Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Arab Media Reports on Our Sabra & Shatila Publication

Does Western media follow Arab media? Not much. Does it follow Hebrew-language Israeli media? Hardly. Does Israeli media follow Arab media? Yes, to a degree. Does the Arab media follow Hebrew Israeli media? Yep.

Case in point: Here's a list of links to Arab-language media outlets which reported on our story last week about the cabinet transcripts discussing the massacres at Sabra and Shatila, and the response to the Kahan Commission's recommendations afterwards.

Egypt's Al-Ahram: "Sharon criticized his colleagues"

Al-Jazeera: focused mostly on Sharon's positions.

Al-Manaar (that's Hezbollah): "Sharon warned that Israel would be charged with genocide"

Al-Hayat (London): "Sharon Feared Israel wold be charged with genocide"

The monitoring of the Arab media was done by one of the Arabic-speaking ISA staff.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Building a Coalition is Complicated

Non-Israeli observers of the Israeli political scene can be forgiven for the ocassional twinge of befuddlement over the workings of our system. Any democracy has its unique foibles (think: electoral college), but the Israeli system, committed as it is to near-total adherence to representation for all minor sub-groups and splinter-groups within them, can be a bit challenging for outsiders.

One aspect of this is that election results aren't a particularly good indicator of what the government coalition will look like. Once the division of MKs according to the election results is known, the president chooses one of them--often, but not always, the leader of the party with the largest representation in the Knesset--and only then do the negotiations begin. The goal of the appointee is to cobble together a configuration of parties or parts of parties with a total of at least 61 of the 120 MKs to vote him or her into office. Usually this works, though as a general rule it happens only after exhausting the entire period granted by law, 42 days; sometime it doesn't. At different times, David Ben Gurion, Shimon Peres and Tzipi Livni all got the nod from the president, but failed to round up 61 votes.

The chief dynamic at the moment, as Binyamin Netanyahu tries to form a coalition from among the 12 lists which made it into the new Knesset (they are made of 15 parties, but let's not get into that), is that the second largest, Yesh Atid, and the fourth largest (Habayit Hayehudi)--with 31 MKs between them--have banded together as a negotiating bloc facing Netanyahu's Likud-Beiteinu, which also has 31. Effectively, even if not nominally, this means that no coalition is possible without both of them being in it, and the first bloc is apparently driving a hard bargain with the second.

This is not the first time this has happened. That would have been in 1961.

Back in August 1961, the election results were disappointing for Ben Gurion's Mapai party, which garnered only 42 MKs (a pipe dream for any party today), and along with 4 automatic Arab allies had 46. So four smaller parties, not all of them obvious allies, banded together, calling themselves the Club of Four, and they too had 46 votes. Deadlock. Ben Gurion looked at the situation and threw in his hat, so the president, Yitzhak Ben Zvi, appointed Levi Eshkol, also of Mapai, to give it a try. In those days, unlike today, the MK forming the coalition could choose not to be the prime minister. We've posted some of the documents from those high-wire-act days on our Hebrew website. Finally, more or less at the last moment, Eshkol returned to Ben Zvi with the announcement that he'd succeeded. With lots of patience and adroit negotiating, he had managed to break up the Club of Four, bring two of them into the coalition but on his own terms, and leaving two of them out in the opposition.

All of which just goes to show that positions staked with great confidence early on in the coalitional negotiations can end up unscathed, or modified, or totally abandoned. The problem is, you don't know in advance which it will be, nor do the negotiators.

Monday, February 25, 2013

ISA Leads the Technology Charge

Some years ago (well, 15 or 25 of them), software folks began to develop systems in which large organizations could manage their large numbers of files, collaborate on their creation, share the results with other colleagues, and (hopefully) find the documents again when next needed. Imaginative and poetic-minded as such developers usually are, they gave their product the exciting descriptive title Document Management Systems.

Most of humanity doesn't know such systems exist and are are no worse off for their ignorance. Masses of employees of large organizations actually do know such systems exist, and either hate their guts, or, in the cases where they really work, the employees simply give them no thought. Only a tiny sliver of mankind really cares about these systems... but archivists need to be among them. The reason is simple: archivists deal with documents; document managing systems, especially when they function, also deal with documents. Ergo, if organizations which create archival-worthy documents have functioning document management systems, and if the archivists have any say in how they operate so as to ensure that the important documents will be successfully managed all the way from their first draft to the arrival of their final version in the archives, then these systems may prove to be an essential tool for the archivists, and perhaps even for the future users of the archival materials.

Or so you would think anyway. Or hope. Or aspire.

Which is why when Israel's Ministry of Finance decided, some years back, that they wanted the entire government officialdom to use the same document management system - to save costs, mind you, not to help the archives - the folks in the State Archives perked their ears and started pushing their way in. The eventual result, strange as it may seem, is that the powerful officials of the Finance Ministry and the, well, less-powerful officials of the ISA, eventually found that they had common goals, and cooperating might be beneficial.

Will the final result really be that the entire government works in one streamlined system, with a steady stream of organized and catalogued important documentation flowing unimpeded and effortlessly into the servers of the State Archives? Hard to imagine. Nigh-impossible, actually. But it is possible that if enough folks work well enough and intelligently enough, some of the documentation of some state agencies will, in fact, be created, processed and archived in a useful manner. If we aim for the impossible and utopian goal, perhaps there will be significant improvement in the reality.

