As the Second World War approached its end, hopes ran high among the leaders of the Zionist movement that the British government would amend its policy towards Jewish immigration to Palestine. Such hopes, however, were soon dashed. In the summer of 1945, a general election was held in Britain. Labor pledged that if they were returned to power, they would revoke the White Paper and permit Holocaust survivors to immigrate to Palestine without delay. They also promised to act for the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine, which would gradually evolve into an independent state.
However, after sweeping victory at the polls, the new Labor government soon declared that there would be no changes in Britain's foreign policy, nor would any concessions be granted with regard to Jewish immigration. Labor's attachment to the White Paper greatly disappointed Jewish leaders in Palestine and the Diaspora. On September 23, 1945, Moshe Sneh, head of the Haganah General Headquarters, cabled David Ben-Gurion (then in London) as follows:
[...] It has been proposed that we stage a grave incident. Then we will issue a statement declaring that this is only a warning, and hint at much more serious incidents to follow.
Ben-Gurion replied swiftly on October 1:1
[...] We must not confine our reaction in Palestine to immigration and settlement. It is essential to adopt tactics of S [sabotage] and reprisal. Not individual terror, but retaliation for each and every Jew murdered by the White Paper. The S. action must carry weight and be impressive, and care should be taken, insofar as possible, to avoid casualties...
Sneh regarded Ben-Gurion's letter as a warrant for the launching of military action against the British.
The two rival factions [Irgun and Lehi] should be invited to collaborate on condition that there is uniform authority and that total discipline is observed. Constant effort is required to ensure solidarity within the Yishuv and, above all, among the fighters, for the sake of the struggle.
Our reaction should be constant, bold and calculated for a considerable period...
On October 9, 1945, a Palmach unit set out to free by force the 208 illegal immigrants detained at the Atlit camp. The attackers easily overcame the guards, and the immigrants, together with their liberators, escaped to Kibbutz Beit Oren in the Carmel mountains.
The attack on the Atlit detention camp was the first anti-British action of the Palmach, and symbolized the first action of many in the coming weeks.
The first meeting between the leaders of the Haganah and representatives of the Irgun command was held in August 1945. It marked the beginning of negotiations, which culminated in an agreement on the establishment of a united front, the United Resistance. The Irgun and the Lehi accepted the authority of the Zionist leadership vis a vis the armed struggle against the British rulers of the country. It was agreed that the two organisations would maintain their organizational autonomy, but would not carry out operations against the British without the approval of the headquarters of the United Resistance, with the exception of 'purchase' activities (i.e. the confiscation of arms from British sources).
The first operation of the united front was an attack on the national railway network, which came to be known as the 'Night of the Trains'. Haganah units sabotaged some 200 points along the railway tracks, while a joint unit of the Irgun and the Lehi attacked the main railway station at Lydda.
There was strong reaction in Britain to the 'Night of the Trains'. The papers published detailed articles on the acts of sabotage and government representatives hastened to denounce the operation. The Jewish Agency and the Zionist Executive in London, in a special announcement, expressed deep regret at the acts of sabotage, which had occurred in Palestine, and stated that:
It is a tragedy that matters in Palestine have come to such a pass. The Jewish Agency rejects the use of violence as a means of political struggle, but has come to the conclusion that its ability to impose restraint has been set a severe test because of the continuation of a policy, which the Jews consider to be vital to their future.
The Jewish Agency statement does not explicitly approve the act, but for the first time implies sympathy for its underlying motives.
There were no more cases of informing against the Irgun and Lehi once the 'Season' ended, but arrests continued. One of the victims was Yehoyada, my commanding officer, who was replaced in Ramat Gan by Ilan (Shmuel-Shmulik Krushinevsky).
