The first issue of Mishmar (‘The Guard’) was published on 30 July 1943. Its appearance was the end result of a drawn out political process in the Yishuv. Mishmar was the political organ of ha-Qibbuts ha-Artsi (‘The Countrywide Kibbutz’), the federation of collective farm villages founded by ha-Shomer ha-Tsaʿir (‘The Young Guard’). Both ha-Shomer ha-Tsaʿir, and later, ha-Qibbuts ha-Artsi, had had since the 1920's literary mouthpieces in both monthly and weekly formats. Beginning in 1925, the rôle of a daily newspaper was filled by Davar, the organ of the General Labour Federation (ha-Histadrut ha-Klalit), which also served as the mouthpiece of ha-Ligah le-Maʿan Erets Yisraʾel ha-ʿOvedet (the League for a Working Land of Israel), the umbrella organisation of the Zionist left. In reality, however, Davar expressed the positions of the dominant political party in the country, Mifleget Poʿaley Erets Yisraʾel (‘the Workers’ Party of the Land of Israel’, MaPAY). Until the summer of 1939, the assumption prevailed among ha-Qibbuts ha-Artsi that ha-Shomer ha-Tsaʿir could join MaPAY while still maintaining its autonomous status. Yet, it became clear by the summer of 1939 that this belief was flawed. At a meeting of the council of ha-Qibbuts ha-Artsi in Mishmar ha-ʿEmeq held in 1942, it was decided that ha-Qibbuts ha-Artsi would establish its own independent party as well as daily newspaper to go with it. The expected appearance of Mishmar aroused concern and opposition among the religious and ultra-Orthodox (Ḥaredi) camp, which saw itself as discriminated against and politically weakened in the aftermath of the ‘Tehran children’ affair. The new newspaper, according to the editors of the religious Zionist newspaper ha-Tsofeh, would be ‘a daily newspaper for apostates to agitate, attacking the faith from a point of principle and of tactic … the appearance of the new newspaper … will establish a forum that would support the “guard (mishmar) of heresy against the foundations of Judaism”’.
About a year later, the newspaper appeared, immortalising the name of the movement and bearing as its subtitle the ideological essence of the movement, ‘for Zionism, for socialism, and for the brotherhood of nations’. In place of an editorial, there appeared the words of the leader of ha-Qibbuts ha-Artsi, Meʾir Yaʿari: ‘Throughout the Yishuv, the feeling is rife that something has happened. Thousands of hearts are pounding in anticipation of the appearance of Mishmar’. The first editorial staff of the periodical consisted of political personalities like Mordechai Bentov (1900-1985), Jacob Amit (1904-?) and Eliezer Wilder-Frei (Peri, 1902–1970). The artists Ruth Shloss (b. 1922) and Yohanan Simon (1905-1976) were responsible for its graphic design, while the poet Avraham Shlonsky (1900-1973) was put in charge of the literary section of the paper.
At first, the newspaper comprised only four pages, due to paper rationing imposed during the Second World War, but over the course of time, it developed unique sections and graphic designs that gained it instant recognition. The special section for children that usually appeared in advance of the holidays became, from 1945, the children’s periodical, Mishmar la-yeladim, and was also edited by the newspaper’s staff. In 1943, following the publication of a joint announcement by all of the newspapers in the Yishuv regarding the Ramat ha-Kovesh affair and the response of the Mandate authorities, Mishmar ceased its publication for a week, as an act of solidarity with the banned newspapers. At the end of the Second World War, it was forced to deal with the Mandatory censorship that forbade the printing of words that expressed the position of the Yishuv towards the restrictions of the White Paper.
