Monday, December 31, 2012

Cabinet Protocols, August 4, 1948: Salaries & Languages

Now if we were doing this right, we'd be publishing the protocols of the cabinet like a Swiss watch, once every week. After all, in the summer of 1948 the cabinet was meeting twice each week if not more often. But we haven't been doing it right. Too many other interesting stuff to tell about, and too little time to deal with it all.

But today we're back. Remember, the point of this thread is to follow the protocols of the meetings so as to get a feel for the issues the cabinet dealt with, not to delve into the depths of the minsters' discussions which would take far more time.

On August 4th 1948, almost three months after the founding of the state, the ministers got around to authorizing their own salaries: 175 pounds for the Prime Minister and the Chief Justice, 150 for a cabinet minister and a Supreme Court justice.

The Finance Minister presented the matter of supporting families of soldiers (the war was still on, note), and also support for bereaved families. The cabinet accepted that this was the responsibility of the government, and tasked the Ministers of Finance and Security with the creation of a public commission which would decide on guidelines for sums of support.

There was a discussion of identifying external sources for funds.

There were a series of discussions about languages: should there be an official newspaper in a European language? (No). Should the patent office work in English? (Yes, as well. Less than three months into the country's existence and before the end of its first war, the ministers recognized that Israelis would be inventing useful stuff and they needed to be protected. Far-sighted, that.) Might official documents be written in other, non-Hebrew, languages? (Let's decide some other time.)

The 6th of Iyar should probably be Israel's official Independence Day (because independence had been declared on the 4th? Mystifying - and anyway, it didn't happen.)

As a general rule government agencies shouldn't be working on Shabbat, except for operational military needs.

The Hebrew University: 1. Jerusalem must be the cultural and scientific center of Israel. 2. So HU must contiue to operate in Jerusalem. 3. The government will stump up funds. 4. Actually, world Jewry should stump up funds.

Cabinet Protocols, August 8, 1948: Governing Jerusalem

The second weekly cabinet meeting of the week, on August 8th 1948, began with questions from the ministers:

Mordechai Bentov: How many non-Jewish Englishmen are left in Jerusalem? (Ben Gurion: That's not a question for the cabinet.)
Bentov: When can we lift the nightly blackout measures? (BG: Not yet.)
Bentov: Who authorized the destruction of an Arab village? (BG: No-one; we'll investigate.)
Ben Gurion also promised that a department was being formed to deal with matters of abandoned property.

Most of the meeting was spent on political haggling about Jerusalem. It was decided not to hold elections for a city council at this stage, but rather to appoint a council according to the relative political power of the various political parties, including those not represented in the cabinet.

So far so good. But then they had to decide what the relative political strength is, and how to allocate the seats on the council. Although our document is a protocol, not a stenogramn which records every word, the discussion appears to have been prolonged and heated. Even if you don't read Hebrew, have a look at pages 2 and 3 and you'll see the list of political combinations discussed and voted down: for a council with 16 members, or 19, or 21, or 25. It was only once the ministers had allocated their parties 27 seats at the council's table that they managed to reach agreement. (There were 15 cabinet ministers at the time.) These were men who regularly made decisions on matters of life and death, war and peace, economy and postal stamps; yet when it came to Jerusalem's City Council, the only way out of the political impasse they could agree on was to add more members.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Archives: Accepted Wisdom is Wrong

An editor at The Guardian sent some fellows over to the National Archives to poke around in some old files (recently declassified). Their findings: the intransigence which caused the hostilities in the Falklands in 1982, and the subsequent deaths of hundreds, was Argentinian, not British. This is rather contrary to common wisdom about the Iron Lady and all that.

Archives can do that.

Bikur Holim Hospital Owes Money

Bikur Holim was the first hospital in modern Jerusalem, founded in 1826. (Earlier institutions included the Hospitaler monastic order, also set up in Jerusalem many centuries earlier. Jerusalem is an old place).

Earlier this month, Bikur Holim ended its independent run and was folded into Shaare Zedek, another hospital set up in the 19th century. This transition has been in the works for years, since the management of Bikur Holim has not succeeded in balancing its books for quite some time.

The Israel State Archives, a young spring chicken in comparison, founded in 1949, just happens to have various collections which it inherited from earlier institutions--the Austrian Consulate in Jerusalem, for example, which was active prior to WWII. From there, we can learn that Bikur Holim's financial woes may actually go back considerably farther than we thought. (פ-1044/16).

On May 18, 1931, a clerk of the Minerva bookstore in Vienna wrote to the Austrian Consul in Jerusalem: the previous year they had sent five scientific books (list enclosed) to Dr. Bernfeld at Bikur Holim, who had never paid for them the cost of 75.28 Schilling. Since he wasn't answering their letters, the bookstore was now requesting of the local diplomat that he collect their bill for them. On June 13, 1931, the consulate sent a letter to the hospital, and on July 1, 1931, they wrote back to the Minerva bookstore in Austria: the hospital isn't answering us, either. We recommend the services of Dr. Philipp Fleischer, a lawyer in Tel Aviv; in the meantime, kindly reimburse us for the stamps we've used in this correspondence. (This was before free e-mail.)

You begin to wonder if the demise of the hospital wasn't somehow inevitable.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Nicolae Ceaușescu's Execution and Israeli-Egyptian Peace

23 years ago, Nicolae Ceaușescu, the tyrant of Romania, was executed by a firing squad. This was the conclusion of the bloodiest chapter in the fall of the Communist regimes in Eastern Europe. The story unfolded as follows: after riots began in Timişoara on December 17, a mass meeting was organized in Bucharest. While Ceaușescu was delivering his speech there, many in the crowd started booing and jeering, startling the dictator. What followed was an attempted crack-down on the demonstrators by the Romanian army and security forces, but soon many of the soldiers sided with the demonstrators. Ceaușescu and his notorious wife Elena attempted to flee, but were caught and executed by soldiers after a short show trial by a military tribunal (I think we can spare the readers of this blog the pictures of the execution).

Ceaușescu had the distinction of being the only leader of a communist state who did not break off diplomatic relations with Israel after the Six Day War. This fact, and his allegedly independent stance in foreign relations, gave Ceaușescu an important position and role in the early stages of the Israeli-Egyptian peace process.

Last month, we published on our official site a publication on Anwar Sadat's historic visit to Jerusalem. During their initial contacts, Israel and Egypt used the good services of Ceaușescu to pass messages to each other and to arrange for a meeting between Moshe Dayan, Israel's foreign minister, and Hasan Tohami, the Egyptian Deputy President. This meeting was planned for November 16th, but was canceled – instead, Sadat, by his on initiative, came to Jerusalem on November 19th.

Here's a Hebrew protocol of a meeting between Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Nicolae Ceaușescu in August 1977. The meeting was in Snagov, Ceaușescu's vacation retreat. Ceaușescu was trying to flee to Snagov in 1989 when he was caught. One of the Romanian officials in the meeting was Manea Mănescu, then Prime Minister of Romania, who joined Ceaușescu in his flight from Bucharest in December 1989 (Mănescu was not tried or hurt during the revolution). In the meeting, Begin and Ceaușescu argued mainly about their views on the Palestinian question, which differed sharply in part due to Ceaușescu's good and close relations with Yasser Arafat, the chairman of the PLO.

According to the former Romanian defector, General Ion Mihai Pacepa, Ceaușescu was obsessed with his desire to win a Noble Peace Prize for his efforts to mediate between Israel and the Arabs, especially the Palestinians.

Begin and Ceaușescu meeting, August 1977 (courtesy of the National Photo Collection)

Planning E-1

A few weeks ago Danny Seidemann of Terrestrial Jerusalem asked us, via Twitter, if we could find documentation of the origin of the E-1 moniker. (Had he asked privately, via e-mail, say, I wouldn't be naming him.)

The answer is, no, not yet. But since it is an interesting question, one of our staff started poking around, and has come across some interesting files. Here's one from 1981 (file גל-15482/11 ) which is interesting on a number of  levels.

First, the document itself is a report, or more accurately, a brief summary of findings of a firm of private architects, Litersdorff-Goldenberg Urban Planners, in Tel Aviv. It became an official document when it was submitted to the Ministry of Construction and Housing on March 8, 1981. The file itself comes from the Department of Programs in the Jerusalem Regional Office of the ministry. Take a look at the document itself and you'll see that some official in the ministry added hand-written comments, so we can see the professional planners and the government official responding to their findings.

