Thursday, April 30, 2009

Center Bulletin Vol. 5, No. 27 | 30 April 2009



As our readers surely recall, Soldier's Remembrance Day is a somber, quiet day in Israel in which soldiers who died are honored and remembered in many varied ways including radio and television programs, public ceremonies and official events. In recent years, victims of terrorist attacks are also remembered on this day.

At 8:00pm, on April 27, a one-minute siren sounds throughout Israel marking the beginning of Soldier's Remembrance Day. Everyone stops what they are doing and stands for a moment of silence, whether they are at an organized ceremony or not. Every radio station plays quiet, Israeli music; every television station suspends normal broadcasting to show memorial films about soldiers or patriotic films of the national memory. Another siren sounds for two-minutes the next morning at 11:00am. (For a short video of a street scene during the siren, please click here. This year, the number of people who have died defending Israel stands at 22,570.

For the beginning of Soldiers' Remembrance Day the Hebrew University Student's Union, in cooperation with the Begin Center, held a ceremony in the Reuben Hecht Auditorium. Herzl Makov, Chairman of the Menachem Begin Heritage Center, gave opening remarks about the national character of Remembrance Day in Israel. Students performed readings of poetry and Osnat Vishinsky spoke about losing her son Lior during a military action in the Philadelphi corridor in Gaza. Shlomo Grohnich gave a concert as a public sing-along of memorial songs. He also spoke of losing his younger brother Yaron in the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

The next morning, the staff of the Begin Center gathered in the olive tree entrance foyer named for the Hurwitz family to hear the siren and to conduct a short ceremony to remember fallen soldiers and victims of terror attacks.

From the sorrow of Remembrance Day joy springs forth in the shape of Independence Day. This year marks 61 years since the birth of the State of Israel. The Begin Center museum was open and 300 visitors came on the day.

And, in the spirit of remembrance and celebration, we recall the last line of the Israeli national anthem, Hatikva (The Hope), "to be a free people in our land, the land of Zion and Jerusalem."



On Friday, May 14, 1948, the Declaration of Israel’s Independence was signed in Tel Aviv. The next day, on the Saturday night, Menachem Begin gave a radio address which is one of his most memorable speeches. He begins, "Arise, oh Lion of Judah! Forward to victory!" And he continues by describing the work that has to be done to build a state and to maintain it. Following is an excerpt regarding his vision of what it will take to remain independent:

First of all, it will be necessary to increase and strengthen the fighting arm of Israel, without which there can be no freedom and no survival for our Homeland.

Our Jewish army should be, and must be, one of the best trained and equipped of the world's military forces. In modern warfare, it is not quantity that counts, but brainpower and spirit are the determining factors. All of our youth proved that they possess this spirit – those of the Hagana, the Lehi, the Irgun – youth that no other nation has merited. Indeed, no generation since Bar-Kochba and until the Bilu pioneers has seen such spirit. As for brainpower, after 120 generations, the creativity of the Hebrew mind is one of the most developed and unlimited. Our military science will be built up on the Jewish mind and will be the world's best. We will yet achieve strength for we posses the power of the brain.

In order to free our country and maintain our state, we shall need a wise foreign policy. We must turn our declaration of independence into a reality. And we must grasp this fact: that so long as even one British or any other foreign soldier treads the soil of our country, our sovereign independence remains nothing but an aspiration, an aspiration whose fulfillment we must be ready to fight not only on the battlefront, but also in the international arena. Secondly, we must establish and maintain the principle of reciprocity in our relations with the nations of the world. There must be no self-denigration. There must be reciprocity. Enmity for enmity. Aid for aid. Friendship must be repaid with friendship. We must foster friendship and understanding between us and every nation, great or small, strong or weak, near or far, which recognizes our independence, which aids our national regeneration and which is interested, even as we are, in international justice and peace among nations.

Of no less importance is our internal policy. The first pillar of this policy is the Return to Zion. Ships! For heaven's sake, let us have ships! Let us not be complacent with inertia. Let us not talk empty words about absorptive capacity. Let us not make restrictions for the sake of so-called order. Quickly, quickly! Our nation has no time! Bring in hundreds of thousands. If there will not be enough houses, we'll find tents or even the skies, the blue skies of our land, as a roof. As we have seen from other nations, there is no limit to the sacrifices a fighting nation is prepared to make in order to obtain its homeland and assure its future. We are now in the midst of a war for survival; and our tomorrow and theirs depend on the quickest concentration of our nation's exiles.

