Saturday, July 30, 2011

Moshe Arens' Book on Warsaw Ghetto To Be Published

Professor Moshe Arens' study on the chronicles of the Warsaw Ghetto revolt and the role played by members of the Revisionist movement and especially of the Betar youth movement, Flags over the Warsaw Ghetto. The Untold Story of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, will be published by Gefen Publishing House and will be available within two months.
From the press release:

Groundbreaking Work Brings to Light New Details of Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising has become a symbol of heroism throughout the


On the eve of Passover, April 19, 1943, German forces entered the Warsaw ghetto equipped with tanks, flame throwers, and machine guns. Against them stood an army of a few hundred young Jewish men and women, armed with pistols and Molotov cocktails. Who were these Jewish fighters who dared oppose the armed might of the SS troops under the command of SS General Juergen Stroop? Who commanded them in battle? What were their goals?

In this groundbreaking work, Israel’s former Minister of Defense and Ambassador to the USA, Prof. Moshe Arens, recounts a true tale of daring, courage, and sacrifice that should be accurately told—out of respect for and in homage to the fighters who rose against the German attempt to liquidate the Warsaw ghetto, and made a last-ditch fight for the honor of the Jewish people. The generally accepted account of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising is incomplete. The truth begins with the existence of not one, but two resistance organizations in the ghetto. Two young men, Mordechai Anielewicz of the Jewish Fighting Organization (ZOB), and Pawel Frenkel of the Jewish Military Organization (ZZW), rose to lead separate resistance organizations in the ghetto, which did not unite despite the desperate battle they were facing. Included is the complete text of “The Stroop Report” translated into English.


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Report on The Ethiopian Jewry Evening

Rivlin: Begin Ended Israel's Injustice to Ethiopian Jewry

-  Knesset Speaker at event marking 20 years since Operation Solomon: "The Zionism of Ethiopian Jews began long before Operation Solomon."  -

The Menachem Begin Heritage Center held a special event on Tuesday marking 20 years since Operation Solomon, which brought over 14,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel in 1991.

This event was also an evening of appreciation for former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, who served as Prime Minister at that time and initiated the whole operation. Representatives from the Shamir family were in attendance, as well as the Ethiopian community's spiritual leaders, who are called Kessim, and members of the Ethiopian community.

The event was also attended by Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, Education Minister Gideon Saar, IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, former Chief of Staff Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, and the head of the Begin Heritage Center, Herzl Makov. It featured videos of Operation Solomon and of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, as well as an original humorous performance about the operation.

In his remarks, Rivlin said, “Operation Solomon is one of the stories that shaped the Ethiopian immigration to Israel but this is also largely an injustice that has been done to the historical and cultural heritage of this Zionist Jewish community.

“The Zionist ideology of the Ethiopian Jews did not begin nor was it designed during Operation Solomon and Operation Moses that preceded it,” added Rivlin. “The Ethiopian Jews longed for Israel already in the 19th century. We must not forget that the Ethiopian Jew for centuries was ready to give up his life for his religion.”

Rivlin added: “The immigration story of Ethiopian Jews to Israel was full of obstacles and struggles. It is a story about leadership. It is a story of courage and heroism of the Beta Israel community which reveals the ignominy of the State of Israel that locked its doors to one of the oldest Jewish communities in the early decades of its existence. Begin and Shamir put an end to this, and it started after Begin cried out: ‘Bring me my brothers, the Jews of Ethiopia.’”

Rivlin praised the “resourcefulness and leadership of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, together with the other planners of the operation,” and noted the heroism of the Israel Defense Forces soldiers and other security service personnel who took part in the huge operation.

Chief of Staff Gantz noted during the event, “Today when I review the ranks of the IDF I see the kids who were brought to Israel during Operation Solomon serve in a variety of roles across our army. This shows the great success of the operation; those who needed the IDF’s protective hand twenty years ago now serve as defenders for the entire nation.”

