Monday, September 15, 2014

The British Mandate prepares for war

September 1 marked the 75-year anniversary of the German invasion of Poland, the start of the Second World War and the beginning of the Holocaust. The anniversary of this momentous event offers an opportunity to explore the part British-mandated Palestine played in the war.

The Munich agreement (September 29-30, 1938) is regarded today as the apex of appeasement towards Nazi Germany. At the summit in Munich, Adolf Hitler, Italy's Benito Mussolini, Britain's Neville Chamberlain and France's Édouard Daladier decided to hand over the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia to Germany in order to prevent war in Europe. The Munich agreement went down in history as a symbol of cowardice and incompetence against cruel tyranny and of the peaceful delusions of the 30's.
The Munich summit, September 29th 1938 (Wikicommons/Bundesarchiv Bild 183-R69173)
Nevertheless, it seems that the British government (or at least the government of Palestine) saw the Munich crisis as a wake-up call and a sign to prepare for the eventuality of war. Immediately after the Munich crisis, the Jerusalem district commissioner, Edward Keith-Roach, wrote to the Chief Secretary of the Palestine government (the head of the British administration in Palestine) and reported that he had conducted a survey in the stores of his district, and found that they were not adequate and ready for an eventuality of war, in terms of foodstuffs and other essential supplies.
Eduard Keith-Roach (Wikipedia)
The Palestine government responded quickly. The High Commissioner, Harold MacMichael (March 1938 – August 1944) wrote to the Secretary of State for the Colonies regarding the limited stocks of wheat and maize under the supervision of the Palestine government. Due to Palestine's economic stagnation and estimates that a rise in taxes and tariffs would worsen the economic situation, MacMichael asked for financial help from Britain in order to prepare Palestine for an emergency situation. The reason for the declining economic situation was the Arab revolt of 1936-39, which damaged the economy of Palestine, one of the few regions in the world that was least hurt by the economic depression of the 30s.
(Harold MacMichael (Wikipedia

The next stage was forming supervision on supplies in Palestine. John Shaw, senior assistant to the chief secretary (later he became chief secretary and was known for his involvement in the controversy concerning the warning given before the bombing of the King David hotel in July 1946. We wrote about it here) wrote to Jeffrey Walsh, the economic adviser to the Palestine government (later killed in the King David hotel bombing) and asked him to conduct a survey of the situation of the supply of essential foodstuffs. A committee was formed to control supplies to Palestine and the director of Medical Services, Colonel George Heron was appointed as the Controller of Supplies, Walsh was appointed as his deputy. Other members of the committee were Keith-Roach; Frank Mason – Deputy Director of department of Agriculture and Fish; Donald Finlayson – Deputy Director of department of Customs, Excise & Trade; Donald Gumbly - Director of Civil aviation; Michel Abcarius – Senior Assistant Treasurer, the Arab representative in the committee; Bernard Dov Joseph – Head of the Political department of the Jewish agency, was the Jewish representative in the committee and Arthur Rawdon Spinney – as the representative of the merchants and distributers. An army officer was appointed by the General officer commanding in Palestine to liaison with the army.
Geffrey Walsh (Zoltan Kluger/Israel State Archives)
The committee researched the supply problems of different foodstuffs to Palestine and contacted different governments (such as Australia, Burma, Siam and other) in regard of supplying food and other essential supplies, studied the possibilities of supplying fuel of different types (following Joseph's warning to Walsh that supplying fuel must be of the highest priority – transportwise and regarding the operating of agricultural machinery), considered options of rationing of food and other supplies and started to form a special administration for the controlling the supplies. From the different reports it can be seen that the Palestine government was not the only British colonial government (although Palestine was not a colony but a League of Nations mandate) – the Ceylon (Sri Lanka today) and the Malaya (Malaysia and Singapore today) are also mentioned as beginning to store food in preparation for war. 
The Middle East map during WWII (Wikipedia)
The basic premises for the work of the committee are also interesting: the committee agreed that the Mediterranean Sea would be closed to shipping, and so would be the entrance to the Suez Canal from the north. The southern approaches to the Canal would be open as well as sea lanes to India, China and Australia. Overland highways and train lines to Syria, Iraq and Egypt would remain open and not hampered. These were very logical ideas – Italy was seen as a potential enemy (although it is strange that the ability of Italy to block the horn of Africa from her bases in Somalia and Ethiopia and Eritrea was not mentioned). Japan's entry to the war was not envisioned – but Japan itself did not plan to enter the war in 1939, and only her defeat in the Khalkhin Gol in August 1939 caused her to change its strategy and turn to south-east Asia and against the USA. The planners also could not envision the fall of France on June 1940 or the Iraqi revolt in May 1941.

