Sunday, June 30, 2013

Incorporation Papers of the Jewish Quarter Company

Today's document is a dreary legal affair: the incorporation of the Company for Development of the Jewish Quarter of the Old City (September 1968). This is the organization which rebuilt the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, and turned it from a pile of rubble into a modern residential neighborhood in one of the worlds' oldest cities, even while preserving the immense archaeological site it is built on, and serving millions of tourists annually.
The document itself is as bad as most such documents are, so we're going to cheat. We're going to send the link to this post to a reader of our blog who is both a lawyer and an incurable Jerusalem expert. If he thinks the document has interesting stuff in it, we'll post his comments automatically. (Readers are encouraged to chip in if they'd like.)

The second thing we're gong to do is point out that we found the document in a file from the office of Prime Minster Levi Eshkol, and it was sent to him after a discussion in the Cabinet subcommittee for economic affairs - which indicates that the whole issue was being closely watched by the very top of the government. Most companies don't have the prime minister poking around in their papers.

Ah, and a third matter, a little anecdote. The secretary of the Cabinet subcommittee was one Michael Nir. These days Michael Nir, the same man, works part time on the staff of the ISA - though he's rather a bit older these days.

(Photo: Wikipedia Commons)

Thursday, June 27, 2013

"We Must Rebuild the Hurva!"

Before the destruction of the ancient Jewish Quarter in the Old City in 1948, the most impressive of its many synagogues went by the odd name of the Hurva, which means The Ruin. The reason for this went back to the early 19th century, when construction was begun and then abandoned; in the 19th century, however, a very fine building was constructed, but the traditional name stuck.

In the battle for the Jewish Quarter in May 1948, the dome of the building was damaged, but when the Jews surrendered to the Arab Legion and left, it was still standing. When Israel took the city in June 1967, the Hurva looked like - well, a hurva.
In late 1968, a Haifa architect named Yaacov Salomon began a frustrating correspondence with the office of Levi Eshkol, the prime minister. Salomon was representing the famous American-Jewish architect Louis Kahn, who had apparently drawn up a proposal to rebuild the Hurva. Correctly or not, Salomon assumed that the only way to make this happen was by convincing the prime minister. To his growing frustration, he wasn't able to reach the prime minster, and certainly not to convince him. In today's documents we can follow his repeated letters to Eshkol - there are at least five of them - between September and November 1968. In response to one of the first letters Eshkol had written that his opinion was that rebuilding the Jewish quarter - the apartments - was more urgent than rebuilding the synagogue, but Salomon disagreed, and wrote ever more exasperated letters. Eshkol's aides, meanwhile, kept putting off the date for a meeting, and this, of course, made Salomon even angrier.

There was the small matter that Eshkol was dying of cancer, but this wasn't public knowledge. It was known, even to Salomon, that he was ill, but this didn't register. In November, he announced that he was washing his hands of the matter. In February 1969, Eshkol passed away, and if the subject was brought to the next prime minster, Golda Meir, the file from Eshkol's office doesn't say.

The synagogue itself was only rebuilt in the early 21st century, and now looks like this:
(The pictures are all from Wikipedia commons. The file with the letters is ג-6423/9)

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Construction Status in Jerusalem, September 1968

It's been ages since we've posted on what used to be one of our main pet projects, namely Jerusalem after the Six Day War. Well, yesterday a file crossed my desk which had been ordered by a researcher in the reading room; when he declared it "uninteresting" someone brought it to me to have a peek. I don't think it's uninteresting. (ג-6423/9)

The file is from Levi Eshkol's office. The particular document we'll start with is an unsigned report from September 19, 1968, summarizing government construction projects in Jerusalem 15 months after the war.
In the east of the city there are 900 apartments under construction, and another 600 will be in construction within six months, for a total of 1,500. In the west part of town, the government is constructing 800 apartments, and private builders are working on 700, so that's also 1,500 units. We've prepared plots for the construction of 1,900 units in the east, but there aren't enough builders.
On Mount Scopus, enough dormitories are being built to accommodate 450 students by the beginning of the academic year (early November, apparently).
The first stage of construction on the national headquarters of the Police has been completed; the rest will be completed according to plan. Meanwhile, the Jerusalem headquarters has been moved to the Jericho Road in East Jerusalem.
The construction of 200 units for Arabs has been authorized. A fund has been set up, and IL250,000 of IL1m have already been earmarked.
Reconstruction is underway in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. 450 squatters have been removed from the shacks and ruins they were living in; 100 Jews have been settled in the first 200 rooms to have been renovated. They will be joined soon by another 300, and the renovation plans for additional structures are underway. We've begun laying water and electric mains. We've invested IL500,000 in removing 10,000 cubic meters of debris from the area.
Next year, we'll build 400 units on French Hill and 1,000 on Givat Hatachmoshet and 600 in Neve Yaacov (in East Jerusalem). Normally it takes 18 months to build a unit, but in light of the labor shortage it's taking longer.

ISA and Freakonomics

Not long ago we posted about a proposal that the Israeli government pay a small sum to anyone who'd change their foreign-sounding name to a Hebrew one. Initially, we were responding to a query from a reader, but once we were there, we put the correspondence into the context of Ben Gurion's control-freak urges or lack thereof.

Yesterday Stephen J. Dubner linked to our post from the Freakonomics blog. Predictably, he was intrigued by the economic aspect of the discussion, an angle we hadn't given much thought to.

Which just goes to show that archives can be interesting for all sorts of reasons, many of them unforeseen by the archivists.

PS. If you haven't yet read it, you might wish to take Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything (P.S.) when you go to the beach this summer.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Immigrants Pouring In

Today's document gives a taste of the atmosphere Israeli immigration officials operated in during the summer of 1950, when mass immigration of almost penniless immigrants had simply become the natural way of the world. It was penned by one Itzhak Refael, who later went on to become one of the leaders of the National Religious Party; the three-page document gives the projections for immigration in the coming three months (after June 1950). The purpose is to control the pace of arrivals, although, as Refael notes, this is only partially possible. The immigration from Arab lands, he explains, is motivated by distress, and if conditions get worse we can't keep people out.

