Sunday, January 30, 2011

On The Period of the Underground Resistance

Jews, just like Arabs, hid weapons in immoral places

Haganah,the Irgun, and the Stern Gang, which operated against the British government and the Arabs in Palestine, used similar tactics to those implemented by Arab militants.

By Yossi Melman

In its battle against Palestinian terror Israel repeatedly faces a contemptible phenomenon: Weapons and explosives are smuggled in ambulances, hidden in schools, in kindergartens and in holy places. It happened in the second intifada. In the Second Lebanon War, Hezbollah concealed rockets in mosques. In the war in Gaza in 2008-2009, the Hamas fighters took refuge in Gaza mosques.

This out-of-bounds and cynical use of such places is widely condemned by human rights organizations and governments. Israel depicts such misuse as violating international law, the rules of warfare and every accepted moral norm, so Israeli security forces are able to justify striking mosques and exercising a heavy hand at checkpoints - to the point of preventing the movement of sick Palestinians in ambulances.

Israel's claims and condemnations are justified. Even terror organizations should obey the basic rules of right and wrong. However, Israel is not coming to the discussion with clean hands. Its prestate undergrounds - Hashomer, Haganah, Etzel (the Irgun ) and Lehi (the Stern Gang ) - which operated against the British government and the Arabs in Palestine, used similar tactics, as shown in a new book by Rephael Kitron, "Eretz Yisrael Hanisteret: Sippuram Shel Ha'slikim Ve'toldotehem" ("The Hidden Land of Israel: The Story and History of the Secret Weapons Caches" ). Kitron retired from the defense establishment, having left his official service in 1999, and he asked that his past organizational affiliation not be revealed. His book is based on research for his doctorate under Prof. Shimon Dar in Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology at Bar-Ilan University.

The word "slick" (from a Hebrew root meaning "to remove" ) was apparently taken from a course of the Palmach (the prestate elite commandos ). The slicks, or caches, were used mainly to hide weapons and ammunition (but also communication gear and archives) of the fighting organizations from 1918 [?? the Hagana was founded in Jerusalem in late 1919] to 1948, the period of the British Mandate in Palestine. Although the British armed the Yishuv (the prestate Jewish community) from time to time - for example, during the Arab Revolt, 1936-1939, and even mobilized policemen and fighters from the Jewish community during World War II, [but also locked up weapons with the keys in British hands] the Mandate's overall policy was that both the Jews and the Arabs in Palestine should be disarmed.

Kitron interviewed veterans of the fighting organizations and those who had lived in the communities in which the caches were built and used existing documentation such as the books of the Haganah (the forerunner of the Israel Defense Forces ), and the right-wing Etzel and Lehi, as well as British government papers that have been released for publication.

He found that toward the end of the British Mandate in Palestine, there were more 1,500 weapons caches here, in kibbutzim, moshavim, cities and towns. The book demonstrates the wide variety of caches, which were constructed with a great deal of ingenuity, both above and below ground, and even at the bottom of reservoirs.

Underground battles

Over time the caches became a battlefield among the various undergrounds. The Haganah tried to uncover the slicks of Etzel and Lehi and to confiscate their weapons, whereas the renegade organizations tried to take over the Haganah storehouses by force. Etzel members robbed three Haganah caches in Herzliya, which contained three rifles, semi-automatic weapons, grenades and ammunition. Only after threats of a retaliatory operation did Etzel members admit to the theft, and their commander, David Raziel, ordered the weapons returned to the Haganah. Several of these clashes ended with casualties. Etzel members cleared out their weapons storehouses in Haifa, which had been under surveillance by the Haganah, and left them booby-trapped. When Haganah men tried to break the locks on a storehouse there in May 1947, explosives killed one of them.

Kitron also compares the hidden caches of the Jewish Yishuv and those of the Arab community. He says that "the weapons in the Jewish Yishuv were common property, and those responsible for them operated as public emissaries who did their work with a sense of mission." The effort was organizational and individual. The Arab community "was split and divided into ethnic groups, clans and regions." Even when military frameworks were set up and relatively large purchases were made, in exceptional cases, the weapons were stored for a short time only in order to distribute them.