Ethiopian Jews who were brought to Israel in Operation Solomon and Operation Moses and thousands of others whose Jewish identity was in question, have been brought out of the backward, poverty-stricken country and have gone through orthodox Jerwish conversion procedures. They have already reached the Knesset.

Special programs were set up to smooth their transition into Israeli society at a cost of millions. American Jewish philanthropic organizations, Israeli youth villages, and the national religious school system played a Herculean and major part in the ongoing integration of a community who had to be introduced to Western society as well as much of Jewish Law from scratch and whose children were all registered automatically in the religious school system.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Report on the Ceremony at the President's Residence

PM, Peres honor Ephraim Katzir and Menachem Begin

Netanyahu: Begin was a great statesman, whose leadership was evident even before Israel came into being, was a great believer in social justice.

At an annual ceremony on Sunday honoring deceased presidents and prime ministers, President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu emphasized the importance of remembering national leaders, their deeds, and their legacies.

Both men spoke at the gathering at Beit Hanassi. The ceremony is usually held in the spring, on the first day of the Hebrew calendar month of Nissan...This year the ceremony was deferred because of incomplete renovations at Beit Hanassi.

Looking back more than three decades, Peres said that he still remembered the unforgettable image of Katzir and Begin striding across the red carpet on the airport tarmac to greet Egyptian president Anwar Sadat.

“It was like a fable from another world,” Peres recalled. “It was an unprecedented development in relations between the two countries.”

Although he and Begin did not come from the same political camp, Peres said, it did not prevent him from recognizing Begin’s greatness, integrity and commitment to peace. Even when people in his party were against him, Peres continued, Begin stood firm for what he believed in declaring that war was preventable, but peace was inevitable.

Both Peres and Netanyahu also underscored Begin’s uncompromising respect for the rule of law. It was very important to him, each of them noted, to uphold the law and serve the nation. Even when he was in the opposition, Peres said Begin was fond of saying that he was proud to be a servant of the people.

...When discussing Begin, Netanyahu said that he was so multi-faceted that it was difficult to describe him.  Begin, he said, was a great statesman, whose leadership was evident even before Israel came into being, said Netanyahu.

The prime minister also lauded Begin for preventing a civil war after the Altelana ship – which carried hundreds of Holocaust survivors and armaments – was fired upon by Yitzhak Rabin on David Ben-Gurion’s orders.

Begin, Netanyahu added, also sought to improve the economy, eradicate poverty and provide equal opportunities for all citizens. Indeed, he was a great believer in social justice, said Netanyahu.

In this context, Netanyahu turned to Israel’s housing problem and said: “The housing market suffers from cartels, with no equal in the developed world.”
He also doubted that any other country rivaled Israel’s bureaucratic red tape strangling the planning aspect of housing.

“We must change this, and we will introduce dramatic legislation in order to do so,” he said.

Arye Naor, who was Begin’s first cabinet secretary and one of the winners of prizes and citations at Sunday’s ceremony, said that Begin had come to office with a clear social agenda.

“He didn’t achieve everything that he wanted, but he did change the course of history,” Naor said.

Monday, July 25, 2011

On The Altalena

From Makom Blog: Complex lessons from the Altalena
A few weeks ago we marked the 63rd anniversary of the sinking of the Altalena . A complicated event, which culminated in the newly formed IDF receiving a direct order from Ben-Gurion to open fire on a ship of armaments arriving from Europe and into the hands of the supposedly disbanded Etzel (the revisionist Irgun fighters).

In Israel at her most incestuous, Moshe Dayan opened fire on the ship carrying Menahem Begin at Kfar Vitkin… Dayan would, thirty years later, be the loyal Foreign Minister to Begin in the role of Prime Minister.

The Altalena provides for endless analysis and soul-searching, and this year provided even more rich pickings as the announcement came that there would be an effort to locate and maybe even surface the sunken wreck. A great piece of analysis came from Dr. David Dery in Haaretz: He asked the question if we were to raise the Altalena how would we ritualize its wreckage and what morals would we learn from its remembrance?

