The Gideons (Ha'Gid'onim)

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“The Gideon (Hebrew: Gid'oni) was a specialist of the Hagana in Morse code communication. He maintained the communication between Palestine and the Diaspora, from both ships and land stations.” – as defined by Gabi Sarig, the historian of the I.D.F’s Communications Branch.

From the middle of the 1930’s, the Hagana was using three underground radio networks:

1. The Avinoam Network: This network kept contact between the Hagana and the Jewish settlements, especially the more distant and isolated ones. It also kept contact with regional commands and other outposts.

2. The Tamar Network: This network was established together with the creation of the Palmach. It maintained contact between the Palmach command posts and the companies of the Palmach.

3. The Gideon Network: The network used by Ha'Mossad Le’Aliya Bet. After World War II, all Aliya Bet vessels and all arms ships were supplied with the necessary equipment to communicate on this network (prior to the end of WW II, Aliya Bet vessels typically only had receivers).

The Gideon (pronounced Gid’on) Network covered a wide area, from Palestine to various countries in Europe, the Middle East, and to the Aliya Bet vessels that were harboring in ports or sailing the high seas. The network included headquarters in Palestine and permanent stations in Paris, Marseille, Milan, Rome and Bucharest (the unique station in Prague is discussed later). The radio operators of this network were called Gideonim (singular Gideoni/Gideonit).

Most of the equipment (transmitters and receivers) was developed and assembled by electrical technicians of the Hagana. In order to maintain secrecy and portability, the equipment had to be small and compact, but at the same time cover long distances with a minimum use of energy. Transmitters of short wavelength seemed most suited for this purpose, and the equipment which was bought on the open market or constructed by the technicians of the Mossad Le’Aliya Bet worked on current which was drawn from car batteries. That is why the Gideon network did not mesh with the standard international maritime communication which required much higher energy levels. Messages were typically relayed by Morse code.

With experience, the technicians and the Gideonim cooperated in developing a standard set which was built in a wooden box, and which would be brought to the Aliya Bet vessel before its departure from port, and which the Gideoni could install in a place that he thought suitable on the vessel (most of Aliya Bet vessels, which were very old and small, did not have a communications cabin). The Gideoni would receive separately, in a special container, the crystals that were necessary to work on the proper frequencies. He would also receive keys and the codes necessary for encryption and decoding, and the list of stations that he was to contact, and at what hours he was to contact whom. Ships that were purchased in the USA usually had a communications cabin and equipment (the Ulua - Chaim Arlosoroff, the Exodus, etc.) which was adapted to fit into the Gideon network. The units dispatching Aliya Bet vessels from remote shores used mobile equipment on the beach at the time of the vessels' departure.

The Gideonim received their knowledge and training in the framework of courses conducted by the Hagana. Many began their service working in the Hagana networks in Palestine (including a group of 5 graduates from the Maritime School in Haifa who joined the Palyam directly). In addition, about 20 candidates from among those Ma’apilim who knew Hebrew were also trained as radio operators in Marseille, France. This course, conducted between Nov. 1946 and January 1947 was called “The Marseille” course. Most of the course’s participants served as Gideonim on Aliya Bet vessels. The list of Gideonim (available in the Hebrew version only) names 168 people, 51 of them women.

It turned out at a much later date that the Italian and French intelligence agencies knew quite a bit about the Gideon network and kept it under surveillance. They were interested in making sure the network was not used to the advantage of the Communists or other “unfriendly” agents (In a meeting that took place in Rome in 1964 between technicians of the Israeli Intelligence and their opposite numbers in the Italian Intelligence, an Israeli who had formerly been a Palyamnik and Gideoni told his opposite number of the activity of the Gideon network during the years of Aliya Bet. On the following day the Italian brought a file which contained Gideon messages that had been decoded, and explained why the Italians had intercepted the messages but had not intervened).

Towards the end of 1947 the shipments of Czech weapons to Palestine began. The Mossad Le'Aliya Bet set up an office with representatives there, which was headed by Ehud Avriel. The “Aerial Train” of arms from Czechoslovakia to Israel necessitated good, reliable communication. The Prague government allowed the establishment of a radio station in the offices of the Mossad. The equipment for this station was bought from surplus American supplies in Belgium. It was packed and sent via a Czech plane, and accompanied by the Palyam Gideoni and engineer, Sam Hillel. The equipment arrived safely, was checked through customs by the Czech officials, and was quickly installed and inaugurated. It was a state-of-the-art (in those days) station, by far more powerfull than any station that Hagana radio operators had used before. This was how the first communication network in the service of the State of Israel was set up, even before the state was born. Following the establishment of Israel, it was the first station that served the Foreign Office and the Defense Department of the new state. Soon, all the radio stations of the State of Israel were hooked into this network which is known as the “Tachal” (An acronym for stations outside Israel) Network. This network - the successor to the Gideon Network - has of course been modernized over the years, in keeping with current technologies (An interesting point: Pitchiya Page, who had been a student in the Marseille course for Gideonim, became an army communications officer and in the course of time was appointed head of the Tachal Network).

Two famous Aliya Bet episodes involving Gideonim were the Rafiah vessel affair and the historic broadcast from the Exodus. The Rafiah, carrying 750 Ma’apilim, was caught in a rough storm near the Greek island of Sirna, and was forced to seek shelter. As she entered a bay she ran onto a rock and sank in a very short time. Eight Ma’apilim died, the rest jumped to shore, found shelter from the cold (This was the eighth of December!) and were saved. The island was uninhabited and at a distance from civilization. The good luck was that the Gideoni was Avraham Lichovski (RIP) - a talented professional and a brave man. He calmly threw his equipment to the shore and set up a makeshift antenna and was soon able to re-establish communication on the Gideon network and transmit a desperate call for help. The Mossad contacted the Royal Navy, and the half-frozen, starved, and exhausted Ma’apilim were rescued by the British Navy and brought to Cyprus. Avraham’s cool behavior and expertise saved the Ma’apilim from a terrible catastrophe.

The Exodus 1947 came equipped with a strong transmitter. When it was close to the shore of Palestine and surrounded by five British destroyers, the Gideoni Azriel Einav activated his equipment so that the whole story of the Exodus was broadcast to the world in Hebrew, English (including a call to the U.N. read by Reverend J. Grauel) and French. The public address system of the vessel was also activated so that the Ma’apilim on board also were aware of all that was happening. This was a big morale booster.

Note: the above introduction is based primarily on inputs from the Gideoni Uri Goren (see also Uri's autobiography book On Both Sides Of The Crypto).

Gideonim in action
Gideonim in action

A documentary about the Gideonim, in Hebrew with English subtitles


באתר מפורסמים סיפורים אישיים רבים; אין למערכת האתר אפשרות לאמת את כל פרטיהם ולכן הכתוב בהם באחריות בלעדית של כותביהם.

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