All of this is an introduction to the following: after years of multi-layered preparations, the project is finally about to reach implementation. Odd as it may sound, the very first agency in the entire government realm to apply the new system is the ISA, and the first installations are happening this very month. Here's the relieved-but-satisfied look on the face of one of our techies on the afternoon, last week, when the system first started working:

From a CIA Report: Politicians will be Politicians

Here's a link to a fascinating collection of documents at the CIA website, titled: President Nixon and the Role of Intelligence in the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. I just came across it today, and don't know if it's new or not. (At least one of the documents I've seen before, or at any rate the reading of it was total deja vu).

The summary at the top of the collection should be hard-wired on the screens of everyone - pundits, politicians, bloggers, journalists and historians - whoever writes about how their experience so far leads them to assume about what's coming next:

This collection highlights the causes and consequences of US Intelligence Community’s (IC) failure to foresee the October 1973 Arab-Israeli War, also known as the October War or the Yom Kippur War. A coalition of Arab nations led by Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack on Israel on October 6, the day of Yom Kippur. Prior to October 6, the CIA concluded that the Arabs would not attack, so the offensive surprised US policymakers as well as Israel. Directorate of Intelligence (DI) analysts believed that Arab military inferiority would militate against an attack on Israel. DI analysis did not explore the possibility that leaders might go to war--even at the risk of losing--to pursue political objectives. According to an internal postmortem, Agency analysis was impaired by preconceptions about Arab military capabilities, information overload, rational actor modeling and groupthink. (Emphasis mine).
Given the wee overload of tasks on my desk, I don't read more than a tiny sample of the endless fascinating documents in the ISA; I doubt I'll find time to read this entire collection of fascinating documents from someone elses' archives - more's the pity. Still, this one fits directly into one of the themes we've been presenting here on our blog these past few days. On page 1-2 there's a description of how presidential candidate Richard Nixon flew in August 1968 to President Johnson's ranch in Texas to receive an intelligence briefing; according to the recollection of one of the officials who was present, the two men engaged in trying to trump one another in their mastery of the subjects.

Sometimes politicians are called upon to make life-and-death decisions or preside over historical turning points. But often their urge to be politicians is what shines through from the documents.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Almost Yom Kippur: The Cabinet's Second Response to Sabra & Shatila

As noted in our previous post, on Saturday night after the three-day weekend of Rosh Hashana and Shabbat during which the massacres of Sabra and Shatila had been committed, the Cabinet rejected any responsibility for the crimes. The ensuing week demonstrated how futile the initial gesture had been. A rising wave of political pressure at home and horrible media reports abroad convinced the ministers that the story wasn't going away. At noon on Friday, September 24, 1982, the Cabinet convened for its second emergency meeting.

Prime Minister Menachem Begin opened the meeting with a proposal that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Yizhak Kahan, choose one or two additional judges or other experts and head a team of investigation into the events in Beirut. Begin added that he had consulted with the Chief of Staff, Refael Eitan, and the minister of Defense Ariel Sharon, and they had both agreed to accept any findings of such a team; he had also discussed the matter earlier that very morning with a group nine minsters, and they had all supported his proposal.

The mention of the morning's meeting aggravated the ministers, and they set off on a long-ish discussion about leaks from ministerial deliberations. Apparently, the contents of that morning's meeting had been reported in detail on the news. Some of the ministers were irked that they had been misquoted; others felt there was no point to having minisiterial deliberations if their contents were on the radio minutes later; and others pointed out that since the only participants had been ministers themselves, it could only have been a minister (or more than one) doing the leaking. A number of the ministers demanded of Begin that he set up a second investigative team to probe these leaks - a demand Begin rejected, saying one investigation at a time was enough. It is however odd - or perhaps it isn't - that the matter of the leaks took up such a significant chunk of the time allocated for the entire meeting.

The proposed form of investigation was accepted by all, and since Shabbat was approaching, and it was felt to be crucial that Moshe Nissim, the Minister of Justice, talk to the Chief Justice before the Sabbath, the meeting didn't take long; all 17 ministers present voted for it and they adjourned. Yet before they did so, they briefly debated two other aspects. The first was the possibility that the Chief Justice might not accept the offer: what then? The reason he might not accept, as they all knew but mostly weren't saying, was that such an investigatory probe doesn't have clear legal authority - such as an official commission of inquiry does.
Commerce and Industry Minister Gideon Patt: First, I'd like to say, for the protocol, that the Prime Minister was for an investigation from the first moment. In the midst of the cacaphony of well-poisoners, someone ought to leak that fact. I think it's an excellent proposal. The identity of the head of the investigation, the Chief of the Supreme Court [he said this in English] has an honorable position and this will help us on the stage of world opinion.

Minister without Portfolio Mordechai Ben-Porat: You're exaggerating a bit about the authority of such a probe.

Patt: If someone wishes to lie and is willing to lie to the head of the Supreme Court, they'll lie to a full comission, too. In the meantime, I've been getting some unpleasant telegrams from heads of Jewish communites in South America - I was there recently, so they know me - and creating this sort of an investigation will put an end to their doubts.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Israel's First Response to Sabra & Shatila: Furious Rejection

The massacres at Sabra and Shatila were committed over a long weekend of Rosh Hashana and Shabbat, mid-September 1982. The story may have been all over the world's media, but many Israelis were unaware of it. The Cabinet convened for an urgent meeting only on Saturday night, Sept. 19. In the first of our series of newly-declassified Cabinet transcripts, here's a look at that meeting.

