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Irgun (Hebrew: ארגון‎; shorthand for Ha'Irgun HaTzva'i HaLe'umi BeEretz Yisra'el, הארגון הצבאי הלאומי בארץ ישראל, "National Military Organization in the Land of Israel") was a militant Zionist group that operated in the British mandate of Palestine between 1931 and 1948. It was an offshoot of the earlier and larger Jewish paramilitary organization Haganah (Hebrew: "The Defense", ההגנה). Since the group originally broke from the Haganah it became known as the Haganah Bet (Hebrew: literally "Defense 'B' " or "Second Defense", הגנה ב), or alternatively as Haganah Ha'leumit (ההגנה הלאומית) or Ha'ma'amad (Template:Rtl-lang).[1] Irgun members were absorbed into the Israel Defence Forces at the start of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. In present-day Israel, the Irgun is commonly referred to as Etzel (אצ"ל), an acronym of the Hebrew initials.

The Irgun policy was based on what was then called Revisionist Zionism founded by Ze'ev Jabotinsky. According to Howard Sachar, "The policy of the new organization was based squarely on Jabotinsky's teachings: every Jew had the right to enter Palestine; only active retaliation would deter the Arabs; only Jewish armed force would ensure the Jewish state".[2]

Some of the better-known attacks by the Irgun were the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem on 22 July 1946 and the Deir Yassin massacre (carried out together with Lehi) on 9 April 1948.

In 1947 "the British army in Mandate Palestine banned the use of the term 'terrorist' to refer to the Irgun zvai Leumi ... because it implied that British forces had reason to be terrified,"[3] but this did not stop others referring to it as a terrorist organization, e.g. the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry,[4] several media sources,[5][6][7][8][9] and a number of prominent world and Jewish figures.[10][11][12] Irgun attacks prompted a formal declaration from the World Zionist Congress in 1946, which strongly condemned "the shedding of innocent blood as a means of political warfare."[13] The Israeli government, in September 1948, acting in response to the assassination of Lord Moyne, dissolved the Irgun and Lehi groups as part of the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance.[14]

The Irgun was a political predecessor to Israel's right-wing Herut (or "Freedom") party, which led to today's Likud party. Likud has led or been part of most Israeli governments since 1977.

Irgun Commanders

Nature of the Movement

Zeev Jabotinsky

Ze'ev Jabotinsky, who formulated the movement's ideology and was Supreme Commander of the Etzel

Members of the Irgun came mostly from Beitar and from the Revisionist Party both in Palestine and abroad. The Revisionist Movement made up a popular backing for the underground organization. Ze'ev Jabotinsky, founder of Revisionist Zionism, was the commander of the organization until he died. He formulated the general realm of operation, regarding Restraint and the end thereof, and was the inspiration for the organization overall. An additional major source of ideological inspiration was the poetry of Uri Zvi Greenberg. The symbol of the organization, with the motto רק כך (Only Thus), alongside a hand holding a rifle in the foreground of all of mandatory Palestine (both sides of the Jordan River), symbolized the striving for Hebrew independence over the entire land of Israel, to be achieved only by the power of "Jewish weapons".

The number of members of the Irgun varied from a few hundred to a few thousand. Most of its members were people who joined the organization's command, under which they carried out various operations and filled positions, largely in opposition to British law. Most of them were "ordinary" people, who held regular jobs, and only a few dozen worked full time in the Irgun.

The Irgun disagreed with the policy of the Yishuv and with the World Zionist Organization, both with regard to strategy and basic ideology and with regard to PR and military tactics, such as use of armed force to accomplish the Zionist ends, operations towards the Arabs during the riots, and relations with the British mandatory government. Therefore the Irgun tended to ignore the decisions made by the Zionist leadership and the Yishuv's institutions. This fact caused the elected bodies not to recognize the independent organization, and during most of the time of its existence the organization was seen as irresponsible, and its actions thus worthy of thwarting. Therefore the Irgun accompanied its armed operations with public relations campaigns, in order to convince the public of the Irgun's way and the problems with the official political leadership of the Yishuv. The Irgun put out numerous advertisements, an underground newspaper and even ran the first independent Hebrew radio station - Kol Zion HaLochemet.

Structure, command, insignia

As an underground armed organization, members did not normally call it by its name, but rather used other names. In the first years of its existence it was known primarily as "ההגנה הלאומית" (the National Haganah), and also by names such as "Irgun Bet", "Haganah Bet", the "Parallel Organization" and the "Rightwing Organization". Later on it was most widely known as "המעמד" (the Stand). The anthem adopted by the Irgun was "Anonymous Soldiers",[16] written by Avraham (Yair) Stern who was at the time a commander in the Irgun. Later on Stern defected from the Irgun and founded Lehi, and the song became the anthem of the Lehi. The Irgun's new anthem then became the third verse of the "Beitar Song", by Ze'ev Jabotinsky.

In August 1933 a "Supervisory Committee" for the Irgun was established, which included representatives from most of the Zionist political parties. The members of this committee were Meir Grossman (of the Hebrew State Party), Rabbi Meir Bar Ilan (of the Mizrachi Party, either Immanuel Neumann or Yehoshua Supersky (of the General Zionists) and Ze'ev Jabotinsky or Eliyahu Ben Horin (of Hatzohar). The committee was in charge of the Irgun until 1937, when the group split yet again. From that point on, the Irgun was under Jabotinsky's command. After his death ties were formed between the Irgun and the New Zionist Organization. These ties were broken in 1944 when the Irgun declared war on the British government.

Within the Irgun, Avraham Tehomi was the first to serve as "Head of the Headquarters" or "Chief Commander". Alongside Tehomi served the "Headquarters". When the armed group expanded, districts were laid out within the movement. A local Irgun unit was called a "Branch". A "Brigade" in the Irgun was made up of three sections. A section was made up of two groups, at the head of each was a "Group Head", and a deputy. Later on various newer units were established, who answered to a "Center" or "Staff"). Ranks were put into use later on and were (in ascending order) Deputy, Group Head, Sergeant (for a Section), Sergeant A (Brigade), First Sergeant (Battalion); officer ranks were "Gundar" (District of Unit Commander) and First Gundar (Senior Commander). A rank of Major was awarded to the Irgun commander Yaakov Meridor and a rank of Major General (Aluf) to David Raziel. Until his death in 1940, Jabotinsky was known as the "Military Commander of the Etzel" or the "Supreme Commander".

The militant nature of the organization manifested itself in two ways. First, was the execution of strict drill exercises, carrying out of ceremonies at different times, and strict attention given to discipline, formal ceremonies and military relationships between the various ranks. Another way the military nature was apparent was the organized training regime. The Irgun trained with handguns and submachine guns, hand grenade throwing, and combined attacks on targets. The Irgun put out professional publications on combat doctrine, weaponry, leadership, drill exercises, etc. Among these publications were the 240-page book "The Gun" by David Raziel and Avraham Stern, and the 284-page book "The Compiled and Expanded Guide to Drill Exercises" by Raziel. Up until the Arab Revolt of 1936-1939 the Haganah also made use of these guidebooks (afterwards the Haganah published its own military literature).

Until World War II the group armed itself by weapons purchased in Europe, primarily Italy and Poland, and smuggled to Palestine. The Irgun also established workshops that manufactured spare parts and attachments for the weapons. Also manufactured were land mines and simple hand grenades. Another way in which the Irgun armed itself was "Confiscations" - stealing weapons from the British police and military.

Prior to World War II

Founding

The Irgun's first steps were in the aftermath of the Riots of 1929. In the Jerusalem branch of the Haganah there were feelings of disappointment and internal unrest towards the leadership of the movements and the Histadrut (at that time the organization running the Haganah). These feelings were a result of the view that the Haganah was not adequately defending Jewish interests in the region. Likewise, critics of the leadership spoke out against alleged failures in the amount of weapons, readiness of the movement and its policy of restraint and not fighting back. On April 10, 1931, commanders and equipment managers announced that they refuse to return weapons to the Haganah that had been issued to them earlier, prior to the Nebi Musa holiday. These weapons were later returned by the commander of the Jerusalem branch, Avraham Tehomi, aka "Gideon". However, the commanders who decided to rebel against the leadership of the Haganah relayed a message regarding their resignations to the Vaad Leumi, and thus this schism created a new independent movement.

The leader of the new underground movement was Avraham Tehomi, alongside other founding members who were all senior commanders in the Haganah, members of the Young Labor Party and of the Histadrut. Also among them was Eliyahu Ben Horin, an activist in the Revisionist Party. This group was known as the "Odessan Gang", because they previously had been members of the Haganah Ha'Atzmit of Jewish Odessa. The new movement was named Irgun Tsvai Leumi, ("National Military Organization") in order to emphasize its active nature in contrast to the Haganah. Moreover, the organization was founded with the desire to become a true military organization and not just a militia as the Haganah was at the time.

In the autumn of that year the Jerusalem group merged with other armed groups affiliated with Beitar. The Beitar groups' center of activity was in Tel Aviv, and they began their activity in 1928 with the establishment of "Officers and Instructors School of Beitar". Students at this institution had broken away from the Haganah earlier, for political reasons, and the new group called itself the "National Defense", הגנה הלאומית. During the riots of 1929 Beitar youth participated in the defense of Tel Aviv neighborhoods under the command of Yermiyahu Halperin, at the behest of the Tel Aviv city hall. After the riots the Tel Avivian group expanded, and was known as "The Right Wing Organization".

