In the Shadow of Stern:
The Inside Story of a LEHI Intelligence Officer
by Arno Weinstein
DURING THE early days of Israel’s formation as an independent nation, there were those who saw the Jewish quest of two thousand years as a diplomatic struggle, and there were those for whom it meant war.
It may be that history has yet to judge the more critical of the two, for each position developed followers that continue to struggle with each other, as they did from the earliest years of the Zionist mission.
Those elements within the nascent Jewish State that relied on the violent removal of foreign powers from Mandate Palestine included the Fighters for Freedom of Israel (LEHI). The organization was founded by Avraham Stern and sought the liberation of Eretz Israeland the establishment of an autonomous Jewish polity.
This is the story of one intelligence officer of the LEHI. His name is Stanley Goldfoot. South African by birth, Mr. Goldfoot today resides in Jerusalem, and remains ever vigilant of Israel’s future. The editors of B’tzedek were granted an interview with Mr. Goldfoot in an attempt to better understand one of the more dramatic events in the history of the LEHI and the nation of Israel. That event was the execution of United Nations’ mediator Count Folke Bernadotte in the fall of 1948.
I met Avraham Stern. I only met him twice, unfortunately. The Jews gave him away. The British pulled the trigger — they shot him — but the British would have never had found him, never without Jewish collaboration. I listened to him, he gave a talk on the ‘Future State, and How Can We Spread Our Membership without Diluting It.’ That was one of the big things with him — to try and spread, but not dilute. That‚s what he told me. Stern was a great man, you could feel his presence; he radiated a certain confidence, an understanding. It was a great loss to the Jewish people when Stern was murdered.” Stanley Goldfoot’s dedication to the words and memory of Avraham Stern are as strong today as they were in the years prior to, and during, the formation of the Jewish State, when the goal of the LEHI was the liberation of Eretz Israe l and the establishment of the Third Commonwealth.
For Stanley Goldfoot there was no alternative other than to be part of Avraham Stern’s organization. LEHI appealed to me — it was freedom. It’s intellectual level was high; their ambitions, and their aims were noble. I believed that there should be a Jewish State. We’d seen the tragedy of Hitler. We’d seen what happened in Europe. It wasn’t over yet, it was during the war, of course. We saw what was happening — millions of Jews being killed.”
As a young English-speaking immigrant to British Mandate Palestine, Stanley Goldfoot was particularly suited for his activities as an intelligence officer in an illegal, underground organization.
One of his more successful schemes during his years as a LEHI fighter was the founding of a scholarly journal concerning itself with the Middle East. Through these unsuspecting and lawful means, Goldfoot was able to secure press credentials as a foreign correspondent. With the unknowing aid of such figures as Abba Eban, Goldfoot created a ruse upon which the most up-to date British military intelligence was at his disposal. The information he gathered not only went toward the publishing of articles in his journal, but additionally, and more importantly, directly to the LEHI high-command in Tel Aviv. Goldfoot was present at all press briefings by the British Mandate Authority and later United Nations’ personnel and had virtually unlimited access to the key figures dominating the scene. Freedom of movement in a Jerusalem frequently subject to curfews was an additional benefit of press credentials and his journal. Goldfoot was able to gather intelligence information for his clandestine organization as well as be in places restricted to the ordinary Jewish citizen.
“We had some good times. The days were never long enough. You know, the journal alone was a full time project,” remembers Goldfoot. “The Journal of the Middle East Society was created with a friend, [Nachum] Nimri. He was a pal and also a member of Stern. We worked together most of the time and he was also general secretary ofChevrat Ashlag , the Palestine Potash Company.
“We saw that the press, the foreign press especially, was a wonderful way o sources of information, because all these people were dying to be interviewed – dying to be – and a press man could get in anywhere at that time with no restrictions. Press people were excluded from every military curfew.”
For Goldfoot and his associates the conclusion was obvious, “So we decided that we would make our own magazine, our own journal, which would enable us to go when and where we liked. I went to Syria with the journal, I went to Beirut many times, because a press man could go anywhere. It was a special category. We got our funds from membership.
“We invited Abba Eban to a meeting and said ‘let’s form this journal, Journal of the Middle East,’ and he thought it was a brilliant idea. Eban was unaware of the journal’s real purpose – he really thought it was a scholarly journal – and that it was, as well.
“We had press passes, we could go anywhere with [them], night or day. And there was no such thing as a curfew for the holders of press passes. Once, I remember, Tel Aviv was under a three day curfew. Well, no problem, I could drive to Tel Aviv and bring messages, meet my friends.