Or rather, here's a look at the small part we can show. The bulk of the transcripts deal, naturally, with the politics of the event, and that can be declassified after 30 years. Parts, however, dealt with the military aspects, and military documents are generally declassified only after 50 years; we haven't declassified those, or have done so only gingerly.

The meeting on September 19 was all about the military events themselves. As the roster of participants on page one shows, the entire top brass had been called to Jerusalem to report: The Chief of Staff, Head of Military Intelligence, Head of Northern Command, and assorted additional generals and colonels; the heads of the Mossad and Shin Bet, and various other security-types. This was a meeting of the War Cabinet, not a standard Cabinet meeting.

Sadly, pages 2-94 remain blocked. Having spent a long evening talking about military matters, the Cabinet unanimously summed up their discussion in political terms:
On Rosh Hashana a libel was concocted against the Jewish State, its government and its military. At a place which was remote from IDF troops, a Lebanese unit entered a refugee camp in which terrorists were hiding, to arrest them. This unit caused many deaths among the civilian population, a fact the Cabinet registers with deep sorrow. As soon as the IDF recognized what was transpiring it put an end to it, and forced the unit out of the camps. The populace of the camps expressed their gratitude at the salvation by the IDF.

The government rejects with revulsion any allegation or insinuation of complicity or responsibility of the IDF in the human tragedy in the camp. On the contrary, were it not for the intervention of the IDF forces, the number of victims would have been far higher. ...

In spite of the incitement at home, the government calls on its citizens to unite around its government, which is striving for security and peace for all its citizens.

Let no-one preach us about morality and respect for human life, on which we have raised and will continue to raise generations of Israeli fighters.
The ministers were not correctly reading the landscape. The political storm had not even begun to break.

Israel's Cabinet Grapples With Sabra and Shatila

On September 16, 1982, Christian Maronite troops of the Lebanese Phalange forces entered the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut, and began massacring Palestinian civilians--hundreds of men, women and children. This was yet another chapter in the long and ghastly civil war in Lebanon, but with a twist: this time there were IDF troops in the immediate vicinity, and they had sent in the Phalangists. The horrifying thought that Israel might be involved in the atrocity, might perhaps even bear some responsibility for it was, sadly, only too natural.

Over the next six months, Israel's cabinet dedicated at least six of its meetings to the massacres and their implications. In September, there were three urgent meetings, in which the cabinet tried to formulate an effective response to the events. In the first, the ministers vehemently rejected any responsibility for the massacres. In the second, five days later, they decided to set up a limited investigation. At the third meeting, on September 28, they bowed to the force of public opinion and appointed a full-fledged official commission of inquiry, headed by Ytzhak Kahan, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

The commission sat until February 1983. On February 7, it published its findings: Israel was not directly responsible for the massacres, which it had not intended and certainly had not executed. But it did bear indirect responsibility because its leaders should have foreseen the danger of allowing the Phalangists into the camps. The commission recommended that two generals and Minister of Defense Ariel Sharon leave their jobs. It was left to the cabinet to accept and implement the commission's recommendations, or to reject them, partially or in full. This decision required three consecutive evenings of deliberation. For the half of Israeli society opposed to the government, these three days were an offensive delay, probably spent seeking a way out. For the half that supported the government, the demonstrators were traitors, or fifth columnists. The tensions between the two camps reached heights not seen for decades, and arguably not seen since, either. (The demonstrations in the 1990s which culminated in the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin were directed at his government, not at the other political camp.)

The transcripts of those six cabinet meetings, classified at the time as Top Secret, have been sealed in the archives ever since. Yet the law which prevents their publication requires thirty years of concealment. Those thirty years are now up, so we're publishing them. The process of declassification required that we not open the sections which contain security matters which are sealed for fifty years; most of the time, however, the ministers talked politics, not military secrets, so the sections we've had to keep unpublished are quite limited. The open parts cover almost 250 pages of transcripts.

The publication comes in three flavors:

1. The full file, along with a detailed historical description is here.

2. An interpretive article about the content of the file, which we've published at Tablet Magazine.

3. A series of blog posts, in which we intend to translate segments of the transcripts into English, will be published on this blog. Each time we post another section we'll also update this post, so that it may serve as the aggregator of the whole effort. Readers who are interested in the full series but lack the Hebrew to read 250 pages, or lack the time and prefer an English-language digest, are encouraged either to revisit this blog post, or, preferably, simply to follow this blog.

