Thursday, August 15, 2013

Menachem Begin's Hundredth Birthday

Prime Minister Begin asks the Knesset to approve the peace treaty with Egypt, 20 March 1979. On his right, Knesset Speaker Yitzhak Shamir. (Photograph: Ya'acov Sa'ar, Government Press Office)
On August 16, 1913, Menachem Begin was born in Brest-Litovsk, which was then part of the Russian Empire and is now in Belarus. Begin was the commander of the Irgun Zvai Leumi underground movement (1943-1948) and in 1977, he became Israel's sixth prime minister. He resigned in 1983 and died in 1992.

Next year, the Israel State Archives will publish a collection of documents on the life of Menachem Begin. Several online publications have already been issued by the ISA, some of them based on these documents. To mark the centenary of Begin's birth, we are listing these publications here. The following have an introduction and some documents in English:

The Israeli Government Discusses the Results of the Six Day War, June 1967
"No More War":President Sadat's Journey to Jerusalem, November 1977
Moshe Dayan's Meeting with the Egyptian Deputy Premier, December 1977
Now or Never: US President Jimmy Carter's Visit to Israel, March 1979
The 33rd Anniversary of the Peace Treaty with Egypt, March 1979
The "Elon Moreh" High Court Decision of 22nd October 1979
The Kahan Commission on the Sabra and Shatilla Massacre, 1982-1983
Prime Minister Menachem Begin on Justice and the Rule of Law: Selected Documents

Monday, August 12, 2013

Slow Blogging

Blogging has been very slow recently.  We've been working on some very major programs, and now it's August and summer break time. We do hope for improvement later on, honestly.

1968: Budgeting East Jerusalem

Today's document is a wee bit confusing. It was written by Yehuda Tamir, PM Levi Eshkol's man for dealing with East Jerusalem, and it details what the construction for the next year is to be. Except that nowadays, at any rate, that's decided by the Budget Department of the Finance Ministry, and even if the prime minister himself wants to have a certain result, it still goes through the FM, where the locals look at the suggestion balefully before eventually acquiescing (it is the prime minister, after all). Tamir's letter reeks of the confidence of someone who knows that his words, assumed to be those of his boss, will be acted upon.

It's a different world.

Another minor thing you need to keep in mind is that in the late 1960s, Israel's annual budget year ran from April 1 to March 31. An odd system, thankfully done away with for the complications it engendered. Why anyone would maintain such a system is beyond us.

(Yes, we know.)

Anyway. Not only was the budget year odd, they also didn't use Excel in those days, which makes deciphering the budget a bit challenging. I think he's talking about a sum in the excess of 12 million IL, some to come from bank loans, but I may be misreading. The items in the letter are pretty clear. There is to be construction for Jews on Jerusalem's north side, at Givat Hamivtar, French Hill and elsewhere. The planning of what later became East Talpiyot was to be completed so as to begin construction in 1970. The government offices on the road to Mont Scopus are to be promoted.

Yet there was also a budget for Arabs; homes were to be built for Arabs in Wadi Joz and Beit Hanina. The construction at Beit Hanina really did happen and the buildings are still there; I don't know about Wadi Joz.

(File א-7921/3)

Abba Eban, The Stateless American Who Couldn't Vote in Israel

Of all the large Jewish communities in the modern world, that of the United States has probably sent fewer immigrants to Israel than any other. If you know where to look - Katamon, say, or Har-Nof in Jerusalem, or Ra'anana - they are quite visible, and in some professions they simply can't be overlooked. Reform rabbis, for example. But in large swathes of Israel they're quite thin on the ground. All Israelis have been in America, more or less, but Israel's Jews are not American Jews. Different agendas, different worldviews, different sentiments.

In the political sphere, there have been more Americans than many people realize, especially if you count Canadians such as Dov Josef. Two, however, stick out. There was the one who served as prime minister in the early 1970s. And there was Abba Eban, who actually never held American citizenship but stood out from a mile away for being as un-sabra as they make them, and whose English was easily better than that of any run-of-the-mill Oxford don.

Martin Kramer (an American who lives in Israel) tells the oddly touching story about how Eban magnificently represented Israel in America for its full first decade, and then, when the time came to go home, was informed he wasn't an Israeli at all.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

On the Chaos of Mass Immigration - Updated

During Israel's earliest years, the number of new immigrants, most of them nearly destitute refugees from Europe (Holocaust survivors) and Arab lands, was greater than the total number of Israelis - and many of the veteran Israelis hadn't been there more than a few years themselves. A few months ago, we even posted a statistical summary from 1952, and our "Immigration" label will show you other posts we've done on the topic.

Today we're presenting two reports from the end of October 1950. The first was submitted on October 29, 1950 by Captain Dr. H. Shkedi, Acting Medical Officer of the Southern Command, to the CO of Southern Command; it contained his description of a visit he and a number of his fellow physicians had just made to the ma'abara (immigrant camp) of Ajour:

Our first impression was bad. The camp is filthy, crowded, each tent is shared by two or three families, they do their cooking in the tents, there are no sidewalks, and skinny and undernourished children wander about.

