent on to Africa to triple (!) his salary and legislate it into the general budget so that he couldn't browbeat them to change their mind.

Here's his response, in a letter of December 31st 1962 ot Israel Gouri, the head of the Finance Committee of the Knesset.
Since taking office I have been perturbed by the galloping rise in the standard of living, which I regard as a threat to our economic independence. It is my opinion that as long as we're faced by the double challenge of bringing Jews to Israel and facing the security threats we have, we must not raise the standard of living. Therefore I've been resisting the efforts to raise my salary, hoping to present a model for imitation, and I've explained this both officially and in personal meetings with you.
This year, sadly, the Knesset took advantage of my trip to Africa to raise my salary and legislate it into the budget. You recently explained the considerations, and I no longer feel I can resist them. However, I wish to inform you that I will use no more than half of the sum for my personal needs, and will donate the rest to a trust which will fund the preparation of ancient documents for use by researchers. (Was he thinking of the Aleppo Codex perhaps?)

Monday, April 8, 2013

"Eichmann?! I met him once!"

As noted in our previous post, today being Yom Hashoah, one should be focusing on Holocaust matters, and for that the most important Israeli archives are at Yad Vashem. Although given the trajectory of Jewish history in the 20th century, there is Holocaust-related documentation in just about every Israeli archive.

The ISA has, among other collections, the entire documentation of the Eichmann trial, much of it German. Yet since the overarching theme of this blog is to tell Israel's documented story, here's a record that tells about Israel in respect to the Eichmann trial: the transcript from the day David Ben Gurion told the members of the cabinet that Eichmann had been captured and brought to be tried in Israel. His announcement in the Knesset later that day (May 23, 1960) is the more famous; but the announcement in the cabinet tells us more about people's immediate response, since the ministers were a small group and they were having a conversation, not listening to a speech.

Ben Gurion's announcement itself was a low-key as you can imagine: one single sentence. "The security services have been looking for Eichmann, they found him, he's here and will be put on trial." He then added that he'd make the announcement in the Knesset, and finished by noting that the Law for Doing Justice to Nazis and their Accomplices allowed capital punishment.

The gasp of astonishment this was greeted with is audible from the immediate response of Yitzchak ben Aharon, who slipped into Yiddish: "How? Where? Wie macht men das?" To which Ben Gurion responded curtly "that's what the security services are for". Levi Eshkol congratulated them (the spooks), but Ben Aharon wasn't finished: "I met him in Vienna in 1936"; Moshe Haim Shapira: "And I met him in 1938".

The discussion that followed was anything but structured. The transcript is linear, but probably the ministers were talking all at once. While Ben Gurion wanted to talk about the legal process, and definitely didn't want to talk about how and where or even by whom the arrest had been made, Shapira was still reminiscing about that meeting. "He asked me if I'd come to remove Herzl's bones. I remember I was there with Dr. Senator, who didn't stand when Eichmann entered the room; Eichmann told him that if he wasn't gone from Austria within the day he'd be sent to a camp".

Dr. Yosef Burg, ever a cautious politician, worried that Eichmann might make a scene in court which would have a negative effect on Israel's image. This led to a discussion of the identity of his lawyers; the general assumption being that not only would no Jewish lawyer be willing to take the case, not even any Israeli Arab lawyer would. (Eichmann was represented at the trial by a German lawyer.) It's pretty clear from this part of the discussion that Pinchas Rosenne, the Minister of Justice, had prior knowledge of the matter.

Shapira, who seems to have been interested in the man, not the legal issues, asked how he was behaving in prison; this occasioned the only comment by Issar Harel, Israel's legendary spymaster who was present in the room: "He doesn't understand our behaviour. He was convinced we'd harm him and be cruel. Instead we're acting according to the law".

Finally, a puzzling recurring theme was the credit to be given to the agents. Eshkol, Pinchas Sapir and others felt they deserved public thanks, and perhaps some sort of award; Ben Gurion would have none of it. Israel didn't hand out medals in those days (and not much now, either), and he saw no reason to make an issue of the agents' actions. Given that at that moment he wasn't divulging even the country of arrest to the cabinet members - a group accustomed to top-secret deliberations - he clearly wanted to stay far away from anything that might reflect on the kidnapping action.