Update 1: Here's the translation of the Cabinet's first meeting, on Saturday night immediately after the massacres. The ministers totally misread the situation.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Intermezzo: America in 1963

Since we're still offline preparing the documents from 1983, here's a cool collection of photographs from 1963, courtesy of The Atlantic.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Light Blogging for a Good Purpose

Blogging will be light for the next few days. We're concentrating our efforts on preparing a publication about the events of February 1983, when the Kahan Commission finished its inquiry into the massacres at Sabra and Shatila, the government deliberated what to do with the findings and recommendations, and Israeli society veered deep into the danger zone of civil strife, culminating with the murder of Emil Grinzweig, a Peace Now demonstrator, in front of the Prime Minster's Office. With the passage of 30 years, we can open some of the documents which have been sealed since the events, and hope to do so by the end of next week.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

How to Sell Arab Property in East Jerusalem

Following the mild self-rebuke of the previous post about using too many words on this blog while presenting long-winded documents, here's a short post about a very slim file (גל-13922/11, if you insist on its name). It contains all of five brief letters, and yet it underlines an entire field of bureaucratic practice which has never been fully clarified: who decided who owned which property in the territories Israel took control of in 1967. If you think about it for a moment, it's an extremely important issue, and it underlies much of the settlement project. Of course, this particular file shines a light at the issue, it doesn't resolve it.

On April 7, 1971, S. Shapira, a lawyer at the Land Authority, wrote a two-paragraph note to the Attorney General: we're seeing a growing number of Arabs living in other countries who are sending us their representatives so as to sell their East-Jerusalem real estate to Israelis. How are we supposed to deal with such transactions? (p.2)

On April 19, Michal Bodenkin, an assistant to the AG, replied even more tersely: We'll need to deal with each separate case (p.3); she then sent a copy of her letter to the Advisor on Arab Affairs (p.4). Marking turf, apparently.

Why was there an upswing of such transactions? It wouldn't reflect the very large construction projects getting underway in East Jerusalem, as those were administered centrally, while Shapira's query seems to refer to individual transactions. The file offers no explanation; when we find one we'll tell.

The final document in the file is pure turf-wars, but its subject is interesting: Zvi Terlow, the executive director of the Ministry of Justice, announces to lots of important folks in lots of ministries, that all cases of claims by Jews on land plots in the territories must go through his ministry. It was February 1974, and I assume someone was seeing a rise in Jews purchasing land on the West Bank; the Gush Emunim settler movement was to break onto the public scene within weeks.

Lincoln's Tweets

It's Abraham Lincoln's 204th birthday today, so you might be interested in reading some of his telegrams. They are way less wordy than many of the documents we usually present here.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Seizure of Private Property in East Jerusalem

Let's not beat around the bush. In May 1967 there were no Jews in the Jordanian sections of Jerusalem. Today there are more than 200,000 Jews living in the parts of town that Israel took from Jordan in the Six Day War. Most of them live on what were once empty hilltops, as those of us old enough to remember can attest even without any archives. Yet even barren rocky hilltops may have been owned, at least in some cases, by individuals. And some of those Jews moved into places such as the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, where the ruined buildings were owned by someone, or the decrepit buildings were inhabited. Which means that at some point, in 1967 or 1970 or 1972, Israel's government expropriated Arab property, or used Eminent Domain, whatever legal terminology you wish to use to describe the action of transferring ownership of property from some individuals, for the purpose of executing policy.

Today's file (גל-13927/17) comes from the Advisor for Arab Affairs, whom we introduced here (and also here). It doesn't describe Israel's policy of seizure of property, which was done in another agency (the Land Administration Agency), but rather the complaints about the policy which were directed towards the Prime Minister's Office, i.e. the Advisor for Arab Affairs in the PMO.

Most of the file is sealed. Not because there are any dark security secrets in it, but because by Israeli law, an individual who passes private information to an authority has the expectation of his (or her) privacy being respected. Once 70 years have passed we may assume the individuals are no longer alive and the files can be opened, but the letters in this file are from 40-45 years ago. Still, by way of giving a taste of what was in them, see pages 7 and 8.

The fellow on page 7, for example: He lived in the Old City, and had been informed his home was about to be seized. So he wrote to the prime minister and made five points:
1. My house is right next to the holy places of Jews and Muslims, so there's no price you can give me to equal what it's worth.
2. The government says the seizure is for the public good, but I don't see any benefit.
3. As an Israeli citizen I demand to stay where I am and I'll promise to respect all the laws.
4. I reserve the right to go to the courts.
5. I'm enclosing the documents which prove my ownership.

Or page 8: Yosef Dan-Gor writing to his boss, Shmuel Toledano, the Advisor for Arab Affairs himself, in the matter of two familes who own homes in the Sheikh Jarrakh area where the government intents to construct a number of ministries. The two familes are obstinate not to leave. Ovad Yakir of the Land Administration Authority, he writes, has suggested I meet them and make a seriously generous offer, before we turn to legal action. I think he's right, but I need your permission. [Intriguingly, they may not have been moved. If you go to the government compound in Sheikh Jarrah you can see that a number of older, Arab, homes are still there.]

Pages 2-5 are a letter from a voluntary welfare organization near the Mount of Olives. In January 196,8 they had been informed that they were to be moved elsewhere because the government was seizing their building, and they strenously obejcted. In addition to describing all the important things their organization did, they also pointed out that the building belonged to the Waqf and thus couldn't be expropriated, and also warned that such an action would cause public unrest and was against peace.

The letter on page 6 is also from Dan-Gor to his boss Toledano, in August 1960: there are five Arab families on French Hill who since January 1968 have been refusing all offers we've made. My impression is that they're not going to change their minds. [Here also: go to this area today and you'll see more than five Arab homes which have been there since before 1967. Are they the same families? Did Israel eventually back down?]

