The following is a film treatment based on my family’s experience during and leading up to the fateful day of May 14, 1948 when Israel was reborn.
ABBA — Palmach Movie by Avi Schwartz © 2018 All rights reserved
It is the year 66. Jerusalem is ransacked. The beloved Jewish Holy Temple is in flames.
Roman slave ships sailing off the coast of Israel are filled to capacity with captured, battered and shackled Jewish men, women and children – prisoners of the defeated revolt against Rome. They are to be sent into slavery and a life of eternal exile. Desperately trying to see for the last time their beloved Jerusalem while being savagely whipped, the Jewish prisoners are sobbing uncontrollably as they swear, “If I forget thee O’Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its power” and watch the ships sail into the horizon.
A visual montage of the Jewish exile throughout history then ensues.
“Long ago when the world was still ruled by pagan beliefs and their savage ways, one nation took upon itself the torch of the Living G-d and His Ways of Truth and Justice and His message of Love. But the forces of evil Rome had entered their Land, infecting it and its inhabitants with war, hatred and rivalry. Fighting against the mighty Empire the valorous Nation lost the revolt. Ripped from their Land the Jewish people were sent into exile to wander to the four corners of the Earth and to endure untold suffering as their beloved Land began to wither away. Loyal to G-d and their Oath to forever remember Jerusalem and their beloved Land, 2000 years would pass until both the Soul of the Land and the Soul of People would reunite when the Winds of Return would carry them back home.”
Arabs are in an uproar. Rioting in the streets. They are killing Jews.
Terrified for her children’s lives a pregnant ALTA SCHWARTZ, is hiding her young children, ZAHAVA, RACHEL and little MOTKE, 8 years old, under the bed waiting for the Arabs to pass through the courtyard and hopefully not enter the house. The men run by but the fear is too great. It causes her to miscarry. Besides himself, Motke picks up a kitchen knife and a broomstick and is about to go outside, only to be stopped by his older sisters. His Mother’s agony and loss are etched into Motke’s mind.
Jerusalem June 29, 1946.
All grown up, Motke, 17 years old, is now a dashing, handsome, charismatic young man, amazingly strong, very athletic and brilliant. Riding on his motorcycle up the Judean mountains, he heads towards an emergency Zionist youth meeting. The previous night, the underground left-wing paramilitary force, the Palmach, carried out a daring mission, the “Night of the Bridges”. Under the diversion of 50 operations, the underground army destroyed eleven bridges linking Mandatory Palestine to the neighboring countries of Lebanon, Syria, Transjordan and Egypt, and suspending the transportation routes used by the British army. The teens are beaming with pride, challenging and taunting the right-wing teens of the local Irgun club.
Zahava, the leader of the Irgun teens is standing up to the crowd when Motke arrives and breaks up the confrontation. A close brother and sister, nonetheless, both are political opposites. Each political wing believes that it alone has the right path to statehood.
Suddenly British Army patrols are seen driving up the roadway, hunting for all suspects. COLONEL WHITLEY, the officer in charge, announces a curfew. “The arrests are not directed against the Jewish community as a whole, but solely against those few who are taking an active part in the present campaign of violence and those who are responsible for instigating and directing it.”, announces Whitely.
Operation Agatha commences as the British soldiers begin rounding up every suspect within the Jewish Agency, the Palmach, Lehi, and Irgun who might have been associated with the “Night of the Bridges”. Though Motke and his friends are not in any paramilitary group they are rounded up and taken to the detention camp in Latrun. Among the 2,700 detainees are leading Jewish Agency and Yishuv members: MOSHE SHARETT, YITZHAK GRUENBAUM, DOV YOSEF, DAVID REMEZ, AND YEHUDA LEIB MAIMON.
After much searching, the British soldiers find the documents and files that prove that the Jewish Agency took a central role in “The Jewish Resistance Movement.” They confiscate hundreds of weapons and rounds of ammunition.
BEN-GURION receives news of the roundup. He makes a drastic decision. The Palmach and Irgun will no longer work together to harass the British. The consequences are too great. Until Operation Agatha, the Yishuv leadership had played the role of an innocent bystander in its negotiations with the British government for Jewish refugee immigration and possible statehood. Now caught, the timetable to end the British Mandate becomes a distant dream.
Immediately Zahava rushes to their father, YITZHAK. One of the original founders of the Egged bus line, Yitzhak is the owner of Mount Scopus Bus Line 9. An esteemed acquaintance of High Commissioner Sir Alan Cunningham, Yitzhak is able to obtain Motke’s release, thereby avoiding a two and half prison sentence in Eritrea, Africa, unlike Motke’s uncle, an Irgun leader, who is still enduring imprisonment in Eritrea, having been caught by the British army several months earlier.
