and Was Censored in Turn
Ofer Aderet, Haaretz, 23/1/2016
Sharett decried troops' vandalizing
In the transcript of the Israeli government meeting
on July 5, 1949, about 30 lines are blotted out. Somebody decided to censor the
Nearly 70 years have elapsed since then but the
transcript, which is preserved at the Israel State Archives in
The draft of a new book that has come into the hands of Haaretz prior to its publication helps dispel the mystery surrounding the hidden lines. The text reveals what Sharett told the ministers of the first government, which was so problematic that to this day the general public is not allowed to know about it.
The exact quote is still forbidden for publication,
but transcripts that documented things Sharett said about the same issue and
during that same period in other forums enable a nearly exact reconstruction of
it. The issue at hand was acts of vandalism committed by soldiers of the
fledgling Israel Defense Forces in churches during the War of Independence.
Sharett defined the phenomenon as “abuse of the holy that is fit for savages
and not members of the Jewish people.” Moreover, he said, they constitute a
“disgraceful page full of filth” in the history of
Reports of acts of vandalism and looting of alien
property carried out by IDF soldiers during the War of Independence, including
places holy to other regions, have already been documented in history books. In
recent years it has also been revealed that soldiers took entire libraries from
Arabs’ homes in order to enrich the National Library of Israel in
In a conversation with Haaretz this past week, his
son, Yaakov Sharett, emphasized the difference between the damaging of the
churches in 1949 and the incidents that are happening nowadays, like the
“The damaging of churches that my father talked about
was not directed and was not done out of religious hatred or a desire to harm a
In the summer of 1949 Sharett shared with members of the government the information that came his way in his capacity as foreign minister, which shocked him deeply.
Sharett’s remarks about “vandalism and desecration”
carried out by IDF soldiers in churches throughout the country during the War
of Independence are harsh and unpleasant to read, even at a distance of many
years. He said that this chapter in the history of
These quotes are published in the second book in the
series (in Hebrew) of “Speaking Out,” which documents transcripts of oral
statements by Sharett, who headed
The book documents harsh things Sharett told an audience that came to a meeting with activists of Mapai (the acronym for the Workers’ Party of the Land of Israel, precursor of today’s Labor Party), on an unknown date in June 1949 – the month in which Sharett made the speech at the government meeting, parts of which were censored.
In his remarks, Sharett detailed a number of examples of specific acts of vandalism that were brought to his attention. “I do not know whether you know that in one church a crown was stolen that is not only immeasurably valuable, because it is all pearls and precious stones, but also because it is a sacred object,” he said. “I don’t know whether you know that a certain statue – Jesus or Mary – stood in the center of a church and they broke its hand because there was a ring on one of the fingers.”
Sharett stressed that all these acts “were committed by Jews in cold blood and these things went on for months.”
‘A terrible sin’
Half a year later, at a meeting of the Mapai Knesset faction on December 31, 1949, Sharett brought up the subject again. From the documentation of his remarks, which also appear in the new book, it emerges that at the time Sharett said that Israel had committed “a terrible sin,” in his words, in that “it did not know how to organize in advance to impose iron discipline on its people lest there be those who abuse what is sacred to other peoples. The mind cannot grasp the terrible and savage things that were done in various places.”
He went into detail: “It is not possible to imagine what was done: desecration, conscious desecration, contamination, breaking of symbols, tearing of fingers off statues in order to steal some ring, theft of precious stones and pearls from monasteries, dirt, ripping of books, theft … objects, objects for sacred use used as fuel for heating, and so on and so forth.”
Sharett revealed to the faction’s Knesset members
that because of the extensive damage IDF soldiers caused in the churches,
Israel had to block the church at Capernaum, “where the situation is terrible,”
to tourists. Similar scenes, he said, were also at “most of the churches in
He blamed the state. “We didn’t know in advance how to take control,” he said. “We didn’t know in advance how to impose discipline. We didn’t know ourselves that we were uneducated to such an extent or deplorably educated.”
His son Yaakov explained this past week that his
father was very sensitive to
“One of the most difficult fronts we are facing is
the Catholic front abroad. We must do everything possible to quell this ire,”
the elder Sharett told party activists in June 1949. To minimize the damage he
“We will pay compensation and we will not publish this by any means ... For this we will demand cessation of propaganda and incitement, and with this we will put an end to the matter and there is no need to sift through the details and publish another article about what the Jews did,” he explained.
Sharett informed his audience that in the world press
things were being written in condemnation of
“We are dwelling here in our land and reading
newspapers ... but there are people who are reading newspapers in
Sharett tried to put his remarks in context and in proportion.
“I imagine there have been revolutions in the world in which more horrible things were done. I imagine that our soldiers did not crush pregnant women and did not rape young girls and did not systematically burn homes with the inhabitants inside them, though in all those areas there were deeds. It is possible to defend this from a historical perspective. But we are in the midst of this thing and in the meantime we are being judged for every savage act of this sort,” he concluded.