In 1975 a demolition crew was at work in central Israel, clearing away the remains of an old kibbutz at the top of Kibbutz Hill. When several members of the demo team wrestled aside a large rusted clothes washer, they revealed a small entryway that seemed to lead below ground. Bulldozers shut down their engines, cranes froze in place as members of the team looked down into the hole. What they saw, what they discovered had been kept secret, hidden for three decades.
At the end of World War II British troops were in place in Palestine to police the region under what was known as The British Mandate. It was a messy, dangerous time. Jews were looking to flee war torn Europe for refuge in what was to be the Jewish homeland. Arab leaders were successful in fomenting opposition to the increasing Jewish presence. Arabs attacked and Jewish militias retaliated. The British were trying to keep a lid on the combustible situation between the Arabs and the Jews of Palestine, and were only serving to put gasoline on that fire. Forty-seven shiploads of Jews attempting to escape Europe, the smell of crematoriums lingering in their heads, were intercepted by the British. 65,000 of them were languishing in internment camps in Cypress. The presence of the British did little to appease the Arabs and, in fact, British policy succeeded in radicalizing segments of the Jewish population who would no longer cooperate. British troops were constantly seizing weapons and ammunition and shutting down efforts by the Jews to bring both into the country. Being caught with either was a hanging offense.
Nonetheless, Zionist leaders had long understood that they were going to need weapons to defend themselves against the Arabs and to fight for their independence. The Jews of Palestine had been very resourceful in smuggling weapons and establishing clandestine arms factories. The underground factories churned out relatively easy to build Sten submachine guns, but the Haganah had difficulty obtaining the 9 mm bullets needed for the weapons.
The head of the clandestine Israel Military Industry, Yosef Avidar, devised a plan to smuggle in machines for a secret factory to make the bullets. Though he was successful in purchasing machines in Poland in 1938, the Zionists could only get them as far as Beirut, where they were stored for nearly four years before Jews who served in the British army succeeded in bringing them to Palestine.
The ammunition plant at Ayalon was built in 1947, almost under the noses of the British, who had a nearby base. The site was a place where pioneers would go for training in kibbutz life before moving on to establish cooperatives around the country. Under the code name "the Ayalon Institute," a group of pioneers from the Hatzofim Aleph Scout movement and members of the Haganah dug a large underground chamber the size of a tennis court, 13 feet underground with nearly 2-foot-thick walls and ceiling. The entire project was completed in 22 days. To conceal the clandestine project, the Jews built housing, a dining hall, chicken coop, cow barn, workshops, a laundry, a bakery, and a vegetable garden to give the outward appearance of an ordinary kibbutz.
How the plant was built, concealed and operated is the fascinating subject of this documentary. With the context of the times firmly established, we can explore, in their own words, the courage of the brave young people who risked their lives in service to Jewish independence. Through interviews conducted with still living members of this group, we will piece together this pivotal effort in the battle for statehood for Israel.
How did they keep it a secret under the nose of the British?
How did they make the conditions underground livable and safe for the forty-five people who toiled in two shifts underground?
How did kosher lipstick cases figure in the process?
How did workers who spent daylight hours underground avoid suspicion for being too pale?
How did warm beer serve as an early warning system?
What were giraffes, and what did they have to do with secrecy?
At its peak the factory was producing 40,000 bullets a day. How were these bullets smuggled out for use around the country and what would have been the result had these bullets not been available to the freedom fighters?
Our documentary is an exploration of a bond formed among young people whose existence depended on guile and gumption under threat of capture and execution. It demonstrates the creativity and the commitment of a people who understood their role in a society struggling merely to exist. We recall the job they needed to accomplish, and we celebrate their success in doing that. Code Name: Ayalon reminds us of a period in Israeli history that insured the homeland for the Jews would have a future. Help us share this story so worth telling.