Released, Motke returns home. Affected by the experience he separates himself from family and friends to contemplate his next choice of action: either to enroll into university and become the engineer he always dreamt of, or to join the Palmach and risk life and limb. His experience at the detention camp had made the realities of resistance stark. If caught a second time, his father would not be able to save him.
July 22, 1946.
Disguised as Arab workmen and as hotel waiters, members of the Irgun plant a bomb in the basement of the main building of the King David Hotel, whose southern wing houses the Mandate Secretariat and a few offices of the British Military headquarters. The plan was approved by MOSHE SNEH, chief of the Haganah, who sends a letter to MENACHEM BEGIN, ordering the attack. The plan is finalized by AMICAHI PAGLIN, Irgun Chief and YITZHAK SADEH, Palmach Chief. Unbeknownst to the Irgun, the Haganah cancels its participation.
Three warning calls are made by the Irgun to evacuate the Hotel. But the British officers in charge do not take the warnings seriously.
The Hotel is bombed, killing 91 people.
The killings set off a chain reaction within the Yishuv. The Irgun is now seen as a terrorist and fascist entity, causing the final split from the Palmach and the Yishuv leadership. Begin becomes a hunted man.
Early morning. Three weeks have passed since Motke secluded himself. After weighing all the issues, he makes his decision. Springing out of bed, singing the words of the Palmach marching song, “All around us the storm rages. But we will not lower our heads. We are always ready to follow the commands. We are the Palmach.” Motke heads off to Kibbutz Bet HaArava, in the northern Dead Sea region. Within an hour of enlisting, he begins rifle training.
Meanwhile the curfew and the roundup are causing the Jewish community to protest the British authorities both in Palestine and New York. The British crackdown on the Palmach weapon cache has sent members of the Jewish Agency in New York scrambling for new supplies.
Although supporting their Jewish brethren the Jewish community is torn apart regarding the Zionist dream of statehood. Tensions are even greater since the news of the recent discovery of the Nazi death camps, sending shock waves throughout the community.
MOHAMMED AMIN AL-HUSSEINI, the former mufti of Jerusalem is still in contact with former escaped Nazis and Arab leaders planning the extermination of the Jews of the Arab countries. Threats of expulsion and murder are made against the Jews of Iraq, Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria should Palestine be partitioned and a Jewish state be declared. Several Jews have already been brutally murdered during Arab rioting.
Six months have now passed since Motke joined the Palmach. His extreme athletic ability and quickness of mind have caught the attention of the Palmach leadership. Even the esteemed young Palmach commander, POZA, is aware of Motke, who has already led several raids and secretly brought Holocaust refugees to shore.
Poza assigns Motke to assassinate a local Arab leader who has been agitating the Arabs to murder Jews. Torn about the idea of assassination, Motke knows that once he commits it he may be a changed man. He must choose between his innocence or his responsibility to save others. He understands he must place his innocence aside. He is only moments from pulling the trigger when the mission is canceled.
Late that night the kibbutz members and the Palmach leadership debate about continuing the resistance or not. It is now understood that more important than the British overthrow is the threat of an Arab invasion with the goal of driving all the 600,000 Jewish inhabitants into the sea and the end of the dream of statehood.
It is now early 1947. Months have passed and still the British government has not let up. In a stroke of genius, ABBA EBAN, a young and brilliant scholar, recently appointed as a liaison officer to the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine, manages to bring both the UN committee members and the British press to the port of Haifa. They bear witness to the cruel and brutal treatment that the Holocaust Survivors are undergoing because of the British army. Photographs and newsreels of the treatment are causing the British public to decry their government’s refusal to allow the refugees in.
The backlash is so great that the British prime minister has no choice but to bring the issue before the United Nations.
Arab world leaders present the case hoping to prevent a UN resolution creating a two nstate solution.
It is now the morning of Wednesday, November 27 and Moshe Sharett, who was recently released from British detention, is now the foreign minister on behalf of the Jewish Agency and the Yishuv. He has just completed tallying the number of UN members who will vote in favor of creating the Jewish state. It is quite bleak. The vote will end in failure. Knowing that the following day is Thanksgiving, Sharett needs more time to work behind the scenes to convince the five key nations to vote for partition. If he can get 48 more hours Jewish leaders and supporters may be able to pull it off. Sharett’s only tactic, a day long filibuster. He begins talking before the UN committee. With every hour that passes he grows more tired and weaker. Close to fainting, after having stood on his feet for hours while talking, he musters his strength and continues to speak. The evening session has ended. The vote to partition has been postponed until Saturday. With only 48 hours remaining, Jewish leaders, congressmen, jurists and businessmen go back to the task of cajoling the five key UN members.