Which is an interesting point, since present-day polemicists love to argue about whether the Jews were being forced out of the Arab lands, and were thus refugees, or they were coming because of religious belief in the centrality of Israel and the sudden possibility to move to a Jewish state, so they were immigrants (or worse, colonialists). As if there's necessarily a contradiction between being pushed and pulled.

Refael also didn't know how to reckon the pace of immigration from Romania, where there was one ship plying back and forth but the pressure was on to add another. As for places such as Turkey, Bulgaria and Morocco, he was allocating them only a few hundred monthly immigrants each because while he didn't see how the absorption numbers could be any larger, he didn't want to halt the immigration process completely.

Here are some of the numbers:

Poland: 5,700. There's a proposal to add a ship on the Gdansk-Haifa line, but this hasn't been decided yet.

Romania: 10,800.

Hungary: We have an agreement with them for 3,000 immigrants, then there will have to be another round of negotiations.

Austria: 800. Mostly Hungarian Jews who are finding a way out.

North America: 600. (North American Jewry wasn't participating in the wave of immigration, nor would it in noticeable numbers for the next 20 years, nor in sizable numbers ever).

Libya: 1,500 immigrants. There are 3,000 people in a transit camp in Tripoli.

Tunisia: 900. We're hearing that the pressure on the Jews to leave is growing.

Afghanistan's: 500.

Iran: 1,500.

Iranian Kurdistan: 1,500.

Iraq: 12,000. We're hearing about growing persecution of the Jews in Iraq, especially in the north.

Egypt: 2,000.

Shanghai: 400. (These would have been European refugess from Nazism who washed up in Shanghai.)

Monday, June 24, 2013

Should Israel Subsidize an Arab Newspaper for the West Bank?

We're still looking into the issue of Israel's relations with the Palestinians after the Six Day War. Here's the top secret transcript of a meeting of the Cabinet subcommittee on the West Bank (there was such a thing), from December 24, 1967 (Christmas isn't on Israelis' calender, and certainly not in the 1960s). The participants included Prime Minister Levi Eshkol and ministers Moshe Dayan, Abba Eban, and Eliyahu Sasson, along with the high-ranking officials Dr. Yaacov Herzog, Gideon Refael, Colonel Shlomo Gazit, and Moshe Sasson (Eliyahu's son). The backdrop to the discussion was Moshe Sasson's report on his talks with public figures on the WB (which we've posted on).

The discussion dealt mostly with two issues, both conveyed to the ministers from prominent West Bank figures via Moshe Sasson - which is in itself an interesting finding. In late 1967, the local Palestinian leadership had a conduit to Israel's government, and was using it.

The first issue, and as it transpired, the easy one, was whether to allow a West Bank delegation to travel to the upcoming Arab summit. After a few minutes of debate, everyone in the room agreed to allow the delegation to travel. Everyone accepted that the summit would be stridently anti-Israel, and that the WB delegates would come back with their heads filled with invective; however, they also thought the the mere fact of having people at the summit who knew from close up that the Israelis weren't monsters might be novel; they also hoped it might strengthen King Hussein's hand in his quest for legitimacy to negotiate with Israel. Having made the decision to OK the delegation, the ministers excused themselves from deliberating Moshe Sasson's request to have a position regarding Palestinian self-rule: Let's wait and see what happens on the main track, they said.

The second issue was a bit trickier because it offered various alternatives, not a yes-or-no decision. Moshe Sasson related how prior to the war there had been two newspapers, Jihad and Palestine, which had managed to exist only because the Jordanian government had subsidized them; without that subsidy they had gone out of business, leaving the field open to the hostile communist paper. Might Israel perhaps be interested in the two papers re-opening, possibly under different names? The cost would be about IL 20,000 a month for each, and the subsidy could happen, as in Jordanian times, in the form of purchasing advertisement space. In such a setup, the papers would obviously have to be anti-Israeli, but they could be less so than the existing independent papers, and might even offer some space to friendlier voices.

The technique of opening the papers, by the way, as suggested by their publishers, would be in the form of a demand by the military governor that they desist from their "strike".

The ministers didn't have a clear position about the Arab newspapers. Some of them didn't think the covert subsidy was a bad idea, and even said that Israel's control should be as light as possible. Others felt it would be better to openly create a serious Arabic-language newspaper published in Israel, perhaps even with a Jewish editor. This raised the issue of censorship: in those days Israeli newspapers were all subject to censorship, and how would that appear with an Israeli Arabic newspaper? Moshe Dayan pointed out that Jerusalem had been annexed to Israel, so there was no military governor to put on the charade of ending a "strike". Which then raised the question of whether the paper - in whatever form - should appear in Ramallah or Nablus rather than Jerusalem. The argument went back and forth and back, until Dayan said they couldn't make a decision and Eshkol, in typical Eshkol form, allowed the matter to be postponed for some other day.

Von Falkenhayn - an addendum

Last week, we posted about German general Erich Von Falkenhayn's daughter. Here is something on Von Falkenhayn himself. Two years ago, Lenny Ben David wrote about how Von Falkenhayn saved the Jews of Jerusalem from being deported, as well as the residents of Tel Aviv and the nearby Jewish towns.
Von Falkenhayn

Sunday, June 23, 2013

89 New Settlements, and Another 77

There are a few important corners of Israel's state bureaucracy where one can get awesome things done quickly. The invention, development and deployment of the Iron Dome anti-projectile systems, for example, happened very quickly by the standards of any government project. Most of the time, however, executing large projects inside the official sphere is, how to put this, challenging.

All the more reason to observe with incredulity the rate at which Israel in its infancy managed to get things done. Today's document, for example, is a report by Raanan Weitz, head of the Settlement Department in the Jewish Agency, from June 14, 1949. (File ג-3013/12).

In the first six months of Israel's independence, according to Weitz, 35 settlements were founded. Then, in the ensuing 10 months or so, his department had created 54 settlements, in what was called "Series A". The cost of this activity had been 4,705,100 Lira (IL), and about 11,700 immigrants had been settled.

