Conseqences of an historical error

“I would like to say a word about the term annex, or annexation. You can annex foreign land. You cannot annex your own country. Judea and Samaria are part of the Land of Israel, or in foreign languages, Palestine, in which our nation was born. There our Kings ruled and our prophets brought forth the vision of eternal peace. How can we annex it?” [Menachem Begin]

On April 13, 1919, the Detroit Jewish news featured an Op-Ed, “Menachem Begin Portrayed as Genius in Frank Gervasi’s Biography.”Of particular interest is the fact that Gervasi, a noted author and correspondent for important media should have written this story. It is equally noteworthy that he is a non-Jew, not an Israeli, that has written this biography of an Israeli prime minister.

The introductory editorial comment points to Begin as the hero of the hour in Israel’s diplomatic relations. He is viewed as the genius who shared in the writing of a peace treaty with Egypt who had a stormy career, a rebel in the turbulent years of Jewish struggles against oppressions, as a survivor of Nazism, as the man who insists on the world’s not forgetting the Holocaust and Jewry’s never permitting its repetition. Menachem Begin’s life is a story unmatched in the life of a revolutionary who rose to the leadership of his people, the love for whom is also unmatched.

Frank Gervasi appears to have known Menachem begin intimately for more than 40 years. He studies Begin’s career from the earliest years of Begin’s settlement in pre- Israel Palestine after his escape from a Russian detention camp through the last few months, when he interviewed him in Israel, in his suite at the Regency Hotel in New York in after his Camp David negotiations, and prior to peace making. At the time, begin retorted, “I hope I will still be Prime Minister when your book is published.

The book turned out to be more than a biography of Israel’s prime minister. It is also a history of Israel in the given historic year. Gervasi provides a through outline of the negotiations that led to the Egyptian-Israeli accord under the direction of President Carter. Hence, the begin story is a concise history of Israel by the noted author, who had to his credit 2 important books on Israel and Zionism. “For Whom Palestine “[1946] and “The Case for Israel”[1967].

Perhaps the most distressing of all the incidents in the life of Menachem Begin was the accusation by the new government of Israel, following the Declaration of Independence, that he was planning a putsch to take control of the new state, under the aegis of the Irgun.

The Altalena case brought about that charge. Some 900 men and 4,000 tons of ammunition were on the ship which was purchased by Irgun supporters. Begin and his associates intended to use the men and munitions for the new nation’s defense and for the battle of Jerusalem.
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Orders from Ben-Gurion not only prevented the men and the arms from reaching their intended aim but the ship was attacked, there was a brief civil war with a number of casualties in Begin’s ranks as well as in the ranks of the attackers, who was a brief civil war with a number of casualties in Begin’s ranks as well as in the ranks of the attackers, who acted on orders from Ben-Gurion and Moshe Shertok [Sharett].

Begin and the Irgun consistently denied that they had any other aim than the acquisition of Jerusalem and Israel’s defense. The record thus far dictated by the claims of the Ben-Gurion government accuse Irgun of evil intentions. Gervasi is among those who defend Begin.

The Begin biography contains a lengthy account of the Altalena tragedy and Menachem Begin and his party emerge in glorious light as patriots, while the Ben-Gurion forces stand accused of guilt in the Altalena case.

On page 26 of Zvi Harry Hurwitz’s “Begin – His Life, Words and Deeds,” one finds 2 sentences of particular significance. “It was also largely over the battle for Jerusalem that the tragic Altalena incident occurred. Once more, but for Begin’s patriotism, the incident could quiet easily have sparked a civil war.” Ben Gurion’s reactions speak for themselves. He attempted to justify his actions by accusing Begin of a putsch and subsequently said, “Blessed be the cannon that ship!”

Interestingly, several Air Force personnel- volunteers from abroad, however who were ordered to bomb the ship – refused to do so, saying: “We came here to fight for the Jews, not against Jews.” There were those who argued along the lines that the attack was orchestrated of hopefully eliminating Begin, who had remained aboard the blazing vessel, stubbornly refusing to leave it.