The study says that we should not make light of the Arabs' ability to conceal weapons from the British. A Haganah report of October 1947 describes the weapons storehouse near the Lions' Gate in Jerusalem's Old City: "From the large tent that is used ... ostensibly to sell secondhand items, you descend the slope where garbage accumulates and enter via a low dome from which an underground passageway leads to the Cave of Zedekiah, after a few meters you enter a small dome one meter in height, with a thick door.... After opening the door, you reach an excavation with various types of weapons."

Even after the founding of the state, the various organizations continued to conceal weapons from the authorities in the original caches. Weapons and bombs from the Lehi storehouses in Jerusalem were used by attorney Yaakov Heruti in concealing a bomb at the Soviet legation in Tel Aviv and by Amos Keinan to blow up the Tel Aviv home of Transportation Minister David-Zvi Pinkas. The leftist socialist Mapam party kept weapons in the caches of the Hashomer Hatzair kibbutzim as part of Operation Leviathan, preparation for the possibility of seizing power and fomenting a socialist revolution in Israel. To this day, caches are being discovered in kibbutzim that were simply forgotten, or it happened that those in charge took their oath of secrecy with them to the grave.

"The point of departure for those in the Jewish Yishuv who hatched the idea of building weapons caches in places such as synagogues, women's rooms, children's houses," explains Kitron, "was that British officers and troops were gentlemen who wouldn't dare to search in such places."


Dozens of weapon caches were found, including one in the Great Synagogue of Tel Aviv.

during Operation Agatha (Black Sabbath), June 29, 1946.


Another Appreciation of Begin

Yoel Marcus writes in "Palestinians than to play the hero against Iran":

When in June 1981 the Israel Air Force bombed the nuclear reactor under construction in Iraq, opinions about the operation were divided. This writer thought that Menachem Begin, the prime minister and defense minister at the time, was at his best. Others considered it a mistake because Iraq would neither forgive nor forget, and at the first opportunity would bomb Israel. This “opportunity” really did present itself 10 years later, when the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait led to Operation Desert Storm, led by the United States and its allies. Iraq launched 39 Scud missiles at Israel.

When then-Defense Minister Moshe Arens cleared the air force to prepare for an attack on Iraq, Shas leader Aryeh Deri traveled on Shabbat to convince him that this intervention would be disastrous for us. With all due respect to Shas, it was Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir who canceled the operation, when the U.S. administration warned him that Israeli intervention was liable to make Syria and Egypt bolt from the coalition against Iraq.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Will The Fallen IDF Soldiers of the Altalena Incident Be Commemorated

Fight over the fallen

The battle over the commemoration of the sunken Irgun ship Altalena continues.

By Tom Segev

Naaman Cohen is a 59-year-old history teacher from Tel Aviv. About a year and a half ago, Cohen wrote to Mayor Ron Huldai to draw his attention to the monument for the battle over the Altalena arms ship, which took place in June 1948. The memorial on the seafront promenade across from Gan London commemorates the 16 members of the Irgun who were killed when the Israel Defense Forces opened fire on the ship, which was carrying nearly 1,000 immigrants, and weapons slated for the Irgun. Cohen insists that the list of fallen be expanded to include the names of three IDF soldiers who were killed during the operation: Pesach Vlodinger, Moshe Chaim Katz and Yaakov Fried.

The fight over commemoration of the fallen in the Altalena Affair went on for years, and is documented in, among other places, a book by Udi Label entitled "The Road to the Pantheon." In Ben-Gurion's day, Irgun and Lehi operations were not accorded room in the collective memory: The remains of the Altalena were sunk. The first monument to the Altalena fatalities was erected in the cemetery in the Tel Aviv neighborhood of Nahalat Yitzhak. In 1998, after much lobbying, Mayor Roni Milo agreed to install a municipal monument on the seafront, in the spirit of the Irgun and its heirs.
Once every few years somebody recollects the sheet of steel under the sea, a final remnant of the ship, and suggests bringing it up from the deep. Recently this suggestion was repeated by MK Yariv Levin (Likud). When he read about this, Naaman Cohen was reminded that nothing more has happened since the Tel Aviv municipality informed him a year ago that his letter to the mayor was passed on to the committee for street names and memorials. So he wrote to the mayor again and has just received a polite reply: His second letter has also been passed on to the names and memorials committee.

