Aliyah Bet - Illegal immigration, also called Ha'apalah

Aliyah Bet - Illegal immigration, also called Ha'apalah, conducted at the initiative of immigrant groups in Europe, the Jewish Agency and in some cases with the help of the United States and even the Nazis. In Palestine, Aliya Bet was organized beginning in 1939 by the "Mossad l'Aliya Bet" to bring immigrants to mandatory Palestine after immigration was restricted by the British White Paper of 1939.

Illegal immigration began on January 12, 1938, when the "Poseidon" brought 65 illegal immigrants who disembarked at Avihayil. At this time, the Jewish Agency operations were under the command of the Halutz department. Up to 1938, about 8,000 Jewish immigrants had entered Palestine illegally, to circumvent quotas that were already in effect under British emergency regulations before the White Paper of 1939.

Illegal immigration was organized by the "Mossad l'Aliya Bet" between 1939 and 1942, when a tightened British blockade and stricter controls in occupied Europe made it all but impossible, and again between 1945 and 1948. Even in the interim years, and especially in 1944, there were significant illegal immigration attempts.

It is a misconception to assume that the immigration was an initiative of the Zionist movement only, and it is certainly incorrect to say that the Zionist movement deliberately chartered bad ships to bring Jews to Palestine in unsafe conditions, when they could have been safe in Europe.

European Jews were desperate for ways to leave Europe, but for the most part there were few options. No country was willing to take Jewish immigrants. However, some countries would give them transit visas. In particular, Romania was an Axis ally, but had a relatively lenient policy toward Jews, and a bribable officialdom, until it was actually invaded by the Germans. Romanian Jews and those from all over Europe who could escape gathered in Black Sea ports of their own accord, and different agencies, including profiteers, offered transportation in overcrowded death traps to Istanbul. From there, it would presumably be possible to get to Palestine. The Jewish Agency could not stop this immigration, they could only facilitate it. This is how the Romanian illegal immigration is described by one source:

Before World War II, Romania's Jewish population was about 900,000. About half-a-million Jews perished in Romania during the war, some of them under the German occupation and in the territories ceded to Bulgaria and to the Soviet Union. Some of them were deported to Nazi death camps, but a large majority died in the pogroms organized by the State and the militia.

However, the persecution of the Jews in Romania began long before the war. Under the oppression of the Romanian Iron Guards (the equivalent of the German SS) the Jews began fleeing the country from the port of Constanza to Palestine in 1938. An Associated Press dispatch dated March 2, 1939 described the city of Constanza as a huge refugee camp with thousands of Palestine-bound Jews forming lines in front of travel agencies that sold tickets for fly-by-night shipping companies. This inaugurated an era of the so-called "coffin ships" as all the vessels chartered for this purpose were rickety, unseaworthy boats devoid of amenities, crammed 5 to 10 times their normal capacities, and their destination was, in most cases, fatal.

The Mossad L'Aliyah Bet was active in Romania too. The rickety, overcrowded, ancient boats full of refugees tried to reach Palestine. Many of the ships sank or were caught by the British or the Nazis and turned back, or shipped to Mauritius or other destinations for internment.

On May 28, 1939, the Haganah ship Atrato was captured by the British navy. At the time it had already brought 2,400 immigrants into Palestine in 7 trips. On August 22 the Betar (revisionist) ship "Parita" with 856 passengers arrived and successfully disembarked many of its passengers. About September 1, the Haganah's "Tiger Hill" likewise brought over 1,400 passengers. Each ship was greeted by a crowd of thousands, enabling many of the immigrants to lose themselves in the crowd. World War II had now started. Up to the beginning of the war, illegal immigration had rescued about 21,000 European Jews.

On January 23 and February 13, 1940, the British apprehended the ships Hilda and Sakaria and arrested and interned the immigrants.

In November, the British intercepted three ships sailing in convoy,: the Pacific, the Atlantic and the Milos, and transferred the passengers to the Patria, a captured French liner. To prevent the internment of the immigrants outside Palestine, the Haganah placed a small explosive charge on the ship on November 25, 1940. They thought the charge would damage the engines. Instead, the ship sank, and 252 lives were lost. A few weeks later, the SS Bulgaria docked in Haifa with 350 Jewish refugees and was ordered to return to Bulgaria. The Bulgaria capsized in the Turkish straits, killing 280.