And within our Homeland, justice shall be the supreme ruler, the ruler over all rulers. There must be no tyranny. The Ministers and officials must be the servants of the nation and not their masters. There must be no exploitation. There must be no man within our country – be he citizen or foreigner – compelled to go hungry, to want for a roof over his head or to lack elementary education. 'Remember you were strangers in the land of Egypt.' This supreme rule must continually light our way in our relations with the strangers within our gates. 'Righteousness, righteousness shall you pursue' will be the guiding principle in our relations amongst ourselves.


Our readers have heard about the Begin Center's Israel Government Fellows Program. One of the Fellows, Alexander Rosemberg, was sent as part of delegation to Geneva to observe the proceedings and has reported on the event for the bulletin.

As part of my internship at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' (MFA) Department for Combating Antisemitism, within the framework of the Israel Government Fellows Program, I was asked to participate in the MFA multi-department committee that was tasked with the Israeli policy on the Durban Review Conference (DRC).

Former Minister Livni announced, as a result of the recommendation of that committee, that Israel would not be participating and in fact would be seeking a multi-state boycott of the DRC. Such an announcement came within the framework of the UJC-GA as early as November 2008. Since then, much of my internship had been focused on planning ahead of the DRC. I n that task I had the opportunity to meet and coordinate with leaders from various Jewish organizations worldwide, to assist in the planning of the media strategy that would ensue and finally to coordinate a group of students that the MFA would be sending to Geneva in order to keep tabs on the conference and to be Israel's public face. That delegation has been featured by The New Republic and on Israel's Channel 2.

As a result of these activities, I was asked to be part of the MFA delegation that was sent to Geneva to keep tabs on the DRC, to coordinate a media presence and to liaise with the International Jewish Caucus – which was set up by 20 Jewish organizations worldwide in order to coordinate their efforts prior to and during the DRC. Upon our arrival in Geneva, I immediately hit the ground running, surveying event sites, setting up coordination infrastructure and in liaising with most groups on the ground.

The group of students, which I was formally a part of, arrived a couple of days later. Our work within the Palais des Nations was quite gruesome. We reported on the ongoing events inside the conference, pursued media interviews, caucused with members of non-Jewish / non-Israeli NGO's and tried to keep the side event panels from being hijacked by a very large contingent of Iranians and Naturei Karta who had partnered together to delegitimize and defame Israel. It was in one of these so-called panels on Islamophobia that I learned we had succeeded, as Michael Warchawsky – the known anti-Zionist- had said "At Durban I, we were on the offense; today at Durban II, we're again on the defensive."

Center Bulletin Vol. 5, No. 26 | 23 April 2009



The intermediary days of the Passover holiday were extremely busy at the Begin Museum. During the two full days and two half days of operation between the two holidays of Passover, 1,200 visitors came to visit the museum. We are very pleased to see this incredible increase during the holidays and hope to see similar, if not higher, numbers for the Sukkot holiday in October.


In cooperation with the American Friends of Likud, the Begin Center hosted a special breakfast briefing with Minister Moshe Ya'alon. The group was a combination of Americans who were visiting Israel and Americans living in Israel. We were also happy to see Philip Rosen who is the Chairman of the Board of American Likud; Shalom Helman, head of Likud Anglos in Israel; and Sol Unsdorfer, Chairman of Likud-Herut UK. Everyone was very interested in what Minister Ya'alon had to say and stayed for follow-up questions with him.

At the end of the event, Philip Rosen presented the Minister with a Pesach Haggadah, dedicated to Israeli soldiers, that was specially created and printed by Rosen's family in memory of his uncle. Photographs of Israeli soldiers were used that related to the various sections of the Haggadah and since Minister Ya'alon was featured in so many of the pictures, Rosen said it was only fitting that Ya'alon should have it.


Two events were held at the Begin Center in honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day. In the morning, the Jerusalem district police officers held a special memorial service in the Reuben Hecht Auditorium. The event is usually held at Yad Vashem, but this year the Jerusalem district decided to hold the ceremony here at the Begin Center. Herzl Makov, Chairman of the Begin Center, opened the event with a few words about Menachem Begin mentioning the Holocaust in his speeches and the lessons to be learned. Commissioner Aharon Franco spoke about the need for Israel to stay strong with a moral certainty and a military presence or the Holocaust could happen again.

The second event was held in the evening and focused on the recently published book by Professor Moshe Arens, Flags Above the Ghetto, detailing the Betar involvement in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Herzl Makov was the master of ceremonies and Prof. Arens spoke about his book.

