Thursday, September 26, 2013

A Memoir of the 1946 Cordon-and-Seatch

James Knaggs recalls "the big curfew and search of Tel Aviv in 1946":-

...The curfew and search followed the King David Hotel bombing and was aimed at picking up as many terrorist suspects as possible. We were all roped in for the operation and as usually happened I was attached to CID screening. I was bag-carrier to Sgt Martin of Jewish Affairs. He was murdered in Haifa just a few weeks later, shot by the Irgun outside his flat one lunchtime as he turned to wave goodbye to his wife.

Our top-screening unit was set-up in the quadrangle of a secondary school - can't remember which. The army provided the cordons and the searching was done by police assisted by the Airborne Division and other units. Arrested suspects were sent by army transport from field-screening to the top-screening unit where they were held in temporary barbed-wire cages. After screening, they were either detained or sent back home under escort - most were sent home...

My little part in the operation was to wade through the long CID terrorist suspect lists while Sgt Martin did the questioning.

One of the terrorists we were after was Menechem Begin. CID had information on where he was supposed to be hiding but drew a blank. I remember they went back again that night and had another unsuccessful search. Years later, I read Begin's book and learned that he had been bricked in inside a false wall and almost suffocated.

On the final day of the curfew, while we were packing our equipment, one of the Airborne sergeants had a potter round a cellar, right below where out four screening tables had been standing. He noticed one of the walls seemed to have a very new coat of whitewash. He gave it a good thump, it collapsed and revealed a large room that was full of explosives and was being used as a hand-grenade and bomb factory. It took us a couple of hours to move everything out. On reflection , I can't help thinking they should have taken that sergeant round to Begin's suspected hiding place.


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Begin Goes Google

PM Netanyahu Launches Virtual Exhibit to Mark the Centenary of the Birth of Menachem Begin

(Communicated by the Prime Minister's Media Adviser)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, yesterday evening (Monday, 16 September 2013), launched a virtual exhibit to mark the centenary of the birth of Menachem Begin. Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat, Menachem Begin Heritage Center Chairman Herzl Makov and Google Israel Research and Development Director Yossi Matias also attended the event.

Menachem Begin is the first Israeli personality to be remembered in a joint initiative between the Google Cultural Institute and museums and cultural institutions around the world. The goal of the initiative is to render the materials in cultural institutions more accessible to various publics around the world via the Internet.

With photographs and video clips, the exhibit tells the life story of Menachem Begin, starting with his birth in Poland, through his activities in the Betar movement, his imprisonment by the Soviets, his arrival in the Land of Israel, his war to liberate the homeland and the key roles he played in Israeli politics – in the opposition, as a minister and as Prime Minister.

Menachem Begin Heritage Center Chairman Makov showed Prime Minister Netanyahu photographs of the signing of the peace agreement with Egypt as well as the peace agreement itself, signed by Prime Minister Begin, US President Jimmy Carter and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, and a quote by Begin ("Under no circumstances will we allow an enemy to develop weapons of mass destruction to be used against our people. We will defend the citizens of Israel, at the proper time, with all means at our disposal.") regarding the bombing of the Iraqi nuclear reactor in June 1981.

Prime Minister Netanyahu said, "Menachem Begin taught us that peace is made and upheld only with the strong. There is much to learn from this splendid exhibit about this exemplary personality. Here one may surf our collective memory which is composed of the great spirit and the great deeds of great people."

Culture and Sports Minister Livnat said, "No subject is more appropriate than Menachem Begin to be the subject of an exhibit that allows anyone in the world to study his outstanding personality, his love of Israel and his abiding commitment to liberal values, including freedom of expression, equal opportunity and the reduction of social gaps. In many ways, Google is probably the most popular means in the world for making information more accessible, which provides a person with freedom, the same freedom that stood as the base of the liberal outlook which Menachem Begin clung to his entire life. Begin led a political-social revolution in Israel, and Google is leading an information technology revolution. Today we link the two so that Begin's life and deeds will be accessible to all at the click of a mouse."

Menachem Begin Heritage Center Chairman Makov said, "With the launch of this exhibit on the Google site we are emphasizing the heritage and work of Menachem Begin among millions and perhaps billions of people around the world. This is a moving moment for us and a very significant moment in the history of the Center."

