A thriving community

“…re-establish themselves in their ancient homeland…”

Ink on pottery 586 BCE

This letter, written in ink on pottery, may be one of the most poignant expressions of the dramatic final moments of the biblical Kingdom of Judah. The ostracon was part of the archive of letters discovered at the gates of the city of Lakhish, shortly before its destruction at the hands of Nebuchadnezer, King of Babylonia in 586 BCE. The potsherds were found beneath a floor covered in ash, a sure sign that the site had been destroyed by fire. The final sentence of the letter reads as follows: “For we are watching the Lakhish fire signal; according to the signs which my lord has given, because we do not see Azeqah.”

According to the archaeologist Yigael Yadin, this sentence tells us that that the torches of Azeqah, a neighboring city to Lakhish, had been extinguished; in other words, Azeqah had already been captured by the Babylonians, but the defenders of Lakhish were still determined to persist in the struggle for their own city. The prophet Jeremiah, who was calling at the time for Judah to surrender to the Babylonians in order to save Jerusalem, described the events in the following words: “When the army of the king of Babylonia fought against Jerusalem, and against all the cities of Judah that were left, against Lakhish and against Azeqah; for these fortified cities remained of the cities of Judah.” But not long after these words were spoken, Lakhish was conquered and destroyed, and soon after that, Jerusalem was razed and the First Temple was burned to the ground.

Letter, discovered in the ruins of Lachish, relates that the torches of the neighboring town, Azeqah, were extinguished, meaning that it had been captured by the Babylonian army. Lachish itself was conquered shortly thereafter, and in the same year Jerusalem was taken and the First Temple destroyed. These events are also described in Jeremiah 34:6.

The territorial boundaries of the Tribes of Israel on both sides of the Jordan River

Christian van Adrichom was a learned priest from the Dutch city of Delft who worked in Cologne, Germany. He produced this map for his comprehensive work Theatrum Terrae Sanctae, in which he surveyed the Holy Land, and delineated its division among the tribes. The map is oriented to the east, and extends from the cities of Amalek and Petra in the southeast, to Mount Hermon in the northeast. To the west is “the Great Sea,” namely the Mediterranean. A depiction of the Prophet Jonah being thrown to the “Big Fish” appears among the sailboats and legendary sea monsters. The coastline runs from the Nile Delta in the south to the city of Sidon in the north. As in the Madaba Map, the southern part of the coastline runs almost straight and does not curve as it should. This is probably a function of the rectangular format of the map. The boundaries between the tribes are marked by hatched lines, highlighted in color. More than 800 sites and events are marked or portrayed on the map. The miniature illustrations represent scenes that span the period from Cain and Abel till the 6th century CE. They include biblical scenes as well as traditions borrowed from the New Testament and the Apocrypha. The illustrations are meticulously drawn by a master artist, and they give the map a captivating storybook flavor.

Christian van Adrichom, Dutch, 1533-1585 Hand-colored engraving and etching, ca. 1585. The Israel Museum, Jerusalem. Gift of Adam Mekler, Los Angeles, in honor of Ariel Gabriella Mekler

Ancient map of the Holy Land, According to Its Division among the Tribes

Bar Kokhba Revolt and the Sukkot festival

The following letter was sent in the heat of the battles of the Bar Kokhba Revolt, in which Jewish fighters battled the legions of the Roman Empire. In the end, the revolt turned out to be one of the bloodiest calamities in Jewish history. The letter was apparently sent by the leader of the revolt, Shimeon son of Koziba – better known by his nom-de-guerre, Bar Kokhba – to Yehudah son of Menasheh.

In this letter, he demands that “palm branches and citron” and “myrtle branches and willows” be delivered to the camp, apparently in order to enable the camp dwellers to properly celebrate the Sukkot festival. Four Species are used for Sukkot – lulav (date palm frond), etrog (citron), hadasim (myrtle), and aravot (willow).