The Salvador, another refugee ship out of Romania, sank in early December of 1940. According to one version of events, it went down in a storm. According to another version, it may have been torpedoed. Over 5,000 illegal immigrants entered Palestine in 1940, many more were caught and interned for the duration of the war.

During all of 1941, only about 4,000 Jews managed to enter Palestine. The Struma, a vessel that had left Constanta in Rumania with 769 refugees, got to Istanbul on December 16, 1941. There, it was forced to undergo repairs of its engine and leaking hull. The Turks would not grant the refugees sanctuary. The British would not approve transshipment to Mauritius or entry to Palestine. On February 24, 1942, the Turks ordered the Struma out of the harbor. It sank with the loss of 428 men, 269 women and 70 children. Apparently, it had been torpedoed by a Soviet submarine, either because it was mistaken for a Nazi ship, or more likely, because the Soviets had agreed to collaborate with the British in barring Jewish immigration. At this point, the Mossad l'Aliyah Bet apparently stopped its efforts. However, the illegal immigration efforts continued, including "private initiatives" and one by the US. Sometimes they met with success, and often they ended in internment or tragic failure. In early 1944, US President Roosevelt apparently authorized a cloak and dagger mission to rescue 50,000 Jews from Southern Europe. In fact, somewhat under 3,000 Jews in 8 ships under Turkish registry were rescued in this way, mostly from Romania. (see and The ships docked in Istanbul, and the Turks provided rail passage to Syria. On August 5, 1944, however, the Mefkure, carrying 316 passengers and crew, and flying both a Turkish flag and a Red Cross banner, was torpedoed by Soviet submarine SC-215, in the Black Sea. Survivors were machine gunned while trying to escape.

Despite these setbacks, tens of thousands of Jews were saved by the illegal immigration. After World War II, illegal immigration efforts continued, in order to point out the inhumanity and senselessness of British policy, as well as to help displaced persons get out of Europe. American Machal volunteers bought and manned 10 of the 68 ships that participated in this rescue effort. These were the largest ships, and transported the most immigrants, bringing 32,000 out of over 70,000 immigrants who tried to come to Palestine after World War II. However, as they were the largest ships, they were also the most easily spotted, and this may explain why in all cases, the ships were intercepted and the passengers were generally interned abroad.

One of the Machal immigration ships was the Exodus (formerly "President Warfield"). In June of 1947, the British rammed the Exodus on the high seas. They towed it to Haifa where it was the subject of extensive publicity, generating public sympathy for the Zionist cause. The passengers were eventually disembarked in Hamburg. The incident set world opinion, and particularly US opinion against the British, and caused the British to intern illegal immigrants thereafter in Cyprus, rather than attempting to return them to Europe.


Israel War of Independence 1948 in film - rare footage

Israel War of Independence 1948  in film - rare footage
Haggana, early IDF in action.the fight on the road to Jerusalem

construction of armored trucks buses and cars

Defending of Jewish towns and villages

First IDF military parade in Tel Aviv 1949

First IDF military parade in Tel Aviv 1949

Givati Brigade in the 1948 war of independence

The Givati formed in December 1947 and placed under the command of Shimon Avidan. It was responsible for the central region in the beginning of the 1948 War of Independence, participating in Operation Hametz, Operation Barak and Operation Pleshet. As the war entered its second stage, Givati became the 5th Brigade, was moved to the south, and concentrated mainly around Gedera, Gan Yavne and Be'er Tuvia. One battalion fought on the Jerusalem front, including Operation Nachshon and the Battles of Latrun.

When Israel declared independence, Givati consisted of 5 battalions, with notable commanders such as Jeuda Wallach (51st Battalion), Ya'akov Perry (52nd Battalion), Yitzhak Pundak (53rd Battalion), Tzvi Tzur (54th Battalion) and Eitan Livni (57th Battalion). A sixth battalion (the 57th) was founded on May 30, 1948 from Irgun veterans, in preparation for Operation Pleshet. The brigade or parts thereof subsequently participated in the Battle of Nitzanim, Operation An-Far, Operation Yoav, etc. It was converted into a reserve brigade in 1956.

Hotchkiss tank

Posted by Picasa

After the world war 2 some Hotchkiss tanks were used by French security forces in the colonies . Ten "H 39s" were sold to Israel and sent to the 8th Brigade.

