Dec 1947-April 1948
Dov Gruener's Trial
i. Dov Gruener's Trial
ii. Haifa Police Station Bombed
iii. Op Polly
iv. Bombing of the Jewish Press Office
V. The Beginning of the End
vi. Executions and Funeral
vii. Irgun Frees Acre Prisoners
Dov Gruner was a member of Irgun who was shot and captured by a police squad led by Inspector Denley during an Irgun raid on Ramat Gan tegart. During the course of the raid, the Irgun killed a temporary Arab constable (TAC) and wounded a police wireless operator.
Dov Gruner's trial, held in a military court, was another milestone on the downward slope of Anglo-Jewish relationships chiefly because Dov Gruener's American sister had whipped up world-wide sympathy for her brother who had neither killed nor wounded anyone during the raid.
The following account of the trial is the second part of Inspector Denley's memoir, the first part of which can be found at The Irgun Attack on the Ramat Gan Tegart
Since the attack on the Ramat Gan Tegart in April, Dov Gruner had been slowly recovering in the hospital. I heard several stories about his health but he slowly recovered from his grievous wound. He refused surgery saying "why should I bother as they'll probably hang me anyway". The result was his jaw set in a crooked manner that affected his speech and when he spoke you were obliged to listen carefully.
About 9 months later, I think it was on New Years Day 1947, Dov Gruner was brought before the Military Court in Jerusalem. These Courts were diabolical affairs and flavoured very much on the lines of a Police State. I do not intend, in this narrative, to write about Military Courts I will just say I did not agree with them. I notice there are no Military Courts in Northern Ireland today.
When we went to Jerusalem on that fateful day I was instructed by my superior officer to act as escort, i.e. personal escort to Dov Gruner, because it was my case and as I was the chief witness it would be much easier for me to do all the jobs. A convoy of four armoured cars with an armoured personnel carrier in the centre proceeded to the Central Prison Jerusalem situated in the famous old Russian Compound.
It was with considerable interest that I entered the prison, in the bright sunshine, after all I had only seen the prisoner for a few moments nine months before and then during a time of high drama and excitement. The Central CID had carried out all subsequent investigations, after he left my Police Station all bandaged up. I was curious to see what he looked like. He appeared out of the dim cool prison into the office escorted by the Prison Superintendent, one Hoppy Grant, who, incidentally, was the same man in charge of Moshe Dayan some 9 years before in Acre Prison. He grinned at me in a queer lop-sided manner. I noticed he was of medium height, thin, dressed in a pair of baggy brown slacks and a shirt that was white once but badly washed and was now a bit off-white. He carried a book, which may have been the Torah, but it might easily have been a novel.
The journey to the Court, which was situated in one of the best suburbs of the city, did not take long and was made in silence except for the crackle of the radio on which a police constable gave H.Q, a report from time to time of our position and progress. We were, that day, a very important convoy. We arrived at the Court and looked around, almost in awe, at the security arrangements. There were Police and troops everywhere sandbagged sangers and machine guns of every sort and size. On a small hillside nearby there were two artillery pieces of some sort. I looked down at the slight thin little Jewish fellow, handcuffed to me, and I could not help smiling at him and he seemed to understand and gave me a lop-sided grin in return.
On entering the Court, we went to the dock, which was a well-built sort of square raised in the centre of the courtroom, rather like a prize fighting ring, except that it was built of wooden rails and had a gate to get in by.
The prisoner and I entered the dock first, handcuffed together. In normal courts the prisoner always has all his chains removed when he stands before the Court, as an innocent man, until convicted or otherwise. The Military Court never went in for such niceties as that! The prisoner and I sat down on a bench and four British Police Constables armed with Tommy Guns arranged themselves at each corner. We had been detailed to arrive at the Courthouse at least an hour before the trial was to start. This was usual procedure, everything must be in order, and the Court must not be kept waiting in any way.
The prisoner and I sat there for some moments, but it is impossible for an extrovert like me to ignore a person I am physically tied to for several hours; in fact, the handcuffs were almost like an umbilical cord. I remember turning to him and saying "your group ought to be ashamed of attacking a Police Station where women and children were living, and particularly my own wife and two children". He then assured me they had strict instructions not to hurt anyone, particularly the police, as the only objective was to capture the arms and ammunition. In fact, one temporary additional Arab Constable was killed and one British Policeman was slightly wounded. He tried to explain that had they thrown down their arms even this would not have happened. This point could have been argued forever. Had this trial taken place soon after the attack I should have been far more argumentative. However, nine months had gone by and many other things had happened. Tempers had cooled and I had found by experience that the longer the time between the event and the trial the better for the accused.
I found that Dov Gruner could speak very good English, in a soft gentle way, albeit slightly distorted by the injury to his jaw. He did not tell me, at the time, but he had been in the Army (British) which probably made him unconsciously polite to officers but on reflection, I'm sure he was just the polite type.
