Thursday, May 30, 2013

65 Years Ago This Week: Constituting an Army

65 years ago this week, the Provisional Government debated the founding of Israel's army. On our Hebrew website we've published a collection of documents from that week, and here we'll tell part of the story about the substantial differences of opinion.

The three major documents are the transcript of the cabinet deliberations on May 23, 1948, the discussion on May 26, and of course, the official declaration, published on May 31, 1948. Some of the deliberations focused on the usual: the wording of this paragraph, or the necessity of that section. Most noteworthy of the banal subjects of deliberation was the sanction stipulated for anyone who might not comply and enlist - should the law set a sanction? or should later regulations deal with them? - and it's noteworthy mainly because the exact same discussion is still going on right now, yesterday, today and tomorrow.

The more interesting differences of opinion, however, had to do with the relation between religion and the new state, and the monopoly of power. The religious problem focused on the oath of loyalty stipulated in the decree. The religious ministers preferred there to be a declaration of loyalty, which is secular, and not an oath, which is religious. The secular majority rejected their request and enacted an oath. (Later on, soldiers were given the choice.)

The monopoly of power arose because the IZL and the LEHI were still active, and it wasn't clear if they'd fold into the national army with grace, or with a rumpus. One of the proposals was that the army drop the word defense (Hagana) from its title, so that no-one would think the IDF was merely a continuation of the pre-state Hagana; if it's only called Israeli Army, went the thesis, the non-Hagana units would find it easier to join. The majority rejected this call, and Israel Defense Forces it is. Later in the meeting (on May 26th) the ministers wondered who enlistees would swear loyalty to: the military command? the State? The government? What wold happen if there was a putsch and soldiers had sworn loyalty to the army? What if there was a putsch and they had sworn loyalty to the government? Quite a chunk of the meeting went on this discussion, which shows that in May 1948 the cabinet was not convinced that Israel would necessarily always be a stable democracy.

May 29th - The Terrorist Attack on Lod Airport

Last year, we published on the Archives site, in our 'Electronic Publications' section, 3 documents concerning the Lod Massacre, in which 24 people were murdered by 3 Japanese terrorists, members of the Japanese "Red Army" and operating under the orders of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The documents include a telegram of sympathy sent by King Hussein of Jordan to Prime Minister Golda Meir, Golda Meir's reply to Hussein and a debate by the government on whether to demand the death penalty for the captured terrorist. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Book Review: The Accidential Empire

We haven't done any book reviews on this blog yet, which is a shame, actually, since many of the readers at the archives write books based on our materials. Given that our mission is to have folks know about our stuff, and these researchers are writing about our stuff, it's a no-brainer that we should be amplifying their message, no?

Still, it's not obvious that the first book we'd review ought to be Gershom Gorenberg's The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977. It sits, after all, smack in the middle of one of Israel's major political discussions, and we at the ISA, being civil servants in a national institution, try to stay away from political third rails. On the other hand, what's a national archives for if not to enable the citizenry to see the inner workings of their government, once a reasonable amount of time has passed? And when someone comes by to look and tell, we're still here, so that others can come and see if the initial interpretation was reasonable, or perhaps exaggerated, or unfair. If someone feels Gorenberg's depiction of the evolution of Israel's settlement policy is wrong, they're welcome to come and test his findings.

Actually, they may even have access to more documentation than he had - and from our perspective, that's the reason to review his book here: to examine its relation with our collections. But first, a synopsis of his thesis and findings.

The thesis of the book is that following the Six Day War, Israel had no clear policy what to do with the newly controlled territories, and it spent the next few years (or decades) not acquiring one. Instead, it sort of bungled along. Moshe Dayan had ideas; Yigal Allon had ideas; Levy Eshkol, the prime minster until his death in 1969, had lots and lots of ideas, many of them mutually contradictory; and over time, a growing number of young adults of the religious Zionist camp had ever clearer ideas.

For a while after the electoral victory of Menachem Begin's Likud party, in 1977, Israel may have had a reasonably clear idea that it intended to hold onto Gaza, the West Bank, the Golan and East Jerusalem, and the government purposefully crafted a settlement policy to promote that; but Gorenberg's book is about the decade before Begin's victory, when the Labor party (in its various permutations) ruled, not Likud. He shows that during that decade almost 80 settlements were set up. To the limited extent that there was a guiding line, it was the idea of Allon, according to which Israel would hold onto - and thus settle - the Jordan Valley, parts of the West Bank to the south of Jerusalem and of course Jerusalem itself. (Holding on to all of Jerusalem was the mainstream Israeli policy at least until the summer of 2000). Yet even the 80 settlements weren't put in place as part of a crafted policy, but rather as the results of lots of different, local motivations. Hence the title of his book: it was an accidental empire in that its acquisition wasn't foreseen, and retaining it wasn't thought out.

