Despite the disbanding of the United Resistance, the struggle against the British was gaining momentum. Military operations, which became increasingly daring, not only undermined British prestige, but also disrupted government and order in the country. The military authorities decided to react vigorously and numerous death sentences were meted out to underground fighters they apprehended. Heavy public pressure was brought to bear, in Palestine and throughout the world, on the British government to pardon the condemned men, but to no avail. The Government was determined to carry out executions, hoping thereby to deter the Irgun and Lehi from continuing their attacks.
On April 16, 1947, at 2:45 am, three British and one Arab policeman came to the apartment of Nehemia Katriel Magril, the only Jewish householder in Acre. Magril was a scholar, occupied in trade, who acted as an intermediary for Jewish prisoners in Acre jail and worked as a cantor on Saturdays and holidays. He had not been ordained as a rabbi, and was known among the Arabs as Hakham Abu Mussa (a wise and honored man).
The policemen roused Magril and asked him to accompany them to the jail. They refused to tell him the reason, and urged him to hurry; telling him that time was short. When he asked how long they would need him, they replied: 'About two hours.' He suddenly understood what was happening and refused to go, telling them to contact the Chief Rabbinate of Haifa instead. The policemen left without him.
Magril learned of the execution of Dov Gruner and his comrades a few hours later from a Jerusalem Radio broadcast.
At 4:00 a.m. Dov Gruner was awakened and taken to the execution cell. Present there were the Director of prison services in Palestine, the Governor of Acre Jail, a physician and six British officers. As was the custom in Britain and in the colonies, the prison governor acted as hangman but in violation of custom, no rabbi was present. Dov Gruner went to the gallows without religious solace, as did Yehiel Drezner, Eliezer Kashani and Mordechai Elkahi. All four were hanged, each singing the anthem Hatikva as the noose was tightened around his neck. When the muffled voices of the condemned men were heard throughout the prison, all the Jewish prisoners rose to their feet and sang the national anthem.
I learned of the executions from the news broadcast at 7:00 am., together with the announcement that a curfew had been imposed throughout the country. I got up from the breakfast table and went out of the house by the back door in the direction of the orange groves. My initial shock was replaced by anger and frustration. To the last moment, I had hoped that the Irgun would find a way of rescuing its members from the rope, by taking hostages or breaking into the goal. I had believed that the British would find some reason to pardon them and commute their death sentence to life imprisonment. Now the hangings were a brutal fact. My feeling was that the Irgun had to react - and immediately, not only to avenge the blood of the executed men, but to prevent the authorities from using the death sentence as a matter of routine.
Without realizing what I was doing, I found myself walking along the same path among the orange groves that I used to take with Yehiel Drezner when he was in charge of the arms depots in Ramat Gan (he had replaced Shmulik). When the British arrested his brother Zvi, Yehiel left home and became a 'refugee'. His father was summoned to the police and cautioned that if Yehiel did not give himself up, his other brothers would be arrested. Yehiel did not respond to the police demand and devoted himself to underground work. In Ramat Gan I knew him under his codename 'Aharon' and he often visited me during the difficult period when I was immobilized in a cast. Under cover of dark, we used to stroll through the groves and often talked about our personal problems. Yehiel told me how hard it was for him to be a 'refugee'. He was very lonely. He could not take a job for fear that his identity would be discovered, but did not want to stay in his room all day in case the neighbors became suspicious. And so he rose early every day and wandered for hours through the streets of Ramat Gan, waiting impatiently for the evening and his underground activities. He was also worried about his father and brothers and feared that they would be arrested because of him. One night, he said suddenly: "Who knows when the Jewish state will be established, but if I do live to see it - I don't want medals or prizes for what I've sacrificed. I did everything out of true conviction and nobody owes me thanks. All I want is to have a family and live quietly as a free Jew in my own country."
Yehiel did not live to enjoy the Jewish state, which was set up thanks to him and his comrades in arms. From Ramat Gan he was transferred to Petah Tikva, where he changed his codename to 'Gaul', but did not change his forged identity card (where he appeared as Dov Rosenboim). A year after that conversation, Yehiel was hanged and buried under the name of Dov Rosenboim to avoid endangering his family, who were not even present at his funeral. He fought anonymously, and gave his life anonymously for his people.