The title of the document is "Identifying areas for potential urban development north of Jerusalem: localities for further investigation." Essentially, the private professionals are informing the officials where it might be possible to build settlements. They list 12 areas: E1-6 to the north east of Jerusalem, and W1-6 to the north west. They don't trouble themselves with the question of the origin of the numbering or geographical location, which they accept as a given; their task is to say what the potential of each section is.

So we know that E-1 (and all the others) were working definitions before March 1981.

About E-1 they had this to say:
Location: East of Issawiya
Total area: 6,200 dunam
Uses and ownership: 15% inside Jerusalem's city line, 30% known ownership, 15% agricultural use, 40% empty rocky terrain - about 2,500 dunam.
Ability to start work: High.
To which the official with the handwriting added a geographical description: down the slope from French Hill and up to the next hill.
He (she?) underlined the point about the 40%.
Recommendation: to begin taking the area.

In 1981, someone thought construction in E-1 was going to happen soon.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Putting the War in Jerusalem Behind Us

On August 6, 1967, there was a meeting of the Committee of Executive Directors of Government Ministries for Jerusalem (ועדת מנכ"לים לענייני ירושלים). Four executive directors participated - Kokia of Justice, Silverstone of Interior, De-Schalit of Tourism and Shari, head of the civil service. They were joined by officials from Health, Treasury, Jerusalem's municipality and a Colonel Vered from the IDF - all in all, a high-profile group as committees of bureaucrats go. This seems to have been their second meeting.

Over the decades, there have been endless media reports and speculation by politicians and pundits abut what Israel has been trying to do in East Jerusalem and how it regards the local Arab residents. Most of it hasn't been based on solid evidence, as much of the evidence is only being declassified in recent years. (Today's document, for example, has not been public until last month and has never been cited since it has been on my desk most of that time). Obviously, no single file can persuasively end any of those arguments. Still, it is interesting to follow the matter of fact deliberations, and in this context, perhaps the most interesting finding is the lack of anything interesting to find. A series of issues was brought to the table, each one was discussed in a dispassionate matter, and then the committee went on to the next item. Beyond the over-arching but unstated determination to unify the city, there seems not to be any political ideology at all.

The first chunk of the meeting focused on matters of tourism.
De Schalit (Ministry of Tourism) wanted to know when the IDF would remove the last of its units bivouacked in East Jerusalem hotels.
Col. Vered: Hopefully within six months. We need to find alternatives first.
De Schalit: The IDF moved staff and equipment from the St. George Hotel to the Ritz. Nu?
Col. Vered: We'll fix it.
De Schalit: Our ministry is willing to give East Jerusalem hotel owners loans to repair damages, but the Jordanian property registration isn't acceptable.
Kokia (Justice): We're arranging to have the Jordanian registry recognized.
Decision: Treasury and tourism will resolve the matters of loan guarantees.

De Schalit: East Jerusalem hotel owners whose premises were damaged during the fighting are demanding compensation.
Kokia: We don't owe damage payments for actions initiated by the Jordanians. Still, Mr Gafni of Treasury tells me it's possible such payments may be made.
Shari: Why? The Jordanians initiated the hostilities in Jerusalem.
Decision: Kokia will discuss the matter with Treasury.

De Schalit: There's a night-time curfew in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Bad for tourism.
Col. Vered: we're looking into it. In the meantime the curfew remains.
De Schalit: The Army commandeered 12 buses of the [Jordanian] JETT company.
Vered: They're about to be returned.
De Schalit: East Jerusalem cabdrivers aren't authorized to to enter West Jerusalem or the West Bank. Bad for tourism.
Silverstone: This will soon be discussed in a different committee.
De Schalit: The JETT bus company ordered 8 new Mercedes buses before the war, via Jordan of course. What now?
Decision: Kokia will work with the Ministry of Transportation to expedite the import of the buses [via Israel].

DeSchalit: East Jerusalem tour guides and travel agents can operate in Israel but not the West Bank [presumably because Israel had already annexed East Jerusalem, thus severing it for this purpose from its previous hinterland, the West Bank].
Col. Vered: If the bus driver has a travel license that should be enough. No-one's checking the tour guides.
Decision: This needs to be fixed - responsibility of Transportation.

Kokia: We're hearing that some of the East Jerusalem civil servants are refusing to sign forms with Israeli letterheads on their way into Israeli employment. Unacceptable.
Shari: Actually, all it is is a standard personnel form.
Decision: Whoever doesn't sign won't be employed. Moreover, people whose place of employment is now redundant will also not be employed.

Silverstone: There's the matter of the planning committees for East Jerusalem. We (Interior) think there should be a joint government-municipality planning committee.
Benvenisti (Municipality): And we think we can do it on our own, thank you very much.
Kokia: This needs to be resolved between the municipality and Interior; it's not the authority of this committee.

Rotem (Interior): We're working on the issue of debt to and from the East Jerusalem Municipality. Once we've listed all the data we'll bring a proposal.
Agmon (Treasury): We better be in on that.
Decision: Add a representative from Treasury and report back to us when possible.

Haramati (Municipality): The lack of clarity regarding the Jordanian land registry is preventing anyone from taking mortgage loans.
Kokia: We've talked about that already, in the matter of the hotels.
Decision: Investigate the creation of an option for the Public Guardian (Apotropos Haklali) to work a way around this in specific cases.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Special Christmas Declassification

Here's a little story about Christmas. Or, if not about, at least on, Christmas.

Israel, being a Jewish state with a large Muslim minority, doesn't "do" Christmas. Individuals are welcome to, of course, but insitituons, agencies, schools and businesses all operate as if it were a perfectly normal day. The declassifiers at the State Archive also come to work. Earlier this afternoon one of them showed me a letter he'd just declassified in his routine task of opening files from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; the only reason he brought it to my attention was that its subject was one Cardinal Ratzinger - just the kind of person one thinks of on Christmas, given the speech he gave earlier today.

The letter was written on October 13, 1982 by Israel's ambassador to Germany, Michael ben Ari, to Teddy Kollek, Jerusalem's mayor. Kollek had just met the ambassador in Frankfurt (while on a fundraising junket, it's safe to assume). Following up on the conversation, Ben Ari informed Kollek that Dr. Lamm, the head of the Jewish community in Munich, had spoken to Cardinal Ratzinger. The future Pope had recently met with Yasser Arafat, and Lamm had suggested that he also meet Teddy Kollek (these were the years when the Vatican had not yet recognized Israel). The Cardinal thought this was a fine idea, and Ben Ari was now launching the preparations.

A Providential Visit? Another Document on Sadat's Visit to Jerusalem in 1977


Today we added another document to the Archives' publication on President Sadat's visit to Jerusalem, about which we've already written several posts. The new document was received from Mr. Yehuda Avner, who was Menachem Begin's adviser on Diaspora Affairs and later ambassador to the UK. Begin's English, which he had learned while in hiding from listening to the BBC, was excellent, but he still liked British-born Avner to "Shakespearise" his texts.

The document is a draft of the communiqué issued by the Israeli government at the end of Sadat's visit on November 21, 1977. It was drawn up the previous evening by the Egyptian and Israeli delegations at a "working dinner" at the King David Hotel. From the handwritten note by Deputy Premier Yigal Yadin, you can see that it was suggested by Hassan Tuhami, the deputy prime minister of Egypt, and written down by Sadat himself. When Begin reported to the government on November 24, he said that the Egyptians wanted to describe Sadat's visit as "providential." The Israelis thought this was over the top, but Tuhami said that Sadat had told his people that his mission to Jerusalem was a holy one, which was divinely inspired. In his private talk with Begin, Sadat agreed to change the expression to "important," and later Avner made it significant."

You can also see that the expression "treaties ... with all the neighbouring Arab states" was added at the end of the communiqué. This was to emphasize that Sadat did not seek a separate peace for Egypt, but rather to put forward the Arab case in general. In the end, only Israeli-Egyptian peace was achieved. Attempts to bring in other Arab states did not succeed until much later.

