The British were in control of the area called Israel, but the Israeli freedom fighters were making plans to gain independence. Right under the eyes of the British forces, only a few feet from their headquarters, under cover of a kibbutz farm, the Israeli freedom fighters began manufacturing the bullets they would need for the upcoming fight. The story of the “secret” bullet factory is told in a fantastic tour of the facility, known as Ayalon Institute, in Rehovot. To visit, you’ll need to make a reservation. Any Israeli tour guide can help with this.
Following World War II, the British were put in charge of the area known as Palestine in what was called the British Mandate. Through a series of “White Papers” the British eventually agreed to divide the land into an Arab state and a Jewish state. This division was quickly agreed to by the United Nations. At the time there were few people living in this area, but a group committed to Zionism, or the return of the Jewish people to Israel, formed a paramilitary called “Haganah” to fight for the Israeli part of the division.
Shortly after the area was divided by the UN, those in the Arab portion advocated to control Palestine and declared war. The Israelis fought to remain a Jewish state and even gained additional territory, still disputed. All this was predicted by foresight of the Haganah. They had started planning for this eventual battle in advance, so when the time came, they were prepared for a fight.
At Ayalon Institute, you learn the history of how the Haganah acquired bullet making machinery from Poland and smuggled it into Israel by way of Beirut. An underground bullet manufacturing plant was established. The plant was very noisy, so much so that the people who worked there couldn’t hear each other speak. To cover the noise, a laundry was built on top of the bullet factory with a very loud commercial clothes dryer. The British soldiers would bring their laundry there for cleaning, not knowing that right under their noses the Israelis were getting ready to defend their country. Next to the laundry, the kibbutz bakery was part of the ruse, justifying the heavy structural support needed for the factory under the guise of supporting the heavy ovens of the bakery.
The ingenious laundry was built so that the workers could walk up a hidden vertical staircase and emerge inside the laundry. They were able to do this daily in less than a minute. The entire operation was placed on a kibbutz with a farm. The workers would report for their kibbutz farm job and then disappear underground. Before lunchtime, they’d emerge and return to their farm jobs before heading to the communal kibbutz dining room to eat. The operation would continue similarly after lunch: they would report again to their farm job and then converge on the laundry. The laundry had three doors so as not to arouse suspicion with so many people entering and leaving. Those working underground were all qualified as spies, and the rest of the kibbutz workers never detected the deception, except for one who did.
The story behind the laundry worker who learned the truth is a thriller as good as any, only this one is true. I won’t repeat it here so as not to spoil it for you. You should go visit to hear and see for yourself.
The Haganah that put this factory together accomplished a huge amount of work in a short time. Underground, in secret, they built a repair shop to fix machinery without detection, a huge air circulation system was required (built under the guise of being used for the laundry) because of the large amount of volatile gunpowder in the air, and special medical research was needed to sustain workers underground without Vitamin D for long periods.
The restored factory was opened to the public in 1987. Don’t miss this site when you visit Israel.