He started with all the usual arguments about the concentration camps, gas chambers and the millions of refugees all over Europe, and the fact that he had been kicked from pillar to post and that he had been chased far enough and that he had finished running and here he was going to make a stand. He stated all these facts with a very quiet conviction, which impressed me far more than all the other people that we had tried before. I had, of course, seen and helped take off the refugee's in Haifa Harbour from the hell ships i.e. ships terribly overloaded and I had stood in the bottom of a tramp steamer's hold and looked upwards and saw tiers of bunks all up the side. The only sanitation was a rope and a bucket and over the side. I had more recently, after the end of the war in Europe, stopped a bus or car to search for arms and when I asked for identification young girls would angrily bare their breasts to show the tattooed number from concentration camps. All this could not help but make even the most hardened police officer think a bit and I was not hardened. However, this man, Dov Gruner, made such an impression on me that I will never forget him as long as I live. As I sit writing this, although I have notes written some years ago, I remember as if it were yesterday. It is almost 30 years ago. He said "Mr. Denley", very politely, "I have been kicked about all over Europe & I will not run any more". He drew my attention to SAMUEL II CHAPTER 7 VERSE 10, I do not carry a bible around with me but I looked it up when I got back home.
Moreover I will appoint a place for my people Israel, and will plant them, that they may dwell in a place of their own, and move no more: neither shall the children of wickedness afflict them any more, as beforetime.
He went on to ask me a question, which turned out affected me more than anything else we talked about that day. He asked me what I was doing in Palestine, who was I working for, I insisted that I was working for my Government and therefore for the Crown. He then gently pointed out to me that Palestine was not a Crown Colony but a Mandate from the old League of Nations, which never amounted to very much and now taken over by the newly formed United Nations and they were not cutting much of a dash so far. He furthermore pointed out that when I joined the British Section of the Palestine Police I swore some sort of oath to obey orders of my superiors but, not the usual one to King George V1 his heirs and successors etc. In fact, Dov Gruner pointed out to me that I was nothing more and probably a bit less than a mercenary soldier.
The trial of Dov Gruner started about one hour after we arrived, at least we went through all the motions. Dov Gruner, as did all the members of I.Z.L. in those days, refused to recognise the Court and refused to take part in any of the proceedings.
The prosecutor, a British Army Major, appeared first and came across to the dock and through me asked the accused if he meant to ignore the Court. Dov Gruner said he would be taking no part so the Major said could he admit to his name and identification otherwise it would be necessary to send for a Doctor to prove that the accused was not a deaf-mute. Dov Gruner agreed to do all things to help, short of recognising the Court as having the right to try him. In fact, these negotiations were conducted in a most amiable manner. No one would have thought, for one moment, that a man's life was at stake and that he was charged with a Capital Offence i.e. "Carrying Arms etc". It must be clearly borne in mind that at no time as far as we knew did he point his revolver at us or try to use it in any way.
As soon as these identification formalities had been sorted out the accused ignored the proceedings and proceeded to read his book, which he had of course brought for this purpose. I was the first witness. After taking the handcuffs off the prisoner was chained to one of the constables whilst I went through the formality of telling the facts to the Court. As I looked at the accused he looked sideways from his book and gave me a big wink as if to say "quite correct old boy" but of course, when he asked by the Court if he wished to question the witness, he ignored the Court.
We went all through the ritual of calling witnesses etc. The prosecution speech was almost pathetic and the only person who seemed at ease was the little Jewish fellow chained to a large embarrassed police officer. The Court adjourned for lunch and no doubt, the 3 officers, composing the Court and the prosecutor, went to the officer's mess. We stayed in the dock, with the accused, and by that time we were very friendly and we shared our lunch and bought him soft drinks.
At last, this charade came to an end, and the President pronounced the death sentence for which everyone in the Court stood up except the prisoner. He then stood up and broke his silence when he quoted a passage from the bible in Hebrew. My Hebrew is not that good and I cannot repeat the quotation but it is well known and was always quoted by the I.Z.L. on such occasions.
We then returned to Central Prison Jerusalem with the special warrant always issued by the Court when the death sentence was involved. I handed over my prisoner to A.S.P. Grant and after "the formalities" I turned away to climb into my armoured car, when Grant called me back and said "Denley the prisoner wishes to speak to you".
I was shown along the passage to the condemned cell and Dov Gruner said to me "Mr. Denley, will you shake hands with me?" I replied, "of course", and he took my hand in both his and said under different circumstances we should have been great friends. He went on to beg me not to feel too bad about it when they hung him because I was doing my duty as I saw it and he is as he saw it.
I turned away and walked to the armoured car and tears ran down my cheeks. Hoppy Grant said something but I ignored it or did not hear it. The car swung out into the traffic and we rapidly descended the hills of Judea down to the plains and back to Ramat Gan.
I never saw Dov Gruner again but immediately after his sentence he rapidly became a "cause celebre". His sister Ruth flew from America. President Truman pleaded on his behalf and even the great man, Winston Churchill, then in opposition, tried to help him. However, it was all to no avail. They had transferred him to Acre Jail sometime before, where I heard he was a model prisoner and very popular with all his British Jailers.
One misty morning in Acre, when the sea looked like a millpond and the incoming fishermen appeared suddenly out of the sea mists and the sun was rising over the Carmel Range they took him out and hung him,
Today the State of Israel have made a shrine out of his room at Acre and, in front of the Police Station at Ramat Gan,there stands a simple modern type of statue representing a lion playing with a lamb and the simple inscription
DOV GRUNER 1947