Minister Yossi Peled presented a personal story about his survival during the Holocaust. When he was a baby, his mother gave him to a Christian family to protect him. He grew up not knowing his real mother and not knowing his history. When he was 6 years old his mother came to take him back and he simply didn't know her anymore. His father had died in Auschwitz. They made aliyah and made their lives in Israel at Kibbutz Negba. He grew up in Israel and served in the military reaching finally the rank of General in charge of the Northern Command. Musical interludes were provided by The Tel Aviv Hazanut Institute.


The Begin Center was honored to welcome the Lord and Lady Leonard Steinberg, of Manchester, England, who were visiting Israel during the Pesach holiday. They toured the museum and had a meeting with Moshe Fuksman-Sha'al, Deputy Director of the Begin Center, and David Posner, of the Begin Foundation.

Erwin and Ilse Lamm, of Melbourne, Australia, long-time friends of the Begin Center and its founder, the late Harry Hurwitz, brought their relatives to the Center for a special tour.


To our Assistant Archivist Rami Shtivi and his wife Karen who welcomed their new son into the world last week. At the brit milah ceremony, the boy was given the name Yonatan.


For the Soldiers' Remembrance Day, the Hebrew University Student's Union will be holding a ceremony in the Reuben Hecht Auditorium. Students will perform readings and Osnat Vishinsky will sing. Shlomo Grohnich will give a concert as a public sing-along after the ceremony of memorial songs. All reservations for this event are handled through the Student Union and will not be handled by the Begin Center.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Why The Begin Center Engages in Educational Activity

Students: Ben-Gurion was Israel's 1st president

New study reveals 60% of high school students don't know who State's first prime minister was.
Survey's conductor unsurprised by figures: 'Today's youth reads less and would rather go out and watch television'

Who was Israel's first president? David Ben-Gurion. What was his nickname? Davidka. Who wrote Israel's national anthem – "Hatikva"? Chaim Nachman Bialik. At least this is what 10th to 12th graders in Israel believe.

These embarrassing findings, which point to the students' ignorance in terms of the State of Israel's history, were revealed in a survey conducted by Prof. David Chen, an advisor to the Education Ministry on core studies, who serves as dean of the School of Education in the Academic College of Or Yehuda. The study was held among 527 students.

The findings show that only 39% of the respondents knew that Ben-Gurion was Israel's first prime minister, 49% thought that Davidka (a homemade Israeli mortar used during the War of Independence) was Ben-Gurion's nickname (he was really called 'the old man'), 39% said Ben-Gurion was Israel's first president, and only 34% knew the correct answer – Chaim Weizmann.

What happened on November 29th? Only 39% knew that was the day the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution recommending the division of the Land of Israel into a Jewish state and an Arab one.

As for "Hatikva", 35.5% of the students believe that the anthem was written by Israel's national poet, Chaim Nachman Bialik, 19% said it was written by Theodor Herzl, the father of modern political Zionism, and only 45% gave the correct answer: Naftali Herz Imber.

Only 26% knew that Yigal Allon was one of the commanders of the Palmach (combat unit of the Hagana during the British Mandate period and the War of Independence), and only 19% knew that Dov Gruner was a member of the Irgun (the "National Military Organization in the Land of Israel") who was executed. The rest thought he was a Palmach member of a government minister.

An Education Ministry official said in response to the grim findings, "We are unsatisfied with these figures. Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar plans to lead a policy which will strengthen this component among the students."

The survey's conductor said, "I am not surprised, as the education system does not emphasize enough the studies of history and civics. The youth today reads less and is busy going out and watching soap operas.

"School trips take the students to Eilat, where they run wild at hotels instead of touring and getting to know the places where the history of the State's establishment took place."

Monday, April 20, 2009

Menachem Begin Transformed

Jerusalem Diary: 20 April
By Tim Franks
BBC News, Jerusalem


Did Al-Qaeda draw on Jewish inspiration for its attacks of 11 September 2001? It may seem unlikely, but more than 60 years ago, Jewish militants were arrested in Paris on suspicion - as newspapers in Britain, France and the US reported at the time - of planning to bomb London from the air.

The arrested men were members of the Stern Gang (or Lehi, as it is known in Israel), a group dedicated to the overthrow of British rule in Palestine, if necessary through violence, in order to create a Jewish state.

The Stern Gang certainly had a bloody list of victims to its name. But was it also an early planner of aerial terror?

Now the son of one of those arrested says he has come up with conclusive evidence that the gang was planning only to drop leaflets, not bombs over London.

Natan Brun is an author and academic on Israeli judicial history. In 1947, he was a nine year-old boy living in the town of Bnei Brak, close to Tel Aviv.

On 8 September, Natan did what he always did on the way home from school. He stopped to look at the newspaper. The second headline in Yediot Ahranot trumpeted: "The 'London Bombers', arrested in Paris, will be brought before an investigating judge today."