He gave the poetic example of the Quebec bridge, which collapsed at the cost of many lives, twice, once in 1907 and again 1916. Instead of shying away from a moment (or even two) of great failure, the organization of Professional Engineers ritualized this disaster by building around it a secret initiation ceremony and bestowing on each new Professional Engineer a ring made from the steel of the ill- fated bridge, so that they should never forget the responsibility of their profession.

Impressive stuff. This led me to thinking of answers to Dery’s question, what are the lessons we need to be carrying from the Altalena?

An answer began to crystallize while reading another, and equally impressive, analysis of the Altalena affair, by Shlomo Nakdimon – who has authored a book on the subject. Nakdimon revealed the role of Yisrael Galili, chief of staff of the Hagana and the official government representative in dealings with the Etzel, who twisted facts and exaggerated circumstances to make the Etzel seem worse and more of threat than they actually were.

It is possible that the Altalena affair might not have reached its tragic conclusion had Galili not sent it in that direction. The Etzel had long been hated by the Hagana and the Israeli establishment, and there was already a precedent of exaggerating the Etzel’s fanatical elements in order to disenfranchise them from power. But Galili wanted to paint them black as black.

There have been several incidents of similar exaggerations of intent in Israel in the last month. Politically minded entities who play to a certain agenda by tarring organizations and groups in society as threats or fanatics; and it's happened on both sides of the spectrum.

Only a few days prior to the Boycott Law, there was a storm brewing over a complicated story surrounding a fanatical text known as Torat HaMelech (The Torah of the King) and Rabbis who have been summoned by the police to discuss their endorsement of it. So far, two prominent Rabbis – Dov Lior of Kiryat Arba’a (settler figurehead) and Yaakov Yitzchak (the most powerful Sefardi Rabbi: Rav Ovadia Yosef’s son) – have been summoned, refused to appear and arrested.

The Rabbis claim that in order to endorse a new religious book and add a letter of support, they do not read the book, merely accept what others have said. This line of defence for the Rabbis who have added a letter of support in Torat HaMelech is consensual with everyone up to the Chief Rabbi of Israel, agreeing that this is the accepted wisdom.

Since Torat HaMelech rationalizes Jewish civilians committing acts of violence against Arabs, the Rabbis may be best advised to rethink their peer review system. However the fact that there is a plague in the Israeli rabbinate of turning a blind eye to statements that incite violence and hatred, does not mean that they are all actively doing it. We can agree that something needs to be done about a population which is drifting, rather speeding, apart from the mainstream of Israeli society.

Torat HaMelech was hijacked in order to expose top Rabbis as the fanatical threats they are to the State of Israel, and when the Rabbis did not appear to the Police station (as we knew they wouldn’t) the Police (and media) seized the opportunity to arrest them and create a publicity circus. This lead to demonstrations by their followers, public outcry and debate about who is above the law.

This is a highly nuanced fault-line in Israeli society. There is no doubt that there are powerful tensions between these Rabbis and their communities’ support of the State and their lack of respect for the primacy of the state’s institutions. But there is someone, somewhere who is looking to aggravate this festering sore, to demonize the orthodox and gain political mileage. Someone is pulling a Galili.

The more we demonize threats to our society, the more we delegitimize the valid criticism they have to bring.

As Gidon Levi pointed out in a typically isolating piece, not everyone on the flotilla is a terrorist. There are serious people with impressive credentials onboard. However, we can’t deal with this analysis and will explain it away by delegitimizing Gidon Levi as a self- hating apologist.

Similarly, Gidon Levi and his colleagues will continue to paint the Orthodox Settler movement as a Jewish Jihad.

We need to acknowledge the complexity of our challenges and challengers.