Page 9 is yet another letter from Dan-Gor: regarding the area where the Jordanian army had a military position south of the UN headquarters ("The Sausage"): Colonel Halamish informs us that the IDF is willing to vacate the hilltop to facilitate the construction of the Armon Hanaziv neighborhood.

And finally, most interestingly, the letter on page 10, Dan-Gor to his boss in May 1970: We're trying to seize an area in Wadi Joz so as to build a neighborhood for the [Arab] families which are being evicted from the Jewish Quarter in the Old City. The construction will be done by the [Arab] contractor Kalik Jad'On. The snag is that some of the owners of plots in that area are refusing to go along with the agreement we've already made with most of their neighbours, and now they've turned to the High Court of Justice (Bagatz).

Sunday, February 10, 2013

1956: How Do We Arrange Upper Nazareth?

Let's start with the "end" of the story. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, in 2011 there were almost 74,000 people in Nazareth, almost 70% of them Muslims and the rest Christians. No Jews lived there. In Upper Nazareth - the topic of this post - there were 40,000 people, almost 20% of them Arabs (Muslim and Christian).

In 1956, at the time of today's document, Nazareth's population stood at 24,000, most of them Christian (Arabs). It was the largest Arab town in Israel. A few years earlier, Ben Gurion had ordered the creation of a Jewish presence in Nazareth. Using what the Americans call Eminent Domain, the government had earmarked an area to the north-east of town, and had begun the construction of hundreds of housing units. Now, in August 1956, the first families were soon to move in, and the Ministers' Committee for Foreign Affairs and Defense was convened to discuss a question which probably ought to have been decided earlier, but hadn't: what would the municipality be? There were two main alternatives:

1. The Jewish neighborhood would be part of the municipality of Nazareth, even though about half of its area lay outside the municipal line;

2. The part that lay inside the municipal lines of Nazareth would be detached from the municipal area (in return for other land to the south or west), and the entire Jewish neighborhood would incorporate a new municipality.

Israel Bar-Yehuda, the Minister of the Interior, needed a decision on this so as to launch the appropriate legal process.

Foreign Minister Golda Meir had a complication: the UN General Assembly would convene in November, and Israel's decision on the internal matter of municipal lines between its towns was expected to be an issue there - so she needed the "right" decision.
Golda Meir: The whole idea was to have Jews move in. If the new neighborhood is part of Nazareth, the progressive city council will do everything to ensure it doesn't grow. There will be taxation but no services. If we set out on the legal track to detach the neighborhood from Nazareth, it will take a number of months, and maybe we can keep the process under wraps until after the UNGA. I understand the first families will move in sooner, September or October, but we'll tell them what's going to happen.

Minister of Religious Affairs and Welfare Moshe Haim Shapira: I'm against. The whole idea was to have a Jewish presence in Nazareth; if we create a separate town it will be separate. Also, the UN will say that not only are Jews moving into a city which is holy to the Christians, they're also reducing its size. On the other hand, if the Jews live in Nazareth, perhaps better relations will arise between the groups. I'm not worried the municipality will prevent the neighborhood from growing: it will be part of their town, and anyway, the municipality needs all sorts of things from the Ministry of Interior. It's not like what we had in Tel Aviv and Jaffa [Jewish TA was set up outside of mostly-Arab Jaffa], because now we've got a state and a government.

Golda Meir: No way. The municipality has hundreds of ways to prevent the growth of a Jewish presence... Part of the plan is to locate government offices in the Jewish neighborhood. If it's part of Nazareth, the employees will all be hired through the Nazareth labor bureau, and they'll make sure they hire only Arabs.... If we don't make the right decision here, I'll take the subject back to the full cabinet for a second discussion.

Minister of Health Israel Barzilai: I agree with Shapira. If we want a mixed city it has to be one city, not two. And if we make two, the Christian world will be furious at us for reducing the size of their holy city, even if we're not reducing its size because we're adding on elsewhere. Perhaps had we expropriated the area and detached it all at once, we would have had two accomplishments for the price of one international outcry. But now that we've already built some of the units, and they're inside the municipality line, it's too late to extract them. This is hindsight, I know... Ah. I've just been handed a note that says it was the decision of the Planning Department in the Ministry of the Interior. OK, but the staff of the planning department are professionals, not politicians, and they didn't think about the political aspects.

Minister of Justice Pinchas Rosenne: First, I must say I never liked the slogan of Judaizing Nazareth. It's a Christian holy city, and if we want Jews to live there, fine, but why do we need that slogan?

Golda Meir: It's first and foremost a Communist city, run by MAKI (Israel's Communist party).

Rosenne: The reality on the ground will be the same, but I think it's better not to push Jews into Christian Nazareth. The psychological effect will be better if there are two separate municipalities.

Minister of Education Zalman Aran: Inserting Jews into Nazareth will only cause hatred; and the tense relations between the locals and the Jews will make life for the Jews unbearable. There should be two separate municipalities.

Minister of Transport Moshe Carmel: The Jews of Nazareth should live in Nazareth, not in a separate township. I'm not in favor of mixed cities in general; Jews shouldn't move into Taibe, and Arabs shouldn't move into Ein Harod. But Nazareth is different. It's a big Arab city, in the middle of the Galilee, and there have to be Jews there for security reasons. [Carmel had been a general in the War of Independence.] It may end up less pleasant, but the Jews need to be in Nazareth.