US Ambassador Visits Begin Center

Ambassador James B. Cunningham of the United States visited the Begin center today and went through our museum.

Some pictures:

Accompanying him was Srinivas R. Kulkarni, Shai as he is known, the new Director of the American Center in Jerusalem.

Center Chairman Herzl Makov and Moshe Fuksman-Sha'al guided him.

Photographs by Y. Medad and I. Brown.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

New Book on the Mandate Era History

Dr Rory Miller, a Senior Lecturer in Mediterranean Studies at King's College London, UK, has had a new book published:

It's description:

In 1948, British troops withdrew from the Palestinian lands, ending over 30 years of the British Mandate of Palestine. What followed in the area now known as Israel, Palestine, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, has been well-documented and is perhaps one of the most intractable problems of the post-imperial age. However, relatively little has been written about the years of the British mandate and the long-standing connection between Britain and Palestine in the years up to May 1948. This volume takes a fresh look at the years of the British mandate; its politics, economics, and culture. Contributors address themes such as religion, mandatory administration, economic development, policing and counter-insurgency, violence, art and culture, and decolonization, in the context of imperial power and a highly complex Palestinian society. The book will be valuable to scholars of the British mandate, but also more broadly to those interested in imperial history and the history of the West's involvement in the Middle East.

"Relatively little" is not a fair term to use in this context.  There are dozens of books recently published in the past decade.

Here are the book's content:

Introduction, Rory Miller; Flawed foundations: the Balfour Declaration and the Palestine Mandate, James Renton; The impact of League oversight on British policy in Palestine, Susan Pedersen; 'Our Jerusalem': Bertha Spafford Vester and Christianity in Palestine during the British Mandate, Heleen Murre-van den Berg; Views of Palestine in British art in wartime and peacetime, 1914–1948, Antoine Capet; No holy statistics in the Holy Land: the fallacy of growth in the Palestine rural economy, 1920s–1930s, Amos Nadan; The Peel Commission and partition, 1936–1938, Penny Sinanoglou; Lawlessness was the law: British armed forces, the legal system and the repression of the Arab revolt in Palestine, 1936–1939, Matthew Hughes; 'An oriental Ireland': thinking about Palestine in terms of the Irish question during the Mandatory era, Rory Miller; Palestine, 1945–1948: a view from the High Commissioner’s office, Motti Golani; Index.


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Seen From Afar

The Begin Center as observed from the Inbal Hotel's eighth floor:

and a zoom-in:


Saturday, January 15, 2011

Sarah Palin and Menachem Begin Compared

In The Forward, Benyamin Korn compares the media assaults on Menachem Begin and Sarah Palin:

They Broke Begin, but Won’t Break Palin

Menachem Begin is today widely regarded as one of the most effective and far-sighted statesmen in Israeli history. At one end of the political spectrum, he is fondly remembered for surrendering the entire Sinai peninsula to Egypt and uprooting Israeli communities there. At the other end of the spectrum, he is hailed for taking strong action against PLO terrorists and Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor.

But when he was first elected prime minister in 1977, Begin was the object of an unprecedented frenzy of hatred from the international news media. He was called a terrorist, a fascist, a lunatic. To explain how to pronounce the name of the new Israeli leader, Time magazine notoriously found just the right Dickens character: “Begin (rhymes with Fagin).”

Journalists hated him because he represented traditional, old-world values. They hated him because he revered the Bible. They hated him because he could connect to the common man — to the silent majority of Jews from Arab countries who had been scorned by Israel’s political and intellectual elites.

Does this remind you of anyone in American politics today? Former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin is not only mocked and pilloried by a shameless and unscrupulous horde of media predators, but also sidesteps them, as did Begin, to connect with the common citizen.

As is the case with Palin today, the news media waited hungrily for any opportunity to pounce on Begin. Any minor misstep was reported as if it were a major scandal. Those were the days of “gotcha” journalism at its most reprehensible.

When the Lebanon War erupted in the summer of 1982, the media sharks smelled blood. (Not, mind you, the blood of the innocent Israeli civilians who were periodically murdered by Palestinian Arab terrorists based in southern Lebanon — which was, of course, the cause of the war.)

