Monday, April 30, 2007

The Great Escape from the British Prison, Part 1

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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...

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