Just recently his officials had begun settling 1,010 families of new immigrants in 13 abandoned villages. He had "borrowed IL 250,000 for this from the next budget he was about to request, along with IL 171,750 which he had already used for series A, above the original allocation. (And note that he seems to have been informing that he'd already done this, not requesting permission. As in "I've already spent the money, now find a way to cover it.")

Having completed that, he was now requesting funds to launch "Series B". The plan here was to create 77 new settlements, for at least 3,000 families. The cost would be IL 3,676,750 (including the two above sums which had already been spent). The Series B settlements would be made up as follows: 22 settlements of pioneering youth; 22 settlements of demobilised soldiers (many of whom would have been new immigrants); 13 settlements for immigrants in abandoned villages; and 20 founded especially for their immigrant settlers.

The document then goes on for another 30-some pages with details about funds, expenditures, brief descriptions of each of the new settlements, and so on.

It might also be interesting to note that Weitz had no complexes about the abandoned villages. He's quite straightforward in talking about them and naming them, and he also doesn't agonize about how they came to be abandoned. Like everyone else at the time he was aware that the way of the world in the 1940s was that during and after wars populations were transferred from place to place; he remembered how the Arabs had trumpeted their intention to get rid of the Jews, and once the tables had been turned, he was getting on with life; his urgent task was to find somewhere to put the large numbers of Jews who were being transferred out of their homes and coming to Israel.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Ben Gurion's Last Ceremony

Earlier this week we wrote about Ben Gurion's resignation, 50 years ago this week. As sometimes happens with these sort of things, once the publication went up a staffer in a different department remembered something he'd once seen and did a bit of rummaging. Sure enough, he found, and posted, a snippet of a newsreel from BG's last day at work at the Ministry of Defense. One reason often given for his resignation is that at 77 he was old and tired. Which may be true, though he then went on to live another lively and active ten years. Even assuming he was old and tired, however, note how young and energetic he seems in this short film:

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Borders of Jerusalem

Today's post is purely informative; we'll leave any and all narrative to the readers.

Below is a section of a map which was drawn in 1949, and is filed in ג-3013/12, which comes from Ben Gurion's office and deals with matters of mass immigration in 1949-1953. The full map contains proposals for settling the large numbers of new immigrants. The section we're presenting, however, isn't about that; it's about the lines of 1947 and 1949 in the Jerusalem area.

The blue line is the intended border of the Corpus Separandum, the section of Mandatory Palestine which the United Nations didn't allocate to either side, Jews or Arabs, in the partition plan it adopted on November 29th 1947. The red line is a reasonable approximation of the 1949 armistice lines, referred to these days as the Green Line of 1967.

The little-known fact demonstrated by this map is that more than two thirds of the intended Corpus Seprandum lies outside the Green Line, in territory controlled between 1949-1967 by Jordan; and it includes the town of Bethlehem, as well as the area which today contains Maaleh Adumim.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A Girl in a Photograph - More Than 90 Years Ago

The Israel Defense Forces and Defense Establishment Archives (IDFA) has published on its website a series of photographs related to the reopening of the railway station in Jerusalem. The station has recently been converted to a recreation, culture and food area--a welcome addition to Jerusalem.
One of the photographs, dating back to the First World War, shows General Erich von Falkenhayn when he arrived to visit Jerusalem in June 1917. Falkenhayn was appointed Commander of the German Army after its repeated failures during WWI. He is chiefly remembered as a planner of the Battle of Verdun in France (February – November 1916), which was intended to bleed the French army and instead became a terrible massacre of both parties. Falkenhayn later commanded the combined German-Austrian-Bulgarian forces (with some Turkish units too) to defeat Romania in August – November 1916, which was considered a brilliant campaign, and later became the commander of the Turkish forces in Syria and Israel. (On his left side in the photograph is the Turkish commander of Syria and Palestine, Jamal Pasha, who vehemently opposed Falkenhayn's appointment.) Falkenhayn failed to protect Palestine from the troops of Edmund Allenby and was replaced in February 1918, finishing his service in the German Army headquarters in the Baltic region.

The picture shows a girl on his right, and she is interesting in her own right. In the book "Looking Twice at the Land of Israel" (published by the Defense Ministry and Yad Yitzhak Ben Zvi, 1991), Benjamin Z. Kedar identifies her as Falkenhayn's daughter, Erica. Erica married Henning von Tresckow, one of the chief conspirators against Hitler in World War II. On July 21, 1944, the day after the failed assassination of Hitler, von Tresckow staged a partisan attack on his headquarters near Bialystok in Poland, and blew himself up with a grenade. He was buried with military honors, but a month later, when the Gestapo discovered his involvement in the plot against Hitler, his body was exhumed and burned in a crematorium of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. His wife - Erica - and daughters were arrested, but later released.

Lots of things happened to her after that sunny afternoon in Jerusalem...
Erica von Falkenhayn and Henning von Tresckow (Wikipedia)

Monday, June 17, 2013

50 years since the first woman in space - Valentina Tereshkova

A year ago, we wrote about the first Chinese female space pilot and we wondered what title she would receive: Astronaut, Cosmonaut or Teikonaut (the Chinese version of space pilot). Yesterday, June 16, was the 50 years anniversary of the first woman in space - Valentina Tereshkova.

Here's a congratulatory telegram sent by Foreign Minister Golda Meir to Tereshkova after her historic flight. The cable is interesting because it is written in Russian in Latin characters (the Israeli embassy in Moscow probably converted the telegram to Cyrillic script before delivery to Tereshkova) and because it reflects the commitment of Golda Meir to the advancement of women in the international arena.