At one point during the war, Lebanese Christian forces (who were allies of Israel) entered the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatilla and killed hundreds of Palestinians. A maelstrom of media accusations battered the Jewish state. The most notorious was the allegation that Israeli leaders gave the Christian forces a green light to do what they wanted in Sabra and Shatilla.

Begin characterized the media attacks as a “blood libel.” Of course he was right. Blaming Israel for a massacre it did not commit was a blood libel. Indeed, an American jury eventually found that Time magazine had printed a false and defamatory report that then-defense minister Ariel Sharon was complicit in the killings.

But Sharon’s vindication came only years later. In the meantime, Begin was forced to suffer wave after wave of slander. It was too much for him. The ceaseless abuse, combined with his grief over his wife’s passing, drove him to resign from office less than a year later. Unlike other Israeli ex-prime ministers, who often return in future cabinets and sometimes even become prime minister again, Begin never returned to public life. He spent his final years as a virtual recluse.

They broke Begin. But they won’t break Sarah Palin.

Menachem Begin was the product of a bygone era. His gentlemanly manner, thoughtfulness and civility were no match for the new era of international electronic media assaults and technologically savvy propaganda.

Sarah Palin, by contrast, is a consummate 21st-century political leader...

...Hypocritical blame-meisters will call Palin every name in the book. They hope to demoralize her and her supporters. It won’t work. After more than two years of enduring every attack imaginable, she knows their tricks. She won’t let them do to her what they did to Begin.

Benyamin Korn, a former executive editor of Philadelphia’s Jewish Exponent, is director of Jewish Americans for Sarah Palin.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

On The Book "Peace in the Making"

Greer Fay Cashman:

IT WOULD be almost superfluous to ask whether Egyptian Ambassador Yasser Reda gave his copy of Peace in the Making to a certain member of his staff. The book by Harry Hurwitz (the late founder of the Menachem Begin Heritage Center) and Yisrael Medad contains the correspondence between president Anwar Sadat and Begin. The book, presented to Reda by Murray Greenfield, founder of Gefen Publishing and Begin Center director Herzl Makov, would be of particular interest to Ahmed Sadat, first secretary at the Egyptian Embassy, who is Sadat’s grandson. It will also be of interest to the first secretary’s father, who may be visiting in April.


Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

More On Begin and Thatcher

When Menachem Met Margaret

Rick Richman
Under its “30-year rule,” the British National Archives has released a November 1979 cable quoting Margaret Thatcher telling French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing that she “never had a more difficult man to deal with” than Menachem Begin, whose West Bank policy was “absurd.”

But there was more to the 1979 meeting between Thatcher and Begin than is reflected in the cable, evidenced by Yehuda Avner’s account of the meeting in his extraordinary new book, The Prime Ministers.

Thatcher, with British Foreign Secretary Lord Peter Carrington, hosted Begin for a lunch in May 1979 that Avner attended as Begin’s note taker. The book is based on shorthand notes he transcribed at the time: “anything [in my book] in inverted commas are the words actually spoken.”

The lunch went well until Carrington suddenly confronted Begin about settlements:

“Your settlement policy is expansionist. It is intemperate. It is a barrier to peace. The settlements are built on occupied Arab soil. They rob Palestinians of their land. They unnecessarily arouse the animosity of the moderate Arabs. They are contrary to international law — the Geneva Convention. They are inconsistent with British interests.”

Begin responded that:

“The settlements, sir, are not an obstacle to peace. The Arabs refused to make peace before there was a single settlement anywhere. No Palestinian Arab sovereignty has ever existed in the biblical provinces of Judea and Samaria, where most of the new settlements are located, hence the Geneva Convention does not apply. Besides, we are building the settlements on state-owned, not Arab-owned land. Their construction is an assertion of our basic historic rights, not to speak of their critical importance to our national security.”

Then Begin turned to Thatcher:

“Madame Prime Minister, your foreign secretary dismisses my country’s historic rights and pooh-poohs our vital security needs. So I shall tell you why the settlements are vital: because I speak of the Land of Israel, a land redeemed, not occupied; because without those settlements Israel could be at the mercy of a Palestinian state astride the commanding heights of Judea and Samaria. We would be living on borrowed time. And whenever we Jews are threatened or attacked we are always alone. Remember in 1944, how we came begging for our lives — begging at this very door?”

