Monday, April 30, 2007

The Great Escape from the British Prison, Part 1

Previous related posts:

The Russian Compound, Jerusalem

The Jewish resistance to British colonial rule in the days before Israeli Independence took two forms. The Socialists Zionists, who drew their strength from the Kibbutzim (agricultural collectives) in the countryside, focused on the steady building of Jewish settlements coupled with diplomatic efforts. Their armed force, the Haganah, literally, "defense," was established mainly to defend their settlements from Arab attacks.

Haganah propaganda poster

Meanwhile, underground organizations like "Lehi" (לוחמי חירות ישראל, Lochamei Herut Israel, the Fighters for the Freedom of Israel) and the "Irgun" (הארגון הצבאי הלאומי בארץ ישראל , the National Army Organization in the Land of Israel, or the "organization" for short) focused on sneak attacks against British military targets, with their support coming mostly from city dwellers.

The Lehi logo
The Irgun logo. Note the map of the land of Israel, including Jordan, which was later broken off from the British mandate of Palestine and given to the Arab Hashemite regime by Winston Churchill, in violation of international law and agreements. The remaining land would later be divided a second time, with Judea, Samaria, and Gaza also transferred to the Arabs.

After the war of independence, the Haganah transformed into the modern Israeli army, and the Socialists formed "Mapai" and later, "Avodah," the dominant liberal political parties for the next thirty years. The underground organizations surrendered their arms and were integrated into the army. Their ideologues became the leaders of the right-wing Israeli political parties, until they were united by former Irgun leader Menachem Begin, under the "Likud" or "Unification" banner. They won their first election in 1977, 29 years after independence.

Cell #23:

Until the summer of 1947, this room was occupied by "Hagana" prisoners. With the release of the majority of these men, "Lehi" prisoners were confined to this room.

Some of the prisoners had enough time on their hands to carve their names and unit symbols into the paving stones.

The aftermath of the U.N. resolution of 29 November 1947 to partition Palestine, and the Arab attacks on Jewish populated areas, fueled the prisoners' aspirations to escape from prison to join their fighting brethren outside the prison walls in battles of the War of Independence.

Assisted by a Jewish employee of the Municipality's Public Works Department who had free access to the prison in the capacity of his job, the prisoners secretly obtained a regional map and from it learned that the main sewage pipe passed next to the main wall. They decided to dig a tunnel and connect to the sewage pipe.
A map showing the route of the escape tunnel connecting to the sewage pipe.

An escape plan is one thing, but how were the inmates to dig out of a well-guarded prison in broad daylight? Stay tuned...

Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Russian Compound, Jerusalem

I realize that this is about a week late, in fact it's precisely a week late, but here are some photos from a tour I took of the Russian compound in Jerusalem. It's pretty grim, but hey, it was Memorial Day.

The Russian compound, one of the first neighborhoods to go up outside the protection of the old city walls, was constructed in 1864 to serve the thousands of visiting Russian Orthodox Christians coming to the holy city on pilgrimage. After the British Empire threw the Ottoman Empire out the door in 1917, the British colonial authorities took over, transforming the entire area into an administrative center.

The Russian Compound's Pilgrimage Center, which had served as a hostel for the visiting pilgrims, could accommodate up to 2,000 visitors at a time. With long hallways leading to separate rooms, it was an ideal layout for a hostel, or a prison, which is exactly what the British turned the place into.

Entering the Prison, festooned with flags for the upcoming Independence Day.

Her Majesty's Palestine Police Force's Logo

Over the course of the British occupation, hundreds of prisoners, both simple criminals and political, passed through its gates. Jews and Arabs were incarcerated together. Executions for capital crimes were commonplace, but only for Arabs. While the facility housed many death-row inmates captured from the Jewish underground organizations, Jews sentenced to death were sent to Acco for the actual executions. The British, fearful of the Jewish reaction to executions in the holy city, never used the gallows of the prison for Jews.

Hallways in the British Prison

In each cell, one prisoner was made supervisor over the others, and given an actual bed. This, of course, resulted in great resentment from the others.

