Ben-Gurion was adamant in his demand that Begin surrender and hand over of all the weapons:
We must decide whether to hand over power to Begin or to order him to cease his separate activities. If he does not do so, we will open fire! Otherwise, we must decide to disperse our own army.
Ben-Gurion ordered Yigael Yadin (acting Chief of Staff) to concentrate large forces on the Tel Aviv beach and to take the ship by force.
Heavy guns were transferred to the area and at four in the afternoon, Ben-Gurion ordered the shelling of the Altalena.
One of the shells hit the ship, which began to burn. There was danger that the fire would spread to the holds which contained explosives, and the captain ordered all aboard to abandon ship. People jumped into the water, whilst their comrades on shore set out to meet them on rafts.
Although the captain flew the white flag of surrender, automatic fire continued to be directed at the unarmed survivors. Begin, who was on deck, agreed to leave the ship only after the last of the wounded had been evacuated.
Ten Irgun fighters were killed on Tel Aviv beach, and one IDF soldier. After the shelling of the Altalena, more than 200 Irgun fighters were arrested on Ben-Gurion’s orders.
The idea that only 3 years after the Holocaust, while fighting against the Arabs, a Jew might fire upon another Jew, left a scar on the entire nation.