How a Kid Who Liked to Saw Rifles Became the Inventor of the Uzi

While imprisoned in a notorious British jail, this youth came up with the design of a submachine gun which would gain worldwide popularity. This is the unbelievable story of Uzi Gal.

Uzi Gal and his invention

Gotthard Glas was a child with a dangerous hobby: weapons.

When he was ten years old, young Gotthard managed to burn his hand in a freak accident. The boy grew up in Munich, Germany, in a home full of pistols, swords and other antique weapons. One day he decided to saw down an old, long rifle and transform it into a new and more compact sort of weapon – this bright idea led to the unfortunate injury.

From “Uzi Submachine Gun: Lesson Plans” which the IDF distributed to officers in 1970

When the child became a teenager, after moving to Kibbutz Yagur in the Land of Israel, his great passion for guns returned. He heard that the geography teacher in his district school owned a tiny Italian B.P. gun. He sold his stamp album, bought the weapon and began working on his dream: to turn it into a well-oiled instument of war. Unfortunately, a teacher in the school caught him at work on the gun, and his plans were foiled once again. Glas did not give up: at the age of 15 he invented a bow which shot arrows automatically – a “submachine bow and arrow”, if you will.

When Glas joined the Palmach, the underground Haganah organization’s elite fighting force, he found the perfect occupation: Weapons development. Just as in his school days, however, he was caught once again – and sentenced to 7 years in prison by the British Mandate authorities for his work with illegal weaponry. To his joy, he was pardoned after just over two years in Acre Prison. You will not be surprised to hear that Gotthard passed the time behind bars by designing a submachine gun.

In 1949, while still a cadet in an officer training course and after making an intimate acquaintance with all the weapons the IDF had to offer, the young boy, who had meanwhile become Uziel Glas (and would later be known by the name Uzi Gal) chose to write a letter to his commanders:

“To: The Commanding Officer of the Officers’ School, Lieutenant Colonel Meir Zorea.

From: Cadet Uziel Glas 120946.

Date: October 20, 1949″

The long letter contains a detailed description of his dream of the perfect submachine gun.

An IDF soldier prays at the Western Wall while carrying an Uzi. Photograph: Yaacov Elbaz. The Dan Hadani Collection at the National Library, June 11, 1969.

Five and a half years later, on April 27, 1955, the IDF held the traditional Independence Day Parade. It was at this parade that the army revealed the new submachine gun which bore the name (what else?) “Uzi”. By the way, Guthard/Uziel/Uzi Glas/Gal didn’t want the submachine gun to be named after him, but the decision was out of his hands.

“An Innovative Weapon for the IDF”. An article published in “Zemanim”, April 27, 1955

Within a few years the Uzi was not an exclusively Israeli weapon, it became a phenomenal success throughout the world.

The Uzi, Chuck Norris’ weapon of choice!

The entire State of Israel encountered this unassuming young man when he received the Chief of Staff Citation in 1955, and was then awarded the “Security Prize” by David Ben-Gurion.

Prime Minister Yitzchak Shamir shooting an Uzi, December 16, 1986. Photograph: Nati Henrik, GPO

When asked about his invention he simply replied: “I did my duty in the army. Just like a cook, just like everyone else”.

From: “Uzi Submachine Gun: Lesson Plans”, which the IDF distributed to commanders in 1970.

This article makes use of information found in volume 17 of the IDF Encyclopedia of Military & Security Issues (צה”ל בחילו – אנציקלופדיה לבא וביטחון), and Eli Eshed’s article “Sixty Years of the Uzi Submachine Gun”.

Translating “The Hobbit” in Captivity

In 1970 ten Israeli prisoners of war in Egypt, captured in the War of Attrition, used their abundant free time for an unusual project: translating J.R.R. Tolkien's first book into Hebrew

The Israeli POWs were allowed to celebrate Passover while being held in Egyptian captivity

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”

(The opening words of ‘The Hobbit‘)

Anyone who knows anything about the work of J.R.R. Tolkien – the vast, fictitious history and captivating action his books are famous for – will almost certainly have started with the first novel the English linguist and author wrote, “The Hobbit: Or There and Back Again“. The book is certainly not lacking in heroic battle scenes and tales of high adventure, but in contrast with the later Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Hobbit is also a sweet and enjoyable children’s book.

