In July 1945, shortly after returning from volunteer work on Kibbutz Mishmar ha-Emek, I received word that I was to report to Rehovot for duty. I was very excited despite knowing nothing about the forthcoming operation. Following instructions I went by bus to Rehovot, alighting at the last stop, and walked south till I reached a path leading into an orange grove. I was to loog for a girl with a copy of the newspaper Ha'aretz, a letter missing from the title. I mumbled the password and we walked together to a nearby packing-house. There I met my commander Yehoyada and Yoel Kalfus from Ramat Gan (the other people present were not familiar to me). When we had all gathered, we were taken to a eucalyptus thicket on the summit of a hill, where we waited in the shadow of the trees until sundown. As we were sitting and waiting, I saw the armories coming up the slope bringing weapons and ammunition. I sympathized with them from my months in the same role.
We were called to attention and lined up: Benyamin )Yehoshua Weinstein), who had been appointed commander of the operation, explained the details. The objective was to blow up two railway bridges over the Sorek River, near the Arab village of Yibne. When we came close to our destination, we were to split up into two groups. One would move northward to blow up the small bridge, while the second would attack the southern, larger bridge. The bridges were scheduled to be detonated as the night train from Egypt to Palestine was passing. After completing our mission, we were to make our way on foot along the sand dunes towards Tel Aviv and there disperse.
I drank in Benyamin's instructions and silently rehearsed my role, which was to guard the sappers assigned to blow up the small bridge. As the briefing ended, Eitan (Yeruham Livni), Irgun Operations Officer, appeared and told us that this was the first operation in which Lehi fighters were also taking part. He hoped that this 'fraternity of warriors' would eventually lead to full amalgamation of our two organizations. A murmur passed through the ranks and I was curious to know which of us were members of Lehi.
After the briefing, followed by questions and answers, it was time to distribute the weapons. The arsenal was sophisticated and included a large number of submachine-guns (the sappers were armed with revolvers), but the main innovation was the rifles. Only few of us knew how to handle them and Yehoyada was pleasantly surprised when he heard that I was amongst the few.
Twenty-six of us set out in single file, our commanding officer sometimes leading and sometimes bringing up the rear. We maintained complete silence, and orders were passed down in a whisper. We moved slowly with our heavy packages of explosives. When we came close to our destination, we split into two groups and my group advanced towards the small bridge. As we moved forward, we saw a police car moving towards the bridge, and several policemen descending in order to examine the bridge itself. Benyamin, who had joined our group, ordered us to halt, fling ourselves to the ground and to refrain from opening fire unless the order was given. We were scattered all over the terrain: I was on the edge of the wadi, while several of my comrades were already inside it. The advance group had already reached the bridge, and when they saw the British, they slipped into a nearby Bedouin tent, holding the surprised Bedouin at gunpoint lest they give the game away.
The British spied us, but did not open fire since they were outnumbered. I lay there, watching the policemen and impatiently awaiting developments. Thoughts raced through my head. I realized that the battle would begin as soon as one of the sides opened fire, but how would it end? Benyamin was well aware that the moment shooting began, we would have casualties and he wanted to prevent this if at all possible. Again and again he passed down the order to hold fire. He relied on the policemen also being reluctant and leaving. Things seemed to drag on for ages. Finally the British retreated from the bridge, but it was not clear if they had actually left the area. Benyamin ordered us to withdraw, and we gathered in a nearby orange grove.
Meanwhile the members of the other group had also reached the grove, leaving a small unit to guard the explosives. We learned that the explosives had been attached to the pillars of the bridge and we awaited Benyamin's order to blow the bridge up. Early reconnaissance had shown that when the German army reached the gateway of Egypt and seemed likely to invade Palestine, the British had prepared the bridge for demolition and had drilled special holes for laying explosives. Who would have guessed that those holes would prove useful to the Irgun when they came to blow up the same bridge? We lay in the grove for a long time and waited while Benyamin conferred with the commanders. We hoped that they would order us to return to the little bridge to complete our mission, but in fact they decided that we should confine ourselves to blowing up the larger bridge, since Benyamin was unwilling to take unnecessary risks. A three-man unit set out for the bridge and, shortly after, a mighty explosion was heard throughout the area and the bridge collapsed. While we were readying ourselves to leave, an Arab suddenly appeared, mounted on a camel. Benyamin did not want him to see us lest he give us up to the police, and let him pass unscathed. However, to our great consternation, he dismounted and began his prayers. When the prayers continued interminably, Benyamin decided that the only thing to do was to tie him to a tree and withdraw. We had lost a great deal of precious time and he was afraid that we would not reach home-base before daylight. Three of the fighters came up quietly behind the Arab, caught him and brought him to the grove. We tried to bind him to a tree, but he burst into bitter tears and cried out "El jamal, el jamal" (my camel, my camel), clearly more worried about his camel than for his own safety. The tragi-comic scene was a welcome relief from the hours of tension. Even sober Benyamin saw the funny side. After calm was restored, he gave orders for the camel to be tethered close to its master. Several of the boys tried to tackle the camel, but it refused to budge. It soon became evident that camels are more stubborn than mules. Benyamin watched the scene and finally decided to free the Arab with his camel, but not before cautioning him that if he dared to inform the police, he would suffer the consequences.
