Monday, July 16, 2012

Towards the annexation of Jerusalem: June 12th 1967

A few weeks before we activated this blog, we put online the transcript of the discussions in Israel's Cabinet on June 18-19th, 1967. (Documents here, discussion of their content here). That document has been known for years but never been seen online. Today we're presenting a document which has just been declassified for publication: a meeting of a Cabinet subcommittee on June 12th, two days after the end of the Six Day War.

Surveying the scene at the close of the war, one thing just about all Israelis agreed upon was that Jerusalem must never again be divided, and must remain united as Israel's capital. And so, the day after the war, the Cabinet decided (Decision 536) to appoint a subcommittee with the revealing title "Committee of Ministers to Determine the Status of United Jerusalem."

With a name like that, what was there left to talk about?

The main issue was not if, but how. Back in 1948, Israel had been careful not to make a show of exerting its writ (legal authority) to the western Israeli-controlled part of Jerusalem for fear of provoking actions of internationalization. (We've already mentioned this here and here.) Some of the participants in the June 12th dicussion were in favor of duplicating this low key policy in East Jerusalem, perhaps by having the Minister of Defense quietly publish a decree about East Jerusalem being under Israel's jurisdiction. They feared any Israeli fanfare would rouse Vatican pressure to internationalize the city, although they recognized that the Muslim world was against the idea.

Most of the participants, however, disliked this proposal, for various reasons. Some felt it important to pass an openly declarative law that would clarify Israel's determination never to leave Jerusalem. Others, most prominently Yaacov Shimshon Shapira, the Minister of Justice who was chairing the meeting, saw no need for declarative shows, but did think Israeli control of the city should be enacted by law, not by administrative stealth. Otherwise, they warned, some wise-alecs would move to the east of the city and refuse to pay taxes. These policymakers were also worried about the legal implications of individuals and institutions moving back to where they had been before 1948 with no clear legal framework to govern them. Shapira summed up his position by noting that while not everyone accepted the Israeli position that Jerusalem is Israel's capital
...and most of the foreign diplomats don't come to Jerusalem, or they come only at night but not in clear daylight, I've given up on solving that problem. I don't care if even ten years from now the French or even the American ambassador doesn't come to Jerusalem for our Independance Day celebration. I can live without them and I don't need their declaration that they accept Jerusalem as our capital. What I need to do now is to unify the city, to unify the Old City and the Mount of Olives and Mount Scopus. By the way, I haven't yet had the time to go look for my father's grave on the Mount of Olives. I don't want to touch Bethlehem, which is as ancient a city as Jerusalem on its own right. If I remember correctly, the Bible mentions Bethlehem even before Jerusalem.
Menachem Begin: Yes, and Hebron is also mentioned earlier.
Shapira: Hebron, no question.
Begin: As Kiryat Arba.
Shapira: That I can't say; I'd have to look in Rashi. But the Bible was written before Rashi.
(Secular Israeli politicians today rarely have such conversations.)

The committee agreed on a smaller group of its members who would formulate a law which would exert Israeli jurisdiction over the eastern parts of Jerusalem (the line to be defined later), with the expectation that the full cabinet would adopt it and the Knesset enact it, all within a week.

Along the way, the participants discussed other aspects of controlling Jerusalem. Zerach Wahrhaftig, Minister of Religious Affairs, was peeved that no-one had yet called in his experts, so that the various holy places were not yet open to the public; he was particularly irritated that a delegation of four Israeli Kadis (Muslim holy men) had tried to visit el Aqsa Mosque for the first time since 1948, and had been turned away by Israeli troops. Zvi Zur, the deputy Minister of Defense, assured him the Kadis would be allowed in the following Friday. Zur and everyone else agreed that the Israeli soldier who had placed an Israeli flag on the Omar Mosque on the day of the battle shouldn't have done so.

Zur also informed the meeting that IDF experts were trying to figure out what the perimeters of the city should be, and had found three different Jordanian answers. The official municipality of Jordanian Jerusalem was the Old City and a sliver of land around it, no more. But the municipality had also had some authority beyond the line, including on the Mount-Scopus/Mount-of-Olives line. And someone had dug up a Jordanian plan (which had not reached fruition) to broaden the city lines all the way north to the Calandia airport and south to the edge of Bethlehem.

Finally, there was a spirited discussion of the fact that Israeli bulldozers had knocked down the Arab Mughrabi neighborhood in front of the Western Wall. Most of those present, including Wahrhaftig who was the only religious minster, thought this had been a bad idea. Zur defended the action on technical grounds: the military commander had the authority to give the order, and he had consulted the mayor and various experts before giving it. Shapira, consistently legal-minded thoroughout the meeting, took a different view on this particular issue: he was unconvinced there was a military need to demolish the homes, but was convinced it had nonetheless been the right decision:
I have visited the Kotel tens, no, hundreds of times. I used to live in Jerusalem, and then, after I moved out I used to visit the Kotel when I came to town. It was a terrible scandal [the narrow passageway offered the Jews]... now they should make a respectable plaza there.
The document is in file ×’-7/12782.

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