It is a book that can bring pleasure and hold the attention of its readers (and its translators) during even their darkest hours.

This is not the story of how the book was written, but the story of one of its translations into Hebrew. It is the story of the special edition “translated by air force pilots and their comrades in Egyptian captivity in Abbasiya Prison, Cairo (1970-1973)”, who were captured during the War of Attrition.


The story of a strange and adorable creature

Conditions were not pleasant, to say the least, in the cramped cell where ten Israeli were being held in the prison on the outskirts of the Egyptian capital. Yet after undergoing many interrogations and tortures (and while many still lay before them), there was now something of a bright side – a small flickering light at the end of the tunnel. Firstly, after several months in separate cells far away from each other, the prisoners were now allowed to stay in the same cell and be comforted by other Israelis in the same state. Secondly, the fact that not all the prisoners spoke sufficiently fluent English proved to be significant to the rest of their stay in captivity.

Not all the cell’s inhabitants could enjoy the gift which Yitzchak Fir, one of the four pilots in captivity, received from his brother in America. This was “a paperback containing the story of a strange and adorable peace-loving creature who enjoys the pleasures and comforts of life and who finds himself thrown into hair-raising adventures in the war for a more peaceful and greener world” (a description taken from the foreword to the pilots’ translation).

The four pilots in the cell – Avinoam Kaldes, Rami Harpaz, Menachem Eini and Yitzchak Fir decided “to translate The Hobbit for those who would find it hard to understand”. The pilots initially translated specific words and expressions. It did not take them long to discover that the work distracted them from their life in captivity, and soon they found themselves working day after day, for many long hours, on translating the entire book.

The work was done in pairs – one reading the text in English and translating it into Hebrew on the spot. The second’s job was to be an editor, to improve the Hebrew translation and adjust it to the high level of Tolkien’s original work. The many poems in the book presented a complex challenge, and the four turned to their cellmates for help. They later related that “we failed slightly with the poems in the book”. Under the circumstances the unprofessional translators found themselves in, this labor of love would suffice. The entire project took four months and it is unlikely they thought the translation they worked so hard on while in captivity would ever be read outside the walls of their crowded cell.

‘Hobbit’, the translation of the pilots and their fellow captives. It is interesting that the word ‘The’ has been deleted from the book’s title, as well as the subtitle “Or There and Back Again”. You can find this edition at the National Library of Israel.

The POWs were only released from captivity after the Yom Kippur War, bearing a well-used copy of The Hobbit, along with seven full notebooks. In 1977, the Hebrew translation completed by the pilots and their cellmates was published by Zmora Bitan Publishers, with funding from the Israeli Air Force.

“Here, I’ve arrived” – Rami Harpaz said when meeting his twin girls for the first time. The first words of the Israeli POWs upon their return to Israel. From an article in Ma’ariv, November 18th, 1973 (Hebrew).

There are currently three Hebrew translations of The Hobbit. A year before the translation of the pilots and their fellow captives was published, Zmora Bitan Modan published Moshe Hanami’s translation. Another translation, by Yael Achmon, was also published by Zmora Bitan Publishers in preparation for the release of the first part of The Hobbit film trilogy directed by Peter Jackson. The translation of the pilots and their comrades is considered the lowest quality translation of the three, but it’s the translation I grew up on, and as such will always have a warm place in my heart and my years as a hormonal bespectacled, fantasy-loving adolescent.

Professor Amiah Leiblich documented the story of the ten Israeli captives in Egypt in the book ‘Chutz Mitziporim’ [Other than Birds] which was published by Schocken Books in 1989.


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What Did Martin Buber and His Friends Write to President Johnson about Martin Luther King Jr.?

From the Martin Buber Archive: A letter to the American president about MLK's 1965 release from jail

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Birmingham Jail, 1965

Word of the jailing and release of Martin Luther King Jr. from an Alabama jail in February 1965 reached Jerusalem quickly and drove some of Israel’s intellectual elite to write to President Lyndon B. Johnson about it.