When Begin was forced to leave the ship, he immediately found his way to the Irgun radio station for the purpose of broadcasting his version of the agreements between the Irgun, the Haganah and the Provisional Government; of the broken undertakings and of the unprovoked attack. He wept unabashedly as he spoke.

Within weeks of Menachem Begin’s election as Prime Minister in 1977, he participated in a memorial service for the 16 members of the Irgun, who died as a result of the attack on the ship. He made mention of a senior Labor Party official revealing that certain of its members, upon reinvestigation of the Altalena Incident, concluded that Ben Gurion had been misled. He concluded, “Truth will triumph”, apparently a favorite Latin expression of his.

Judith Rice, an associate member of the Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation [www.Jashp.org], has penned an exhaustive study on “The Altalena Affair.” A few of the key points:

[a] On June 1,1948, an agreement had been signed for the absorption of the Irgun into the IDF and one of the clauses stated that the Irgun had to cease all independent arms acquisition activities. Consequently, representatives of the Israel Government were informed about the Altalena and its sailing schedule.
[b] The first truce in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War had commenced on June 11, the same day the Altalena departed for Palestine. Accordingly, Begin elected to postpone the arrival of the ship, and the Irgun staff secretary , Zippora Levi-Kessel, transmitted a wireless message to the Altalena and to Shmuel Katz in Paris to await further orders. However, the ship had departed prior to the receipt of the message.
[c] On June 15, Begin and his comrades held a meeting with government representatives at which he informed them that the ship had sailed without his knowledge and he requested suggestions on how to proceed.
[d] Ben Gurion noted in his diary the following day that the ship should not be sent back, and should disembark at an unknown shore and that it could be unloaded at night.
[e] Subsequently, Ben -Gurion agreed to Begin’s initial request that 20% of the weapons be dispatched to the Irgun’s Jerusalem Battalion, which was still fighting independently.
[f] His 2nd request that the remainder be transferred to the IDF to equip the newly-incorporated Irgun battalions was rejected presumably because it would result in an “army within an army.”

At the conclusion of this sordid episode,16 Irgun fighters were killed in the confrontation with the army [IDF], more than 200 were arrested and Jerusalem was “occupied” by Jordan.

65 years after he shelling of the Altalena under Ben-Gurion’s direction, TOI featured, “Fire in the hole: Blasting the Altalena” by Joanna M. Saidel. She was the personal research assistant for the late Professor Benzion Netanyahu, father of the current PM , during 2000 to 2010.

The subject paper included unpublished interviews with several interested parties on the Altalena Affair. By way of an introduction, Saidel asserts David Ben-Gurion’s action in an attempt to consolidate power. Shmuel Katz, an MK in Israel’s 1st Knesset, a famed historian and an adviser to PM Menachem Begin subsequently charged Ben-Gurion with wanting to eliminate begin, then the Irgun leader.

In the midst of background history, Joanna Saidel reminds us of the infamous intense negotiations between Ben Gurion and Begin, which “broke down despite an agreement that 20% of the arms [on the Altalena] would go to the Irgun’s ongoing struggle in Jerusalem – which was not yet under Israeli government control – while the rest would go to non-Irgun units as well as to a few Irgun battalions in the ID

On November 2, 1993, Joanna Saidel met with Shmuel Katz in his Tel Aviv home.
Saidel:
Ben-Gurion didn’t like the Irgun too much, did he?
Katz:
That’s a very, very great understatement. No. He tried to kill us.
Saidel:
Do you think he was aware, when he blew up the Altalena—” There’s a question as to whether he knew about the deal between the Haganah and the Irgun.
Katz:
Oh! No question. He knew all about it.
Saidel:
He knew that—-
Katz: Look. I have written my book “Days of Fire”; I don’t know whether it came through in the English edition. I wrote deliberately that the Altalena was blown up—-”

The given paper with many meaningful interviews by Dr. Saidel is a work of art but sadly space does not permit more. Sufficient to say it is readily available on the internet.

Now to the crux of the subject at hand. But for Ben Gurion and the Altalena fiasco, the Irgun would have had sufficient munitions and soldiers to have conquered and retained Jerusalem. It also has direct bearing on today’s predicament over Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem.