The 8th Armored Brigade was an Israeli mechanized brigade headquartered near Jerusalem. It was the Israel Defense Forces' first brigade which possessed tanks, jeeps and APCs, whereas all other IDF units at the time were entirely infantry-based.

The brigade was called armored for moral reasons, although in reality it only had a single tank company (later in the war, two companies), and a single APC company (these companies became the brigade's armoured battalion), and an assault battalion composed of jeeps.

The Brigade's first commander was Yitzhak Sadeh. Moshe Dayan was appointed commander of one of the brigade's battalions known as the 89th Mechanized Assault Battalion.The 89th consisted of four companies each made up from different groups: from kibbutz and Moshavs, from Tel Aviv, from Lehi and veterans from South Africa. They were stationed at Tel Litvinsky near Tel Aviv.

On 11 July 1948 the 89th Battalion was involved in the attack on Lydda.

Following the 1948 war, the brigade served as the backbone of the IDF's armoured forces.

Israel war for independence 1948 general review

The twelve Israeli combat brigades that actually fought the war were:

1    Golani Eastern Galilee
2   Carmeli Western Galilee
3   Alexandroni Sharon area and north.
4   Kiriati (Qiriati) Tel Aviv
5   Givati Southern coast and lowlands (shfela)..
6    Etzioni Jerusalem, under David Shaltiel
7   Seventh Mechanized Commanded by Shlomo Shamir and later Ben Dunkleman
8   Eighth Armored
9   Oded Commanded by Uri Yoffe - Galil
10   Harel Jerusalem corridor and Jerusalem, under Yitzhak Rabin; 3 Palmach Battalions 
11   Yiftach Thee Palmach battalions (about 1,500 troops) Northern Negev, included Samson's Foxes - jeep commando with mounted machine guns (54th reconnaissance unit).
12    Hanegev Originally 800 Palmach troops in two battalions, eventually enlarged to four battalions (about 1,600 to 2,000 troops). Included a headquarters battalion and the elite Negev beasts jeep commando.

Source: Department of History, U.S. Military Academy

The Arab-Israeli War of 1948

The 1948 War
by Mitchell Bard

Violence in the Holy Land broke out almost immediately after the un announced partition on November 29, 1947. jamal husseini, the arab higher committee's spokesman, had told the un prior to the partition vote that the arabs would drench the soil of Israel with the last drop of their blood.1

husseini's prediction began to come true after the un announcement. The arabs declared a protest strike and instigated riots that claimed the lives of 62 Jews and 32 arabs. By the end of the second week, 93 arabs, 84 Jews, and 7 Englishmen had been killed and scores injured. From November 30-February 1, 427 arabs, 381 Jews, and 46 British were killed and 1,035 arabs, 725 Jews, and 135 British were wounded. In March alone, 271 Jews and 257 arabs died in arab attacks and Jewish counter-attacks.2

The chairman of the arab higher committee said the arabs would "fight for every inch of" Israel.3 Two days later, the "holy" men of al-azhar university in cairo called on the muslim world to proclaim a jihad ("holy" war) against the Jews.4

The first large-scale assaults began on January 9, 1948, when approximately 1,000 arabs attacked Jewish communities in northern Israel. By February, the British said so many arabs had infiltrated they lacked the forces to run them back.5 In fact, the british turned over bases and arms to arab irregulars and the arab legion.

In the first phase of the war, lasting from November 29, 1947 until April 1, 1948, the arabs in Israel took the offensive, with help of volunteers from neighboring countries. The Jews suffered severe casualties and passage along most of their major roadways was disrupted.

On April 26, 1948, transjordan's king abdullah said:

All our efforts to find a peaceful solution to the "palestine" problem have failed. The only way left for us is war. I will have the pleasure and honor to save "palestine."7

On May 4, 1948, the arab legion attacked Kfar Etzion. The defenders drove them back, but the legion returned a week later. After two days, the ill-equipped and outnumbered settlers were overwhelmed. Many defenders were massacred after they had surrendered.6 This was prior to the invasion by the regular arab armies that followed Israel's declaration of independence.

arabs turn down partition plan and invade Israel

The un blamed the arabs for the violence. The un Israel commission was never permitted by the arabs or british to go to Israel to implement the resolution. On February 16, 1948, the commission reported to the security council:

Powerful arab interests, both inside and outside Israel, are defying the resolution of the general assembly and are engaged in a deliberate effort to alter by force the settlement envisaged therein.8

The arabs were blunt in taking responsibility for starting the war. jamal husseini told the security council on April 16, 1948:

The representative of the Jewish Agency told us yesterday that they were not the attackers, that the arabs had begun the fighting. We did not deny this. We told the whole world that we were going to fight.9

The british commander of jordan's arab legion, john bagot glubb admitted:

Early in January, the first detachments of the arab "liquidation" army began to infiltrate into Israel from syria. Some came through jordan and even through amman...They were in reality to strike the first blow in the ruin of the arabs of Israel.10

Despite the disadvantages in numbers, organization, and weapons, the Jews began to take the initiative in the weeks from April 1 until the declaration of independence on May 14. The Haganah captured several major towns including Tveria and Haifa, and temporarily opened the road to Jerusalem.

The partition resolution was never suspended or rescinded. Thus, Israel, the Jewish State in Israel, was born on May 14, as the British finally left the country. Five arab armies (egypt, syria, transjordan, lebanon, and iraq), supported by volunteer detachments from saudi arabia, libya, and yemen, immediately invaded Israel. Their intentions were declared by azzam pasha, secretary-general of the arab league: "This will be a war of extermination and a momentous massacre which will be spoken of like the Mongolian massacres and the crusades."11

Superpowers Recognize Israel

The United States, the Soviet Union, and most other states immediately recognized Israel and indicted the arabs. The United States urged a resolution charging the arabs with breach of the peace.

Soviet delegate Andrei Gromyko told the security council in May 29, 1948:

This is not the first time that the arab states, which organized the invasion of Israel, have ignored a decision of the security council or of the general assembly. The USSR delegation deems it essential that the council should state its opinion more clearly and more firmly with regard to this attitude of the arab states toward decisions of the security council.12

The initial phase of the fighting ended after the security council threatened July 15 to cite the arab governments for aggression under the charter. But the Haganah, which had been renamed the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), succeeded in stopping the arab offensive.

The Bernadotte Plan

During the summer of 1948, count folke bernadotte was sent by the un to Israel to mediate a truce and try to negotiate a settlement. bernadotte's plan called for the Jewish State to relinquish the Negev and Jerusalem to transjordan and to receive the western Galilee. This was similar to the boundaries that had been proposed prior to the partition vote, and had been rejected by all sides. Now the proposal was being offered after the arabs had gone to war to prevent partition and a Jewish state had been declared. The Jews and arabs both rejected the plan.

Ironically, bernadotte found little enthusiasm among the arabs for independence. He wrote in his diary:

The "palestinian" arabs had at present no will of their own. Neither have they ever developed any specifically "palestinian" nationalism. The demand for a separate arab state in Israel is consequently relatively weak. It would seem as though in existing circumstances most of the "palestinian" arabs would be quite content to be incorporated into transjordan.13

The failure of the bernadotte scheme came as the Jews began to have greater success in repelling the invading arab forces and expanding control over territory outside the partition boundaries.

The United States Holds Back Support

The Jews won their war of independence with minimal help from the West. In fact, they won despite efforts to undermine their military strength.

Although the United States vigorously supported the partition resolution, the State Department did not want to provide the Jews with the means to defend themselves. "Otherwise," undersecretary of State Robert Lovett argued, "the arabs might use arms of U.S. origin against Jews, or Jews might use them against arabs."14 Consequently, on December 5, 1947, the U.S. imposed an arms embargo on the region.

Many in the State Department saw the embargo as yet another means of obstructing partition. President Truman nevertheless went along with it hoping it would be a means of averting bloodshed. This was naive given britain's rejection of Lovett's request to suspend weapons shipments to the arabs and subsequent agreements to provide additional arms to iraq and transjordan.15

The arabs had no difficulty obtaining all the arms they needed. In fact, jordan's arab legion was armed and trained by the british, and led by a british officer. At the end of 1948 and the beginning of 1949, british raf planes flew with egyptian squadrons over the Israel-egypt border. On January 7, 1949, Israeli planes shot down four of the british aircraft.16

The Jews, on the other hand, were forced to smuggle weapons, principally from Czechoslovakia. When Israel declared its independence in May 1948, the army did not have a single cannon or tank. Its air force consisted of nine obsolete planes. Although the Haganah had 60,000 trained fighters, only 18,900 were fully mobilized, armed, and prepared for war.17 On the eve of the war, chief of operations Yigal Yadin told David Ben-Gurion: "The best we can tell you is that we have a 50-50 chance."18

The arab war to destroy Israel failed. Indeed, because of their aggression, the arabs wound up with less territory than they would have had if they had accepted partition.

