I am the mother of three and grandmother of nine, and old enough to know about the rebirth of the Jewish State of Israel. Yet I had no idea about the whole story of her rebirth—those who worked behind the scenes, keeping their secrets for decades. Those stories are now being shared, and it is our obligation to teach them to future generations.
A documentary in progress titled “4 Million Bullets: The Untold Fight for Survival” is a timely reminder to Jews all over the world of the fragility of freedom.
When I read the title, I was immediately taken back to the book, Holocaust by Bullets by Father Patrick Desbois. Between 1.5 and 2 million Jews were murdered by bullets in Eastern Europe and Ukraine, shot by the Einsatzgruppen units A, B, C and D. Young and old. Executed and dropped into mass graves. Many still breathing and trying to scratch their way out for three days. These are people who had lived in shtetls and ghettos, and then faced pogroms. They were the descendants of Jews forced to wander the world for 2,000 years. By the time these Jews knelt over the open trenches, their bodies were empty shells, their souls having fled to the Wailing Wall under the protection of the Shekinah.
And then the phoenix arose as the remnant of Jews returned to their historical and legal home, Israel, to join their brethren. No sooner had the country been declared legal than the armies of five Arab countries attacked.
How did these Jews defend themselves against five armies when they were denied weaponry by the British these Jews? Among other great acts of bravery, they produced their own bullets.
When people think about Jewish soldiers and Jewish armies, there is usually some joke coming next. As a rule, Jews are not recognized as warriors. Yet it was King David who led the greatest Jewish army. He started “small” with five smooth stones and took down a bully. Under King David, Jewish soldiers were considered the best mercenaries; no soldier was better than the Lions of Judah. With the fall of the Second Temple (now just underneath the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem) and the forced exile of the Jewish people from Israel—to be renamed Palestine by the Romans—there were no more stories about Jewish soldiers and their bravery.
We hear and read about the heroics of soldiers and volunteers from Britain and America, and Canada and Australia—great battles fought and won by the Allies. But no stories about Jewish soldiers from a Jewish country.
Now there is once again a Jewish state on the same land ruled by King David and protected by the Jewish soldiers. And the Jewish people are blessed with some amazing stories about Jewish soldiers and volunteers—stories that today sound more like myths and legends than fact.
Modern Zionism dates back to people who returned during the first and second waves of aliyah beginning in 1882, and the Balfour Declaration of 1917. The British Mandate for Palestine, May 1923, recognized “the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine. Sadly, the British then issued a White Paper in 1939, restricting Jewish immigration and land purchase in Palestine. The White Paper signaled Britain’s readiness to relegate the Jews in Palestine to minority status in a future majority-Arab state. They did this at the same time that Nazism was raging, and Jews were being ethnically cleansed from the British Mandate.
Protecting the modern nascent Jewish state was a group effort that included members of Mahal, international volunteers who trained with the Haganah in the 1940s; sabras, Jews born in British Mandatory Palestine, who were teenagers fighting in the War of Independence; and children of American industrialists who secretly raised funds and smuggled ships, arms, weapons and planes to Israel in the interwar period. Altogether almost 4,000 international Jewish and gentile volunteers participated not only producing the bullets, but smuggling in ships and guns despite the attempts by Britain to keep the Jews unarmed. After all, it was British Member of Parliament, Anthony Eden, who said: “If I must have preferences, let me murmur in your ear that I prefer Arabs to Jews.”
If not for the heroic and innovative cooperation between the Jews of Palestine and the international volunteers before, during and after battle, the State of Israel might not have survived past her first month.
Four million bullets were manufactured in a secret ammunition factory: the Ayalon Institute. Built in 1945 and about the size of a tennis court, it was disguised as part of a kibbutz to fool the British back in the 1940s. It was built in about three weeks. Organizers went to extreme measures to establish and sustain this secret factory within the kibbutz. They climbed through a narrow hole in the ground, down a steep spiral staircase, to spend 10-hour days in a hot, air-choked machine shop shaping metal into bullets to be used in the fight for Jewish independence. At its peak, the factory produced about 40,000 bullets a day. Once the bullets were produced, they were smuggled to places all over the country.
Here are some of the heroes, names we need to learn: Shlomo Hillel; Zippy Porath, an American; Si Spiegelman, a teenage immigrant from Belgium; Elie Schalit; American Navajo Jesse Slade; and Shepard Broad; and Canadians Joe Warner, Jerry Gross, Irving Matlow and Bill Novick.
The title of the documentary, “4 Million Bullets: The Untold Fight for Survival,” reflects the ability of the Jewish people to survive despite all attempts to wipe them out. Four million bullets to save the state from the attacks of five Arab nations intent on exterminating the new state and its Jews. And nothing has changed. Except that the Jewish people are no longer helpless. The Jewish state of Israel is armed. The people are armed. There will be no more Jewish sacrificial lambs.
Diane Bederman is the author of “Back to the Ethic, Reclaiming Western Values,” published by Mantua Books. She blogs at: DianeBederman.com.