In April 1939, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Malcolm MacDonald, explained in his letter to high commissioner MacMichael (regarding MacMichael's letter from October 1938) that he must expect problems of supply also in the Red sea (not only in the Mediterranean) – probably an indication that there was a threat that Italy would try to block the sea lanes in the horn of Africa. MacDonald also wrote that there was no guarantee that Britain would be able to assist the Palestine government financially and it would have to organize its own purchase of food; Colonial office would try to assist. While preparedness for war was regarded a theoretical but possible in October-November 1938, the annexation of Czechoslovakia (or what remained of it) in March 1939, made war look inevitable.

Another sign of the gathering storm was the forming of a new organization – Air Raid Precautions(ARP). The ARP started initiating preparedness for air raids – installing sirens, preparing bomb shelters and other measures. Here are orders for preparing the Haifa harbor against air raids – a possibility that became a reality a year later when the harbor was attacked by Italian, German and also Vichy-French bombers.
On September 1st 1939, the day Germany invaded Poland, the Posts and Telegraphs department in the Palestine government issued a series of instructions on exporting records, films and restrictions on sending and receiving telegrams and letters to and from places abroad. Although Britain declared war on September 3rd, these instructions were for war time in the knowledge that war had just broken out.

The supply committee later evolved into the War Supply Board. Its director was Sir Douglas Harris, a member of the Palestine government's executive council and a veteran and well respected colonial office officer. The board was responsible on a series of different control offices, responsible for Industry, Food, Medical supplies etc. The Citrus control board was formed to help market one of Palestine's most important exports – the citrus fruit, which was hurt from war. Another interesting office was the controller of Salvage – an office responsible for recycling and repairing broken or derelict equipment of different kind. The War supply board cooperated with similar groups in the British Empire – one in east Africa, India and the "Spears mission" a supply group attached to the Free French government in Syria and Lebanon after they were conquered form Vichy France in May 1941 (named after General Edward Spears, the British laision officer with the Free French government in Syria and Lebanon). The War supply Board also cooperated with Middle East Supply Center (MESC) – the main Allied supply center outside Europe, situated in Cairo.

The Israel State archives hold a large collection of documents concerning the War Supply Board and its different bodies in Record Group 18 – The Emergency Economic Control. RG 18 gives us a fascinating look inside the economic activity in British mandated Palestine and its neighboring countries during WWII.   

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Update on the "Campaign to Eradicate Illiteracy" Publication

Yesterday (September 9), the first part of the Hebrew publication on the Campaign to Eradicate Illiteracy was published on our Hebrew blog.

Another post in English based on a booklet published in 1965 called "School Comes to Adults" appeared on our English website.