You can read Mr. Avner's own reminiscences about the visit in his fascinating book about the Israeli prime ministers he served.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Dear Minister, Garbage Can Save the Country

I'm on an austerity roll this week. Yesterday we looked at how the country tried - with partial success - to create housing for hundreds of thousands of penniless immigrants who were pouring into Israel in its earliest years. Since this is a mere blog, not serious research, we don't have to present any story in its entirety. Rather, I shoot an arrow into the stacks, and whatever file the arrow hits, I open and talk about it a bit, before flitting on to the next box. It's all very post-modern, you see. Recently, I seem to have shot a whole quiver of arrows into the files of the Ministry for Supply and Rationing.

Today's file is ג-206/31, and it's titled "proposals for using garbage." Like most archival documentation, it tells more than one story. In this case, one of the interesting stories it tells - quite inadvertantly - is about how the relationship between innovation and entrepreneuers on the one hand and the state on the other has changed over time. Nowadays, there are parts of Israel - in Herzliya, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, among others - where you can't rush down a sidewalk without bowling over seven or twelve wannabe entrepreneuers busy hatching ways to upend the world and get hyper-rich along the way. (There's even a fine book about this, Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel's Economic Miracle.)

Back in 1950, there were also wannabe entrepreneuers, but they didn't seek angels to invest in their crackpot ideas. No: they wrote letters to government ministers explaining why the government needed to adopt their ideas and run with them. Since in those days, the Ministry for Supply and Rationing was a very important agency, some of them wrote their letters to its minister, Dov Joseph.

Engineer Azriel Ozdor (previously Housdorf) from Tel Aviv wrote repeatedly. He was so persistent that eventually the offiials began chiding him: We're dealing with you, why do you keep on writing letters to other ministries? To which Ozdor responded by adding, in his next letter to a minister, that yes, he's persistent but this is only beause he really cares. And what did he really care about? Recycling garbage. He prepared and sent a closely-typed 5-page memorandum about potential uses of garbage and the pros and cons of each alternative. His starting point was that 70% of Israeli garbage is what we'd call today vegetable mass, and if treated properly it can be used to feed livestock. True, the best livestock for eating garbage are pigs, and there aren't any of those in Israel; and true, farmers don't like to deal with the processing of the garbage, but here's all the reasons why they're wrong, and if the government makes them do it...

Israel Czernotski from Kfar Azar had a scheme to recycle bread. Kfar Azar is a small village, but Mr. Czernotski often had occasion to be in the big city where he saw tons of bread in the garbage dumps. Unlike Engineer Ozdor, he didn't have a 5-page memorandum, but he was convinced that the bread could be fed to livestock (different livestock than the garbage-eating kind, I assume) and this would serve many goals. First, it would save foreign currency "which is such a serious problem in our country. Such an endeavor would have a tremendous educational value for our country's children." The way to do it would be to dedicate areas in each town where the school-children would bring their leftovers, and from there it would be sold to the farmers; the proceeds would cover the operation and the balance would go to the Jewish Agency. His proposal, lest you be skeptical, was forwarded to Mr. Bach of the Agriculture Department in the Food Division, and also to Mr. Gan in the Prices Department, and also to the Deputy-General-Manager.

Sigfried Feigelstock sent his letter to the Minister with an apology for not knowing which department it should actually be forwarded to. He wasn't representing himself, but rather two brothers, immigrants from Austria; and he hadn't yet asked them if they wanted to be doing this at all; first he needed to know if the government was interested - as it ought to be. Anyway, his proposal was to use the feathers of poultry which had been slaughtered, because as it is they just get thrown out. Which was too bad, because those two brothers he knew had been trained, back in Austria, to make feather blankets. Moreover, he knew (or perhaps he had heard from them?) about a disused feather-factory in the Soviet-controlled section of Austria; someone should import its machinery. But if for some reaon that particular machinery couldn't be imported, new machines could be purchased in Luxemburg.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

We Need to Build a City by Next Week

A few months ago, we broached the subject of the harsh austerity measures launched by the Israeli government in early 1949 to cope with the enormous economic challenges of the day (and achieve some political goals along the way). The overall title of these measures was "Tsena" (Austerity), though the most striking and memorable part was the rationing.

Today's post will look at a different aspect of the policy: the urgent need to create housing for hundreds of thousands of homeless immigrants before the begining of the rain season. Fortunately for the immigrants and for the country, the very thick layer of bureaucracy which exists in Israel today had not yet had time to accumulate, and thus it was possible for some fellow with authority to say "go do it" and they went and did it. If they did it well or not, flawlessly or not, is a different question, but at least they went and did it.

We stay away from contemporary politics on this blog, but think of the number of times you hear about a construction project in the settlements getting authorized, then authorized again, and again being authorized - and you'll begin to see what I mean. Acquiring permission to construct takes literally years. Now compare that with this:

On May 13, 1949, the boss of the Central Housing and Building Corporation sent a letter to Gershon Zack in the Prime Minister's Office:
1. We're willing to build 10,000 housing units immediately as discussed.
2. Many of the construction workers will be new immigrants.
3. The government will procure the import licenses needed.
[Who pays whom how much, and when]
8. We're willing to start working on the first 1,000 units immediately.
9. Following Mr. Zack's order we started building one 2-room unit immediately, it will be ready next week.
We wait your authorization...
On the 19th of May, Prime Minster Ben Gurion himself visited the construction site and was shown that first unit. On the 23rd, the next letter reached Zack, summarizing the visit and adding that
1. We're prepared to construct 10,000 units as discussed.
2. We must receive the neccessary land plots this week. If so, we'll be completing 150 units each day by the end of June.
3. We'll need 400 construction workers for each 150 units.
What happened next? Zack's file (ג-333/63) doesn't quite say, but in June he got a note from the Central Housing and Building Corporation with an urgent request:
Please tell the inspector for transport Mr. Lubersky he's got to allow us to import an automobile for our subcontractor.
Then, on July 28, 1949, Major Moshe Refaeli of the Engineers' Corps wrote to the prime minister. First, he intruduced himself: he was on loan from the military to the Central Housing and Building Corporation as its acting execuutive. He had recently participated in a meeting between Ben Gurion and some engineering officers, in which the PM had told with satisfaction of the progress of public construction projects.
I am convinced of your sincerity, Prime Minister, but based on what I'm seeing, Sir, you may not be hearing the full story.
Two months ago, we were asked to construct 10,000 housing units. We have the technical know-how. We were told the budget was confirmed on June 1st. We have ample laborers, as any visit to the immigrants' camps will show. Yet we haven't done more than a third of the job.
We only have some 100 days left until the rainy season, yet we're not working on schedule. There seem to be a number of reasons for this.
1. The project is being run by a committee of five people, each of whom has other tasks, and none of whom regards himself as responsible.
2. Not all the land has been allocated, and when it is there are often fights with local municipal authorities about jurisdictions, water supply and other matters.

We're doing our utmost, but it's important that you know we're not reaching the targets we've been set.
Though, truth be told, a third of a miracle is still not bad. In 2012, it would take three years merely to acquire the permits.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Sometimes Governments Deny Stuff

You may remember that a while ago we put up a large collection of documents about the visit to Jerusalem in November 1977 of Anwar Sadat, the Egyptian president. Assuming some readers hadn't read the entire thing, we've been blogging about it from time to time. (Try our "1977" label.)

In November, following decades of hostility and a few months of very careful and very secret preliminary negotiations, Sadat and then Begin found themselves passing messages to each other on the evening news. Suddenly understanding that this was all for real, Begin wrote a letter of invitation to Sadat. Since this was in the pre-e-mail era, and the normal postal service didn't connect Israel with Egypt, the letter was sent through the respective American ambassadors. Another copy was sent to President Jimmy Carter.

The letters are here. If you don't read Hebrew, skip the first page; the other three pages are in English. They're self-explanatory and I have no need to do any punditry about them - except to highlight this curious sentence from Begin's cover letter to Carter:
Over a period of 29 years all six of Israel's prime ministers, including myself, have stated their readiness to go anywhere and at any time to meet the Arab rulers to talk about peace. These offers have remained without response apart from certain clandestine meetings subsequently publicly denied by both sides.
Huh? Run that by me again? Never ever any meetings except for the ones we've all denied?

Do you think Carter knew what he was referring to?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Ownership in the Jewish Quarter

Sovereignty and land ownership don't have to be connected. The fact that Israel transferred ownership of the stunning Sergei's Courtyard to Russia a few years ago meant that a government office which had been using the premises moved out - but there was no change in sovereignty.