This papyrus document is just one of the many letters discovered in the Judean Desert Cave of the Letters – a most remarkable treasure trove of archaeological finds. Here a small number of Jewish rebels evidently lived and died. They were most likely high-ranking participants in the revolt.

Letter sent during the Second Revolt against Rome, 132- 135 CE.

Passover Seder night at Kibbutz Mishmar Ha-Emek 1958. Photographer: Nahum Tim Gidal

“…the eternal Book of Books…”

Smuggling the Aleppo Codex into Israel

The Aleppo Codex is the oldest known manuscript of the Hebrew Bible. The unique qualities of this manuscript make it one of the most important Hebrew documents, and one of the most invaluable sources for biblical research. The Codex was probably written in Tiberias around the year 920 CE. From there it was taken to Jerusalem and then to Cairo, where it was cited by Maimonides in his discussion of rules for writing a Torah scroll. In the early fourteenth century, it reached the Syrian city of Aleppo. There the manuscript was kept in a special case in the synagogue and guarded for hundreds of years by the heads of the local Jewish community.

Following the UN vote calling for the Partition of Palestine on November 29, 1947, violent riots erupted in Aleppo, and the Great Synagogue housing the Codex was set on fire. When it was found that the Codex was damaged but not destroyed, discussions were held with the leaders of the Jewish community in Aleppo. Attempts were made by a number of people in Israel, most notably Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, to produce an arrangement whereby the Codex would be moved to Jerusalem. But it was not until the summer of 1957 that the Codex was finally smuggled from Syria to Israel through secret channels. So as not to endanger members of the Jewish community in Aleppo, the arrival of the Codex in Jerusalem was kept a strict secret for some time, and it could be studied only by a select, privileged group of researchers, prominent among them, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi. In May 1962, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi and Meir Laniado, a representative of the Aleppo community, co-signed a document referred to as a “Bill of Trust” for the Codex, at the rabbinical courthouse in Jerusalem. The Ben-Zvi Institute was chosen as the permanent home for the Codex. Later the Codex was transferred for safekeeping to the Israel Museum. It is housed in the Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum till this day, but it remains the property of the Ben-Zvi Institute in accordance with the Bill of Trust.

This page from the Aleppo Codex, discovered in New York in 1981 and delivered to the Jewish National and University Library, was entrusted to the Ben-Zvi Institute and is exhibited here by decision of the Board of Trustees of the Aleppo Codex and the Small Codex.

Page from the Aleppo Codex (Chron 2 35:7-36:19), Tiberias, Land of Israel, 10th century Manuscript

Letter announcing the arrival of the Aleppo Codex in Israel, and giving the details of the ownership procedures that apply – procedures that are in force till this day

Testimony of Mordecai Murad Faham, a Jew who smuggled the Aleppo Codex into Israel, recorded in writing by President Izhak Ben-Zvi,1958

“…Created a thriving community…”

Draining the Hula Valley

The idea of draining the Hula lake and wetland as a means of eradicating infectious diseases, most notably malaria, was first raised many years before the establishment of the State. As early as 1934, the Palestine Land Development Corporation purchased the concession to carry out a drainage program in the area from the British mandatory authorities. A number of engineering plans were prepared, but actual work on the project only commenced in 1952.

Fishermen in the Hula Valley 1937, Zoltan Kluger

Secret letter from Dr. Chaim Sheba, Director-General of the Ministry of Health, to the Prime Minister’s Bureau, warning that the plan to drain Lake Hula might hamper efforts to wipe out malaria in Israel, 12 November 1951

A film produced by the publicity department of the Prime Minister’s Office documenting the draining of Lake Hula, 1954.