The supervising prisoner gets his own bed.

The Prison Bakery

Prisoners from the Jewish underground organizations were often put to work making coffins and gravestones for the very same British policemen and soldiers they had killed in combat. As the guards used to tell them, "What you start on the outside, you finish on the inside."

Coffins in the wood shop

The Gravestone Quarry

But the prison couldn't keep all of its inmates on the inside. Coming up next... the underground fighters stage a jailbreak from the British prison.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Car is Getting Closer

A Plus: 8 Months, 1 Week, 2 Days

Before deciding to call our dating off, probably due to my droning on about how badly I want a car, one of my previous shidduchim gave me the number of an English-speaking driving instructor way out in Talpiot. Having just descended from the Talpiot Licensing Office, completed paperwork in one hand, cell phone in the other, I stood on auto row, drooling over the87-octane fueled chariots glistening in the windows, until I heard a frantic honking sound. Running across the street I jumped into the slowly moving vehicle with the giant cardboard letter "lamed" on the roof and the "Nahag Chadash" (new driver) sticker.
"Give me the paperwork."
His student, a recent immigrant from Ethiopia, was having trouble navigating the crowded traffic circle.
"You've driven before? LEFT!" Strange. His accent is Israeli, but his name is Martin. Not an Israeli name.
"BRAKES! Automatic or manual?"
"Good. I teach manual. There are two types of licenses, there's a manual license which.. now turn to the right SLOWLY... lets you drive either a manual or an automatic, or there's the automatic license which doesn't let you use a manual. I can only give you a manual license."
I think about it for a second. Yes, it would be convenient to have a manual license, but I'm already in the car, and I don't want to waste another few weeks or months trying to find an instructor for manual.
"Sounds fine. When can I start taking lessons?"
"It's a problem. I have to bring your papers to the licensing office to schedule a test time. Pesach starts in a few days, and then there's Chol Hamoed," the intermediate days of Pesach, "so they're closed for at least seven days. And they're planning a strike after. And then they will have a backlog of work from the past few weeks. Just give me your papers. Don't call me, I'll call you."

Three weeks later...

I'm in the middle of calculating fan sizes for an electrical room cooling system, chewing on rasin bran in my pajamas at two in the afternoon, wondering what I'm going to do with my free time now that yeshivah is on break, when my cell phone jumps to life.
"Ephraim, it's Martin. Be at the bridge at French Hill at five thirty tomorrow."
"But that's just an hour before Shabbat (sabbath) starts."
"No, I meant five thirty in the morning."
"WHAT!? Why?"
"Because your test is at seven, and you have to take a lesson before they give you the test."
I consider my options for a moment. Being there at five thirty means leaving my apartment at at four thirty. Which means waking up at four. I'll be trashed for the test, but they give you two chances. If you fail to pass on the second time, you have to start from the beginning and take twenty six lessons. It's a risk, but I'm sick of waiting. What the hey, I'll sleep it off on Shabbat.
"Okay," I tell him.
"Great, now you have to pay. But wait... BRAKES!..." (I hear break screeching in the background) "you have to pay at the post office before the lesson, and the post office isn't open tomorrow at five in the morning."
"I'll go downtown now, I'll be there in an hour. You'll give me the bill, I'll bring it to the post office, and I'll bring you the receipt tomorrow."
"Great! Call me when you're here."
I get there, call him, turns out there will be a half-hour delay until he can do the handoff, so I buy some combat boots for my hiking trip to Safed in a couple of weeks (this was a couple of weeks ago, so it starts tomorrow.)

The handoff goes smoothly. It's the same setup, with him quickly opening the car door and me jumping into the back seat as his student jerks and rattles the vehicle along. He hands me the bill, I jump out, and I don't think the Shabak (Israeli FBI) spotted us.

Friday morning, my bill paid in full, I begin my lesson. As it turns out, starting before dawn was a great idea. I haven't driven in seven months, and I need some warm up, but we're the only car on the road. I was concerned that I would have difficulty with the test being in Hebrew, but there are only four words you need to know, "Smolah" (left), "Yaminah" (right,) "Kadimah" (forward,) and "Atzor" (stop.) Nearing the end of the test, his coffee cup running dangerously low, he breaks into English, "Go faster! Go FASTER!"

