To mark the jubilee of the Zionist Organization, a pictorial map was published by the Jewish National Fund in 1947. It surveyed 50 years of Zionist settlement and development of the Land of Israel. Edited by Ernst Mechner, and designed by S.F. Loeb, the map was issued in three editions: Hebrew, English and Yiddish.
The Zionist Organization, established at the First Zionist Congress in Basel in 1897, the Palestine Office and its successor the Jewish Agency, Keren Hayesod, which coordinated the collection of donations for the development of the country, and the Jewish National Fund, all assisted over the years in purchasing land and establishing Jewish settlements in the Land of Israel. In this map, summarizing the work of these bodies between 1897 and 1947, the editor chose to highlight the sites that in his view constituted milestones in the timeline of settlement of the Land of Israel.
For example, “Degania 1909 ‘The Mother of Kvuzot’” – Degania was the first Jewish communal settlement to be established in the Land of Israel.
The swampy marshlands of the Jezreel Valley which appear in the illustration above should be taken with a grain of salt. We know that swamps characterized some settlement regions, such as the area south of Zichron Yaacov (the Kabara swamps), or the area around Hadera, but in the Jezreel Valley swamplands represented only a minimal percentage of the area, as can be seen for example in the article, The Swamps of Emek Yizre’el (Jezreel Valley) – Myth and Reality, by Yoram Bar-Gal and Shmuel Shamai. The association of swampland with the Jezreel Valley reinforced the idea of the redemption of desolate land and its transformation into flourishing settlements, and it seems that in this map that message took precedence over geographical-historical accuracy.
Water sources were a necessity for settlement: special effort was invested in a water carrier system to provide water for both drinking and agriculture purposes to the Negev; to illustrate the immensity of this Zionist project, the pioneer on the map is depicted as a giant.
The map includes eighteen figures of pioneers, three of them women.
An epigram by Herzl is printed on the back of the map:
Besides serving as a summary and documentation of the past, the colorful, trilingual editions of this map served the Jewish National Fund as a means of fundraising for the Zionist institutions, as they continued their efforts to purchase land and develop the country.
“Jews Shooting Jews”: A Look Back at the Days of the Altalena Affair
The Altalena affair remains one of the most controversial episodes in the history of the State of Israel | The Altalena's sinking was the climax of a dramatic internal crisis that lasted for three tense days | An in-depth examination of the sequence of events offers a more complex picture | Featuring new photos of the curfew enforced in Tel Aviv
Soldiers and civilians looking on as the Altalena burns off the coast of Tel Aviv. Photo: GPO
“An arms ship that has arrived at the country’s shores has been seized by Irgun forces. The government of the State of Israel has come to a unanimous decision and ordered the Israel Defense Forces to use all measures to transfer the weapons to government custody.”
In June 1948, mere weeks after the State of Israel declared its independence, the above message was printed in Hebrew on flyers handed out across Tel Aviv. The Altalena, a ship carrying new immigrants, Irgun fighters, and a huge cache of weapons was docked off the coast of Tel Aviv. The Israeli government perceived its arrival as a threat to its own authority. The bitter finale of this episode is well known: After the parties failed to reach an agreement, the Altalena was sunk, and some would say the affair remains an open wound to this day. Yet the events that unfolded in the dramatic days between the Altalena’s arrival and its sinking are less familiar to the public, and they reveal quite a bit about the state of affairs in the young nation.
First Destination Tel Aviv?
The Altalena set sail for Israel following a long delay and without informing Menachem Begin, the commander of the Irgun in Israel. “The Irgun” was the common term used in English to refer to the group known in Hebrew as HaIrgun HaZvai HaLeumi Be’Eretz Yisrael (“The National Military Organization in the Land of Israel”), or in short, Ha’Etzel. The Irgun had fought against both the British and the Arabs as a radical right-wing underground group in the pre-state period. In June 1948 it was no longer underground, but had yet to fully merge with the IDF.
The ship was supposed to have left in May, before the Irgun signed an agreement to disarm and prior to the UN-led ceasefire and international arms embargo coming into effect. Unable to stop the ship from setting sail, Begin took it upon himself to mediate the situation, but he did not have much success. Ben-Gurion and the Israeli government commanded the Altalena to anchor off the deserted coast of Kfar Vitkin, north of Tel Aviv, where it was to evacuate its passengers and hand over its weapons. This was where the first confrontation took place. The ship’s crew began unloading the supplies, passengers and fighters, while the IDF encircled the beach. Shortly after, Irgun forces attempted to break through the barricades, leading to an exchange of fire that left four Irgun members and two IDF soldiers dead.
