The leaders of the Jewish Agency never reconciled themselves to the existence of movements which did not accept their authority and, after the United Resistance was disbanded, they began to plan the next onslaught on the Irgun and the Lehi. However, the period of collaboration between the three movements had enhanced sympathy for the Irgun and Lehi. The public at large,including some members of the Haganah, and even some of the leaders of the Yishuv, found it difficult to stomach the sudden change of face from collaboration with the underground to condemnation of their activities and persecution of their members. No political breakthrough had yet occurred; the gates of the country were still barred, and the British navy was being deployed in the battle against illegal immigration. Ben-Gurion was in favour of reverting to the measures employed during the 'Season', including close collaboration with the British and the handing over of underground fighters to the authorities. Members of the Jewish Agency Executive, and many members of the Haganah, objected strongly to this policy. There was particularly strong opposition to the idea of delivering underground fighters to the police. A meeting of the Jewish Agency Executive therefore decided to tackle the Irgun and Lehi without the partnership of the British. In accordance with this resolution, members of the underground movements would be expelled from places of employment, from schools and even from their homes; arms depots would be raided and Irgun and Lehi fighters would be prevented from taking military action against the British. To these measures was added a widespread propaganda campaign against the underground's mode of operation.
In order to carry out a second hunting season (known as the 'Little Season'), a kind of 'secret police' was set up, composed of members of the Haganah Intelligence Service and special units of the Haganah Field Corps. Orders were issued from headquarters to establish in each of the branches units of 10-16 people for "the fight against the dissidents"1 It soon became plain that the ban on co-operation with the British authorities imposed by the Jewish Agency Executive was not being honored. Informing against members of the Irgun and Lehi had ceased and they were no longer handed over to the British, but another method of collaboration was found. Every time the Intelligence Service learned of a planned underground operation, it hastened to inform the British and thus aborted it. In some cases, Haganah fighters tried to take action themselves, causing needless casualties. One such case was the affair of the tunnel to Beit Hadar (Hadar House).
Bet Hadar was located in the center of the security zone set up by the British in Tel Aviv. The British housed their headquarters in the building, and access to it was very difficult. The security zone was surrounded by barbed wire, and anyone entering was scrupulously checked. A tunnel was therefore to be dug under the building along with a quantity of explosives large enough to destroy the entire building would be transported. Before blowing up the building, the Irgun intended to warn the British to evacuate all security zones in the country. After the blowing up of the King David Hotel, and the many casualties resulting from the failure to evacuate the building, it was reasonable to assume that the British would take no unnecessary risks and would evacuate all the security zones. This in itself would be a blow to British prestige; in addition to the Irgun's proven ability to strike a blow at the nerve center of British rule in Tel Aviv. The operation at Bet Hadar was timed to take place before the UN Special Commission started its work, or alternatively, if and when the British decided to carry out the death sentence against Avshalom Haviv, Yaakov Weiss and Meir Nacker ( who were caught by the British after the raid on the Acre prison). However, when the tunnel was only half completed, it was discovered by the Haganah and a Haganah unit broke into the storage hut where the tunnel opening had been excavated. At the entrance to the tunnel they discovered a land mine, strategically placed to prevent the entry of strangers. One of the unit members, Zeev Werber, was a sapper and tried to dismantle the mine. There was a sudden explosion and he lost his life.
As a result of the explosion in the tunnel, the British conducted thorough searches throughout the neighborhood. Ironically enough, they discovered a large factory producing military materials for the Haganah. This was the way the British repaid the Haganah for preventing the destruction of Bet Hadar.
With isolated exceptions, the Haganah did not succeed in foiling Irgun and Lehi operations against the British, which became increasingly bold and frequent. They did, however, prevent the Irgun from bringing their case before the Yishuv. Haganah units, equipped with truncheons and sometimes firearms, patrolled the streets of towns and villages after dark, with the aim of harassing members of the Irgun who were sticking posters.
