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Robert Kennedy Reports:
"Jews Have Fine Fighting Force: Make Up for Lack of Arms with Undying Spirit, Unparalleled Courage - Impress World"

(June 4, 1948)


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In April 1948, one month before Israel declared independence, Robert Kennedy traveled to Palestine to report for the Boston Post on the conflict prior to the British deaparture. His dispatches were published in June 1948.

The Jewish people in Palestine who believe in and have been working toward this national state have become an immensely proud and determined people. It is already a truly great modern example of the birth of a nation with the primary ingredients of dignity and self-respect.

Malca and her family to me are the personification of that determination. She is a young girl of the age of 23 and her husband and four brothers are members of the Haganah. She herself is with the intelligence corps and worked on the average of 15 hours a day, which evidently was not unusual. She had seen and felt much horror and told me the story of a case she had just handled.

A Jewish girl in her teens was picked up by some members of the Haganah on the road from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and, as she was injured, she was taken to the Hebrew Hospital in Jerusalem. They believed that she had somehow been separated from a Jewish convoy which had just gone through and which had had a scrap with the Arabs.

She was particularly noticed because of the strange people who were her visitors and by the fact that she insisted on being moved to the English hospital. Malca was sent to question her. She was turned away gruffly by the girl after the girl admitted that she had in reality been in a British tank with a boy friend and wanted nothing to do with the Jews.

The Jewish Agency offered to send the girl out on a farm in order to let her regain her health and give her a new start, but she just demanded her release which they were forced to give her. She continued consorting with the British police despite warnings from the Stern gang.

Brother Shoots Sister

One night the Stern gang followed the tactics of the underground forces in the last war. They shaved all the hair off the girl's head. Two days after Malca told me this story the sequel took place. The girl's brother returned for leave from duty with the Haganah up in Galilee and, finding her in such a state, shot her.

Malca's youngest brother is only 13, but every night he takes up his post as a sentry with the Haganah at a small place outside of Jerusalem.

His mother and father wait up every night until midnight for him and his older brother, 15, to return home. The other two brothers, both younger than Malca, give full time duty with combat troops.

An understanding of the institutions it contains, and of the persons that run these institutions, is most important if one would make up one's mind as to the worth of this "de facto" Jewish state.

I visited and inspected a community farm [kibbutz] through the kindness of a Jew who 40 years ago was in Boston making speeches for my grandfather, John F. Fitzgerald, when he was a candidate for congress. A third of the agricultural population live in such community farms which were set up originally to help newly-arrived refugees who had no money or prospects.

They are in reality self-sustaining States within a State and all the people in common undergo arduous toil and labor and make great sacrifices in order that their children might become heir to a home. An example of this is that when a child is one year old he is placed in a common nursery, with the result that all but the sick and infirm are able to devote their talents to the common cause. They get paid nothing for they need no money. Everything is financed by a group of elected overseers who get their money by selling what the farms produce. In our country we shrink from such tactics but in that country their very lives depend upon them.

The whole thing is done on a volunteer basis and one may leave the farm with his proportionate share of wealth at any time he chooses.

The one we visited was at Givat Brenner and, although no one paid attention to the firing going on in the plain below, one could see all around preparations being undertaken for the coming fight.

I talked to members of the underground organization Irgun. They were responsible for the King David Hotel disaster and told me proudly that they were responsible for blowing up the Cairo-Haifa train which had just taken place with the loss of 50 British soldiers.

Disillusioned

They believed the time had long since passed for the Jewish people to expect anything but treachery and broken promises from the outside world. If they wanted an independent state they would have to fight for it, and before they could even do that, they had to rid the country of foreign troops. They believe unquestionably that if it weren't for their so-called terrorist activities the British would have remained on in their country. Bevin's recent speeches in the House of Commons, they argue, have been ample proof of that. The question, though, in other Jews' minds is whether this compensated for what they have lost in good will by such tactics.

I went to the training camp at Netanya, north of Tel Aviv, where for three weeks and with very little equipment, Jewish youths, trained mostly by former British officers, were attempting to learn the basic tenets of army life. We watch a first-week group attempt an obstacle course, and while maybe the flesh was weak, it emphasized all the more what can be accomplished when the spirit is willing. We watched a graduation class make its final round and they gave the appearance that they might well be whipped into a fighting force before much time has passed.

The security forces and Haganah are far more experienced. After landing at Lydda Airport, I was immediately taken to be questioned and my credentials examined by the Haganah. After being released and going to my hotel in Tel Aviv, I went for a walk around this city of 200,000 inhabitants. I wasn't out for 10 minutes before I was recognized as a foreigner and picked up by the Haganah, blindfolded and once again brought to headquarters for questioning.

I talked to a Haganah soldier who fled from Prague as the Germans were taking over the city and he and his brother, who was killed, fought with the British throughout the war. He received news that his mother and two sisters who he had left in Prague were killed by the Germans and that his home had been completely destroyed.


Sources: Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Boston Post (June 4, 1948)

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