Saturday morning, November 29, the vote is about to take place when the head of the Arab opposition, El Husseini, the nephew of the Mufti stands up and warns the committee, that should a two state solution be voted into reality, the Arabs of the Middle East will go to war to drive the Jews into the sea.
As the voting commences the Jewish communities around the world are glued to their radios. The fate of the 2000-year-old Jewish dream of statehood now hangs in the hands of the non-Jewish nations of the UN. With some nations abstaining and others denying, the behind closed doors economic offers and deals struck with the Philippine, Iberian, Spanish, and Haitian governments turn the tide around in favor of partition. IT IS OFFICIAL. THE JEWISH NATION WILL BE REBORN ON MAY 14, 1948.
The Arab delegation walks out vowing a war of genocide against the Jewish community of Palestine. Just two and a half years earlier, the Jews lost 1/3 of their nation. Now they stand to have a Holocaust and the end of the Jewish dream for Independence.
While others are dancing in the streets around the world Ben-Gurion is solemn. Yitzhak Sadeh has informed him that at least 5000 Jews will lose their lives and countless others will be severely wounded if the Jews are to win the coming war.
Twenty-four hours have passed since the vote and the Arabs of Palestine have begun to murder Jewish citizens. The Arab war against Jewish statehood has begun.
Weapons are now desperately needed.
December 25, Midnight. The British soldiers of the Tel Lewinski army camp are celebrating. For the past two months Motke and fellow Palmachnik, DANNY, have been scouting the camp, preparing to raid it and “borrow” the weapons for the coming war.
Motke has become well known for his outstanding fighting skills, speed, and ability to command under pressure. His prowess with the axe, knife, stick and machine gun has become his trademark. Leading ten Palmachnikim into the camp, Motke is assisted by a JEWISH PAINTER he met earlier during the day while gathering intelligence about the camp setup. Wanting to help the war effort, the painter guides Motke and his men to the ammunition house. Opening the door, the Jewish painter is shot by a drunk British soldier lying on his cot.
Immediately Motke jumps on the soldier and tells him in broken English to shut up. The soldier continues to yell as the camp sirens are sounded. Barely only 19 years old Motke must act. With axe in hand, the soldier underneath him, the Jewish painter bleeding to death near him, the British soldiers on their way and his Palmachnikim waiting for his command, Motke, in a remarkable act of compassion and moral composure, turns the axe on its blunt side and knocks out the soldier. He and the Palmachnikim take the Jewish painter and the cache of 75 guns and ammo and scatter into the orchard fields.
The mission is so successful that everyone thinks the Arabs and the not the Jews raided the camp.
From this point Motke becomes known as Motke Eish HaGarzen, the Axeman. His amazing moral control under such pressure has demonstrated to all the unique Jewish and Palmach Purity of Arms and Spirit. His fellow Palmachnikim greatly admire him.
With only one month left until Independence is declared YIGAL ALON, the recently appointed Palmach General, only 27 years old, has laid out the plan of attack and defense with YIGAL YADIN, the brilliant archeologist and Chief of Staff. Unexpectedly, the US State Department reneges on its promise and announces that it will not support statehood. Rather the Jews must choose a trusteeship. Ben-Gurion clearly understands now that the 2000-year-old dream will only be realized through Jewish hands. PRESIDENT TRUMAN is beside himself with anger. A devout Christian he sees himself as a modern-day Cyrus and goes over the heads of the State department and GENERAL GEORGE MARSHALL to ensure that statehood will take place as prescribed in the UN resolution. With nearly 1,500 Jews murdered by local Arab militias since the UN vote, Jerusalem especially is under heavy attack, enduring a nearly six-month siege. Under constant bombardment and near starvation, the Palmach forces create the “Burma Road”, otherwise called Operation Nachson. Selected for his fearless spirit Motke is one of the 100 Palmachnikim chosen to break through the siege. It is especially critical to him that he does so as his entire is trapped within the siege.