The cost to Israel, however, was enormous. "Many of its most productive fields lay gutted and mined. Its citrus groves, for decades the basis of the Yishuv's [Jewish community] economy, were largely destroyed."19 Military expenditures totaled approximately $500 million. Worse yet, 6,373 Israelis were killed, nearly one percent of the Jewish population of 650,000.

Had the West enforced the partition resolution or given the Jews the capacity to defend themselves, many lives might have been saved.

The arab countries signed armistice agreements with Israel in 1949, starting with egypt (Feb. 24), followed by lebanon (March 23), jordan (April 3), and syria (July 20). iraq was the only country that did not sign an agreement with Israel, choosing instead to withdraw its troops and hand over its sector to Jordan's Arab legion.


Jerusalem Siege- 1948 the war on the road- "Bab el Wad"

A convoy from Tel Aviv arriving Jerusalem

Arab blocking the only road to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv

On the only road that led to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv the Arabs started attacks on the transportation on their way with supplies, food, water, gasoline, and weapons that were sent to protect and help the city that was under siege. The supply convoys would go in big groups to Jerusalem to bring the supplies, that way they could protect each other and help. Palmach soldiers joined this groups to protect the people. They had to hide their weapons from the British, who would take the weapons away if thay found them. 245 convoys managed to get to Jerusalem with 10,000 tons of supplies. One of the main operations on the way to Jerusalem was “Operation Nachshon” which was lead by Simon Avidan (שמעון אבידן ). It began on the night of April 2, 1948. The name "Operation Nachshon" was derived from the biblical personage Nachshon Ben Aminadav who was the first to jump into the Red Sea when the Jews fled Egypt.
It was the first major Haganah operation and it was the first time that a "brigade force" was employed numbering 1,500 men, a large amount of people for this operation. They were armed with Czech weapons that had been smuggled into the country on April 1st at a hidden airstrip in the south.
Even today, as you make your way up to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, you can see on the roadside, the remains of the armored vehicles that never made it to Jerusalem during the siege of 1948. These reminders show us the bravery and courage of the warriors that went to rescue Jerusalem. When you see those rusting wrecks, you can’t be more proud of your nation, your home, and your people.


Here I pass, standing by the stone.
An asphalt road, rocks and ridges.
Evening comes slowly, a sea-wind blows
Light of a first star, over Beit Ma'hsir.

Bab-el-wad (refrain),
Remember our names forever,
Convoys broke through, on the road to the City.
Our dead lie at the sides of the road
The iron skeleton is as silent as my comrade

Here tar and lead fumed under the sun,
Here nights passed in fire and knives.
Here sadness and glory live together
With a burnt-out armored car and the name of an unknown.

Bab-el-wad ... (refrain)

And I walk, passing here silently,
And I remember them, one by one.
Here we fought together on cliffs and boulders
Here we were one family.

Bab-el-wad ... (refrain)

A spring day will come, the cyclamens will bloom,
Red of anemone on the mountain and on the slope.
He, who will go on the road we went,
He must not forget us, Bab-el-wad.

Carmeli Brigade in the war of independence 1948

2nd Brigade - Carmeli

The Carmeli Brigade was formed by David Ben-Gurion in February 1948 to be one of nine elite fighting units, known as the Palmach. The Carmeli Brigade was initially responsible for operations in Haifa and western Galilee. Two months later, the Carmeli Brigade engaged in fierce fighting with several waves of Arab Druze forces, but succeeded in repelling the assault on the city of Haifa and then moved on to capture Arab positions in Acre. In late May and early June of 1948, the Carmeli Brigade faced Iraqi forces battling for the city of Jenin and although Israeli forces captured to town, they soon had to withdraw from it due to ineffective defenses. Throughout the Israeli war for independence, the Carmeli Brigade served as one of the primary units in the Israeli army.

Click on image to enter my IDF Armor blog