Yet they are connected, and have been since 1937 at the latest: first, when the Peel Commission recommended partitioning Mandatory Palestine along ethnic lines, and then again in 1947 when the UN adopted a partition proposal based on the changes in the intervening decade. Assuming some day the territory which was once Mandatory Palestine will end up divided between Jews and Arabs, there is little doubt that the matter of who lives where will be relevant. Where people live often has to do with what property they own. The registration of property ownership, therefore, is crucial.

(The issue is also sensitive for not-unrelated historical reasons in some Eastern European countries, and perhaps elsewhere too. Israel is not unique in this way.)

In the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City, however, the Jewish claim has little to do with legal ownership. The south-western corner inside the walls has been Jewish since the 13th century; documented modern legal titles to property can be traced back to the 19th century. Since most of Jerusalem's Jews until quite recently were the poorest of the poor, it ought not surprise anyone that many of them lived in rented apartments (or hovels) rather than owning them.

Which is the background to Y. Tamir's letter to Adi Yaffe of the Prime Minister's Office on August 30, 1967:
In the Jewish Quarter, there are about 100 empty structures and dozens of destroyed ones. Because of the hazy legal situation, there are all sorts of entities and groups, religious and non-religious, who are trying to move in, especially into the synagogues.

On the other hand, we cannot yet begin restoring the structures.

We have made plans with the Ministry of Construction to allocate funds to begin reconstruction. So as not to slow this down, we need to resolve the legal issues quickly; nor can we afford to lose control of the activity. In our discussions with the Ministry of Justice, we've delineated the area. The main question is which legal tool to use.

The Minister of Justice wishes us to declare the entire area as under survey, so as to block unauthorized activity; later we can take over buildings identified as Jewish-owned and reconstruct them.

My position is that we must take over all uninhabited parts of the area, irrespective of ownership. There's no simple way to know who owns what and it will take a very long time to piece it together, much longer than we can afford. In any case, we don't expect that more than 10-15% of the Quarter is owned by Jews, and that's not enough if we wish it to return to being the Jewish Quarter.

Please arrange this to be discussed in the cabinet as soon as possible.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Is it Important that American Jews Identify with Israel?

On the margins of the discussion described in the previous post, Pinchas Rosenne told of a recent public lecture given by Hillel Kook. Kook, also known by his alias Peter Bergson, was a very colorful figure who emigrated to Israel three times and left twice, joined the Irgun but quarrelled with Menachem Begin, worked with Ben Hecht but quarrelled with the leaders or American Jewry during World War II, was elected to the first Knesset but left politics in disgust, and generally didn't fit in. He also came from an illustrious rabbinic family. In 1957, he was once again living in the US, visiting Israel, and generally being critical. Yet his particular criticism, assuming Rosenne was quoting him accurately, has a timeless ring to it [p.12]:
He had expected us to create a normal country here. Instead we're doing all sorts of things that are inexplicable to America's Jews. First, we've set up a theocracy so the Americans hate us. He personally had been in favor of setting up a "Vatican-Sanhedrin" but only on a limited area. Instead the whole country has become a theocracy. Second, we're not assisting the refugees, nor do we care about them. The world can't accept that. This country has become totalitarian and fascist... We must be a normal country, and comprehensible to the world. Just as the individual Jew wasn't comprehensible to his environment and therefore was hated, so the Jewish State is also not comprehensible to the world.
To which Minister of the Interior Israel Bar Yehuda responded sharply:
If we must choose being understood or being the owners of our home, I prefer us to be the owners of our home. Of course, if we can have both that would be best.
1957, yes?

1957: The UN Gnaws at Israeli Sovereignty

As noted earlier this week, only once between 1956 and 1958 was there a discussion of any real interest in the Ministers' Committee for Foreign Affairs and Security - but it was very interesting. The most interesting part of all was when Foreign Minister Golda Meir reported about tensions with the United Nations.

Background: in those early years of the UN, it seems to have played a larger role in war-zone mediation than it does today, as can be seen, for example, by the short official biography of the UN General Secretary of the day, Dag Hammarskjöld. Moreover, in the Mideast, the UN Truce Supervision Organisation in Palestine (UNTSO) seems to have had a significantly weightier status than its present-day descendants. Its acting chief of staff in 1958, the American Colonel Byron V. Leary, was assumed, at least by the Israelis, to be acting on direct and frequent orders of Hammerskjold. Finally, the armistice agreements of 1949 had left some patches of territory inside Israel's borders as demilitarized zones.

Golda and her colleagues were convinced that the UN was trying to undermine Israeli sovereignty in those areas (which were within the 1967 borders, of course). So, August 11th 1957:
Golda Meir: For a while now there's been tension and a sort of struggle with the UN officials including with Mr. Hammarskjold. Recently however, Hammarskjold has stepped back a bit and he operates through Leary. General [Eedson] Burns [Leary's predecessor, whom we've already met here] fulfiled Hammarskjold's orders, but he did so with charm. Leary doesn't know how to do that.
It's clear that Hammarskjold intends to demonstrate with facts that the demilitarized zones are not the same as the rest of Israel. His position is that these areas have a special status, and the UN has enhanced authority in them. He's never said so openly, nor has he asked us to agree with him, but his actions make clear that he sees it that way, for example when he insists that UN observers enjoy greater independence in those areas and need not liaise with IDF officers.
Recently he [Leary] wanted to station observers above the [B'not Yaacov] Bridge [over the Jordan River on the Syrian border]. We said: no, there's no need. He said, OK, so there will be visits of observers. We agreed to visits. So what did he do? He came one day and announced  he'd put an observer there. Joseph Tekoa, of the Foreign Ministry, responded: What do you mean you're announcing. You must ask. He [Leary] said it's demilitarized and he was announcing, not asking. Tekoa told him that wouldn't work and brought the matter to me. Of course we told [Leary] there was no such option: no observers and no special authority in that area. He went back to saying observers would visit. I said OK. What's he doing now? First an observer stood there an hour then left. A bit later, another one came and stood there an hour. Now he has them standing there four hours, to be replaced by someone else for four hours. We told him again we would not allow it to become an observer's position.
Our problem is that no outsider will understand what we're quarreling with them for. Possibly even some Israelis won't understand.
Justice Minister Pinchas Rosenne: I'm one of those.
Golda Meir: I'm surprised at you. At a different place, we quarreled with them about another little detail. They wanted to raise the UN flag over one of the positions. One of our officers was positioned there too. We said it's Israeli territory, there's an IDF officer there, there's no way you're going to fly the UN flag. There's no precedent for such behavior. If you insist on a UN flag, there will be an Israeli flag above it. They said no, that would anger the Syrians. We said Fine, so no flag at all. So they raised the UN flag, and when we saw that we raised our flag above it. He was angry and reported to Hammarskjold, who must also have been angry. They took their flag down, and then we took ours down, too. Then he wanted his observers to spend the night there. We said we don't see any sense in that but if they wish, fine. Leary then said the overnight observers must be armed. We said none of them are armed anywhere else in the country and they won't be armed there either... What Hammarskjold is trying to achieve is that the demilitarized zone isn't under full Israeli sovereignty, and once he succeeds at that he'll apply the same reasoning to the demilitarized zone on the Egyptian border.
File א-7903/5

Creating Constitutional Stability is Lots of Work

Our post yesterday about authorizing a commemorative stamp for Eleanor Roosevelt touched upon the question of whether the president had the authority to make such weighty decisions. Moreover, the cabinet evaded the question rather than answering it, and this was 15 years after the creation of the state. Constitutional principles, it turns out, are fine things to have, but they still leave wriggle room and wobble space, and these get dealt with in an incremental process which takes years, or decades, or centuries.

Here's another very similar example: in August 1955, President Izhak Ben Zvi complained to the Minister of Justice, Pinchas Rosenne, that although notionally he was supposed to appoint Israel's diplomats, in practice he often read about them in the newspaper before anyone ever informed him. Rosenne and his fellow ministers agreed among themselves that he had a point [p.7-8].

Monday, December 17, 2012

How Eleanor Roosevelt Became a Political Issue in Israel

Eleanor Roosevelt passed away fifty years ago last month. Some months later, Adlai Stevenson II, the US ambassador to the UN, requested of Zalman Shazar, Israel's President, that Israel strike a commemorative stamp in her honor. Shazar responded positively, and sent the matter on to the Ministry of Postal Services (there was such a thing).