After the Tel Aviv expansion another branch was established in Haifa. Towards the end of 1932 the Haganah branch of Safed also defected and joined the Irgun, as well as many members of the Maccabi sports association. At that time the movement's underground newsletter, Ha'Metsudah (the Tower) also began publication, expressing the active trend of the movement. The Irgun also increased its numbers by expanding draft regiments of Beitar - groups of volunteers, committed to two years of security and pioneer activities. These regiments were based in places that from which stemmed new Irgun strongholds in the many places, including the settlements of Yesod HaMa'ala, Mishmar HaYarden, Rosh Pina, Metula and Nahariya in the north; in the center - Hadera, Binyamina, Herzliya, Netanya and Kfar Sava, and south of there - Rishon LeZion, Rehovot and Ness Ziona. Later on regiments were also active in the Old City of Jerusalem ("the Kotel Brigades") among others. Primary training centers were based in Ramat Gan, Qastina (by Kiryat Mal'akhi of today) and other places.

Under Tehomi's command

Tehomi

Avraham Tehomi, the first Commander of the Irgun

In 1933 there were some signs of unrest, seen by the incitement of the local Arab leadership to act against the authorities. The strong British response put down the disturbances quickly. During that time the Irgun operated in a similar manner to the Haganah and was a guarding organization. The two organizations cooperated in ways such as coordination of posts and even intelligence sharing.

In protest against, and with the aim of ending Jewish immigration to Palestine, the Great Arab Revolt of 1936-1939 broke out on April 19, 1936. The riots took the form of attacks by Arab rioters ambushing main roads, bombing of roads and settlements as well as property and agriculture vandalism. In the beginning, the Irgun and the Haganah generally maintained a policy of restraint, apart from a few instances. Some expressed resentment at this policy, leading up internal unrest in the two organizations. The Irgun tended to retaliate more often, and sometimes Irgun members patrolled areas beyond their positions in order to encounter attackers ahead of time. However, there were differences of opinion regarding what to do in the Haganah, as well. Due to the joining of many Beitar Youth members, Jabotinsky (founder of Beitar) had a great deal of influence over Irgun policy. Nevertheless, Jabotinsky was of the opinion that for moral reasons violent retaliation was not to be undertaken.

During the first stage of the Revolt, from April 1936 until October of that year, 80 Jews were killed, 369 were injured, 19 schools were attacked, nine orphanages and three old-age homes. 380 attacks on trains and buses were carried out, and approximately 4,000 acres (16 km²) of agricultural land were destroyed. These actions were carried out by armed Palestinian Arab gangs who were joined by Syrian and Iraqi reinforcements. The Supreme Arab Committee, led by Haj Amin al-Husayni, which directed the riots, also declared a general strike on labor and trade. In the beginning of October 1936 gang activity declined due to the intervention of the British army.

In November 1936 the Peel Commission was sent to inquire regarding the breakout of the riots and propose a solution to end the Revolt. In early 1937 there were still some in the Yishuv who felt the commission would recommend a partition of the land west of the Jordan River, thus creating a Jewish state on part of the land. The Irgun leadership, as well as the "Supervisory Committee" held similar beliefs, as did some members of the Haganah and the Jewish Agency. This belief strengthened the policy of restraint and led to the position that there was no room for defense institutions in the future Jewish state. Tehomi was quoted as saying: "We stand before great events: a Jewish state and a Jewish army. There is a need for a single military force". This position intensified the differences of opinion regarding the policy of restraint, both within the Irgun and within the political camp aligned with the organization. The leadership committee of the Irgun supported a merger with the Haganah. On April 24, 1937 a referendum was held among Irgun members regarding its continued independent existence. David Raziel and Avraham (Yair) Stern came out publicly in support for the continued existence of the Irgun:

The Irgun has been placed... before a decision to make, whether to submit to the authority of the government and the Jewish Agency or to prepare for a double sacrifice and endangerment. Some of our friends do not have appropriate willingness for this difficult position, and have submitted to the Jewish Agency and has left the battle... all of the attempts... to unite with the leftist organization have failed, because the Left entered into negotiations not on the basis of unification of forces, but the submission of one such force to the other...[17]

The first split

In April 1937 the Irgun split after the referendum. Approximately 1,500-2,000 people, about half of the Irgun's membership, including the senior command staff, regional committee members, along with most of the Irgun's weapons, returned to the Haganah, which at that time was under the Jewish Agency's leadership. In their opinion, the removal of the Haganah from the Jewish Agency's leadership to the national institutions necessitated their return. Furthermore, they no longer saw significant ideological differences between the movements. Those who remained in the Irgun were primarily young activists, mostly laypeople, who sided with the independent existence of the Irgun. In fact, most of those who remained were originally Beitar people. Moshe Rosenberg estimated that approximately 1,800 members remained. In theory, the Irgun remained an organization not aligned with a political party, but in reality the supervisory committee was disbanded and the Irgun's continued ideological path was outlined according to Ze'ev Jabotinsky's school of thought and his decisions, until the movement eventually became Revisionist Zionism's military arm. One of the major changes in policy by Jabotinsky was the end of the policy of restraint.

On April 27, 1937 the Irgun founded a new headquarters, staffed by Moshe Rosenberg at the head, Avraham (Yair) Stern as secretary, David Raziel as head of the Jerusalem branch, Hanoch Kalai as commander of Haifa and Aharon Haichman as commander of Tel Aviv. On the 20th of Tammuz, (June 29) the day of Theodor Herzl's death, a ceremony was held in honor of the reorganization of the underground movement. For security purposes this ceremony was held at a construction site in Tel Aviv.

Ze'ev Jabotinsky placed Col. Robert Bitker at the head of the Irgun. Bitker had previously served as Beitar commissioner in China and had military experience. A few months later, probably due to total incompatibility with the position, Jabotinsky replaced Bitker with Moshe Rosenberg. When the Peel Commission report was published a few months later, the Revisionist camp decided not to accept the commission's recommendations. Moreover, the organizations of Beitar, Hatzohar and the Irgun began to increase their efforts to bring Jews to the land of Israel, illegally. This Aliyah was known as the עליית אף על פי "Af Al Pi (Nevertheless) Aliyah". As opposed to this position, the Jewish Agency began acting on behalf of the Zionist interest on the political front, and continued the policy of restraint. From this point onwards the differences between the Haganah and the Irgun were much more obvious.

Illegal Aliyah

Parita22839

The ship Parita unloading immigrants at the beach in Tel Aviv

According to Jabotinsky's "Evacuation Plan", which called for millions of European Jews to be brought to Palestine at once, the Irgun helped the illegal immigration of European Jews to the land of Israel. This was named by Jabotinsky the "National Sport". The most significant part of this immigration prior to World War II was carried out by the Revisionist camp, largely because the Yishuv institutions and the Jewish Agency shied away from such an expensive project, as well as the belief that Britain would in the future allow widespread Jewish immigration.

The Irgun joined forces with Hatzohar and Beitar in September 1937, when it assisted with the Aliyah of a convoy of 54 Beitar members at Tantura Beach (near Haifa). The Irgun was responsible for discreetly bringing the Olim, or Jewish immigrants, to the beaches, and dispersing them among the various Jewish settlements. The Irgun also began participating in the organizing of the immigration enterprise and undertook the process of accompanying the ships. This began with the ship Draga which arrived at the coast of the land of Israel in September 1938. In August of the same year, an agreement was made between Ari Jabotinsky (the son of Ze'ev Jabotinsky), the Beitar representative and Hillel Kook, the Irgun representative, to coordinate the immigration (also known as Haapala). This agreement was also made in the "Paris Convention" in February 1939, at which also present were Ze'ev Jabotinsky and David Raziel. Afterwards, the "Aliyah Center" was founded, made up of representatives of Hatzohar, Beitar, and the Irgun, thereby making the Irgun a full participant in the organization and execution process.

The difficult conditions on the ships demanded a high level of discipline. The people on board the ships were often split into units, led by commanders. In addition to having a daily roll call and the distribution of food and water (usually very little of either), organized talks were held to provide information regarding the actual arrival in Palestine. One of the largest ships was the Sakaria, with 2,300 Olim, who at the time made up 0.5% of the Jewish population in Palestine. The first vessel arrived on April 13, 1937, and the last on February 13, 1940. All told, about 18,000 Jews reached Palestine with the help of the Revisionist organizations and private initiatives of other Revisionists. Most were not caught by the British.

End of restraint

David raziel

David Raziel, commander of the Irgun

Irgun members continued to defend settlements, but at the same time began counter-attacks, thus ending the policy of restraint. These attacks were intended to instill fear in the Arab side, in order to cause the Arabs to wish for peace and quiet. In March 1938, David Raziel wrote in the underground newspaper "By the Sword" a constitutive article for the Irgun overall, in which he coined the term "Active Defense":

The actions of the Haganah alone will never be a true victory. If the goal of the war is to break the will of the enemy - and this cannot be attained without destroying his spirit - clearly we cannot be satisfied with solely defensive operations... Such a method of defense, that allows the enemy to attack at will, to reorganize and attack again... and does not intend to remove the enemy's ability to attack a second time - is called passive defense, and ends in downfall and destruction... whoever does not wish to be beaten has no choice but to attack. The fighting side, that does not intend to oppress but to save its liberty and honor, he too has only one way available - the way of attack. Defensiveness by way of offensiveness, in order to deprive the enemy the option of attacking, is called active defense.