The letter, discovered in the Martin Buber Archive at the National Library of Israel, is dated February 14th, 1965. It was written shortly before Buber’s death and is the only letter to an American president found among the philosopher’s personal papers.

Just a few months after receiving the Nobel Prize, King had been jailed on February 2, 1965 after leading some 300 protestors in Selma, Alabama. He would quickly be released and meet with President Johnson just a few days later to discuss voters’ rights.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was deeply influenced by the Israeli Jewish philosopher Buber. In 1963’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, one of the defining statements of the United States civil rights movement, King referenced Buber directly, using his famous  “I and Thou” principle to argue against the evils of segregation and “relegating persons to the status of things.”

The professors’ letter to President Johnson, February 14th, 1965. From the Martin Buber Archive, National Library of Israel

Full transcript of the letter:

Jerusalem, 14.2.1965.

Dear Mr. President,

We are taking the liberty to express our deep satisfaction that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is now again a free man and can continue his righteous fight for the equality of his people, a fight to which you Mr. President, have given your full assistance.

We are not equally sure that all of the other emprisoned [sic] 300 liberty fighters have meanwhile been released. If this suspicion should prove correct, we submit that urgent steps should be taken to return all of them as soon as possible to their families.

Believe us, Mr. President,

Respectfully yours

Professors at the Hebrew University

What Did Barbra Streisand Write to Assi Dayan?

The archive of Assaf (Assi) Dayan, famed actor, poet, and son of General Moshe Dayan, was recently given to the National Library of Israel for safekeeping.

Assi Dayan

Following the death of Assaf (Assi) Dayan, just over three years ago, the iconic actor’s archive has been entrusted to the NLI for safekeeping and preservation and will soon be made accessible to the public.  From family photos to Hollywood rejection letters, Assi Dayan’s archive documents the life of an important member of the legendary Dayan family.

Moshe Dayan with his sons, Assi and Udi. Circa mid-1950s.

In a career that spanned over forty years, Dayan acted in over 50 movies and television series episodes, many of them considered to be among Israel’s most important cultural achievements.  His career included a part in John Huston’s “A Walk with Love and Death” (1969), in which he acted alongside Anjelica Huston, establishing himself as an international icon of the 1960s and 1970s.  Dayan also directed 16 films.

While the public is most familiar with the actor’s professional triumphs, Dayan also chose to preserve some of his failures.  After he auditioned for the role of Avigdor in Barbra Streisand’s “Yentl”, and Mandy Patinkin went on to get the part, Assi kept Barbra’s rejection letter for over thirty years.

“Casting a film is always a difficult task”, Barbra Streisand’s letter to Assi Dayan

Dear Assaf


Casting a film is always a difficult task, and “Yentl” was certainly no exception. The difficulty was not in finding talented actors that were right for the role – that was easy – but rather in having to decide among the several fine actors we talked to.


It was a long process, and I especially want to thank you for your time and interest. It was most valuable to me, and I hope we have the opportunity to work together at some future time.


With best wishes,



Barbra Streisand

Assi Dayan’s personal archive has been entrusted to the National Library of Israel for safekeeping and preservation and will soon be made accessible to the public. Beyond the photos and scripts he kept, his own artistic and creative processes shine through in his notes and poetry, as does the decline in his health in the last decade of his life

The responsibility for deciding about where to house the archive fell to the actor’s son, Lior Dayan.  After considering requests from many of Israel’s leading cultural institutions, including various Cinemateques, Mr. Dayan ultimately decided to entrust this important collection to the National Library of Israel, as the preserver of Israeli and Jewish culture. Lior Dayan also felt his father would have loved to have his archives dwelling alongside those of his idol, Franz Kafka.

National Library of Israel CEO Oren Weinberg said, “The quality and quantity of the material and items in the Assi Dayan Archive will enable scholars, students, and the general public to study and know his work – from his early days in cinema to his last days on earth, and so be exposed to the vast assembly of his creative endeavors, as well as to the writings and drafts that he wrote over the years, which were never published.”

Once the Assi Dayan Archive is catalogued, parts of it will be made accessible to the general public through the Library’s website.