“We got in entries from all over the world. Abba Eban was very thrilled with writing it [the Objectives and Purposes of the journal] up. It went as follows. “Goldfoot picked up a yellowed, but well preserved copy of the publication he had fished out of a back room closet and began to read.
“The Middle East Society of Jerusalem was founded in January of 1946 to provide a forum for the free exchange of ideas and opinions on the problems of the Middle East. One of the society’s objectives is to publish a periodical to reflect the scope and range of the society’s interests. Publications dealing with these subjects are mostly edited in Western countries by specialists who have no direct current link with the area they investigate. But proximity, like detachment, has its virtue, and it would be surprising if men and women, who were able to contemplate the Middle Eastern scene from its very center had nothing of merit to contribute to the general good. This journal, while welcoming those afar, is preeminently the expression of those close at hand. Orientalists, archaeologists, antiquarians, sociologists, and historians are living here amongst their own material which they can scrutinize without impediment of distance. They can attune the process of research to a wider sense of local urgencies, and are well placed for a comparative study of Middle Eastern conditions. The object of this journal is to provide them with their opportunity.
“This journal will accept for publication all opinions while committing itself to none. And certainly, no contributions which have merit as research will be excluded on any grounds of political predilections. Controversy is in the Middle-Eastern air, but it is possible to rise above it into clearer realms of honest thought, where men of diverse views can meet in harmony. The geographical purview of this journal is limited to the Arabic speaking countries, Turkey and Persia, but conditions and events on the fringes of this area must effect its life directly, so that no physical frontiers can be rigidly defined. The editors have devoted much anxious thought to the question whether turbulence of our present state offers a congenial occasion for launching this project. They have considered that the difficulties of the times should be interpreted as a challenge, not as a deterrent. The habits of objective thought may assist the peoples of the Middle East to achieve a deeper harmony amongst themselves and a clearer sense of kinship with the wider world.”
Beaming with pride, Goldfoot ended his reading, looked up and smiled. He said, “The journal was read all over the world – England, Saudi Arabia. It was brilliant, if I do say so myself, and Eban had no idea what we were really up to.
“According to Goldfoot, one example of the value of his position was the intelligence he provided to the Irgun prior to the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. “I wasn’t involved with the actual bombing of the King David Hotel. I helped to plan it, but had nothing to do with the carrying out of the action. We did cooperate with the Irgun. We cooperated to a certain extent, but don’t forget, at the time of the split there was a lot of bitterness between the two sections [Irgun “Alef” and “Bet”] because they didn’t believe [in attacking the British while the Allies were still at war with Nazi Germany], Begin especially, said we have to cooperate – and collaborate with the British. But we said that we don’t, for they are our enemy. Begin refused to say that the British are our enemy. He never said that. And [Avraham] Stern said that the British are our number one enemy. They wanted to beat Hitler, and so did we. And Begin said let’s help the British beat Hitler, because he’s the one to get. He never thought of the British as the enemy, at the time. That was the difference.”
To Liberate Jerusalem
One of the main objectives of the LEHI in Jerusalem and the young Stanley Goldfoot was the total liberation of Jerusalem from both Arab and international hands. In the late summer and early autumn months of 1948 the New City of Jerusalem was still considered Israeli-occupied territory while the Old City still remained firmly in the control of the Jordanian Arab Legion. For LEHI, the battle for Jerusalem meant not only the capture of the Old City, but the holding on to the New City. Jerusalem represented the restoration of true Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel. The LEHI considered Jerusalem the eternal capital of the Jewish nation upon which all hopes and dreams of redemption rested. All those who stood in the way of a liberated Jerusalem were viewed as acceptable targets by the LEHI fighters.
In the 1948 attempt to gain the Old City of Jerusalem by the regular Jewish army forces (against the orders of David Ben-Gurion), the LEHI had greater plans of destroying the Dome of the Rock Muslim shrine and rebuilding the Third Jewish Temple once the area was taken. With the failure of the Jewish advance on the Old City, the Sternist dream was not to be realized. However, they were determined to secure all of the new sections of Jerusalem as the capital of the state. Standing in the way of such a declaration was the world community’s desire to settle the conflict over Jerusalem by internationalizing the city. The representative of “internationalization plan” was the United Nations’ forces stationed in the region.
For the members of the LEHI, Count Folke Bernadotte, as UN mediator for “Palestine,” came to symbolize the foreign oppression of the Jewish claim to the Land of Israel.