I was worried about having passed the test, realizing I had forgotten to use my signal and gotten confused as to which lane I was supposed to be in on Israel's bizzare traffic circles, but Martin reassures me.
"Did the tester ever touch the wheel?"
"Did he touch the breaks?'
"You probably passed."

And sure enough, I did. I'm still procrastinating heading all the way back out to Talpiot to the licensing office to get my newly minted Israeli driver's license. And now for the next challenge... selecting and financing a vehicle. I spoke with my rabbis and decided to wait a while. We are now in the period of the Omer, a period of trepidation as we count the forty nine days between Pesach, the festival of the Exodus from Egypt and Shavuot, the festival of the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. During this period, or at least until the thirty third day (Lag B'Omer,) we don't shave (my beard is already getting nappy) or make major purchases, such as motor vehicles. But the day is coming.

Anyway, I'm off to go on a big hike through Tzfat, where I will spend shabbat. Pictures will be forthcoming, but I won't be back until Sunday. Shabbat Shalom!

What I learned in Yeshivah today, now that the new semester has started:

I learned NOTHING today because I had vast quantities of work to do and couldn't spare the two-hour round bus trip. If I only had a car, things would be much, much different.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Shabbat Beit Hoglah

Continued from previous posts:

Part 1: A Journey to the End of the Earth
Part 2: Nahal Ein Hoglah
Part 3: Hiking Nahal Ein Hoglah

Some photos of before and after shabbat at Beit Hogla:

The rest of the guys arrive (past the abandoned border fortifications mentioned earlier.)

A vanity mirror, propped behind a gas line.

Ze'evi's here. Now we can really get started.
Taking some time for learning in the Beit Midrash.
Testing the soup in an, eh, less than sanitary kitchen. Still, it's probably cleaner than mine.

And after shabbat...
Kiddush Levanah, the sanctification of the new moon.

Back to the main structure/tent thingee for...

Havdallah (the conclusion of Shabbat.)
Chodesh tov - let's dance around a little.

Ze'evi gets down.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Hiking Nahal Ein Hogla

Nahal Ein Hogla, the Hogla Springs River, runs along the southern side of the settlement at Beit Hogla. In the distance, we could see a grove of palm trees with some sort of abandoned fortifications. So it was time to go exploring.

Adam, looking ahead at the grove and hilltop.

Approaching the hilltop.
What appears to be the turret of a tank on the hilltop. Inside the hill, mysterious caves. And some sort of hawk in the upper right hand corner of the photo adds to the drama.

At last, we arrive at the tank. The front end is dug into the hill, and it looks as if it hasn't been used for quite some time.

Inside the tank.
Yours truly, on top of the tank. The structures in the back left is Beit Hogla. The two towers supply water to the adjascent border guard base of Mul NevoStanding on the turret of the tank, it's possible to see a fortified bunker surrounded by barbed wire. In the background is the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

Adam slides down the hillside into the caves below.

I follow shortly thereafter, camera in hand.

The caves appear to be somewhat recent. The hill is not really stone but merely a light, soft sort of mudcake. Thus, these caves would have been relatively easy to build. I am willing to be that they were made relatively recently, since anything too old would have eroded away. They were probably part of the fortifications of this hilltop. But that's just a guess, of course.
Looking back at Nahal Ein Hogla

Looking from out the cave, I decide to take a risk and jump into Nahal Ein Hogla. Camera in one hand, I leap from the cliff, landing on the loose rock below. Unfortunately, my heroic landing wasn't quite as well-coordinated as I had hoped. I twisted my anke and fell on my back. Suddenly, I found myself sliding down the steep hill, head first, unable to stop. The first part of my body to hit the bottom of the Wadi was my head, but the rest of my body had such powerful momentum that it wanted to keep going, so I had the unusual sensation of watching my body pass over my head as I somersaulted, pivoting on my twisting neck, landing face-down in some thorny bushes. It hurt like hell.