At the very least we owe it to those who died on the Altalena.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

A Passing Reference

Found in a story on a fight in a HaShomer HaTzair kibbutz over relations with Germany:

...He reminded his listeners of how [Abba] Kovner had joined up with the despicable Menachem Begin, and how together they led demonstrations against the German ambassador-designate. If joining up with Satan was wrong, Ephraim asked, how could it be permissible to join with Begin?


Friday, July 22, 2011

It Happened This Week

This Week in History: The King David Hotel bombing

By bombing J'lem hotel, Irgun believed it could send strong message to British, whom it actively fought to end Mandate, establish Jewish State.

On July 22, 1946, three phone calls were placed to the King David Hotel, an adjacent building and to The Jerusalem Post (then The Palestine Post), warning of an imminent bombing. Minutes later, a blast ripped through the historic hotel and then-headquarters of the British Mandate for Palestine’s civilian and military authorities, killing 91 people and injuring nearly 50.

In 1946, the King David Hotel was the headquarters of the British Mandate government, housing much of its intelligence apparatus and top military, intelligence and civilian officials. Several weeks earlier, British authorities had raided the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem and seized a massive amount of secret documents containing sensitive information about Jewish resistance fighters and operations. The documents were believed to have been brought to the British intelligence offices at the hotel for analysis.

The Irgun Zva’I Leumi (Irgun), led at the time by Menachem Begin, was furious about the British raids. The organization feared that details of its operations and the identity of its operatives would be compromised when the seized documents were examined. The Irgun also wanted to retaliate for the arrest of some 2,500 Jews – mostly fighters – in the raids the month before.

By bombing the hotel, the Irgun believed, it could destroy the seized documents and at the same time send a strong message to the British, whom it was actively fighting as part of the Zionist bid to end the Mandate and establish a Jewish state.

On the morning of July 22, Irgun members disguised as Arab hotel workers managed to sneak into the basement kitchen of the King David Hotel carrying milk cans filled with nearly 800 lbs of explosives. The cans were placed near support columns in the hotel’s southern wing, which housed the British military headquarters. Soon after placing the bombs, the Irgun operatives detonated a small explosive outside the hotel, with the intention of clearing the vicinity of civilians.

Shortly after noon that day, a teenage Irgun member made three phone calls in a matter of minutes, warning that a bomb had been placed in the hotel. The first call, placed to the hotel’s switchboard was received but most likely ignored and not passed on to the relevant authorities. The second call was to the French Consulate, situated across the street from the hotel. The final warning call was placed to The Palestine Post, whose employees passed along the warning to British authorities. The final warning call did lead to a search of the hotel in which the bombs were discovered, but it was too late.

Minutes after discovering the suspect milk cans in the hotel’s basement, at 12:37 p.m., a massive blast rocked the King David’s southern wing, causing immense structural damage and killing 91 people, including British military and civilian authorities as well as local Jews and Arabs who were in the hotel at the time.

Following the attack, the British authorities launched a massive wave of arrests targeting Jewish fighters throughout Mandate Palestine. Thousands were rounded up and arrested.

The bombing was nearly universally condemned by both Jewish and British authorities. David Ben-Gurion, in one of many clashes with the rival Irgun, called the organization an “enemy of the Jewish people” in the blast’s aftermath. Relations between Ben-Gurion’s Hagana and Begin’s Irgun never recovered, ultimately resulting in the end of the Irgun as an operative military organization two years later with the Altalena incident.

Despite the target of the bombing being the British Mandate military headquarters, the attack was widely considered an act of terrorism at the time due to the high number of civilian casualties it caused. To this day, the British refer to the bombing as a terrorist attack. Most recently, the British protested a 2006 ceremony commemorating the 60-year anniversary of the bombing held at the hotel, attended by now-Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

The bombing, which remains the deadliest to have taken place in Israel since, is rarely called an act of terrorism today in Israel. Part of the long campaign for independence against the ruling British Mandate government at the time, it is thought of as one of several key events that led the British to reevaluate their long-term presence in then-Palestine. Although not directly, it would be difficult to diminish the importance of role that the King David Hotel bombing played in ending the Mandate, helping lead to the establishment of the State of Israel less than two years later.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Altalena and the Founder of J Street