The Postal Minister, Eliahu Sasson, brought the matter to the cabinet on November. 3, 1963. He thought it was a fine idea: true, Shazar hadn't consulted with anyone, but Roosevelt had been a friend of Israel, and according to Stevenson, 26 other countries had already accepted his request--and why not, anyway?

Why not indeed? Because Israel is a complicated little place. As the next speaker, Minister of Welfare Yosef Burg explained:
1.The president doesn't have the authority to tell us what to do.

2. We've decided repeatedly in the past not to commemorate individuals on stamps [for religious reasons, he implies].

3. True, there have been a small number of exceptions, but Stevenson's request wasn't aimed particularly at Israel, and so doesn't justify this being an exception.

4. An American on an Israeli stamp? And what happens when a letter with the stamp gets sent, perhaps, to someone in the Soviet Union?

5. The prime minster should look into the matter. If there's a polite way to refrain, we should.
The rest of the ministers were in favor for many reason's: Roosevelt was worthy, the president's honor, Stevenson's honor, a nice gesture for America's Jews, and so on. Eventually, even Moshe Haim Shapira, Burg's senior colleague from the National Religious Party, agreed that this might be a case for an exception to the rule about not putting faces on stamps, leaving Burg to mutter that Shazar's letter really ought to be looked at.

As such discussions go, it was over quickly (4 pages of stenogram). On the other hand, as such things go, it's doubtful if this was really a matter which should ever have been on the cabinet's agenda.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Purchasing Jews From the Communists

We recently spent four entire posts on the single stenogram of the December 1955 meeting of the Ministers' Committee for Foreign Affairs and Security. Israel had attacked Syrian military positions on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, in response to a Syrian campaign to disrupt fishing on the lake, and post factum the ministers had various comments to make (here here here and here). In one of the posts, I commented on the difference between the committee as it appeared in the 1955 document and its greater significance these days.

Following up on a comment by one of our most veteran staffers, whereby the committee only became active and important after Levi Eshkol became Prime Minister in the mid-1960s, I called up file א-7903/5 which contains all the stenograms of the committee between late 1956 and the summer of 1958, all in one rather slim folder: a convincing demonstration on its own that not much was happening in the committee. It was chaired by Moshe Haim Shapira, the Minister of Religious Affairs and a member of the National Religious Party, another indication that it couldn't have been very important. It convened about once a month, apparently irrespective of events, and most of its time was spent on authorizing diplomatic posts: the General Consul to Yugoslavia, or the one in Montreal.

Riveting stuff. So riveting that at the meeting of July 7, 1957 the ministers interrupted themselves to kvetch - there's no better word - that theirs was a demeaning job. Not only did no-one ever tell them anything, but their lower-ranking colleagues who were mere Members of Knesset were better informed than they were.

Whether it was the compaints, or pure coincidence, the following meeting on the 11th of August 1957, was by far the most interesting in the entire file.

The first topic was presented by Golda Meir, the Foreign Minister, who prefaced her report with the swoon-inducing compliment that what she was about to report she would not repeat in the full cabinet "because I'm afraid of telling it there. I trust that none of it will leak from here." She then launched into a description of negotiations with Hungary. Apparently the Hungarians had let it be known that they were interested in a payment of $2,500,000 or $3,500,000 to facilitate the immigration of Jews to Israel, and Israel had refused to comply. Recently, however, while Jews with passports were still being allowed out of Hungary, no new passports were being issued. One of Israel's diplomats had tried to investigate, and had been told that Hungary was interested in negotiating a new trade agreement. This, Golda mused, might indeed be the way to tansfer the funds without the unfortunate appearances. "The Hungarians, in any case, said they'd not be issuing any new passports until the negotiations began" [p.4-5].

If the Hungarians were openly hinting, the Romanians were being explicit.
Regarding Romania, I invited the attache to a talk. It was rather fantastic. He's new here, and we began by talking about Zionism. So long as we spoke in generalities, about the Jewish connection to Israel and Hebrew, he understood and everything was fine. But when I got to the specific parts, regarding the unification of families and aliya in general, the conversation took a turn I've never seen before. The attache requested permission to speak, and he took out a paper. "I knew you were going to get to this, so I prepared a written response to ensure accuracy." And then he read a four-page response.
Immigration from Romania is made of two parts. The first, reunification of families, is fine. The Romanian policy is that each case must be investigated individually, but if Jews wishing to leave fall into the right catagories they'll be let out; if there are any delays they must be purely technical. Immigration in general, however, is an Israeli intervention in Romanian sovereignty. This demand is an affront to Romania.
It was clear, Golda summed up, that he was acting on orders from above.

Idiotic Journalists

At one point during Golda Meir's report to the ministers on August 11th 1957 (see the previous post), she and they were congratulating themselves on a successful visit of an Israeli acting troupe to the Soviet Union.
Golda: It was a great event. We've got idiotic journalists, if they presented it the way they did.
Minister of Interior Israel Bar-Yehuda: We've got a newspaper called Yediot Acharonot which publishes articles by a fellow from MAKI (the Israeli Communist Party), he went there as part of their delegation, and he always tries to see things from their perspective.
Minister of Health Israel Barzilai: Sadly, our paper isn't any better, and they also reported with no brains. They didn't even mention the meeting with the local Jews.

Pollard's Damage

The American National Security Archive has released a redacted declassified version of the damage assessment made in 1987 about Jonathan Pollard's espionage activities for Israel. Apparently, the security agencies themselves objected to making any part of the document public, and when you read it you can see why. Any penetrating glimpse into the way intelligence agencies go about their job is sensitive; an assessment of how someone thwarted them will be full of interesting detail. Yet the initial objections were overridden, and the declassifiers were sent back to be more precise, and to open as much of the document as possible. So they did.

This was one of Israel's worst moments in its relations with the United States. It is at least of small comfort that so far as we can see, Pollard and his Israeli handlers were not seeking information about the US, but rather to tap into the American intellgence capabilities regarding Israel's enemies.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

What's a Doctor? On the Travails of Yemen's Jews

Over at our Hebrew-language blog we've put up a post about Operation Magic Carpet in which almost 50,000 Yemenite Jews were brought to Israel in 1949 and 1950.  At the time the operation was not publicly known, but afterwards it became the stuff of legend: the brand-new state of Israel rescuing an ancient but backward community and bringing almost all its members to the renewed homeland. (Here's an example.) More recently historians have been looking with a critical eye at the policies and actions of the state in its early years, and have found it to have been somewhat different than the founding myths. Here's a recent description of Esther Meir-Glitzenstein's research on the operation, which shows that there was a surfeit of chaos, mismanagement and some hard-heartedness, with the result that hundreds of Yemenite Jews if not more perished along the way or at the collection camp at Aden.

Of course, the two narratives don't have to contradict each other. It's possible that large numbers of Yemenite Jews wanted to reach Israel, for multiple reasons, and that the complicated task of extricating them and bringing them to Israel was woefully mismanaged. Woeful mismanagement is, sadly, a very common condition.

Past and future researchers wishing to work out additional perspectives of the question will find lots of relevant documentation here at the ISA. This blog won't try to argue either case, preferring to present a single document created by someone who didn't know about the historical interpretations because he was busy being there at the time: The report of Dr. Moschytz, a physician sent to Aden in the second half of October 1949 by the ministry of immigration:
First stage: the escape from Yemen is not coordinated at all, prior to the arrival of the people at the border of Aden. I'm not aware of anyone directing this escape. In any case, we heard rumours of an additional 15-18,000 people on their way to the border, and we have no idea if they're rich or poor, if healthy or ill. The last time that Hashed [the transit camp in Aden] reached a capacity of 13,000, the border was sealed for a month, and some 4,500 people accumulated beyond the border. They all contracted malaria while waiting; many were left totally bereft. The JDC sent medicine, but many of them refused to take it. At one point the JDC supplies were sufficient but at a second place it wasn't, and some of the people died of hunger.

Second stage: En route many of the locals assist the immigrants for high fees, so that they arrive penniless. Their physical condition is awful, and the children suffer the most. It's no surprise that the mortality rate is high, mostly from sickness but in some cases from hunger.

Third stage: the camp gets a warning of a few hours that new people are about to arrive. Before the camp learned how to deal with them, desperately ill people simply died where they were put, because they had never seen a doctor before, and the medical staff didn't know to seek them out. Now they're brought to the hospital and given medications against tropical fever. Many of those who arrived at death's door leave the hospital as soon as their fever goes down, falsely believing they've been cured and desperate not to miss the plane [to Israel]. The hospital staff had to build a fence around the hospital to prevent the patients from escaping in this manner...