"Once the 'harassment' decision was taken, there were numerous incidents of beating-up of Irgun activists. Units were summoned to action from local Field Corps units... persons suspected of contact with the Irgun were sometimes expelled from the neighborhood or the colony where they lived."2
This time, in contrast to the policy during the first 'Season', the Irgun did not exercise self-restraint, and returned blow for blow. The kidnappings and clashes continued for several months and grew worse in August and September 1947. Gravest of all was the order received by Haganah members to hand over the names and addresses of people suspected of membership in the underground to their commanding officers. These lists were open and accessible in private homes and offices, and there was the serious danger that they would fall into the hands of the British police. Even if no explicit instructions were given to deliver lists of suspects to the British, the lists could be discovered during British searches of the homes of Haganah fighters. Thus, suspects sometimes succeeded in evading the Haganah punitive units only to fall into the hands of the British police after all.
One hot August evening in 1947, I was summoned to a meeting of company commanders in Ramat Gan. 'Amitzur' (Bezalel Amitzur), who was then a member of the high Command, surveyed the situation. There were two main subjects on the agenda: the 'Little Season', which had gained momentum, and the discussions of the UN Special Commission (UNSCOP) appointed to examine the Palestine problem and submit recommendations to the Assembly.
Discussion of the 'Little Season' was stormy and continued into the night, since assaults on Irgun members were on the increase and it was time to decide on defensive and retaliatory measures. When the meeting ended, I was asked to stay behind, and after all the others had gone, Amitzur informed me that 'Delek' (the Irgun's intelligence service) had received a list of suspects, on which my name and address appeared. The list had apparently been prepared by the Haganah and had somehow fallen into the hands of the British police. Amitzur also told me that they had decided to transfer me to Jerusalem, where I could hide from both the police and the Haganah Intelligence Service. The next day, I left my home in Ramat Gan and moved to Jerusalem.
My parents had moved from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv when I was five. We used to visit Jerusalem three times a year: during the Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot festivals, thereby observing the ancient pilgrimage tradition. I remembered Jerusalem as a festive city, with people in their best clothes praying at the Western Wall.
I was happy to return to Jerusalem, despite the circumstances. This time I had not come to celebrate, but as a 'refugee' fleeing the British. I had to conduct myself with great caution to avoid being conspicuous. I invented two cover stories to explain my stay in Jerusalem: one for my family and friends and the other for the police. I would tell my family that I had come to study at the Hebrew University, and the British that I had come to stay with my grandparents.
My first step on arrival was to find a suitable place to live and to continue my activity in the Irgun without arousing suspicion. The room would have to be in a quiet neighborhood, where the British presence was not felt. The room should be easily accessible and, more importantly, provide an escape route in times of danger. I refused to take a room offered to me by my commanding officer, since I did not want even my fellow-fighters to know where I lived. Finally, after an intensive search, I found a room, which suited me. It was in the Ahvah quarter, (near Mea Shearim) in the home of Chaya and Yaakov Hoffman - an elderly couple, childless, quiet and warm. The husband was a book-keeper in a religious institution, who in his leisure time studied Torah, while Mrs. Hoffman was a housewife. They had a modest income, and had decided to rent out one of the three rooms in their apartment to bring in a little extra money. I explained to them that my studies at university required a great deal of extra study, which I would do at friends' homes, so I would often return home late. I assured them that I would not invite friends back to my room so as not to disturb them. I moved into their apartment with my few belongings. The room was quite large and furnished with a bed, a small table, two chairs and an old closet. Its great advantage was the door leading to the courtyard, which could serve as an escape route. Ironically enough, the room was very close to my childhood home in the Geula quarter.
The conditions of underground life in Jerusalem were very difficult. It should be recalled that Jerusalem was the capital of British rule, location of the Mandate government offices, the British army headquarters, the CID headquarters and the residence of the High Commissioner. Naturally enough, the city was the arena for underground attacks on British targets. Some of the most daring operations were carried out in Jerusalem. The central CID offices in the city were blown up twice; a whole wing of the King David Hotel, where government and army offices were housed, was destroyed; the Schneller camp was attacked at the height of the martial law imposed on the city etc. As a result of these attacks, the British adopted special security measures, which greatly hampered underground activity. They set up security zones, known popularly as Bevingrads (named after Bevin, the British Minister for foreign Affairs), and surrounded them with high barbed wire fences. There were permanent guards at the gates, and all those going in and out were thoroughly checked and searched. In addition, army and police units patrolled the city, on foot or by vehicle. From time to time, the army closed a section of a street and conducted spot searches of passersby. And as if that were not enough, the British frequently imposed curfews on the entire city from 6:00 pm to 6:00 am.
