by Yael Adar
Imagine building a clandestine ammunition factory, right under the nose of the British.
In 1945, the Haganah determined that at the end of the British Mandate a struggle would ensue between the Jews and Arabs of the land. A decision was made by the Haganah to establish a secret plant. In just three weeks, preparations for the factory were completed and it was code named the Ayalon Institute, a military industry factory in the early pre-state days.
Above ground, this appeared to be no more than a kibbutz. Eight meters below ground things were quite different; this was actually the largest bullet factory, where 45 people worked. Between 1946-1948, 2.25 million bullets were manufactured here. These were nine-millimeter bullets, for the Sten sub-machine gun, which was the primary personal weapon during the war. The bullets were embossed with the letters EA, E for Eretz Israel and A for Ayalon. At the height of operations, 40,000 bullets a day were made at the institute. It has been said that the bullets manufactured at the Ayalon Institute constituted the only supply that was not in shortage during the war.
The necessary manufacturing machines were lowered into the factory through an opening, which was concealed by a huge 10-ton baking oven (there was a working bakery here). The entrance stairs, used by workers to get to and from the factory was covered by a large washing machine that revolved on a pivot (see photo). The ‘kibbutz members’ also operated a commercial laundry. It is perhaps ironic that British officials stationed in nearby Rehovot used to bring their uniforms to be laundered in a place that concealed the clandestine arms factory.
When you tour the institute, you can actually go down the stairs and see the manufacturing area.
Visits require a reservation, as you can only visit as part of a tour (just be sure to mention that you want an English tour when you call). There is also an audiovisual program, in English.
There is an interesting story about how copper, the raw material that was needed, was obtained. Applications for import licenses were submitted to the authorities. When asked why so much copper was needed the explanation was given that it would be used to make lipstick cases. The explanation seemed plausible and the import licenses were approved.
There is no doubt that the efforts of the Haganah members who worked here under harsh conditions played a crucial role in the success of the War of Independence; David Ben Gurion termed their efforts as heroic.
The institute is situated on Kibbutzim Hill, which got its name from the groups of pioneers that trained here, from 1932-1942. These people would later go on to establish kibbutzim through out the country and came to this place to gain experience in the ways of daily life on a kibbutz.
SPECIAL NOTE: You must make reservations in advance.
Directions: The Ayalon Institute is located on the northern outskirts of Rehovot, at Kibbutzim Hill near Science Park (Kiryat Hamada). From Route # 412 turn into Science Park (just before the entrance to Rehovot). Go 2 traffic lights and turn left onto Holtzman, up the hill where you can park the car.
Visiting Hours: Sunday-Thursday 8:00 AM- 4:00 PM (last tour is at 3:00 PM), Friday and holiday eves, 8:30 AM-12:00 PM (last tour is at 11:00 AM, Saturday 9:00 AM-4:00 every hour (on the hour) .
Entry fees apply.