The Making of History / Rewriting the Past

Why does the archived version of David Ben Gurion's declaration of independence 'forget' to mention Israel's recognition of a possible partition?

Meitav Dagan, a 29-year-old law student from Tel Aviv, recently logged onto the official website of the Israel State Archives to watch a video clip depicting the reading of the Declaration of Independence, by David Ben-Gurion. The archives’ home page has a direct link to YouTube, and there, beneath an Israeli flag, the state symbol, and the words “Prime Minister’s Office − Israel State Archives,” you can see and hear Ben-Gurion reading out the declaration.

Ben-Gurion declaring independence May 14, 1948 (IPPA)

The clip is identified throughout by the caption “Israel State Archives,” in English. It does not say whether it was in fact produced by the archives. Either way, it is a fabrication: As far as is known, no complete film recording exists of the reading of the declaration, and indeed, Ben-Gurion himself is only seen in the clip for a few seconds. For the remainder of the film, only his voice is heard, against a backdrop of assorted historical photographs.

Dagan noticed that the wording of the declaration heard in the clip omits the announcement that an Israeli constitution would be in place no later than October 1, 1948. That is not the only omission: Also missing is the announcement that Israel is prepared to cooperate with the United Nations to implement the General Assembly resolution of November 29, 1947. When Ben-Gurion read out these words, the partition borders set by the UN were no longer relevant, but the possibility cannot be ruled out that the website of the Israel State Archives directs visitors to a video clip that was censored with political intention.

The state archivist, Dr. Yehoshua Freundlich, said this week that he does not know who edited the clip and why. In any case, Freundlich added, the Internet site of the archives will in future include the complete version of the Declaration of Independence, in Ben-Gurion’s voice, along with a note clarifying that the clip posted on YouTube does not contain the full version of the document.

Detective work

David Tidhar was the first Hebrew detective. Born in Jaffa in 1897, he joined the Mandatory police force, worked as a police officer in Jerusalem, and in 1926 opened an office as a private investigator. He was the focus of a series of pamphlets published in 1932 as part of the Sifriat Balash ‏(The Detective Library‏) series. His life’s adventures − including his service in one of the Hebrew regiments during World War I, his service in the Haganah, his work as a spy, and his community activity − furnished several autobiographical works, but his main contribution to history took the form of an encyclopedia devoted to the pioneers of the pre-state Jewish community: 19 volumes containing some 6,000 biographical sketches of people, many of whom have been universally forgotten and are remembered only in Tidhar’s “Encyclopedia of Founders and Builders of Israel.”

Tidhar was not the first biographer in Palestine: He was preceded by Pinchas Grayevsky, a Jerusalemite. But to this day Tidhar’s encyclopedia is unrivaled. He was his own publisher; most of the volumes were printed in editions of a thousand or so copies, which he himself also sold.

Bezalel Tidhar occasionally still comes across volumes of his father’s encyclopedia in used-book stores; a complete series costs about NIS 4,000. Now they are getting a new lease of life thanks to the digital edition in Hebrew launched on the website of Touro College, a network of Jewish colleges headquartered in the United States. It is difficult to overstate the importance of this enterprise, which began two years ago and is now very user-friendly:

Birth of an idea

It is customary to say that the United Nations was founded in 1945 in San Francisco. This is true only formally. A new book by Dan Plesch, a British expert on international relations, contends that the organization was actually “born” in a bathroom in the White House and that it happened in 1941. Plesch mentions the “Declaration by United Nations” of January 1, 1942 − an international commitment to joint action against Nazi Germany; furthermore the forces that invaded Normandy on June 6, 1944, were dubbed the armies of the UN. Plesch therefore suggests terming the Allied defeat of Germany a UN victory.

According to the book, “America, Hitler and the UN: How the Allies Won World War II and Forged a Peace” ‏(I.B. Tauris‏), the term was hatched in the mind of U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, shortly after he went to sleep on December 28, 1941. When he awoke the next morning, he rushed into the room where Winston Churchill was being hosted during a visit to the White House − and found him in the bathroom. The previous evening, the two leaders had debated what to call the new coalition. “The United Nations,” Roosevelt now cried. Churchill wrapped himself in a towel, emerged from the bathroom and said: “Good.” He looked like a pink cherub, Roosevelt said later, using a word whose origin is Hebrew.