Ha-Shomer ha-Tza‘ir and the Underground in Egypt
Unlike most other Egyptian Zionist groups, ha-Shomer ha-Tza‘ir began to operate underground in late 1947 and early 1948. Consequently, only a handful of its senior leaders were apprehended in the roundup of Zionist activists at the start of the Arab-Israeli war in May 1948, and the movement maintained most of its strength. A gar‘in was then preparing to immigrate to Israel to establish the second Egyptian kibutz of ha-Shomer ha-Tza‘ir. Instead of leaving, the gar‘in members remained underground in Egypt to organize Jewish immigration to Israel and to aid the other youth movements, which had been left without most of their leaders. From the end of May 1948 until April 1949, they acted without any direct assistance or guidance from the Zionist authorities in Israel. Ralph Hodara, Vita Castel, and David Harel (Wahba) led the underground work on behalf of the Jewish Agency and its ‘Aliyah Organization (Mosad le-‘Aliyah). They collaborated with Rudolf Pilpul, a lawyer who became the chief intelligence agent for the Israeli military in Egypt after Yolande Gabai Harmer, who had been collecting intelligence in Cairo for the Zionist authorities for the previous four years, was arrested in August 1948. In addition, Menasce Setton's travel agency in Cairo collaborated with the ‘Aliyah Organization on a commercial basis. Benny Aharon and Victor Beressi took responsibility for the educational work of ha-Shomer ha-Tza‘ir and the other youth movements. The youth leaders reported to Eli Peleg, the former emissary of ha-Kibutz ha-Artzi who became director of the Jewish Agency's Department for Middle East Jewry in Paris after he was forced to leave Egypt on May 25, 1948.
In the spring of 1949, Eliyahu Brakha and Haim Sha’ul were sent by the ‘Aliyah Organization to assume responsibility for organizing immigration to Israel. Sha’ul was a graduate of ha-Shomer ha-Tza‘ir in Cairo; Brakha had been a member of he-Halutz in Alexandria. As a member of MAPAI, the leading party of the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency, Brakha had the confidence of the official institutions of the state of Israel and the Zionist movement. The decision to send two emissaries may well have been motivated by the desire not to allow MAPAM to “control” Zionist activity in Egypt. Sha’ul recalled that his departure for Egypt was delayed until MAPAI could find an emissary to join him and that even though he had been waiting in Paris for months before Brakha arrived, Brakha was sent on to Cairo first.
The arrival of the two emissaries transferred the internecine political rivalries of Israel, where Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion had excluded MAPAM from the government, to Egypt. Brakha was suspicious of ha-Shomer ha-Tza‘ir despite its considerable success under difficult conditions. Ha-Shomer ha-Tza‘ir's leaders complained repeatedly and bitterly that Brakha excluded them from the work and refused to hand over monies allocated to them. Eli Peleg protested that MAPAI was conducting “unrestrained warfare” against MAPAM and that there was a “merciless battle” against his department, in which MAPAM members dominated, within the Jewish Agency. As part of his effort to ensure the local dominance of MAPAI, Brakha split the he-Halutz movement by demanding that it abandon its officially nonpartisan status and transform itself into the new youth movement of MAPAI-ha-Bonim (The builders). About half the members of he-Halutz refused and formed Dror-he-Halutz ha-Tza‘ir (Freedom—the young pioneer). Dror was the youth movement of the elements of the Kibutz ha-Me’uhad federation affiliated with MAPAM from 1948 to 1954. It was politically situated between the social democratic MAPAI and ha-Shomer ha-Tza‘ir. However, for very local reasons, elements of Dror in Egypt developed a line that was to the left of ha-Shomer ha-Tza‘ir (see Chapter 2).
During 1949 and 1950, two contingents of the gar‘in of senior members of ha-Shomer ha-Tza‘ir left Egypt. They made their way to Kibutz ‘Ein-Shemer between the summer of 1949 and late 1951. The 80 members of the gar‘in were augmented by perhaps 40 more Egyptians who had not been in ha-Shomer ha-Tza‘ir but were recruited to join the gar‘in. They left some 350 members behind in Egypt, including 70 seniors. In 1952, a small gar‘in of Egyptian ha-Shomer ha-Tza‘ir arrived in Kibutz Mesilot, a veteran kibutz established in 1938. They joined the kibutz in September after living there for several months and studying Hebrew. Although ha-Shomer ha-Tza‘ir and the underground Zionist movement continued to exist until 1954, the wave of Jewish emigration ebbed after 1950, and no Israeli emissaries arrived after 1952.