Themes

CONCLUSIONS FROM THE ALTALENA

 

On my return, and for months afterwards, I made as compulsive a study as could be made of the events surrounding the Altalena in Israel.

 

The physical facts (in spite of the strange distortions to which they were subjected) are hardly disputable.

 

I mulled over them, correlated them with what I knew in my own direct experience, and reached a conclusion which no later reconsideration had been able to alter in my mind.

 

From the moment it became clear the Begin was personally on the spot, he became the TARGET OF THE BULLETS AND THE SHELLS.

 

There is no other rational explanation of the astonishing, the murderous, and in the end, barbarous, behaviour of the Army.

 

What other objective was there that could justify the destruction of a ship and a quantity of war material that might, for all Ben Gurion knew, be sufficient to turn the scales on the resumption of the hard and bloody battles?

 

WHERE SO MUCH HAD BEEN ENDANGERED AND SO MUCH BLOOD LOST FOR LACK OF ARMS, A TRULY MAJOR REASON HAD TO EXIST FOR THE ACT OF DESTRUCTION IN WHICH BEN GURION WILLFULLY AND INFLEXIBLY INDULGED THAT DAY.

 

(A deputation of mayors that came to plead with him to open negotiations were rebuffed at the very moment that the big gun began firing.)

 

Could it be the boat itself whose destruction was required in order to win the war and establish Israel’s independence?

 

Could it be the houses on the sea-front and their inhabitants (all of whom were endangered by the explosion of the ammunition in the burning ship) that needed to be destroyed?

 

Only the people on the Altalena remain as the rational target whose destruction was worth the loss and the risk involved. 

 

Yet the thirty or forty men on board the Altalena when she arrived off Tel Aviv were all unknown, anonymous to those on shore.

 

OF ALL OF THEM THE IDENTITY OF ONE ALONE WAS KNOWN FOR CERTAIN TO BEN GURION, AND THAT WAS BEGIN.

 

In May 1948 the Irgun was at a peak of popularity which no opposition in Palestine had ever attained.

 

The mounting recognition both of their courage of its soldiers and its political perspicacity had been brought to a climax by the attack on Jaffa and its capture.

 

Admiration and sympathy had been given sharper focus by the ugly schadenfreudex with which the enemies of the Irgun had greeted the failure of its initial assault on the town.

 

To a professional politician popularity is measurable in votes at an election.

 

*Given peace, an election would have to be held within a few brief months of the end of the war.

 

Here then, perhaps no more than five or six months before the test of elections, was the prospective leader of the opposition on the crest of a billowing wave of popularity.

 

The danger inherent in such popularity was undoubtedly obvious to the wily politician in Ben Gurion.

 

Begin, as it happened, (for good or ill) was not thinking of elections.

 

Now, as Ben Gurion saw it, came the Irgun with its arms in such quantity as might as well influence strongly the course of the war in Israel’s favor.

 

Overnight the legend would be born that at the crucial moment of arms shortage Begin and the Irgun had saved the situation.

 

(This would have been unfair, for the Provisional Government both before and during the truce had been receiving substantial quantities of arms, mainly from Czechoslovakia; but this the public did not know.)

 

***Who knows what effect this might not have on the balances of forces in an election to be held soon after the war?

 

In May and June 1948 Ben Gurion had not yet been cast in the image of Architect-of-the-State-and-of-victory which, with Stalinistic comprehensiveness, his army of propagandists (he himself not least among them) later succeeded in building up.

 

In June 1948 the thought of a second and competing image was highly realistic and could only have been most oppressive to Ben Gurion.

 

Suddenly the Irgun presented him with the weapon by which this threat could be literally liquidated.

 

Unbelievably, moreover, Begin, patently remote from all such calculation, exposed himself to the simplest and most effective of all political campaigns: the rattle of the machine-gun.




<<< Back To Index