אThe First Series of “Documents on the Foreign Policy of Israel”

א.1 | The decision to publish Israel's state papers

Documents on political and diplomatic issues created in the Foreign Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office remain classified even after they are transferred to the Israel State Archives. In the early days of the state it was decided to classify them for 30 years, and in 1966 a review of the regulations proposed to open the documents to the public after this. As the date approached, the State Archivist, Dr. Avraham (Paul) Alsberg, held a series of discussions with the Supreme Archives Council, the public body in charge of the archives, and with academics, senior Foreign Ministry officials, lawyers, security experts and representatives of the Prime Minister’s Office. The State Archivist asked for permission from the government to declassify the documentation on the establishment of the state. Together with the files, Dr. Alsberg planned to publish year by year a series of books which would present a chronological selection of declassified diplomatic documents, similar to the US State Department’s series, “Foreign Relations of the United States” which is published by act of Congress and enjoys great prestige and credibility. The Israeli series, like FRUS, would provide a guide to Israel’s foreign relations.

Some of the officials who took part in the discussion feared the revelation of state secrets and sensitive issues from a security point of view.  However, the majority saw free access to archives and disclosure of materials about the government’s actions and policy-making as an important element of a democratic regime, like freedom of the press or academic freedom.

Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion with Dr. Alsberg, 1963. Israel State Archives

In April 1974, Prime Minister Golda Meir submitted a resolution to the government, instructing the archives to take the necessary steps to publish a series of state papers for the period beginning on November 29, 1947, and to open the files to the public (File G 7292/25). The prime minister was not enthusiastic about the proposal. Some ministers supported it and others suggested postponing the decision as the publication date was three years away. Finally it was decided to postpone the debate but to allow the State Archives to continue preparations.

At the end of April 1974, Golda Meir resigned and Yitzhak Rabin replaced her as prime minister. In December 1974, the Rabin government discussed the archive’s proposal and decided to set up a ministerial committee headed by Minister Gideon Hausner to examine the idea of publishing the series.

In the meantime, Alsberg set up a declassification team of veteran staff from the Foreign Ministry and a team of historians to prepare a selection of documents, firstly for the period of the establishment of the State in 1947-1948. On May 17, 1976, the government again discussed Minister Gideon Hausner’s resolution on opening the documents to the public and preparing the series. The discussion opened up debate on the “public’s right to know”, and legal expert Ze’ev Segal published a column in the Ma’ariv daily on 24 May on the pros and cons of the argument. Segal attacked those ministers who still held to the view that the government or the “authorities” should control the information they produced and decide what citizens should be allowed to know.

On August 31, 1976, a discussion was held in Minister Hausner’s office with the participation of Attorney General Aharon Barak, as a result of which the State Archives was given a retroactive seal of approval for the preparation of the series.

 

א.2 | The first series, 1947-1960

Each book in the first series of “Documents on the Foreign Policy of Israel” contains about 500-600 documents in the original language, mostly in Hebrew and English. In the early years of the State, much of the correspondence was in English, as many of the first diplomats were natives of English-speaking countries or people who had studied in Britain or the US. Over the years, Hebrew became the main language. The documents were accompanied by explanatory introductions on the historical background of the documents, an index of persons and places, and footnotes with information on other files on the same subject, and more. (To see the main volumes on our Hebrew website). The main volume in Hebrew was accompanied by a companion volume in English. It includes summaries of the Hebrew documents as well as a full translation of the notes, the introduction and the indexes. These volumes were also scanned and a list of them with links appears in Chapter 2 of this publication. The books contain maps and other aids, and later photographs were also added.

A map of the ceasefire and armistice lines in Jerusalem, Vol. 4, p. 837

The first series consists of 15 volumes, from a preliminary volume on the period from November 29 1947 and the adoption of a resolution by the UN General Assembly on the establishment of a Jewish State until the Declaration of Independence on May 14, 1948, to Volume No. 14 dealing with 1960. Special volumes were devoted to the armistice agreements after the War of Independence, to the background to the Sinai Campaign and to the diplomatic struggle to preserve the military achievements of the Campaign.The last volume in the series (for 1955) was published in 2016. The first editor-in-chief of the series was Dr. Gedalia Yogev; he was succeeded by Dr. Yehoshua Freundlich, Ms. Yemima Rosenthal and Dr. Hagai Tsoref.

Two more volumes from May 1945 to November 1947, were published in English in collaboration with the Jewish Agency and Tel Aviv University. These volumes contain some documents in Hebrew.

The State Documents Department has also taken part in several joint publication ventures with East European states: the publication in conjunction with Russia in 2000 of documents covering 1945-1953 (two volumes in English) and a joint venture with Poland in 2009 dealing with the documentation of Israeli-Poland foreign policy during 1945-1967 (in Hebrew and Polish)

א.3 | Digital publications

Over the years, the gap between the declassification of the files and the preparation of the books widened (the classification period was also shortened to 25 years) and the need was felt to update the format of the books and to make them accessible online. It was decided to publish a new series for 1961-1967 to be presented on the Archives’ website. Today, two publications from this period can be seen on this website: Israel-West Germany relations (in Hebrew only) and a collection of scanned files and government meetings on the Six Day War. The ISA also publishes collections of scanned files and documents from various periods, presenting selected chapters in Israel’s foreign relations, for example Israel – US relations, Israel – Egypt, Israel – Iran, the establishment of diplomatic relations with the Vatican and negotiations with the Palestinians in 1994-1995 .

With the completion of the scanning of the volumes of the first series, we can now present them to researchers, students, teachers and all those interested in Israeli foreign policy in a convenient and accessible format. For easy reading, we recommend you to download and save the PDF file of the requested volume on your PC. The files were scanned in OCR and are searchable.

The books can also be purchased in their printed version. Please contact the ISA, Ms. Leya Ben Zvi, Tel: 02-5680633,  or email  leya@archives.gov.il

President Anwar Sadat of Egypt, US President Jimmy Carter and Prime Minister Menachem Begin visit Gettysberg during the Camp David summit, September 1978. Moshe Milner, GPO