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December 03, 1984 - Image 48

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1984-12-03

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

48

Friday, December 7, 1984

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

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An Altalena postscript

ost people may have for-
gotten the Altalena. She
was a decommissioned
4
Landing Ship Tank which the
supporters of the Irgun,
Menachem Begin's underground
organization, in 1947 purchased
from the U.S. War Shipping Ad-
ministration for $75,000 contrib-
uted by American Jews.
After being reconditioned and
making a trial run across the At-
FINALLY. A FAST,
lantic, she was loaded with 500
SAFE AND EFFECTIVE
tons of arms and ammunition
supplied by France and set off for
WAY TO LOSE WEIGHT
Israel. Her crew of 23, all Jews,
AND KEEP IT
included two Americans and nine
young men from DP camps.
OFF, FOREVER!
At the Israeli seaport of Kfar
Vitkin they were unloading their
Call today for a free
drastically needed war cargo
consultation
when they were fired upon> from
Southfield 569-2669
two sides — from land and from
the open sea.
Troy 435-5555
With flashing lights, the com-
W. Bloomfield 855-3430
munications officer of an Israeli
corvette, the Wedgewood, Jerry
DIET CENTER®
Rosenberg, a young Canadian,
LITE YEARS AHEAD..
ordered the Altalena to proceed to
Tel Aviv.
The commander of the muni-
tions boat, Monroe Fein, a young
Chicago Jew, was not unduly con-
cerned about the order because he
had seen the blue and white Is-
raeli flag on the corvette.
At Tel Aviv, Captain Fein put
on a burst of speed and tried to up
up onto the beach, but the ship
struck the submerged wreckage of
a refugee-runner the. British has
sunk several years earlier. This
made it impossible to open the
bow doors and start unloading.
Menachem Begin had come
aboard the Altalena at Kfar Vit-
kin. He and representatives of the
Israeli government held a confer-
ence at water's edge. The subject
was the disposal of the cargo.
When no agreement was reached
a gun battle began between the
Israeli army forces on shore, in
command of Yitzak Rabin (now
minister of Defense) and the Al-
talena gunners.
Suddenly, the Altalena cargo
burst into flames and Fein gave
the order to abandon ship. Two
members of the crew had been kil-
led during the battle and several
others were trapped below decks
by the fire and were dead when
rescued.
The government version was
that the Altalena, while still on
the high seas, had been warned
that under the terms of a cease-
fire in the war with the Arabs,
then in effect, neither side was to
replenish its arms. Accordingly,
the Altalena officers had been
told, they were not to attempt to
put their cargo ashore — an order
they had begun to violate at Kfar
Vitkin.
Also available in different shapes and a
The Irgun version was that the
variety of stones.
sole argument was over disposal
of the cargo, the government in-
sisting that the arms and ammu-
nition should go to the. Israeli
army, while Begin was adamant
that friends of the Irgun in
America had raised the money to
31313 Northwestern
buy the ship and its cargo; that
Farmington Hills
Irgun troops in Jerusalem were in
Mon — Sat. 9:30 to 5:00
drastic need of the war material,
Sunday 12-9 '12-16 12-23 f 1:00 - 4:00
and for these two reasons he, Be-
gin, should have the say' about
how to dispose of the precious
cargo.

I was one of the 15 or 20 foreign
war correspondents reporting this
first of the Arab-Israeli wars (for a
New York newspaper) and in that
capacity I interviewed, sepa-
ratedly, Skipper Fein and Signals
Officers Jerry Rosenberg. They
were both extremely
equally idealistic young North
American Jews, Fein 26 years old,
Rosenberg 27. Then I had the ideal
of bringing them together, with--
out, at first, telling either one who
the other was. The meeting took
place in the cafe of a hotel on
Hayarkon Street, Tel Aviv.
At first they were annoyed,
both with each other and with me,

New facts have
emerged in the tragic
story of Jews firing
on Jews.

for the trick I had played on them,1
but eventually they shook hands
and I left them drawing maps on
the cafe's paper napkins.
All that is now ancient history,
having been told in detail in a
chapter entitled A Jewish
Tragedy in my book on the crea-
tion of the Jewish state, Shalom
Means Peace. But over in Israel,
when supporters of Begin and
admirers of Ben-Gurion meet,'
they often discuss, vehement)
just who was to blame for that
war-within-a-war in which Jews
were killing not Arabs but other
Jews.
I have retold the Altalena story'
in this column because now a new
chapter has been added.
A few weeks ago, I went to To-
ronto to do a lecture for the De-
velopment Corporation for Israe:
and was met at the airport by a
man who looked much youngel
than his 63 years but whom I in-
stantly recognized as Jerry
Rosenberg, one-time communica-
tions officer of the Wedgewood;
now an official of the DCI in To-
ronto.
So we rehashed what had hap-
pened 35 years ago on the Israeli
seacoast and these historically
important facts emerged:
When the Wedgewood was sent
to Kfar Vitkin, its orders were not
to fire on the Irgun ship unless
fired upon. They thought they had
carried out that order exactly, for
they held their fire unil bullets
and shells began falling on the
Wedgewood. They presumed the
fire came from the Altalena.
"But since then," says Rosen-
berg, "I have definitely learned
that it came from our own
Haganah troops on shore, whosr
misdirected fire hit us instead of
their intended target, the Al-
talena,"
Rosenberg is now critical of
excuse the Ben-Gurion govern-
ment used for its action against:
the Altalena.
"They should have given thC
real reason, which would have
been more acceptable to the Is-
raelis, to the Jews of the Diaspora
and to the world at large. The
State of Israel had been pro-
claimed two months earlier and
all underground armies were

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