An illustration from the booklet:
Arab fathers and sons study together

Monday, September 8, 2014

World Literacy Day, 8 September: Israel's Campaign Against Illiteracy, 1964

Today is UNESCO World Literacy Day. To mark the occasion and the 50th anniversary of the first campaign in Israel against illiteracy, the Israel State Archives presents a new publication on adult education on its Hebrew website.
When mass immigration started after the establishment of the state in 1948 , many of the newcomers came from countries with a poor educational system or had missed schooling due to World War II and other upheavals. Although efforts were made to teach them Hebrew, it was often assumed that the first generation was a "lost generation" who would manage as best they could; their children would be educated and know Hebrew well.
 In 1961 a second wave of mass immigration began, mainly from North Africa and Romania. In the same year a census was held for the first time since 1948. The census also measured the level of education of Israel's citizens and showed that illiteracy was a serious problem, affecting almost a quarter of a million adults aged 14 and up. Over 162,000 could not read or write at all in any language, two thirds of them women. 96 thousand were semi-literate (defined as those who had attended up to 4 grades of elementary school). At the time there was free compulsory education only up to age 14.Most of the illiterate came from Asia and Africa, but there were also 20,000 illiterate people and 50,00 semi-literate people from Eastern Europe. Illiteracy was also found in the Israeli Arab community, which had lost much of its educated classes when they fled abroad during the war in 1948.
On the initiative of Education Minister Zalman Aranne, it was decided to take action against illiteracy and to teach Hebrew to adults. In January 1964, the "Campaign to Eradicate Illiteracy" was launched, which continued into the 1970s. The first head of the campaign was Yitzhak Navon, then head of the Culture Unit in the Education Ministry and later Israel's fifth president. The participation of women soldiers was organized by Colonel Stella Levy , commander of the Women's Corps of the IDF.
Yitzhak Navon watches a mother of ten learning to read, 1 May 1964
Photograph: Government Press Office
The subject of tension between the Mizrachi immigrants (from Asia and Africa) and the old established, mostly Eastern European veteran population, which was in charge of absorbing them, is a sensitive one, even in Israel today. Navon came from an old established Sefardi family from Jerusalem, while Levy was born in Syria. The Campaign to Eradicate Illiteracy is an example of the efforts made as early as the 1960s to help the immigrants to improve their economic situation and social status and to overcome the gap which had opened up between them and their own children.  
Soldier teaching women students in their home.
Photograph: IDF Archives
Women soldiers doing their compulsory service, who volunteered to teach students in remote settlements where illiteracy was very high, played an important part in the programme. The soldiers were given a short preparatory course and further instruction at intervals. The documents in our collection shows that they learned about teaching reading and writing and how to prepare a lesson,  but also about the history and culture of the Jews in the Middle East.
The full publication, which includes 30 documents, photographs, films and a map, most of them presented to the public for the first time, will appear over the next few days. 

Monday, September 1, 2014

Temporarily shutting down the Israel State Archives

"The Jews Stand By Great Britain and Will Fight on the Side of the Democracies" : 75 Years Since the Outbreak of the Second World War, 1 September 1939

Over the last few months, archivists, historians and the media have been preoccupied with the 100th anniversary of the First World War. However, this week also marks the 75th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War, which had such devastating consequences for the Jewish people.

At the time the Zionist movement faced a major clash with the British government. In May 1939 Britain issued a White Paper severely restricting Jewish immigration to Palestine and Jews' right to buy land, as part of its efforts to end the Arab revolt and to win Arab support in the coming war with Germany.  This decision condemned masses of Jews trapped in Europe, who might have found refuge in Palestine, to persecution and later to death. Nevertheless Chaim Weizmann, the president of the World Zionist Organization, realized that if Britain was going to fight Nazi Germany, the Jews could not stand aside. They would have to support it and even to join the British Army.

In August 1939 the Zionist Congress was held in Geneva. In his speech to the Congress Weizmann harshly criticized the British government for its betrayal of the Mandate and the Jewish people. On 22 August news arrived of the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact between the USSR and Germany, making the invasion of Poland possible. The Congress was hastily wound up, and, as the borders closed, Weizmann and his family returned to London.
Slogan on a German troop train on its way to Poland
 "We're going to Poland to thrash the Jews"
Photograph: Yad Vashem
 On 29th August he wrote to Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain to  confirm previous declarations "that the Jews stand by Great Britain and will fight on the side of the democracies…The Jewish Agency has recently had differences in the political field with the Mandatory Power. We would like these differences to give way before the greater and more pressing necessities of the time." You can see this document in the ISA's commemorative volume (in Hebrew) on Chaim Weizmann, who became Israel's first president.

Weizmann and the heads of the Zionist movement saw recruitment to the Army as a duty, but also hoped to form a Jewish fighting force which would pay political dividends after the war. This hope was only partially realized. Nevertheless Palestine played an important role in the British war effort in the Middle East and the ISA holds many files of the Mandatory Government on wartime production, emergency organization and related subjects. We'll show you some of these another time.

Weizmann and his wife Vera paid a heavy price during the war, when they lost their son, Michael, a pilot in the Royal Air Force, who failed to return from an operational flight over the Bay of Biscay in February 1942. Weizmann's other son Benjamin served as an anti-aircraft gunner in England and suffered a breakdown from which he never fully recovered.