In a story on J. Street's founder, Jeremy Ben-Ami:

...His father served as a commander for Betar, the youth arm affiliated with Irgun, the fervent nationalist movement that fought the British to gain Israel’s independence. Ben-Ami’s father [Yitzhaq "Mike" Ben-Ami] was tasked with purchasing the Altalena, a naval vessel left over from World War II that was then filled with arms and was on its way to Palestine when David Ben-Gurion declared the independent state of Israel and ordered all fighters to accept the authority of the state. After Menachem Begin, the head of Irgun, refused to turn back the Altalena, it was sunk by Ben-Gurion’s forces, led by Yitzhak Rabin. Ben-Ami, who was born in New York, says, “I grew up with my father spending his entire life arguing with his friends about the Altalena and Ben-Gurion and what a schmuck he was and how could Begin give back the Sinai.”


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Altalena - Unity

National unity, democracy and the heritage of the Altalena


Faith in democracy prevented civil war 63 years ago. Will it do the same in the future?

For the 63rd anniversary of the sinking of the Altalena on David Ben-Gurion’s order, the Prime Minister’s Office and the Menachem Begin Heritage Center have announced plans to initiate a search for the remains of the ship, which might be used to construct a memorial for those killed during the event.

The Altalena still evokes strong emotions in Israeli society. Until the 1977 upheaval, when Begin’s Herut Party beat out the long ruling Mapai, it was the Labor Movement’s narrative about the event that dominated.

This narrative presented the IZL as an organization having difficulty accepting the reality of an independent Jewish state led by its enemy of old – Labor – and the principle that in a sovereign state, it is the state, by means of its democratically elected government, that monopolizes all military forces and all decisions concerning national issues. The right-wing narrative claimed that this description was misleading, and that the event was the result of blind hatred.

It was inevitable that following Menachem Begin’s assumption of power, the official narrative would undergo change.

Within a year, two books about the Altalena affair appeared – one presenting the position of the Right, and the other the position of the Left. Nevertheless, Begin himself refrained from officially reopening the Altalena issue. Magnanimity and political wisdom undoubtedly guided his decision.

The Prime Minister’s Office stated last week that “we wish to preserve the heritage and story of the Altalena, and especially the values around it. It is especially important to thus preserve the value of preventing civil war, and preserving unity among the people.” This is indeed a noble cause, but the question is whether the Prime Minister’s Office and the Menachem Begin Heritage Center have the will and power to ensure that this intention is in fact realized, and that a reopening of the issue will be used to foster national unity and – more importantly – strengthen democracy.

How can this be done, especially when one is dealing with an issue that is still the basis of deep disagreement? The Altalena affair ended without civil war because Menachem Begin bowed to the superior power of the then-majority, accepted the rules that it laid down (largely because he was a true democrat), and abhorred the thought of civil war. For the following 29 years, he worked tirelessly worked toward a change in the political balance of power in the country, and was finally victorious.

IS THIS still a message that is acceptable to some of the disaffected Jewish minority groups in Israel, who pose a threat to national unity and democracy today? I’m not so sure. For example, Rabbi Dov Lior and his followers reject a basic principle accepted by the majority to the effect that everyone is equal before the law, including a revered (and controversial) rabbi, and that anyone summoned for a police investigation must turn up.

Whether or not the police acted wisely on Monday when it set an ambush for the rabbi and detained him is debatable. However, no police act forcing Lior to attend the investigation would have been considered legitimate by him and his followers. They simply do not accept the rules of democracy, and no matter how the heritage of the Altalena is presented, that will not change.

The same applies to the prospect of Israel voluntarily relinquishing parts of Judea and Samaria within the framework of an Israeli-Palestinian political settlement.