Government Protocols, 1948: What's the Source of Authority in Jerusalem?

Here's the next installment in our series following the protocols of the meetings of the cabinet. In this series, we've reached the last week of July 1948, in which there were two meetings, on the 28th of July and the 1st of August.

As is often the case with these protocols, they're frustratingly sparse in detail; for the ambience and interpersonal relations of the cabinet members you've got to read the word-by-word stenograms rather than the summary 2-page protocols. Yet as we've seen, perusing the protocols does offer an incremental understanding of what issues were important enough to command the attention of the top decision-making forum in the country.

In the middle of the fourth month of the country's existence, with the war still not over, much of the attention of the cabinet was focused on the cease-fire negotiations with the UN mediator, Count Folke Bernadotte. They didn't much like his proposals, that's clear even from the sparse protocols. Of the three resolutions adopted, two were rejections: No to the proposals for demilitarized zones, and an expression of scepticism as to Bernaddotte's goals regarding Jerusalem, since he was on the record as advocating Arab control of the city. The third resolution, however, left the door open to any resolution which would end violence in the city. (Here's a summary of what Bernadotte thought he was doing.)

Other topics included the question of whether government-employed laborers had worked on shabbat to prepare a ceremony - a perennial theme of Israeli politics from day one.

The second weekly session opened with a novelty: three top economic figures were brought in to report on how the state was setting up its currency. Anyone who has ever had anything to do with cabinet meetings these past few decades will tell you such meetings are populated by the cabinet ministers themselves along with multitudes of aides. This seems not to have been the case in the early years of the state, when apparently the only participants of cabinet meetings were the members of the cabinet. How very odd.

The most important part of the meetings dealt with Jerusalem. It was time for somebody to clarify to the populace in the Israeli-controlled part of town what their legal status was, and how they were related to the State of Israel. A draft proclamation was submitted, and the ministers seem to have debated it very seriously, line by line. At the end they had a formulation which was then attached to the protocol, so you can see it at the link above.

The principles were that David Ben Gurion as the Minister of Defense decreed:

1. That the area of Jerusalem was defined as that controlled by the army on August 2nd 1948 or future changes;

2. Israeli law would apply on that territory;

3. The populace was called upon to obey orders of the military commander in matters of public peace;

4. The declaration would be made public;

5. It would apply retroactively to midnight on May 14th, or to whatever date any particular area had been occupied thereafter.

For an idea how very important this document turned out to be, see the discussions in the cabinet after the Six Day War in 1967, when the Minister of Justice looked back at this document and explained its fundamental significance (we described that discussion here).

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Jerusalem: The City and the Park

How does a large modern city relate to the site of its original walled forerunner? There's no single correct answer. The Viennese, for example, razed the walls and built a broad avenue, so that the original town is still identifiable but fully integrated into the town around it. Warsaw's Old City is still mostly walled off (though of course none of the buildings in it are actually older than 60-some years, all having been reconstructed after WWII). Paris did away with its Old City; Florence preserved the buildings but mostly took down the walls.

Because of the whims of history, the truly ancient part of Jerusalem has been outside its walls for about 2,000 years; the present wall is a bit shy of 500 years old - young, by the local standards. Still, when people talk about Jerusalem's Old City, those are the walls they're referring to and that's the section they've got in mind.

When Israel took control of the Old City in June 1967 there were suggestions to follow the example of Vienna or Paris and knock down the walls. A different proposal was to create a park all the way around the walls.

[source]
The wasn't much room for a park along the northern section of the wall. Of course, along the eastern wall there's a Muslim cemetery, so that wasn't a possibility either. But the park could have been to the south (to the left of the picture), and of course to the west, around Jaffa Gate. This is the context of Zerach Wahrhaftig's letter to the Prime Minister of October 1, 1967 (Wahrhaftig having been Minster of Religious Affairs):
Re: The plan to create a National Park around the Old City

Since I was unable to present my full position at the recent meeting of the Ministers' Committee for Settling East Jerusalem which you chair, I am doing so in writing. I'm against the idea:
1. Unifying Jerusalem and ensuring our control of the entire city is one of our most important programs.
2. There are an estimated 25,000 people living in the Old City. The Jewish Quarter, even once it's rebuilt, won't be able to contain more than an estimated 500 families. The Jewish population inside the walls will remain a minority. In order to balance this we'll need to build right up to the walls on the outside. The plan to create a park will do the opposite; eventually, it could facilitate the creation of a Corpus Separatum in the Old City.
3. We need to attach the Old City to the modern section in a physical maner, not only a spiritual one.
4. One wall is enough. I'm not of the opinion that we should knock it down, but we certainly ought not create a second, green wall, to differentiate it from the rest of the city and give our enemies an opening to cut it off.
Wahrhaftig lost that argument, and the green belt was created.

[source]
Times change. These days critics of Israeli policies in Jerusalem claim that Israel uses parks to strengthen its control of the city and fend off plans for division. This blog refrains from politics, but here's a link to a page with a map of the various parks and a presentation of the argument.

Jerusalem being as spectaular as it is, I assume no one will object to another few pictures.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Archives Create Identity

The Economist tells how an elderly American woman is creating an archive for the Afghanis to learn about their own history.

Here in Israel, a police officer was given the command of the police station at Maalot-Tarshicha, a Jewish-Arab town in the Galilee. He and his subordinates cleared the refuse which had collected over the decades and found a handsome building; then he came to the ISA and found the documents, architectural plans and pictures to prove that it also had an interesting history. So now it's a police station and a "living museum" combined.

Jerusalem, late 1967: the Banality of Unification

Israeli policies regarding Jerusalem after the Six Day War have been a theme of this blog, but we've been neglecting it recently. So let's get back to it (previous installments are tagged with the "Jerusalem" label).

File ג-6304/4 contains various letters which went across the desk of someone in the Prime Minister's Secretariat between August and December of 1967. In September, Yehuda Tamir, who had previously worked for the Ashdar construction company, was appointed to oversee settling of Jews in East Jerusalem from the PM's Office; thereafter, the file probably was in his office.

The file is interesting precisely because it reflects a variety of Jerusalem-related matters which preoccupied officials in the most powerful office in the land.

Some of it is standard politics. Mordechai Bentov, Minister of Construction, wrote to PM Levi Eshkol on August 30 to remonstrate against the appointment of Yehuda Tamir: "You can't have meant him to deal with construction, can you? Of course, so long as he doesn't deal with that we'll be happy to work with him" [p.17]. Moshe Kol, Minister of Tourism, sent a note to the Minister of Justice Yaacov Shimshon Shapira with a copy to Eshkol: "I'll be on vacation next Sunday, but please remember to add my name to the list of ministers in the committee you're setting up for Jerusalem affairs. Tourism will be very important in Jerusalem" [p.16]. Hanoch Lev-Kochav, the General Manager of the Ministry of Labor wrote a remonstration to the head of Eshkol's Secretariat: "What were you possibly thinking when you sent that letter (enclosed) to the Minister of Police telling him to deal on his own with transferring his headquarters to Jerusalem, since the Public Works Organization (Ma'atz) is too busy? All you needed to do was ask us, and we'd have told you Ma'atz isn't too busy!" [p.12-13].

On the edge of turf-fighting politics and budgetary politics, there's the December letter from Yigal Allon, Minister of Labor, to the Minister of Police: "Yes, the police is moving its headquarters to Jerusalem, and yes, this will entail making considerable severence payments to spouses of officials who will be moved, but this is an expensive issue. I don't see how the Minister of Labor can be expected to resolve it on his own. You should raise it at the next inter-ministerial meeting" [p.2].

There were the ususal budgetary hurdles. In December, Tamir thought he had secured a budget of some three and a half million pounds to be administered by the PMO for planning and construction in the Old City. Not so fast, the Finance Ministry folks said; you've still got to show us this form and that authorization [p. 5-7].

There were interactions with the public: Eshkol signed a letter to "Dear Fisher, Developing east Jerusalem is a major project, it needs to be done with forethought and planning, and it will take a bit of time before everybody sees the results" [p.8]. An aide wrote to the Shoham family thanking them for their suggestion and assuring them Yehuda Tamir was on it [p.15].