Michael Weizmann in RAF uniform
 Photograph: Yad Chaim Weizmann,Weizmann Archives, Rehovot, Israel

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Operation Betzer: An Operation Against Shirkers and Deserters in Israel's War of Independence

On August 22, 1948, the IDF initiated Operation Betzer (Strength), which took place during the "Second Truce" in Israel's War of Independence (a truce organized by the UN from July 18 – October 15, 1948). The target of the operation was not one of the invading Arab armies, but rather citizens in Tel Aviv, or more accurately: shirkers and deserters.

As it is today, in the ongoing public debate on "carrying the burden" (service in the army vs. avoiding military service), Tel Aviv was regarded as the center of shirking and avoidance of military service. During the Second Lebanon War in 2006, the head of the manpower branch of Israel's General Staff, Maj. Gen. Elazar Stern, was quoted as saying "In those [Tel Aviv] houses there is no bereavement, hardly any." The reality is more complex, as usual. But Tel Aviv, being a most central and celebrated city in Israel, attracts more attention, and any display of shirking is intensified and enlarged. (The geography of residence of the fallen in the current military operation, "Protective Edge," shows that casualties in fact came from every part of Israeli society.)

These feelings were far more intensified during the desperate days of the War of Independence. The existence of draft dodgers, while the Yishuv was literally fighting for its life, was regarded as a threat to the cohesion of the Jewish population. In his book, Social Mobilization in the Arab/Israeli War of 1948: On the Israeli Home Front, the Israeli historian Moshe Naor described the background of the unusual military operation, Betzer, which aimed to combat this phenomenon.

The story began in December 1947, when the "Center of the Census for Popular Service" was formed. This institution spelled the end of voluntary enlistment to the different underground movements and the beginning of compulsory enlistment, and the formation of a large conscript army. This center was responsible for the fact that the Yishuv managed to build an army of 100,000 soldiers out of a population of 650,000 in 1948, a force that was augmented with an addition of 15,000 volunteers from MAHAL (Jews from other countries, many WWII veterans from the USA, South Africa, Britain and Canada) and GAHAL (Foreign enlistment – Jews from the displaced camps in Europe and the internment camps in Cyprus).

On August 22, 1948, Operation Betzer commenced. It was executed by troops from the "Kiryati" brigade (then a Haganah brigade, formed from recruits from the Tel Aviv area), soldiers of the military police, the Women's Corps, the Guard Force (a stationary military unit of the Haganah that was responsible for guarding the Jewish villages), navy sailors and volunteers from the civil guard. The Tel Aviv area was put under curfew, roadblocks were erected and all entering and leaving Tel Aviv had to present their papers to the soldiers. All men from the ages 17 – 50 and women in the ages 16 – 35 were called to present themselves at different identification posts, which were spread across Tel Aviv. More than 150 search details scanned the city in search of shirkers and deserters.

2794 citizens were arrested in the operation (1044 men and 1720 women). 652 men and 352 women were sent immediately to mobilization. 189 men and 1365 women had their induction postponed and 203 men and 3 women were arrested as deserters. The operation sparked great criticism in Tel Aviv because it displayed it as a city of draft evaders, and the way the operation was handled reminded many of the British army sweeps during the British Mandate's war against the Jewish underground movements. There was also a claim that using an army for this kind of operation would distance it from the general public. (David Ben Gurion raised this concern, in his war diary in the entry on September 5, 1948.)

Here are some photos of the operation, taken by Benno Rothenberg (learn more about him at Haifa University's site):

Aside from these photos, we found the Betzer operation in another place in the archive: inside foreign passports, as part of the Israel State Archives collection of passports, travel documents and identity cards. Inside one of these passports we found the stamp of Operation Betzer.

The Israel State Archives holds a collection of passports, travel documents and identity cards from different countries in the world. The source of this collection may have come from the immigration department of the British mandate in Palestine. The regular procedure to receive citizenship in British-mandated Palestine was relinquishment of one's former citizenship and passport. This procedure held during the first years of the state of Israel until 1951, when this requirement was nullified.