Natan read on. More than 60 years later, sitting in his cluttered, book-lined office in Tel Aviv, he recalls what he saw.

"The report said that one of those arrested is called 'Brown'. I knew that my father was in Paris (he had been there since the year before). But I didn't know he was in Lehi. I thought he was a merchant or something." Natan ran home. He told his mother who, to his surprise, began laughing.

"She said: 'It's true; it's nothing new. Your father was always in prison. When you were born in October 1937, he was sitting in Akko prison.'" Mrs Brun may have tried to reassure her son by sounding relaxed. But the headlines were ominous.

The New York Times on 8 September: "London Air Defense on Alert Over Stern Band Bomb Scare."

Le Monde, on 9 September: "A group of Jewish terrorists who planned to drop leaflets and bombs on London fall into a police trap."

Le Figaro, on the same day, reported that the French police had stopped a "deplorable venture".


The French police had apparently caught the plotters red-handed. They arrested the pilot and two others at a small air-field near Paris, and then a further 10 - including Akiva Brun.

This was not just newspaper flam. Previously classified secret intelligence reports, which were released in 2003, show that the British Secret Service MI5 believed there was "a project for an air raid on London, in the course of which leaflets were to be dropped in the name of the Stern Gang, together with high explosive bombs".

MI5 had reason to worry: they had strong evidence of a plot to assassinate British Foreign Secretary Earnest Bevin.

Akiva Brun was detained, along with the other Paris members of the Stern Gang, in the Prison de la Sante.

From there he wrote to Natan: "Now you know that your father is not only a father to his boys, but a son of his nation... The way I have chosen is very hard… and if I suffer - and I have to - and my family are troubled: no matter, it is all worth it."

At the centre of the plot stood a rabbi called Baruch Korff. In later years, he would become known as "Nixon's rabbi", a prominent figure who remained loyal to US President Richard Nixon even after his disgrace.

Natan Brun says that he grew to know Korff well.

"He was a genius in propaganda. He came to Paris and said to the Stern Gang: 'Look - you kill British, you kill soldiers. It's nothing. You have to do something spectacular.'"

And so, says Natan Brun, the plot was born, to drop leaflets over London. The language was, says Mr Brun, "shocking".

"To the People of England... This is a Warning... Your government has dipped his Majesty's Crown in Jewish blood and polished it with Arab oil... People of England! Press your Government to quit Eretz-Israel (the land of Israel) NOW! Demand that your sons and daughters return home or you may not see them again."

But Brun insists that there has never been any evidence of a plan to bomb London from the air.

"My father told me there were no bombs. But I didn't believe him. I wanted to check."

He received permission from the French minister of justice to visit the archives in Paris.

There he saw "all the material" from his father's file. "No-one says that any detonators or things like that were found. If they had found bombs, they would not have released my father and the others."


Indeed, after two months in prison, Akiva Brun was given bail, and kicked out of the country. He had become persona non grata in British-ruled Palestine, and so moved to
Czechoslovakia to continue his work for the Stern Gang. He only returned to Israel after its declaration of independence on 14 May 1948.

Natan Brun says that his father was never personally involved in violence. He was, rather, an ideologue, a disciple of Zeev Jabotinsky, the hardline Zionist who wanted to see a Jewish state along both banks of the Jordan river.

The son, now a legal historian, is reluctant to talk much about today's politics.

But the resonances of his father's history are intriguing. Do they suggest that the Palestinian militants of today can become the pillars of the establishment of the future?

Natan Brun laughs and shakes his head.

"Because Menachem Begin (the leader of a Jewish militant group, and later Israel's first right-wing Prime Minister) on 14 May 1948 passed through a transformation from a terrorist to a democrat. In one day.

"The Palestinians - I think - will never undergo this transformation. They are still terrorists... How can we make peace with Hamas?"

Begin's transformation could have been, I suggest, because he got what he wanted: a Jewish state. No, says Brun.

"He didn't get what he wanted. Because he dreamt about a state on two sides of the (river) Jordan. It wasn't his government, but his bitterest rival's, (David) Ben-Gurion and the others. But Begin understood that he had to change his way of life, his ideas, everything."

Natan Brun said that his father's struggles did not end with the establishment of the State of Israel.

Those on the right were, he says, viciously discriminated against for the first 20 years of Israel's existence. But he has some satisfaction now, as a Likud voter.

Indeed, Natan Brun argues that the majority of the Knesset (the Israeli parliament) - in the parties of Likud, Kadima and Yisrael Beiteinu - have their roots in Jabotinsky and the groupings which followed.