The united front increased the scope of its military activities, and large quantities of weapons and explosives were urgently needed. Several 'purchasing' operations were planned, and we were assigned the task of preparing new caches to take in the booty. No more milk churns; we now had real depots where weapons and ammunition of different kinds could be kept. The first cache was excavated inside the municipal school, which was then under construction near the Ramat Gan police station. Since the watchman was a member of the Irgun, we had free access to the site and could do as we chose there at night. The cache was about two meters in length and breadth, and one and a half meters high. It was built of wooden planks (which had been specially treated for damp-resistance), and the weapons were stored in metal barrels with hermetic seals. There were three armorers - Shmulik, Amos Goldblat (replacing Yosef Kinderlerer, who had been arrested) and I, too few for the job. Three more boys were attached to the group and together we dug through the night. The excavated soil was carried away on a horse-drawn wagon driven by Menahem Lurie, who worked during the day and borrowed the wagon at night without the knowledge of its owner. Shmulik and Lurie were accustomed to physical labor, and did ten times as much work as we did. They scorned the weak 'high-school kids' and thanks to them the work was completed before dawn. I crawled into bed at 5:00 a.m. and two hours later was obliged to get up and go to school. As might be expected, my powers of concentration were limited in the extreme, and by the second lesson I was unable to keep my bloodshot eyes open. Luckily for me, my teacher decided that I was sick, and I went home and slept till the evening.
We dug a second cache of the same size in one of the Ramat Gan orange groves, but it was too risky both because of the large amount of soil we had to dispose of and because of the time it took to open and re-seal. We searched for a safer place, and the solution was provided by one of our sympathizers, Yaakov Nordman. Nordman, a teacher in the Ramat Gan municipal school, lived in an isolated house on the way to Ramat Yitzhak. I went with Shmulik to talk to him, and we found that his courtyard was ideally suited to our needs. Nordman greeted us cordially, but was not enthusiastic at the idea of digging a cache in his courtyard. At first he flatly refused, but when we told him that we intended to keep only books and propaganda material there, he softened somewhat. We met with him several more times and finally Shmulik proposed that we use the cache for material which was not required immediately, so that we would not need to open it too often. After receiving his consent, we decided to do the digging in daylight, to allay suspicions. Shmulik and I came one morning in the guise of innocent laborers, and dug a large hole in the courtyard. At night, we brought the dismantled box and put it in the hole. After the lid had been camouflaged with earth, the cache became an indistinguishable part of the garden. We dug three in total and none were ever discovered during the Mandate rule.
ARMS SEIZURE FROM THE BRITISH
The first and most successful arms' raid was directed at the military depot at Rosh ha-Ayin. There was an RAF (British Royal Air Force) base there with a depot of arms and ammunition for the aircraft. A young Jewish girl of American origin worked in the camp, and she made friends with one of the British sergeants. The girl, who lived in Petah Tikva, contacted the Irgun and told them that she had learned from her British friend that there were large numbers of pistols and submachine-guns in the depot. She also reported that the British sergeant was willing to cooperate with us. After investigation, we learned that she was telling the truth, and began planning a raid on the camp. On the scheduled day, two trucks purchased from British army surplus supplies were commandeered in the usual way (the drivers were hired for a haulage job, and on the way were 'requested' to abandon the vehicles), the drivers were detained in an orange grove and after the operation had been completed, were released and reimbursed. The trucks, found abandoned by the police, were returned to their owners after they came to report the theft. The trucks were camouflaged to look like British army vehicles, and their civilian plates number were replaced by military ones.
On Friday afternoon, November 22, 1945, (when the soldiers were having a food break), two army vehicles, a van and a lorry approached the Rosh ha-Ayin camp. Beside the van-driver sat Jackson (Eliezer Zemler), who was blond and wearing British officer's uniform. He informed the guards in his perfect English that he had come to collect some crates from the depot. He handed over the necessary papers, together with a permit for the 'Arab porters' who were sitting on the truck (these documents had been forged with the kind help of the young woman who worked in the camp and her sergeant friend). The two vehicles passed the check without difficulty, and made directly for the depots. After tying up the guard, they burst inside and began to load the sealed crates onto the vehicles. There was no time to open them and classify their contents before loading them. After completing the loading, the two vehicles left the camp and made for an orange grove in Petah Tikva.
Shmulik, Amos and I had come to Petah Tikva at noon. After eating at a local restaurant, we went to the park where we met a young woman liaison. After exchanging passwords, we were taken to an orange grove where we waited with dozens of other fighters, to act as carriers for the precious cargo.
