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An Officer Who Changed History

Mike-AmirMike Amir in 2012 when he was awarded a certificate of merit for his achievements in tourism to Israel
Mike Amir in uniform
"How can I help you?" Vivian asked the British officer standing at his door.
"I want to help you," answered Mike, "I have with me aerial maps that will assist you to win this war," he added. 
"Why do you want to help? Wouldn't you rather join us?" asked Vivian.
"I am of more value to you if I continue to serve the British Army," answered Mike.
This meeting was held a couple of days after one of the most defining moments in the history of the Jewish people when the United Nations General Assembly passed the vote on Resolution 181, the Partition Plan. This called for the establishment of the Jewish State in its historical homeland, and paved the way for the establishment of the State of Israel alongside a Palestinian State.
Gen. McNarney, former US military commander in Europe, told the delegates at the Assembly that the United Nations was on trial. "If the Jewish people are to realize their age-old dream of a homeland, they are obliged to assume new responsibilities and willingness to give blood, sweat, and tears to building a new nation."
Let me take you back to 1947, from the rule of the British Mandate to the birth of the State of Israel; the power of humanity against the odds; the strength of combining efforts; the resilience of a few and the heroes who changed the course of history and ensured the survival of the State of Israel.
Mike Landshut was one of these heroes. He was born in South Australia in 1922, the son of a Christian family who were owners of a large sheep farm. During WWII he was drafted to the Australian Army and fought with the British Forces against Japan in Burma where he was wounded. He was forced to return to the farm. However, "once a soldier always a soldier." Mike rejoined the British Forces as an Artillery Intelligence Officer and was posted to Jerusalem under the rule of the British Mandate.
Mike's heroic achievements surfaced decades later when Shlomo Nakdimon, journalist, author and filmmaker, was researching the contribution which Chaim Herzog, the 6th President of Israel, made to the vote and to the War of Independence. 
It was fate that brought about Mike's presence at some of the most dramatic events in Zionism. The situation in Palestine was problematic, especially with the ships of Holocaust survivors arriving from Europe. On July 11, 1947 the "Exodus" ship carrying 4,500 survivors and Hagana youth was intercepted at sea and seized by the British Royal Navy. "The Living Dead," as Mike described them, were not allowed to disembark, except for the wounded. The rest of the survivors were forced to board British ships destined for Germany. Mike was overwhelmed by this unjust incident and others which followed, and he started to identify with the Jewish people. 
The day after the historic United Nations Partition Plan vote, the newly founded Jewish State was attacked by well-armed Arabs in the surrounding villages while the British soldiers turned a blind eye. Mike could not accept the fate of the 600,000 fighting for their existence in their promised state and realized that he must act and put his feelings into action. 
It seemed rather a normal act for a British Intelligence Officer to enter the storage rooms at the British headquarters in Jerusalem to look for aerial maps, only this time Mike had another mission on his mind. Mike sought to take the aerial maps of information on the Arab villages in the area and arms caches to the Defense Department at the Jewish Agency, where he met "Vivian," Chaim Herzog.
From one intelligence officer to another, over the next few months, Mike leaked sensitive information to Chaim Herzog, including warnings of upcoming attacks and weapon searches. 
During the war Mike continued to witness the blind eye approach by the British soldiers as they continued to side with the Arabs. After witnessing first-hand the horrific Hadassah convoy massacre on April 13 when 78 Jewish doctors, nurses, students, patients, and Hagana fighters were killed by Arabs, Mike realized that he needed to supply weapons, and arranged the delivery of an artillery gun to the Hagana.  As a British intelligence officer he managed to get the use of an army truck and drove to the British army base in Haifa. He convinced the base commander that he needed to replace a faulty gun in Jerusalem. Mike, given the green light, "helped himself" and set out on a risky trip to the meeting place of the Hagana where he handed over the gun.
The State of Israel was declared on May 14, 1948, and the very next day the newborn state was attacked by the armies of Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Lebanon as well as the Arab Liberation Army - seven armies in all.  
At midnight between May 14 and 15, the British flag was brought down by the High Commissioner as the last ship of British soldiers left Haifa Port to return to their country. Mike, who should have joined his unit, mates and soldiers, remained on the land and watched them disappear over the horizon together with his old identity. 
Mike fell in love with the State of Israel. He also realized that it would have been risky for him to return to Australia or Britain where, should his actions have been discovered, he could have been sentenced to prison or worse.
After fighting with the British Forces in Germany during WWII, followed by his post in Jerusalem as a British Mandate Intelligence officer, Mike could finally remove his uniform.  He was issued the last Palestine Identity Card with his new name, Mike Amir (his original name cannot be revealed), and he fought as a soldier in the newly formed Israeli Defense Force.
Mike's artillery experience in World War II was invaluable to the Israelis.  He was appointed a commander of a Machal group.  The Machal, Mitnadvei Chutz LaAretz, overseas volunteers, over 4,500 men and women, Jews and non-Jews, who arrived from 59 countries, fought valiantly and served with distinction in every branch of the IDF. Together, they made a significant contribution towards winning the war. As Israel's first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion stated: "The Machal Forces were the Diaspora's most important contribution to the survival of the State of Israel."
In late May 1948, as the fighting progressed on a few fronts, the lack of weapons on the Israeli side was a serious set-back. With Mike's knowledge of hidden weapons storages in Europe and his skills in assembling weapons, he organized to dig out guns from hidden underground concrete bunkers in Brest on the north-west coast of France, and had them shipped to the Tel Aviv Port in large crates marked "Pianos." These guns were 75 mm French anti-aircraft guns, capable of firing shells up to 10,000 meters at an elevation of 89 degrees.  Who needed "pianos" those days? After all, "pianos" were not implements of war, so the United Nations arms' inspectors at the port let them through. 
Mike's significant contribution to the IDF and the War of Independence was duly recognized by an Award of Distinction. He converted to Judaism and married Sarah.  Mike and Sarah and their son and daughter and extended family all live in Israel. He continued to serve in the IDF until his retirement after the Six-Day War in 1967. He established a tourism company and made a profound contribution to Israel, winning the Israel Tourism Prize.
Mike Amir's feet never touched the soil of Australia again. 

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Mike Amir with Dalia Ayalon Sinclair

Footnotes:
As Israel PR and Information Chair of the National Council of Jewish Women of Australia, I had initiated the Annual Celebrating Israel events in Australia in 2005. I stumbled on Mike Amir's story while researching material for the 10th Anniversary of Celebrating Israel events held in Sydney. I contacted Mike Amir. His story was featured at this event and his message for the occasion touched us all. He is indeed "my Hero".

"Dear Dalia,
Please, do not portray me as a hero. I am only what I like to think of as being a person who can judge right from wrong and which I think I have thankfully passed on to my son and daughter, and both grandchildren. 1947 -1948 is a long way in the past, but is just as vivid in my mind as it was then.
Without going now into details, what they did in 1947 and 1948 was WRONG. Especially the purposeful denouncement of all and any weapons of any sort from the Jewish Yishuv, leaving them, knowingly, totally helpless to face the fully armed and trained Arab armies, especially the Jordanian Legion, joined by British officers and lead by the English General Glubb.
After 6,000,000 Jews had been systematically exterminated by the Germans in WWII, how could anyone even consider the annihilation of another six hundred thousand? Because total annihilation it would have been, loud and clear. I only did what I had to do. Someone had to try to help to put things "right." That's all. Nothing heroic about it. Just conscience. And what I would have had to live with all my life, if I too had kept silent.
As it turned out, my life living in Israel, became Heaven on Earth."
Mike Amir, November 29, 2015.  

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Sunday, 12 July 2020

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