General view of the drained Hula Valley, Galilee, 1959. Zoltan Kluger

A press tour of the Hula Valley, Galil View, 1959. Zoltan Kluger

For more photos of the Hula Valley, Here

For more files regarding the draining of the Hula Valley Here

Hebrew names for settlements

As part of his vision of Jewish settlement in the Negev Desert, David Ben-Gurion instructed the government secretary to appoint a committee of experts to assign Hebrew names to all geographical sites in the Negev region. The committee began its work on July 7, 1949. Its members included Izhak Ben-Zvi, Ze’ev Vilnay, and Yeshayahu Press, who helped initiate the idea. This committee functioned alongside the Naming Committee for Settlements on behalf of the Jewish National Fund, which, from 1922 onwards, had assigned Hebrew names to sites of Jewish settlement. On September 8, 1949, the “Geographical Names Commission” was set up under the auspices of the Prime Minister’s Office to assign Hebrew names to all geographic sites and new settlements, and define the rules for transcribing these names. In essence, the authority of the Committee for Assigning Hebrew Names in the Negev was expanded, and it was merged with the parallel JNF committee. The committee that resulted from this merger is still active and is now known as the Government Names Committee. Before the merger was made official, the Committee for Assigning Hebrew Names in the Negev submitted to the prime minister a list of 85 new Hebrew names for sites in the Negev. In response, Ben-Gurion sent this letter to Ben-Zvi to convey his displeasure with the committee’s methods, specifically its reliance on existing Arab names. During the ten months of its existence, the committee assigned 561 new Hebrew names to various sites and settlements in the Negev.

Letter from Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, to the committee for naming Negev sites, insisting place names be taken from Hebrew Historical source rather than translations of Arabic names, 4 October 1949.

“…controlling its own economy and culture…”

The austerity policy

Because of the food shortage resulting from the mass wave of immigration, as well as the need to finance the War of Independence, in early 1949, an austerity policy known in Hebrew as the tzena was instituted.

This meant that food and basic goods for the consumer public would be rationed. Dov Yosef, the Minister of Rationing and Supply, was responsible for instituting the policy. In November 1950, the Ministry of Rationing and Supply was abolished, and its powers were transferred to the Ministry of Industry and Trade.

The economic policies were changed in 1952, and a significant number of the austerity measures of the tzena were done away with. The remaining edicts of the austerity program were phased out entirely by 1959.

Message no. 38 regarding the distribution of Goods, June 1949

Recorded list of food ration distribution during the siege of Jerusalem, June – September 1948

For additional files on the austerity policy, Here

Ration book including a provision for meat, a rarely available item, issued to Izhak Ben-Zvi during the tzena (austerity) period, when many products were strictly rationed

Propaganda against the black market

The Israeli economy was suffering unbearable strains from the financial cost of fighting the Yom Kippur War, in addition to having to endure the rise in oil prices that resulted from the new policies of the oil-producing states at the time of the war. Pinchas Sapir therefore embarked on a visit to the United States, a visit whose goals were to help raise funds from Jewish American donors and enlist financial assistance from the US government.

Propaganda declaring war on the black market that developed in response to the austerity period rationing system, 8 October 1950.

For additional files and posters regarding the war on the black market, Here

Modest living

With the establishment of the State of Israel, Moshe Sharett, the first foreign minister, began to formulate the patterns of Israel’s diplomatic conduct through his personal secretary, Dr. Michael Fritz Simon, who he appointed as the first “minister of ceremonies” in the country. He also entrusted him with organizing the ceremonial conduct, as is customary in the world.

In 1953, at the request of the then president, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, Dr. Simon was appointed head of ceremony at the President’s Residence, and Dr. Simon referred to various elements in the government to allocate representative vehicles to the President of the State which match his high status.

On November 25, 1954, Dr. Simon sent a letter reflecting the difficult economic situation of the young state, in addition to the modesty of the President, who did not dare demand a new car. The letter was eventually referred directly to the Ministry of Finance, which postponed the purchase for a long time, due to the “shortage of foreign currency allocation.”

Request for a State vehicle for President Izhak Ben-Zvi, as part of the process of formalizing diplomatic and administrative procedure, 25 November 1954

State employees were also required to dress modestly, stating “Long or short khaki pants and short-sleeved shirts, with or without a tie can be considered an appropriate outfit as long as the clothes are clean and ironed “.

