The phrase “By Way Of Deception, Thou Shalt Do War” is mostly known as the Israeli spy agency (Mossad) motto, or from the Hebrew bible:
“משלי פרק כד: “כי בתחבולות, תעשה-לך מלחמה; ותשועה, ברוב יועץ
I borrowed the phrase for this article because I couldn’t come up with a better description for the underground operation that took place between 1945 and 1948, by a group of young Israelis who mass produced bullets for the Israeli underground. This dangerous mission was assigned to a group of seventy-five teenagers and young adults, ages 17-22, who were preparing to build a new kibutz (communal agricultural settlement). Instead, they were offered to move to a small village near Tel Aviv in a town called Rehovot, where they pretended to work in the fields when actually, every day, they sneaked into an underground primitive factory where they produced illegal ammunition.
At that time, no one knew about their real work. People criticized them for not joining the army at a time of war.
No one knew how dangerous their work was: The punishment for what they were doing was death.
No one knew that without them, the Jewish underground had no chance of winning the war, because they made all the bullets for the underground.
They did amazing things. These are some of the daring, perhaps insane, things that they did in order to accomplish their mission:
- From all places, they chose to build their illegal ammunition factory in a walking distance from a large British army base. They predicted (gambled) successfully that this location will be the last place where the British army would look for the underground.
- They did it under the nose of the British army, using British gunpowder that they recovered from the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea, in a location where the British army disposed off rejected ammunition.
- Their small village couldn’t justify a large power plant, which was needed to power their factory, so they stole electricity directly from the nearby British base .
- They hid their factory under a noisy laundry room, while justifying the need to run the laundry room every day by offering cloth washing services to the British soldiers and a nearby hospital.
- To justify the large stack, which was needed for the ventilation system, they built a bakery on top of the factory with an over size stack that serviced the factory. The large oven was installed on rails. The opening under the oven was the way the equipment was lower into the factory. The baker who built and operated the oven, later built another historical oven – the oven which was used to burn the body of the Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann. (Adolf Eichmann was kidnapped by Mossad agents in Buenos Aries in 1962, and was brought to trial in Israel. Eichmann found guilty on 15 counts, including crimes against the Jewish people and crimes against humanity. On June 1, 1962, Eichmann was executed by hanging. His body was cremated and the ashes were spread at sea, beyond Israel’s territorial waters. The execution of Adolf Eichmann remains the only time that Israel has enacted a death sentence. )
- They built the factory in the open, under the watchful eye of the British army, justifying the deep hole in the ground as a storage cooler for their produce. They completed the construction in a record time of 21 days. The depth of the hole was limited by the capabilities of the excavation equipment available to them.
- To get an early warning about upcoming British patrols they convinced the officer in-charge that if they knew in advance when the patrol was coming, they would have time to cool the beer for the arriving patrol. This arrangement worked well for both sides. There were no surprise visits after the arrangement was made.
- They smuggled the bullets outside the factory by hiding them in a double wall fuel trucks (yes this is correct, live ammunition in flammable explosive fuel trucks).
- They lived communal life. They raised their children in a building only 20 feet away from the illegal ammunition factory. An explosion would have killed them and their children.
- Not everyone in the communal village was part of the secret. Not even everyone who worked in the laundry room above it was aware of what was happening under his feet.
- On one occasion a young woman who was not part of the secret was in the laundry room at the wrong time. She fainted when suddenly the laundry machine moved aside and people came up from the ground below. Once conscious again, she asked permission to join them. The next day she began working in the factory below and a new unsuspecting young woman was assigned to the laundry room above.
- To keep the appearance of people who work in the field all day, they had a tanning room underground, where they had to spend few hours each week to look the part.
- One day the alarm sounded off and they had to evacuate the underground factory. Another underground Jewish group, who was not aware of the illegal factory nearby, planted a mine on the railroad. In the explosion, three British soldiers were killed. To deflect suspicion, the factory people grabbed lab coats from the laundry room and rushed to help evacuating the injured. In return, the British did not search their village, which saved their lives.
- To test their product, they had an underground range. They timed the firing of their guns with the arrival of the train to conceal the noise. They fired their range gun daily.
- They were not caught, there was no explosion, and they lived to build the successful kibutz Maagan Michael after the war.
Machon Ayalon is now a museum, open to the public. If you are in the Tel Aviv area, stop by and visit this unique and impressive place. You won’t be disappointed. You will get to meet these great instructors , who will take you back in time to the days of the Jewish underground, and will share with you what it was like to fight for independence while surrounded by enemies and restricted by a hostile foreign power.
This short video describes and shows how the illegal factory operated
This video (in Hebrew) provides additional details about Machon Ayalon
In the museum
Kibutz Maagan Michael