The day after our ineffectual attempt to breach the walls of the Old City, I felt very depressed. I went with Nurit to the Valley of the Cross and told her what had happened during the attack on New Gate. As I spoke, I could not help feeling that we had forfeited an historic opportunity to liberate the City of David. My instincts told me that the failure had not stemmed from military weakness, but at that point I had no idea what had been going on behind the scenes. The course of the fighting suggested some guiding force had prevented us from entering the Old City and advancing according to plan. Regrettably, it was impossible to turn the clock back.
With the beginning of the 'second truce', the war in Jerusalem came to an end. There was sporadic shelling and shooting, even fatalities and casualties, but fighting was not renewed. Life in the Irgun battalion became a routine of inactivity and a sense of the purposelessness of our independent existence crept in. I had a strange sense of injustice - whereas during the siege days we had suffered a shortage of weapons and been forced to confine ourselves to defensive action, now, when we had a large amount of modern weapons, we were sitting idle.
Physical and emotional exhaustion had also taken their toll, and I decided that the time had come to take a short furlough. My request to journey to the coastal plain was approved and, in accordance with the arrangement with the IDF authorities in Jerusalem, I received a permit allowing me to join a military convoy setting out for Tel Aviv. (It should be recalled that in those days residents of Jerusalem were not permitted to leave the city except by special permit from the office of the Military Governor).
We traveled by military bus via the Burma Road, now improved beyond recognition. The steep sandy hill, which had been impassable even by jeeps, was now covered with an iron grid, and the bus passed over it without difficulty. The stones had been removed and the journey was smooth. The Engineering Corps had worked day and night to prepare the road for vehicular traffic and deserved every commendation for their hard and efficient work.
As the bus headed for Tel Aviv, I tried to imagine the meeting with my family in Ramat Gan: who would open the door, who would I meet, how would my father and mother look after five long months? Before long we reached the Latrun-Masmiyeh road and proceeded towards Kibbutz Hulda. We halted by the check post and a soldier boarded the bus to check our furlough passes. Finally the trials of the journey were over and we reached Tel Aviv, covered with a fine white dust thrown up from the untarred road. From Bet Hadar (where the army offices were located) I made my way to Ramat Gan.
My mother, unaware that I was coming, opened the door and embraced me with tears of joy in her eyes. My father arrived later - he had volunteered to transport officers and soldiers on duty. My older sister Rivka was serving in the Transport Corps and my brother Aryeh in the Givati Brigade. That evening I stayed home and tried to answer all their questions. On Saturday I accompanied my father to synagogue and with great emotion we recited the Benediction on Deliverance together.
The next day I visited Tel Aviv, lively and refreshingly untainted by the travails of war. The streets were busy, cafes and restaurants crammed with people and the shops filled with produce. Apart from the presence of uniformed soldiers, the signs of war were entirely absent from the city. Jerusalem, hungry and attacked, lacking light and running water, seemed unreal and remote.
Whenever I said that I had come from Jerusalem, I was greeted royally. Everyone tried to help, even financially. The Government had just exchanged the Mandatory banknotes for Israeli currency. The public, doubting the value of paper money, was hoarding coins in the event that the value of the metal would rise above the currency value. Coins had virtually disappeared from circulation and sales-people in shops were refusing to give change in small coins. I was in an embarrassing situation, since I had only paper money. However, the moment I said that I had just arrived from Jerusalem, people's attitude changed. In one case, a cafe-owner refused to take any money, saying that this was his way of acknowledging the debt he owed to those who had suffered in Jerusalem. In another case, the salesman took some silver coins out of a hiding place and gave them to me in case I needed them.
One of the cafes on the promenade had been converted into a club for Irgun fighters. There, in an atmosphere of great excitement, I met friends from my Ramat Gan days. While I was chatting, Shmulik Krushinevsky, who had just returned from the Gilgil detention camp in Kenya, suddenly appeared. He had gained weight and told us that because of the balanced diet and abundant rest, he had succeeded in recovering from the malaria he had caught while in hiding. I also met my friend and comrade Yosef Kinderlerer (Yaldor) in the beach cafe. He had belonged to an Irgun battalion sent by the IDF command to Ashdod to check the advance of the Egyptian army towards Tel Aviv. (This battalion was later attached to the Givati brigade). Yosef had been wounded in battle and our meeting took place several days after he was released from hospital.
The most emotional meeting, however, was with Menahem Begin, Commander of the Irgun. Begin, who had just emerged from the underground, headed a new party: the Herut Movement, and was busy preparing for the first general elections. The offices of the movement were located in Yehuda Halevi Street, in rooms, which had been the Irgun HQ before the organization was disbanded. Begin's office was on the top floor and the entrance to his room was from a side room leading to a balcony. The office itself was modestly furnished - a simple writing desk, a few chairs and shelves crowded with books.