Circular no. 127 concerning the modest attire of civil servants

Settlement in Dahab, Sinai

In 1970, a group of fifteen families gathered together in Kiryat Malakhi and requested permission to settle in Dahab ((later known as Di-Zahav), on the coast of the Gulf of Aqaba in eastern Sinai. Their goal was to establish a settlement which would support itself through tourism, fishing, and road services.
A ministerial committee studied the issue in 1971 and rejected the proposal, suggesting instead that the site be given over to a private entrepreneur who would develop local tourism projects there.
The members of the group of families then initiated a series of meetings and a letter-writing campaign. They wrote to the heads of the Settlement Department of the Jewish Agency, to Prime Minister Golda Meir, and to Minister without Portfolio Yisrael Galili, who was then serving as a member of the Ministerial Committee for Settlement. They were supported by Minister of Tourism Moshe Kol and by the Zionist Workers’ Movement, an outgrowth of Kol’s political party, the Independent Liberals.
The establishment of the settlement of Di-Zahav was approved in early 1972, first as an outpost, and then as a moshav, a form of collective settlement. Di-Zahav was dismantled following the signing of the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt.

Letter to Prime Minister Golda Meir from a group of families from Kiryat Malahi requesting support for a new settlement in Dahab, in the Sinai.

Settlement in Judea and Samaria

Yisrael Galili, who served as a minister on behalf of the Labor Alignment, was appointed by Prime Minister Golda Meir as chairman of the Ministerial Committee for Settlement. This committee maintained a continuous dialogue with Israelis, representing a wide spectrum of political views, who expressed a desire to settle in the administered territories, in other words, the territories captured in the Six Day War of 1967.

In mid-1973, Jewish Agency Chairman Uzi Narkiss visited Kiryat Arba and Hebron. He met with the heads of the local Jewish community and their leader, Rabbi Moshe Levinger. He proposed a cooperative effort involving both the heads of the settlement and the Jewish Agency. Within this framework, a proposal was put forward to transform an IDF base adjacent to Hebron into an absorption center for new immigrants. In this way, all those involved in the effort would be encouraging new immigrants to settle beyond the Green Line. The plan was scrapped in the end, for technical reasons.

Letter from settler movement leader R. Moshe Levinger, requesting that army buildings in the vicinity of Hebron be converted to an absorption center for new immigrants (olim), 10 May 1973,

 The establishment of Ma’aleh Adumim

In August 1974, Yisrael Galili, Chairman of the Ministerial Committee for Settlement, appointed an inter-ministerial panel whose task it was to study the issue of developing the region of Ma’ale Adumim, east of Jerusalem, and offer proposals. Until then, the area had been uninhabited. Months later, the panel proposed that preliminary plans be submitted for residential neighborhoods and an industrial area in the region. The proposal was approved by the government of Yitzhak Rabin. Pressure was brought to bear from various settler groups, individual citizens, and private entrepreneurs – all of them seeking government approval for starting to develop the Ma’ale Adumim region.

Sentiments along these lines were expressed in a number of documents, among them this note, which was sent to Yisrael Galili by Knesset Member Ariel Sharon. In it, Sharon requests that Galili meet with an agent representing a group of 75 religious families who wanted to establish a rural settlement in Ma’ale Adumim. Earlier, a number of citizens’ groups urged the government to come to a final decision authorizing settlement in the area as soon as possible. These groups had organized and established a joint council even before the decision of the Ministerial Committee for Settlement regarding Ma’ale Adumim. But actual development and construction did not commence until early 1975, with the establishment of an army construction camp, as part of the development of an industrial zone in the area.

In the meantime, the pressure from citizens’ groups seeking to settle in Ma’ale Adumim intensified. These settlers included members of the left-leaning movement associated with the Labor Alignment, as well as people from the right-wing settler movement known as Gush Emunim or “Bloc of the Faithful.” Finally in December 1975, the first 25 families moved in and established the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, with the blessing of the Israeli government.