After the battle, many Irgun members (including Begin) returned to the Altalena, which then retreated out to sea. At the same time, another battle took place at Beit Dagan between the IDF and members of the Irgun. In this case, there were even some former Irgun members, already serving in the IDF, who defected from the army to come to the aid of their comrades after hearing rumors of the events involving the ship and the ensuing battle.
After fleeing out to sea, those aboard the Altalena decided to head toward Tel Aviv, the ship’s original destination. The choice was no accident: the young city was considered a sympathetic stronghold of the Irgun (contrary to its current image), and the landing of a Hebrew arms ship at Israel’s largest and central city would have gained the Irgun fame and public support in the event of another confrontation. The Irgun also planned to send some of the weapons to its fighters battling for the liberation of Jerusalem, in the hope of securing the Holy City and the Temple Mount.
The Israeli Navy sent two frigates to stop the Altalena from reaching the shores of Tel Aviv, but Captain Monroe (Emanuel) Fein, an experienced former commander of a US naval ship, managed to evade them. The exchange of fire that followed didn’t do much damage either. Later, it was decided to run the Altalena aground, about 100 meters from shore in order to convey a clear message: a ship that has run aground does not engage in rebellion. However, those on the opposite side saw things differently. The Palmach headquarters was located in the beachfront Ritz Hotel and the Altalena was anchored directly across from it. The army commanders feared that Irgun supporters would again rush to support those stranded on the ship, as had happened at Kfar Vitkin and Beit Dagan. Given the lack of communication and understanding between the IDF and the Irgun, Ben-Gurion believed that a real coup attempt was underway which could undermine the state’s authority and establish a competing military force.
The Curfew: The Kiryati Brigade Closes Off the First Hebrew City
With the Altalena anchored in Tel Aviv, the government held an urgent meeting and imposed a curfew on the city. Forces from the Kiryati Brigade put up roadblocks and evacuated civilians from all areas near the coastline. Cafés were closed by military order. Fearing that civilian government institutions and military headquarters in Tel Aviv would become targets, the Kiryati Brigade commander Michael Ben-Gal (Rabinovitch) issued a general order for the immediate recruitment of “all forces in the defense zone of Tel Aviv … in order to block all traffic along known routes, with the exception of persons carrying security ID, supply vehicles and our army units.” Yitzhak Rabin, arriving at the scene by chance, took command. The Altalena sent a small boat ashore in another attempt at negotiation, but this too was unsuccessful.
Still clinging to the hope of unloading the weapons on the shores of Tel Aviv, the Altalena decided to send yet another boat, this time with fighters and weapons, to put pressure on Israel’s leadership. Meanwhile, many Irgun members reached the shores of Tel Aviv and managed to capture part of the nearby beach strip, even taking control of Navy headquarters at the San Remo Hotel. Ben-Gurion authorized his commanders to use harsh measures, and to open fire if necessary. The Irgun’s arms boat, loaded with light weapons, machine guns and PIAT anti-tank launchers managed to reach shore. It then set out for another round, returning with more forces, and unloaded them about 300 meters north of the ship while coming under fire. Some of the newly arrived Irgun fighters stationed themselves at the Panorama Café on HaYarkon Street and laid siege to the Palmach headquarters.
Jews Shooting Jews
In his memoirs, Rabin described the next hours with an expression that became synonymous with the whole affair: “Jews shooting Jews.” Heavy gunfire was exchanged between the respective forces on shore, while the Altalena also opened fire and was targeted in turn, suffering casualties. After the Irgun forces fired a PIAT shell at Palmach headquarters, the commanders – led by Rabin – decided to act before the building was breached, throwing grenades from the roof at the Irgun forces and badly injuring many. A lull in the fighting enabled them to remove the injured and regroup. Residents of Tel Aviv took to the streets in the hope that the fighting had ended; however, this was not the case. The Palmach commander, Yigal Alon, arrived at the scene and established a command post at Camp Yona (today the Hilton Hotel gardens). After many soldiers refused to cooperate with Alon’s operation, codenamed “Purge,” the Carmeli, Negev and Yiftach Brigades were called in for backup and to enforce the curfew. All the while, along the beach there was an exchange of fire with Irgun members who came to support their comrades from the Altalena.
Alon issued an ultimatum demanding (again) the Altalena’s unconditional surrender. After the ultimatum expired, Ben-Gurion ordered Alon to begin firing mortars. The second shell hit a ship storeroom that immediately ignited, and the Altalena began to burn. Years of tension and anger had built-up over the years between the Irgun and its rivals in the Haganah and the Palmach – now they were exchanging live fire. Rabin and other commanders testified that they tried to prevent the shooting, but were unsuccessful. Many Irgun members jumped from the burning ship. Palmach and IDF forces were only able to retake control of the shore toward evening. About 19 people in all were killed and many were injured. The incident was a scarring experience for the young State of Israel.