The public toilets are a disaster. The showers seem alright, but there's no hot water. There are 250 families, about 900 people, but there's only one doctor. He himself is sickly, he lacks adequate medications, has no support staff, and is overwhelmed.

The camp is about four months old. There is known to be malaria in the area, but no one has done any disinfection.

We examined 100 people to gauge the frequency of sicknesses. All were unhealthy, many with symptoms of long-term malnourishment, along with skin and eye diseases.

We instructed the doctor how to treat the most common ailments we identified, but he doesn't have the medications anyway. We sprayed the entire camp, all its tents, and the people in it, with DDT. (This was standard in those days, before the dangers of DDT were understood).

Our recommendations: more medications, more medical staff, regular disinfections, hygiene instruction for the immigrants, construction of proper toilets and facilitating hot water, construction of a clinic for sick children, improvement of the tents.

The general apparently received the report in the morning, because the very same day he sent a team of logistics officers, this time headed by a colonel, to fix things. Colonel Israel Mintz submitted his report two days later:

1. Food:
1.1. There are sufficient basic, rationed, foodstuffs.
1.2. Unrationed foodstuffs: there aren't any. The owner of the store says he can't bring in additional supplies because the tires of his truck won't bear the unpaved road.
1.3 Clearly, no-one can survive on the basic, rationed foodstuffs alone; in Ajour the situation is even worse as the Yemenite immigrants are unfamiliar with some of the types of food and don't know what to make of them. The men are employed at hard physical labor. It's unacceptable that the Histadrut is paying so little for their labor; a Histadrut company needs to think about more than the bottom line.

2. Housing: The immigrants live in American military tents. They don't know how to maintain them, and with the arrival of the first winter storm the camp will be a disaster. Either better housing must be found, or at very least the men must be instructed on how to maintain the tents.
Someone needs to deal with the lack of hot water, the construction of public toilets, and the construction of separate shower stalls for men and women.

3. Clothing: the immigrants are clothed in rags. Margulin told me that he hopes they will soon be given ration cards for clothes, but I don't see where they're expected to buy the clothes.

Given an adequate budget, I don't see why the army shouldn't be able to resolve most of the issues.

On the margins of both reports, an unidentified Moshe scribbled that the local physician has been instructed, and we'll deal with the hot water and showers. We haven't yet solved the matter of the food. This was on October 31.

Is this a success story? A disaster? A tale of indifference, or of inadequate good intentions? Tellingly, no-one thinks the United Nations or any other external agent needs to be involved.

Update: A well-informed reader writes to tell us that since at the time the commanding general was none other than Moshe Dayan, he's probably the unidentified "Moshe" scribbling in the margins. After all, he would have been scribbling for some immediate purpose, not for posterity (that's us), and all the immediate actors would have been quite clear who the boss was.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

"Stop the cheap laborers!"

On September 18, 1967, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Labor Yigal Allon wrote a short letter to the ministers of defense (Moshe Dayan) and police (Eliyahu Sasson) alerting them to the danger of large numbers of laborers from the newly-controlled territories entering Israel in search of work. They're illegal, he wrote, they undercut the wages of Israeli laborers, and of course they're a security threat. The Labor Bureau is trying to halt their entry, but the employers are disregarding its efforts. There's been a meeting of top officials, but no effective solution has been identified. It appears that the only way to combat the phenomenon is for the police and the army to prevent these laborers from leaving the territories. 

Yes, well. As anyone who knew Israel in the 1970s and 1980s can attest, large numbers of mostly unskilled Palestinians from the territories were a central part of Israel's economy in those days, mostly in construction and low-level services. In the 1990s and afterwards this changed, but that's a different story.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

King David Hotel bombing - 67 years later, still a controversial issue

67 years ago, on July 22, 1946, the Irgun blew up the luxurious King David Hotel in Jerusalem. Housed at the Hotel was the Chief Secretariat of the British Mandate government (essentially, its prime minister).
The King David Hotel after the bombing (Wikipedia)
The bombing was part of the operations of the "Jewish Resistance Movement" – the alliance of the paramilitary organizations Haganah, Irgun (National Military Organization) and Lehi (Fighters for the Freedom of Israel) in the British Mandate of Palestine. The movement was established in October 1945 by the Jewish Agency, and existed between the years 1945 and 1946, coordinating attacks against the British authority. The King David bombing cost the lives of 91 people (British, Jews, Arabs and other nationalities) and was the cause of the breakup of the Jewish Resistance movement.

There is a long-simmering controversy over whether warning was given to the British before the bombing. The British always denied that such warning was provided--especially Sir John Shaw, the Chief Secretary, who was blamed for ignoring the warning--while the Irgun, and especially Irgun member Adina Hai-Nisan, insisted that it was. Hai-Nisan claimed she called the hotel switchboard 30 minutes before the explosion. During the early 80's, Israeli television produced the much acclaimed documentary "The Pillar of Fire" cataloging the history of Zionism and the establishment of the state of Israel. In chapter 16, Adina Nissan told her story opposite Sir John Shaw (12:30-17:30, Hebrew, no subtitles).