"My mother died five years ago; but if she were alive today she would say: 'We won. We are the majority.'"

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Begin Protects Sadat

When Arab terrorists hatched a plot to overthrow the regime of President Anwar Sadat decades ago, Israel's Mossad likewise came to the defense of the Egyptian regime. Like today, a hardline leader had just taken office as Israel's prime minister. In an unlikely gesture, the newly elected Prime Minister Menachem Begin ordered the Mossad to turn over details of the plot to Egypt's intelligence chief.

Mossad officials were stunned by Begin's orders. Like Israel's current prime minister, Benyamin Netanyahu, many observers considered Begin an unrepentant hawk, someone who would not yield to advocates of what he believed would be a risky withdrawal from Arab lands in exchange for a tentative peace agreement with the Palestinians. Yet Begin wanted to send a signal to Egypt and the rest of the Arab world that even he was ready to negotiate.

The plot against Sadat had been orchestrated by Muammar Qaddafi of Libya. Acting on the Mossad report that Prime Minister Begin turned over to Sadat, Egypt's security officials were able to quickly seize Qaddafi's agents. Five days later, President Sadat launched an attack against Libya. The Egyptian government explained that the raid was "in retaliation for Libyan aggression," and it accused Qaddafi of trying to overthrow Sadat by engaging in a "large-scale terrorist plot" in alliance with members of an Islamic extremist group.

When the Egyptian retaliatory strike against Qaddafi was completed, Sadat vowed, "We are ready to repeat this lesson unless this maniac stops playing with fire." The warning against Qaddafi echoes Mubarak's recent denunciations of Nasrallah. In an editorial published in a state-controlled Egyptian newspaper, Nasrallah was branded a "monkey sheik," charging him with being "a bandit and veteran criminal who killed your countrymen," pledging that "we will not allow you to threaten the security and safety of Egypt." Similar to the threats against Qaddafi for his plot against Sadat, Nasrallah has also been put on notice: "If you threaten its sovereignty, you will burn!"


Begin and Carter

In a book review of "A World of Trouble: America in the Middle East", Muhammad Idrees Ahmad, of The Electronic Intifada, makes some observations on Menachem Begin:

...There was a marked change in US policy with the ascension of Lyndon Johnson who ushered in a pronounced pro-Israel tilt. A convert to Zionism out of political expedience, Johnson was quick to revoke the restrictions Kennedy had been trying to impose on Israel's nuclear program. Kennedy had kept Israel at a wary distance and opted for conciliation with Arabs. In contrast, writes Tyler, Johnson "had put himself in the service of Israel like no other previous president," deferring judgment on key occasions to his coterie of informal Jewish advisers which included among others a former member of the Zionist terrorist group Irgun [?]. Unlike Eisenhower, Johnson would accept Israel's conquests during the 1967 war, ignoring the judgment of his own cabinet, and would thereby permanently undermine the UN charter.

...Jimmy Carter was likewise challenged by the lobby when he became the first US president to broach the idea of a Palestinian "homeland." However, he proved a more formidable adversary. Though he occasionally ceded ground, through sheer tenacity he also managed to extract concessions from the Israelis. The conviction with which Carter threatened to cut funding in response to Israel's 1978 invasion of Lebanon led Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin to exclaim "It's over" before ordering a withdrawal. In stormy sessions with Begin, according to Moshe Dayan, Carter delivered his indictments which "could not have been expressed in a more hostile form." (So "disgusted" was Carter with Begin's tactics that he said he would have asked Begin to "get the hell out" had he not been a guest.) It was this same tenacity that would eventually allow him to force Israel to withdraw from the occupied Egyptian Sinai peninsula, despite Begin's reluctance and the opposition of the lobby. Carter's wish for a comprehensive Middle East peace would not come to fruition as a result of his failure to win re-election in 1980.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Begin Center Bulletin, Vol. 5, No. 25

Menachem Begin Heritage Center Bulletin Vol. 5 No. 25 | 7 April 2009





Before Irgun soldier Dov Gruner was hanged by the British on April 16, 1947, just after the Pesach holiday, he wrote a letter to Menachem Begin in which he stated that he did not regret his role in the Irgun Zvai Leumi and that he believed in what he was fighting for, even though it eventually led to the final moment in the hangman's noose.