On August 10, 1948, a demonstration was held in front of the Belgian Consulate in Jerusalem, against Bernadotte, that was intended to embarrass the new Jewish government. The LEHI voiced their opposition to United Nations’ policies specifying Count Bernadotte as their target. LEHI members, lead by Israel Eldad, carried signs reading “Remember Lord Moyne!” (a direct reference to the successful execution of the British Mandate official in Cairo by the LEHI ) and “Stockholm Is Yours; Jerusalem Is Ours!” (referring to Bernadotte’s native capital). The event was peacefully disbanded by the recently appointed commander of Israeli troops in Jerusalem, Moshe Dayan. With this event, LEHI made their position clear naming Bernadotte as the prime target in their opposition to international forces in Jerusalem.
Bernadotte had advocated a total demilitarization of Jerusalem and blamed the Jewish forces for “aggressive” behavior in the city. Jerusalem was under regular bombardment from Arab irregulars, as well as subject to sniping attacks from the occupied Arab sections. While Bernadotte turned a blind eye to the Arab infractions of the imposed international truce, he found any Jewish response as provocative and inciteful.
Bernadotte refused to dignify Jewish resistance to the “Bernadotte Plan “to internationalize Jerusalem. From all evidence available, Bernadotte did not consider himself in any danger, ignoring LEHI placards throughout Jerusalem demanding that he leave the country and remove the international presence impeding Jewish control of the city. Bernadotte saw LEHI demands as unworthy chatter of extremists. Continued threats to his life were also ignored by the aristocratic Count.
Bernadotte was on record with his vision for the Middle East. He outlined his plan for the future of the Land of Israel, as the United Nations’ head mediator, on numerous occasions. Bernadotte’s position was summarized in the United Nations General Assembly “Progress Report of the United Nations Mediator on Palestine” (A. 648) 18 September, 1948, submitted to the Secretary General for Transmission to the Members of the United Nations [the day following his death].
Bernadotte on the subject of Partition:
1. The resolution Adopted by the General Assembly on 29 November 1947 provided not for simple partition of Palestine, but for partition with economic union. It envisaged the creation of an Arab State, a Jewish State, and the City of Jerusalem as a corpus seperatumunder a special international regime administered by the United Nations. These three entities, largely because of justifiable doubts concerning the economic viability of the proposed Arab State and the City of Jerusalem, were to be linked together in an Economic Union of Palestine. The obvious disadvantages of territorial partition were thus to be corrected to some extent by economic union. [Part I, Pg. 5]
24. As Mediator, I had to seek possible solutions which would be voluntarily accepted by both parties. I sought, therefore, arrangements which might reveal some common denominator in the relations between Arabs and Jews in Palestine. In my talks with them, both parties freely admitted the utter necessity for peaceful relations between Arabs and Jews in Palestine, and both admitted the importance of economic unity in the country. ” [Part I, Pg. 13]
Bernadotte on the subject of The Jewish State:
5. The most significant development in the Palestine scene since last November is the fact that the Jewish State is a living, solidly entrenched, vigorous reality. That it enjoys de jureor de factorecognition from an increasing number of States, two of which are permanent members of the Security Council, is an incidental but arresting fact. The Provisional Government of Israel is today exercising, without restrictions on its authority or power, all the attributes of full sovereignty. The Jewish State was not born in peace as was hoped for in the resolution of 29 November, but rather, like many another State in history, in violence and bloodshed. The establishment of this State constitutes the only implementation which has been given to there solution, and even this was accomplished by a procedure quite contrary to that envisaged for the purpose in the resolution. In establishing their State within a semi-circle of gunfire, the Jews have given a convincing demonstration of their skill and tenacity.
