Govt. Cover-Up over Fate of Secret Mission, Historian Says
Two weeks ago the Defense Ministry submitted a report in the decades-old case of the “23 on the boat” that said the fate of 23 Palmach fighters sent on a mission to Lebanon remains unknown. However, historian Aryeh Yitzchaki tells Arutz Sheva that the fighters’ fate was known from the beginning – but was covered up by those in power.
The mission, in May 1941, involved sneaking Palmach fighters to Tripoli on the British ship Sea Lion. Once in the city, the young soldiers were meant to blow up explosives factories and attack Nazi troops, in an attempt to hurt the Nazi war machine.
At some point during the mission, coordinators lost contact with the group – and none of the 23 fighters have been heard from since. They are still considered “missing.”
“In June 1941 they already knew exactly what had happened to them,” Yitzchaki declared. “An agent in Tripoli, Yosef Kostika, who was involved in planning the operation, discovered what had happened to them.”
Kostika found bodies on the beach of Tripoli that were unmistakably bodies of Palmach fighters, Yitzchaki said. “He sent a detailed report on what happened” back to pre-state Israel, he added.
“It turns out that when they left the large ship for smaller ships, there was an explosion. The ship had been carrying a lot of explosives and they blew up, everybody died, there wasn’t even a single survivor,” he explained.
Palmach leaders in the land of Israel decided to keep Kostika’s revelation a secret in order to keep spirits high. “It was the Palmach’s first mission against the Nazis, and revealing the failure was likely to decrease motivation to enlist in the unit. So it turned into a story, a mysterious legend.”
Over the years, Yitzchaki has tried to publish his findings, but the story has been repeatedly shot down by former Palmach commanders. One told him “We don’t talk about it, and we don’t destroy myths,” Yitzchaki related. In 2000 he took his story to the media, but “the Defense Ministry… sticks to the lie that it doesn’t know what happened to them and the ship might have sunk. It turns out the trend to cover-up continues to this day.”