RIA Novosti archive, image #612748 / Alexander Mokletsov / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Sunday, June 16, 2013

50 Years Since Ben Gurion's Resignation

David Ben Gurion resigned 50 years ago today, on June 16, 1963. While he had briefly retired to Sdeh Boker in 1954, passing the prime minster's baton to Moshe Sharett, this time he was serious about leaving, as everyone understood. He was 77 years old; he had been the leader of the Yishuv, the State-in-Waiting and the State itself, for more than 40 years. 50 years later, he is still the undisputed greatest leader the Zionist movement has ever called forth, to the extent that even a carefully non-political blog such as this has no hesitation in naming him.

On the anniversary of his departure, the ISA has published a collections of documents surrounding the event (in Hebrew). Here are three of them.

At the time, many people, politicians and ordinary folks alike, feared that his departure would be a blow to what was still a fledgling country. But not everyone. The delegation of the Herut, the largest opposition party, told President Shazar, who summoned them for consultations before deciding whom to entrust with the task of setting up the next government, that they were glad Ben Gurion was leaving, and they hoped his departure would be good for the country. Two points stand out from their discussion. First, that they addressed the president in the third person, almost as to aristocracy. Hard to imagine that in Israel's political culture now, or anytime in the recent past - but in 1963 the country was still young, leaders still cast at least a semblance of awe, or at least minimal respect. The second point is that they felt Ben Gurion's departure had something to do with the crises surrounding the German rocket scientists employed by Egypt. Some stories never die, they merely fade and then return.

The other two documents are newsreels. The first is narrated in French (no idea why) and tells of Ben Gurion's trip to the United State in 1951; the second is narrated in Arabic (???) and tells of Levy Eshkol's trip to the US in 1964. Ben Gurion's trip was unofficial Eshkol's was official, but the different tone of the two films is probably more fundamental than a matter of protocol. Ben Gurion basked in public adulation; Eshkol came to do business. It's worth watching them even if your language skills aren't sufficient.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Moshe Sasson Talks to Palestinians, December 1967

The other day we posted a barely legible document about discussions held by Levi Eshkol's special envoy to the territories in 1967. Well, it didn't take long for us to dig up a copy of better quality, one that can be effortlessly read.

The post earlier this work deciphered the cover letter. Here's a summary of the 7-page report itself, dated December 15, 1967.

Introductory comments:
I've held 36 conversations with 32 public figures in Jerusalem, Ramallah, Hebron, and Bethlehem. They belong to many different political groups, and some unaffiliated. I haven't yet met religious Muslim leaders because it's Ramadan. 
No-one refuses to meet me. On the contrary, some ask why I invited them so late. They are obviously talking among themselves and exchanging notes, though they're still presenting me with their own particular positions. 
They all wish to know what our positions are, and often seem disappointed when I tell them I'm mostly listening. 
They all see my talks with them as a sort of recognition of the Palestinians, though they attribute different sorts of significance to this; some wonder if we're intending to create an independent Palestinian entity. 
Political background:
The local Palestinian political scene is lively, and they're in regular contact with other Arabs in Jordan and elsewhere. 
Many of them are fed up with the Arab world, and are eager to change their own position. They may be a force we should deal with. 
The current events are something of a distraction. Nasser's recent speech, the intended arrival of Gunnar Jahring, the UN emissary and other immediate events are grabbing much of their attention. 
Common denominations
There is a rough consensus among most of them, with the exception of the communists, the Baath nationalists, and the PLO. 
1. They don't want to remain in their current condition under Israeli military rule.
2. They're tired of violence and have no expectations Nasser will be able to help them.
3. If Nasser thinks time is on the side of the Arabs, he's wrong.
4. They don't want to go back to the situation before the war. If there's no other option, they'd prefer Israel to leave as part of an agreement.
5. They don't wish to live in a Palestinian ghetto inside Israel. They regard the status of Israel's Arab citizens as one of a "spiritual prison". 
They mostly agree about what they don't want. There's less agreement about what they do want. 
Israel's image:
1. They're pleasantly surprised that Israel isn't at all like they were described during 19 years of propaganda. "You're the same people we lived with under the British Mandate."
2. The PLO is hurting the good atmosphere, but so are some Israeli actions.
3. They have the suspicion that Israel seeks to expand and take over the entire land; they also think Israel will try to impose peace; they are mystified by Israel's demand for direct negotiations with Arab nations. 
The Baath and the Communists:
They are fiercely against any peace settlement. My interlocutors can't understand why Israel is allowing them such a free hand. Those [among the communists and Baath] I've talked to state that there can be no settlement with the Palestinians unless there's a settlement with the entire Arab world. Yet since the general public will is for a settlement, they're using terminology that conceals their true positions. 
Supporters of a Palestinian State:
There is potentially broad support for this option, yet it's always the second alternative. Each of them has a preferred settlement, an independent Palestine being only their fall-back plan. Many of the leaders I spoke with have vested interests in Jordanian rule or other options, and they fear for their status if there's a new and independent Palestine. They remember the [internal Palestinian violence of ] the 1930s, and they're afraid. Many are also waiting: if Israel comes out clearly in favor of this option it will change the dynamic. In the meantime they're under external pressure and from the Soviets. 
They're afraid of appearing as Israeli lackeys, though some wonder if they might use the UN plan of 1947 as legitimisation to speak of an independent Palestine.
Jerusalem must be the joint capital of the two countries - but undivided.
The Position of the Main Leaders:
They are willing, though reluctant, to serve as mediators between Israel and the Arab leadership abroad, but they want to know what our intentions are. 
Supporters of a Temporary Settlement:
No matter what they do, they'll be accused of working for Israel, they claim. So some are wondering if Israel might grant them some form of autonomy from which they will be able to build a stronger position. 
1. The Arabs are mistaken in not immediately entering negotiations with Israel, so as to demonstrate its lack of sincerity.
2. Israel should annex the entire territory, so that they're be a single state for both nations.
3. There should be a three-way federation [Israel-Palestine-Jordan] with Jerusalem as its capital.
4. The West Bank should be a separate canton within Jordan.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Did Ben Gurion Have a Dictatorial Urge?

Here's the second, and probably last, installment about the efforts to have Israelis use "Hebrew names" instead of "Diaspora names." It's also about the limits of the power of government, of integration policies, and probably another few things. Citizens corresponding with Ben Gurion often got more than they'd expected.

