An inside job: How a Jewish terror group broke hundreds out of a British jail in Palestine

An inside job: How a Jewish terror group broke hundreds out of a British jail in Palestine
The Irgun was responsible for a number of terror attacks in Palestine in the 1940s, including the King David Hotel attack (pictured), which killed 92 people. (File/Reuters)
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Updated 31 August 2020

An inside job: How a Jewish terror group broke hundreds out of a British jail in Palestine

An inside job: How a Jewish terror group broke hundreds out of a British jail in Palestine
  • The Irgun ‘actually had the plans of the whole prison from the guy who made it,’ says great-nephew

LONDON: New information from the family of a British civil servant has revealed that a legendary 1947 breakout from a British prison in Palestine was an inside job by the jail’s own architect.

The Acre Prison break is said to have exposed the British Empire’s ailing grip on Palestine, and until now, details of how the Jewish terrorist group Irgun managed to break 250 people out of the jail have been shrouded in mystery.

But Gil Margulis, the great-nephew of Peres Etkes, the prominent engineer and architect who built the prison, told The Guardian newspaper: “They (the Irgun) actually had the plans of the whole prison from the guy who made it.”

Margulis added: “I was reading the history and people keep saying, ‘How did they do it? How did it happen’? Sometimes you need a little insider information. Well, they had a lot of insider information — they had the exact plans.”

The well-executed raid involved diversionary explosives, seizing adjacent buildings and blowing holes through walls — a strategy only made possible by in-depth knowledge of the prison’s interior.

In the 1950s, Etkes revealed to his family that he shared the plans with the Irgun “because the prison was like a fortress, and unless they had the map, there was no way to get out.”

Etkes was a celebrated engineer who was decorated for his role in developing ports and road systems in Palestine when it was under British mandate. This was key to the UK’s war effort against Germany.

But it has now come to light that his real motivations lay in the pursuit of the Zionist project to establish Israel — his work for Britain just happened to align with those goals.

“It wasn’t an anti-British thing,” Margulis said. “For a period, the empire and the Zionist movement were kind of walking in the same direction with different goals. For him, building the country was a big thing, and he was able to do that with the empire putting resources in.” 

Half-written memoirs written by Etkes and shared by Margulis also tell the story of the former’s role in illegally supplying Jewish terrorist groups with weapons taken from British armories in the 1920s. Those weapons were used by Jewish forces in Tel Aviv during Arab riots.

Britain discovered Etkes’s role in trafficking the weapons, but he was never punished and later received the King’s Medal for Service in the Cause of Freedom for his role in building infrastructure in Palestine on behalf of the UK.

Etkes never lifted his silence on his role in the prison break, Margulis said, because “for the rest of his life, he had a nice British pension.”