Handwritten note from MK Ariel Sharon suggesting a meeting between representatives of 75 families wanting to settle in Ma’ale Edumim and Yisrael Galili, the minister responsible for settlements.

Nahal settlements – Fighting Pioneer Youth

The Nahal is a framework in the IDF in which groups of youth movements and organizations join together and combine their military tasks with community education. The Nachal was established with the approval of David Ben-Gurion on August 19, 1948, in response to a joint letter from all the Zionist youth movements. They wanted to create a military framework in which members of the groups preparing for settlement would serve together and not be separated. The youth movements’ decision was born as a result of the fear of mass mobilization of 17-year-olds for intensive military training during the first truce in the War of Independence in June 1948. The aim of the Nahal was to prepare a reserve unit that could mobilize immediately if the situation on the fronts worsened.

List of Nahal outposts 1967 (page 23)

Youth Conference of Nahal Talmei Yaffe in Jerusalem, 1954, Eisenstark

New settlement of the river Rafah 1957,Eisenstark

The Haredi (ultra-orthodox) Nahal

The religious and ultra-Orthodox public also adopted the idea of enlistment within the framework of the Nahal, which enabled them to serve and establish settlements in a framework suitable for their way of life.

Appeal to establish an ultra-Orthodox Nahal in Jerusalem (page 10)

One of the Outposts in Jerusalem established by the Nahal

The Nahal was a vehicle for settlement in areas which were problematic from a security standpoint, and most of the outposts became civilian settelments and became part of the general settlement movement ( Kibutzim and Moshavim).

“…Loving Peace…”

Armistice agreements: the Rhodes Agreements

In a resolution dating from the 16th of November, 1948, the United Nations Security Council called upon Israel and the Arab states to conduct armistice negotiations. Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria all responded positively. Negotiations with Egypt began under UN auspices on the island of Rhodes in early January 1949. The negotiations were overseen by Dr. Ralph Bunche, the acting UN mediator in Palestine. These talks ended with the signing of an armistice agreement with Egypt in Rhodes on February 24, 1949.

The agreement with Lebanon was signed at Rosh Haniqra on the Israel-Lebanon border on March 23. The agreement with Jordan was signed in Rhodes on April 3, and with Syria, the event took place at the B’not Ya’akov Bridge over the Jordan River on July 20 of the same year. Maps were attached to the latter three agreements.

The armistice agreements marked the end, for all practical purposes, of Israel’s War of Independence. They also created the legal international framework for relations between Israel and its Arab neighbors. There was an underlying assumption that the transitional period ultimately leading to official peace treaties would be short. It was therefore decided that each agreement would in essence be a military understanding that would not prejudice the rights and demands of the various sides to the conflict in any future peace negotiations.

The armistice lines were almost identical to the ceasefire lines, and it was decided that these must not be regarded as official state or territorial borders. After the signing of the documents, multilateral committees were established to supervise the armistice agreements, and the accompanying arrangements that were set down in these agreements. The final page of the armistice agreement is on display here.

Original, signed copies of the Israel-Lebanon, Israel-Syria, and Israel-Egypt armistice agreements: the Rhodes Agreements.

Preparation for President Anwar al-Sadat’s visit to Israel

On November 9, 1977, President Anwar al-Sadat of Egypt announced to his parliament that he was willing to go to visit the Knesset in Jerusalem in order to attain peace with Israel. In response, Israeli Prime Minister Menahem Begin invited Sadat to visit Israel, and it was decided that the visit would in fact take place on November 19.

In preparation for the visit, Oded Eran of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs presented a number of ideas for  topics that could be mentioned in speeches to be delivered in Sadat’s presence. These ideas were based on Sadat’s own book, “Revolt on the Nile”. On the eve of the visit, the Information Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs informed Israel’s diplomatic missions around the world that Cairo Radio had broadcast announcements regarding the Egyptian president’s ultimate, stated goal, namely to attain a full diplomatic agreement with Israel. The Information Division also reported on the harsh reactions coming from parts of the Arab world, condemning Sadat’s moves.