Minister of Labor Mordechai Namir: Nazareth isn't a Christian city. A third of its population are Muslims. I see nothing wrong with individual Jews moving into Nazareth. Arabs can and Jews can't? Yet there has already been tension, and there will be more, and putting the Jews in a separate section is less likely to cause tension.

Barzilai: What you're essentially saying is that we can't move Jews into the city because the Communist world will get angry, and the Christian world too. You're saying we should leave the city as a bastion of the Communists, and accept that nothing good can come out of Jews and Arabs sharing a city.

Golda Meir: The Prime Minister (Ben Gurion) wrote months ago that he's in favor of having two municipalities.
Since a majority was in favor of creating two municipalities, the committee decided not to decide until after the UNGA in November. The fear of international opinion was strong enough in 1956 to interfere with internal policies of unquestionable Israeli sovereignty.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Yehudit Yavetz: Found!

Last week, we posted a letter from 12-year-old Yehudit Yavets to King George V, written in 1935. Yehudit had recently escaped with her family from Nazi Germany where she was born, and she wrote to the king to express her gratitude for the safe haven she and her family had found in Mandatory Palestine, under his sovereignty.

The story was picked up by Haaretz (in Hebrew), where Ofer Aderet issued a call to the general public to tell what they might know about Yehudit's life after 1935.

Here's the result. Her daughter, Dr. Nira Reiss, tells that as a young woman she worked for the British, then in 1945 she married Shlomo Reiss, they had four children, and she stayed at home to raise them. Sadly, she passed away in 1981, before reaching the age of 60. Today she has grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Leaving Germany after 1933 was the right move, even if it caused hardship at the time.

Does History Repeat Itself? Eshkol Forms a Government, 1961

Last Saturday night, the president of Israel, Shimon Peres, asked the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu to form a government. However, the situation resulting from the elections to the 19th Knesset last month is a complex one. The combined ruling party, Likud-Yisrael Beitenu, remains the largest single party, but according to media reports, two of its possible coalition partners, Yesh Atid and Bayit Yehudi, are planning to coordinate their stand during the coalition negotiations. Together, they have the same number of seats as Likud-Yisrael Beitenu--31--and could make things difficult.

This latest episode of political "musical chairs" reminds us at the ISA of one of the most interesting stories in the history of Israel's coalition jigsaw: how Finance Minister Levi Eshkol set up a government for Ben-Gurion in 1961. The elections of August 1961 were called as a result of a political crisis arising from the "Lavon Affair" and the campaign of Prime Minister Ben-Gurion against Histadrut secretary general Pinchas Lavon. The crisis weakened the ruling party, Mapai, which lost 5 seats, and had only 42 members, or 46 with the satellite Arab parties. Four of its rivals – the Liberals, the National Religious party, and left-wing Mapam and Ahdut Ha'avoda formed a bloc, "The Club of Four," which also had 46 seats. They demanded that Mapai give them equal status and the same number of ministerial posts as a condition for joining the coalition. Since 1949, Mapai had always had a majority in the government.

On September 5, President Izhak Ben-Zvi started consultations with the parties which were to recommend a candidate to form the government. Mapai naturally recommended Ben-Gurion. The right-wing Herut party which had 17 seats, the same as the Liberals, asked Ben-Zvi not to allow Ben-Gurion to delay. If he did, they should be given a chance. In theory, the Club of Four could have asked Herut to join them and formed a coalition of 63. Herut's leader, Menachem Begin saw an opportunity to remove Mapai from power. In a letter from October 1961, he urged that any citizen who wanted to change the government should ask the four parties to join with Herut. But in view of the deep differences between them there was no chance for such a scenario.

On September 6, Ben-Zvi asked Ben-Gurion to form a government, but the following day he returned the mandate. "I regret to say that in the present circumstances I cannot take upon myself to form a government," he wrote. Levi Eshkol, a rising force in the party, took over, and laboriously, over six weeks managed first to obtain the support of two more MKs, from the religious Poalei Aguda party, and then to wear down and dismantle the Club of Four, assuring Mapai of a majority in a coalition with the NRP and Ahdut Ha'avoda. Ben-Gurion was dubious about these moves because he wanted the Liberals in the coalition, and wrote to him later "I am full of admiration for your good will, your honest intentions, your devotion and patience, even when you are mistaken..."

Eshkol explains to the president the formation of the government
Early in November, Eshkol finally reported to the president that he had formed a government headed by Ben-Gurion. "We brought the Club of Four on all fours…into the government," he added with a smile.

You can read more about Eshkol and the crisis of 1961 in the volume on Eshkol edited by Arnon Lammfromm and Hagai Tsoref in the Commemorative Series (in Hebrew) of the Archives, and in the volumes on Ben-Gurion, Ben-Zvi and Moshe Sharett.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Government Protocols: Mid-september 1948

We continue our series of presenting the protocols of the cabinet (see the previous installment here).

In the week of September 8, 1948, the cabinet convened twice, on the 8th and on the 12th. There were three main topics to be discussed, all of them still relevant in 2013.

