8 months ago



HISTORICAL PRESERVATION An Israeli guide shows an American tourist the new plane exhibit at the Atlit Illegal Detention Camp. Keeping the Memory of Israel’s History Alive From the Atlit Detention Camp to Ammunition Hill, JNF is ensuring the memory, lessons and history of the country are not forgotten By DAVID BRUMMER JNF’s work in preserving many of Israel’s heritage sites adds color and texture to the rich tapestry of narratives that helped to create and sustain this extraordinary country. As Israel approaches its 70th birthday – a feat that has at times seemed to hang in the balance – it is an ideal time to reflect on the efforts of the great and well-known figures in its history, and on those less celebrated, who too have contributed to its development. Specific sites themselves also conjure up images of courage in the face of resistance and determination in the face of adversity. “I believe the most important reason to preserve our history is so we can share it,” said Noa Gefen, Executive Vice-Chairman of the Society for the Preservation of Israel Historical Sites. “And I’m not talking about biblical times; it’s the recent history, the stories that contributed to Israel’s independence, that need to be shared with the young generation.” Part of the delight in curating these heritage sites and continuing to develop the story is the element of surprise. Like an archeologist digging in earth untouched for more than 2,000 years, a little scraping away at the surface can reveal gems of information awaiting discovery. “Sometimes it’s a hero of the IDF or Palmah or the Irgun,” said Gefen. “Sometimes it is the development towns that played a significant role in our history. “ There are few places where this connection between outward bravery coupled with secrecy is more obvious than at the Ayalon Institute. One of Mandate Palestine’s infamous weapons caches – mini ammunition factories buried deep underground and given a veneer of respectability – in this case by a kibbutz bakery and a laundry to camouflage the noise of making bullets – they played an essential role in the push for independence. During its relatively short two-year period of operation, the Ayalon Institute in Rehovot produced more than 2.5 million 9mm bullets, mostly for Sten guns in a cramped space 25 feet (8 meters) underground, reached by a tight steep spiral staircase. Munitions workers, like the legendary Shlomo Hillel, a 94-year-old Iraqi-born Israeli, who served as Speaker of the Knesset and was ambassador to several African countries, worked 10-hour days in a hot and dangerous environment. The threat of possible execution if the British Mandate forces had apprehended any of the workers overshadowed other potential perils, whether flying pieces of metal or broken machinery. One of the most incredible aspects of this gripping story 14

is that the British were aware of these clandestine activities, but so expert were these munitions workers as secret keepers, they kept not only the Mandate forces in the dark, but also their nearest and dearest. “Even our families understood that they should not ask too many questions because they realized that when they asked questions they got silly answers,” Hillel recalled. “In those days, they knew we had the British here and we had to keep things secret... We were so very proud of what we were doing.” “I believe the most important reason to preserve our history is so we can share it.” Noa Gefen Society for the Preservation of Israel Historical Sites. A tourist visits Ammunition Hill National Memorial Site. The kibbutz even established a pickup and delivery laundry service for people in the nearby town – including the British soldiers. Talk about hiding in plain sight! They even thought of how to avoid the suspicion that the munition workers were getting too pale by bringing in a sun lamp! The Atlit Detention Camp, located just south of Haifa, was the site where from 1939 to 1948 hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees attempted to reach the shores of Palestine, but were intercepted at sea and incarcerated. Many of the interned were Holocaust survivors who ended up behind barbed wire once again. Today, the 25-acre camp serves as a museum that tells the poignant story of a people desperate to start a new life in their homeland. Also on site is a ship that offers an experiential visit simulating a sea voyage demonstrating the hardships endured by the immigrants on their way to the Land of Israel. Thanks to Jewish National Fund, in early 2017, a C-46 Commando Airplane arrived at the Atlit Detention Camp after a long journey from Alaska. The airplane serves as an interactive exhibit describing the clandestine immigration by air. The C-46 airplane is the same model as the plane used to bring over 150 Jews from Iraq in 1947, in what became known as “Operation Michaelberg.” Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem is another site where the push to preserve individual stories as part of a wider narrative and make it more accessible to younger generations – both within Israel and to a broader audience. The site was originally intended to commemorate the battle where 36 IDF troops lost their lives and more than 150 others were wounded, in one of the army’s toughest ever engagements. Around a decade or so ago, however, the battle’s veterans passed the mantle of memory onto the succeeding generation, entrusting to them the mediation of the story of both the battle and the struggle for the state. It is the first and only memorial site that tells its narrative through the eyes of surviving family members. Ammunition Hill tells its story by focusing on the fallen when they were alive – how they lived, not how they died. Ammunition Hill is also the home of the official Israel state ceremony each year that marks Yom Ha’atzmaut. Nearby, the The Wall of Honor at Ammunition Hill serves as a tribute to the heroism and courage of Jewish soldiers who, throughout our history, have fought in defense of the countries in which they lived. Proceeds from the wall benefit the development and renovation of the museum and battle grounds and construction of a computerized data center, library, an archive, exhibition hall, and a center for assemblies and conferences for over 250,000 annual visitors. Veteran dedications include the soldier’s name and country, branch, rank and dates of service. ■ APRIL 2018 15

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