The first operations began around April 1936, and by the end of World War II, more than 250 Arabs had been killed. The trend of activities was an attempt to respond "an eye for an eye" in the form of violent operations against Arab violence, and often to match the form of retaliation or its location to correspond to the attack that provoked it. A number of examples:

  • After an Arab shooting at Carmel school in Tel Aviv, which resulted in the death of a Jewish child, Irgun members attacked an Arab neighborhood near Kerem Hatemanim in Tel Aviv, killing one Arab man and injuring another.
  • On August 17, the Irgun responded to shootings by Arabs from the Jaffa-Jerusalem train towards Jews that were waiting by the train block on Herzl Street in Tel Aviv. The same day, when a Jewish child was injured by the shooting, Irgun members attacked a train on the same route, killing one Arab and injuring five.

During 1936, Irgun members carried out approximately ten retaliatory operations.

Throughout 1937 the Irgun continued this line of operation.

  • On March 6, a Jew at Sabbath prayers at the Western Wall was shot by a local Arab. A few hours later, the Irgun shot at an Arab in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Rechavia.
  • On June 29, a band of Arabs attacked an Egged bus on the Jerusalem - Tel Aviv road, killing one Jew. The following day, two Jews were also killed near Karkur. A few hours later, the Irgun carried out a number of operations.
    • An Arab bus making its way from Lifta was attacked in Jerusalem.
    • In two other locations in Jerusalem, Arabs were shot as well.
    • In Tel Aviv, a hand grenade was thrown at an Arab coffee shop on Carmel St., injuring many of the patrons.
    • Irgun members also injured an Arab on Reines St. in Tel Aviv.
    • On September 5, the Irgun responded to the murder of a rabbi on his way home from prayer in the Old City of Jerusalem by throwing explosives at an Arab bus that had left Lifta, injuring two female passengers and a British police officer.

A more complete list can be found here.

At that time, however, these acts were not yet a part of a formulated policy of the Irgun.[18] Not all of the aforementioned operations received a commander's approval, and Jabotinsky was not in favor of such actions at the time. Jabotinsky still hoped to establish a Jewish force out in the open that would not have to operate underground. However, the failure, in its eyes, of the Peel Commission and the renewal of violence on the part of the Arabs caused the Irgun to rethink its official policy.

Increase in operations

14 November 1937 was a watershed in Irgun activity. From that date, the Irgun increased its reprisals. Following an increase in the number of attacks aimed at Jews, including the killing of five kibbutz members near Kiryat Anavim (today kibbutz Ma'ale HaHamisha), the Irgun undertook a series of attacks in various places in Jerusalem, killing five Arabs. Operations were also undertaken in Haifa (shooting at the Arab-populated Wadi Nisnas neighborhood) and in Herzliya. The date is known as the day the policy of restraint (Havlagah) ended, or as "Black Sunday". This is when the organization fully changed its policy, with the approval of Jabotinsky and Headquarters to the policy of "active defense" in respect of Irgun actions.[19]

The British responded with the arrest of Beitar and Hatzohar members as suspected members of the Irgun. Military courts were allowed to act under "Time of Emergency Regulations" and even sentence people to death. In this manner Yehezkel Altman, a guard in a Beitar battalion in the Nahalat Yizchak neighborhood of Tel Aviv, shot at an Arab bus, without his commanders' knowledge. Altman was acting in response to a shooting at Jewish vehicles on the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem road the day before. He turned himself in later and was sentenced to death, a sentence which was later commuted to a life sentence.

Despite the arrests, Irgun members continued fighting. Jabotinsky lent his moral support to these activities. In a letter to Moshe Rosenberg on 18 March 1938 he wrote:

Tell them: from afar I collect and save, as precious treasures, news items about your lives. I know of the obstacles that have not impeded your spirit; and I know of your actions as well. I am overjoyed that I have been blessed with such students.

Although the Irgun continued activities such as these, following Rosenberg's orders, they were greatly curtailed. Furthermore, in fear of the British threat of the death sentence for anyone found carrying a weapon, all operations were suspended for eight months. However, opposition to this policy gradually increased. In April, 1938, responding to the killing of six Jews, in which a woman was raped and dismembered, Beitar members from the Rosh Pina Brigade went on a reprisal mission, without the consent of their commander, as described by historian Avi Shlaim:

On 21 April 1938, after several weeks of planning, he and two of his colleagues from the Irgun (Etzel) ambushed an Arab bus at a bend on a mountain road near Safad. They had a hand-grenade, a gun and a pistol. Their plan was to destroy the engine so that the bus would fall off the side of the road and all the passengers would be killed. When the bus approached, they fired at it (not in the air, as Mailer has it) but the grenade lobbed by Ben Yosef did not detonate. The bus with its screaming and terrified passengers drove on.[20]

Although the incident ended without casualties, the three were caught, and one of them - Shlomo Ben-Yosef was sentenced to death. Demonstrations around the country, as well as pressure from institutions and people such as Dr. Chaim Weizmann and the Chief Rabbi of Mandatory Palestine, Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog did not reduce his sentence. In Shlomo Ben-Yosef's writings in Hebrew were later found:

I am going to die and I am not sorry at all. Why? Because I am going to die for our country. Shlomo Ben-Yosef.

On 29 June 1938 he was executed, and was the first of the Olei Hagardom. The Irgun revered him after his death and many regarded him as an example.

In light of this, and due to the anger of the Irgun leadership over the decision to adopt a policy of restraint until that point, Jabotinsky relieved Rosenberg of his post and replaced him with David Raziel, who proved to be the most prominent Irgun commander until Menachem Begin. Jabotinsky simultaneously instructed the Irgun to end its policy of restraint, leading to armed offensive operations until the end of the Arab Revolt in 1939. In this time, the Irgun mounted about 40 operations against Arabs and Arab villages, for instance:

  • After a Jewish father and son were killed in the Old City of Jerusalem, on June 6, 1938, Irgun members threw explosives from the roof of a nearby house, killing two Arabs and injuring four.
  • The Irgun planted land mines in a number of Arab markets, primarily in places identified by the Irgun as activity centers of armed Arab gangs.
  • Explosives detonated in the Arab souk in Jerusalem on July 15, killed ten local Arabs.
  • In similar circumstances, 70 Arabs were killed by a land mine planted in the Arab souk in Haifa.

This action led the British Parliament to discuss the disturbances in Palestine. On 23 February 1939 the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Malcolm MacDonald revealed the British intention to cancel the mandate and establish a state that would preserve Arab rights. This caused a wave of riots and attacks by Arabs against Jews. The Irgun responded four days later with a series of attacks on Arab buses and other sites. The British used military force against the Arab rioters and in the latter stages of the revolt by the Arab community in Palestine, it deteriorated into a series of internal gang wars.

During the same period

In reality, the armed operations against Arabs were the actions of small groups, or even individual Irgun members. Most of the Irgun were involved during this time with protection and defense of settlements. By the late thirties, the Irgun comprised mainly Beitar youth (from its branches or from its work brigades), Hazohar members and the National Workers Union, youth belonging to the Maccabi youth group, members of the religious youth group "Alliance of the Hasmoneans" and students from the national unions Yavneh, Yodfat and Elal. In certain places, including settlements in Samaria (now known as the northern West Bank), the Sharon and southern Judea, these were the primary defensive forces. In some areas Irgun forces cooperated with Haganah members, such as in the setting up of Tel Tzur (now known as Even Yehuda), a tower and stockade Beitar settlement.

At the same time, the Irgun also established itself in Europe. The Irgun built underground cells that participated in organizing Aliyah convoys. The cells were made up almost entirely of Beitar members, and their primary activity was military training in preparation for emigration to Palestine. Ties formed with the Polish authorities brought about courses in which Irgun commanders were trained by Polish officers in advanced military issues such as guerrilla warfare, tactics and laying land mines. Avraham (Yair) Stern was notable among the cell organizers in Europe. In 1937 the Polish authorities began to deliver large amounts of weapons to the underground. The transfer of handguns, rifles, explosives and ammunition stopped with the outbreak of World War II. Another field in which the Irgun operated was the training of pilots, so they could serve in the Air Force in the future war for independence, in the flight school in Lod.

Towards the end of 1938 there was progress towards aligning the ideologies of the Irgun and the Haganah. Many rid themselves of the illusion that the land would be divided and a Jewish state would soon exist. The Haganah founded פו"מ, a special operations unit, (pronounced poom), which carried out armed operations in response to, and in order to prevent Arab violence. These operations continued into 1939. Furthermore, the opposition within the Yishuv to illegal immigration significantly decreased, and the Haganah began to bring Jews to Palestine using rented ships, as the Irgun had in the past.

