Israel, 1957–1967 period

Israel, 1957–1967

Israel’s conflict with the Arabs receded into the background for much of the next decade as its frontier with Egypt remained quiet, although sporadic border incidents continued on other fronts, mainly with Syria. Industrial and agricultural development allowed the government to end its austerity measures, unemployment almost disappeared, and living standards improved.

During the country’s second decade, the emphasis was placed on relations with the rest of the world. Foreign relations expanded steadily as close ties were developed with the United States, the British Commonwealth countries, most Western European and Asian states, and nearly all the countries of Latin America and Africa. The decade was marked by extensive programs of cooperation, as hundreds of Israeli physicians, engineers, teachers, agronomists, irrigation experts, and youth organizers shared their expertise with the populations of the developing countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

Exports doubled and the gross national product (GNP) increased significantly. Israel now manufactured such items as paper, tires, radios, and refrigerators, but the most rapid growth took place in the areas of metals, machinery, chemicals, and electronics. As the domestic market for locally grown food was reaching the saturation point, the agricultural sector began to grow a variety of crops for the food processing industry as well as for export. To handle the greatly increased volume of trade, a deep water port was constructed on the Mediterranean coast at Ashdod, in addition to the existing one at Haifa.

Israel’s efforts to “make the desert bloom” and to provide adequate water supplies for its citizens reached an important milestone when the National Water carrier was put into operation in 1964. It was to bring water from Lake Tiberias (the Sea of Galilee) to various parts of the country, including the northern arid Negev, through a series of aqueducts, canals, pipes, reservoirs, dams, tunnels, and pumping stations.

In 1965, a permanent building for the Knesset was built in Jerusalem, and facilities for the Hadassah Medical center and the Hebrew University were constructed on alternate sites to replace the original buildings on Mount Scopus, which had to be abandoned after the War of Independence. The Israel Museum was established with the aim of collecting, conserving, studying, and exhibiting the cultural and artistic treasures of the Jewish people.

Domestic Politics

David Ben-Gurion resigned as prime minister in 1963 and two years later led his supporters, including Minister of Agriculture Moshe Dayan and Deputy Defense Minister Shimon Peres, out of Mapai and into his new political party, the Israel Labor List (rafi). Levi Eshkol of Mapai took Ben-Gurion’s place as prime minister from 1963 until his death in 1969, when former Foreign Minister Golda Meir replaced him.

An economic recession began in 1965 and unemployment grew. These led to domestic distress and a declining economic and social status for much of Israel’s population. As a consequence of this and security issues, emigration from Israel rose.

Perhaps the most noteworthy event of this period was the Eichmann trial, which generated extensive worldwide attention. Adolf Eichmann was brought to Israel on May 23, 1960, to stand trial under the Nazis and Nazi collaborators (Punishment) Law of 1950. Eichmann was born in Solingen, Germany, in 1906. He became an SS officer and under the Nazi regime was one of the main organizers of Adolf Hitler’s “final solution,” the extermination of European Jews, during World War II.

At the end of the war, he escaped to Argentina where he was captured by Israeli agents in 1960 and brought to Israel. His trial opened in April 1961 and eventually he was found guilty of war crimes against humanity and the Jewish people and was sentenced to death. After the rejection of his appeal to the Supreme court, he was hanged on May 31, 1962. It was the only time that the death penalty has been carried out under Israeli law.

Israel and Germany

In 1965, Israel exchanged ambassadors with the Federal republic of Germany (West Germany), a move which had been delayed until then because of the bitter memories of the Holocaust. Vehement opposition and public debate in Israel preceded normalization of relations.

West Germany’s approach to Israel had its origins in the views and policies of its first postwar chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, who believed that there should be reconciliation between Germany and the Jewish people. Adenauer admitted to crimes committed by Germany against the Jewish people and argued that the rehabilitation of the Jews through moral and material reparations by Germany was essential.

After negotiations, which began in the early 1950s, a restitution agreement (known as the Luxembourg Agreement) was signed by representatives of Israel and West Germany, and a second agreement was signed by West Germany with the conference on Jewish Material claims against Germany in September 1952, despite strong Arab opposition. The agreements were of great importance to Israel as they provided substantial economic support at a crucial time for the young state. West Germany subsequently became a supplier of military equipment to the Jewish state.

Nevertheless and despite the significance of these agreements for Israel, there was strong opposition in Israel to any arrangement with West Germany, the successor state to Nazi Germany. A number of issues that precluded substantial movement toward a diplomatic relationship between Israel and West Germany included the trial of Adolf Eichmann, which rekindled old memories, and the activities of German scientists in assisting in the development of Arab military capabilities.

Diplomatic relations between the two states were achieved only in 1965. For West Germany, the agreements were crucial in helping to reestablish its international position and to help prepare the way for its reintegration into the Western European alliance structure. West Germany became a major trading partner with Israel, and its aid to Israel was indispensable to the economic growth of the state.