Should a majority finally approve such a move (and the right wing in the Knesset is doing its best to place as many legal obstacles as possible on the road), the hard core of ideological settlers and their supporters will not accept this lying down. Once again, the Altalena heritage concerning national unity and democracy will have no effect on their views and actions. As Harold Auerbach stated in his article last week, for the settlers, the part of the Altalena heritage that is relevant is that there were some soldiers who refused to cooperate with the attack – the forefathers of today’s soldiers who have been permitted by their rabbis to disobey orders on ideological grounds.

In other words, “heritage” is in the eyes of the beholder, and it is questionable whether the Altalena affair can be mobilized to promote national unity and democracy among those who pose a threat to them.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Haaretz Compares the Altalena to the Marmara

From its June 27th edition.


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Further Info on UK Entrance Denial of Begin

British documents reveal: Begin refused entry to U.K. in 1950s

Declassified documents refer to Menachem Begin as 'leader of notorious terrorist organisation Irgun'.

Britain refused to allow Menachem Begin, "leader of the notorious terrorist organisation Irgun," to visit London in the 1950s, documents released by Britain's National Archives this week reveal.

During the British Mandate in Palestine, when he headed the right-wing underground militia the Irgun, Begin was a bitter opponent of Britain. But in the first half of the '50s, as head of the Herut faction in the Knesset, he sought to open a new leaf with the U.K. He intended to visit the country, meet Prime Minister Winston Churchill and even recommend that Israel be added to the British Commonwealth.

His plan had only one flaw - the British objected. The wounds were still fresh, Begin was still blacklisted as a dangerous terrorist, and the British had no intention of helping him legitimize his position vis-a-vis the governments of David Ben-Gurion and Moshe Sharett.

The 34-page file released by the National Archives documents two of Begin's attempts to obtain a visa to Britain. The first, between 1953 and 1955, was rebuffed contemptuously. The second, after Begin had served as a minister in Levi Eshkol and Golda Meir's governments for three years, succeeded in 1972, five years before he became prime minister.

Back in 1946, Begin's description in his file resembled something out of "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion," as if it had been re-written by Charles Dickens - "Journalist. Thin faced, bad teeth, long hooked nose, may wear black horn-rimmed spectacles."

Later Begin had advocates such as "British lawyer" Max Seligman (as he was described in the documents), who represented the captain of the Altalena, the Irgun ship that was sunk by Israeli government forces in 1948. Seligman's successors at the law firm are defending former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in his corruption case today.

Seligman asked British Ambassador Francis Evans about the answer Begin would receive if he asked for a visa to lecture at Herut branches in Britain, meet officials and public figures, and most importantly - meet Prime Minister Churchill.

Another associate urged that the episode be closed - "not dissimilar to other episodes in British history ... which have frequently ended up in happy and fraternal relations."

The query raised a procedural controversy between the British Home Office - which is in charge of visas, aliens, the MI5 counterterrorism service and police - and the Foreign and Colonial Office.

The latter described Begin as "the leader of the extremist right wing party in Israel, which advocates an aggressive policy towards the Arabs .... [A] visit by him would not do anything to improve our relations with the present moderate government of Israel."

MI5, under the official guise of "Box No.500, telephone no. Regent 5050," said Begin "is also the well-known former leader of the notorious terrorist organisation Irgun Zvei Leumi, some of whose members have now become the Heruth Party."

According to the MI5, "If there is any likelihood of Beigin being admitted to the United Kingdom, we consider that Special Branch [security service] should be informed immediately since the security responsibility responsibility for the Jewish terrorists in the United Kingdom rests with them."

Both ministries agreed - no entry.

At one stage the paperwork regarding Begin was stored away, to be discovered only months later. The visa was still denied.

There are no indications that Begin's case, which was handled by mid-ranking ministry officials, had reached the political leadership. The officials had precedents dealing with visa applications of three Knesset members who had taken part in anti-British activity. One of them - Lehi leader Natan Yelin-Mor - was denied entry. Haganah head Moshe Sneh and Herut activist Esther Raziel-Naor were granted visas.