First operations against the British

The publishing of the MacDonald White Paper in May 1939 brought with it new edicts that were intended to lead to a more equitable settlement between Jews and Arabs. However, it was considered by some Jews to have an adverse effect on the continued development of the Jewish community in Palestine. Chief among these was the prohibition on selling land to Jews, and the smaller quotas for Jewish immigration. The entire Yishuv was furious at the contents of the White Paper. There were demonstrations against the "Treacherous Paper", as it was considered that it would preclude the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

The Irgun began sabotaging strategic infrastructure such as electricity facilities, radio and telephone lines. It also started publicizing its activity and its goals. This was done in street announcements, newspapers, as well as the underground radio station Kol Zion HaLochemet. The British responded with numerous arrests of Beitar and Hatzohar members, some of whom were mistreated to obtain information about the Irgun. The Irgun warned that such activity by the authorities would lead to a violent response. On August 26, 1939 the Irgun published a death sentence on Ralph Krans, a British police officer who, as head of the Jewish Department in the Palestine Police, had tortured a number of youths who were underground members. Krans and another British officer in the secret police were blown up by the Irgun when a hidden mine exploded.

The British increased their efforts against the Irgun. As a result David Raziel, commander of the Irgun, was arrested on May 19. On August 31 the British police arrested members meeting in the Irgun headquarters. On the next day, September 1, 1939, World War II broke out.

During World War II

Following the outbreak of war, Ze'ev Jabotinsky and the New Zionist Organization voiced their support for Britain and France. In mid-September 1939 Raziel was moved from his place of detention in Tzrifin. This, among other events, encouraged the Irgun to announce a cessation of its activities against the British so as not to hinder Britain's effort to fight "the Hebrew's greatest enemy in the world - German Nazism". This announcement ended with the hope that after the war a Hebrew state would be founded "within the historical borders of the liberated homeland". After this announcement Irgun, Beitar and Hatzohar members, including Raziel and the Irgun leadership, were gradually released from detention. The Irgun did not rule out joining the British army and the Jewish Brigade. Irgun members did enlist in various British units.[21] Irgun members also assisted British forces with intelligence in Romania, Bulgaria, Morocco and Tunisia. An Irgun unit also operated in Syria and Lebanon. David Raziel later died during one of these operations.

During the Holocaust, Beitar members revolted numerous times against the Nazis in occupied Europe. The largest of these revolts was the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising where an armed underground organization fought, comprising Beitar, Hatzohar and Polish Irgun members, under the political leadership of David Wdowiński, and known as Żydowski Związek Wojskowy (Jewish Military Union).[22] There were instances of Beitar members enlisted in the British military smuggling British weapons to the Irgun.

From 1939 onwards, an Irgun delegation in the United States worked for the creation of a Jewish army made up of Jewish refugees and Jews from Palestine, to fight alongside the Allied Forces. In July 1943 the "Emergency Committee to Save the Jewish People in Europe" was formed, and worked until the end of the war to rescue the Jews of Europe from the Nazis and to garner public support for a Jewish state. However, it was not until January 1944 that US President Franklin Roosevelt established the War Refugee Board, which achieved some success in saving European Jews .

The second split

Avraham Stern

Avraham (Yair) Stern

Throughout this entire period the British continued enforcing the MacDonald White Paper's provisions, which included a ban on the sale of land, restrictions on Jewish immigration and increased vigilance against illegal immigration. Part of the reason why the British banned land sales (to anyone) was the confused state of the post Ottoman land registry; it was difficult to determine who actually owned the land that was for sale.

Within the ranks of the Irgun this created much disappointment and unrest, at the center of which was disagreement with the leadership of the New Zionist Organization, David Raziel and the Irgun Headquarters. On June 18, 1939, Avraham (Yair) Stern and others of the leadership were released from prison and a rift opened between them the Irgun and Hatzohar leadership. The controversy centred on the issues of the underground movement submitting to public political leadership and fighting the British. On his release from prison Raziel resigned from Headquarters. To his chagrin, independent operations of senior members of the Irgun were carried out and some commanders even doubted Raziel's loyalty.

In his place, Stern was elected to the leadership. Beitar and Hatzohar members resented this appointment because it was seen as undermining Jabotinsky's authority. In the past, Stern had founded secret Irgun cells in Poland without Jabotinsky's knowledge, in opposition to his wishes. Furthermore, Stern was in favor of removing the Irgun from the authority of the New Zionist Organization, whose leadership urged Raziel to return to the command of the Irgun. He finally consented. Jabotinsky wrote to Raziel and to Stern, and these letters were distributed to the branches of the Irgun:

"...I call upon you: Let nothing disturb our unity. Listen to the commissioner (Raziel), whom I trust, and promise me that you and Beitar, the greatest of my life's achievements, will stand strong and united and allow me to continue with the hope for victory in the war to realize our old Maccabean dream..."

Stern was sent a telegram with an order to obey Raziel, who was reappointed. However, these events did not prevent the splitting of the organization. Suspicion and distrust were rampant among the members. Out of the Irgun a new organization was created on July 17, 1940,[23] which was first named "The National Military Organization in Israel" (as opposed to the "National Military Organization in the Land of Israel") and later on changed its name to Lehi, an acronym for Lohamei Herut Israel, "Fighters for the Freedom of Israel", (לח"י - לוחמי חירות ישראל). Jabotinsky died in New York on August 4, 1940, yet this did not prevent the Lehi split.

The primary difference between the Irgun and the newly formed organization was its intention to fight the British in Palestine, regardless of their war against Germany. Later, additional operational and ideological differences developed that contradicted some of the Irgun's guiding principles. For example, the Lehi supported a population exchange with local Arabs. The Irgun, on the other hand, acted according the Revisionist school of thought that said "There he shall quench his thirst with plenty and happiness, the son of Arab, son of Nazareth (i.e. Christian) and my son."

Moreover, the Irgun's fight against the British was only intended to expel them from the area, and the option of future diplomatic ties with Britain was not discounted. The Lehi, however, declared total war against imperialism and the British Empire. Unlike Irgun fighters, Lehi fighters travelled with their weapons on them at all times. One more striking difference was the fact that the Irgun concentrated its operations against British centres of government and its facilities in Palestine, and sometimes warned the British about impending explosions. This contrasted with the Lehi's struggle that concentrated more on attacks on people and the assassination of political leaders, military and police.

Towards a change of policy

The Irgun's Anthem[24]

Tagar -</br> Through all obstacles and enemies</br> Whether you go up or down</br> In the flames of revolt</br> Carry a flame to kindle - never mind!</br> For silence is filth</br> Worthless is blood and soul</br> For the sake of the hidden glory</br></br></br> To die or to conquer the hill -</br> Yodefet, Masada, Beitar.

The split damaged the Irgun both organizationally and from a morale point of view. As their spiritual leader, Jabotinsky's death also added to this feeling. Together, these factors brought about a mass abandonment by members. The British took advantage of this weakness to gather intelligence and arrest Irgun activists. The new Irgun leadership, which included Meridor, Yerachmiel Ha'Levi, Moshe Segal and others used the forced hiatus in activity to rebuild the injured organization. This period was also marked by more cooperation between the Irgun and the Jewish Agency, however Ben Gurion's uncompromising demand that Irgun accept the Agency's command foiled any further cooperation.

In both the Irgun and the Haganah more voices were being heard opposing any cooperation with the British. Nevertheless, an Irgun operation carried out in the service of Britain was aimed at sabotaging pro-Nazi forces in Iraq, including the assassination of Haj Amin al-Husayni. Among others, Raziel and Yaakov Meridor participated. On April 20, 1941, during a Luftwaffe air raid on Habbaniya Airport near Baghdad, David Raziel, commander of the Irgun, was killed during the operation.

In late 1943 a joint Haganah - Irgun initiative was developed, to form a single fighting body, unaligned with any political party, by the name of עם לוחם (Fighting Nation).[25][26] The new body's first plan was to kidnap the British High Commissioner of Palestine, Sir Harold MacMichael and deport him to Cyprus. However, the Haganah leaked the planned operation and it was thwarted before it got off the ground. Nevertheless, at this stage the Irgun ceased its cooperation with the British. As Eliyahu Lankin tells in his book:

Immediately following the failure of Fighting Nation practical discussions began in the Irgun Headquarters regarding a declaration of war

The "Revolt"

In 1943 the Polish II Corps, commanded by Władysław Anders, arrived in Palestine from Iraq. The British insisted that no Jewish units of the army be created. Eventually, many of the soldiers of Jewish origin that arrived with the army were released and allowed to stay in Palestine. One of them was Menachem Begin,[27] whose arrival in Palestine created new-found expectations within the Irgun and Beitar. Begin had served as head of the Beitar movement in Poland,[28] and was a respected leader. Yaakov Meridor, then the commander of the Irgun, raised the idea of appointing Begin to the post. In late 1943, when Begin accepted the position, a new leadership was formed. Meridor became Begin's deputy, and other members of the board were Aryeh Ben Eliezer, Eliyahu Lankin, and Shlomo Lev Ami.[29]

On February 1, 1944 the Irgun put up posters all around the country, proclaiming a revolt against the British mandatory government. The posters began by saying that all of the Zionist movements stood by the Allied Forces and over 25,000 Jews had enlisted in the British military. The hope to establish a Jewish army had died. Throughout the war the Middle East Arabs had favoured Germany's side. European Jewry was trapped and was being destroyed, yet Britain, for its part, did not allow any rescue missions. This part of the document ends with the following words:

The White Paper is still in effect. It is enforced, despite the betrayal of the Arabs and the loyalty of the Jews; despite the mass enlisting to the British Army; despite the ceasefire and the quiet in The Land of Israel; despite the massacre of masses of the Jewish people in Europe...
The facts are simple and horrible as one. Over the last four years of the war we have lost millions of the best of our people; millions more are in danger of eradication. And The Land of Israel is closed off and quarantined because the British rule it, realizing the White Paper, and strives for the destruction of our people's last hope.