A closer look at the events of the Altalena affair in Tel Aviv and the battles in Kfar Vitkin and Beit Dagan offer a more complex perspective on this historical episode. The ambivalence and lack of communication among the forces, the panic in Tel Aviv and the curfew enforced on the city tell the story of a young country facing a predicament that hit upon all of its exposed nerves, at a time when it was still engaged in an even greater war. The Altalena’s conduct while anchored on Israel’s shores presents the Irgun as an organization attempting, unsuccessfully, to maintain its power in a changing reality, in which it suddenly had become a foreign force within a newly-established state. While the Haganah and Palmach managed to retain their weapons even after signing agreements with the government, the delay in the Altalena‘s departure prevented the Irgun from doing the same.
In retrospect, one can assume that the Irgun was motivated by a desire to hold on to its prestige and power within the process of integration into the IDF. The entire chain of events, from the ship’s late departure to the lack of coordination between Begin and his men aboard ship, led the Israeli government to fear a rebellion. The government and Ben-Gurion refused to compromise on what they perceived as an undermining of the authority of the state and this fear led them to act harshly. It is impossible to know what would have happened if the Irgun members had chosen to accept the government’s demands and disarm, just as it is impossible to assess what would have happened if the state had authorized the Irgun to unload its weapons and equip its people already serving in the IDF and in Jerusalem.
Donating Pocket Money for Jewish Refugees in Cyprus
In 1947, Britain was still holding tens of thousands of Jewish immigrants in camps in Cyprus, many of them Holocaust survivors. The children of the Yishuv joined in the aid effort, donating their pocket money and clothing so that the displaced children could stay warm in the cold winter months.
Children donate clothing for Jewish refugees in Cyprus, 1948. Photo: Benno Rothenberg, the Meitar Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel
Ships packed with refugees make their way to the shores. The authorities do their best to locate and capture the boats before they anchor. The intelligence services collect information about the movement of the illegal immigrants. Coast Guard destroyers try to block the rickety and overloaded vessels. When a boat is captured, the passengers on board are sent to detention camps…
Though the above could easily be a description of recent migrant crises in the Mediterranean, it actually refers to the period of Jewish immigration to the Land Israel after the conclusion of World War II and the Holocaust. The British directed considerable resources to counter unauthorized, illegal immigration during this period, an enterprise that the Jewish community in Mandatory Palestine worked hard to renew after World War II. The goal was to bring as many Jewish survivors as possible to the Land of Israel.
Once a ship had been captured, the passengers on board were sent to detention camps in Cyprus set up by the British. These camps operated from 1946 to the beginning of 1949—that is, they continued to operate even after the establishment of the State of Israel.
Many Holocaust survivors—men, women and children—found themselves among the detainees in Cyprus. Some had already survived the concentration camps and then lived in DP camps in Europe. These homeless refugees took incredible risks to reach the place that promised to be their homeland, and instead of a refuge, they found themselves once more surrounded by barbed wire fences. The conditions in the camps in Cyprus were not easy and while the British took care to provide basic food and services, both were insufficient.
The Jews already in the Land of Israel did not forget their fellow Jews in the detention camps. After the establishment of the state, the struggle for the release of the detainees intensified, but even before, the Jewish Agency and other pre-state institutions had been working busily on their behalf. Hebrew language instruction was provided, all the underground movements sent representatives to recruit and train the camps’ residents, and in April 1948, an illustrious cultural delegation including poet Nathan Alterman and singer Shoshana Damari visited the camps.
The “Committee for the Cyprus Exiles” was the chief body set up by the Jewish Agency, the National Committee, and the JDC, to assist the detainees. The committee mainly collected donations—money, food packages and other items. Packages with the various items were sent regularly through the committee, which also organized deliveries of toys, books, newspapers, and tools. Before the holidays, they would send special foods and other necessities required for the holiday’s observance. The committee organized regular cultural activities in the camps and provided employment for the occupants, as well as many other activities designed to ease the lives of the refugees.
The committee also organized special fundraising campaigns. One of the largest was Operation “Winter Clothing”, which began in the fall of 1947, immediately after the committee had completed its work for the Jewish High Holy Days. This latest campaign was the third winter fundraising drive the committee had conducted. All the newspapers carried stories on the operation, whose goal was to provide blankets and clothing for about 50,000 refugees in detention camps in Cyprus, the DP camps in Europe, and also for refugees from the Aden riots in Yemen. Women’s organizations and youth movements mobilized for the two-week-long effort.
Hundreds of collection depots were set up in the larger cities for citizens to deposit clothes, blankets, food or other items. The announcements in the newspapers called on residents not to wait until the collectors came to their homes but instead to go the collection points with their donations. The Jewish community in Mandatory Palestine, whose own resources were quite limited, rallied to help its fellow Jews imprisoned abroad.