Menachem Begin wrote at that time:

"Great is the courage in Israel at a time of destruction and in this time of resurrection. We will be proud of them all and in all of them we will recognize holiness. But in the ladder of Jewish heroism, there is one level which is supreme. And from that level arise those who are Harugei Malchut. They were fighters whose fighting was not passive. It was active. They were revolutionaries whose revolution was not without choice but initiated. They went to the gallows and their heroism was not once. It is eternal. From their bleeding hearts, a song of freedom was sung. The song that sang how there is no purpose in being slaves anymore and that liberty would win and justice would arrive. And now, G-D of Israel, I tell You: Because You have given Israel such children as these, I say ‘Yitgadal V’Yitkadash Sh’mei Rabbah’."

** On Holocaust Remembrance Day and on Memorial Day, the tours of the museum have been cancelled that would cause visitors to be inside the museum when the national siren takes place. This means that on Holocaust Remembrance Day there will be no tours at 9am or 9:30am and on Memorial Day there will be no tours at 10am or 10:30. Otherwise, the museum hours are as usual until 7pm.

We remind all our visitors to make reservations in advance to avoid disappointment, especially during the holidays. Reservations can be made at 02-565-2020.


A few links to special coverage of various items:

From the Begin Center Diary Blog, readers may want to review Yehuda Avner's recollections of the peace process HERE.

Or read Ted Mann's account of that time period HERE.

Reader's may also want to peruse the speech that outgoing Prime Minster Ehud Olmert gave at the special session of Knesset that was held to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Peace Treaty with Egypt HERE.

Finally, a video recording was made at the commemoration for Rabbi Aryeh Levin. The Chief Rabbinate Choir performed the song Ana B'Choach which can be viewed HERE.


In honor of the Pesach holiday, we will be liberating ourselves from writing the bulletin next week. We will return on April 23 with coverage of Pesach events.

A Missing Peace Partner

Michael Slackman writes in the New York Times of Egyptian disillusionment and lack of support for the 30-year old peace treaty with Israel.

Well, in describing that it happened like this

Thirty years ago, President Anwar el-Sadat broke ranks with his Arab allies, visited Jerusalem and agreed to peace with Israel.

it's no wonder.

If you de-personify the Israelis while glorifying Sadat of Egypt, why should you have peace? Anyone heard of Menachem Begin?

Peace is between peoples and once you eliminate Israelis as people, real-live persons, why peace?

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Bombing Of Iraq's Reactor Recalled

In the London Times, an excerpt:

An Israeli colleague was sent on an assignment so secret and sensitive that it was years before he would share the full story with friends.

He was dispatched by Menachem Begin, then the Prime Minister, to European capitals with orders to meet editors, politicians and opinion makers to spread the word that Israel was increasingly concerned about Iraq's nuclear programme and would do anything to stop Saddam Hussein building the bomb. The warnings, intended to prepare Western public opinion, were largely dismissed as sabre-rattling (one editor insisted on discussing a new lavatory system designed on a kibbutz) - until June 1981, when Israeli Air Force F16s bombed the plant to rubble.

A few days ago a chill went down my spine when an articulate and intelligent senior Israeli official made exactly the same argument about Iran's nuclear programme at a briefing in London. He described an Iranian nuclear weapon as an existential threat to the Jewish state, which would defend itself whatever the consequences. These warnings are not new but the political and military circumstances are conspiring to make an Israeli attack on Iran a probability, unless the Middle East experiences dramatic changes in the coming weeks and months.

It is a widely held conclusion among nuclear experts that Iran now possesses enough enriched uranium to build a nuclear bomb. It would still have to be enriched to weapons grade at the centre in Natanz before being made into a warhead. But Iran has mastered the technology and has the raw materials. Building a nuclear bomb is now only a matter of time...

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Recalling the Yammit Expulsion

No trauma erased, no lesson learned

By Lily Galili

"Before you say anything, I want to tell you that in April we're having a protest rally to commemorate 27 years since the evacuation of Yamit," replied Avi Farhan to the as-yet-unasked question: How do the Yamit evacuees see the peace with Egypt after 30 years?.

Three people showed up for a more in-depth discussion: Farhan, who turned the evacuation into a mission, when he was evacuated both from Yamit and later from Elei Sinai during the Gaza disengagement; his friend Yitzhak Gabai, who also went through a dual evacuation; and Mati Gordon, who was evacuated (uprooted, as they put it) only once and then took up residence inside the Green Line.

Farhan is now living temporarily in a rented apartment in Sderot. Gabai has been living since the disengagement in the so-called refugee camp in Kibbutz Carmia. They are both still waiting to reach an agreement with the state to settle in Kibbutz Neveh Yam, south of Haifa.