The Irgun then declared that, for its part, the ceasefire was over and they were now at war with the British. It demanded the transfer of rule to a Jewish government, to implement ten policies. Among these were the mass evacuation of Jews from Europe, the signing of treaties with any state that recognized the Jewish state's sovereignty, including Britain, granting social justice to the state's residents, and full equality to the Arab population. The proclamation ended with:

The God of Israel, God of Hosts, will be at our side. There is no retreat. Liberty or death. ...the fighting youth will not recoil in the face of sacrifices and suffering, blood and torment. They will not surrender, so long as our days of old are not renewed, so long as our nation is not ensured a homeland, liberty, honor, bread, justice and law.

The Irgun began this campaign rather weakly — the organization was only about 1,000 strong, out of which only some 200 were fighters. Weapons were also sparse. The Irgun underwent a reorganization and was redivided in different brigades: Combat Corps - the Irgun's primary fighting force; The Sea - the Irgun's special operations unit; Delek (דלק - Gasoline) - intelligence; HATAM ( חת"מ - Revolutionary Publicity Corps); and HAT (ח"ת - Planning Division). The Irgun became more secretive and its commanders assumed new identities and homes. Begin, for example, assumed a Rabbi's identity ("Yisrael Sasover"), and was sometimes known as "Ben Ze'ev" or "Dr. Kenigshopper".

Struggle against the British

The Irgun began a militant operation against the symbols of government, in an attempt to harm the regime's operation as well as its reputation. The Irgun made a rule for itself - no individual terror and an attempt to avoid casualties;[29] it is a matter of debate as to whether Irgun met these rules. The first attack was on February 12, 1944 at the government immigration offices, a symbol of the immigration laws. The attacks went smoothly and ended with no casualties—as they took place on a Saturday night, when the buildings were empty—in the three largest cities: Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Haifa. On February 27 the income tax offices were bombed. Parts of the same cities were blown up, also on a Saturday night; prior warnings were put up near the buildings. On March 23 the national headquarters building of the British police in the Russian Compound in Jerusalem was attacked, and part of it was blown up. These attacks in the first few months were sharply condemned by the organized leadership of the Yishuv and by the Jewish Agency, who saw them as dangerous provocations.

At the same time the Lehi also renewed its attacks against the British.[30] The Irgun continued to attack police stations and headquarters, and Tegart Fort, a fortified police station (today the location of Latrun). One relatively complex operation was overtaking of the governmental radio station in Ramallah, on May 17, 1944.

One symbolic act by the Irgun happened before Yom Kippur of 1944. They plastered notices around town, warning that no British officers should come to the Western Wall on Yom Kippur, and for the first time since the mandate began no British police officers were there to prevent the Jews from the traditional Shofar blowing at the end of the fast.[31] After the fast that year the Irgun attacked four police stations in Arab settlements. In order to obtain weapons, the Irgun carried out "confiscation" operations - they took over British armouries and smuggled stolen weapons to their own hiding places. During this phase of activity the Irgun also cut all of its official ties with the New Zionist Organization, so as not to tie their fate in the underground organization.

Begin wrote in his memoirs, The Revolt:

History and experience taught us that if we are able to destroy the prestige of the British in Palestine, the regime will break. Since we found the enslaving government's weak point, we did not let go of it.[32]

Underground exiles

In October 1944 the British began expelling hundreds of arrested Irgun and Lehi members to detention camps in Africa. 251 detainees from Latrun were flown on thirteen planes, on October 19 to a camp in Asmara, Eritrea. Eleven additional transports were made. Throughout the period of their detention, the detainees often initiated rebellions and hunger strikes. Many escape attempts were made until July 1948 when the exiles were returned to Israel. While there were numerous successful escapes from the camp itself, only nine men actually made it back all the way. One noted success was that of Yaakov Meridor, who escaped nine times before finally reaching Europe in April 1948. These tribulations were the subject of his book Long is the Path to Freedom: Chronicles of one of the Exiles.

Hunting Season

On November 6, 1944, Lord Moyne, British Deputy Resident Minister of State in Cairo was assassinated by Lehi members Eliyahu Hakim and Eliyahu Bet-Zuri. This act raised concerns within the Yishuv from the British regime's reaction to the underground's violent acts against them. Therefore the Jewish Agency decided on starting a Hunting Season,[33][34] known as the saison, (from the French "la saison de chasse"). During the Hunting Season people suspected of belonging to or supporting the Irgun or the Lehi were removed from schools, work places and the Klalit HMO. Most of the people who partook in these activities were members of the Haganah and the Palmach. They carried out surveillance, kidnapping, investigation of Irgun and Lehi members and either turned them over to the British, or provided details regarding their whereabouts. Among those turned over were members of the Irgun headquarters - Yaakov Meridor, Shlomo Lev Ami, and Eliyahu Lankin.

The Hunting Season managed to paralyze the Irgun's activity for a few months, but not destroy the organization. The Irgun's recuperation was noticeable when it began to renew its cooperation with the Lehi in May 1945, when it sabotaged oil pipelines, telephone lines and railroad bridges. All in all, over 1,000 members of the Irgun and Lehi were arrested and interred in British camps during the Saison. Eventually the Hunting Season died out, and there was even talk of cooperation with the Haganah leading to the formation of the Jewish Resistance Movement.

The Jewish Resistance Movement

KD 1946

The King David hotel after the bombing, photo from The Palestine Post

Towards the end of July 1945 the Labour party in Britain was elected to power. The Yishuv leadership had high hopes that this would change the anti-Zionist policy that the British maintained at the time. However, these hopes were quickly dashed when the government limited Jewish immigration, with the intention that the population of Palestine west of the Jordan River would not be more than one third of the total. This, along with the stepping up of arrests and their pursuit of underground members and illegal immigration organizers led to the formation of the Jewish Resistance Movement. This body consolidated the armed resistance to the British of the Irgun, Lehi, and the Haganah. For ten months the Irgun and the Lehi cooperated and they carried out nineteen attacks and defense operations. The Haganah and the Palmach carried out ten such operations. Furthermore, the Haganah assisted in landing 13,000 illegal immigrants.

Tension between the underground movements and the British increased with the increase in operations. On April 23, 1945 an operation undertaken by the Irgun in Tegart Fort went badly and gunfights broke out. One Irgun member was killed and his body was later hanged on the fort's fence. Another fighter, Yizchak Bilu, was killed as well in a diversionary ploy - an explosive device fell out of his hand, and he leapt onto it in order to save his comrades, who were also carrying explosives. A third fighter, Dov Gruner, was caught. He stood trial and was sentenced to be death by hanging, refusing to sign a pardon request.[35]

In 1946, British relations with the Yishuv worsened, building up to Operation Agatha of June 29. The authorities ignored the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry's recommendation to allow 100,000 Jews into Palestine at once. As a result of the discovery of documents tying the Jewish Agency to the Jewish Resistance Movement, the Irgun was asked to speed up the plans for the King David Hotel bombing of July 22.[36] The hotel was where the documents were located, the base for the British Secretariat, the military command and a branch of the Criminal Investigation Division of the police. The Irgun later said that a warning sent out ahead of time was never taken seriously.[37]

Further struggle against the British

The King David Hotel bombing and the arrest of Jewish Agency and other Yishuv leaders as part of Operation Agatha caused the Haganah to cease their armed activity against the British. Yishuv and Jewish Agency leaders were released from prison at Tegart Fort. From then until the end of the British mandate, resistance activities were led by the Irgun and Lehi. In early September 1946 the Irgun renewed its attacks against civil structures, railroads, communication lines and bridges. One operation was the attack on the train station in Jerusalem, in which Meir Feinstein was arrested and later committed suicide awaiting execution. According to the Irgun these sort of armed attacks were legitimate, since the trains primarily served the British, for redeployment of their forces. For a while the British stopped train traffic at night. The Irgun also publicized leaflets, in three languages, not to use specific trains in danger of being attacked. The Irgun also re-established many representative offices internationally, and by 1948 operated in 23 states. In these countries the Irgun sometimes acted against the local British representatives or led public relations campaigns against Britain. On October 31, 1946, in response to the British barring entry of Jews from Palestine, the Irgun blew up the British embassy in Rome.[38]

In December 1946 a sentence of 18 years and 18 beatings was handed down to a young Irgun member. The Irgun made good on a threat they made and after the detainee was beaten, Irgun members kidnapped British officers and beat them in public. The operation, known as the "Night of the Beatings" brought an end to British punitive beatings. The British, taking these acts seriously, moved many British families in Palestine into the confines of military bases, and some moved home.