When the operation was over, the committee did not rest on its laurels, and immediately began a campaign to supply holiday necessities and matzah for Purim and Pesach.
Operation Winter Clothing was one of the largest and most successful of its kind at the time. And not only adults lent a hand, but so did the country’s children. In the photos accompanying this article you can see children bringing clothes to collection points. The local children’s newspapers also addressed the issue. An editorial in one of these newspapers called on its young readers to ponder the question: “As we prepare our own winter clothes here in Eretz Yisrael, we should ask ourselves: Do our brothers and sisters in Cyprus have what to wear?” The same children’s newspapers also regularly reported on children who chose to donate their birthday money to the children of Cyprus: one child donated one Palestine pound or lira, another gave three, and another donated 300 mil (1 Palestine pound = 1000 mil). In one case, an entire class collected money for the benefit of the displaced children.
The donations continued throughout 1948. The last of the detainees were finally released in the first months of 1949, a full nine months after the establishment of the State of Israel. Their release was only obtained after considerable Israeli efforts – the British had curiously insisted on holding onto the detainees, almost 4 years after the end of World War II. At last, the story of illegal Jewish immigration to the Land of Israel had come to an end
All the photographs in this article, and many more documenting Operation Winter Clothing in 1947 were taken by the photojournalist Benno Rothenberg and are now part of the Meitar Collection at the National Library of Israel. Click on the link here to view them all.
When Tintin Was Abducted by the Irgun in Haifa
Why was Mandatory Palestine changed to the imaginary "Emirate of Khemed" in "Land of Black Gold", the 15th volume in the comic series, "The Adventures of Tintin"?
“Residents of the Land of Israel, be on the alert: a Belgian citizen with a tendency for trouble has been spotted in Haifa disguised as an Arab. The individual calls himself ‘Tintin.’ He is known to be sniffing around where he shouldn’t and asking far too many questions. Anyone with any information regarding his whereabouts is requested to notify the police.”
The above was not a public safety message issued by the Israeli police or the Shin Bet, rather, this was a fictional scene that played out in the world-famous and beloved comic book series, The Adventures of Tintin. This particular story in the Tintin series, Land of Black Gold, was first published in serialized form between September 1939 and May 1940.
The story revolves around a secret plot to sabotage oil reserves in the Middle East. In keeping with the times, the identity of the story’s villain is revealed as none other than the evil German physician, Dr. Müller. As part of Tintin’s investigation, our hero makes his way to British Mandatory Palestine, where he wanders the streets of Haifa dressed as a local Arab. He is even kidnapped by the Irgun, the Jewish underground organization which fought both the Arabs and the British.
Hergé, Tintin’s creator, drew the story’s first comic strips while on a month’s leave from the Belgian army. He was drafted into the military when Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, but even as a soldier, he continued sending the comic strip installments to Le Petit Vingtième, the newspaper that had been publishing the illustrated adventures of the young reporter for the past decade. After contracting sinusitis, Hergé was released from his military service on the same day Germany invaded Belgium.
Naturally, under the new circumstances of German occupation and given the villain’s German nationality, the series was discontinued, and readers following Tintin’s adventure as a respite from the terrible war erupting around them had to wait several years to find out how the young man managed to escape the deadly sandstorm after evading the clutches of the evil doctor.
After the conclusion of World War II, Hergé initially sought to distance himself from his popular character, but pressured by his wife and friends, he soon returned to drawing the adventures of the curious investigative reporter. The original plan was to send Tintin and his dog Snowy to the moon, which indeed happened later on, but first, he resumed the adventure he had left unfinished when the Nazis invaded his country.
The second serialization of Land of Black Gold was published between 1948 and 1950. Importantly however, this was not the final version…
In the 1960s and 1970s, The Adventures of Tintin were introduced into Great Britain. It is not clear exactly what motivated Tintin’s legendary creator to redraw Land of Black Gold, but this time it took a surprising turn. In the English version of the beloved comic, Mandatory Palestine became the imaginary “Emirate of Khemed”. The story of Tintin’s abduction by the Irgun due to a mistake in identification—the story that appeared in the original version—was replaced by a tale involving the military police in Khemed.
Let there be no doubt, Tintin— among the bravest of all illustrated detectives—had no qualms about becoming embroiled in our local war of narratives. Yet that was not the reason for the change. The substitution of historical Mandatory Palestine with an imaginary oil-rich principality, was probably done to avoid offending the British readership Tintin’s creator was hoping to attract.
Sadly, regarding Land of Black Gold – neither the version which takes place in the Land of Israel nor the version featuring the imaginary land of Khemed were ever translated into Hebrew…