Reading the book from the perspective of the archivists, however, adds a layer to the discussion, because sadly, although Gorenberg made good use of all the documentation he could find, much of what's relevant has yet to be declassified.

He used many non-governmental sources, such as memoires, interviews, and private archives. Israel Gallili, a top minister in all the governments of the time, took home far too may documents, and they are now in Yad Tabenkin, the archives of the kibbutz movement. There's a detailed oral history project made with Yigal Allon, at his kibbutz. And there are some very rich files from Eshkol's office, which Gorenberg made use of, and I may make further use of here on the blog, because their documents are so rich and interesting.

He didn't use the reams, truckloads, of the state documentation. At the end of the day, the story of the settlements is a story of government action and state bureaucracy implementation. In order to really tell the tale, you'd need to systematically follow the deliberations of the decision-makers at the top, and the actions of the officials below them. You'd need to read all the transcripts of the relevant cabinet discussions, then the records of the internal ministerial discussions. You'd need to identify which agencies were playing important roles, and figure out what that role was. Oh, and of course, you'd need to look at lots of material from the military government of the territories. Most of these sources were not open while he was researching his book in the previous decade; sadly, too much of it isn't open now, either. Parallel to the research, Gorenberg  ran a five-year legal battle against the military archives to open more of their files; the result was a draw, in which he got enough files for the court to close the case, and the archives never had to deal with a court verdict on the matter.

So here's our summary of the matter: in spite of the gazillions of words written over the years about Israel's settlement project, no-one really knows what they're talking about because the documents aren't open. (They are now finally being opened, slowly, and the rate is a matter of budgets not political chicanery). So far, Gorenberg's book is the best one around, and if you're interested in the reality rather than the punditry, you should read it. But be aware that it's essentially a first draft of the story, not a definitive summary - as Gorenberg himself would be the first to admit.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Occupied Territories: The Census of 1967

In the wummer of 1967 Israel counted the populace of the territories it had taken over in the recent war. On October 3, 1967, the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) published its initial findings - so the document we're presenting today was actually never classified at all. We're posting it here not because it's been secret all these years, but simply because we're not aware that it's online. So now it is.

The document starts out by explaining its methodology: a one-day curfew was placed on each of the various areas, and hundreds of Arabic-speaking census-takers tried to reach every single home (except what they called the 'wanderers', presumably the tent-living Bedouin). Every family filled out a form and received a form of confirmation; 20% were asked to fill out comprehensive questionnaires. Since the populace expected potential benefits to accrue from being counted, the CBS reported that compliance had been very high.

The census was taken in August (beginning on the Golan Heights) and September.

On the Golan 6,400 people were enumerated, 2,900 of them in Magdel Shams.

In northern Sinai, 33,000 people were counted, 30,000 of them in El-Arish; the Bedouin of the vast Sinai desert were not counted.

In Gaza, the census found 356,000 people, about half (175,000) in refugee camps.

On the West Bank, there were about 600,000, not including East Jerusalem.

(The population of East Jerusalem has been counted, since the Six Day War, in the column of Arabs in Israel, not in the occupied territories. This creates some amusing results, most noticeably when western media outlets who would never accept Israel's annexation of East Jerusalem routinely count its Palestinian population as part of the 20% of today's Israeli population who are Arab; present-day demographic statistics routinely double-count the 300-plus Arabs of East Jerusalem as being both part of Israel's Arab population and the population of the West Bank.)

Beyond the simple numbers, the editors of the report point at a number of possible explanations for the numbers. In Gaza, the Egyptian data from 1965 had about 100,000 additional people, or 25% more than the Israelis counted. Since only a few thousands left as a consequence of the war, and many of them were Egyptians from Sinai and not Gazans, the report assumed someone had been inflating numbers, perhaps by failing to register deaths.

The Jordanian numbers from 1961 were also larger than those identified here, and the editors felt this probably expressed a significant phenomenon of migration during the Jordanian period and after the Six Day War.