The first was the relationship between the State of Israel and its Orthodox citizens, focusing on the conditions of miltary service and how they might be squared with religious commandments. Apparently some Orthodox soldiers near Netanya had been ordered to do something they felt they couldn't do, so they'd been arrested. This prompted one of the religious ministers, Rabbi Fishman, to threaten to resign. The cabinet told him his resignation wouldn't be accepted, and also ordered the soldiers released, as well as set up to figure out how to deal with such matters. A similar committee will undoubtedly be set up as soon as the present coalition negotiations end, and it won't be the last, either.

There was a discussion about the high consumer prices and what to do about them. A committee was set up. (And another will be set up any day now, just wait and see.)

Finally, there was discussion about Israel's position at the UN regarding Jerusalem. It can be summarized thusly: Israel will not relinquish its control of the Western half, and certainly not for some sort of internationalization; if, however, the UN decided that the Old City should be internationalized (Israel didn't control that part), Israel might be willing to go along with the idea. Better that than Jordanian control which would prevent any access to Jews. (As indeed happened.) Without being privy to any insider information, it's safe to bet that this, also, is on the agenda of Israel's present political leaders, all these years later.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Memoirs vs. Documents: the Case of an Attack on Syria

Elliot Abrams has published a fascinating story about the bombing of the nuclear reactor in Syria in September 2007. As a high official in the White House of George W. Bush, he was privy to extremely classified meetings and deliberations, and his tale is profoundly revealing. Startling, even, since the documents themselves, as he comments, will remain locked up for many years. And yet he tells quite a bit about what's in them, which of course raises the interesting question as to where the line goes between what must remain closed and what can be written in memoires.

Along the way, he alludes to aspects of his story in the already-published memoirs of President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Abrams obviously can't say what transpired in Israeli deliberations at the time, since he wasn't there; we can say that Israeli top-secret security documents stay sealed for decades, and we aren't aware of Israeli memoirs which refer to these events, nor even to any official Israeli allusions to them at all. If there's an Israeli story to tell, it hasn't been told and isn't told by Abrams. It is however interesting to read his article with an eye towards the types of things that appear in memoirs vs. what will eventually come out of the documents: the latter can expected to be more precise and less subjective. For all his riveting tale, it is very much his subjective memory of what was going on, seen from the perspetive on an individual who can report on what he saw and heard, and can't report on what he didn't see or hear.

Knesset Members Get a Classified Report During the Yom Kippur War

The 19th Knesset will be sworn in today. (The Knesset website should be updated later today to reflect the change.) Something like 50 of its 120 members are new at their job, while a similar number just lost theirs, most of them unwillingly. Since some people invest tremendous efforts in becoming MKs, it's worth asking if it's an important job; the answer is that sometimes it certainly can be, but not always--a point the newbies and the veterans might wish to keep in mind, if only to ensure more significance and less insignificance.

Today's document demonstrates that sometimes the insignificance can pop up even where it's not expected. The document is a section of the stenogram of the discussion in the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee from October 8, 1973.

Of the twelve permanent Knesset committees, the Foreign Affairs and Defense is easily the second most prestigious - the most powerful, of course, being the Finance Committee, which is the one that prepares the budget for legislation. Nothing can be more powerful in government than handing out the money. Still, having parliamentary oversight over both foreign affairs and defense in a conflict-ridden country like Israel is important. Opposition parties generally send their top-tier MKs to the FA&D; coalition parties send the top MKs who aren't otherwise occupied by being government ministers. (Note to our American readers: in Israel, being a parliamentary democracy, there's significant overlap between the legislators and the ministers).

So it was October 8, 1973, the third day of the Yom Kippur War, and the FA&D was convened for its daily report on the war. The first few pages of the stenogram deal with a technical matter: the Ministry of Defense had published an emergency decree to requisition heavy transportation vehicles, and it needed the Knesset (represented by this committee) to authorize it. There was never any doubt that the committee would comply, but before doing so the members had all sorts of questions to the MoD's attorney. How will payment be made to the owners? (A: according to the law.) Is it arbitrary? Are trucks flagged down and requisitioned? (A: the owners know if their vehicles are registered for emergency requisitioning, and the practice is that they're called in individually.) Why was the order signed on the 10th of Tishrei? That's Yom Kippur? Perhaps we should post-date the order? (A: The 10th of Tishrei was the day the war started. Fact.)