Bombe Irgoun 29 dec 1947

Arab autobus after the terrorist attack by the Irgun, 29 December 1947

On February 14, 1947, Ernest Bevin announced that the Jews and Arabs would not be able to agree on any British proposed solution for the land, and therefore the issue must be brought to the United Nations (UN) for a final decision. The Yishuv thought of the idea to transfer the issue to the UN as a British attempt to save time until a UN inquiry commission would be established, and its ideas discussed, all the while the Yishuv would weaken. Foundation for Immigration B increased the number of ships which, in fact, saved the lives of European Jews. The British still strictly enforced the policy of limited Jewish immigration and illegal immigrants were placed in detention camps in Cyprus, which increased the anger of the Jewish community towards the mandate government.

The Irgun stepped up its activity and from February 19 until March 3 it attacked 18 British military camps, convoy routes, vehicles, and other facilities. The most notable of these attacks was the use of a car bomb to destroy the Goldschmidt House Officers Club in Jerusalem, which was in a heavily guarded compound.[39] Seventeen officers were killed in the attack. As a result, a curfew was imposed over much of the country, enforced by approximately 20,000 British soldiers.

Some of the British press supported a British exit from Palestine. During the martial conditions imposed by the British, the Lehi and the Irgun carried out 68 armed attacks, many against military targets, including Schneller Orphanage in Jerusalem, by breaking through the outer fortifications. This attack, which succeeded in overcoming the many British security measures, created a media uproar, and the curfew was cancelled four days later.

Executed Members of the Irgun

The Acre Prison break

On April 16, 1947 Dov Gruner, Yehiel Drezner, Eliezer Kashani, and Mordechai El'kachi were hanged, while singing Hatikvah. On April 21 Meir Feinstein and Lehi member Moshe Barazani blew themselves up, using an improvised explosive device (IED), hours before their scheduled hanging. And on May 4 one of the Irgun's largest operations took place - the raid of the prison in the citadel in Acre. The operation was carried out by 23 men, commanded by Dov Cohen - AKA "Shimshon", along with the help of the Irgun and Lehi prisoners inside the prison. The raid allowed 41 underground members to escape, although some were caught outside of the prison, and some were killed in the escape. Along with the underground movement members, other criminals - including Arabs - also escaped. Three of the attackers - Meir Nakar, Avshalom Haviv, and Yaakov Weiss - were caught and sentenced to death.

The Sergeants affair

Hanged sergeants

Two British sergeants hanged by the Irgun

After the death sentences of the three were confirmed, the Irgun tried to save them by kidnapping hostages — British sergeants Clifford Martin and Mervyn Paice — in the streets of Netanya. British forces closed off and combed the area in search of the two, but did not find them. On July 29, 1947, in the afternoon, Meir Nakar, Avshalom Haviv, and Yaakov Weiss were executed. Approximately thirteen hours later the hostages were hanged in retaliation by the Irgun and their bodies, booby-trapped with an explosive, afterwards strung up from trees in woodlands south of Netanya. This action caused an outcry in Britain and was condemned both there and by Jewish leaders in Palestine.[40]

This episode has been given as a major influence on the British decision to terminate the Mandate and leave Palestine. The United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) was also influenced by this and other actions. At the same time another incident was developing - the events of the ship Exodus 1947. The 4,500 Holocaust survivors on board were not allowed to enter Palestine. UNSCOP also covered the events. Some of its members were even present at Haifa port when the putative immigrants were forcefully removed from their ship (later found to have been rigged with an IED by some of its passengers) onto the deportation ships, and later commented that this strong image helped them press for an immediate solution for Jewish immigration and the question of Palestine.

Two weeks later, the House of Commons convened for a special debate on events in Palestine, and concluded that their soldiers should be withdrawn as soon as possible.

The 1948 Palestine War

UNSCOP's conclusion was a unanimous decision to end the British mandate and majority opinion to divide the area west of the Jordan River between a Jewish state and an Arab state. During the UN's deliberations regarding the committee's recommendations the Irgun avoided initiating any attacks, so as not to influence the UN negatively on the idea of a Jewish state. On November 29 the UN General Assembly voted in favor of ending the mandate and establishing two states on the land. That very same day the Irgun and the Lehi renewed their attacks on British targets. Then next day the local Arabs began attacking the Jewish community, thus beginning the first stage of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. The first attacks on Jews were in Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem, in and around Jaffa, Bat Yam, Holon, and the Ha'Tikvah neighborhood in Tel Aviv.

In the autumn of 1947 the Irgun membership was approximately 4,000 people. The goal of the organization at that point was the conquest of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea for the sake of the future Jewish state and preventing the Arab Legion from driving out the Jewish community. The Irgun became almost an overt organization, establishing military bases in Ramat Gan and Petah Tikva. It began recruiting openly, thus significantly increasing in size. During the war the Irgun fought alongside the Lehi and the Haganah in the front against the Arab attacks. At first the Haganah maintained a defensive policy, as it had until then, but after the Convoy of 35 incident it completely abandoned its policy of restraint: "Distinguishing between individuals is no longer possible, for now - it is a war, and the even the innocent shall not be absolved."[41]

The Irgun also began carrying out reprisal missions, as it had under David Raziel's command. At the same time though, it published announcements calling on the Arabs to lay down their weapons and maintain a ceasefire:

The National Military Organization has warned you, if the murderous attacks on Jewish civilians shall continue, its soldiers will penetrate your centers of activity and plague you. You have not heeded the warning. You continued to harm our brothers and murder them in wild cruelty. Therefore soldiers of the National Military Organization will go on the attack, as we have warned you.
...However even in these frenzied time, when Arab and Jewish blood is spilled at the British enslaver, we hereby call upon you... to stop the attacks and create peace between us. We do not want a war with you. We are certain that neither do you want a war with us... [42]

However the mutual attacks continued. The Irgun attacked the Arab villages of Tira near Haifa, Yehudiya ('Abassiya) in the center, and Shuafat by Jerusalem. The Irgun also attacked in the Wadi Rushmiya neighborhood in Haifa and Abu Kabir in Jaffa. On December 29 Irgun units arrived by boat to the Jaffa shore and a gunfight between them and Arab gangs ensued. The following day seven Arabs were killed, and dozens injured, near the refineries in Haifa. In response, Arab workers attacked Jews in the area, killing 41. This sparked a Haganah response in Balad al-Sheykh. The Irgun's goal in the fighting was to move the battles from Jewish populated areas to Arab populated areas. On January 1, 1948 the Irgun attacked again in Jaffa, its men entering the city dressed as British troops; later in the month it attacked in Beit Nabala, a base for many Arab fighters. On 5 January 1948 the Irgun detonated a lorry bomb outside Jaffa's Ottoman built Town Hall, killing 14 and injuring 19.[43] In Jerusalem, two days later, Irgun members in a stolen police van rolled a barrel bomb[44] into a large group of civilians who were waiting for a bus by the Jaffa Gate, killing around sixteen.[45] In the pursuit that followed three of the attackers were killed and two taken prisoner.[46]

In February the Irgun attacked traffic near Yehudiya ('Abassiya), Yazur, and Ramle. Irgun fighters participated in fights against Arab militants in Ramle and Qalqilyah. On 29 February the Irgun blew up the Cairo to Haifa train shortly after it left Rehovot Railway Station killing 29 British soldiers. The Irgun announcement said the bombing was in retaliation for the bombing of Ben Yehuda Street, Jerusalem, a week earlier.[47] An identical attack, on 31 March, killed forty people and injured 60 'when the Haifa-Cairo express train was blown up by electrically-detonated mines near the Jewish colony of Benyamina'.[48] In March the Irgun attacked the village of Qaqun (near Tulkarem), which had many Arab militants among its residents. On 6 April 1948, the Irgun raided the British Army camp at Pardes Hanna killing six British soldiers and their commanding officer.[49]

The Deir Yassin massacre was carried out in a village west of Jerusalem that had signed a non-belligerency pact with its Jewish neighbors and the Haganah, and repeatedly had barred entry to foreign irregulars.[50][51] On 9 April approximately 120 Irgun and Lehi members began an operation to capture the village. During the operation Irgun members shot at fleeing individuals and families. A Haganah report writes:

The conquest of the village was carried out with great cruelty. Whole families - women, old people, children - were killed. ... Some of the prisoners moved to places of detention, including women and children, were murdered viciously by their captors.[52]

The operation resulted in five Irgun members dead and 40 injured and 100 to 120 dead villagers.[53]

Some say that this incident was an event that accelerated the Arab exodus from Palestine.[54] Four days later, on April 13, the Arabs launched a strike on a medical convoy traveling to Hadassah Hospital. Around 77 doctors, nurses, and other Jewish civilians were massacred.

The Irgun cooperated with the Haganah in the conquest of Haifa. At the regional commander's request, on April 21 the Irgun took over an Arab post above Hadar Ha'Carmel as well as the Arab neighborhood of Wadi Nisnas, adjacent to the Lower City.

