New archive documents events surrounding 1948

By Linda Gradstein, The Media Line

By age 20, Elad Peled was a senior commander in the Palmach, one of the branches of Israel’s pre-state army. He was wounded during the fighting, and was taken to the hospital. On the way, he passed the Israeli town of Pardes Hanna, and remembered there was a girl he had met and liked who lived there.

The United Nation votes in November 1947.

The United Nation votes in November 1947.

He wrote a quick note on a piece of paper and threw it out the window, saying that he was trying to contact her. A few days later, her parents came to the hospital with flowers, and just a few weeks later Peled married Zimra, also a member of the Hagana, who had been accompanying convoys trying to reach besieged Jerusalem.

That was 67 years ago, just a few months before the creation of Israel. Today Elad and Zimra (who was one of 100 babies actually born on Ellis Island, the immigration gateway to the US) are among two of the 700 interviewees on Toldot Yisrael, an NGO dedicated to sharing the testimonies of the founders of the state of Israel.

Peled had a long career in the army, reaching the rank of Major General, and then became the director general of Israel’s Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture in the 1970s. His generation is fast dying out.

“Later today I have a funeral for one of our boys,” he told a small group of journalists. “Of all the generals of the 1967 war, I’m the only one still alive.”

Toldot Yisrael, which aims to preserve oral histories from the period surrounding the creation of Israel, is similar to a project of the Steven Spielberg Foundation to gather oral histories of Holocaust survivors. Each of the interviews is over two hours long, for a total of some 3000 hours of raw footage.

Some of the interviews were used for a series called Eyewitness Israel 1948, produced jointly by Toldot Yisrael and Israel’s history channel. This series of 10- 15 minute films have been downloaded and viewed more than 500,000 times.

In one of these films, Suzy Eban (the wife of former Israeli diplomat Abba Eban) relates the 1947 United Nations vote on partitioning Palestine into an Arab state and a Jewish state. She said the outcome was not clear.

In one case, she says, a member of the Israeli delegation followed a representative of a Latin American country to the men’s room.

“He recognized the man’s shoes under the door and he knocked and he said, “you promised to vote, they are voting now,” Eban recalls in the video clip. “And he voted.”

Project head Eric Halivni, originally from Cleveland, said Eban even kept the original “scorecard” she used to keep track of the votes. When the partition plan passed, mass celebrations broke out.

“If you ask most people where they were on May 14, 1948 (the day the state of Israel was declared), many of them can’t remember,” Halivni said. “But the partition vote on November 29 is a touchstone. Everyone remembers exactly where they were.”

For example he said, Shlomo Hillel, who later became the speaker of the Israeli Knesset, was a spy in Beirut at the time. After the partition vote was announced, a mass protest rally was held. So as not to blow his cover, Hillel attended the protest, while a few miles away in Jerusalem, there was dancing in the streets.

The celebrations were short-lived, however. The Arab states rejected the partition plan, and launched a war against what soon became the Jewish state.

The archive will be stored at Israel’s National Library. There are plans to digitize it and to make it available to the public and historians. New technology will make it easily searchable.

Today Peled is almost 87. Every week, he says, his fellow fighters from that time are dying.

“Being part of the generation of ‘48 is unique in the history of nations,” Peled said. “You can’t find survivors of the Revolutionary War or the Civil War. We were part of Jewish history that occurs once every thousand years.”