The years leading up to the establishment of the State of Israel were marked not only by bitter conflict between the Jewish and Arab populations in Mandatory Palestine but also by an at-times violent Jewish revolt against the colonialist British presence in the Holy Land. The Jewish underground targeted British officers, infrastructures and key buildings, their most famous attack being the bombing of the King David Hotel in July, 1946.
The anti-British activities were spearheaded by three underground organizations: The Haganah, the Irgun and Lehi. When the British captured Palestine from the Ottoman’s in 1917, they converted the Russian Compound in downtown Jerusalem into an administrative headquarters, and part of it became a central prison. During these years of British occupation, hundreds of prisoners were kept in this facility, many of them members of the Jewish underground. During the 1948 War of Independence, the prison was captured by Jewish fighters in a military campaign known as Operation Pitchfork.
After the State of Israel was founded, the compound was used for various purposes, until 1991, when the prison was restored by the Defense Ministry and turned into a museum. The museum's exhibitions are the rooms themselves: The prison cells; the synagogue room; a cell that housed Jewish prisoners and is associated with legendary Jerusalem saint Rabbi Aryeh Levin, who would come there to meet with the prisoners on Shabbat and holidays; the exercise yard; the solitary confinement room; and more. The walls and spaces of the Museum of Underground Prisoners are filled with memories and stories from the pre-state days. A tour of the premises is a somber, sobering experience, but rewarding nonetheless.
Photo: Moshe Cohen