'It Could Explode at Some Stage'

The missed opportunity of 1967, the politics of archaeology and a history of the left-handed.

The Qassam rockets being fired into Sderot and the surrounding area from the Gaza Strip have prompted calls to punish Gaza's population and even to expel a few thousand of them from the area of the Israeli border. There is, of course, another - reverse - possibility, which no one is considering today: in their distress, a few hundred thousand Palestinians march to the border, tear down the fences, breach the walls and invade Israel in a gigantic demonstration of unarmed civilians.

Exactly two years before the Six-Day War, prime minister and defense minister Levi Eshkol was apprehensive about just such a development. A discussion was held in the weekly meeting with the senior figures of the defense establishment on June 4, 1965. Eshkol opened by asking how many refugees there were, what they ate and what the state of emigration was. The head of Military Intelligence, Aharon Yariv, replied that they ate what UNRWA, the United Nations relief agency, gave them. The situation was not good, the refugees were embittered and therefore were being drafted into the Egyptian army, Yariv reported.

Eshkol noted that Egypt was not allowing the refugees to enter its territory and asked, "Could there not be a thought that we should raise an international gevalt [outcry, in Yiddish] why people are not allowed to go where they want?" He requested that his proposal be referred to the Foreign Ministry. Yariv offered some tactical advice: "We shouldn't be the ones to shout. We should see to it that someone else does the shouting."

Eshkol: "I always think that this is our Achilles' heel regarding the refugees. What will we do if one fine day they send their women and children forward?"

The chief of staff, Yitzhak Rabin, reassured him: "If they have not done it yet, they will not do it. After the first 100 are killed, they will go back."

Eshkol was not convinced: "They multiply fast," he remarked.

Rabin corrected him: "The number of refugees has not grown over the years. In 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952, when the Negev was empty, when there were abandoned villages, this could have been a concern. At that time there was talk of marches by refugees. These days I haven't heard anyone talking about it."

Eshkol: "The moment there will be 500,000 to 600,000 people - well, people have to live from something, and they are multiplying all the time and it could explode at some stage. And the fact that UNRWA is providing for them - we do not think that is right, either."

The director general of the Defense Ministry, Moshe Kashti, asked whether there was no "constructive thinking" on solving the problem, by which he meant encouraging emigration. Rabin replied, "We acted in this matter in Germany and are acting in South America, but the Egyptians are not letting them out. They say so openly. They have created a frame of mind among the Arabs that to leave is to betray Palestine."

Two years later, Israel captured the Gaza Strip. Eshkol received various proposals to alleviate the refugees' plight. One possibility was to resettle several thousand Gaza families in the West Bank permanently. Nothing was done, in part because ministers Menachem Begin, Moshe Dayan and Yigal Allon wanted the West Bank to be reserved for Jewish settlement. Without Begin, Dayan and Allon, Eshkol did not have a coalition. That was the great missed opportunity of 1967.

Those who control the past

Two Tel Aviv University archaeologists, Raphael Greenberg and Adi Keinan, are calling on the government to take into account the archaeological aspects of a future agreement with the Palestinians. In a newly published study, the two estimate that since the Six-Day War, Israeli archaeologists have worked at some 730 sites in the West Bank and another 170 in East Jerusalem. In a rare attempt to expose the politics of archaeology, Greenberg and Keinan reject the notion that the West Bank digs were intended to legitimize the settlements, but they note the surge of archaeological activity in the West Bank during the terms of Menachem Begin and Ariel Sharon.

Some archaeologists affiliated with Israel's universities tended to avoid working in the West Bank under the influence of the optimistic atmosphere created by the Oslo accords. The scale of activity also declined greatly under the impact of the two intifadas. Greenberg and Keinan take note of the major effort to find roots of the ancient Hebrews in the West Bank, but maintain that some of these studies only weakened the basic conceptions of biblical archaeology, which flowered anew immediately after the Six-Day War. The two preface their study with a quotation they attribute to George Orwell: "Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past."

Orwell, Nightingale and the National Security Archive

George Orwell, who invented the watchful eye of Big Brother ("1984"), was himself under surveillance by the British secret service on suspicion that he was a communist. This is revealed by new documents that have just been made public. It turns out that he wasn't.

The National Security Archive in the United States, which specializes in uncovering historic documents, is suing the White House for deleting five million e-mail messages from 2003 to 2005. Among other events, the e-mails cover the period of the war in Iraq and the handling of the Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans. In the meantime, the Archive has lost a suit to make public daily intelligence briefings given to President Lyndon B. Johnson in the 1960s. The court ordered the CIA to explain separately the reason for the sealing of each individual document.

Florence Nightingale, the volunteer nurse who treated the wounded in the Crimean War (1853-56) and won the admiration of history, turns out to be have been an insufferable, domineering, publicity-seeking woman, according to letters written by Sir John Hall, the chief medical officer of the British forces in the Crimea. She apparently robbed him of his glory in the first war that received ongoing press coverage. The letters were recently sold for 4,000 pounds sterling.

Gift to lefties

Here is what the following people had in common: Alexander the Great, Napoleon Bonaparte, Harry Truman, Leonardo da Vinci, Pablo Picasso, Mark Twain, Jack the Ripper, Paul McCartney, Charlie Chaplin, Marilyn Monroe and a great many more celebs: they all belong or belonged to the world's largest minority - left-handed people. Micha Shagrir and Amy Rubinger have compiled a book about these peculiar people, who do the important things with their left hand. The volume, called "Smol Talk" ("smol" is the Hebrew word for "left"), is a serious work with a wink of the left eye. The historical chapter notes that in 17th-century England, left-handed people were executed, because being left-handed was considered definitive proof of being cozy with Satan.

More on the Czech rifles

Reader David Zohar writes:

"I, too, remember from basic training (1957) the rifles with the sign of the Iron Cross on them. It was explained to us that the weapons had been seized from the Nazis by the Red Army and supplied to Israel via Czechoslovakia. "When I immigrated to this country in 1948, as a boy (I was born in England), I arrived in a Dakota aircraft of the Israel Air Force, which lifted off from Prague with a cargo of weapons. The plane landed in Geneva to pick up a few families of immigrants, including my family, and we sat on the crates of weapons and ammunition until we landed at Haifa airfield (Kiryat Haim). The plane was disguised with the inscription 'South Africa Airways.' Might it be possible, through the paper, to locate the other immigrants who arrived on this special plane?"