Here are some relatively unknown facts about the King David Hotel Bombing:

1) In 2011, Dr. Eldad Harouvi published his doctorate thesis in a book called Palestine Investigated: The Story of the Palestine CID, 1920-1948 (Hebrew only).


Haruvi, the director of the Palmach House Archive, studied the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) documents in the Hagana Archive in Tel Aviv as part of his doctoral thesis. This collection is actually a copy of the original CID archive, which was transferred to Egypt in May 1948. The Hagana's intelligence service, known as the SHAI (Information Service in Hebrew acronym) managed to photocopy it several days before it was shipped out of Israel. The copy was kept by the ISA (Israel's Security Agency, known by the Hebrew acronym SHABAK) until 1991, when it was transferred to the Hagana archive.

In his book, Harouvi reveals some interesting facts: First, the CID had intelligence showing the Hotel as a possible target for attack by the Irgun in December 1945 – 6 months prior to the attack. The CID asked to raise security in the hotel, including putting armed soldiers at the 'Regence' restaurant at the entrance of the hotel. The Chief Secretary refused to consider these suggestions, with the justification that there were not many places for recreation and fun in Palestine, and he did not want to foreclose another. He continued to refuse to take action (or even to pass on the information to the High Commissioner of Palestine) when the CID approached him again with newer information on the attack plan (the CID had the plan of attack, but did not know exactly when it would be carried out).

Second, another fact that is not common knowledge is that the Irgun carried out a diversion bombing minutes after the bombs were planted in the King David Hotel, in which a wagon with explosives was blown outside shops next to the hotel. The CID's assessment was that this second bombing (which broke windows, but did not hurt anyone) was intended to cause panic and encourage evacuation of the building. One of the CID officers Harouvi interviewed for his book flatly blames Shaw for the death of so many, since he could have evacuated the building on time (pages 293-297).

2) One of the people killed in the bombing was Jeffrey Walsh, the Economic Adviser of the British government in Palestine. Walsh, one of the most senior officials killed, left a large number of files and documents that were scanned and may be viewed on the Israel State Archives web site. The record contains material on different aspects of the economy in British Mandate Palestine during the Second World War. Walsh was also Controller of Food, a wartime assignment. In 1940, the British Palestine government formed the War Supply Board--a civilian command and control body for handling economic and supply problems during the War. The British believed that they would be unable to regularly supply the Middle East (that is – their colonies and lands under their rule) during wartime, and formed different control bodies for non-military supply. The headquarters for these bodies were based in Cairo. East Africa, Palestine and Trans-Jordan, and the Indian Subcontinent all had boards dealing with food, medical supply, industry (light & heavy), etc. Walsh, who headed these efforts in Mandatory Palestine, was buried in the Mt. Zion graveyard together with the other British individuals killed in the blast.
Jeffrey Walsh, Economic Adviser and Food Controller
One of the files of the Food Controller contains a study on Palestine's food problems. It is entitled Tantalus, probably after the mythological figure denied food and drink by the gods. Inside this dry, bureaucratic document, someone decided to lighten up and integrate cartoons with quotations from the study. One of them shows a lion and an African warrior, and is perhaps meant to be a little joke on Walsh – a former official in the Tanganyika colonial government. Here are two other cartoons – one connected to the War and another one showing the American Wild West.

3. Another British casualty of the bombing was Brigadier Peter Lockwood Smith-Dorrien, head of the Commerce and Industry Department. While his name does not ring a bell these days, it was very familiar in Britain, as he was the son of Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien, one of the more controversial British generals during the First World War. General Smith-Dorrien had a long and colorful career in the British Army, including being one of the 50 British survivors of the Battle of Isandlwana--where the Zulus repelled a British invasion into their lands (Monty Python used it as the basis for one of their skits in the Meaning of Life)--and the war in Sudan at the end of the 19th century and in the Boer War (1899-1902). Peter Smith-Dorrien commanded a regiment during the failed British mission in Greece in 1941, and managed to evade capture by escaping to Crete on a boat with British and New Zealand soldiers, as described here. His elder brother was killed in Italy in 1944. All of the Smith-Dorriens served in the "Sherwood Foresters" regiment, named after Robin Hood and his merry men.

4. The bombing caused great damage to the Mandate government's archive, especially the Chief Secretariat's archive (the British didn't have a central archive, only departmental archives). Here is a cover of a file with a comment on it: "Original lost on 22.7.46." The British tried to reconstruct the files lost or recovered from the debris (some, I believe, still contain dust from the destruction of the building!).The bombing of the King David Hotel is one of the reasons for the absence of many British files from the Israel State Archives collections. The other reasons include planned destruction by the British before leaving Palestine in May 1948; partial destruction during the bombing campaign by Jewish underground movements (especially immigration files); partial destruction during Israel's War of Independence; and some ruin due to neglect. (We believe that the Egyptians may hold part of the Gaza district files, while the Jordanians hold files from the Samaria & Jerusalem districts, as well as other files from different departments.) In one file that did survive, we can find the Jerusalem sub-district coroner's summary on the cause of death of those killed in the King David Hotel bombing.