6. As I pointed out in my report to the Security Council of 12 July (s/888, pages 16-17), the Jewish State is:
‘a small State, precariously perched on a coastal shelf with its back to the sea and defiantly facing on three sides a hostile Arab world. Its future may be assessed as uncertain, and if it survives this war, its security will be likely to present a serious problem for a good time to come . . . . ‘ [Part I, Pg. 6]
Bernadotte on the subject of Jewish immigration:
13. The issue of Jewish immigration remains a burning issue in Palestine, but in the very nature of the case it is submerged in the larger issue of the existence of the Jewish State. It is entirely natural that the Jewish position, insistent upon a fully sovereign Jewish State to determine its own immigration policy. The Arabs, on the other hand, rejecting entirely the concept of the Jewish State, would also deny the right of Jewish immigration into an Arab-dominated Palestine. The settlement of the issue of the Jewish State will minimize the international importance of the immigration issue. The Jews, however, in the interest of promoting friendly relations with their Arab neighbors, would do well, in defining their immigration policy, to take carefully into account the basis of Arab fears and to consider measures and policies designed to allay them. [Part I, Pg. 9]
9. The Provisional Government of Israel, in a letter dated 5 July 1948, objected to the deviations from the General Assembly resolution of 29 November 1947, and particularly to the suggestions concerning the regulation of immigration and the status of Jerusalem. They offered no counter suggestions but urged a reconsideration of my “whole approach to the problem. ” [Part I, Pg. 14]
. . should unrestricted immigration indefinitely continue in Palestine there might in the future arise a serious economic and political problem beyond the control of any Jewish Government. It cannot be ignored that immigration affects not only the Jewish State and the Jewish people but also the surrounding Arab World. [Part I, Pg. 15]
Bernadotte on the subject of Jerusalem:
Jerusalem stands in the heart of what must be Arab territory in any partition of Palestine. To attempt to isolate this area politically and otherwise from surrounding territory presents enormous difficulties. Moreover, while I fully appreciate that the question of Jerusalem is of great concern, for historical and other reasons, to the Jewish community of Palestine, Jerusalem was never intended to be a part of the Jewish State. [Part I, Pg. 15]
VI. The Resolution of the General Assembly of 29 November 1947 Arab and Jewish Attitudes
1. General Assembly resolution 181 (II) of 29 November 1947 provided for the partition of Palestine into a Jewish State, an Arab State and an international territory of the City of Jerusalem, within the framework of an economic union embracing all three. This plan was accepted by the representatives of the Jewish Agency but rejected by the Arab States and the spokesman of the Higher Arab Committee, who declared that they did not consider themselves bound by the resolution. On 14 May 1948, the Jews declared the existence of a State of Israel, and when on the following day the Mandate officially ended, the newly-proclaimed Provisional Government of Israel claimed that it was acting according to that resolution as far as circumstances permitted, and that it made no claim to territory beyond the boundaries of the partition resolution of 29 November.
2. The Arab States, on the other hand, claiming that the resolution of the Assembly was illegal and unjust, contended that they had come legitimately to the assistance of the Arabs of Palestine. Their opposition to the resolution of 29 November has continued unabated.
3. The Provisional Government of Israel, according to recent pronouncements, has apparently modified its attitude to the resolution of 29 November. Although the general position of the Provisional Government of Israel rests broadly on the foundation of the Assembly resolution, it is now being urged that boundaries should be modified to take more fully into account both the present military situation and the necessity for more readily defensible frontiers. In regard to Jerusalem, there is a more skeptical attitude towards internationalization and a marked tendency to press for the inclusion of at least the Jewish part of Jerusalem in the State of Israel. [Part I, Pg. 25]
“We intend to kill Bernadotte and any other United Nations’ observers who come to Jerusalem,” Goldfoot told C. L. Sulzberger of The New York Times less than two months before the execution. The brash young men and women of the LEHI did not make idle threats. Plans had already been in the works to rid Eretz Israe l of foreign personnel with Count Bernadotte at the top of the list.
And so it came on Friday, September 17, 1948 the command structure of the LEHI began preparations for their assault on Bernadotte and his execution. Count Bernadotte was stationed at the United Nations’ Headquarters on the island of Rhodes. From Rhodes, Bernadotte would make his trips to the region and inspect the UN forces occupying the Land of Israel. Aware that Bernadotte was to be in Jerusalem on September 17th, the LEHI high-command in Tel Aviv gave the order for his execution.
Bernadotte’s itinerary was public information, however, Goldfoot knew that the Count’s actual movements in Jerusalem would be changed as a matter of standard procedure. The only persons, aside from UN personnel and the Hagana military guards protecting Bernadotte, that were privy to the changes, would be the press, at a last minute briefing. Goldfoot, as a member of the press, therefore waited at the Government Press Office for the most up-to-date “revised” schedule of Count Bernadotte’s activities.
According to Goldfoot, “Bernadotte was to be transported from the United Nations’ headquarters in the Talpiot section of Jerusalem after he arrived from Rhodes. From the airport to the headquarters in Talpiot, he would be driven by the Hagana convoy and transported to the center of new Jerusalem. First, to the Belgian Consulate, on Marcus square, and from there, to the YMCA. From this information we figured out that he should be leaving the High Commissioner’s residence [Talpiot] at about four o’clock.
“He would be in Talpiot. As opposed to what they [the Israel Government Press Agency] had listed on the official itinerary. All the press people, none of them waited for the “revised” update — were running like mad to Mandlebaum Gate [in the Old City], the idiots, to wait for him. I came back to the camp [LEHI headquarters in Jerusalem] and said to Meir [Zetler, LEHI commander in Jerusalem], ‘Here’s the thing — four o’clock we have to be there. He’ll be coming up the hill at four o’clock. ‘ That’s exactly what happened.”
