Clandestine bullet factory helped Israel win war

rehovot, israel | Sitting in the laundry room of what used to be a working kibbutz, it is impossible to guess where or how the brave kibbutzniks made their way underground to the secret factory that produced nearly 3 million bullets in three years and helped win Israel’s War of Independence in 1948.

Everything at the Ayalon Institute is exactly as it was six decades ago, but for the fact that the kibbutz is now a museum and there is no British army station just down the hill and under whose nose about 40 men and women contributed clandestinely to the founding of Israel.

The Ayalon Institute’s fascinating story is about a top-secret operation that took place during the years between the end of World War II and Israel’s War of Independence.

Despite the vigilant eyes of the British who ruled the area, a clandestine plant for the production of much-needed bullets was built underground in anticipation of the armed struggle between Jews and Arabs in Israel (and neighboring Arab countries) that came with the termination of the British Mandate.

It was built in just three weeks as a cooperative effort between members of Hatzofim Aleph, a pioneer group, members of the local Jewish clandestine military, and Haganah trainees. Using the laundry room as their cover — the noise of the washing machines and the exhaust camouflaged the subterranean goings on — the group worked day in and day out in a 300-square-yard space 26 feet underground.

Above ground, living quarters, a dining hall, a chicken coop, a barn filled with animals, workshops and agricultural fields gave the outward appearance of an ordinary kibbutz. Several dozen kibbutzniks actually worked it as such, knowing nothing about what was going on beneath them.

The munitions-makers risked their lives every day. If caught they could be killed; the ongoing work caused health problems and they required special diets and time each day with one of the first sun lamps, to restore the vitamins that a lack of sunlight deprived them of. At any time, the gunpowder — handled by hand — could explode, and great pains were taken to enter and exit without being seen, by moving a heavy piece of machinery under which there was a steep staircase. Their clothes and hair were inspected at each day’s end to remove bullet shavings and stains.

The machinery had been purchased in Poland in 1938 and was smuggled by the underground to Lebanon and from there to Israel in 1942. The Haganah had other bullet factories but this was the largest, producing bullets for the submachine guns used by fighters.

The factory was in full operation until Israel’s establishment in 1948.

In 1987, the Ayalon Institute (Kibbutz Hill) was declared a historic site, with a museum opened and operated by the Council for Restoration and Preservation of Historic Sites in Israel. Partnering with the council is the Jewish National Fund (

The council maintains a national database listing of more than 250 heritage sites and takes action to protect them from falling into neglect or being jeopardized by real estate development. More than 50 sites have already been successfully preserved.

The Ayalon Institute, along with the other sites administered by the council, welcomes more than 2 million visitors annually. The council also works to incorporate education about its project into school curriculums and has developed 17 educational programs, each dedicated to a specific restored heritage site.