The Experience of Maurice Wiseberg (aka Naphtali ben Zvi) 

Maurice Wiseberg was one of many Manchester Jews who ended up in the Israeli airforce. As a youngster, Maurice had been not been an ardent Zionist. Even so, after having volunteered his brother Baron early in 1948 as a pilot, he himself arrived in Israel in June of the same year, during a truce with the Arabs. Maurice travelled via Marseilles, paying his own way. He fully expected to lose the war and went out only because, as he put it, "I would never have been able to live with myself if I had not gone". His immediate family only found out that he had volunteered when he reached France. From there he sailed to Israel in ‘the Negbah’ (Hebrew "South"), delighted to see the name of the ship in Hebrew characters.

In Israel, Maurice (known there as Naphtali ben Zvi) met his brother Baron (known as Dov), who commanded the Ramat David airfield. After a wedding to which he was invited upon his arrival, Naphtali drove a group of drunken soldiers down the Carmel road in Haifa, one of whom was the future president of Israel, Ezer Weizmann. Over the next two years, Naphtali’s position as ‘Inspector General of Transport (Israeli Airforce)’ meant that he had responsibilities for the transport at several airfields in the North. Improvisation was the order of the day, with vehicles and materials in short supply; the steering wheels of jeeps would be chained to fences, only to be later found discarded - the ‘borrowed’ jeeps now being steered with large spanners. The first language of both the navy and airforce was English, everyone was on a first-name basis, and Naphtali got to know many of the other mitnadvim from America, South Africa, Canada, England, and elsewhere. Looking back, he has marvelled at the Israeli victory:

"If the Arabs had fought with their full might, we would have lost. They were trained and helped by the British, and the Arab Legion was well armed. The Arabs held territory in mid-Palestine. Once I can remember when three [Arab] tanks arrived at a blockhouse staffed with newly arrived [Jewish] immigrants, who promptly hoisted a white flag. The tanks went on to Netanyah, and fired ranging shots. Then, for no apparent reason, they turned around and left. Israel could have been cut in two… We could have lost at anytime."

Maurice Wiseberg was awarded ribbons recognising his contributions to the War of Independence by the Israeli government and also from the Haganah.



With thanks to Maurice Wiseberg and Stanley Medicks (co-ordinator of the British and European Machal Association).


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IMAGE AND DOCUMENT CREDITS: The Negbah (Maurice Wiseberg), Wiseberg on way to Israel (Maurice Wiseberg), Certificate (Maurice Wiseberg) Full reference: Sources.