This was the first time that I had met the Irgun Commander face to face. When I entered the room, Begin was leaning over his table, writing. He was wearing spectacles, had grown a thick moustache and was smoking. He rose to greet me, shook my hand warmly, embraced me and invited me to sit down. He warmly praised our stand in the bitter fighting in Jerusalem and asked me to tell him about the battle of Ramat Rachel. Then we talked about the future of the Jerusalem battalion. Begin asserted that as long as there was danger of the internationalization of Jerusalem, the battalion should be maintained. He believed that the presence of Irgun forces in the city would deter the UN from turning Jerusalem into an international zone. I explained that the men were now idle and that it would be difficult to prolong this situation. I added that it was worth considering the disbanding of the battalion and arranging for it to join the IDF. At the end of the meeting, as I was about to leave the room, Begin told me that he had been deeply impressed by the orderliness of my company during his visit to Jerusalem (the visit had taken place while I was on vacation in Tel Aviv). I was happy to accept the compliment, although was rather surprised. Only on my return to Jerusalem did I discover that the company clerk had organized the office in my absence - and then I too was deeply impressed.
During my absence there had been personnel changes in the senior command in Jerusalem, both in the IDF and in the Irgun. Moshe Dayan had been appointed commander of the Etzioni Brigade in place of David Shaltiel; and in the Irgun, Raanan had asked to be released from his post and been replaced as District Commander by Avinoam (Yitzhak Avinoam-Yagnes), who had returned from lengthy detention in Africa. (Avinoam had been Commander of the Jerusalem district in the underground days and was arrested by the British together with his deputy, Shmuel Tamir).
In the battalion, and particularly among the officers, the atmosphere was gloomy. Inactivity and uncertainty as to the future caused great frustration. The difficult economic situation of the married men among us also left its mark. It was clear that we could not remain idle for long. Shmuel (Muki) Katz, the senior officer in Jerusalem, argued that we should disband the battalion, and divert the limited financial resources to preparations for the general elections. Negotiations were then underway with Yitzhak Greenboim (Minister of the Interior) for the integration of the Irgun in Jerusalem into the IDF framework. However, concomitantly with these negotiations, Ben-Gurion was holding secret discussions with Moshe Dayan on the disbanding of the Irgun by force and the enlistment of the battalion fighters into the IDF as individuals. From his discussions with Dayan, Ben-Gurion discovered that:1
[...] Among our soldiers in the city there are 15% who support them (i.e. the Irgun) - namely, would not obey any order to fire at them. Some might even support them in practice. There are also suspects in the military police. Moshe Dayan believes that it would be advisable to send military policemen here from Tel Aviv...Moshe thinks that the Jerusalem forces would not act against the Irgun. Not only because there are numerous relatives, but also because up to now they have operated together as a result of the agreement.... Even the senior command does not understand why we should not operate together with the Irgun. I asked Moshe what kind of force would be required - would it be necessary to use force? Moshe thinks that two battalions would be needed (from outside Jerusalem, with an armored force in the two battalions, with their commanding officers).
At the height of the negotiations with Greenboim, when settlement seemed close, we heard about military preparations to attack the battalion and disband the Irgun by force. I was summoned to an emergency meeting at battalion HQ, where it was decided to fortify the camp area and make all the necessary preparations to repel the attack. According to Shmuel Katz, these preparations were made for deterrent purposes, and everything possible would be done to avoid fraternal strife. I was not in favor of these developments and feared that if shooting began, the senior command would lose control of the situation. After the meeting I stayed behind for a tete a tete with Shimshon (Natan Germant), battalion Commanding Officer, and asked to be released from the imminent clash with the IDF. Shimshon understood my feelings, and we agreed that after preparing the fortified positions, I would be granted furlough and could go to Tel Aviv again.
I summed up: the Intelligence Service will examine the staff officers and the commanders. No one under suspicion will remain in a key position, at the center of information or in a unit, which deals with the Irgun. The military police will be replaced; the police will be checked to exclude anyone who takes bribes as well as Irgun supporters. Someone will be sent from the general staff to draw up a plan of action and assess the force and equipment required.
In the end, the battalion was not attacked (perhaps the preparations did in fact serve as a deterrent), and the negotiations with Greenboim were concluded. The final document was satisfactory to the provisional government, which had demanded the disbanding of the Irgun as an independent body, and was in line with the principles underlying the Irgun's continued existence in Jerusalem. The main clauses were as follows:2
* The Irgun was to disband and its fighters would enlist in the IDF.
* Irgun units were to remain intact within the IDF.
* Irgun units would not be sent outside Jerusalem.
* The oath of allegiance taken by each soldier would require him to serve in Jerusalem and nowhere else.
* These conditions were to remain valid as long as Jerusalem was under Jewish rule.
Yitzhak Greenboim submitted these points to the government for discussion, but did not succeed in winning a majority for his proposals. The Prime Minister objected to agreement with the Irgun and demanded that it disband and its members enlist in the IDF unconditionally. He did not rule out the use of force to disband the Irgun. Greenboim, who feared a civil war, threatened to resign from the government if it decided to use force against the Irgun. When several ministers came out in support of him, the Prime Minister proposed postponing further discussion and decision-making to another meeting.3 In the interim, however, several Lehi members (calling themselves the 'Homeland Front') assassinated the UN mediator Count Folke Bernadotte, seen as a pawn of the British, and the situation changed dramatically. With hindsight it can be said that the assassination led to the liquidation of the Irgun in Jerusalem.
1. Ben-Gurion's Diary, The War of Independence, p.644
2. Shmuel Katz, Day of Fire, p.446
3. Shlomo Nakdimon, Altalena, p.404-413