Friday, April 10, 2020

The Other Tale or What Matti Friedman Missed

Makor Rishon published an interiew-review with Matti Friedman now that his new book has been published in Hebrew. The book, `Spies of No Country` is based mostly on the reminisces of four former members of the pre-State Palmah`s “Arab Section”. It was first called the `Mista’arvim Unit` which engaged in intelligence gathering and sabotage operations both in the territory of the Palestine Mandate and in Arab countries.

The story is important, even if a Forward reviewer thinks negatively of  Friedman`s book (it avoids the `moral` question of killing and links up with the current `political` question) although he did express appreciation of the book. In fact, two of the protaganists have already published their memoirs, one almost 30 years ago and another 18 years ago.

I have not read the book (but commented on it briefly). But from what I have read, I do not think Friedman related to the issue of Jews spying and operating in Arab neighborhoods and countries, disguised as Arabs but simply the Shachar Unit of the Palmah.

If, indeed, that is the case, I would wish to make sure that the other two pre-State undergrounds also had their own Jews-as-Arabs agents.

On July 26, 1938, five years prior to the establishment of the Palmah unit, the Irgun sent Yaakov Raz, 

dressed as an Arab porter into Jerusalem`s Old City market area on a reprisal mission following Arab terror attacks on the Jewish population.

He took part in attacks against Arabs in reprisals for attacks against Jews, and in his last operation, he was suspected by Arab passersby who grabbed him and dumping his vegetable basket, revealing a bomb. He was severely wounded when they fell upon him nd stabbed him repeatedly. Arrested by the British, he was subjected to constant interrogations and at the beginning of August, he felt he was too weak to prevent an accidental divulging of secret information he was party to while delirious, and so, under the covers, removed his bandages and undid his stitches thus bleeding to death. Israel`s national poet Uri Zvi Greenberg wrote a poem in his honor:
...Does anyone know how his face shone in the Jerusalem dawn?
I know, I know his face, for I shine in its light
He was sent forth from Lachish and Betar
A single man, enemies felled by his might.
So once walked, in the early hours of Jerusalem...
...Among demeaned Jews, among Jewish slaves
The lone hero and most beautiful person.
As the attackers circled and pierced him through
Taking their meals or stretched out in bed,
The Jews of Zion, the listless Jews,
Did not know whose body fell dead.

Another Irgun fighter was Rachel Ohevet-Ami (Havshush), born of Yeminite and Moroccan parents. On June 9, 1939, she was given a 15-kilogram food basket with the bomb hidden underneath to be brought to the entrance of the Central Jerusalem Prison on the day it was full of Arabs coming to visit the Arab gang members imprisoned fpor anti-British and anti-Jewish terror. She donned traditional dress including a veil. It being too heavy for her, she requested a young Arab to help her. After being paid, he went to a guard and told him there was something suspicious as the girl`s Arabic was not local, the basket was unduly heavy and it contained Jewish-style bread. She was arrested despite a struggle. A British demolitions expert defused the time mechanism (a few days later, another Irgun bomb at the Central Post Office killed him as he dattempted to defuse it)

In a 1964 photograph

At her trial, the judges accept the testimony that she was not yet 18 years old and instead of the gallows - Emergency Regulations had supplanted normal legal procedures at this time - she was sentenced to life imprisonment.

A third Irgunist was Baruch Mizachi

Born a Moslem Arab in Safad, he became a member of Betar, converted and joined its fighting ranks. He was detained and flown off to Eritrea where he was wounded by gunfire from the guards. He had insisted that he be allowed to take his tallit and tefillin with him to exile. 

Upon his return, he was sent on April 18, 1948 on an intelligence mission to Jab`a, a village near Jenin, the site of the headquarters of the Arab Liberation Army whose commander, Fawzi al-Qawuqji, led during 1936 the Army of the Arab Revolution in South-Syrian Palestine. At a roadblock he was identified, taken to a cave near Jab`a and executed, his body found only after 1967 and reburied.

A Lechi fighter, Elisha Ivzov, was also operating in Arab districts disguised as an Arab. On January 4, 1948, he drove a lorry loaded with with explosives into Jaffa and parked it in an alley adjacent to the Sariah Building, headquarters for the Arabs military units attacking Tel Aviv and its environs. Dozens died and scores were injured in the blast.

On March 5, another truck was loaded with a ton or so of explosives and Elisha drove off 

to Jab`a to eliminate the ALA command center. At the Tannin roadblock, like Mizrachi after him, he was stopped. His guide gave him away. Two British Army deserters who had prepared bombs for the Arabs in Jerusalem, attempted to defuse the bomb but it went off, killing them and others. Elisha was then summarily shot dead and buried in nearby Kuffeir. In 1950, his body was exhumed and returned to Israel.

And so, there is another story to tell. Palmah undercover agents were not the only, and, indeed, not the first to so operate. 


1 comment:

Dan Kelso said...

Good info about Baruch Mizachi.