On April 30, 1961, Prof. Allon Talmi (a good Hebrew name, that) wrote to Ben Gurion (previous name: Gryn) with a suggestion that the government pay 10 Lira to each individual who gets rid of their non-Hebrew name for a Hebrew one.
The sum, the rough equivalent of a day's wages for many people, wouldn't entice the well-off, but might be a consideration for many. When he, Talmi, used to be the manager of a large section in a chemical company and he offered an unofficial day off for anyone who changed their name, you'd be surprised how many did so. The government could explain that the sum is to cover the hassle of the name-changing. How many people would likely accept? 100,000 at most? Isn't the investment of 1,000,000 Lira in promoting national unity worth it?
 Ben Gurion replied on May 7:
I liked your idea. Indeed, all these German and Slavic names detract from the Jewishness of the nation. It was also a fine thing you did at that factory. But a government can't do things like that. The government should pass a law that everyone should have Hebrew names.
To which Talmi then replied:
Thank you for answering.
I don't think the government can force people to change their names. It would be unpopular, and give credence to the claim that you've got dictatorial tendencies. The government needs to force people to do things that are essential for the economy and security, but in spite of my dislike of foreign names, I don't think they affect the national security.
Parallel to the correspondence, Tikva Issacharoff, a secretary in Ben Gurion's office, had sent a couple of notes to Talmi, along the lines of "he'll get back to you shortly." Issacharoff, of course, isn't any more a Hebrew name than, say, Abramowitz, yet there she was, sitting down the hall from Ben Gurion, signing letters with her unkosher name. This may have been because Ben Gurion wasn't being irked by Sephardi names, only "German and Slavic" ones. (A distinction Talmi doesn't seem to have been making). Or perhaps he grumbled but saw the limits of his power - that by 1961 he'd been in power for more than a decade and had never passed that law he was wishing for.

So far as I know, diplomats in Israel's foreign service are encouraged till this very day to have Hebrew-sounding names, or at least they were until recently. Some don't - Avigdor Lieberman, for example, to name a recent prominent diplomat. The rest of us are left alone with whatever name we happen to have around. Someday someone should try to figure out which names were more likely to have been jettisoned, the Ashkenazi or the Sephardi ones.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Golda Needs to Change Her Name

The other day a reader asked if we could post any letters in which Ben Gurion admonished folks to Hebraisize their names. So we're looking into the matter and will come back with whatever interesting stuff we may find. In the meantime, however, one of our staff had a scanned example of a similar document right on his desktop.
It's a note signed by Golda Meirson, Minister of Labor and National Insurance, to Foreign Minister Moshe Sharett, from February 13th 1950: "I'm pleased to send to the cabinet members the report on national insurance which has been written by the inter-ministerial committee for social insurance" (which apparently was chaired by a fellow named Kanefsky).

Whether FM Sharett read the thick report or not, we can't say. He did however scribble a comment on the bottom of Golda's cover letter, the day after it was sent: "The minister and the chairman and the report itself all have non-Hebrew names. This must be fixed."

Monday, June 10, 2013

Moshe Sasson Talks to Palestinians

We recently mentioned that there seems to have been quite a bit of conversation going on after the Six Day War between high Israeli officials and public figures on the West Bank. Here's what appears to be a highly significant document, though it's unusually frustrating, too. It's a seven-page report by Moshe Sasson to Prime Minister Levy Eshkol from December 13, 1967, behind a cover letter from December 15; it's a summary of his discussions with 33 prominent Arabs in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza over the preceding month. Sasson, a Damascus-born diplomat and son of cabinet member Eliyahu Sasson, eventually went on to serve for seven years as Israel's ambassador to Cairo; in late 1967, he was serving as Eshkol's special advisor on the population of the West Bank. He spoke perfect Arabic, of course.

The problem is, the document's almost illegible. The copy in this particular file is a low-quality xerox copy of a low-quality carbon copy (remember those?). The first page is more or less decipherable, but the rest - hardly. So I've sent a description of the document to a clutch of our more knowledgeable staffers, and asked them if they can find one of the originals. There are more than 150,000 boxes of documents in the ISA, with an average of 15-20 files per box; a file can contain one document, or ten, or fifty. Which means we've got something like 30-60,000,000 documents (and roughly 300,000,000 pages). The current database of descriptions relates to files, not documents, so the only way to find a specific document is to be very experienced and lucky, both.

In the hope that by next week I'll have the original in my hand, I've given up on the deciphering for today. I'm posting the document so that it will be out there - readers who wish are welcome to have a go at it. In the meantime, here's a summary of the content of the cover letter, from December 15, 1967:
We'll discuss my findings at our upcoming meeting. In the meantime, I suggest topics for your decision
1. How to proceed with the discussions.
2. If and how to encourage pressure from the West Bank figures on [King] Hussein [of Jordan] so that he'll be empowered to represent them?
3. Should we be encouraging self rule of the WB populace?
4. Should we be promoting the idea of a Palestinian State?
5. How should we combat the Communists and limit terror?
6. Should we deport Rouchi elKahtib so as to encourage the populace of East Jerusalem to municipal cooperation?
I sure hope they find a good copy of this document.

Just as a matter of interest, here's a scan of an interview with Sasson in Maariv, October 13, 1969; actually, Maariv translated an Arab-language interview with Sasson from the East Jerusalem paper Al-Quds. Two years after his discussions with leading Palestinians, Sasson was not optimistic. He didn't see why Israel should be for or against a Palestinian state; sadly, however, so he said, the Arab and Palestinian forces outside of the territories were staunchly against the idea, nor were any of the locals pressing to make it happen.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Summer 1973: Who, if Anyone, Screwed Up?

Depending upon when you think it began, the Jewish-Arab conflict has been going on for about a century. Some might put its beginning earlier than that, but it's hard to see how its starting point can be later than 1920, or 93 years ago. Depending upon how you read history, this longevity can be the result of numerous fumbles and mistakes, or of hard-hearted obstinacy, or of implacable enmity. These readings, then, may inform your expectations for the future: a resolute determination not to miss any more opportunities, a campaign against narrow-mindedness, or the resolve to be patient until the other side tires, no matter how long that takes.