An official of a youth movement wrote Tamir, with copies to lots of important folks, to request a building in the Old City where they could set up an education center. Tamir, in the eternal tradition of officials, asked for more details [p.10-11].

And finally, the file contains a hand-written note from an aide to Eshkol himself, on September 8th:
Prime Minister,
40 families of immigrants and between 30-50 other families have settled in Jerusalem since June 6th, according to the Ministry of Construction and Yehuda Tamir's data. Ziegel is on vacation, but his office assures me they'll send over their numbers within the hour.
[in a second handwriting, apparently the number's from Ziegel's office]
The numbers of new immigrants are:
June: 5 families, 3 individuals, a total of 17.
July: 8 families, 2 individuals, total of 29.
August: 22 families, 2 individuals, total or 100.
Total: 146. [p.18]

Monday, December 10, 2012

We're All Patriots, Except...

Here's a final post based on the deliberations of the Ministers' Committee for Foreign Relations and Security of December 13, 1955, and then it really is time to move on to other matters. (The previous posts on this document were here, here, and here.)

Near the end of the meeting (p.26), Ben Gurion responded to various complaints the ministers had made about the decision-making process prior to the operation against Syrian positions two days earlier. Some of the considerations of his colleagues he accepted, others he sharply rebutted. Yet ultimately, he concluded:
Our differences of opinion stem from common ground: I'm concerned for the future of the country, and others are likewise concerned. When it comes to that, I'm certain we're all equally concerned for the future of the state - well, except for the Communists.

Independence Hall is Better Now

Back in August, we related how the ISA is in charge of the project to redesign and renew Independence Hall, the building on Rothschild Avenue in Tel Aviv where David Ben Gurion declared the creation of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948. We also told how the renewal would happen in two stages, a short and immediate one to make the building look respectable, and a longer and larger project to redesign it to be a significant historical monument.

Stage one, the short facelift, is now successfully completed, as demonstrated in this slideshow. The planning stage for the real overhaul is already trotting forward.

What does this have to do with the State Archives, or for that matter, with any archive? Not that much. The State Archivist is there mostly to ask pesky questions and sign some of the paperwork. The task itself is being done by lots of professionals, some of them based at the Eretz Yisrael Museum in Tel Aviv, and others in the Israel National Heritage Project of the Prime Minister's Office. A good thing, too, since the ISA doesn't have any of the neccessary expertise, nor is there any reason it should acquire it. The folks who do have the job, on the other hand, do have the expertise, which they've just demonstrated by doing something truly exceptional: they got the present stage of the project done on time and within budget.

If you're in Tel Aviv, it's worth a visit: for the first time in years it won't be a cringe-inducing affair.

Rosh Pina and the Early Census Data


Rosh Pina, one of the earliest Jewish agricultural settlements, was founded 130 years ago this week on December 12, 1882. Actually, it was first founded in 1878, when a group of young pioneers from the nearby town of Safed broke with centuries of tradition by setting out to live as farmers rather than off handouts from European Jewish communities. Unfortunately, they didn't much know what they were doing, and the attempt failed. The 1882 group was made up mostly of new immigrants from Romania and some Russians, and although they too had to overcome massive hardship and for a while the existance of their village depended on the largess of the Rothschilds, eventually they pulled through, and their village is still there to this very day. (Different individuals, though.)

If you're a stickler, the December date wasn't accurate, either: some of the new settlers arrived earlier that year. On December 12, 1882, however, they had their first significant rainfall of the year, which meant they could now sow their first crops. So they had a celebration and marked the event as their beginning. The symbolism may have been bolstered by the connection between the name they had chosen--"Rosh Pina," which means "capstone" and comes from Psalms 118:22--and the holiday of Hanukkah, when the psalm is sung in the Hallel section of services.

The photos, above and below, are of course from a later date, and are from our Zoltan Kluger collection, which means they would have been taken between 1933-1950.


In 1903, there were 292 people in Rosh Pina, and this brings us to a second subject: the Nufus books and early modern census data. Rulers have been counting their subjects for as long as there have been rulers, so as to know how much taxes to collect and occasionally how many men to recruit for their armies. The firmness of the Ottoman rule in the Levant, however, had been loosening for generations, until in the late 19th century they tried to re-estabish it--and what better way to start than by counting folks? Their first broadly successful attempt was in the 1880s, followed by additional rounds in 1903-5, and shortly before WW1. Here's a sheet from the census taken in Rosh Pina in 1903:


And the summary written by the local headman, Yehoshua Ben Aryeh


Only adult men were listed (taxpayers), and the years were according to the Muslim calender, i.e. since the Hijra, so that 1316=1900.

The Israel State Archives has 465 volumes of the Ottoman census data. The word "nufus" means "souls," similar to the way the Hebrew word "nefashot" can also simply mean "people." The volumes were collected by British Mandatory officials, and through them came into our possession. Most of them are Turkish written in Arabic characters, since the Turks adopted Latin characters only in the 20th century; a few of the volumes which are about Jews are in Hebrew. While not all equally reliable nor consistent, they have the potential to give a fascinating and important documented perspective on who lived where in this conflicted little land before and during the earliest stages of Zionist activity. To fully grasp that picture, someone will need to scan them all, then decipher the data into a well-planned database with the capability to track recurring names, families and individuals, and connect them to identified places on the map, and so on. As the ISA is about to launch a large-scale scanning project, we hope the entire collection will soon be scanned. Perhaps we'll attempt to do the labor-intensive deciphering with a spot of crowdsourcing further down the line.

You can see some more information about the collection on our website.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

How are Military Actions Authorized?

Last week we posted twice about a government discussion from December 13th 1955. First, we cited David Ben Gurion explaining the need for significant military retaliation against Syrian military targets, after a period of many small-scale Syrian attacks against Israeli fishing on the Sea of Galilee. The next day we posted a letter of reprimand by Moshe Sharett, whom Ben Gurion had recently replaced as Prime Minister but who was still Foreign Minister.

The tension between them is an expression of the original question which brought me to this particular document: How do Israel's leaders decide on military action? What type of actions require authorization from which military or civil officials? The December 1955 discussion shows that there was already an accepted procedure, but also that it was not yet sufficiently well-defined.

The document is the stenogram of a meeting of the Ministers' Committee on Foreign Relations and Security. Nowadays there's a group with a shorter name, the Minister's Committee on Security Matters, which is quite active, and being a member is a sign of belonging to the upper echelon of the Cabinet. The earlier version seems to have been much less important. First, it didn't convene very often. Seond, whatever its task was, it clearly hadn't been consulted prior to the action on the Syrian front. Nor, for that matter, had Ben Gurion intended to convene it after the operation, either. He did so because another member, Haim-Moshe Shapira, insisted it be convened to discuss two matters. First, how is it possible that the cabinet sat until 8:30 PM the evening of the operation without any inkling of its advent, and the ministers simply heard about it the next morning on the news? Second, was there really need, and is there really justification, for such a large-scale operation? (50 Syrian soldiers had been killed along with 6 Israelis, and an additional 30 had ben captured and brought back to Israel.)

Ben Gurion launched into a response even before anyone else had a chance to voice an opinion.
I'm not going to talk abut the operation itself, since you've got all the details from the newspapers...
As to the dimensions: I'm surprised by you, Shapira. [Here he gave the explanation we published the other day about incremental attacks on Israeli fisherman vs. strong responses. He then continued] On Sunday there was a particularly nasty incident, and it just so happened that I was serving also as the Foreign Minister that day. [Sharett was abroad.] The pleasure to deal with such matters I don't wish on my enemies, not for the reasons you mention, and I'll get to them in a moment, but not because of the UN or the British or the Americans. The reason it's distasteful for me to deal with such matters is that I'm not certain all the men I send into action will return. That's the unpleasant part, and I've got a principle that I don't demand of others what I'd not be willing to do myself...
Here Ben Gurion began describing the dynamics of a battle, in which you never know how the enemy will respond and therefore it's impossible to gauge how many casualties there will be.
I wish to say something about the impact. Whatever we do will make a splash abroad. When they kill one person, or blow up a well or knock down the wall of a house, the Times doesn't report on it. But when we send military units against military installations, that's a big story. [BG went into a long and very interesting digression about the use of military force and the media, and the ability to explain Israel's positions, before eventually meandering back to his original point:] I don't object if you wish to convene this committee, and if a decision is made to create a new procedure, so be it. In the meantime, however, there was a serious attack on our fishermen, and the routine is that the Minister of Defense - that's me - talks to the Prime Minister - that's me - and the Foreign Minister, who it so happened was also me, so I made the decision even though it wasn't easy.
To which Shapira responded dryly: "we could have made it easier for you."