A decade and a half later, after Begin had already served as a minister, he would visit British Ambassador Ernest John Ward Barnes at his Ramat Gan residence. Barnes wired to London that Begin was talking about Britain "in terms of friendship and admiration." He said times had changed and urged the government to allow Begin to visit the country.

MI5 replied that while Begin himself was no longer considered a security risk, "we cannot guarantee that either militant Arabs or British subjects, who still remember his activities, might not make him a target if they happen to hear of his visit." That weekend, for example, supporters of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine were to gather in London, MI5 said, implying that the reason for denying Begin a visa was related to his safety, as well as public safety.

In 1971, this argument worked. In 1972, almost 25 years after the British Mandate had ended, the British grew tired of the battle and granted Begin his coveted visa.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Altalena Search Project To Begin

Undersea search for 'Altalena' to begin this week

Menachem Begin Heritage Center says remains expected to be found within two weeks; Katz: "A Jew will never lift a hand against his brother."

An attempt to lift the remains of the Altalena from the Mediterranean Sea will begin this week, the Knesset House Committee was told on Monday.

The Altalena was a ship carrying Irgun weapons and fighters, many of whom were Holocaust survivors, to Israel in June 1948. Former prime minister Menachem Begin, then the Irgun's commander, boarded the ship as it approached Israel, and the Altalena was fired upon by Yitzhak Rabin's Palmach unit near Tel Aviv's shore and later sunk on a command from David Ben-Gurion.

The ship is seen by many Israelis as a symbol of the dangers of violence between Jews in Israel.

A representative of the Menachem Begin Heritage Center said that the search for the ship would begin this week, and that remains are expected to be found within two weeks.

MK Ya'acov Katz (National Union), who attended the meeting said that "lifting the ship and making it a memorial is important in order to perpetuate the national consensus that a Jew will never lift a hand against his brother."

"There will never be a civil war," Katz exclaimed, repeating a well-known Begin quote from after the Altalena affair.


Friday, July 1, 2011

More Concern in Haaretz Over the Altalena

The latest thorny legacy of 1948

Israel's battle against wayward right-wing rabbis summons up a recollection of the fledgling Israeli government's handling of the Altalena affair.

By Amir Oren

The Altalena's heavy burden

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is also toadying to the extreme right on the issue of the Altalena, the right-wing Irgun militia's weapons ship that was sunk by the new Israeli government in 1948. The Prime Minister's Office and the Menachem Begin Heritage Center are expected to carry out an underwater search for remnants of the vessel in the coming weeks. The context is encouragement from above of rebels against the state, with the aim to thwart a diplomatic solution that would involve the evacuation of settlements.

Netanyahu has yet to evacuate a single settler. In 1997 he fulfilled his predecessor's commitment to evacuate Hebron in the sense that he divided the city. But he did not remove the settlers. In 2005 he resigned from Ariel Sharon's government so as not to be a partner to evacuation of settlements in Gaza and the northern West Bank.

When there is peace, there is no sign that he will have the courage to carry out what he has undertaken - uprooting settlers who refuse to leave of their own free will. In Netanyahu's world, in the choice between a quarrel with the world and a struggle with the extreme right, which influences Likud's internal elections, U.S. President Barack Obama doesn't stand a chance against Lior and right-wing Likud firebrand Moshe Feiglin.

It's worth recalling what David Ben-Gurion said about the Altalena. On the day of the battle, Ben-Gurion was absolutely determined to overpower the ship. "All those who fell in Kfar Vitkin and its surroundings [the site of an earlier clash between the army and the Irgun] will be buried in that area," he ordered Yigael Yadin, who would become the Israel Defense Forces' second chief of staff. "By no means is the Irgun to be allowed to have its dead buried in Tel Aviv."

Ben-Gurion had no compunctions about making clear the means to be employed in Tel Aviv. "You must," he wrote to Yadin, "take every step: concentrating an army, firepower (cannons, machine guns ), flame-throwers and all the other means at our disposal to make the ship surrender unconditionally. All these forces will be put into action - if the government gives an order."