Having finished the technical stuff, the committee turned to hearing a report on the military situation. A careful reading, however, shows that this, too, may have been more ceremonial than true parliamentary oversight. First, because of the official doing the reporting. Major General Aharon Yariv had until the previous year been the head of Military Intelligence, an important and well-informed job; but he had retired in 1972, and had only been called up as a special advisor to the Chief of Staff on October 6th. Which means the army was sending a reservist to report to the Knesset because all the people with real jobs were busy (if not overwhelmed) with running the war. The best indication, however, is the content of the exchanges between Yariv and the MKs, who came armed with things they had heard on the media, or simple rumours, and wanted them verified. See page 5, for example:
Yariv: So that's the situation on the Golan. Sadly, I must inform you that the Golani brigade failed to re-take the position on Mont Hermon.
Menachem Begin: The report about the crumbling of the Syrian line was not accurate?
Yariv: I don't think so.
Benjamin Halevy: "They've begun retreating": true? "We're chasing them"?
Yariv: Technically true, in that there were Syrian forces who retreated, and some of ours followed them. But let's not imagine a collapsing Syrian army with the IDF racing towards Damascus.
Gideon Hausner: I saw an item in the paper about how the IDF is going to push the Syrians back to the previous line and then stop. My question is what's the basis for this?
Yariv: My question, too.
[...]
Becker: I also hear that the families have been allowed to return to the Golan settlements they were evacuated from?
Yariv. I haven't checked. I imagine it's only the men, and most of them have been mobilised anyway.
Lanadu: I heard a report that the air force has freedom of the skies? What about the Syrian anti-aircraft missiles?
Yariv: Within the range of the Syrian anti-aircraft missiles the IAF's freedom of action is limited.
Landau: I don't understand?
Yariv: Within the range of the Syrian anti-aircraft the ability of our air force to operate is limited.
[...]
Halevi: If the reports on the radio aren't accurate, and essentially are misleading, who's going to fix the false impression?
Yariv: We're not responsible for the radio.
Halevi: They don't get their information from official sources?
Yariv: As I've already explained, the military censor does his best that no operational secrets leak out, that's all. The radio is sovereign. But perhaps I can see what can be done.
Zadok: So it's not a media policy?
Yariv. No.
[...]
Landau: So did we bomb the Damascus airport?
Yariv: No. It's an international airport.
Refael: Did we operate according to plan yesterday?
Yariv. Yes. The plan was to hold the line and bolster it.
Refael: So we attained yesterday's goals?
Yariv: No. We stopped when their reinforcements arrived.
[...]
[Referring to a an IDF position to which there had temporarily been no contact] Landau: What do you mean there was no contact with them?
Yariv: I'm asking you. Maybe you can explain to me. When there's a war on and the lines get cut and the equipment is damaged, there's no contact.
Landau: That looks very simple to you. To me it doesn't look simple.
Zadok: Of the area of the Golan we previously controlled, how much do we now control?
Yariv: I don't know. Because I don't know exactly where our forces are. Perhaps even some of them have crossed the previous line [eastwards, into Syrian territory].
What's the moral of the story? That war is chaotic, perhaps; and that there are times when the army can't really offer clear reports, not even to the legislature; and that at such moments, the oversight of the legislature, which is crucial in a functioning democracy, isn't of much use, and probably can't be expected to be, either.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Initiating a Large Settlement: Next

Here's another thread we should have made more progress on than we did. Almost a month ago, we presented a document from corridors of the Ministry of Construction and Housing, which told how in December 1980, some of the officials were gearing up the planning process of a new town north of Jerusalem. At the time we told part of the story which appears in the file, and promised we'd post the second half the next day... Ah well. That didn't work out, did it.

Anyway. That previous document was an internal summary written by one Ministry of Construction official to another. It was very business-like: 'we're running out of space to build neighborhoods, and we've got to look further afield.' We don't know what happened next, but in February the file contains a flurry of follow-up letters, all of them from beyond the ministry. There are three identical letters sent on February 9th by one Yisrael Adler, who worked for the D.E.L. Development and Engineering company--one to the communications officer in the West Bank military governor's office; one to the Electricity Officer there, and one to the Head of Archeology at the Rockefeller Museum (I assume this means the Antiquities Authority). Each letter informs of the intention to plan a new town in the area, and requests to be informed where the communications and electricity lines are, and where the sensitive archaeological sites lie.

And note: An employee of a private firm is requesting this information from state officials, in the service of a state project which has apparently hired the private firm.

If it's the minutiae of how policy gets implemented which interest you, the letter of February 18, 1981 is perhaps the most intriguing. Its author was Benny Dvir, who worked in the programs department of the Ministry of Construction and Housing, a subordinate of Zeev Barkai who wrote the letter launching this project (as we saw in the previous post). So it's a government document. It was sent to Engineer T. Litersdorf in Tel Aviv, one of the principles of The Litersdorf-Goldenberg engineering firm. It mentions that meetings have been going on, and recognizes that the private-sector professionals have seen Barkai's letter of December 1st. Dvir's letter summarizes what everyone knows so as to have a written record of it - so far, so standard paper-pushing. Yet then the letter itself veers off into new territory, when it presents the motivations for creating a new town north of Jerusalem:
Political considerations:
1. Having analyzed various political options, the ministry has come to the conclusion that the Jewish presence in the metropolitan area of Jerusalem needs to be strengthened.
2. The non-Jewish neighborhoods (Azariya, Shuafat, al-Gib, Anata etc) are growing rapidly.
3. Within the city lines the ratio of Jews to non-Jews is 2.5:1. In the entire metropolitan area, however, it's more like 1:1. There needs to be a massive growth in the Jewish presence.
4. There's only one main road from the plain up to Jerusalem; we need to widen this corridor.
Urban considerations:
1. Housing prices in Jerusalem are too high.
2. Not enough diversity in the types of housing in the city.
3. If the city grows north, we may be able to develop train transport in that direction.
4. Greater diversity of employment.

Other considerations:
1. Size: at 15 km from Jerusalem we'll need a largish town; closer in, it can be smaller and lean on the center for services.
2. Ownership: while areas with private ownership are not impossible for development, we're looking for areas with state ownership.
3. We're looking for areas with convenient topography.
I remind you that it was in response to these letters that the ministry ended up with a map and description of the E1 area (and E2-6, as well as W1-6)