“Is that when you wanted us to bomb Auschwitz?”

“No, Madame, not Auschwitz. We asked you to bomb the railway lines leading to Auschwitz. In the summer of 1944, Eichmann was transporting to their deaths a hundred thousand Hungarian Jews a week along those lines to Auschwitz.”

Carrington abruptly challenged Begin again:

“And what does this have to do with the settlements?”

“Lord Carrington, please have the goodness not to interrupt me when I am in the middle of a conversation with your prime minister. … As I said, whenever we are threatened or attacked, we have only our own fellow Jews to rely on.”

“Peter,” said Mrs. Thatcher softly, “I think an admission of regret is called for.” …

"Quite right, Prime Minister. … Somehow, your little country, Mr. Begin, evokes all sorts of high emotional fevers. Stirs up the blood, so to speak.”

Begin, his composure regained, smiled at him, the smile not reaching his eyes. “The story of our people is very much a tale of having to defend ourselves against bouts of irrationality and hysteria. It happens in every generation.”

In 1979, Begin signed a peace treaty with Egypt, returning land exceeding the size of Israel. He offered Palestinians a quasi-state autonomy; they rejected it. Thirty years later, we know, five times over, that settlements were not an obstacle to peace; to the contrary, their removal in Gaza resulted in a new rocket war.

In the West Bank, a holdover regime wants a state but repeatedly turns one down; refuses to recognize a Jewish state; insists that Israel retreat to the indefensible 1967 lines; demands a “right of return” to delegitimize it demographically; and demands compensation for Arab refugees from the 1948 war the Arabs commenced, but not for the larger number of Jewish refugees from Arab countries. The appropriate word for this collection of positions is “absurd.”


Saturday, January 1, 2011

Another Mention of Menachem Begin and Ethiopian Jewry

About a man who met with Prime Minister Menachem Begin and pitched a plan to rescue Ethiopian Jews through Sudan and Rome:

Early one morning in the late 1940s, an elderly Ethiopian Jew stood with his young grandson at the top of a small mountain, waiting for sunrise. As the sun broke over the horizon, the old man, pointing toward the sun, said, “Remember, this is the way to Jerusalem.” That young boy was Baruch Tegegne, who died in Israel on December 27 after a long illness. He was 65 years old and, upon his death, could look back to see tens of thousands of Ethiopian Jews whose journey to Israel took the path he blazed.

In the early summer of 1984, Tegegne and I went together to Washington to meet with members of Congress, their staffers and senior State Department officials. One of those officials, Princeton Lyman, was brought to tears by Tegegne’s description of the persecution that Ethiopian Jews were suffering and by my insistence that, especially because of its failure to rescue Jews during the Holocaust, America’s government was now morally bound to save Ethiopian Jews. If what we were saying was true, Lyman told us, the United States would not stand idly by. Five months later, Lyman would play a key role in Operation Moses, the massive 1984 American and Israeli rescue of Ethiopian Jews.

Tegegne’s key role in this rescue began when, at age 11, he was brought to Israel along with 14 other Ethiopian Jewish children. The government’s idea was that these children would study modern Judaism and learn about Israel, graduate high school and then return to Ethiopia to teach. When Tegegne returned in 1964, he learned that the school where he would have taught had been burned to the ground by anti-Semites.

A decade later, he was forced to flee Ethiopia after the new communist government accused him — perhaps correctly, although this was never clear — of being an Israeli agent. Tegegne fled on foot, beginning a journey that would last almost three years: first to Sudan, through a route that would later be used, thanks to him, by tens of thousands of Ethiopian Jews fleeing tyranny and starvation. Penniless, he made his way westward to Nigeria, where he got work on a cargo ship and sailed around the West Coast of Africa, through the Straits of Gibraltar and through the Mediterranean, to the Suez Canal and the Red Sea, and on to Singapore. There, illness forced him off the ship, and regulations forced him to return to Nigeria. At that point, with what he’d saved, he flew to Rome, where Israeli consular authorities refused to give him a visa. It was only Tegegne’s chance meeting with a senior official of the Jewish Agency for Israel whom he had known in Ethiopia years earlier that got him on an El Al plane to Ben Gurion International Airport.

