After our forces had withdrawn from Deir Yassin , I was appointed commander of the Etz Hayim base in place of Giora, who had been wounded. The base was located at the entrance to Jerusalem, close to the Etz Hayim yeshiva, in two unfinished buildings. One of them, which was still in the early stages of construction, consisted of a cellar, ground floor and an additional, uncompleted story. On the ground floor was a large hall, which served as a dining hall and meeting place, and several rooms used by the base senior staff. The second building was nearer completion, and its three storys housed the sleeping area of the troops and officers. A large area in front of the building was used as a parade ground and parking lot. In the courtyard there was a large water cistern, which served the entire neighborhood during the protracted siege of Jerusalem.
In discussing the lessons to be learned from the battle of Deir Yassin, it was universally agreed that one of our greatest disadvantages had been lack of experience in fighting on open terrain. At the base we therefore concentrated on intensive daytime and night time field training. It should be recalled that the struggle against the British was conducted under difficult underground conditions, and that the Irgun had no opportunities for field training. The struggle until now had not entailed open warfare, and our small-scale forays and skirmishes had been brief and taken place in built-up areas. Units usually consisted of not more than a dozen or so fighters, who completed their mission within minutes and withdrew before large British reinforcements arrived.
We were training in preparation for the anticipated invasion of the country by Arab armies after the end of the Mandate. There were only forty fighters stationed at the base; other groups came for short periods of training and then returned home, since we lacked the funds and technical possibilities to keep more personnel permanently at the base.
I tried very hard to establish a routine, and to instill discipline and order, but my task was not easy. Living conditions were primitive and supplies were very limited. The fighters were not issued uniforms and brought their own clothes from home. There were no laundry facilities or showers; thus, furloughs were relatively frequent to enable the fighters to take advantage of home comforts. Several of them had no relatives in Jerusalem, and I would accompany them once a week to the Turkish baths in Nachlaot . Later, when the baths were closed down for lack of water, we bathed in the spring in the abandoned Arab village of Lifta. The village was in no-mans-land and we always took our weapons with us: while one group bathed, the other stood guard.
After the occupation of Deir Yassin, the supply situation at the base improved greatly. It transpired that the village was very prosperous, and large amounts of food (sacks of flour, cans of oil, beans etc) were transferred to the Irgun's central supply depot at the Betar club in the Bnei Brit quarter. The tricky task of running the depot fell to Gandhi (Levi Yitzhak Brandwein) who, despite the shortages, succeeded in supplying essential foodstuffs to the various bases. He ran the depot with a firm hand and great efficiency, and it is thanks to him that we were never short of food during the siege.
In addition to the stock of food, we also took a flock of goats and some poultry from Deir Yassin. Fortunately, one of the fighters at the base knew something about goats and took the flock out to pasture every morning.
I also found poultry 'expert', and each morning we conducted a 'head-count' to make sure that none of our hens had disappeared overnight. We decided that the poultry-run would be dedicated to feeding the wounded, and we daily sent chickens to the Hahlamah hospital in Bartenura Street in Kiryat Shmuel. It was located in an abandoned apartment, which had been converted into a hospital several days before the Deir Yassin action.
Later, as the number of wounded increased, the Hahlamah hospital moved to Villa Agion on the corner of Balfour and Smolenskin streets, in the former Mandate security area. When the Agion family evacuated the house, the British took it over as the residence of General Barker, Commander in Chief of British forces in Palestine. When the British left, Mrs Agion handed the keys to Mrs. Rivlin, who was particularly devoted to the wounded and turned the beautiful villa into a hospital. (Years later, when the Israeli Government moved to Jerusalem, the building was purchased by the Government and served as the official residence first of the Foreign Minister and then of the Prime Minister. Ironically, the building which had once been the residence of General Barker, fierce foe of the underground, became at first a hospital for underground fighters and later the residence of former Irgun Commander in Chief, Menahem Begin, when he was elected Prime Minister in 1977).