Irgun (ארגון; shorthand for HaIrgun 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 Palestine between 1931 and 1948. It was established as a militant offshoot of the earlier and larger Jewish paramilitary organization Haganah (Hebrew: "The Defense", ההגנה). For secrecy reasons, people often referred to the Irgun, during that time, as Haganah Bet (Hebrew: literally "Defense 'B' " or "Second Defense", הגנה ב), or alternatively as Haganah Ha'leumit (ההגנה הלאומית) or Ha'ma'amad (המעמד). In present-day Israel, Irgun is commonly referred to as Etzel (אצ"ל), an acronym of the Hebrew initials.
The Irgun was the armed expression of the nascent ideology of Revisionist Zionism founded by Ze'ev Jabotinsky. He expressed this ideology as "every Jew had the right to enter Palestine; only active retaliation would deter the Arabs and the British; only Jewish armed force would ensure the Jewish state". Initially, a central part of their efforts included attacks against Palestinian Arabs, but it increasingly shifted to attacks against the British. Some of the better-known attacks by Irgun were the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem on 22 July 1946 and the Deir Yassin massacre (accomplished together with the Stern Gang) on 9 April 1948. In the West, Irgun was described as a terrorist organization by The New York Times newspaper, and by the Anglo-American Committee of Enquiry. 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".
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 idealogical 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 Hebrew weapons.
The number of members of the Irgun varied from a few hundred to a few thousand. Most of its members were people who accepted 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 force for Zionist ends, attitude 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.
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 movement 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 movement 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 military 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 (Yair) Stern, and the 284-page book "The Compiled and Expanded Guide to Drill Exercises" by David 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 Irgun was able to arm 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.
At the helm of the new underground movement stood Abraham 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 institutions 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.
In 1933 there 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 Arab gangs who were joined by Syrian and Iraqi reinforcements. The Supreme Arab Committee, led by Haj Amin al-Husayni, who directed these 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:
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.
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 illegal 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 illegal 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.
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 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:
During 1936, Irgun members carried out approximately ten retaliatory operations.
Throughout 1937 the Irgun continued this line of operation.
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. 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.
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 March 18, 1938 he wrote:
The Irgun continued activities such as these, however 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:
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:
On June 29, 1938 he was executed, and was the first of 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:
This action led the British Parliament to discuss the disturbances in Palestine. On February 23, 1939 the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Malcolm MacDonald revealed the British intention to cancel the mandate over Palestine 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 deteriorated into a series of internal gang wars.
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.
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 would lead to a response. On August 26, 1939 the Irgun published a death sentence against Ralph Krans, a British police officer who, as head of the Jewish Department in their secret police, had tortured a number of youths who were underground members. Krans and another British officer in the secret police were killed from a hidden mine explosion by the Irgun.
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 of the Irgun headquarters. On September 1, 1939 World War II broke out.
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 cell members and known as Żydowski Związek Wojskowy (Jewish Military Union). 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. However, it was not until January 1944 that President Franklin Roosevelt established the War Refugee Board, which achieved some success in saving Jews in Europe.
Throughout this entire period the British continued enforcing the MacDonald White Paper's provisions, which included a ban on the sale of land to Jews, 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 registery; 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 those of 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 even some commanders who doubted Raziel's loyalty.
In this stead, 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 opinion. Furthermore, Stern was in favor of removing the Irgun from the authority of New Zionist Organization, whose leadership urged Raziel to return to the command of the Irgun, and he finally consented. Jabotinsky wrote to Raziel and to Stern. 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, 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 the exchange of population with regards to the 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 empire. Also unlike Irgun fighters, Lehi fighters would travel with their weapon on them at all times. One more striking difference was the fact that the Irgun concentrated its operations against British centers of government and its facilities in Palestine, and sometimes warned the British about impending explosions. This contrasted the Lehi's struggle that, at times, was directed towards personal attacks and the assassination of leadership, military, and police figures.
|The Irgun's Anthem|
|Tagar - Through all obstacles and enemies Whether you go up or down In the flames of revolt Carry a flame to kindle - never mind! For silence is filth Worthless is blood and soul For the sake of the hidden glory To die or to conquer the hill - Yodefet, Masada, Beitar.|
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). 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:
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 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 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".
At the same time the Lehi also renewed its attacks against the British. 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. 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:
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.
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.
British relations with the Yishuv worsened, building up to Operation Agatha of June 29. The government denied the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry's recommendation to bring 100,000 Jews to 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. 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 (police). The Irgun later said that a warning sent out ahead of time was never taken seriously.
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 beatings punishments. The British, taking these acts seriously, moved many British families in Palestine into the confines of military bases, and some moved home.
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 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 immigration and illegal immigrants were placed in detention camps in Cyprus, which only 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. 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.
On March 3 the leader of the opposition in the House of Commons asked Winston Churchill given that the size of the military force in Palestine was four times the size of that in India, at a price of £4,000 per soldier a year - what was the point of continuing the bloodshed? Some of the British press also supported a British exit from Palestine. During the martial conditions imposed by the British, the Lehi and the Irgun carried out 68 operations, many against military targets, including Camp Schneller 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|
This episode, along with the King David Hotel bombing, and the beating of the British officers is thought to be one of the deciding factors in the British final choice to leave Palestine. The United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) was also influenced by these 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 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 the British soldiers must be evacuated as soon as possible.
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 destroying the Jewish community. The Irgun became almost an overt organization, establishing military bases in Ramat Gan and Petah Tikva. Additionally it recruited 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 longer possible, for now - it is a war, and the even the innocent shall not be absolved.
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:
However the mutual attacks continued. The Irgun attacked the Arab villages of Tira near Haifa, Yehudiya ('Abassiya) in the center, and Shuafat by Jerusalem. In Jerusalem Irgun members dropped an explosive device into a large group of unarmed Arabs who were waiting for a bus by Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem, killing many. 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; later in the month it attacked in Beit Nabala, a base for many Arab fighters.
In February the Irgun attacked traffic near Yehudiya ('Abassiya), Yazur, and Ramle. Irgun fighters participated in fights against Arab militants in Ramle and Qalqilyah. In March the Irgun attacked the village of Qaqun (near Tulkarem), which had many Arab militants among its residents. 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. 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:
Some say that this incident was an event that accelerated the Arab exodus from Palestine.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 (an Arab city according to the U.N. 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. Under Amichai "Gidi" Faglin's command, 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. 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 25th April, […] caused inhabitants of city, unaccustomed to such bombardment, to panic and flee.' 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'. 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'. 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 a population estimated at 55,000, 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.
The Irgun radio also broadcast in Arabic in order to inspire panic. On 27th March, four days before the Haganah began their big offensive against Arab centres, they warned "Arabs in urban agglomerations" that typhus, cholera and similar diseases would break out, "heavily" amongst them "in April and May.
While the strategy, tactics, and operational methods of the organization changed through the years, its primary goals were to:
The group went through several phases in its short lifespan, not listed above:
Views about the Irgun have been as disparate as any other political topic in Israeli society. 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. However, privately at least the Haganah kept a dialogue with the dissident groups.