Breaching through the siege after enduring great casualties, the Palmach must take Saint Simeon Monastery at Katamon, the southern district of Western Jerusalem in order to capture the New City. Knowing that it might be his last battle and the last Passover Seder he might spend with his family, Motke sneaks pass British patrols and Arab fighters to bring four chickens for the meal and to surprise his family. Delighted by his visit, he does not tell them of tomorrow’s battle. PASSOVER DAY – APRIL 28. It is now noon. UZI NARKISS, DADO ELIEZER, RAFUL EITAN, SHARON LEV TOV, Motke, and 30 Palmachnikim, including female Palmach fighters are waiting for the pouring rain to end. An hour passes. With the rain ceasing Uzi gives the command to charge. Within an hour the monastery is taken during fierce hand to hand combat. Motke takes command of the rooftop, as Uzi and the others take command of the ground floor. Suddenly at 3:00 PM hundreds, then thousands of Arabs attack the monastery, catching the Palmachnikim off guard. Surrounded on all sides the battle turns into a hellish fight. On the rooftop the back of the leg of one of the Palmachnikim is blown off. Motke quickly runs down to bring the medic. As he reaches the landing he sees Raful at the window with rifle in hand. A bullet pierces the window and lands in Raful’s temple. Not having enough gun powder to fully discharge, the bullet lodges but does not penetrate. Raful pulls out the bullet and continues shooting as blood pours down his face. Motke returns with the medic and the young Palmachnik’s leg is bandaged up. Encouraging the other Palmachnikim, Motke remembers a scene from the Gary Cooper movie Beau Geste, that he had seen ten years earlier. He quickly stands sticks on the roof wall and places hats on them to serve as targets, as he runs and throws the enemy grenades, as fast as he can, back at the Arab fighters down below. It is now 6:00 PM. The battle seems to be lost. No reinforcements are arriving. Motke and three other Palmachnikim decide to pick up the wounded Palmachnik and carry him across the battlefield in retreat. As Motke turns to the young fighter, he sees him drag himself across the rooftop, take a glass shard and rip open his bandages. Within 30 seconds he bleeds to death. Hearing that four Jews were going to place their lives in danger he takes his life to save theirs. The young Palmachnik has carried out the Palmach code of brotherhood – Po Lo Maznichim Chaver – PALMACH. HERE WE DON’T NEGLECT A FRIEND! Suddenly within a half an hour a miracle occurs. The Arabs retreat. Katamon and New Jerusalem are in Jewish hands. FRIDAY AFTERNOON MAY 14 Ben Gurion and the leaders of the Yishuv are at Independence Hall. Four o’clock is nearing. That is when the last British soldier will have exited Palestine nearly 31 years after conquering the area in World War I. The Yishuv and World Jewry are breathless. The Jewish population has taken up positions throughout the areas where they are situated. Ben Gurion knows that the fate of the Jewish present and the Jewish future depends on him. Looking at the overhanging painting of Dr. Theodore Herzl, the founder of the national Zionist movement and then into the eyes of the YOUTH of 48, Ben Gurion remembers the promise G-d gave unto the People and the Prophets, and the Oath taken nearly 2000 years earlier on slave ships, “IF I FORGET THEE O JERUSALEM LET MY RIGHT HAND FORGET ITS POWER.” Taking the microphone Ben Gurion proclaims, “The Land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped. Here they first attained to statehood, created cultural values of national and universal significance and gave to the world the eternal Book of Books.
After being forcibly exiled from their land, the people kept faith with it throughout their Dispersion and never ceased to pray and hope for their return to it and for the restoration in it of their political freedom. This right is the natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate, like all other nations, in their own sovereign State. We declare that, with effect from the moment of the termination of the Mandate being tonight, the eve of Sabbath, the 6th Iyar, 5708 (15th May, 1948), until the establishment of the elected, regular authorities of the State in accordance with the Constitution which shall be adopted by the Elected Constituent Assembly not later than the 1st October 1948, the People’s Council shall act as a Provisional Council of State, and its executive organ, the People’s Administration, shall be the Provisional Government of the Jewish State, to be called “Israel.” The State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations. We appeal to the United Nations to assist the Jewish people in the building-up of its State and to receive the State of Israel into the community of nations. We appeal — in the very midst of the onslaught launched against us now for months – to the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to preserve peace and participate in the upbuilding of the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions.
We extend our hand to all neighbouring states and their peoples in an offer of peace and good neighbourliness, and appeal to them to establish bonds of cooperation and mutual help with the sovereign Jewish people settled in its own land. The State of Israel is prepared to do its share in a common effort for the advancement of the entire Middle East.
We appeal to the Jewish people throughout the Diaspora to rally round the Jews of Eretz-Israel in the tasks of immigration and upbuilding and to stand by them in the great struggle for the realization of the age-old dream – the redemption of Israel.” As he reads the proclamation the attending leaders sign the Declaration of Independence of the State of Israel! ISRAEL IS REBORN AFTER 2000 YEARS!!!!