Dec 1947-April 1948
Pages in Section 10
i. Givat Hayim
ii. Ramat Gan
iii. Night of the Bridges
iv. Attack on Railway Workshops
v. OP Agatha
vi. Bombing of the king David Hotel
vii. Operation Shark
The police action in Tel Aviv, code-named Operation Shark, began on 30th July. Paratroopers cordoned off the whole of Tel Aviv and sections of Jaffa. Police announced an indefinite curfew period before soldiers set up inner cordons dividing the area into sections. Residents woke to find rolls of barbed wire in the middle of the road outside their homes.
A policeman, accompanied by pairs of soldiers,conducted a house to house search for suspected terrorists and arms. In each household all occupants were assembled and ID's checked. The soldiers then searched the house and the policeman screened all except the very elderly, infirm and young children.
Able-bodied men and many young women were taken to sun-baked parks and school yards to wait, initially without food or water, to be interviewed by experienced CID officers.
Towards evening, children under the age of fourteen were allowed to carry water to their fathers. The sight of their fathers, detained under these circumstances, left a lifelong impression on many of these young minds.
An Israeli gentleman called Avi Gordon contacted this author with his memory of what he called "Otzer Hagadol". He was only seven or eight at the time.
For four days no one was allowed to leave their homes. King George Street in Tel Aviv was divided by barbed wires for its whole length, in order to divide the city into sections. In the first day, to my amusement, my father unlocked the main door. About twenty minutes later, two British paratroopers walked into the apartment. I recognized them as such by the red berets they wore, and their red faces. Anyway, once they walked in, they placed their rifles at the room’s corner, demanded to open every cabinet door and they searched the contents. Finally, they arrived at the liquor cabinet. My mother opened it up, took out cookies and offered them some with a shot of liquor. Both blushed, they took one cookie each, picked up their guns and walked out embarrassed. That afternoon my father was detained. Later we found out he was at Gan Meir Park. My mother gave me a container full of lemonade with ice. It was very hot that afternoon, I got to the fence, there was a British trooper at the entrance. He ordered me to stop, opened the container, took few drinks out of it for himself, and told me with his hand to go in. I did. I found my father with other men in an open area under the hot sun. I gave him the drink. In a few minutes, the lemonade was gone. There was one women detained, she was placed under the shade of a tree and was encircled by barbed wire. My father was released after a day. He came home. Four days later in the afternoon we heard a shot, it meant a break in the curfew. Everyone went to the bakery next door, the business was conducted through the window, a long line was formed , business was brisk . Two days later the curfew was over.
Avi's reminiscence prompted a reply from ex-BC Jim Knaggs, who is sadly no longer with us.:
As young men, most of us had little thought about how it would have affected young children. The curfew and search followed the King David Hotel bombing and was aimed at picking up as many terrorist suspects as possible. We were all roped in for the operation and as usually happened I was attached to CID screening. I was bag-carrier to Sergeant Martin of Jewish Affairs. He was murdered in Haifa just a few weeks later, shot by the Irgun outside his flat one lunchtime as he turned to wave goodbye to his wife.
Our top-screening unit was set-up in the quadrangle of a secondary school - can't remember which. The army provided the cordons and the searching was done by police assisted by the Airborne Division and other units. Arrested suspects were sent by army transport from field-screening to the top-screening unit where they were held in temporary barbed-wire cages. After screening, they were either detained or sent back home under escort - most were sent home as seems to have happened in the case of Avi's father.
My little part in the operation was to wade through the long CID terrorist suspect lists while Sergeant Martin did the questioning.
One of the terrorists we were after was Menachem Begin. CID had information on where he was supposed to be hiding but drew a blank. I remember they went back again that night and had another unsuccessful search. Years later, I read Begin's book and learned that he had been bricked in inside a false wall and almost suffocated.
On the final day of the curfew, while we were packing our equipment, one of the Airborne sergeants had a potter round a cellar, right below where out four screening tables had been standing. He noticed one of the walls seemed to have a very new coat of whitewash. He gave it a good thump, it collapsed and revealed a large room that was full of explosives and was being used as a hand-grenade and bomb factory. It took us a couple of hours to move everything out. On reflection , I can't help thinking they should have taken that sergeant round to Began's suspected hiding place.
Ex-BC 3029 Jack Binsley was also involved with the interviews in Tel Aviv. He wrote in Issue 6 of the British Palestine Police Association newsletter:
Sergeant Martin was the head of the Jewish Political Affairs Section of the Central Intelligence Department in Haifa. His wife was Jewish and he lived in the community which unfortunately made him an accessible target.
Following the Bombing of the Secretariat by the Irgun and LEHI in July 1946 the Army surrounded Tel Aviv. Paras of the 6th Airborne Division went house to house, detaining all young men and bringing them to interrogation centres which we were called in from Haifa to man. I was seated with Sergeant Martin when we eventually struck gold. A small middle-aged man in the garb of a Hassid (an Orthodox Jew) was brought before us. We instantly recognized him by his luxuriant eyebrows as Yitzhak Yesternitski, the operational head of Lehi. That night he was flown to Uganda to wait out the mandate only to return to Israel and later, with a new name, to become Prime Minister as Yitzhak Shamir.
Six weeks later Sergeant Martin was assassinated in Garden Street, Haifa and I was transferred day to Jerusalem where the situation was even more intense."
As Avi said, in his piece, the curfew lasted several days. Arrangements were made for short periods of food distribution (although a black market was quickly operating) and essential services such as hospitals and utilities were continued under military guard.
Although Begin Menachem escaped, the operation achieved several minor successes besides the arrest of Yitzhak Shamir. It included the discovery of a large weapons cache in the city's main synagogue.
Text - Copyright British Palestine Police Association