Sunday, May 30, 2010

Begin's "White Nights' in Polish Translation

Menachem Begin's classic prisoner diary, "White Nights", has just been published in a Polish language translation.

The Begin Center was a major facilatator in this project.

The cover:

Monday, May 24, 2010

Begin Didn't Fall

Carter thought Begin would fall fast, new documents show

US president Jimmy Carter’s administration tried to undermine prime minister Menachem Begin’s government from the moment he got elected in 1977, documents published by Yediot Aharonot over the weekend reveal.

The newspaper published a letter written to Carter’s national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski by the head of the Mideast desk on the council, William Quandt, the day after Begin’s landmark first election victory, whose 33rd anniversary was marked by the Likud last week.

In the letter, Quandt suggests not putting too much pressure on Begin at first and “allowing him to make his own mistakes” that would encourage Israelis to elect a more dovish prime minister in a year or two. It shows how the Carter administration interpreted the transfer of power from Left to Right as temporary when, in hindsight, the Center-Right has been in power for all but six of the last 33 years.

“Much of our strategy toward the Arab-Israeli conflict has been predicated on the assumption that a strong and moderate Israeli government would at some point be able to make difficult decisions on territory and on the Palestinians,” Quandt wrote Brzezinski. “Now we face the prospect of a very weak coalition, a prolonged period of uncertainty, and an Israeli leadership which may be significantly more assertive in its policies concerning the West Bank, Palestinians, settlements and nuclear weapons.”

Quandt said that due to Begin’s election victory, chances for Middle East peace looked bleak. He cautioned against appearing to interfere in Israeli politics, but suggested doing just that.

“We should do nothing in public to indicate disappointment with the Likud victory,” he wrote. “Instead, we should continue to talk of the importance of [the peace process], the requirements of a comprehensive peace, and the need for flexibility.

“By our actions, we do not want to increase support for Begin, which might occur if we reassess our policy too quickly,” Quandt wrote.

“At the same time, Israeli voters should know that a hard-line government will not find it easy to manage the US-Israel relationship.

“Intransigence must be seen to carry a price tag, but we should not be seen as the bully. Begin should be allowed to make his own mistakes. If he takes positions in his talks with us that preclude the continuation of our peace initiative, we should not hesitate to explain what has happened. Israelis can then draw their own conclusions, and perhaps the next election in 1978 or 1979 will produce different results.”

Quandt suggested that American support for Begin’s government would be less than it was for its predecessors and expressed hope that this could allow the Carter administration to make contacts with Palestinians and sell arms to Egypt, who were both in a state of war with Israel at the time.

“We should not rush in these directions, but at the right time we may be able to act without fear of a serious domestic backlash,” he wrote.

The Carter administration even sponsored polls in Israel, a month after the election, that found that support for the Likud was already falling.

While the Carter administration was actively trying to undermine Begin, Brzezinski sent Begin a letter calling him “His Excellency,” praising his modesty and candor, and recalling past meetings “with pleasure.”

Herzl Makov, director-general of the capital’s Menachem Begin Heritage Center, whose researchers discovered the documents at the Carter Center in Atlanta, said they provided important lessons for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in his current dealings with US President Barack Obama.

“It’s interesting to see history repeat itself,” Makov told The Jerusalem Post. “Just like we see now that the Carter administration made every mistake possible about the political situation in Israel, I think that in 30 years, studies will show that the Obama administration made the same mistakes. History will tell which administration was worse for Israel."

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Will Deir Yassin Documentation Become Available?

Army may release all Deir Yassin docs

Are the events that took place in Deir Yassin so sensitive that 62 years later, the state still refuses to release all of the documents and photos stored in the IDF archive to the public?

That is the question facing Supreme Court Deputy President Eliezer Rivlin and Justices Edna Arbel and Neal Hendel in the wake of a petition heard earlier this week.

The petition was filed by Haaretz, its reporter Gidi Weitz, and Neta Shoshani, a student at the Bezalel Art School in Jerusalem.

The battle of Deir Yassin, a village on the western outskirts of Jerusalem, was one of the most controversial of the War of Independence. It took place in April 1948, one month before the State of Israel was declared. There have been charges that units of the Etzel (Irgun) and Lehi (Stern Group) undergrounds massacred dozens of Palestinian civilians in the village and forced the survivors to flee.

According to the current Archive Law, the state may withhold publication of state documents for 50 years if the material is regarded as endangering Israel’s security or foreign relations or for other reasons determined by the state archivist.

If, at the end of 50 years, the material is still regarded as too problematic to be revealed, the state archivist may ask a ministerial committee responsible for this matter to extend the publication ban.

In 2006, Shoshani asked to see the material on Deir Yassin that she wanted to use for her art school final project. The moratorium on the disclosure of the material related to Deir Yassin had ended in 1998.

Nevertheless, Shoshani was allowed to see only some of the material in the archive and was refused access to other documents and photos she had requested. She was told the ministerial committee had extended the ban beyond the 50 year-limit.

Shoshani then turned to a lawyer who wrote several letters to the Ministry of Defense asking it to explain why she had been refused. The last letter was sent on September 10, 2007.

On September 19, 2007, the secretary of the ministerial committee wrote to the lawyer, informing him that 10 days earlier, the committee had extended the ban on publication of some of the documents and photos pertaining to Deir Yassin for five more years, until 2012. It seemed obvious to the petitioners that when Shoshani had first asked for the photos, some time between March and June 2007, the publication ban had expired and not yet been extended.

Haaretz took up Shoshani’s cause and petitioned the High Court of Justice.

In addition to the photos sought by the student, the paper demanded to see reports on the conquest of Deir Yassin written by military historian Meir Pa’il, at the time an intelligence officer in the Hagana, and several other documents and photos.

The state told the court that publication of these documents could harm Israel’s foreign relations, especially in view of the peace negotiations with the Palestinians, and could exacerbate tensions with the Israeli-Arab community.

Attorney Paz Mozer, representing the petitioners, argued that not only had the state extended the ban only after Shoshani had asked to see the documents, the public had a right to obtain more information about the battle, whose details have been in dispute all these years.

“Many stories have been published about Deir Yassin and the importance of the event is obvious,” he argued. “There is no reason that after 60 years, not all of the material found in the archive should be available to the public.”

After the attorneys for both sides
completed their pleas, Shirman presented the censored documents and photos to the panel of three High Court justices, Rivlin, Arbel and Hendler. The justices briefly cleared the courtroom and began studying the material, but after a few minutes called the parties back and told them they would hand down their decision at a later date.