Yom Hashoah: The Central Database of Shoah Victims

Today is Yom Hashoah, Israel's day of commemoration of the Holocaust. From the perspectives of the archives, this is the day to be visiting the online efforts of Yad Vashem. Foremost among them, in its extent and significance, is the Central Database of Shoah Victims, a work in progress in which literally thousands of hours of labor have been invested. The database contains millions of searchable documents: Nazi deportation lists, post-war Soviet lists of victims, Pages of Testimony submitted to Yad Vashem by survivors since the 1950s, and many other types of records. It's a multi-lingual database, which recognizes all the data in a variety of languages, so that a search in English will identify and present results irrespective of the language of the documents themselves.

Some of the victims appear on more than one document; the database is pretty good at finding them even if they are recorded in different languages or even different names (Dora and Dvora, say). This ability, however, makes it hard to know how many specific individuals are in there. The cautious assumption at Yad Vashem is that they have records about more than four of the six million who were murdered; they also assume, however, that perhaps a million of Europe's Jews in the Shoah left no record, no surviving family... no trace.

If you've never used the database, and have no family names to seek, it's still possible to gain an impression of the enormity of the Shoah simply by searching for some small township in a remote corner of Europe. There are 837 records for the tiny town of Sapanta, for example, which you've never even heard of: but the Nazis had, and they made sure to murder all its Jews.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Declassification Follies

Recently, we had a lively discussion about declassification. We were about to publish a tranche of documents when one of the declassifiers objected to one of them. He felt it was on the wrong side of the gray zone between what clearly should be open to the public, and what clearly shouldn't, in spite of the many years since the event. So we went back and forth and back and forth, ultimately deciding that the potential damage was outweighed by the need to be open about past events. The publication went up in its entirety, regular readers of this blog read it, and so far as we can see, no damage was done.

Calls like that, however, aren't neccessarily easy to make; sometimes different people make contradictory decisions.

Here's a story from the American National Archives (NARA), about a sensitive document from 1994. There were mass killings going on in Rwanda, and the State Department had to assist in deciding if the killings were a genocide - which would have required US intervention - or perhaps awful but less than genocide, no intervention required. The document in question was discussing the situation and implications.

At four different times, four different officials released four different censored versions of the same document. Each of them opened or closed different sections of the document, so that now we can see its entirety, but only by comparing all four redacted versions.

Set aside the budgetary issues of having lots of different officials repeat the same job over and over. What's interesting to us - sadly, because it's so famliar - is the part about different serious folks having contradictory opinions about what can or can't be opened to the public.

And remember: there are some things which really and truly can't be made public. And they need to be as limited as possible. But...

Martin Luther King - 45 years since the assasination

Last Thursday, April 4th, commemorated the 45th anniversary of the murder of the American civil rights leader, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. Reverend King was assassinated on the balcony of his hotel in Memphis on April 4, 1968. Here is another opportunity to revisit the Israel State Archives's publication of the efforts to invite Reverend King to Israel. One can view also further posts on this blog concerning this issue.
(Wikimedia Commons)

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

A Turf War in Jerusalem with Real Significance

On March 5, 1972, Shmuel Toledano, the Advisor on Arab Affairs to the Prime Minister, sent a letter to his boss, Golda Meir:
Two years ago, the government decided that the Arabs of East Jerusalem are to be regarded similarly as the Arab minority in Israel, and that therefore my office should be in charge of their affairs. [Meaning they are different from the Arabs of the West Bank and Gaza, who were not treated as Israeli citizens.] At the time, the Minister of Police (Shlomo Hillel) agreed. Since then, the minister has been criticizing my office as if we're treading on his turf. No one is arguing against police involvement in police matters, though fortunately there are ever fewer security issues in east Jerusalem, as the populace is integrating into the west part of town. We should be encouraging this integration while working to detach the Arabs of Jerusalem from the Arabs of the West Bank - as my office is striving to do. It would be a mistake to have the minister of police involved in matters touching upon negotiations about the future of the West Bank and Jerusalem:
a. This is the opposite of detaching the two groups.
b. Most of the affairs of the Arabs of East Jerusalem are now civic and economic, not police issues. As the municipal elections approach, and there are 40,000 eligible voters in East Jerusalem, my office has the expertise to work with them correctly.
c. In the earliest years of the state there was a minister of "Police and Minorities". This caused resentment among the Arabs of Israel and it was discontinued. We should be careful not to regress.
It is a fact, as the minister notes, that some of the leaders of the Arabs of the West bank live in Jerusalem. Yet we should be working to seperate the two communities, not unite them.
The file I found this letter in (גל-13908/2) doesn't record what Golda's decision was. Whether Toledano won this particular argument or not, the fundamental issue was decided - from the Israeli perspective at least - in his favor. What history has to say about this remains to be seen.