The shelling of the Altalena.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Israel is more determined than ever to fight for its security and its future, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday at a dedication ceremony at the Nahalat Yitzhak cemetery in Tel Aviv of a new memorial to the Altalena.
In a clear reference to this month’s twin UNESCO votes erasing any Jewish connection to the Temple Mount, Netanyahu said this struggle plays out not only in the fight against terrorism, in defending the borders and, “from time to time on the battlefield,” but also in the struggle for “historical truth.”
It is a struggle, he said, “over our roots, our past, our right to our homeland – the land of Israel, our capital Jerusalem.” It is a struggle, he added, against “those who want to erase our past, and our future – and, therefore, we will continue to fight over the truth and defend, build and develop the State of Israel in all spheres as a model nation and one of the most advanced in the world.”
The monument he dedicated, in the shape of a sinking ship, bears the words spoken by Menachem Begin, “There will never be a civil war.”
Sixteen Irgun fighters and three IDF soldiers were killed when David Ben-Gurion gave the order to fire on the Altalena Irgun arms ship in June 1948 in what has since widely been viewed as a watershed moment in placing all the country’s weaponry under one authority.
To prevent civil war, Begin – then commander of the Irgun – ordered his men not to retaliate.
Many of those killed are buried in the Nahalat Yitzhak cemetery.
“Pride, pain and brotherhood is the essence of the Altalena story,” said Netanyahu.
First of all, he said, the Altalena symbolized pride and uncompromising loyalty in the idea of a Jewish national home because the ship carried on board hundreds of motivated youth from the Diaspora who wanted to become fighters in the national cause, as well as large amounts of arms that were to be sent to the different fronts during the War of Independence.
With the pride, however, came the pain “which continues to this day,” he said.
“As great was the pride of the Altalena, so too was the tragedy of the Altalena,” he declared.
“Only five weeks after the establishment of the state, Jews fired against Jews, brother raised his hand against brother. And all that as a result of an excessive sense of power, hasty decision making and unnecessary use of force. The bitter result was the spilling of blood that left a deep and painful scar on the soul of the nation.”
The answer to the pain, he said, was “brotherhood.”
“Against the hasty order by government officials to open fire, Menachem Begin will forever be remembered for having prevented a much greater tragedy through his forbearance, self-control and greatness of spirit,” the prime minister said.
“He bequeathed to us unity; not civil war, but brotherhood.”