The cliff from which I jumped/fell

I was eventually able to extracate myself from the bush. I had twisted my ankle, torn up my neck pretty badly, and was covered in bleeding cuts. But otherwise, I was okay and could walk again after five or ten minutes.

Walking back, Adam and I came across some loose ordinance.

Uh, Adam.... please don't touch that.

A closer look. I think it's a mortar round with the charge removed.

Walking back, we decided to take a different route. Those palm trees on the horizon are the Greek Monestary.

The settlement at Beit Hogla. It looks positively flourishing and tropical, compared to where we just were.

And it was time to shower, dress my wounds, and prepare for Shabbat.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Beit Hogla

Independence and memorial day posts will be coming soon, just as soon as I've had time to assemble the photos into some sort of coherent narrative. Meanwhile, I'll continue with yesterday's post, A Journey to the End of the Earth, with a tour of the outpost at Beit Hogla...

The name of the city "Yericho" (Jericho) is rooted in the word "Yareach" (moon,) because the original Canaanite inhabitants were moon-worshiping pagans. Today, the name still seems appropriate, not only because the Muslim inhabitants of Jericho use the crescent moon as the symbol of their religion, but also because the landscape itself often looks like a deserted, wasted moonscape.

Beit Hoglah is next to the Army base called "Mul Nevo," literally, "Across from Nebo," referring to Mount Nebo, on which Moses gave his final testimony, Sefer Dvarim (the Book of Deuteronomy.) God then stretched out the Land of Israel before him as he died. Directly south of Beit Hogla is the region of Gilgal, where the Jews encamped under the command of Moses' successor Joshua, while sending out war parties to conquer the land and establish settlements.

Yours truly, at the entrance to Beit Hogla

The "Welcome to Beit Hogla" menorah.

The outpost, such as it is, resembles a Bedouin encampment, with makeshift shelters and seemingly temporary dwellings. Erna, an immigrant from Greece, is the only permanent inhabitant. Her husband, who lives in Ofrah, near Beit El, visits whenever he can, and her children live in settlements and outposts throughout Judea and Samaria (aka the West Bank.)

David, fellow yeshivah student, and Erna, at Beit Hogla. Note the lovely picket fence.

Most of the guys from yeshivah have been working on repairing and expanding the drip irrigation systems . Beit Hogla produces medicinal herbs and spices, as well as olives.

The soil is extremely tough to work. One can see why Yehoshua (Joshua, Moses' successor) referred to Jericho as "cursed." This land was once at the bottom of a vast inland sea. As the sea dried up and shrank to become the Dead Sea, heavy salt deposits remained in the earth. Today, when rain falls, the water absorbs the salt from the soil and brings it to the surface, resulting in a thin layer of salt dust over the land. The salt is poisonous for the plant life, and limits the types of crops which can be grown.

And this is where you will be staying tonight. A lovely five-star modified shipping container.

The shipping containers are arranged in a semi-square. they provide the walls for the Beit Midrash (study hall) and Shul (synagogue.)

The Beit Midrash/Shul
Working on the drip irrigation system

When she first arrived, there was very little for Erna to work with here. The Army had permitted her to use the land, but nothing grows out here on its own, and the Army was uninterested in providing her with water. Down the road, however, is the a Greek Orthodox Christian Monestary. Erna, a native Greek speaker herself, was able to negotiate a contract to purchase water to run the farm.

The goat pen. Back right in the distance: The Greek Orthodox Monestary

David at the goat pen

The Greek Orthodox Monestary

The southern side of the farm is bordered by a Wadi, which periodically floods during storms, and acts as an underground river. Filled with an unusual belt of green, the Wadi leads down to the Jordan River. In the distance, palm trees poke up over some sort of old defensive position. One of the guys working tells me that this was an old defensive position from either the independence or six day war. That, of course, piques my curiosity.

New irrigation piping. Note white the salt deposits at the low points. In the distance, an oasis formed by the underground river. In the far background one can see the old defensive positon.

And that will be my next stop...