MINES ON THE ROADS
One of the measures adopted by the British against the Jewish population of Palestine was to immobilize the inter-urban routes at night. A curfew was imposed on all roads from sunset to dawn, and all traffic between towns was banned. In reaction to the curfew, the Irgun decided to mine the roads so that the British would also be unable to travel freely. The mines were made in the form of milestones and were detonated by an electrical mechanism. The operators hid nearby, and when a military or police vehicle passed, the mine was detonated by pressing an electric button.
At a meeting with my superior officers, I was informed that it had been decided to involve my unit in laying road mines (at that time, propaganda units were also deployed in operations against the British). I was assigned the task of reconnaissance the Arab village of Salameh (present-day Kfar Shalem) and examining the possibility of laying mines alongside the main road near the village. I took Shabtai and Ben-Zion, two outstanding graduates of a recent course, and we set out, each armed with a revolver. At about 11:00 pm we arrived at the village, whose alleys were deserted. Suddenly two young men asked us what we were doing there. We explained that we had no intention of lingering and continued on our way to carry out our assignment. Half an hour later, when we retraced our steps, we found a group of Arabs waiting for us, summoned presumably by the two young men. Keen to avoid a clash, I told Shabtai and Ben-Zion to run towards the orange grove beyond the alley. At the corner of the alley, Shabtai slipped and fell, while we continued to run. I halted when I heard him shout, and when I saw that the Arabs were approaching him, I took out my revolver and fired two shots - the first in the air and the second towards the group. The Arabs stopped in their tracks and Shabtai rose to his feet and joined us.
We crossed the orange grove and took the path to Ramat Yitzhak in a mood of elation. However, we were soon fired on from the end of the grove. We flung ourselves down and awaited developments. The bursts of machine-gun fire ceased momentarily and I glimpsed an armed group of six men. One of them shouted to us: "Min Hada?" (Who's there?) I replied in Arabic that we were Jews. He asked what we were doing there and I replied that we were on our way to attack the British and had no intention of harming Arabs. The spokesman, apparently the gang leader, asked me to come closer so that he could check if I was telling the truth. In reply, I suggested that he and I meet halfway, leaving our friends behind us. After brief negotiations, he agreed and began to walk towards us. Ben-Zion and Shabtai urged me not to move forward, since they feared that as soon as I was exposed he would open fire at me. I explained that I saw no alternative and that this encounter could be our only chance of getting away safely. Reluctantly, I got up and walked towards the gang leader. Demonstratively, I shoved my revolver into my belt, and asked him to remove the clip from his Sten-gun. As we were talking, the other members of his gang came closer, and I motioned to my friends to join us. The tension lifted; they seemed to believe my story that we were the reconnaissance unit for a large group of Irgun fighters. The gang leader expressed his admiration for the Irgun's operations, and said that they too hated the British. The atmosphere warmed up and I began to show interest in purchasing weapons. The Arab said that they had a large stock and would gladly supply any quantity we wanted. I agreed that we should meet again to discuss details of the types and quantity of weapons and the price. When I realized that the meeting was dragging on, I explained to my companion that we had to return at once, or the entire group would come to see what had happened to us. We parted with a handshake and arranged to meet in a Jaffa cafe to continue negotiations on arms' purchase. We moved on towards Ramat Yitzhak, and at the first bend in the road began to sprint. We were overjoyed finally to reach Ramat Gan, hide our weapons in an improvised cache and to go our separate ways.
The following day I reported our adventures to my commanding officers and asked permission to meet with the gang leader. Several days later I was summoned to a briefing on the scheduled meeting. I was given a list of weapons, which the Irgun wanted and was told under no circumstances to pay anything for the purchase. I was instructed to say that payment would be made when the goods were handed over. I set out for Jaffa feeling rather nervous. Firstly, I feared that the Arab had informed the police, who would be waiting for me in the cafe. Secondly, there was the possibility that the Arab would kidnap me on the assumption that I had brought money to settle the deal. I approached the cafe cautiously and immediately spied the gang leader sitting on a stool and smoking a nargila. He rose to greet me and welcomed me like an old friend. We sipped Turkish coffee and chatted at length. Towards the end of the meeting, we began to discuss the arms' deal. The Arab perused the list I gave him and noted down the respective price of each weapon. He said that we could have the weapons after we had paid the money. I replied that there was a danger that he would vanish with the money and not supply the goods. I proposed that payment be made on receipt of the weapons and suggested we meet in the field near Salame Road, where we had first met. He replied that if he did not receive the money in advance, we might arrive at the meeting place with a large force and seize the weapons. This sparring went on for some time until we finally arranged a further meeting - a meeting which in fact never took place.