In the case of Jerusalem, no Arab leader including those with whom we have peace agreements will accept the Trump plan. In particular, they will absolutely not give up on Jerusalem. Even East Jerusalem is barely acceptable. As for Transjordan, the Hashemite King who is not opposed to Israel, is not willing to engage risks by having to face rebellious and dangerous Palestinian rioters.

Instead of engaging in futile arguments over “settlements and “occupation”, we should be advancing our rights strictly along the lines of international law. According to Professor Eugene Rostow, a former Dean of Yale University Law School, Undersecretary of State and a co-author of the November 22, 1967 Un Resolution 242 stated that under international law, Jews have the same right to settle in the West Bank as they have in Haifa.”

Former President of the International Court of Justice, Judge Stephen M. Schwebel, declared:”[The1967] Israeli conquest of territory was defensive, rather than aggressive—–Israel has better title in the territory of what was [British Mandate] Palestine, including the whole of Jerusalem—-”

The legal status of Judea and Samaria is embedded in the following authoritative, binding, internationally ratified treaties, recognizing the area as having been the cradle of Jewish history, culture, aspirations and religion:

[1] November 2, 1917 Balfour Declaration—-“the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people——”
[2] April 24, 1920 San Remo Peace Conference—-“Mandatory will be responsible for putting into effect—-the Balfour Declaration, entrusting both sides of the Jordan River—”
[3] July 24, 1922 Mandate for Palestine—League of Nations entrusted Britain to establish a Jewish state in the entire area west of the Jordan River, as demonstrated by article 6: “[to] encourage—-close settlement by Jews on the land, including State lands and waste lands—-” The Mandate is dedicated exclusively to Jewish national rights.
[4] October 24, 1945 Article 80 of the UN Charter incorporated the Mandate for Palestine into the UN Charter. Accordingly, the UN or any other entity cannot transfer Jewish rights in Palestine, including immigration to any other party.

November 29, 1947 General Assembly Partition Resolution 181 was not a non-binding recommendation – as are all General Assembly Resolutions – superseded by the binding Mandate for Palestine. The 1949 Armistice Agreements between Israel and its neighbors delineated the pre-1967 ceasefire – non-ratified boundaries. “Fidelity to law is the essence of peace opined Professor Eugene Rostow.

The subject of Transjordan is yet another milestone which impacted Israel heavily. In June 1917, British Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen was assigned responsibility for ME espionage operations . Previously he had come to know Aaron Aronsohn who had impressed him in his effective contribution to preparedness for an invasion of Palestine. When Meinertzhagen heard that Churchill had severed Transjordan from Palestine, in his words, ‘I exploded—–this reduces the Jewish National Home to one third of Biblical Palestine—–”

On meeting Churchill, he expressed in anger how grossly unfair it was to the Jews, yet another broken promise and a most dishonest act. The Balfour Declaration was being torn up by degrees. He accused the ME Department of being almost 100% hebraphobe and engaged in sabotage. Churchill listened, but felt that it was too late to alter.

An incensed Lloyd Jones had this to say to the complaining Arabs;”The Allies redeemed the promises made in these declarations to the full. No race has done better out of the fidelity with which the Allies redeemed their promises to the oppressed races than the Arabs——-”

From Churchill; “I am told that the Arabs would have done it for themselves [the 1st hydro-electric scheme in Palestine]. Who is going to believe that? Left to themselves, the Arabs of Palestine would not in a 1,000 years have taken effective steps towards the irrigation and electrification of Palestine. —–“.

And how are we responding to today’s appeasers and accusers?

About the Author
Alex Rose was born in South Africa in 1935 and lived there until departing for the US in 1977 where he spent 26 years. He is an engineering consultant. For 18 years he was employed by Westinghouse until age 60 whereupon he became self-employed. He was also formerly on the Executive of Americans for a Safe Israel and a founding member of CAMERA, New York (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America and today one of the largest media monitoring organizations concerned with accuracy and balanced reporting on Israel). In 2003 he and his wife made Aliyah to Israel and presently reside in Ashkelon.
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