The populace of all the territories was very young, children between 0-14 making up the largest group in all areas. the editors were struck, however, by the imbalance between young men and young women; their conjecture being that the relative lack of young men reflected large-scale emigration of laborers.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Scuffling at the Mughrabi Gate

According to the Times of Israel, a UNESCO investigative team which was about to visit Jerusalem has been disinvited by Israel. Apparently part of the team's agenda was to investigate the matter of the Mughrabi Gate, which leads from the Kotel (Western Wall) into the Temple Mount compound. We don't have anything intelligent to say about this particular case, but it just so happens that we've got an interesting document about Israelis and Palestinians disagreeing about the Mughrabi Gate.

In early October 1967, four months after the Six Day War, Talmi al-Mukhtashev, head of the Waqf in Jerusalem, sent a letter to Levi Eshkol, Israel's prime minister. If he was in any way cowed by the new rulers, he managed to hide it, as he castigated Israeli actions at the Western Wall and the Mughrabi Gate.
Last month we sent your honor a telegram warning that Israeli forces had taken over the Mughrabi Gate and opened it to the public; we demanded this action be undone and the key to the gate returned to us. We received confirmation of the telegram's arrival, but when no change was seen on the ground we've sent additional letters demanding the same.
The open gate has enabled uncontrolled visits. Muslim worshippers have been cursed, Jewish tourists have misbehaved and some even had picnics and otherwise behave as tourists on the Temple Mount [the original Arabic probably called it Haram A-Sharif]. These events have caused offense to the Muslims, and we demand that the keys be handed back so the Waqf alone will control the area.
A note attached to the letter explained that it had been sent to various officials, including the police, Ministry of Justice and others, but that no answer was intended to the complaint. (File א-7921/3).

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Golda Meir: The Israeli Black Panthers Aren't Nice

More than 30 years after her death, Golda Meir is still remembered fondly by many of America's Jews, or at least those old enough to have such memories. More than 30 years after her death, most Israelis still dislike her, and many dislike her intensely. This animosity has three main sources. The most important of the three is the Yom Kippur War, which Golda's government failed to foresee or prepare for; the lesser of the three is the perception that she failed to seek peace when Egypt's Sadat was seeking it.

The second most important reason Israelis still dislike Golda is because she once said of the Black Panthers that "they're not nice".

The year was 1971, and the day was May 17th. The previous evening there had been a violent mass demonstration of angry young men, mostly from families who had immigrated from Morocco, and not successfully integrated into Israeli society, and had provocatively given themselves the moniker of the angry young blacks of America. Their program was to shock the Israeli establishment into taking them more seriously than their immigrant parents had been taken, or so they claimed. When on May 17, 1971, Golda visited an assembly of Jews from Morocco, it was inevitable that the riot of the previous night would be discussed. Shaul Ben Simchon, one of her hosts and a fellow Laborite, commented that he had met some of the young men who had been arrested, and found them to be "nice guys" (bachurim nechmadim). To which Golda responded that "People who throw Molotov Cocktails at Jewish police aren't nice guys."

It was a statement identifying people by their actions; it was picked up and endlessly repeated and amplified and engraved into the national psyche as a statement identifying people by their ethnicity and divergence from that of Israel's ruling elite--hurting young uncouth Sephardi men being derided by elderly complacent and out-of-touch Ashkenzi power-brokers. It may be that Golda and her generation had partially earned the anger directed at them, though not as fully as it was presented at the time; yet even if so, it wasn't what she had said nor intended - and, to be fair, given her life-long record of actions - it was also unfair to present her that way. Yet the power of a soundbite can't be undone, and it can live on for decades even after it was never really said.

Months later, on November 1, Golda sent an open letter to "Comrade Ben Simchon" remonstrating with him for never speaking out in her defense as the rumour of her nasty (mis)quote spread far and wide. A few days later he responded ("Comrade Golda Meir, the Prime Minister"). Yes, her version of the event was accurate. He hadn't spoken out because he hadn't noticed the misquote had taken on a life of its own, and anyway, no-one had asked for his opinion on the matter. However, now that he had her attention, he would welcome her participation in various activities of Moroccan Jews, and this would undoubtedly be good for her as well as for the cause.

So that's done. Now that we've corrected the historical record (also on our Hebrew blog), the unfortunate story will disappear from history and never be cited again. Perhaps.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Truman Needs a Note...

The story about how Harry Truman more or less singlehandedly decided that the United States would recognize Israel in May 1948 is well known. The State Department was unanimously against the idea, although at the last moment the Secretary of State did call the President and tell him that since he was determined to do the wrong thing, he, George Marshall, wouldn't oppose him in public. Yet the decision itself wasn't enough. In order for the United States to recognize a new country, someone had to ask them to do so, and  no one in Tel Aviv had prepared for that. Clark Clifford, Truman's aide, called Eliyahu Epstein, a Jewish Agency official in Washington, and explained that there had to be an official request. Since neither Clifford nor Epstein knew what such a request might look like, Epstein was on his own. Ben Gurion had declared independence at 4pm Israel time, which was early morning in Washington, and the declaration would go into effect at midnight Israel time, on the first minute of May 15th, so there still were a few hours to figure it out.