In spite of Ben Gurion's historical stature, his contemporaries were not cowed by him. Pinchas Rosenne, the Justice Minister, pointed out that had there been a prior decision he might or might not have been swayed by BG's arguments, but in reality it was a near miss because the Syrians could have responded with greater force and both sides could have decsended into full war without the government ever having deliberated such a move. Development Minister Mordechai Bentov talked about the collective responsibility of all the members of the cabinet, and how that responsibility couldn't be reconciled with BG's way of making decisions. Transportation Minister Moshe Carmel noted that indeed such matters couldn't be discussed in the full cabinet which already has too much to do, but asked if it wasn't the specific task of the present committee? Levi Eshkol, on the other hand, Minister of Finance and future Prime Minister himself, felt the cabinet needed to decide on principles, while only a small group (presumably the three designated ministers) should make the concrete decisions.

Ben Gurion eventually closed the meeting with a decision to discuss the rules in a full cabinet meeting.

One final point which is quite startling from our point of view: The participants in the meeting were all ministers. No generals were invited nor their opinion even mentioned; and no legal advisors. The Ministers may not have been clear about how they were to reach decisions, but it didn't occur to them to defer to the civil servants.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Conspiracy Theory: Was Gamal Abdel Nasser an Israeli Spy?

As a general policy, this blog doesn't operate on Friday, but what with the ongoing turmoil in Egypt, here's a quick anecdote.

At the first secret high-level Egyptian-Israeli meeting prior to Sadat's visit to Jerusalem in 1977, Egypt's Deputy Prime Minister Dr. Hassan Touhami asked Moshe Dayan for the truth about the previous Egyptian president, Gamal Abdel Nasser. According to the English-language summary of the meeting:
Touhami's opinion of Nasser was of extreme and hateful despise [sic]. He asked MD [Moshe Dayan] if Nasser had been in connivance with him when Nasser sent Abdel Hakim Amer with an airplane on an inspection tour just when our planes attacked at 08:00 on the morning of the 5th of June 1967.
The Mossad report of the meeting added a bit of detail:
The fact that the [Egyptian] Airforce was unprepared and its commanders were sanguine was explained by Touhami by the fact that Nasser was actually in conspiration with the Israelis. "Tell us the truth," Touhami requested seriously, "wasn't Nasser conniving with you at the time? Otherwise, how to explain what happened?" Touhami gave the appearance of rage and despise [sic] at Nasser, whom he described as having brought Egypt to the edge of calamity.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Mossad Reports on Negotiations, 1977

The other day we looked at a newly declassified Mossad document from Moshe Dayan's meeting in Morocco with Egyptian Deputy Prime Minister Dr. Hassan Tuhami in September 1977. Today, let's look at the second Mossad document in the same publication. November 1977 came and went, Anwar Sadat stepped out from behind the secret preliminary negotiations and visited Israel in the full glare of international astonishment, and now, in December, it was time to move the negotiations forward to an agreement. The going wasn't easy (and indeed, many months of hard bargaining were to pass before the breakthrough at Camp David in September 1978). In December 1977, Dayan and Tuhami were once again guests of King Hassan of Morocco - and once again, a Mossad agent was there and wrote a top secret report. (For more detailed background, see our summary.)

Here are some reflections about this Mossad document and its contents.

1. Note the very appearance of the document: a sparse letterhead, no insitutional logo, but a bright red stripe down the length of each page, with the words Top Secret (Sodi Beyoter), also in red. This is an organization with a high awareness of security matters, and when they create highly sensitive documents, they want those documents to be easily recognized from afar. Anyone who's got such a document has very high security clearance, but one can never be too careful, and the organization wishes to ensure that the document will be handled gingerly. So: no logo, which is a form of marketing, because there's no-one to market to; and a bright red bar, to ensure no-one accidentially reads it on the subway while commuting home. (And of course, there aren't many subways in Israel.)

2. Most of the discussions were between the Israeli and the Egytian. The host, King Hassan, came and went, and saw his job as facilitator. Thus, over dinner, he gently rebuked Dayan:
You [the Israelis] can't live on bayonets. You must find a way to peace. You [Dayan] look sad and tense and you're not like before. You must help Sadat overcome the difficulties.
Dayan: I'm sad because I don't see any progress in the Egyptian position. We're not getting anywhere even though I'm proposing significant changes to our position. I'm and honest man; I can't see any any possibility for progress with [Syrian President Hafez] Assad or even with [Jordanian King] Hussein. I wish you were right that Hussein will eventually join Sadat [in negotiating for peace with Israel] but I don't believe it. We will not meet any representatives of the PLO: they're murderers. I won't meet them anywhere, that must be clear.
Tuhami: Why are you so angry since we last met? Let's discuss things cordially. We should meet once again before you leave; you'll prepare a document with the points you brought up today, and I'll read you a document I've received from President Sadat....
3. Documents such as these offer us tones of dicussions and details. Near the end of the report King Hassan wished to placate Dayan and encourage him that the effort was worth making:
If you bring Hussein to join Sadat, those two will sign agreements with you even without Syria. Decisions of the Arab League have been changed in the past; in the matter of the Palestinians we'll be able to change the decision of [the 1974 Arab League Summit in] Rabat [where Hussein was forced to relinquish his claim to represent the Palestinians of the West Bank]. We need time, but let's aim for that. The PLO is a cancer for us. Their fate doesn't interest me at all. The two of you must get over minor details such as [control of] Sharm el Sheikh. The final goal is peace.

Moshe Sharett and Operation Kinneret: Does Israel Have a Foreign Policy?

A footnote to yesterday's post about the Israeli operation against Syria on December 11-12, 1955 (known as "Operation Kinneret"): you can see quite a different side to this story in the collection of documents in Hebrew in memory of Moshe Sharett, Israel's second prime minister, published by the Archives in 2007.

Sharett generally opposed retaliatory attacks, believing that they had little effect and led to a spiral of violence. He had just been replaced as prime minister by Ben-Gurion, but was still serving as foreign minister. At the time of the operation he was in the United States, trying to raise money and mobilize political support for Israel against the threat of the Soviet-backed Nasser regime in Egypt. In September 1955, Czechoslovakia had announced a massive deal to sell modern arms and planes to Egypt, and Israel was seeking arms from the US to restore the balance. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles had not yet given up hope of persuading Nasser to join the Western camp and was reluctant to help Israel. He warned it repeatedly against provoking a war.

The attack on Syria had no immediate cause. It was seen by the press (and still is by some historians) as an attempt by Chief of Staff Moshe Dayan to provoke a war with Syria into which Egypt would be drawn. Dayan favored a preventive war with Egypt before it could absorb the Czech weapons, and Ben-Gurion did too – some of the time. At others he was reluctant to risk war without Great Power support and a guaranteed supply of arms.

Sharett saw the Kinneret operation, which was widely condemned, as a direct attempt to undermine his efforts. Ben-Gurion did not consult him or the acting foreign minister, Golda Meir. Sharett wrote bitterly in his diary: "Defence Minister BG consulted Foreign Minister BG and received the approval of Prime Minister BG."

On December 13 he sent Ben-Gurion a caustic telegram:

Ben-Gurion.

In the wake of the retaliation in Syria ... I would like to bring the following facts to your attention.

A. Up till now there has never been a retaliatory operation which in its extent and force was so entirely out of proportion to the damage which preceded it.

B. The series of Syrian attacks on fishing in the Sea of Galilee [Kinneret] (which is dangerous in itself) did not lead to a single casualty in the last few months, whereas we killed fifty people at a single stroke and sacrificed at least four of our own men...

I. The damage to fishing ... has been going on for years, and even if it was decided to react to it with a major and crushing operation, a worse time for it could not have been chosen. It directly contradicts the vital political and diplomatic efforts being made in the name of the government and on its instructions, in both America and Europe, and is bound to give public opinion a false impression, which is completely opposed to the central political and military campaign [we are waging].

J. The question is bound to arise: does Israel have a single government, if so does it have a single policy, and if it does, does this policy consist of obstructing its representatives, sabotaging itself and missing its objectives?

Sharett