Interviewing 1948 vets
Interviewing 1948 vets Peleg Levy

Who started the War of Independence? Shmuel Albeck says it was he – sort of.

Albeck, a Haganah officer, was in the paramilitary group's headquarters in Petach Tikva when the UN Partition Plan was approved on November 29, 1947. Following the vote, which amounted to an international recognition of the Jews' right to a homeland in the Land of Israel, Jews nationwide celebrated in the streets. The Palestinian Arab leadership, on the other hand, rejected the partition and hostilities erupted the very next day.

The incident that is seen as the opening salvo of the war was an attack on a Jewish bus going from Netanya to Jerusalem, which occurred near Lod. Six passengers were killed and nine were injured. Albeck recalled his part in what happened that night in an interview with the makers of a new film, By Air, Land, and Sea: Aliyah under the British Mandate:

“Everyone was married, I was single. After the (UN) declaration everyone danced in the streets. The city commander, Avraham Barkai told me: 'Shmulik, we're all married – why don't you stay on duty in the HQ tonight? I said OK.

“That night, at 4 a.m., four buses from Netanya were driving to Jerusalem and encountered an ambush. And this message reached me, and I instructed Military Intelligence to find out what happened.

“And the truth is that I didn't realize it until much later, when I said to myself – hold on, I had the privilege of starting the War of Independence!”

The interview is part of a huge project undertaken by Toldot Yisrael, a Jerusalem based nonprofit dedicated to recording and sharing the firsthand testimonies of the men and women who helped found the State of Israel. The interviews can be seen online as a series of 2-minute interviews:

 

Over 750 video interviews (more than 3,000 hours of footage) have been conducted so far and are housed in Israel's National Library. 

According to Toldt Yisrael's founder, Aryeh Halivni, "the educational potential of the project is just beginning to be tapped, with the release of a series of acclaimed educational documentaries, produced with the History Channel and accompanied by classroom discussion guides. The need for high quality educational material like this is apparent from the overwhelming response to these films, with over 500,000 views online."

"Toldot Yisrael’s greatest challenge is the march of time," he explained. "With every day that passes, the generation of 1948 is disappearing. The window of opportunity to record these fascinating stories is rapidly closing. When Toldot Yisrael was founded seven years ago, demographers estimated that our pool of interview candidates numbered 120,000. Today, more than 70% of those individuals are no longer with us. Statistically, one in seven interview candidates will not live through the coming year."

"Toldot Yisrael is making one last big push to complete the interview stage of the project by the coming summer. We are very excited about stage two of the project - putting the entire collection online where it will be searchable and available to the public. Together with Israel's National Library, our partner in this venture, we already have secured some significant financial commitments toward this next stage."

By Sea, On Land in the Air can be viewed online as well: