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April 22, 2015 5:32 pm

The Sarona Complex in Tel-Aviv Has Long Housed Secrets of Israel’s Independence, Soon to be Revealed

avatar by David Daoud

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The Tunnel in Tel-Aviv's Sarona Complex, which housed the State's earliest aircraft, will be revealed before Independence Day. PHOTO: Nir Kidar.

The secrets buried beneath the shops and restaurants at Tel-Aviv’s Sarona Complex, deep in its cellars,  have finally been revealed, some of which were vital to Israel’s struggle for independence.

One of the secret sites is a tunnel that was built and used by the Knights Templar, which will be opened before tomorrow’s Independence Day celebrations, and which connects the cellars of two wineries. The tunnel was first discovered by two veterans of Israel’s civil aviation, who took part in dismantling, smuggling, upgrading and reassembling 15 aircraft used by the Jewish freedom fighters before and during the War of Independence in 1947.

One of the veterans, Asher Gerson (86) – the Air Force’s second flight course graduate – told Israel’s Channel 2 news the story of the tunnels, and their role in establishing the Israelis’ nascent air force. Gerson said that “In the years of 1943-44, I was very active in an aviation club. We flew model airplanes, heard lectures, and started to do gliding exercises on Givat HaMoreh.” He added that after some time, “we joined pilots in Ramleh, where the British Air Force had its main air base, along with the Aviryon Company who used the base as a flight school.”

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Gerson noted that at the base they had multiple aircraft, “some of them Polish.” He added that his group trained fighters from the Jewish Palmach militia at the base. “Later, they transferred them [the aircraft] and after that, at the end of 1947, they were transferred to Sde Dov, because they feared Arab gangs which controlled the area.”

“They transferred 6 planes, and one of them was being repaired. But when the Arabs knew that we were transferring the aircraft, they succeeded in burning them in Lod.” Gerson added that “these aircraft were used by the Haganah to overfly areas that were controlled by Arab gangs and to make deliveries to certain points in the Negev.”

But not all of the planes served in a transport capacity. “Some of them were capable of dropping 50-pound bombs, because the plane had two seats.”

Gerson then told of how he and a group of his fellow activists dismantled 15 planes parked at Tel Nof – then an Arab village called Akir – put them in trucks, and drove them north, maintaining the secrecy of the operation both from the Arabs and the British. “Since we were not able to finish all of our work, six of the planes were loaded on to trucks, which took them that same evening to Tel-Aviv, to Sarona, to the winery, and there they disassembled them,” Gerson said.

When the planes were finally brought to Sarona, “they were brought through a basement into a place that was a winery – all of the aircraft were put there, and at that point my work was practically done.” After that, teams of mechanics were brought in to upgrade the planes, and each plane which was repaired and upgraded was taken from the Sarona winery to Sde Dov in parts, where they assembled and used them.

The aircraft that passed through Sarona were vital and used in the early days of the War of Independence until Israel was able to import other aircraft from the Czech Republic. They aided in securing convoys to towns that were cut off, as well as other missions.

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