Here's the result: A letter from Epstein to Truman, in English of course, in which he informed the president that a Jewish state had been declared, that it was called Israel, that it had a provisional government, and that it was requesting the recognition of the United States. At loss as to his own position, Epstein signed as an "agent of the provisional government".

And here's Truman's response. And notice that someone added the name of the new country, Israel, after the letter had already been typed. Originally it had simply said that the United States recognized a Jewish State.

The full story of the intigues and maneuvers leading to Truman's decision can be found in David McCullough's magesterial Truman from page 595 onwards, and this particular vignette is on pages 617-18.

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Four-and-a-Half-Pronged Program to Reinvent the ISA

Blogging has been a bit disappointing recently, we admit. All sorts of things have been going on, and since tomorrow evening is a holiday, the rest of the week doesn't look too promising, either.

Some of the problem, however, has a fine excuse behind it: the ISA finds itself in the throes of a major upheaval these days.

Last year the government adopted its Resolution 4473, which foresaw a major reform in the way the Israeli administration creates, processes, preserves and opens its documentation for the citizenry. The reforms were to start in 2013, and the lack of a national budget so far this year has made things a wee bit more complicated. One of the easier segments of the resolution, however, required the State Archivist to submit a master plan to the prime minister.

The master plan was basically completed last Fall, but just about then there was an election campaign underway, a point in time in which politically elected officials are not supposed to make strategic decisions if they can be put off until after the elections; then, after the elections, the prime minister and his aides were a bit busy with such matters as forming a new coalition. Only in April were we finally able to re-submit the final draft of the master plan. We are happy to tell that it was promptly accepted and confirmed.

The plan calls for four major spheres of change:

1. The bureaucracy and the ISA must devise new methods to identify important documentation at the time of creation and ensure its eventual arrival in the ISA; the rest of the documentation must likewise be identified so as to be correctly disposed of.

2. A large-scale project of scanning will be launched, so that the paper documentation which has been collected can be processed and accessed in digital form (such as online).

3. The whole system of declassification must be revamped, so as to deal with the backlog, while aligning the methodology with the Freedom of Information Act..

4. The documentation is to be put into the public realm using the full gamut of available (and future) technological tools.

On top of which, the Law of Archives must be re-legislated. The current law was passed in 1955, when very few people used iPads or the Internet, and although some of its sections have been re-visited since then, the legal edifice on which the entire practice of archives in Israel stands is, well, a bit precarious.

So we've got our work cut out for us. Some sections, we're happy to tell, were launched even before the official OK, and in recent weeks we've been a bit preoccupied.

a. We've started the large logistical challenge of scanning millions of pages of documents each month. This is actually not a matter of technology (the technology is mostly simple) as much as one of logistics, quality control, and generally being careful and systematic.

b. We're developing new software systems to work in; the first segments are already being implemented, even as some of the latter ones are only in various stages of planning.

c. We're cooperation with a handful of forward-looking government ministries in evolving and applying new methodologies for the identification and processing of digital documentation.

d. We're seriously scratching our heads about the declassification process. It's tricky, that one is, but must be dealt with.

e. We're outlining the issues of a new law of archives. Legislation, of course, is the job of the parliament, but since this is to be a government-sanctioned law we've got lots of studying, defining, planning and initial formulating to do before the legislators even begin their deliberations.

All of which is not to say that this blog is going silent. Hopefully it isn't. But we've had a rather full plate recently, and the adjustment may take a bit.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Is this the Note that Launched Maaleh Adumim?

In early July 1974 (there's no precise date) Ariel Sharon, a recently elected Member of Knesset in the opposition Likud party, dashed off a note to Yisrael Galili, a minister without portfolio in Yitzhak Rabin's brand-new first government. Galili, it must be noted, though he didn't run any ministry, was one of the most powerful, behind-the-scenes movers in Israeli politics at the time.

Here's the full content of the note, which comes from file number 7458/3-ג:
A fellow by the name of Eliezer Ben-Arye called me a few minutes ago. He says he's part of a group of 75 families who wish to settle in Maaleh Adumim. [Underlined in the original]. I suggested he call your office. I hope you'll be agree to meet them.