During our basic training we used to meet on two evenings a week and on Saturday morning. At the evening meetings we held discussions in which our commander instilled in us something of the ethos of the underground. He told us about the development of the Irgun, the breach of Havlagah on November 14, 1937, and about the heroes of the organisation. We were deeply impressed by Yaakov Raz, who had been caught by Arabs while carrying a disguised bomb in the market near the Nablus Gate in Jerusalem. Arabs had stabbed him and whilst still bleeding, he had been seized by the police and taken under heavy guard to the government hospital. There he was interrogated by the British police. When he felt that his strength was running out, and feared that he might lose control and inadvertently give away underground secrets, he tore off his bandages and died of loss of blood.
The main subject discussed at our first meetings was clandestine conduct, the rules of conspiracy and confidentiality. One of the most important rules was to know only what was essential, so that even if severely tortured, we could confess only the little that we knew. We were taught not to arrive at a meeting place in groups and to use only code names. The most important thing was to observe normal behaviour and to assume that all our conversations were being overheard. We learned the difference between a provocateur infiltrated into the ranks, and an informer who listened 'innocently' to extract secrets.
After several meetings, our commander tested our ability to cope with fear. We met on Mount Napoleon near Ramat Gan, in one of the hollows dug by archaeologists. Each of us was required to make his way alone to the Seven Mills on the Yarkon River, ten minutes away, to buy a portion of felafel in the neighboring Arab village of Jamusin. It was a quiet village and the people were friendly, but to walk alone at night through the orange groves, far from any Jewish settlement, scared even the bravest among us. Our commander taught us Avraham Stern's poem 'Nameless Soldiers,' the anthem of the Irgun before it was replaced by Jabotinsky's Betar song. The falafel feast and singing created a spirit of camaraderie and bonding between us.
At our Saturday meetings we drilled and learned topography. To add a practical element to our studies, we explored the neighborhood and did field exercises. The tours of exploration were led by Aharon Shohat, commanding officer of the 'gunda' (platoon consisting of several units), who accompanied our exercises with Betar marching songs. Although we very much enjoyed the field exercises, we were disappointed not to be learning about weapons. I discovered later that the reason for this was simply that there were not sufficient pistols in Ramat Gan to train the new recruits. Instead we did target-practice with air guns in the Betar youth movement hut near the main road (now Jabotinsky Street), close to the Betar football field. In order not to arouse suspicion, we posed as enthusiastic Betarites, making as much noise as we could during firing practice to conceal what we were doing.
When we had completed our six months of basic training, we were tested at an impressive ceremony. One by one we were brought into a room where three commanders sat around a table covered with the national flag, a pistol and the Bible. The examination proceeded with questions related to the material I had studied, and continued with issues of Irgun ideology and my readiness to take part in Irgun operations. The tense atmosphere at the outset gradually receded, as the interrogation became more of a conversation. By the end of the meeting, we were rank-and-file Irgun members.
The first task assigned to us was to paste placards on buildings. The logistics were by no means simple. First, we had to find a place where we could mix the glue, then find the spare time and a suitable method of avoiding discovery and identification. Yosef Kinderlerer solved the glue problem: adjacent to his home an isolated building housed a bookbinder's workshop whose owner, Zalman Tzivlin, we knew and sometimes helped out. He was known to sypathise with the underground and agreed without question to our request to boil up starch and water on his premises. We generally went out in threes on pasting-missions: one in charge of the glue and the brush, the second with a parcel of placards and the third as lookout. Sometimes, when the workload was particularly heavy, we went out in pairs instead of threes. We had to be on our guard all the time. On one occasion, towards the end of a long operation, our attention momentarily lapsed. Suddenly two policemen, an Englishman and a Jew, emerged from a courtyard and walked towards us. We fled, just managing to leap onto a passing bus with the police in hot pursuit.
We soon became highly skilful placard gluers and strategists, careful to modify our route each time to prevent ambush. One placard, issued on February 1, 1944, the day on which the Irgun declared a revolt against British rule in Palestine, particularly impressed us. The placard was large and printed in blue, and read, in part: 1
To the Jewish people dwelling in Zion!
[...] Sons of Israel, Jewish youth!
We are now in the last stage of the war. We face an historic decision on our future destiny.
The armistice proclaimed at the beginning of the war has been breached by the British. The rulers of the country have chosen to disregard loyalty, concessions and sacrifice; they continue to implement their aim: the eradication of sovereign Zionism...
We will draw our conclusions unwaveringly. An armistice no longer prevails between the Jewish people and Jewish youth and the British administration in Palestine, which is handing over our brethren to Hitler. We are at war with this administration, war to the bitter end...
And this is our demand!
Power will immediately be handed over to a provisional Jewish government...
The establishment of a Jewish government and the implementation of its plans - this is the sole way of rescuing our people, ensuring our survival and our honor...