Google Israel Research and Development Director Matias said, "The internet has led to the democratization of the arts, history and heritage, and is able to help preserve important material for the future such as documents, photographs and letters, which over time might be forgotten and could disappear. Via the Google Cultural Institute, we are pleased to provide the technology through which the people at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center will be able to upload archival material and, from the physical exhibit, provide background documentation and context, and render it accessible to people around the world."


Sunday, September 15, 2013

Lustick: I Could Have Prevented Begin's 1981 Election Victory

Ian Lustick recalls:

In 1980, I was a 30-year-old assistant professor, on leave from Dartmouth at the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research. I was responsible for analyzing Israeli settlement and land expropriation policies in the West Bank and their implications for the “autonomy negotiations” under way at that time between Israel, Egypt and the United States. It was clear to me that Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s government was systematically using tangled talks over how to conduct negotiations as camouflage for de facto annexation of the West Bank via intensive settlement construction, land expropriation and encouragement of “voluntary” Arab emigration. 

To protect the peace process, the United States strictly limited its public criticism of Israeli government policies, making Washington an enabler for the very processes of de facto annexation that were destroying prospects for the full autonomy and realization of the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people that were the official purpose of the negotiations. This view was endorsed and promoted by some leading voices within the administration. Unsurprisingly, it angered others. One day I was summoned to the office of a high-ranking diplomat, who was then one of the State Department’s most powerful advocates for the negotiations. He was a man I had always respected and admired. “Are you,” he asked me, “personally so sure of your analysis that you are willing to destroy the only available chance for peace between Israelis and Palestinians?” His question gave me pause, but only briefly. “Yes, sir,” I answered, “I am.” 

I still am. Had America blown the whistle on destructive Israeli policies back then it might have greatly enhanced prospects for peace under a different leader. It could have prevented Mr. Begin’s narrow electoral victory in 1981 and brought a government to power that was ready to negotiate seriously with the Palestinians before the first or second intifada and before the construction of massive settlement complexes in the West Bank. We could have had an Oslo process a crucial decade earlier.


Friday, September 13, 2013

The Post-Resigntation Letters of Appreciation

Letters to Menachem Begin go on display

Thirty years after his resignation as prime minister, letters from world leaders thanking him or asking him to reconsider go on display • Nixon: "I always respected you for your intelligence, your courage and, if I may use the vernacular, your guts." 

Mati Tuchfeld

Thirty years after Menachem Begin announced his resignation as prime minister with the words "I can't take it any more," the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem is putting on display a collection of letters from senior officials in Israel and the world expressing their regret at his decision. Some of the authors pleaded with him to change his decision, which he reached following the events of the First Lebanon War and the passing of his wife Aliza.

In a letter delivered to Begin a short while after his resignation on Sept. 15, 1983, former U.S. President Richard Nixon wrote: "Except for the brief meetings in 1974 in Jerusalem and in Cairo at [Egyptian President Anwar] Sadat's funeral, I have not had the privilege of knowing you well. But I always respected you for your intelligence, your courage and, if I may use the vernacular, your guts. I trust your successor will be able to fill the very big shoes you will have left behind."
Other senior American officials also sent Begin letters, among them Sen. John Glenn, the first astronaut to circle the Earth. 
"In light of your resignation I am writing you of my appreciation for your 50 years of service to the Jewish people and for Israel. Your place in history is secure in light of your heroism during the signing at Camp David," Glenn wrote.
Sen. Daniel Inouye, a World War II hero, wrote: "Although some have treated you rather harshly, I am convinced that historians will record your service to Israel with much favor and approval."
In Israel, one of the more surprising letters came from former MK Yohanan Bader, the founder of the Herut party and one of Begin's biggest rivals. 
"The result of the elections could determine the fate of the settlements," Bader wrote. "I am certain that your return to the head of the movement and the party list and your contribution to the election campaign can decide the results. And if you have the strength -- come back!"
Another special letter was written by Miri Nattaf from France, who said: "I was 10 when I visited Tel Aviv with my class. Suddenly I saw you, Mr. Begin, and I screamed with excitement, and you stroked my head, asked me my name and gave me a candy. This is a picture I will never forget. Today I am 33. Mr. Begin, even in these difficult hours your distinguished character is unforgettable ... I learned from you that simplicity is wisdom."