The following day, June 23, 1948, at the fifth meeting of the Provisional State Council, he spoke about "the attempted attack by the organization known as the Irgun on the unity and sovereignty of the state, the State of Israel's military capability and its international status." He used terms such as "the bitterest test of blood the state has faced" and "a gang of terrorists."

"Had the weapons fallen into their hands, the terrorists would have been able to do away with the state all at once .... The burning of this ship [is] a tremendous thing because this is a ship that carried a danger of destruction for Israel .... The army acted intelligently. It could have destroyed those gangs, and did not do this because it knew that destroying them was not the aim but rather the prevention of a crime. I am very afraid of an armed minority," he added.

"To what end is it armed? Weaponry - this is a means for killing people. When there is an armed minority, it is inevitable that blood will be spilled, and Jewish blood has been spilled by them - more than once! And there is a danger that non-Jewish blood will be spilled by them - and non-Jewish blood must also not be spilled. We must prevent this danger, and it is impossible to prevent it with kid gloves, but rather only by force."

Ben-Gurion continued: "Alas, we must use force against Jews, but 70 times alas, Jews are compelling us to use force against them. In keeping the arms ship from the Irgun, a terrible disaster looming over us has been prevented, and never has the burning of a ship been such a devoted mission for the peace of the Yishuv [Jewish community] as the burning of this Irgun ship.

The Irgun people are in the army, but at the same time they have special weapons. For what? Against Arabs? After all, they have weapons from the government, clearly then, for continuing the internal terror. When there is not a sole authority, a sole army ... a sole discipline, when every terrorist gang can openly do what the Irgun people have done, the war effort is endangered ....

"The government did not succumb to erroneous pity, which might have led to far more horrendous bloodshed than what there was now. It's better that the ship was burned than for it to have supplied private arms to the separatists. In the government's hands the arms could have been a blessing, but they refused to hand them over to the government, so it's better the arms drowned in the sea or were burned."

And in a foreshadowing of future events, Ben-Gurion added, "We do not want to go around the country accompanied by bodyguards. I am embarrassed by bodyguards, and I know that a bodyguard will not help. If someone wants to assassinate you, he will assassinate you."

The intelligence service of the Haganah - the pre-state underground militia associated with the labor movement - had moles in the Irgun leadership. According to reliable testimonies, at least one became a top man in the right-wing Herut party and reported to the Shin Bet security service until the mid-1950s.

Three weeks after the Altalena affair, Ben-Gurion wrote to Interior Minister Yitzhak Greenboim: "According to the reports I have received, the Irgun was planning, with the help of wealthy people in the Yishuv, to establish 'an army of 5,000 people.' The aims: 1. Occupation of part of the land (Jerusalem or some other place ) under its total authority, and to defend this occupation against both aliens and Jews. 2. Preparations for achieving rule in the entire State of Israel by force. The loss of the ship the Altalena thwarted its plans, but after hesitations and wavering it now intends to continue with its previous plan, though by other means. It is now planning: 1. The occupation of Jerusalem, or at least separate occupations of Jerusalem. 2. The establishment of a large front abroad. To this end it is sending its most gifted commanders there, who will set up an army there to operate at the opportune moment here. 3. The acquisition of arms aboard and arrangement of hidden storehouses here."

Israel has witnessed the Jewish underground in the territories, Baruch Goldstein - who committed the Hebron massacre in 1994 - and Yigal Amir - who assassinated Rabin the following year. All of them were graduates of select units in the IDF. We must not take lightly the ability of national religious leaders to deploy their people at the next major evacuation.

Affairs like those of rabbis Dov Lior and Ya'akov Yosef test the determination of both sides. The politicians, headed by Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak (who dozens of times promised in vain, in the name of law and order, to evacuate rogue outposts ), have been deterred. The Israel Police, with the support of the State Prosecutor's Office, finds itself fighting alone.