Because of the late hour we changed our route, and instead of making our way through the dunes to Tel Aviv, we decided to return to Rehovot. We were very tired, but Benyamin urged us to step up our pace so that we would be able to hide the weapons under cover of darkness. There was also the danger that the British had imposed a curfew on the city and that we would fall straight into their hands. A householder heard us approaching, peeped out of his window and started shouting: 'thieves, thieves.' Two of the boys went to reassure him, and when he heard that we were underground fighters, he gave us his blessing.
We arrived in the orange grove in good time, handed over the weapons to the armorers, and our commanders conferred again on the direction to take. It was decided to split us into three groups: the first would go on foot towards Rishon le-Zion and from there by bus to Tel Aviv; the second would make for the Arab town of Ramle and from there by Arab bus to Jaffa, and the third would walk to Tel Aviv. My group walked to Rishon, where we boarded a bus and I instantly fell asleep. Suddenly the bus came to a halt. I opened my eyes and saw that two policemen had boarded the bus to conduct a search. We all held out our identity cards, and after a short inspection, the bus was allowed to continue its journey.
According to the original plan, we were supposed to return home before dawn, and I had not told my parents that I would be back only on the following day. When my father came into my room to wake me, he was shocked to find my bed empty. My brother Aryeh had no idea where I was nor did others home my father approached. One of them, however, who had joined the Irgun with me and had then left, told him about my activities. My parents stopped the search and waited patiently for my return home. The encounter was tense: I was pained to have caused my parents such concern, but I also thought that the time had come to tell them the truth about my activities in the Irgun and to explain why I had chosen this path. The dispute was fierce, but I felt that my father's objections to my activities stemmed primarily from his concern for my welfare and not from ideological motives. He argued that I was endangering not only myself but also my family, in particular my younger brother. I knew he was right and that I was placing all my loved ones at risk, but I was not willing to stop. My father ended by saying that I had to choose between my Irgun activities and living at home. I replied that I would find another place to live. As I was about to leave, my mother stopped me and asked me to stay, saying she would worry about me all the time. From the day I had joined the Irgun, it had been clear to me that sooner or later my parents would find out, but I had tried to postpone the moment for as long as possible. The clash with my parents had been inevitable, and I was glad that it was now behind me.
The blowing up of Yibne Bridge, which paralyzed rail transport between Palestine and Egypt, had few repercussions. Yet this action was a milestone in the war against the British rule. It was the first case of collaboration between the two underground movements since the split in 1940. For the Lehi it was the first anti-British action after an interval of close to nine months. As for the Irgun, the operation served as proof that the 'Season' had not achieved its objective and that the boast that the Irgun had been destroyed was premature.
If it was to continue the struggle against the British, the Irgun urgently needed explosives, but it lacked the funds to buy them. Various possibilities of appropriating them were discussed, and members of the Fighting Force were asked to keep their eyes and ears open to find suitable sources. One of these was the quarry at Rosh ha-Ayin, which received allocations of explosives from the British for its quarrying work. Our investigations revealed that the explosives were conveyed to the quarry on a truck from Haifa. It was only a matter of time before an ambush was planned. In the event, three hundred kilograms of explosives were taken from the truck to the Irgun supply depot.
An additional source of information on explosives was the police force itself. When a detainee was released, he was put under house arrest and required to report daily to the police station. One day, as one of our men was reporting in, the desk clerk's telephone rang. He grasped that explosives were being transferred to the Solel Boneh depots at Givat Rambam (present-day Givatayim). The news was passed on to the appropriate authorities, and plans were made to take over the depots and confiscate the explosives. This was a particularly satisfactory action, since we considered the 'confiscation' to be a kind of compensation for the large amount of arms taken from the Irgun arsenal by the Haganah during the 'Season'. The plan took shape and on the evening of August 14, 1945, we set out from Ramat Gan for nearby Givat Rambam. The two-armed guards at the depots were easily overcome and their rifles confiscated. Our main problem was to find the depot in which the explosives were being kept. It transpired that the guards were unaware of the content of the depots, which we had to search one by one until we found what we had come for. The explosives were taken to Ramat Gan, but we did not have time to hide them in the prepared cache. Some of the crates were hidden in a pile of sand at a building site near the orange groves between Ramat Gan and Bnei Brak.
The following day the British army conducted a search with tracker dogs. The soldiers established their headquarters on the pile of sand, and set out from there to search the nearby orange groves. None of them dreamed that the treasure they were seeking was literally underneath them. The search was finally called off and the same night we hastened to transfer the explosives to a safe place. But this was not the end of the affair: as a result of the savage attacks against the Irgun in the press, which accused us of taking arms from Jewish guards, it was decided to return the two rifles, which in any case were of no use to us. The task was assigned to me, and on Friday evening I brought the two rifles to the home of the local rabbi and asked him to hand them over, thus escaping the attention of the ubiquitous Intelligence Service.