Months after landing in Israel, he met with Prime Minister Menachem Begin and pitched a plan to rescue Ethiopian Jews through Sudan and Rome. Begin liked it, and a rescue was hatched, only to be aborted because of opposition from parts of Israel’s intelligence community and political elite who resisted the notion that these black Africans were, indeed, Jews and worthy of rescue.

His story could have ended there, but it didn’t. He went to Canada, married a nice Canadian Jewish woman, had a daughter, ran a diner and all the while worked to save his people. With financial help from American activists, he brought dozens of Ethiopian Jews to Rome, where embarrassment, not compassion or duty, forced Israeli diplomats to grant visas. And that brought the idea of a mass rescue of Ethiopian Jews back to life.

Menachem Begin and Margret Thatcher

British National Archives Reveal Grudge Against Begin

According to a Wednesday report in AFP, documents from the 1980s recently released from the British National Archives reveal then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s animosity towards her Israeli counterpart at the time, Menachem Begin.

As leader of the militant Irgun Zvai Leumi during the late 1940s, Begin had played an instrumental role in liberating Palestine from British occupation. The language used by Thatcher in the cables between her and French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing show both her frustration with Israel at the time and the animosity England’s leadership continued to feel towards Begin well over three decades after Britain’s defeat at his hands.

The Rightist Thatcher said of Begin that she “had never had a more difficult man to deal with,” noting that when she told the former guerrilla that his policy of allowing Jews to return to Judea and Samaria – which had been Jew-free while ruled by Britain’s puppet kingdom Jordan between 1949 and 1967 by Jordan – was “unrealistic” and “absurd” he replied to her that “Judea and Samaria had been Jewish in Biblical times and that they should therefore be so today.”

Thatcher’s frustration with Begin had been compounded at the time by British officials expressing concern that Israel would use its nuclear weapons in a potential war against its neighbors.

A secret diplomatic cable from the UK embassy in Tel Aviv, dated May 4 1980 and also recently released from the British National Archives, warned that “the situation in the region is deteriorating and with it Israel’s dangerous mood of isolation and defiance will grow. If they are to be destroyed they will go down fighting this time. They will be ready to use their atomic weapon. Because they cannot sustain a long war, they would have to use it early.”

and here:

Margaret Thatcher believed that Menachem Begin was the "most difficult" man she had to deal with in the early years of her premiership, and thought his West Bank policy "absurd".

The former Prime Minister's views about her Israeli counterpart are unearthed in documents released by the National Archives under the 30-year rule.

The previously secret papers reveal that, during a tête-à-tête with President Giscard of France at Number 10 in November 1979, Mrs Thatcher discussed how she had "never had a more difficult man to deal with" than Mr Begin.

President Giscard said he had "always been surprised at the degree of support which the Labour government had given Israel".

However he did admit that he understood the emotional reasons for the support, and felt the same situation applied to France because of the size of her Jewish community. The archives reveal President Giscard "did not know Mr Begin, whom he had never met, but he thought his approach fanatical and unrealistic".

Mrs Thatcher responded by saying she "agreed entirely with what President Giscard had said about Mr Begin".

She added: "All our efforts to convince Mr Begin that his West Bank policy was absurd, and that there should not be Israeli settlements on the West Bank, had failed to move him."

Mrs Thatcher told President Giscard that, although Britain was ready to talk to representatives of the Palestinian people, recognition of the PLO would have to be accompanied by the PLO's acceptance of Israel's right to exist.

Many of the released documents, covering the period from September 1979 to the end of 1980, consider the reverberations from Israel's historic Camp David Accords peace treaty with Egypt in 1978.

One source of discussion was the possibility of a full-scale conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, with John Robinson, the British ambassador to Israel (who stayed in post for a very short time) , offering a chilling warning of what might come. In a secret note to London in May 1980, he wrote: "It is now clear…the Camp David negotiations will not lead to a comprehensive agreement. No agreement on the West Bank and Jerusalem is possible."

He predicted that if it came to war, Israel "will be ready to use their atomic weapon. Because they cannot sustain a long war, they would have to use it early".