‘Altalena’ soon to be lifted from Mediterranean

One year after Begin Center and PMO begin project, controversial ship sunk in 1948 has been located.

'Altalena' 370  (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
'Altalena' 370
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The Altalena has been located and will be lifted from the floor of the Mediterranean in a matter of months, Herzl Makov, CEO of the Menachem Begin Heritage Center, told the Knesset House Committee on Monday.
The Altalena was a ship carrying Irgun weapons and fighters – many of whom were Holocaust survivors – to Israel in June 1948. Menachem Begin, at the time the Irgun’s commander and a future prime minister, boarded the ship as it approached Israel. The vessel was later fired upon off the Tel Aviv shore by the Palmah unit of another future prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, and sunk on the orders of then-prime minister David Ben-Gurion.
The ship is seen by many Israelis as a symbol of the dangers of violence between Jews in Israel.
Cabinet Secretary Zvi Hauser recounted that a year ago, divers contacted the Prime Minister’s Office with information on the Altalena’s location, launching the Begin Center’s search, which has been funded by the Prime Minister’s Office.
“This is a constitutive event in Israeli history,” Hauser said. “There is historical and public interest in this matter.
The prime minister sees [finding the Altalena] as important and is waiting patiently for progress.”
After an investigation of the divers’ original findings on the Altalena, Begin Center researchers determined that the information was incorrect, but now believe they have found the precise location of the wreck.
Researchers located a metal object that appears to be a ship in a location that coincides with theoretical research, naval documents and testimony from people who were present when the ship sank. Local fishermen have testified that the fish near the site are of species that live near metal.
“We know everything; we just haven’t [physically] gotten to the ship,” Makov explained, adding that due to a particularly rainy winter the search took longer than expected.
When the project began last summer, researchers thought the Altalena sank to a depth of 65 meters off the Tel Aviv coast. However, Makov said, there is sudden increase in depth not far from the shore, from about 70 m.
to 300 m., and the ship apparently sank in deeper waters, requiring different equipment to reach the vessel, photograph and lift it.
Such equipment is available in Israel, Makov said, because of recent energy findings in the area.
“We will continue to the next step in research soon,” Makov stated, “and remove all doubts about whether the Altalena was definitely found.”
Makov also mentioned a film project in cooperation with former Channel 2 anchor Gadi Sukenik on the story of the Altalena and the “engineering of national memory,” as well as lifting the ship from the sea bottom.
House Committee chairman Yariv Levin (Likud) said that as the project is of national and historical importance, a private body or donor cannot oversee it.
“The lifting of the Altalena cannot be a private initiative. It must come from the State of Israel,” Levin asserted.
Hauser and Makov assured Levin that the Begin Center is an arm of the government and mostly funded by the Prime Minister’s Office, as is the Yitzhak Rabin Heritage Center.
Levin also called for the research to be completed as soon as possible.
“I know that people may ask: If we waited 64 years, what difference do three or four more make,” the Likud MK stated, “but there are still people [alive] who were there and were witnesses.
It is of great importance that we close this circle while those people can see the ship brought up from underwater.”
Hauser promised Levin that the current government considers the lifting of the Altalena, as well as all national heritage matters, a priority.
Makov responded that the project’s completion would take a matter of months, not years, and did not think it would be problematic to redirect sea traffic for a day in order to lift the ship.
“That may be true, but it still hasn’t happened,” Levin pointed out, calling for the navy’s help in expediting the project.