Since Yamit's evacuation, Gordon has been living in Moshav Dekel on the border of Israel, Egypt and the Gaza Strip. The moshav was established to absorb the evacuees from the Yamit region; the region around the moshav then received the name Shalom in honor of the peace agreements with Egypt. But Gordon believes that the only peace, for now, is the peace he has made with himself and his fate. The term "Shalom District" seems to him somewhat far-fetched when he is asked to keep his front door closed with a large rock, after it became unhinged from the aftershock of a Qassam rocket that fell on his neighbor's house.

Although each of them chose a different path, for all three Yamit is still alive. To every meeting Farhan brings the Israeli flag that flew on the roof of his home in Yamit. The rest of the time he keeps it in a safe. From the same bag he pulls out an aerial photo of Yamit and points to its details with the enthusiasm of someone proudly presenting the blueprints of his new house.

"During one of the meetings in the Elei Sinai clubhouse before the evacuation, someone told me that it's easier for me because I've already been uprooted once," says Gabai, laughing bitterly. "I explained to him that that's like assuming it's easier for a man missing one hand to have the second one amputated, than to amputate the first hand of someone with two hands. Does that sound logical to you?"

Eternal disgrace

Farhan recalls how during the signing of the peace treaty with Egypt he said that "Menachem Begin wants to go down in history, and he will - as someone remembered in eternal disgrace." Thirty years later he does not take back his words. "He will be remembered in eternal disgrace when Egypt begins a war against us," Gabai says. "We are still high, celebrating 30 years of pseudo-peace. But the war will come."

We actually began the conversation from the end, with the question of whether they can imagine a perfect peace that would justify the evacuation. Absolute peace with guarantees and collateral and proof on the ground. The kind in which the leader of the country whose territory Israel must evacuate requests it of us personally, in the name of peace, and promises eternal love. The answer is a definite no.

"In such a peace, Itzik Gabai and I could, for example, live in an Egyptian Yamit," says Farhan, "and Farhan would live there as an Egyptian citizen, the way [Israeli Arab MK] Ahmed Tibi and his ilk live in Israel and serve in its parliament. I would be willing to be a member of the Egyptian parliament. On the eve of the signing of the treaty in Camp David, I traveled to Ashkelon, because in Yamit there was no telegraph office, and I sent telegrams to [prime minister Menachem] Begin, [U.S. president] Jimmy Carter and [Egyptian president] Anwar Sadat, with a request to enable us to remain in Yamit on a humanitarian basis. Yehiel Kadishai [Begin's personal secretary] confirmed receipt of the telegram."

And if the Syrian president were to ask Gabai to evacuate the Golan for 25 years, during which relations would mature and in the end he would be able to live there once again? "That's a nice simulation, but it's impossible," Gabai says. "After all, by doing so they're saying that only 25 years from now will there be a peace in which they'll be able to live with me. In such a case I would tell them they should mature first and come back to me in 25 years."

After examining the question from every angle, Farhan and Gabai did not find a single scenario in which an evacuation is worthwhile. The results of the disengagement only reinforced this feeling and increased suspicion of Egypt. Only Gordon says that when Yamit was evacuated he decided he would not be an obstacle to peace, but peace didn't really come. "The peace that exists is not what I dreamed of," he says.

Being a pioneer

A new trauma, it turns out, does not erase an old one. Nor is there any new thinking about personal responsibility for the choices these men made by risking living in a place that was not really theirs, and which was always under threat of evacuation. "In Yamit we certainly didn't feel for a moment that we were taking a risk," they say. They were young, enthusiastic, infused with a spirit of Zionism. "Be a pioneer, settle in Yamit," says Farhan, quoting from the ads published by the government in the 1970s.

The settlement in Elei Sinai is a somewhat different story; here, for the first time, Farhan surprises by saying "I made a mistake." In what way? "After Yamit, I had planned to build a refugee camp next to the Erez crossing," he explains. "On the eve of Memorial Day in 1982, [then-defense minister] Ariel Sharon sent to me Uri Bar-On, his assistant for settlement affairs. Bar-On then suggested to me, in the name of the defense minister, that I build a settlement instead of a refugee camp. Three days later I was already in the minister's office, and he showed me all kinds of places on the map. That was a Sunday. On Friday I was already in the area with senior army officers.

"And here is where I made a mistake. Senior officials in the settlement department suggested that I build the settlement within the Green Line or right on the seam line, and I insisted on an ideological settlement, and made a mistake. I also made a mistake when I blindly followed Gush Emunim [the settlement movement], who with their criteria for accepting settlers didn't accept my sister."

They plan to commemorate their Camp David on April 26, the day of Yamit's evacuation in 1982, at the foot of the monument that was moved from Yamit to the Shalom District when they evacuated. On a clear day the remains of the Yamit-region settlements are visible from the monument.