The Irgun acted independently in the conquest of Jaffa (part of the proposed Arab State according to the UN Partition Plan). On April 25 Irgun units, about 600 strong, left the Irgun base in Ramat Gan towards Arab Jaffa. Difficult battles ensued, and the Irgun faced resistance from the Arabs as well as the British.[55] Under the command of Amichai "Gidi" Paglin, the Irgun's chief operations officer, the Irgun captured the neighborhood of Manshiya, which threatened the city of Tel Aviv. Afterwards the force continued to the sea, towards the area of the port, and using mortars, shelled the southern neighborhoods.

Manshiyeh

The Manshiya quarter between Jaffa and Tel Aviv after the Irgun mortar bombardment.

In his report concerning the fall of Jaffa the local Arab military commander, Michel Issa, writes: 'Continuous shelling with mortars of the city by Jews for four days, beginning 25 April, […] caused inhabitants of city, unaccustomed to such bombardment, to panic and flee.'[56] According to Morris the shelling was done by the Irgun. Their objective was 'to prevent constant military traffic in the city, to break the spirit of the enemy troops [and] to cause chaos among the civilian population in order to create a mass flight'.[57] High Commissioner Cunningham wrote a few days later 'It should be made clear that IZL attack with mortars was indiscriminate and designed to create panic among the civilian inhabitants'.[57] These actions caused many Arab residents to flee the city, and 30 Irgun members were killed in the flight. The British demanded the evacuation of the newly conquered city, however the Irgun had previously agreed with the Haganah that British pressure would not lead to withdrawal from Jaffa and that custody of captured areas would be turned over to the Haganah. The city ultimately fell on May 13 after Haganah forces entered the city and took control of the rest of the city, from the south - part of the Hametz Operation which included the conquest of a number of villages in the area. The battles in Jaffa were a great victory for the Irgun. This operation was the largest in the history of the organization, which took place in highly built up area that had many militants in shooting positions. During the battles explosives were used in order to break into homes and continue forging a way though them. Furthermore, this was the first occasion in which the Irgun had directly fought British forces, reinforced with armor and heavy weaponry. The city began these battles with an Arab population estimated at 70,000, which shrank to some 4,100 Arab residents by the end of major hostilities. Since the Irgun captured the neighborhood of Manshiya on its own, causing the flight of many of Jaffa's residents, the Irgun took credit for the conquest of Jaffa.

Integration with the IDF and the Altalena Affair

On May 14, 1948 the establishment of the State of Israel was proclaimed. The declaration of independence was followed by the establishment of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), and the process of absorbing all military organizations into the IDF started. On June 1, an agreement had been signed Between Menachem Begin and Yisrael Galili for the absorption of the Irgun into the IDF. One of the clauses stated that the Irgun had to stop smuggling arms. Meanwhile in France, Irgun representatives purchased a ship, renamed Altalena (a pseudonym of Ze'ev Jabotinsky), and weapons. The ship sailed on June 11 and arrived at the Israeli coast on June 20 in violation of the four-week ceasefire agreement in the ongoing war with the neighbouring Arab states and the United Nations Security Council Resolution 50.

When the ship arrived, the Israeli government, headed by Ben Gurion was adamant in its demand that the Irgun surrender and hand over all of the weapons. Ben Gurion said: We must decide whether to hand over power to Begin or to order him to cease his activities. If he does not do so, we will open fire! Otherwise, we must decide to disperse our own army.

Altalena off Tel-Aviv beach

Altalena on fire after quelling of the Irgun’s attempt to smuggle weapons into the war zone in violation of ceasefire agreement and UN SC resolution #50

There were two confrontations between the newly formed IDF and the Irgun: when Altalena reached Kfar Vitkin in the late afternoon of Sunday, June 20 many Irgun militants, including Begin, waited on the shore. A clash with the Alexandroni Brigade, commanded by Dan Even (Epstein), occurred. Fighting ensued and there were a number of casualties on both sides. The clash ended in a ceasefire and the transfer of the weapons on shore to the local IDF commander, and with the ship, now reinforced with local Irgun members, including Begin, sailing to Tel Aviv, where the Irgun had more supporters. Many Irgun members, who joined the IDF earlier that month, left their bases and concentrated on the Tel Aviv beach. A confrontation between them and the IDF units started. In response, 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. Sixteen Irgun fighters were killed in the confrontation with the army; six were killed in the Kfar Vitkin area and ten on Tel Aviv beach. Three IDF soldiers were killed: two at Kfar Vitkin and one in Tel Aviv.

After the shelling of the Altalena, more than 200 Irgun fighters were arrested. Most of them were freed several weeks later. The Irgun militants were then fully integrated with the IDF and not kept in separate units.

The initial agreement for the integration of the Irgun into the IDF did not include Jerusalem, which was under siege. The Irgun operated an armed group known as the Jerusalem Battalion, numbering around 400 fighters. Following the assassination of UN Envoy for Peace Folke Bernadotte by the LEHI in September 1948, this separate unit collapsed and integrated into the IDF.

Criticism

Etzel (Irgun) Museum inTel-Aviv

The Irgun museum in Tel Aviv.

Leaders within the mainstream Jewish Agency, Haganah, Histadrut, as well as British authorities, routinely condemned Irgun operations as terrorist and branded it an illegal organization as a result of the group's attacks on civilian targets.[9] However, privately at least the Haganah kept a dialogue with the dissident groups.[58]

In 1948, The New York Times published a letter signed by a number of prominent Jewish figures including Hannah Arendt, Albert Einstein, Sidney Hook, and Rabbi Jessurun Cardozo, which described Irgun as a "a terrorist, right-wing, chauvinist organization in Palestine".[59][60] The letter went on to state that Irgun and the Stern gang "inaugurated a reign of terror in the Palestine Jewish community. Teachers were beaten up for speaking against them, adults were shot for not letting their children join them. By gangster methods, beatings, window-smashing, and widespread robberies, the terrorists intimidated the population and exacted a heavy tribute." [12]

Soon after World War II, Winston Churchill said "we should never have stopped immigration before the war", but that the Irgun were "the vilest gangsters" and that he would "never forgive the Irgun terrorists."[10]

A US Military Intelligence report, dated January 1948, described Irgun recruiting tactics amongst Displaced Persons (DP) in the camps across Germany:

'Irgun ... seems to be concentrating on the DP police force. This is an old technique in Eastern Europe and in all police states. By controlling the police, a small, unscrupulous group of determined people can impose its will on a peaceful and inarticulate majority; it is done by threats, intimidation, by violence and if need be bloodshed ... they have embarked upon a course of violence within the camps.'[61]

Clare Hollingworth, the Daily Telegraph and Scotsman correspondent in Jerusalem during 1948 wrote several outspoken reports after spending several weeks in West Jerusalem:

'Irgun is in fact rapidly becoming the 'SS' of the new state. There is also a strong 'Gestapo' - but no-one knows who is in it.'

'The shopkeepers are afraid not so much of shells as of raids by Irgun Zvai Leumi and the Stern Gang. These young toughs, who are beyond whatever law there is have cleaned out most private houses of the richer classes & started to prey upon the shopkeepers.'
Clare Hollingworth reporting on West Jerusalem June 2, 1948[62][63]

In 2006, Simon McDonald, the British Ambassador in Tel Aviv at the time, and John Jenkins, the Consul-General in Jerusalem at the time, wrote in response to a pro-Irgun commemoration of the King David Hotel bombing:

"We do not think that it is right for an act of terrorism, which led to the loss of many lives, to be commemorated." They also called for the removal of plaques at the site which blame the deaths on "ignored warning calls."

The plaques read:

"For reasons known only to the British, the hotel was not evacuated,” but McDonald and Jenkins asserted that no such warning calls were made, adding that even if they had, "this does not absolve those who planted the bomb from responsibility for the deaths."[7]

Ha'aretz columnist and Israeli historian, Tom Segev, wrote of the Irgun: "In the second half of 1940, a few members of the Irgun Zvai Leumi (National Military Organization) -- the anti-British terrorist group sponsored by the Revisionists and known by its acronym Etzel, and to the British simply as the Irgun -- made contact with representatives of Fascist Italy, offering to cooperate against the British."[11]

Alan Dershowitz wrote in his book The Case for Israel that "[Removal of Arabs] certainly seems to have been the policy of the Irgun".[64]

