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.

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