Three vehicles were used in the operation. Two lead cars, one with Meir Zetler and one with Goldfoot who directed the activities. A jeep was used to transport those who were to actually carry out the execution.
“We got four LEHI members into a jeep and stopped the jeep just off the main road coming uphill.
“Meir Zetler and I drove ahead in other cars and pointed the jeep as to where to wait. The jeep pulled across the road, stopped the convoy. Everybody [LEHI Fighters] was dressed in Khaki and looked like army troops. Each one carried a gun, a shmietzer, a German shmietzer, which is a very efficient gun. Yehoshua Cohen walked up to the second car in the Bernadotte convoy, everybody knows that the VIPs don’t travel in the first car, and he said to the guy, sitting next to the driver, ‘Count Bernadotte?’ And when he replied, ‘Yes,’ Yehoshua fired at Bernadotte. He shot him dead on the spot. And unfortunately, Colonel Serout, the French officer, sitting next to him also got it. It was unintentional. He got back in the jeep when he was absolutely sure that the fellow couldn’t possibly survive after what he had gotten and drove off. Just as a side note, the Hagana guard assigned to escort Bernadotte didn’t have any knowledge of what the LEHI was up to. A guy by the name of Hilman was the poor fellow who pointed out Bernadotte to us.
“No one could do anything. What could they [the troops guarding Bernadotte] do? What could they do? It was such a shock. Such a surprise. Nobody knew what had happened. Somebody would go and shoot Bernadotte in the heart of Jerusalem? This was the point.
“Meir Zetler was watching up on top of the hill where the Van Leer Institute is now. It was just an empty hill then. Meir rushed back to the camp and I went back to the camp later. He packed up all sorts of papers and began to burn all sorts of documents. He already arranged a hiding place for himself and another fellow, ‘Shika’ — who had been sentenced to be hanged by the British. He was due to be hanged in Jerusalem, in the Jerusalem Prison next to the Russian compound, he was acting as our secretary then. He was never hanged by the British because they left [Eretz Israel] on the 13th of May, and his date for hanging, I think, was a number of days later in May. His crime was for carrying arms. He was caught after an action.
“Anyway, the four in the jeep drove to the camp, picked up some of the things they needed and went off to where they had a hiding place. I did not have a hiding place, because Meir told me, ‘Stanley, you wait for them. You wait for the army and talk to them. ‘ So I waited there that night while the others hid, but the next morning the army didn’t come. We had been under siege in Jerusalem. We had trouble getting food. We had to use grass to make soup — from weeds and grass and so on. We had to queue up for water. And all the children as well. The Jerusalem-Tel Aviv road was cut by the Arabs. But this [Bernadotte’s execution] happened on Friday at ten past five. By ten past eight, Saturday morning, an Israeli convoy of tanks came through with artillery. How did they get through? They didn’t try to save Jerusalem before the execution. The Israel Army came through — with no problems because of the hysteria created by the events.
“Back then the army had not gone through a politicization. The army was great then. The Palmach, however, was different. The Palmach people were taught differently. Trained differently. Different outlook. They were more international. They weren’t so Jewish. You didn’t see any kippot in the Palmach. You didn’t see any religious ceremonies of any kind. You did in the Hagana. There was nothing really Jewish about the Palmach. Wingate trained them, “the Night Raiders,” but many don’t regard Wingate as their hero, because he was too religious. Wingate was too religious for them. Orde Wingate was a bible-thumping Christian. “
The New York Times , Saturday, September 18, 1948 — Front Page:
“Bernadotte Is Slain In Jerusalem; Killers Called Jewish Irregulars; Security Council Will Act Today”
For Stanley Goldfoot and his comrades in the LEHI, the execution of Count Folke Bernadotte gave the impetus for the Israeli army to move into Jerusalem. And even though the capture of the Old City eluded the Jewish forces in 1948, Goldfoot believes that without the actions of the LEHI, the New sections of Jerusalem would have remained in international hands, slowly made Judenrein by the Arab blockade.
Once the regular Israeli army had positioned itself in Jerusalem, the orders were given to disband the LEHI camp through mass arrests. Goldfoot and numerous other LEHI members were arrested and taken to the Acre prison where they were to await trial on charges of assassination. This was to begin yet another chapter in the story of the LEHI fighters as they waged battle against both the international forces stationed in Eretz Israel and the early government of the new Jewish State. The visions of how the fledgling Jewish nation was to conduct itself, its self-definition and its outward behavior, were in dispute from the beginnings of the state. In many respects the conflicts within the State of Israel today are extended versions of the visions conceived fifty years ago.