While we were chatting we heard the sound of vehicle engines and there was a sudden onslaught on the 'goods' in the truck. The crates were unloaded and piled up among the trees. It was strange to see fighters cavorting like children having been given a much sought-after toy. After completing the unloading, our main task of moving the weapons to Ramat Gan and Tel Aviv began (only a small part was buried at Petah Tikva for fear of searches of the area). When the commanding officer began to organize the convoy, one of the fighters loaded a crate onto his shoulder and said: "It's not heavy. I can easily carry it by myself." Fortunately, the commander was not convinced, and divided us up so that three were carrying two crates each.
We set out on foot in high spirits, but it soon became clear that the load was heavy and we could not continue at a rapid pace. I was assigned the task of leading the group, which was making for Ramat Gan to store the arms in the specially prepared caches. The pace became slower, and the convoy lost its cohesion. The following day I discovered that the second group, which had set out for Tel Aviv, had been luckier than us: they had met up with a truck en route, had loaded the crates onto it and had marched on unencumbered. We finally reached 'Sheinkin' (an abandoned packing-house among the orange groves of Bnei Brak), exhausted from the march. There Lurie awaited us with his wagon, which we loaded while Dvora Kalfus-Nehushtan handed out sandwiches and beverages. I set out, hungry and thirsty, with Lurie for the cache in the municipal school. We passed by the police station, but nobody suspected the innocent-looking wagon which was transporting a load covered with sacking.
As soon as the trucks had made their escape from the army camp at Rosh ha-Ayin, the chase began. The army immediately imposed a curfew on all roads, but nobody dreamed that we would convey our booty all the way from Petah Tikva to Ramat Gan on foot. We left the crates in the depot, and only after the excitement had died down did we examine their contents. They included more than seventy Sten guns and a large amount of ammunition, three 3" mortars and five Browning heavy machine-guns. The Sten guns were very convenient for use in underground conditions and greatly increased the Irgun's firing power. The machine-guns, on the other hand, were more cumbersome. They were stored in Nordman's courtyard and taken out only when the War of Independence broke out in 1948.
Between actions, the routine life of the underground continued. Many young people joined the Irgun and the ranks of the Fighting Force were swelled. The pace was increased, and every evening we were called on to supply weapons for training. One Saturday, one of the units was training with revolvers that I had collected from the cache. There were several young couples strolling about the grove where the cache was located and we had to wait for nightfall in order to retrieve the revolvers. I went home and hid the revolvers in the cellar, planning to collect them on my return from some chores. As soon as I returned home, I sensed that something was wrong. Nobody spoke to me and the atmosphere was electric. Tentatively I went down slowly to the cellar, only to discover that the revolvers had vanished. I searched everywhere but found nothing. I came upstairs and asked my brother Aryeh if he knew what had happened. He replied that our father had found the parcel as soon as I left, but had no idea where he had hidden it. After the Saturday evening prayer, I approached my father and asked him about the revolvers.
"I threw them into the sewage," he replied.
I was furious and shouted:
"How dare you throw away Jewish arms? Don't you know how difficult it is to find weapons and how important it is to us to continue the struggle?"
In reply, my father said:
"How dare you raise your voice? How dare you act so irresponsibly and endanger your whole family? If the police had found those guns, they would have arrested your father and your brother, and you would have destroyed your whole family."
I had no answer to those justified charges. I was deeply ashamed. I sat in silence, not knowing what to do or how to explain what had happened to my comrades and commanding officer. Nobody spoke. Gradually we calmed down, and my father came over to me and said:
"Did you really believe that I would throw away revolvers? I hid them in the courtyard and now please get rid of them and never bring weapons home again."
I was greatly relieved, apologized and explained that I had to wait till it was completely dark outside. An hour later, I took the parcel and stood up to leave the house. To my surprise, my father came with me, and said:
"I'll go with you because it's dangerous these days to walk about with weapons."
My father's reaction touched me, but I explained to him that I was not permitted to take him with me to the cache. I hastened to leave and took the revolvers back to their proper hiding place.
1. From the Slik, 1, 1991. Haganah Archaives