Themes

20/20 HINDSIGHT

 

In this he was aided unwittingly but effectively and lastingly by Begin.

 

The tragedy of the Altalena was the subject of considerable discussion among the people in the Irgun.

 

There was much criticism of Begin, particularly by some of those who had worked in Europe.

 

He had been accused of naivety in that he believed the Government’s acquiescence in the bringing of the boat was sincere.

 

He should have known, they argue, that Ben Gurion would betray him.

 

If this was available naivety, we all shared it.

 

How otherwise would we have sent the boat at all?

 

Everybody in Paris was overjoyed at the news brought by Ben Eliezer of the agreement with the Government.

 

Indeed in this we were more naïve than Begin.

 

WE TOOK IT FOR GRANTED THAT THE PROVISIONAL GOVERNMENT WOULD WELCOME THE BOAT AND ITS CARGO WITH OPEN ARMS.

 

Begin was more cautious.  He insisted on getting their specific approval.

 

Until he had that he even ordered the ship to keep away from the coast.

 

On the shore at Kfar Vitkin, however, he failed in not at once recognizing the fact of Ben Gurion’s betrayal.

 

The shock of the ten-minute ultimatum was surely great.

 

A sudden stab in the back is not conducive to quiet thinking.

 

Its implications however are usually clear.

 

Begin should have realized that he had been trapped, and trapped successfully, by a cunning schemer.

 

I believe that at that revelation there was no alternative but to “surrender.”

 

SURRENDER – FOLLOWED BY A VIGOROUS CAMPAIGN OF PUBLIC ENLIGHTENMENT.

 

Would I, in the emotional circumstances at Kfar Vitkin, have acted differently from Begin?

 

I don not know.  Maybe I would have made the same blunder.

 

It was a blunder.

 

Begin’s succumbing to the proposal that he board the boat and sail off to Tel Aviv, is also understandable only in the light of the shock to which he was subjected.

 

He could not of course be expected to suspect Ben Gurion of trying to have him killed.

 

By boarding the boat he at once put himself off from all possible channels of influence and communication, and exposed himself formally as resistant to the Army.

 

As in every frame-up the surface evidence was on the side of the framer.

 

By boarding the boat Begin also provided Ben Gurion with the final element necessary for the success of the plot.

 

IT WAS PURE CHANCE, AFTER ALL, THAT BEGIN WAS NOT KILLED AND, FOR A WHILE AT LEAST, DEPICTED AS HAVING “LED” AN “ARMED REBELLION.”

 

          *        *        *

 

Unfortunately when all was over and it was possible at least to tell the people the whole truth, this was done in such a manner as to nullify its effect.

 

Begin came off the boat (and) went to the microphone.

 

AFTER THE TERRIBLE EVENTS OF THE TWO DAYS, WITH THE ALTALENA AND ALL IT MEANT BURNING TO DEATH, WITH SIXTEEN OF HIS YOUNG COMRADES DEAD AND SCORES WOUNDED, HIS HEART BURSTING WITH SORROW AND WITH BITTERNESS, EXHAUSTED PHYSICALLY AND HIS NERVES STRAINED TO BREAKING-POINT, BEGIN DID NOT SEEK REST.

 

He was obsessed with one thought.

 

The truth must be published.

 

THE PEOPLE MUST BE TOLD, SO THAT THEY COULD AT LEAST KNOW THE MAGNITUDE OF THE CRIME THAT HAD BEEN COMMITTED NOT ONLY AGAINST THE IRGUN BUT AGAINST THE SECURITY OF THE PEOPLE.

 

There was indeed a shattering story to be told.

 

What Begin did not realize was that he was himself in no fit state to tell it.

 

Insofar as the object of the broadcast was to enlighten the people, to mobilize their support, it was a disastrous performance.

 

The speech was long.

 

It was ill-prepared.

 

Begin’s voice broke.

 

He wept.

 

To many he sounded incoherent.

 

Who can blame him for weeping?

 

Who, after such an ordeal, would have retained complete self-control?

 

But why could he not have sent somebody else to the microphone?

 

          “There are times” writes Begin in The Revolt “when the choice is between blood and tears.  Sometimes … it is essential that blood should take the place of tears.  Sometimes, as the Altalena taught us, it is essential that tears should take the place of blood.”

 

There is however another alternative.

 

At least in public: neither blood nor tears.

 

Nearly fifteen years earlier, at the height of the Stavksy blood-libel campaign, Jabotinsky had written a article that gave incisive expression to the nature of leadership in crisis.

 

It was an article that none of us who followed Jabotinsky, and maybe many others, will ever forget.

 

Begin too.

 

It was called Kalt Un FestCool and Firm.

 

          *        *        *

 

*The result was that Ben Gurion’s victory was, for a while, complete.

 

Moreover, many in the population who, earlier hostile, had since the conquest of Jaffa and the integration of the Irgun in the Army begun to see in Begin a political star which in the peace they might follow, unjustly yet understandably took flight at his emotionalism.

 

They did not know that it was the second time in his adult life that he had wept.




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