Our publication today won't resolve any of this, as it can be understood through any of these prisms. Still, since much of it is based on previously unseen documents, at least it has new facts to offer, even if the various interpretations may well be impervious to novelty.

The publication is about a secret attempt by Golda Meir to start negotiations with Egypt's Anwar Sadat in the summer of 1973, a few months before the beginning of the Yom Kippur War. In addition to our publication of mostly ISA documents, Dr. Haggai Tsoref of the ISA and Prof. Michael Wolfsohn of the Military Academy in Munich have published a joint article on the German side of the story. In brief, Golda, who was skeptical about the ability or likelihood of internationally sponsored peace programs, gambled that Germany's Willy Brandt would be a better bet to create a secret channel for talks with the Egyptians. She seems to have felt that Brandt, as a fellow social-democrat, a world-class diplomat and peacemaker, and Nobel laureate for his Ostpolitik policy of mending fences with the soviet block, would be well positioned and willing to take on the task. If we're reading the documents from her office correctly, she was so intent upon enlisting Brandt that she did as much as she could to defend him from public ire in Israel after the terrorist attack at the Munich Olympics, and even after Germany freed the three surviving terrorists in October 1972.

Brandt visited Israel between June 7-11, 1973, 40 years ago this week. The single most important document of the visit is the summary of the second, secret meeting between Meir and Brandt on June 9, at which Golda requested that Brandt talk to Sadat and tell him that Israel sincerely wishes for peace, will not insist on retaining control of Sinai or half of Sinai, and that if it's easier for him (Sadat), they can begin their negotiations in secret.

At the end of the visit and for a few weeks thereafter, it seemed that a top-secret channel of communication had been set up between Meir and Brandt. Then a mid-level German diplomat went to Egypt and talked to Hafez Ismail, Sadat's top aide. Ismail rejected the offer, and a few months later Egypt and Syria attacked Israel.

So far the story of the documents. The German-language article accompanying our publication looks mostly at the German sources, and claims that the failure was Brandt's. He hadn't believed in the Israelis' sincerity to begin with, but even once he was convinced, during his visit, he didn't use his full moral and diplomatic weight to try and bring the two sides together. Since the classified German documents of the time are not open, we don't know if there's anything in them that would refute this. The Egyptian documents are of course not open, so we can't say why Ismail was so adamant that the Israeli offer was irrelevant. And of course, there's the niggling question about Israel's position; if it was so determined to reach negotiations with Egypt, why put too many eggs in one covert basket? Yes, publicly calling for negotiations with Egypt might - or might not - have frightened them away because of adverse public opinion in the Arab world, but what about other secret channels?

The documents leave us with these and other unresolved historical questions. At the same time, they cast some doubt on the generally accepted narrative of Israeli intransigence, Egyptian eagerness to negotiate, and European eagerness to mediate.

Willy Brandt and Israel's Secret Approach to Egypt, June-July 1973

Today the Archives published a collection of documents to mark the 40th anniversary of the visit of Wiily Brandt, chancellor of West Germany, to Israel in June 1973. Brandt was known as an anti-Nazi and was famous for his gesture in 1970, when he knelt in silent apology before the memorial to the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. Israel's Labour government saw him as a Socialist comrade, and as was the custom in those days, he was taken on the obligatory trip to Deputy Prime Minister Yigal Allon's kibbutz, Ginossar, and even went fishing on Lake Kinneret.

The visit was an important chapter in Israel's relations with Germany. Here we'll focus on another aspect, mentioned in our post on Thursday. Only three months before the Yom Kippur war, Israel's Prime Minister Golda Meir was eager to use Brandt's good offices to contact the Egyptians and to propose secret talks on a peace settlement and withdrawal from part of Sinai.
Willy Brandt and US President Richard Nixon (Wikipedia)
Even today, Golda has become a symbol of Israel's refusal to negotiate with the Arabs and of its inflexible demands for direct negotiations and a full peace treaty. This was the official policy, but documents in the ISA and in US archives show that from 1971 on, after Sadat's rise to power, there were repeated efforts at advancing an agreement with Egypt based on Israeli withdrawal from part of Sinai. You can see one of these documents, a letter Golda wrote to Brandt in November 1971, in the publication. In this letter, Golda regrets that Sadat has refused to discuss withdrawal from the Suez Canal unless Israel commits itself in advance to return to the 1967 borders. On the other hand, in March 1973 she asked the Americans to postpone their initiative for a settlement with Egypt until after the Knesset elections scheduled for the autumn.

Did she really want a partial settlement? Did Sadat? Could the war have been prevented? Among historians there is much controversy on these questions. The war was so traumatic for Israel that emotions still run high, even 40 years later. Some blame the US Administration for the failure to push an agreement, others still think that Golda's government was responsible. Next week, Dr. Hagai Tsoref of the ISA, editor of a forthcoming collection of documents to commemorate Golda Meir, will present his views at a one-day conference at Haifa University.

Cover of a book about the failure of the government in the Yom Kippur war (Wikipedia)

What became of Brandt's involvement? Apparently his agreement to help was half-hearted: he sent a middle ranking diplomat to talk to Hafiz Ismail, Sadat's adviser who had already held inconclusive talks with the Americans in February and May 1973. After these talks and the Brezhnev-Nixon summit in June, which made it clear that the Great Powers did not intend to act on a Mid East settlement, it seems that Sadat had decided that only war would break the stalemate. The German initiative was a case of "too little, too late."

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Was Golda A Peace Refusenik?

Heard the one about how Golda Meir was so intransigent, so arrogant after Israel's victory in 1967, so certain Israel was invincible and unassilable that she rejected any opportunity to negotiate with the Arabs, and thus forced Egypt's Sadat to go to war in 1973 to catch Israel's attention? How only after the bloody Yom Kippur war was Israel willing to negotiate?