Memo from Oded Eran, Deputy-Director of the Middle East Division of the Foreign Affairs Ministry, containing points for discussion in preparation for Egyptian President Anwar El Sadat’s visit to Israel, November 17 1977.

Egyptian President Anwar El Sadat speaking in the Knesset, November 20 1977.

The Israel-Egypt peace treaty, 1979

Negotiations between Israel and Egypt began after the Yom Kippur War and in January 1974 a separation of forces agreement between the two countries was signed, followed by an interim agreement in 1975. In November 1977 President Anwar El-Sadat made his historic visit to Jerusalem. 16 months later, on 26 March 1979, the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt was signed in Washington.  It was based on the agreements reached in the Camp David summit in September 1978 (the Camp David Accords).

The peace treaty contains nine clauses and annexes on military matters and bilateral relations. Israel undertook to carry out a full withdrawal from the Sinai within three years and to transfer the territory to Egyptian sovereignty. The treaty announced the end of the state of war between the two countries, fixed the boundaries between them and specified terms for the demilitarization of the border area, limitations on the size of Egyptian forces in the Sinai and the establishment of normal relations as laid down by international law. A multi-national force was set up to supervise the execution of the treaty in the Sinai.

An agreement relating to autonomy for the Palestinian Arabs was also attached in the form of a letter from President Sadat and Prime Minister Begin to President Carter. After the peace treaty was approved by the Knesset by a majority of 95 to 18, it was signed on the White House lawn by President Sadat and Prime Minister Begin, and witnessed by President Carter.

 As a result of the treaty Israel withdrew its forces from Sinai and evacuated the settlements it had established there, and the Israeli embassy in Egypt was opened in February 1980.

Original copy of the Peace Agreement between Israel and Egypt, signed by Prime Minister Menachem Begin, Egyptian President Anwar El Sadat, and US President Jimmy Carter, in Washington D.C. March 26 1979.

The Washington Declaration, 1994

As a result of the “Oslo Agreement” between Israel and the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) in September 1993, negotiations between Israel and Jordan on a peace treaty were speeded up. On 25 July 1994 the two states signed a declaration in Washington laying down five agreed principles for an agreement, ending the state of belligerency between them and listing a number of steps to improve bilateral ties. The letter from US Secretary of State Warren Christopher which is displayed here attests to the authenticity of the declaration. On 26 October 1994 Israel and Jordan signed a peace treaty near the Israel-Jordan border in the Arava desert, near Eilat.

,Original copy of the “Washington Declaration” ending the state of belligerency between Israel and Jordan, signed by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin King Hussein of Jordan, and US President Bill Clinton, July 26 1994

Gold-plated Parker pen with seal of the Hashemite kingdom with which King Hussein signed the Washington Declaration, 25 July 1994. Entrusted to the Israel State Archives by key Israeli negotiator Elyakim Rubinstein

An exchange of letters between Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin, 1993

In June 1992 the Labor party won the elections to the 13th Knesset and the leader of the party, Yitzhak Rabin, formed the government. A new policy towards the Palestinians was adopted, which resulted in secret negotiations with PLO representatives in Oslo, Norway. Israel and the PLO agreed on an exchange of letters between Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat. In the letter from Arafat, the PLO recognized Israel’s right to exist in peace and security, recognized UN resolution 242 (from 1967) and 338 (from 1973) and undertook to continue the peace process and to amend the articles of the Palestinian National Covenant opposed to the agreement with Israel (such as those calling for the destruction of Israel and denying its right to exist). At the same time Rabin sent Arafat a letter in which Israel recognized the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people and undertook to continue peace negotiations with it.

Letter from Chairman Yasser Arafat to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, 9 September 1993, recognizing Israel’s right to exist in peace and security and agreeing to continue the peace process and to delete passages from the Palestinian Covenant denying Israel’s right to exist, September 9 1993.

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