Themes

EZEKIEL 13:

 

“You have not gone up into the gaps or breeches, nor built up the wall or the house of Israel that it might stand in the battle in the day of the Lord.”

 

“Because, even because they have seduced My people, saying, Peace, when there is no peace, and because when one builds a flimsy wall, behold, these prophets daub it over with whitewash.”

 

“… who prophesied deceitfully about Jerusalem, seeing visions of peace for her when there is no peace …”

 

“… who prophesy out of the wishful thinking of their own minds and hearts …”

 

“Because with lies you have made the righteous sad and disheartened, whom I have not made sad or disheartened, and because you have encouraged and strengthened the hands of the wicked …”

 

          *        *        *

 

(from Shmuel Katz’s memoirs)

 

The drama of the Altalena began that last week in March.

 

On the 25th Dr. Ariel, in the name of the Irgun, handed in to the French Foreign Ministry a memorandum proposing a secret agreement between us and the French Government.

 

It outlined the common interest, on which such an agreement would be based, “between France and a Hebrew Palestine as the Irgun envisages it.”

 

The Irgun, for its part, could offer only future goodwill in return for the practical help we proposed France should accord us.

 

We had two specific immediate requirements.

 

***We asked that France provide “the necessary facilities for the organization of a base for training and, for the time being, for concentrating one brigade in its metropolitan or colonial territory.”

 

***We asked that she provide “the armament and the supplies necessary for the modern equipment of two infantry brigades.”  “One of these” said the memorandum “is in Palestine.  The other will be concentrated in French territory and should reach Palestine about 15 May.”

 

This memorandum was the culminating set in the diplomatic campaign Ariel had for two years been waging in a number of departments of the French Government.

 

His unfortunate suspension at the end of 1946 from his post in the Irgun had not discouraged him.  He had, too, been invited in the meantime to work for the Hebrew Committee of National Liberation.  As they built up the French branch of their League for a Fee Palestine they were well served by Ariel’s excellent political connections.  His personal relations with the Irgun officers had also not been impaired.  Lankin and Eli were both in friendly touch with him.

 

ARIEL MAINTAINED A LIVELY CONTACT PARTICULARLY WITH THE MINISTRY OF THE INTERIOR WHERE, TOGETHER WITH MADAME VAYDE, HE OBTAINED PERMISSION, OVER THE PERIOD OF THEIR ACTIVITY, FOR MORE THAN TWENTY THOUSAND “DISPLACED PERSONS” TO ENTER FRANCE.

 

During the tensions surrounding the Exodus 1947 at Prot de Bouc in the summer of 1947, Marc Pages, Head of the Aliens Department in the Ministry (and – as far as I can ascertain – the first senior French official to respond to the Irgun thesis of the common interest propounded by Ariel) and his assistant Francois Rousseau, warned Ariel of a tendency in the Jewish Agency to succumb to British pressure and debark the passengers.

 

Ariel, accompanied by Eri Jabotinsky, went post-haste to press the Haganah officer responsible for operations in Europe, Shaul Meiroy, against such surrender, and to convey the strongly-held French official opinion on the subject.

 

Towards the end of 1947 Lankin had restored Ariel’s status as the Irgun’s diplomatic representative.

 

WITH THE DIRE DEVELOPMENTS IN PALESTINE AND OUR DESPERATE LACK OF MATERIAL, ARIEL LOST NO TIME IN PRESSING UPON HIS CONTACTS IN THE FRENCH ADMINISTRATION THE PROFOUND IMPORTANCE TO FRANCE THAT THE JEWS REPEL THE ARAB ONSLAUGHT, AND THE VITAL NEED FOR IMMEDIATE HELP.

 

At last, on 23 March, Jacques Boissier, Charge de Mission in the office of the Foreign Minister, proposed that Ariel set down the proposal in writing for the Minister.

 

On 27 March, the day I arrived in Paris, Boissier wrote Ariel that he had communicated the memorandum to the Minister who “would no doubt study it and discuss it with his colleagues.”

 

TEN WEEKS LATER THE FRENCH GOVERNMENT GAVE US THE ARMS WHICH WERE LOADED ON THE ALTALENA.

 

The Altalena was an American L.S.T. (Landing Ship Tank) bought from the Second World War surpluses by the Hebrew Committee.

 

They had intended it for a further essay in Aliyah B.

 

WITH THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE ARAB ATTACK THEY HAD ACQUIESCED IN THE IRGUN REQUEST TO HOLD THE BOAT FOR THE GRAND DESIGN WE HAD LONG HARBORED: TO BRING TO THE SHORES OF PALESTINE A CONTINGENT OF FIGHTERS FROM EUROPE, TOGETHER WITH AS LARGE A CONSIGNMENT OF ARMS AND AMMUNITION AND SUPPLIES AS THE BOAT COULD CARRY.

 

In deed it was in recognition of this design that the boat had been given its name: Altalena was the pseudonym used in his early writings by Jabotinsky.

 

Manned by Jewish American volunteers, the boat had now arrived in European waters.

 

The crew were ready to continue the voyage eastward and thus make their contribution to the defense of the Jewish State.

 

We could not give the order to sail before the second week of May, the eve of the British departure.

 

The Irgun was in any event not ready for them.

 

We certainly had not the arms.

 

Sadly Lankin had persuaded them to “fill in” their wait by sailing the Altalena as a cargo boat on the short run between Marseilles and the North African ports.

 

Their current cargo was potatoes.

 

          *        *        *

 

On the day of 14 May 1948 the Altalena was still carrying potatoes from Marseilles to Casablanca.




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