References

  1. Jacob Shavit, Jabotinsky and the Revisionist Movement 1925-948 pg 97 Routledge 1988 ISBN 978-0-7146-3325-1
  2. Howard Sachar: ''A History of Israel: From the Rise of Zionism to Our Time, pps 265-266
  3. Ray C. Rist, The Democratic Imagination: Dialogues on the Work of Irving Louis Horowitz (Transaction Publishers, 1994 ISBN 1560001747, 9781560001744) p.141 citing Wilson, 1949:13.
  4. W. Khalidi, 1971, 'From Haven to Conquest', 598; updated 1987 to From Haven to Conquest: Readings in Zionism and the Palestine Problem Until 1948, Institute for Palestine Studies, ISBN 978-0887281556
  5. "Irgun Bomb Kills 11 Arabs, 2 Britons". New York Times. December 30, 1947. http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F10A1FF6345E17738DDDA90B94DA415B8788F1D3&scp=2&sq=terrorist+Irgun&st=p. Retrieved 2008-11-18. "A bomb thrown by the Jewish terrorist organization Irgun Zvai Leumi from a speeding taxi today killed eleven Arabs and two British policemen and wounded at least thirty-two Arabs by the Jerusalem Damascus Gate, the same place where a similar bombing took place sixteen days ago." 
  6. "Irgun's Hand Seen in Alps Rail Blast. Polish Jew Confesses He Was Lookout for Others Who Bombed British Train.". New York Times. August 16, 1947. http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=FA0E16F93D55147B93C4A81783D85F438485F9&scp=3&sq=terrorist+Irgun&st=p. Retrieved 2008-11-18. "United States authorities believed tonight they had circumstantial evidence linking the bombing of a British military train high in the Austrian Alps Tuesday night to the Zionist terrorist organization Irgun Zvai Leumi, according to preliminary investigation reports from Bad Gastein." 
  7. 7.0 7.1 "British anger at terror celebration". London. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/middle_east/article690085.ece. 
  8. "Menachem Begin 'backed plot to kill German Chancellor'". London. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/middle_east/article674803.ece. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 "Profile: Rahm Emanuel". BBC News. November 7, 2008. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/7702408.stm. Retrieved January 5, 2010. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 Martin Gilbert. Churchill and the Jew Quotings. p. 270. 
  11. 11.0 11.1 Tom Segev, Haim Watzman. The Seventh Million. p. 33. 
  12. 12.0 12.1 Adam Shatz. Prophets Outcast. pp. 65–67. 
  13. "Zionists Condemn Palestine Terror". New York Times. December 24, 1946. http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F30B12FC3D591B7B93C6AB1789D95F428485F9&scp=13&sq=Irgun+terrorist+president&st=p. Retrieved 2008-11-18. "The World Zionist Congress in its final session here strongly condemned by a vote early today terrorist activities in Palestine and "the shedding of innocent blood as a means of political warfare." 
  14. Dr. Yvonne Schmidt (in en). Foundations of Civil and Political Rights in Israel and the Occupied Territories. pp. 254. ISBN 9783638944502. http://books.google.com/books?id=51gNA4Go_lUC&lpg=PA254&ots=MTU_nhKFpv&dq=%22Prevention%20of%20Terrorism%20Ordinance%22%20%20Irgun&pg=PA254. No 33 of 5708-1948 - 23 Sep 1948
  15. Raziel was arrested by the British on May 19, 1939 and was replaced by Hanoch Kalai[1]. On August 31, 1939 Kalai was arrested and Benyamin Zeroni[2] took his place until Raziel's release and return to the leadership on October 20.
  16. http://www.betar.org.il/music/songs/hayalim.htm (Hebrew), http://www.betar.org.il/music/songs/musicfiles/Khaialim_Almonim.mp3
  17. Yosef Kister, The Etzel, (Hebrew) pp. 38
  18. "Tagar u'Magen (Jabotinsky and the Etzel)" (Hebrew), Jabtotinsky Publishing, pp. 28
  19. "The Birth of an Underground Organization", Yehuda Lapidot, pp. 62 (Hebrew)
  20. Avi Shlaim (January 6, 2005). "Bombers not Martyrs". London Review of Books. http://www.lrb.co.uk/v27/n01/letters.html. 
  21. Irgun Zeva'i Le'umi—“The National Military Organization” (Etzel, I.Z.L.)
  22. See Chaim Lazar, Matsada shel Varsha (Tel Aviv: Machon Jabotinsky, 1963); and, David Wdowiński (1963). And we are not saved. New York: Philosophical Library. pp. 222. ISBN 0802224865. Note: Chariton and Lazar were never co-authors of Wdowiński's memoir. Wdowiński is considered the "single author."
  23. The Split Within The Irgun
  24. http://www.csuohio.edu/tagar/betar.htm
  25. http://www.palmach.org.il/show_item.asp?levelId=38612&itemId=5199&itemType=0 (Hebrew)
  26. Reflections on the assassination of Sheikh Yassin | From Occupied Palestine
  27. Menachem Begin Biography
  28. Menachem Begin - Biography
  29. 29.0 29.1 The Revolt Is Proclaimed
  30. Chapter Eight: The Struggle for the Establishment of the State of Israel
  31. http://www.daat.ac.il/daat/history/hayom/2a-2.htm (Hebrew)
  32. Menachem Begin (1977). The Revolt. 
  33. The 'Hunting Season'
  34. Besiege / Yehuda Lapidut - THE HUNTING SEASON
  35. The Gallows
  36. Jabotinsky Institute Archives (k-4 1/11/5)
  37. Menachem Begin, The Revolt. 1951, pp. 221
  38. J. Bowyer Bell, Terror out of Zion (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1977). pp.181
  39. The Raid On The Jerusalem Officers Club
  40. Eye for an Eye for an Eye, Time Magazine. Aug. 11, 1947
  41. Netanel Lorech, Events of the War of Independence, Massada Publishing, 1958. pp. 85 (Hebrew)
  42. Petition of Our Arab Neighbors: Announcement in Arabic to the Arab Rioters (Hebrew)
  43. ^ The Scotsman newspaper, 6th January 1948; Walid Khalidi states that 25 civilians killed. 'Before their diaspora', 1984. p.316, picture p.325; Benny Morris, 'The Birth of the Palestinian refugee problem, 1947-1949', Cambridge University Press, 197. ISBN 0 521 33028 9. Attributes attack to 'LHI', doesn't number dead and gives date as 4th January. p. 46
  44. Larry Collins/Dominique Lapierre, 'O Jerusalem'.History Book Club/ Weidenfeld and Nicolson. London. 1972. Page 135: 'two fifty-gallon oil drums packed tight with old nails, bits of scrap iron, hinges, rusty metal filings. At their center was a core of TNT...'
  45. Collins/Lapierre. Page 138: 17 killed. Dov Joseph, 'The Faithful City - The siege of Jerusalem, 1948'. Simon and Schuster, New York, 1960. Library of Congree Number: 60-10976. page 56: 14 killed and 40 wounded.The Scotsman, 8 January 1948: 16 killed, 41 injured.
  46. Collins/Lapierre name one of the survivors as Uri Cohen
  47. The Scotsman March 1st, 1948.
  48. The Scotsman, 1 April 1948. Quotes Jewish sources attributing the attack to the Stern Gang.
  49. The Scotsman, 7 April 1948. 8 April: Reports Yaakov Meridor commanded the operation. The attackers were disguised as 'British police'. A quantity of guns stolen.
  50. B. Morris, 2004, 'The Birth of the Palestinian refugee problem revisited', p. 237
  51. Jon Kimche, 'Seven Fallen Pillars - The Middle East, 1915-1950'. Secker and Warburg, London. 1950. page 217: 'Dir Yassin(sic) was one of the few Arab villages whose inhabitants had refused permission for foreign Arab volunteers to use it as a base...'
  52. quoted by B. Morris, 2004, 'The Birth of the Palestinian refugee problem revisited', p. 237
  53. B. Morris, 2004, 'The Birth of the Palestinian refugee problem revisited', p. 238
  54. BBC News | PROFILES | Menachem Begin
  55. The Conquest Of Jaffa
  56. W. Khalidi, 1998, 'Selected Documents on the 1948 Palestine War', J. Palestine Studies 27(3), p. 60-105
  57. 57.0 57.1 Morris, 2004, 'The Birth ... Revisited', p. 213
  58. Wilson, Dare (2008). With 6th Airborne Division in Palestine 1945-48. Pen & Sword Books Ltd. pp. 11–12. ISBN 9781844157716. 
  59. "Wrestling With Zion: Re-thinking Jewish Tradition and the Ongoing Crisis in the Middle East". http://www.acjna.org/acjna/articles_detail.aspx?id=321. 
  60. David E. Rowe, Robert J. Schulmann. Einstein on Politics. p. 350. 
  61. Stephen Green, 'Taking sides - America's secret relations with a militant Israel 1948/1967'. Faber and Faber, London. 1984. page 49. Quoting weekly intelligence report 87 from the Office of the Director of Intelligence (Germany), dated 10 January 1948. Copy in publications file, Office of the Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2, Record Group 319, National Archives.
  62. The Scotsman
  63. See also Pauline Rose 'The Siege of Jerusalem', Patmos Publishers, London. Introduction dated June, 1949. "The dark places in Israel are being swept clean. The prison house where my friends and I had been tortured - where women had been shot without trial - is no longer a prison house".[note plural]
  64. Alan Dershowitz. "12: Did Israel Create the Arab Refugee Problem?". The Case for Israel. p. 81. 

Further reading

  • J. Bowyer Bell, Terror Out of Zion: Irgun Zvai Leumi, Lehi, and the Palestine Underground, 1929-1949, (Avon, 1977), ISBN 0-380-39396-4
  • Menachem Begin, The Revolt - Memoirs of the leader of the Irgun, Dell Books, (New York, NY, 1978)
  • Uri Avnery, Terrorism: the infantile disease of the Hebrew revolution, self-published booklet, 1945.
  • Lossin, Yigal. Pillar of Fire: The Rebirth of Israel trans. Zvi Ofer, Shikmona Publishing Ltd., 1983.

The Irgun in Fiction

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