Come by and visit us on Sunday. We've got some previously unpublished documents to show.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Map of a Euphemism

No two languages share a complete overlap of vocabularies. English, for example, doesn't have a word for the crucially important Hebrew word "dugri," which may actually have been imported from Arabic. Nor "chevre," which was imported from nowhere.

Hebrew, on the other hand, only recently invented a word for "accountability," and the invention is an unwieldy and unhelpful "achrayutiut," which sounds as bad in Hebrew as you think it does. Oddly, Hebrew also lacks a word for a universally common phenomenon: euphemism. We get along without the term, but we use the linguistic tool all the time, as you'd expect in society with officials, elected and otherwise, who are supposed to have accountability for stuff.

This isn't new. Today's document is, for a change, a map, and it's part of the same file we used yesterday, in which an aide to Ben Gurion collected documents about the mass immigration between 1949-53. (Those are the years of the file, not the immigration, which started earlier and kept on going.)

The map itself is considerably larger than the segments we've scanned. Dated April 26, 1949, it purports to show where the "Department of Transit Camps" proposed to build camps for 15,250 families. Most of them were to cluster around Haifa and Tel Aviv, the two sections we scanned. the euphemism, of course, is in the moniker of the camps. Transit sounds temporary, short-termed, and at least minimally comfortable; it raises the image of orderly wooden shacks, perhaps. It isn't the obvious word to depict large fields with tents in which entire families spend months or even a few years. Those we call, in Hebrew, maabarot, and while present day politicians like to take pride in their childhood years in them, their parents found little to like about them at the time.

Though, come to think of it, transit camps (machanot maavar) and maabarot are actually closely related words, both from the root a-v-r, to move.

Another point of interest about the map is how much has changed since 1949. Look at the map of Tel Aviv and the 18 proposed camps surrounding it. Lots of camps, in an area which was near the center and thus eased all sorts of logistical issues, but where there was lots of empty space. In 2013 (and also much earlier), that entire area, from Herzlia to Petach Tikva to Rishon Lezion, is all built up. It's all one single conurbation. Many of its denizens once lived in those maabarot. Or their grandparents did.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

More than a million immigrants? Can do!

It's time we went back to the efforts to integrate the masses of immigrants who arrived in Israel's first years; we've mostly been doing this recently from the rich file on the matter from Ben Gurion's office, ג-3013.12 (see the previous installment here). Today's document is informative, but mostly it's, well, quaint. No one would have written such a document in 2013 - or 1973, for that matter. But it was written in 1949.

Actually, it's an undated document; it appears truncated, ending abruptly in what seems to be mid-paragraph on page three, with two pages of data tacked on; and it's unsigned. Being an archive, however, rather than a library, we're not overly fazed. It's in a file we recognize; and it's wedged between other documents which indicate that it was written in early 1949; and no matter who authored it, it was important enough to be filed in the prime minister's files. So here it is. It's titled "A 5-Year Plan for Settlements, 1949-1953".
The challenge: By the end of the year there will be one million people in Israel. Over the next four, we expect 900,000 additional immigrants, and natural growth of 100,000. By the end of 1953 there will be two million Israelis, of whom 1,200,000 will have immigrated since creation of the state. At least 200,000 of them must be integrated as farmers, or 60,000 family units.
The document assumes, without specifically saying, that most of the immigrants are penniless and it's the task of the state to find them housing and employment. This is implied in the following breakdown of the 60,000 new units that must be created:
10,000 can be settled in existing settlements.
35,000 will need to be settled in new settlements.
5,000 will have enough capital of their own that they'll be able to acquire their own farms in existing villages.
10,000 will find employment in supporting services for the farmers.
The majority of settlements will be built in the north, where there's water and areas left empty of their former inhabitants. A minority will be settled in the northern Negev, to the extent we can pipe water down there within five years. In the southern Negev, we'll build a small number of experimental settlements, and learn how agriculture might be done that deep into the desert.
In order to grow enough food for two million people we're going to have to expand the areas under cultivation. (The document lists acreage per crop.)
The document also recommends expanding Israel's fishing capacities, in order to produce sufficient proteins. It then turns to the inevitable issue of funds: more than 100,000,000 Pounds will be needed.
The project must be centrally planned. We'll need to significantly expand our distribution systems. Although we intend to produce as much of our own food as possible, we should also investigate the possibility of exporting some products. We'll also need to develop a marketing system.
We'll need to invest a major effort in training the new farmers. Once we're already doing that, they need also to be taught the values of the Histadrut (the main trade union), and they need to be connected to it.
By and large, the plan was successfully executed. The rate of immigration turned out a bit slower than the author of the report expected, but not significantly so. The fact that the folks in the prime minister's office were unfazed by the dimensions of the challenge may have had something to do with it.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Negotiating with Palestinians, October 1967

There's a nice library at the ISA, with lots of books about Israel, its history, and adjacent subjects. There's also a fellow on the staff who apparently has read it all; in my experience, you can point at random at a book, and he'll rattle off its thesis and argumentation and perhaps some gossip about its author. So naturally, I went to him the other day with a question that's been nagging me: I'm finding as I wander around our files that in the early years after the Six Day War, there was quite a bit of Israeli interest in talking to Palestinians. (See our post yesterday as an example.) Has anyone ever written about this, I asked? And if not, why not? Isn't it interesting? To my mild surprise, he didn't know what I was taking about. There was this one memoir, by Shlomo Gavish (Moshe Dayan's top aide at the time); but other than that - no, he'd never really heard about the phenomenon, not to mention any literature about it.

