Themes

BEN GURION’S DISTORTIONS ABOUT THE ALTALENA

 

How did Ben Gurion explain his actions?

 

THE TRUTH IS THAT HE DID NOT EVER REALLY EXPLAIN HIS ACTIONS.

 

ALL CALLS FOR AN INQUIRY MADE IN THOSE VERY DAYS BY MEMBERS OF THE PROVISIONAL NATIONAL COUNCIL WERE TURNED DOWN BY BEN GURION’S COMPLACENT MAJORITY.

 

He applied the tactic perfected in the totalitarian states and embodied in the formula “the prisoner was killed while trying to escape.”

 

Much later it might be discovered that the prisoner was in fact being held without rhyme or reason and that he had simply been shot in the back in his sleep.

 

This revelation would by then be of little use to the prisoner, except that still later he might be declared a martyr.

 

***What Ben Gurion told the National Council and what Galili told the Press during the Altalena operation and in the day or two thereafter consisted of a sprinkling of surface facts in a dish of unabashed lies, evasions and omission.

 

It was true that the Irgun had brought the ship.

 

It was true that there was a truce on between Israel and the Arabs.

It was true that the terms of the truce prohibited the bringing of arms.

 

It was true that the Irgun had not accepted the ultimatum at Kfar Vitkin.

It was true that the ship had sailed from Kfar Vitkin to Tel Aviv. 

 

It was also true that the ship had fired at the army in Tel Aviv.

 

This sprinkling of facts was mixed into the official version vociferously proclaimed by Ben Gurion, soberly argued by Galili.

 

It ran roughly as follows:

 

          Suddenly one fine morning the Irgun brought an arms ship.  Nobody was told about it.  Obviously it was part of a conspiracy against the Government and it flouted the U.N. truce conditions.  The Provisional Government naturally could not tolerate either the threat to itself or the breach of the truce regulations.  It demanded that the boat and its contents be handed over – so that they could be placed under U.N. control.  The Irgun refused to do so.  It obviously meant to arm its members for the purpose of holding the Government to ransom.  At this point too an Irgun contingent gathered on the beach at Kfar Vitkin and opened mortar fire on the army; and the Altalena left Kfar Vitkin, evaded two corvettes and escaped towards Tel Aviv, where she beached opposite Frishman Street.  Here the Irgun was again ordered to hand over the ship and its arms.  They refused.  There was nothing left for the Government but to destroy the ship.  The ship, said Ben Gurion, was bringing ruin to Israel.

 

“Blessed be the gun” he proclaimed “that destroyed her!”

 

Even with only the surface facts at their disposal not everybody was bamboozled by this intrinsically stupid story.

 

Two Cabinet Ministers (Rabbi Fishman and Mr. Moshe Shapiro) resigned.

 

Several members of the National Council asked unanswered questions.

 

Several physical facts which Ben Gurion could not change made it clear to them at once that his story was a corruption:

 

          *First and foremost they knew that his declared concern for the truce was sheer hypocrisy.

         

          *The Irgun had brought the ship to, of all places, Kfar Vitkin.

         

          *The fighting men on board had been landed at Kfar Vitkin and sent away.

 

          *At Tel Aviv the ship had been fired on after raising a white flag.

 

          *Men swimming to save their lives had been fired on.

 

Ben Gurion had sufficient support among his complaisant party members and among the bloodthirsty enemies of the Irgun to ignore the questions and protests of the more squeamish members of the national Council and of the Irgun sympathizers there.

 

Public shock and bewilderment lasted long enough to enable Ben Gurion to emerge the undoubted victor from the clash which he had so blatantly stage-managed.




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