Fifty of the 70 families living in Moshav Dekel are among the Yamit evacuees, but Gordon prefers to call the area the "entrance to the Philadelphi route" rather than the Shalom District. The streets have been named after trees, though he's put a street sign that says Yamit at the entrance to his house. The moshav's paving stones were brought from Yamit, something Gordon sees as a continuity and Farhan sees as a kind of insult. In the Israeli reality, no trauma is erased and no lesson is learned.

Ted Mann Reflects on The Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty

Retired Philadelphia attorney Ted Mann, who was the chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations at the time, recalls his front-row seat as the drama unfolded.

A Moment in History: Egypt Becomes a Friend

My wife, Ronnie, and I were vacationing in Puerto Rico on March 12, 1979, when Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin tracked me down in my hotel room to tell me that he and President Jimmy Carter had resolved their differences over a peace agreement with Egypt, that he would urge his Cabinet to accept the resolution, and that it would then be up to Egyptian President Anwar Sadat to accept or reject the final treaty terms. He was indescribably happy. So was I.
March 1979: Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin (left) and communal leader Ted Mann after the signing of the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty.

There was much high drama over the next two weeks, in my view totally manufactured, as Carter shuttled between Cairo and Jerusalem, wrapping up the details. A peace treaty was finally signed by Sadat and Begin on the White House lawn on March 26.

Begin and I met after the signing, and he told me that he had been invited by Sadat to come to Cairo the next week to celebrate. He even asked me to join him. I replied that regrettably I could not, as Ronnie and I would be celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary. So he said, "Bring Ronnie, too, and we will all celebrate together in Egypt."

Ronnie and I flew to Israel, where we boarded Israel's more modest version of Air Force One with the prime minister and his immediate family; Abba Eban and his Egyptian-born wife, Susan; Alexander Schindler, my predecessor as chairman of the Conference of Presidents, and his wife, Rhea; and 15 or 20 of the prime minister's old compatriots from the wars that preceded and followed the birth of Israel more than 30 years earlier. It was a short but unforgettable flight from Tel Aviv to Cairo, with Israeli fighter planes flying alongside us. The Israelis on board -- by then, mostly in their 50s and 60s -- were singing the songs they sang together in the pre-state days. In our grand suite at the Heliopolis Salaam, a new hotel in the outskirts of Cairo, we found silver gifts from Sadat in celebration of our 25th anniversary.

At a reception at one of Sadat's palaces, he and Begin stood next to each other in a reception line. When Begin introduced me, Sadat, tongue in cheek, said: "I know this man; he actually attacked me in my own embassy in Washington last week."

He was referring to a meeting that had followed the peace-signing. The Anti-Defamation League -- America's best-known and highly regarded Jewish organization -- had arranged a meeting between its leadership and Sadat, and then apparently changed its mind about having a separate meeting, and asked me to chair it and to invite leaders of other organizations as well.

Nineteen of us met with Sadat at the Egyptian Embassy in Washington. I had expected it to be a purely pleasurable gathering since the agreement between Israel and Egypt had finally been reached. But as he spoke, it soon became clear that he was testing us.

Very calmly smoking his pipe, the president casually commented that in the negotiations, Begin had been unreasonably stubborn on the subject of Jerusalem. (In negotiating peace with Israel, Sadat had insisted that issues related to the Palestinians be included.) When he repeated it a second time, I lit a cigarette to calm my nerves, sharing with him the one ashtray between us.

None of us wanted to disagree with anything Sadat said. We were, after all, his guests, at his embassy. But when he repeated it yet again, I interjected that while we held various opinions about how peace between Israel and the Palestinians might ultimately be achieved, I wanted him to know that every one of us in the room fully shared Begin's view that Jerusalem must remain a united city and be the undivided capital of Israel.

He vehemently denied that he was trying to separate American Jewish leadership from the prime minister, which he correctly assumed I was suggesting. The moment passed, and the rest of the meeting was as pleasurable as we had hoped it would be.

The reception in Egypt was outdoors in the beautiful gardens of the palace. The Israeli and American Jewish guests mingled with Egyptian business and governmental leaders -- all male, their wives sitting on chairs on the periphery. Then we moved to tables nearby, where we all mixed together for dinner. We were entertained by belly-dancers, and Ronnie, to this day, has never let me forget that I promptly fell sound asleep!

But the most memorable part of the trip happened back at the hotel bar, where Egyptian musicians were playing "Haveinu Shalom Aleichem" and other Israeli songs of peace. Israelis and Egyptians danced together, clapped hands together and sang together. It was simply unbelievable. Even now, 30 years later, I have tears in my eyes as I recall it.

It was the end of a remarkable week.