Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Electrifying the Territories

The things a prime minister has to deal with, I tell you. We think we've got it tough, being so busy these past weeks that blogging has mostly stopped. Well, back in the first years after the Six Day War, the PM's office seems to have been involved with every tiniest detail pertaining to Israel's actions in Jerusalem, and if not every one of them, at least a startling range of things.

Here, look at this document from September 15, 1968. Yehuda Faust, the deputy manager of operations in East Jerusalem, sent a letter to the electricity company (and to the ministers of defense, justice, development, the mayor of Jerusalem and various others) reporting on a recent meeting where it had been decided to lay high-voltage cables to the Jewish neighborhoods in north-east Jerusalem such as French Hill and Givat Hamivtar, and also to series of military camps, mostly to the north. Alas, meetings and decisions were one thing, and actions on the ground were another, so Faust was nagging.

He also included various technical data. There were to be 89 km of cable, at a cost of IL3,240,000.

On page 3, which was apparently added a bit later, Mr Rakover (whoever he was) announced he couldn't string up cables in East Jerusalem without someone in authority OK'ing it, and he didn't know who that might be.

Page 5 mentions that to the south of Jerusalem, some of the installations are settlements, not military camps.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Catching the Bus to the Kotel

On February 16, 1969, a fellow by the name of Bazrai (whose family must have come from Basra) sent a letter to Yehuda Tamir, Levy Eshkol's top aide for Jerusalem affairs, reporting about a meeting he had recently held with representatives of Egged, the main bus company.
At the meeting it was decided to launch a regular bus line through the Old City, from Jaffa Gate to the Western Wall (the Kotel). It will stop at the Kishle police station, Zion Gate,  The Jewish Quarter, and Dung Gate near the wall. It will come by every 15 minutes, meaning there will need to be two buses. The smallest buses in service can just inch by the arch in the Armenian Quarter, and it would be nice if someone could widen the alley at that point.
The line will connect to lines 18 and 20 and for 35 cents (agorot) passengers will be able to get a connecting ticket; a single ticket will be 20 agorot, while a normal single bus ticket on all the other lines is 25 agorot.
The service will operate between 6am (for early risers who want to pray the morning service at the Kotel) until 9:30pm. 
The arch in the Armenian Quarter was of course never tampered with; it's still there and the small buses still inch by.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Cabinet Transcripts are Off-Limits Even if You Were There

Blogging has been very slow recently, and sadly, will probably remain slow. There's been a parallel uptick in our activities on at least four tracks, and what with blogging being a luxury, well, we've not had the time. At least two of the projects may generate visible or reportable results by summer's end; the others will take longer but will generate lasting change which is intended to benefit our public.

Still, since I've got at least three files open on my desk, I really ought to flip through them before sending them back. One is Levy Eshkol's East Jerusalem file which has supplied grist for a number of recent posts. One of them was about the reconstruction of the Hurva synagogue, which ultimately didn't happen until 40 years later.

Apparently on January 1, 1969, the Cabinet discussed the idea. By now, 2013, the transcript of that meeting has been declassified and I could call it up and tell you what happened at the meeting if I wasn't otherwise engaged. Yaacov Lipshuetz, the Haifa attorney who had been nagging for months and not allowing the matter to slide, had to write the Cabinet secretary for a copy of the transcript at the time.

Nope, he was told. Cabinet transcripts don't get published or even sent in the mail. Anyway, since you were there, you know what transpired.

Helpful, huh? Readers of this blog, of course, can and do see such transcripts with some regularity, which just goes to show that you need to be wise in choosing your decade of birth.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Happy Fourth of July – and Please Give Us Arms: Golda Writes to Dulles, 4 July 1956

On June 20, 1956, Golda Meir replaced Moshe Sharett as Israel's foreign minister, and on the Fourth of July, the 180th anniversary of American independence, she wrote a letter to Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, still signing with her old name of Golda Myerson. Israel's leaders usually sent formal greetings for the Fourth of July to the Administration, but this time Golda used the opportunity to approach Dulles on a subject which greatly occupied the minds of the Israeli leaders – the search for arms to counter the major Czech-Egyptian arms deal in September 1955.
Dulles, accompanied by Harold Stassen and Sharett (on the left), inspects an honor guard on his arrival in Israel, May 1953. Photograph: Israel State Archives
In October 1955, Sharett met twice with Dulles to request American arms. Until then, the US government had sold Israel only outmoded or defensive weapons. Dulles was reluctant to change this policy, as he still hoped to win over the Egyptian leader, Col. Nasser, to the side of the West in the Cold War, and to prevent an arms race with the USSR. In March 1956, he decided that France and Italy should supply Israel with arms, with American encouragement. But the process was slow, and in Golda's letter she urged him to approve direct supply of arms to Israel in order to speed it up. The Israeli ambassador to Washington, Abba Eban, met with Dulles to give him the letter, and repeated these arguments. Israel had approached Canada, France and Italy but they were waiting for an American lead.

Sharett's failure in this endeavor, while the Defense Ministry was succeeding in forging direct ties with military circles in France, was one of the reasons Ben-Gurion forced his resignation in June 1956. Another was the fear that Sharett would oppose a war with Egypt initiated by Israel. On July 26, Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal, and in October, Britain, France and Israel decided to act against him. Golda's letter and Eban's account of his meeting with Dulles can be found in Volume 11 of the ISA's series, "Documents on the Foreign Policy of Israel," which tells the rest of the story of the run-up to the Sinai Campaign. The book has an English companion volume with summaries of the Hebrew documents.
Foreign Minister Golda Meir and former French premier Guy Mollet, 1959. Photograph: Fritz Cohen, Government Press Office
Golda's approach too was unsuccessful. The US administration continued in its refusal to sell modern weapons to Israel until the 1960s, while France remained Israel's main source of arms.