Our fighting youth will not shrink from sacrifice and from suffering, from blood and affliction. They will neither succumb nor rest until we renew our past glory, and promise our people a homeland, liberty, honor, bread and justice...
Irgun Zvai Leumi
The first Irgun actions were limited in scope, it having been decided that as long as the war against Hitler continued, attacks would be directed only against the civil administration in Palestine and not against the British military. The first assault was launched at the Immigration Office, and thereafter at the Income Tax offices. These operations, directed solely against property, were carried out in the three large cities simultaneously (Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa). The Irgun's next targets were the Intelligence Service, the CID (Criminal Investigation Department) centers in the three cities. The objective of these attacks was two-fold: to undermine the prestige of the Mandate government and to destroy the files of Jewish suspects.
After the wave of arrests, which followed these actions, it was decided to expand the ranks of the fighting units. My unit was consequently transferred from the HATAM (Revolutionary Propaganda Unit) to the HOK (Fighting Force). We were very proud of this redeployment, since we were finally to take part in the fighting operations of the Irgun and could leave placard pasting to others. We were assigned a new commander, "Yehoyada" (Yeshayahu Aviam-Kleiman) from Bnei Brak, who had considerable battle experience. My first task in the HOK was to stand guard for a unit, which was cleaning weapons after the attack on the Beit Dagan police station. It was the first time that I had been entrusted with a loaded pistol, and I was ordered to use it in the event that the police arrived. This was a heavy responsibility and one that carried the risk of arrest and imprisonment. I stood in the orange grove, alert to every rustle among the trees and after about half an hour, Yehoyada called me inside to see the boys in action. It was a small packing house at the end of one of the Bnei Brak orange groves, known by the code name 'Sheinkin' . The windows were covered with sacking (to prevent the light from escaping) and on the floor were weapons, mainly revolvers and several submachine-guns. There were also grenades and explosives. The atmosphere was cheerful as people related stories about the attack on Bet Dagan. As I listened, gazing at the heap of weapons, I suddenly realised that I felt I had become an organic part of the Fighting Force.
I took a more active role in the next operation, held several days later. Because of the war, foodstuffs and various other commodities were under government control and rationed. The Irgun command decided to confiscate some cloth which the government was storing in Tel Aviv and to sell it on the free market to finance the struggle which was daily becoming more costly. The operation was planned for a Friday afternoon, when the Nahlat Benjamin Street area, where the stores were located, was empty of people. On October 6, 1944, during the intermediate days of the Feast of Tabernacles (Succot), a unit of the Fighting Force took over the stores. The fighters took all the cloth and loaded it onto seven trucks, which had been confiscated that day. Each of the truck drivers had been hired that morning, ostensibly for a routine job. Once outside town, an Irgun member ordered the driver to abandon the vehicle and wait in a nearby orange grove. The drivers were told to report the theft to the police in the evening, and were promised that the vehicles would be returned after the operation. Everything went according to plan. Most of the drivers co-operated and were compensated for loss of income. My task was to direct some of the trucks to a large building, which had been prepared in advance in Ramat Gan. It was a packing house in one of the orange groves near Mount Napoleon. The Arab guard received a generous sum from us to place the storehouse at our disposal. Since the citrus season had not yet begun, there was no danger that the owners of the grove or other unexpected visitors would arrive. The Arab guard was cautioned that if he told the police about our activities, he would be severely punished. When the trucks arrived at the rendezvous, I directed them to a dirt track leading to the store. We immediately began unloading the goods, but soon discovered that portering is not the easiest of occupations. After completing the job, we locked the store and I kept hold of the key.
Several days later I went off to school one morning as usual. En route I happened to meet one of the teachers, Yisrael Artzi, and we continued the journey together. Arriving at school, my friend Yosef informed me that I was to go immediately to the storehouse, where a customer was interested in buying the cloth. The customer, a shrewd businessman, examined the cloth and classified it by quality and size. He had recently arrived from Poland and, as he worked, he set certain lengths of cloth aside, mumbling to himself in Yiddish:
"This will make a good suit for my wife, and this one for my mother-in-law."
When I saw that he was procrastinating, I whispered that he should hurry before the police arrived. My urging bore fruit, and two hours later I was back at school, behaving as if nothing had happened. During one of the lessons, Artzi came into the classroom, and began to read out names from the register. When he reached my name, he peered at me and asked why I was recorded as having been absent from the first two lessons. I gazed at him with an innocent expression and reminded him that we had walked to school together. The 'mistake' was rectified.
This was the first action in which I took an active part; nobody in the organization would have dreamt that it would be the last in a series of operation, which had begun in February 1944. The organization was facing a six-month's lull following the assassination of Lord Moyne.
1. Begin, In The Underground, 1, p.21