So here's another example. On October 11, 1967, Moshe Dyan, along with Shlomo Gazit and some other aides, met in Jerusalem with the mayors of Nablus, Jenin, Tul Karm and others. On the 12th, Gazit sent a summary of the meeting to lots of top-level officials, including the prime minister, the minister of education and some generals. The mayors came to complain about severe Israeli measures, and also to see if there was any way their budgetary problems could be addressed. Dayan responded that he didn't expect anyone on the West Bank to like Israel or be happy about its presence and control; he also didn't expect the present situation to go on for long: "Sooner or later there will either be peace or there will be another war." Until then, however, he recommended that the population find a modus vivendi with Israel: dislike but practical accommodation. Mass strikes and demonstrations would be met with harsh counter-measures. Pragmatic accommodation, on the other hand, would result even in Israel assisting with the budgetary problems. At moments of tension, the leaders should come to him and talk. Which they agreed to do.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

After the Six Day War: Eshkol Talks to His Generals

When Gershom Gorenberg set out to find how Israeli policy about settlements evolved after the Six Day War, one of his clearest findings was that the prime minister didn't have any clear position. Levi Eshkol talked a lot with lots of people, he presented varying, indeed, sometimes contradictory positions, and ultimately he had no clear concept of how he wished to move forward on the issue of Israel's control of the newly acquired territories. Since some of the people around him, however, did have clear ideas, Eshkol's vacillation created space for them to exploit. Of course, since Eshkol died a year and a half after the war, his positions can go only so far in explaining what later transpired.

The vacillations make it hard for the historian to fasten onto any document and pin down essential positions. It would be nice to have a 5-page record which sets out what was happening, and use it to prove a thesis about causes effects motivations and results. Such documents are rare in the study of any period or phenomenon; when it comes to demonstrating the decision-making process which formed Israeli policy in the territories it suddenly controlled in Mid-June 1967 – nope. There are no such documents, because there was never any clarity they could record.

Which isn't to say there are no interesting documents to tell about. On the contrary, there are lots of them. For example: On December 5th 1967, exactly six months after the war, Eshkol hosted a meeting with the top IDF generals. Eshkol himself was 72 at the time, and Moshe Dayan, the minister of defense, was 52. All of the others were in their 40s: Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin; Zvi Zur, the previous chief of staff and now effective boss of the defense ministry under Dayan; Aharon Yariv, who as chief of military intelligence had the job of top advisor to the PM on the Arab world; Yeshayahu Gavish and Uzi Narkiss, commanders of the southern- and central commands; Dan Laner, deputy CO of the northern command; and Rehavam Zeevi, head of military operations. Also present was Dr. Yaacov Herzog, alongside Eshkol the only civilian and head of the prime minister's office. Eshkol wanted them as a sounding board for some ideas he'd been mulling over as he prepared a trip to America on which, he expected, President Johnson might ask some pointed questions. "And so I'd like to do as we used to in cheder, when there were special sessions for sharpening our minds. Maybe we'll reach some interesting conclusions".

Eshkol launched into a long and rambling monologue, about how Israel didn't want the million Arabs it had recently come to rule over; about how the Americans saw the Middle East through the prism of the Cold War and Soviet attempts to move in; about how it would be nice if lots of Jews moved to Israel and lots of Arabs moved out but that would be nothing short of a miracle. Only now do we see how awful the previous border [the Green Line of June 1967] was, long and hard to defend; the present borders are much easier to defend. We're pumping large sums of money into the Arab economy and we're raising their standard of living. And what if King Hussein [of Jordan] suddenly says he wants to negotiate: what will we negotiate about? We're not going to return to the previous border.  And if we wait ten years? Will that make any difference? Aliya (Jewish immigration)? Let's be honest there isn't going to be much of it. A bit from Morocco, perhaps, and some Romanians. But what American Jews will come to Israel and work as laborers and farmers? I wish we could identify a better line on the West Bank.

And so it went, on and on, for 8 full pages of the transcript. Did Eshkol know what his position was and was he trying to provoke the generals? Was he clueless to the extent that he didn't care to hide it from them? The solid parts of his meandering boiled down to: Israel retains control of Jerusalem; It probably might perhaps need to must stay along the Jordan River; it didn't want to control the Arabs on the West Bank, and, finally, we're in quite a pickle but it's better than where we were.

And then the generals began to respond. Each of them presented his thoughts in his own way, but there was a surprising degree of uniformity amongst them, either because they all saw the world the same way, or they'd all heard the PM and Rabin and they were falling in line as good soldiers do, or both. Of course we stay in Jerusalem. Or course we stay on the Jordan. Or course we don't want the Arabs of the West Bank.

Then they uniformly departed from some of Eshkol's points: no, we can't negotiate with Hussein, because he's the weakest Arab link and we have to start by making peace with the strongest (Egypt) so the others will follow. There's no chance that the Arab World will make peace with Israel in the foreseeable future. The Americans don't want us to negotiate with Hussein (or perhaps, they should want us to), because if Hussein makes peace with Israel the Egyptians and Syrians and his own people will kill him, and then the Soviets will move into Jordan.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the document is that a number of the generals, starting with Rabin, felt the only way out of the conundrum would be by setting up a Palestinian state. It would have to be created without an army, and with assurances of having good relations with Israel; the more this was mentioned at the meeting, the more Eshkol was against it because, as he explained, there was no way to prevent such a state from being truly independent which would inevitably mean hostile to Israel.

No one, at any point in the meeting, expressed the opinion that changing the borders would be illegal. Even the youngest of the generals, Rehav'am Zeevi, was 41 years old, and they'd all reached adulthood in a world in which borders were redrawn after wars.

There were two points in the meeting where Eshkol clearly indicated the limits of his confusion. The first was when he told of a recent meeting with an unidentified rabbi who wished to set up a large yeshiva in Hebron by evacuating the Arab residents of an entire block to clear the necessary space. "I understood whom I was dealing with and that was the end of our conversation." The second was a short exchange with Uzi Narkiss, who was trying to explain to Eshkol that he must convince the Americans that Jordan was a precarious ally; Eshkol was indicating that the Americans might have their own opinions.

Narkiss: "I think the Saudis and Yemen would be better American investments".

Eshkol: "OK. I'll sell them the Saudis and Yemen straightaway… But what if Johnson persists in trying to convince me?"

I recognize the entire conversation rings a bit odd in our 2013 ears. (The Soviet who?) The thing is, it took place in 1967.