Inside Intel / Time Bomb

Yossi Melman head
Yossi Melman
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Yossi Melman head
Yossi Melman

Even after the death last week of journalist and writer Amos Kenan, 82-year-old Dr. Yaakov Heruti has a hard time unequivocally stating that he forgives him. So intense are the feelings that have remained since then, that for decades he refused to talk to him, breaking the silence only during a reunion and other chance encounters. Kenan, for his part, refused to express regret and apologize to Heruti.

The episode that ended the friendship of the two childhood friends was disclosed in the book, "Unrepentant: Four chapters in the life of Amos Kenan" (Hebrew title: "Al Da'at Atzmo") written about Kenan by his wife, Nurit Gertz.

Gertz was the first to reveal the secret that the explosives used by Kenan and his friend, Shaltiel Ben Yair, in their failed attempt to assassinate Transportation Minister David Pinkas in 1952 for his decision to shut down public transportation on Shabbat, was obtained deceptively from Heruti.

Yaakov Heruti was a member of the technical department of the Lehi (The Stern Gang), a radical pre-state underground group, and specialized in preparing explosive devices.

In 1947, Natan Yellin Mor, a Lehi leader dispatched him to London to set up a branch there. Among the tasks he was assigned were the assassination of British foreign minister Ernest Bevin (the order was rescinded), attacking General Evelyn Barker (the bomb was sent, but neutralized) and the assassination of Roy Farran, a British police officer who was responsible for the death, following an intense interrogation, of Alexander Rubowitz, a Lehi pamphlet delivery boy. The bomb was delivered but accidentally killed Farran's younger brother.

After returning to Israel, Heruti took part in the War of Independence. In late 1952, along with Lehi colleague Shimon Becher, he set up an underground group, consisting mostly of former Lehi members, with the goal of attacking the diplomatic missions of Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union in Tel Aviv and to fire at Jordanian Legion positions in Jerusalem.

Among other things, Heruti and his colleagues, who were armed, stormed one night in February 1953 into the Russian Embassy on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv and hid a 15-20 kilogram bomb in the garden of the building, which caused only property damage.

Three months later, after receiving information from one member of the underground, security services arrested Heruti and his colleagues. Heruti was sentenced to 10 years in prison for being a member of a "terrorist organization" and bearing arms.

Two years later, he was released along with his colleagues thanks to a pardon granted to them by defense minister Pinchas Lavon. The group was known as the Tzrifin Underground, named for the army base where the trial was held.

Five and a half years ago, I interviewed Heruti, a lawyer, for the Haaretz Weekend Magazine. It was the first time he gave an in-depth interview to a major media outlet and talked about his adventurous life. Only in 2008, when Nurit Gertz published her book, did I realize that Heruti had not told me everything. He did not disclose the contact he had with Kenan. As a member of the underground - sworn to secrecy - it was clear to him that there are some things that cannot be told, even if they did happen over 50 years ago.

Now, for the first time, Heruti is disclosing to the public (tomorrow an interview with him will also be published in the Makor Rishon newspaper) his version of that dramatic episode that stirred up the country at the time.

"Amos Levine-Kenan," said Heruti, "was a friend and buddy since high school. We met often also at the home of our mutual friend, Max Fogel. After finishing high school, I joined the Lehi organization. A while later, Amos and Max also joined the underground. Amos served with distinction in the pre-state battles over Jerusalem [among others, he took part in the battle that turned into a massacre in Deir Yassin]. I came there after the state was declared and then we went our separate ways."

They met again four years later. It happened on rainy winter night in 1952, before Heruti formed his underground group. Avraham Liberman, a veteran Lehi member, summoned Heruti. In the yard outside the home of tailor Zvi Agassi, a Lehi supporter in the religious town of Bnei Brak, a milk jug was uncovered with a submachine gun, several pistols and some grenades - the weapons that would be used in their underground activities.

Heruti, a sabotage expert, took care of the weapons and transferred them to Fogel's room on Rothschild Boulevard. Fogel studied chemistry in Jerusalem and Heruti had a key to the room. Kenan also had a key to the room and he surprised Heruti and Becher the next day as they were taking care of the weapons.

"Amos didn't ask questions," recalled Heruti. "We talked about this and that and after a short time, Amos left and we continued with our work. It was clear to me that no one was going to reveal anything. Not because of fear. We had an ironclad rule: you don't have to agree, but you don't turn anyone in. Amos passed the test."

A few months later, Heruti says, Kenan showed up again and asked him for some explosive sticks. "'What for?' I asked," said Heruti. Kenan answered that it would be a protest-showcase action, to explode a device opposite the Hamashbir L'zarchan store in Jaffa that sells German merchandise. As far as Heruti was concerned taking revenge on Germany for the Holocuast was okay.

"I did not have a shadow of a doubt that Amos was speaking the truth. That too was an ironclad rule among us. We arranged a meeting and I brought him the sticks. Amos had two left hands, but Shaltiel Ben Yair was an expert and the rest is history. The bomb was detonated at Pinkas' house. From that day on, I did not say a word to Amos for better or worse for 30 years. I rejected any attempt to make contact with him," Heruti said.

At the Lehi veterans' reunion in 1982 the two exchanged niceties, but did not discuss the past.