The collection was transferred to the archives from the Ministry of Interior during the 80s. It is only a sample collection and does not include all the passports handed over to the Ministry of Interior. Most of the documents were destroyed by the Ministry of Interior. We also know that many did not hand over their passports when they received Israeli citizenship--and kept them.

We have published in the past a gallery of different passports including the passport of Rudolf Kastner, with the permission of his granddaughter, MK Merav Michaeli.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Dramatic Decisions During the First Lebanese War: Ariel Sharon's Authority is Curtailed, 12 August 1982

In the summer of 1982, 32 years ago, Israel was also involved in a military campaign against Palestinian terrorists across the border. "Operation Peace for Galilee," known today as the First Lebanese War, began on 6 June 1982. In the government discussions beforehand, Defense Minister Ariel Sharon said it would last no longer than 48 hours, and he hoped it would not cause a clash between Israel and Syrian troops in Lebanon. When it was decided to launch the operation on June 5, it was limited to an advance of 40 kilometers into Lebanon – the range of the Katyusha rockets threatening northern Israel. Chief of Staff Rafael Eitan (Raful) drew the 40 kilometer line on a map shown to the ministers before they approved the operation. But the IDF became involved in fighting with the Syrian Army and it lasted weeks which turned into months. Israel only withdrew from most of Lebanon in January 1985, leaving a small "security zone" held by the South Lebanon Army militia with Israeli help until 2000.

Defense Minister "Arik" Sharon briefs journalists on Operation Peace for Galilee, June 11, 1982. (Photograph: Yaacov Saar, Government Press Office)
The factor which disturbed a growing group of ministers in 1982 was that the area held by the IDF was moving more and more to the north until Beirut and the Beirut-Damascus road were reached, well beyond the 40 kilometer line. From time to time Sharon brought the government proposals to occupy various sections of Lebanese territory, and sometimes these proposals were rejected. But the main criticism of him was that he was presenting the government with a fait accompli, after the IDF had already moved north, seized territory and begun to lay siege to West Beirut, which was held by the PLO, a Syrian brigade and Muslim Lebanese forces.

On 8 August, after the IDF had taken Beirut airport, Deputy Prime Minister David Levy protested against the move, which had damaged the confidence of the United States in Israel and said that Prime Minister Menachem Begin was not informed beforehand. Begin replied: "I assure you, David, that I am always informed, either in advance or after the fact." We can conclude that Levy's claim that the IDF, on Sharon's orders, took Beirut airport without Begin's authority was probably correct.

On 12 August criticism of Sharon reached its height after news arrived of another IDF advance in West Beirut. After a stormy meeting, it was decided to take away some of Sharon's powers over the Air Force and the ground forces and to force him to receive advance authorization from the prime minister. The decision was supported by all the ministers except for Sharon himself and Yuval Neeman. You can read about this and other dramatic episodes during the war (in Hebrew) in the ISA's recently published volume of documents on Menachem Begin, edited by Arye Naor and Arnon Lammfromm.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Israelis Under Fire – Not For The First Time

The recent fighting in Gaza and the south of Israel (Operation "Protective Edge") is not the first time Israeli townships and villages have been attacked by artillery of different sorts. Since the 50s, Jewish communities have been targets for this kind of aggression. The Kisufim, Nirim and Ein Ha'shlosha kibbutzim were bombarded by the Egyptian army (which occupied the Gaza strip after Israel's War of Independence in 1948) in April 1956. In response, the IDF retaliated by bombarding Egyptian targets and inflicted heavy losses on the Egyptians.

After the Sinai war in October 1956, the point of friction moved to northern Israel. The Syrian army, which controlled the Golan Heights overlooking the Hula valley villages and the eastern Galilee, harassed and bombarded the settlements with heavy artillery fire, and many firefights took place in the years 1958–1967.
An Israeli artillery battery in the Galilee (Israel State Archives)
Examining the damage of an artillery shell in Tel Katzir kibbutz (GPO
One of these firefights, on April 7, 1967, deteriorated into a full battle in which the Israeli air force destroyed Syrian artillery batteries, tanks and fortified positions that had bombarded the Gadot and Eib Gev kibbutzim. When the Syrian air force tried to intervene, seven Syrian fighter planes were shot down--several over Damascus itself. Many believe that this incident was a catalyst to the entrance of the Egyptian army into Sinai on May 15, 1967, and three weeks later to the Six Day War.