In addition to these difficulties, Jerusalem had another major drawback. Surrounded by bare hills and hostile Arab villages, it had no suitable hinterland for underground activity, like the abundant orange groves in the center of the country. It was hard to hold meetings in open terrain, since every movement immediately aroused suspicion and the British were liable to arrive swiftly. Meetings were generally held in rooms specially rented for that purpose. To avoid drawing attention to ourselves, we were careful to meet only in small groups and then infrequently. Weapons' training was also held in rented rooms, and restricted to small light arms - revolvers and submachine-guns. For rifle or Bren gun practice, it was necessary to send the fighters to one of the Irgun units on the coastal plain. In military actions in Jerusalem, we used mainly revolvers and submachine-guns; when greater firing power was required, Bren guns were used.
It was very hard for me to adapt to the conditions in Jerusalem, particularly after the relative freedom I had previously enjoyed. Ramat Gan was surrounded by orange groves into which the British rarely ventured. They served as our meeting point, the place from which we set out on military operations, and to which we later returned. There we dug our arms' caches, and the packinghouses served as training centers. We were totally at home in the groves, and at night we moved around without fear of surprise visits from the police or the army. Jerusalem, with its narrow streets and crowded neighborhoods, necessitated far greater caution and stealth, and took a great deal of getting used to.
Since I was not known in Jerusalem, I was given the task of renting new rooms for our meetings, and I found the first of these in the Nachlaot quarter. The room could be reached after walking through the maze of alleyways that characterize the quarter, which meant that it was inaccessible to the motorized British units. The room itself was built on pillars in a closed courtyard, and hence we called it the 'attic'. The owners - simple, pleasant people - lived nearby. We sealed the deal with a handshake and agreed to pay two months rent in advance. We furnished the room with a table with a secret drawer, several chairs and a metal bed covered with a thin woolen blanket. I often used the 'attic' and became friendly with the owners. One autumn day I held a meeting in the 'attic' and afterwards stayed behind to make up some lists. I was absorbed in my work, and did not notice that a curfew had come into effect. I did not want to take unnecessary risks and decided to sleep there. It was a cool night and the thin blanket did not keep me warm. I lay there, shivering, unable to sleep. Suddenly I heard a tap on the door and leapt out of bed, thinking that someone had come to arrest me. Then I heard the voice of my landlady, who was standing outside my door with a large feather quilt. She told me that she had been saving it for her daughter's marriage, and that it had never been used. That night the quilt warmed my bones, whilst my heart was warmed by the concern of this kind and gentlewoman.
One day, as I made my way along a Jerusalem street, I came across a roadblock and was asked by a British soldier to show my identity card. After he had examined it closely, he decided to hand me over to his officer. Though I feared the worst, I tried not to appear nervous. The fact that I was not the only one being sent for further examination reassured me somewhat. The officer asked me what I was doing there, and I told him that I had come to visit my grandparents. He asked me for their name and address and then told me to stand aside and wait. (The other people had meanwhile been released). I was then summoned for further interrogation. This time the questions revolved around the situation in the country, and the officer asked me for my political views and my opinion of the underground movement. I said something noncommittal and then my interrogators held a consultation, watching me to see how I reacted. Finally the officer outlined the gravity of the situation in Jerusalem and advised me to leave the city as soon as possible. I thanked him for his advice, took my identity card and hurried away.
I reported the incident to my superiors the following day and they decided that I should leave the city for a time. Since I was afraid to return to the coastal plain, I decided to join an organized trip to the Negev. We drove along the dirt roads of the Negev, and visited the new Jewish settlements in the region. We also visited the town of Gaza, and on our way back stopped at the Bet Govrin caves. I was enchanted by the vast spaces of the Negev, but the caves made a special impression on me. I thought that if they had been closer to a Jewish settlement, we could have used them to conceal arms and even for training sessions, as our forefathers had probably done when they fought the Romans. The trip helped me to relax and I returned to the city with renewed enthusiasm for underground work.
1. The History Book of the Haganah, volume 3, p.954
2. The History Book of the Haganah, volume 3, p.957