As Israel approaches its 65th independence day, documents, photographs, films and audio clips have been put online by the state archives and the center for educational technology. Their content reflects the domestic reality and security issues of the state of Israel in its early years.
They include fascinating materials from the Six Day War and from the period before, plus more. There is documentation of the fortifications on the shores of Tel Aviv during the War of Independence and photos showing the sinking of the Altalena, the military parade on the first Independence Day and voices from the front and the home lines of the different wars.
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Among the documents, are records of the meeting between the Israeli Ambassador in Paris, Walter Eytan and Charles De Gaulle, which took place on the backdrop of strong expressions from the president of France against the intentions of Israel during the War of 67. “He believes that a war will leave us in disaster, even if we win,” Eytan reported to Abba Eban. “We will have heavy losses. The Arabs will bomb us and in the end nothing will be solved., we will only increase the hatred.”
Some of the records shed light on the diplomatic relations of Israel in its early years. After the war of Independence, on December 4, 1949, Prime Minister David Ben Gurion sent a letter to Foreign Minister Moshe Sharett who was in New York, preparing for the possibility that the UN would internationalize Jerusalem. “I am calling a government meeting in the morning,” Ben Gurion wrote.
“I will propose a statement that the State of Israel will not accept any form of foreign government in Jewish Jerusalem or its being torn from the country, and if we stand before a choice of leaving Jerusalem or leaving the UN, we will choose to leave the UN,” the prime minister stated.
A baby disappears in an immigrant camp
Archives show issues surrounding the process of integrating those who had made aliya from Muslim countries during Israel’s early years, and the roots of the stories of the kidnapped children. In a November 1950 letter sent from Police Inspector General Yehezkel Sahar, to Health Minister Moshe Shapira, a report from police headquarters was attached listing results of the investigation into the disappearance of a baby from a new immigrant camp in Beit Lid.
The report concluded that the baby had been hospitalized and gotten better, then was sent mistakenly to the Ein Shemer camp, where it disappeared due to the chaos which was common in the camp medical facilities. “On 29.9.50 a list was published in the newspaper ‘Davar’ on the disappearance of a baby in one of the immigrant camps,” Sahar wrote.
“The investigations teams looked into it and issued a detailed report by one of the talented officers. The report paints a picture of shortcomings of the organization of the medical services in the immigrant camps, which must be fixed. The baby still has not been found,” he said.
In a section of the archives focusing on education and culture, there is a selection from a report of the Education Committee for Immigrant Camps (Frumkin Committee) from January 1950. The committee was appointed to examine the truth of the accusations of an anti-religion atmosphere in the immigrant camps.
Watching Altalena go up in flame (Photo: State Archives)
The committee reported that there had not been any effort on the part of the government to be anti-religion, but there had been ‘a fatal error’ made in the establishment of the body that oversaw education in the camps.
Jospeh Kopteil, one of the workers in the immigrant camp at Ein Shemer wrote a letter describing to the committee, a few of the incidents he witnessed: “A Yemenite immigrant who was distributing proclamations against non-religious education was hit by the police. The manager of the camp forbade the religious teachers from using holy and religious books. Two Hebron Yeshiva boys from Jerusalem who came to teach the children torah were forcibly removed from the camp with the help of the police.”
Palestinian refugees: His majesty the Agriculture Minister
The archives include records dealing with the country’s treatment of minorities in its early years. One of them is from Christian Arabs who were expelled from their homes in Beit She'an and settled as refugees in Nazareth. “To his majesty the Agricultural Minister,” they began in the version that was translated to Hebrew, “We are the leaders of a group of people who were about to sign on an agreement of surrender for the city of Beit She'an. To our astonishment, we were ordered to leave the city.”
The signatories requested to go and work their lands, in accordance with the rules of governmental assistance to refugees.
Fortifications on Tel Aviv shore, War of Independence (Photo: State Archives)
The Agricultural Ministry replied laconically, “In the event that you wish to re-establish yourself, and to receive a home and land, please write to the military governor in Nazareth. However, you must note that there is no possibility to return to Beit She'an. Rehabilitative activities are possible in one of the villages in the Galilee.
An Arab reconciliation
There was also a file of documents publicized dealing with the massacre in Kfar Kassam in 1956, in which border guards shot to death 49 residents, including women and children. The Mayor of Petah Tikva at the time, Pinchas Rashish, wrote to the Prime Minister Ben Gurion on the conclusions of the committee which had been appointed to decide on compensation. Families of the victims would receive 5,000 lirot.
The reconcilation ceremony (Photo: IDF Archives)
Among other things, it was written that “the committee recommends that both sides hold a reconciliation ceremony in Kfar Kassam, according to Arab tradition. The expenses of the reconciliation fall upon the government… the committee considers this putting an end to the incident, and turns to the honorable mayor of Petah Tikva, who should agree to take this to this hands, and invite all who are connected to the matter so that the head of the committee will publically announce the decisions of the committee and move forward with planning the ceremony of reconciliation in accordance with the accepted traditions among the minorities.”
The Military governor and Arab psychology
A decade afterwards, the military government that had been imposed upon the Arabs of Israel was canceled. In a government meeting in which it this dramatic step was decided, and under ‘top secret’ protocol, a conversation developed – bordering on argument – between the Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, and the ministers.
It centered on the message that Eshkol read to the Knesset. Education and Culture Minister Zalman Aran demanded “to say that we are canceling the military government, and not to say that it is being passed to the police. It is in essence being passed on to the police, but we do not need to emphasize this.”
Druze: The Muslims dreamt of throwing you to the sea
Another record is the report of Ya’akov Yehoshua, head assistant to the Muslim department in the Religion Ministry, who met frequently after the establishment of the country with the leaders of ethnic groups. They requested autonomy in spousal matters and control over the grave of the Prophet Shuayeb.
Yehoshua heard their explanation for the request. “Muslims from neighboring countries believe that the downfall they experienced was because of the assistance the Druze gave to the government of Israel and thus we are hated. We did not sell our land to the Jews, though our property and land reaches a half million dunam, because the Muslims did this. They sold their land to the Jews and dreamt of throwing the Jews to the sea," they wrote.
"We are prepared, young and old, and even women, to defend with all our strength the government of Israel and the army of Israel. With the establishment of the government of Israel, we went from grief to happiness, from religious persecution to happiness,” the Druze said.
View the State Archives at: http://www.archives.gov.il/ArchiveGov_eng .
Omri Efraim contributed to this report.
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