Following the Six Day War, the settlements in the upper Jordan valley became victims of rocket and mortar fire from Palestinian terrorists, who turned northern Jordan into their stronghold. The Jordanian army and the Iraqi expeditionary force (based in Jordan since the Six Day War) joined in and bombarded kibbutzim such as Ashdot Ya'acov, Sha'ar Ha'golan and Masada, as well as Moshavim (villages) such as Yardena and Beit Yosef. The inhabitants of these communities spent long days and nights in bomb shelters, while the IDF retaliated with artillery fire, tank shells and air force strikes. Here's a part of a newsreel in Hebrew, showing the damage done by the Jordanian artillery and Israeli airstrikes to silence the guns.

Following the intensification of the fire, the Israeli air force bombed the bases of the Iraqi expeditionary force in northern Jordan and inflicted heavy losses. (The Iraqi government used this attack as an excuse to further harass and abuse the remaining Jews in Iraq. This harassment culminated in the hanging of nine Jews in January 1969, as we wrote about previously). The air force bombed the East Ghor Main Canal – a central water project in Northern Jordan. Following the bombings, which rendered the canal useless, King Hussein asked the USA to intervene and stop the bombings and Israel announced that it would do so if the King fought the terrorist organizations. In September 1970, the King did just that when he expelled the Palestinian terrorist organizations and ordered the Iraqi expeditionary force back to Iraq.

The next people to be shelled were the residents of Israel's northern border, especially those who bordered Lebanon. As early as 1968, Palestinian terrorists shelled Kiryat Shmona, Nahariya and other northern towns and villages.

Residents of Kiryat Shmona after a rocket attack in 1968 (Israel State Archives

Golda Meir at the funeral of Daniel Khayo, slain in a rocket attack on Kiryat Shmona in May 1970 (GPO)

The expulsion of the Palestinian terrorists from Jordan to Lebanon intensified the rate of attacks on Israel's northern border communities. The IDF retaliated in raids, artillery fire and air strikes. This situation continued through the 70s to the early 80s.

Children hide in a bomb shelter in Nahariya during a rocket attack on the city in 1979 (GPO)

Residents of Nahariya in a bomb shelter during a rocket attack in 1979 (GPO)

A direct hit in a house in Nahariya, June 1982 (Israel State Archive)

In the early 1980s, the PLO's artillery barrages on Israel's northern border escalated, after the organization started using real artillery--Soviet 130mm cannons and heavier rockets. The First Lebanon War (Operation Peace for Galilee: June 1982 – June 1985) eliminated this threat to the northern border. Later on, when the clashes with the Hezbollah terror organization intensified in southern Lebanon, the threat of rocket fire on the northern border became real again. In 1993 and 1996, in Operations "Accountability" and "Grapes of Wrath" (respectively), the IDF concentrated air and artillery strikes to stop Hezbollah from shooting rockets at northern Israel.

Clearing the rubble after a rocket attack on Kiryat Shmona, August 1993 (GPO)

After Israel's unilateral withdrawal from south Lebanon in May 2000, Hezbollah enlarged its rocket stockpile and unleashed it on the northern Israeli communities during the Second Lebanon War (July 12, 2006 – August 14, 2006). Since then, the northern border has remained quiet--aside from several incidents of rocket fire, usually from Palestinian organizations.

On January 30, 2001, an improvised rocket was shot at the Netzarim settlement near Gaza. The Hamas terror organization that fired it nicknamed it "Qassam" after the 30s gang leader Izz ad-Din al-Qassam. In April 2001, the first rocket was fired at Sderot. Since then, thousands of rockets, ever improving in payload and range, have been shot at Israel. The IDF has responded to the rockets with air strikes, artillery fire, and three major air and land operations: Operation "Cast Lead" (Dec. 12, 2008 – Jan. 18, 2009), Operation "Pillar of Defense" (Nov. 14, 2012 – Nov. 21, 2012) and the current Operation "Protective Edge" which started on July 8, 2014.

Every decade in Israel's history finds one part of the country or another under artillery fire, and all Israelis continue to share in this hard chapter of Israel's struggle for peace and quiet.