Beginning in 1946, Mishmar became the organ of Mifleget ha-Shomer ha-Tsaʿir (‘the Party of the Young Guard’). In January 1948, Mifleget ha-Poʿalim ha-Meʾuḥedet (‘the United Workers’ Party’, MaPaM) was formed by a merger of Mifleget ha-Shomer ha-Tsaʿir with ha-Tenuʿah le-Aḥdut ha-ʿAvodah (‘the Movement towards Unity of Labour’), most of whose leaders came from the kibbutz movements of ha-Qibbuts ha-Meʾuḥad (‘the United Kibbutz’) and Poʿaley Tsiyyon Smoʾl (‘Left Workers of Zion’). Following this union, Mishmar changed its name to Al HaMishmar (‘On guard’) and members of ha-Qibbuts ha-Meʾuḥad joined the editorial staff. In addition to Al HaMishmar, MaPaM also issued a newspaper aimed at its younger readership — ba-Shaʿar (‘On the gate’). When the latter was eliminated, the circle of young writers transferred to Al HaMishmar, where they published the literary supplement to the newspaper, called Massaʾ. This supplement soon became identified with a group of writers known as the ‘1948 generation (dor TaSHaḤ)’; Massaʾ continued to appear as a supplement to Al HaMishmar until the dissolution of MaPaM in 1954, when it became the supplement of the newspaper la-Merḥav. Despite the fact that the editorial staff was comprised of representatives of all factions of the party, Al HaMishmar remained the property of ha-Qibbuts ha-Artsi and even when not giving voice to the disputes that divided its political base, the newspaper still managed to express primarily the positions of ha-Shomer ha-Tsaʿir.
Throughout the period in which the newspaper was the mouthpiece of the united party, the editorial staff spent much effort navigating complex political manœuvres. Outwardly, the newspaper continued the appearance of a unified front that masked the internal squabbles between the party factions. In keeping with its pro-Soviet orientation, the party refused to allow the journal’s staff to publish an article dealing with the elimination of Yiddish writers in the Soviet Union. The newspaper did not even mention the internal party argument over joining the coalition government and its staff would publish information about party life only after receiving permission for publication by MaPaM institutions. The disagreement in the editorial staff between members of ha-Qibbuts ha-Meʾuḥad and the members of ha-Qibbuts ha-Artsi reached its peak over the matter of the space allocated to the statements of the leaders of the two movements. Meʾir Yaʿari complained in a private letter to the staff about the discrimination practiced against him as opposed to the other heads of MaPaM: ‘I received less than fifty lines … Galili received seventy lines’. Members of ha-Qibbuts ha-Meʾuḥad complained on a regular basis that the newspaper did not cover the public appearances of Yitshak Tabenkin (1888-1971). Indeed, the refusal of the editorial staff to publish an article by Tabenkin was the catalyst for the emergence of the newspaper la-Merḥav and the dissolution of MaPaM.
Following the splintering of MaPaM, Al HaMishmar went back to expressing the positions of the leadership of ha-Qibbuts ha-Artsi, but the movement’s process of distancing itself from the pro-Soviet attitudes expressed by MaPaM facilitated a diversity of opinions and the newspaper soon became an unofficial journalism schools, where numerous young reporters gained expertise that allowed them later to move on to other newspapers. Notwithstanding its political affiliation, Al HaMishmar became a newspaper in which authors of many different ideological stripes wrote alongside editorials that expressed the official stances of the party. This duality found clear expression at the end of the 1960s, when a new supplement appeared with Al HaMishmar, aimed at and issued from the young generation in the movement — Ḥotam. This supplement was established in March 1964 as the mouthpiece of the party’s younger membership and began initially as an independent periodical, but starting in January 1970, joined with Al HaMishmar and became its weekly supplement. Following the establishment of the unity government between Likud and the Labour Alignment (ha-Maʿarakh) in 1984, MaPaM quit the latter and its newspaper became a daily organ of the political opposition. The friction between the editorial staff of Al HaMishmar and the state censorship board had hit a new high. In light of the tension, the newspaper embarked on a series of steps in a failed attempt to prevent a further deterioration of relations. Following the publication of information not permitted by the censorship board, the newspaper was penalised with a fine of half a million sheqels and a suspended fine of one million sheqels. As an act of protest, the newspaper published a number of articles with white blots. Al HaMishmar even appealed to the chairman of the Israel Press Council (Moʿetset ha-ʿItonut be-Yisraʾel), Joshua Rotenstreich (1910-1988), to protect it from the censorship board, but the problematic relations between the two entities continued until the end of 1985.
Starting from the middle of the 1980s, ha-Qibbuts ha-Artsi, the owner of the newspaper, experienced a severe financial crisis. In order to escape its debts, ha-Qibbuts ha-Artsi closed a number of organisations and operations that threatened its financial stability. Despite the relatively small debt of Al HaMishmar in comparison to the overall budget of ha-Qibbuts ha-Artsi, the newspaper was targeted for closure as well. Its last issue appeared on 31 March 1995 and with that, the newspaper — the first of the party organs in Israel — which had initially been established for political reasons, was ultimately shut down for economic ones.
Prof. Eli Tzur