The Altalena: the Ship That Almost Sank Israel

“Do not shoot back!” With these words, Menachem Begin believed he ensured there would be no civil war. This video delves into a wild episode in Israel’s early history: the 1948 Altalena Affair. As the ship, nicknamed the Altalena (meaning seesaw in Italian and a pseudonym for Ze’ev Jabotinsky, leader of the Revisionist Zionists) approached Israel’s shores during the War of Independence, just five weeks after the country’s founding, bullets started to fly. The unthinkable had happened, as Jews started to shoot at each other and kill one another.

Through this video and educator guide, students will learn about the rivaling Haganah and Irgun and their leaders, their deep conflict and the event that nearly brought Israel to civil war. How was calamity avoided? How did political leaders with such substantial differences mange to hold back their troops for the sake of unity?

Watch this video and use these prompts to dig deeply into the event that almost dismantled Israel before it even had a chance to become a state.