The Irgun and the Establishment of the State of Israel



   
    May, 1998          
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The Irgun and the Hagannah

By Bernie Hecht

The History of the birth of the state of Israel is complex and involved. Many have sacrificed much to bring the Jewish State into existence. One such body was the Irgun also know as the Etzel group. The Irgun was a military group that refused to bow to political pressures in securing a state for the Jewish people. Much of the modern Israeli politics today stem from the Irgun and the organization from which they broke, the Hagganah.

To give a brief history of this valiant fighting group, it must be known that the Jewish Yeshuv, the agricultural settlements, were suffering from Arab maunders who would cause mayhem with the attempts of the Jewish settlers in setting up their settlements. The British, who at first encouraged the immigration of Jews to Israel, now openly banned Jewish immigration. They became ineffective in providing security for the settlers. For this reason, the Hagganah, a Jewish underground armed organization was set up in. As Arab outrages increased, the members of the Hagannah split over the question how to react to Arab terrorism. A group of men, headed by Avraham Tehomi, split from the main group and set up their own organization to be more active in persueing the Arab terrorists.

After continued increased tensions and rioting, the new group split. Half of the members returned to the Hagganah, which was controlled by the Jewish Agency, and the other half formed what was called Irgun Zvi Leumi, (National Military Organization) and aligned themselves with the ideals of Zev Jabotinsky. They rejected the "restraint" policy of the Jewish Agency which preferred to use political powers to forward the goal of reclaiming the land. The Irgun began carrying out armed reprisals against the Arabs, which although provided relief for the settlers, caused political embarrassment for the Jewish Agency. While the Jewish Agency tried to provide a image of the Jew as a moral person being terrorized by the Arabs, thus winning support from the non-Jewish world, albeit at the expense of the Jewish settlers, the Irgun moved into the vacuum and gave it's full support to the settlers.

In 1939, the British published another one of it's 'white paper' effectively curtailing immigration and causing other hardships on the Jewish settlement. The Irgun now turned it's attention to the occupying British forces. The Irgun began sabotaging the British government property and attacking their forces. The British replied with mass arrests but the perpetrators were concealed by their brethren who sided with them.

With the outbreak of World War II, the Irgun split again, some forces deciding to fight with the British against the Nazi Axis powers. This group declared a truce and joined the British army and the Jewish Brigade. The second group, led by Avraham Stern, later known as the Stern Gang.

In December of 1943, Menacham Begin took lead of the Irgun. With knowledge now of the Nazi holocaust and fate of European Jewry, the Irgun reversed its truce against the British and the policy of not allowing Jewish immigration. The Irgun attacked British police stations, offices, and headquarters. They seized weapons and replenished their arsenal. The British began making mass arrests. Many Irgun fighters were driven into hiding. Menachem Begin was forced into hiding. He took upon himself the disguise of a religious man and spent much time in a Synagogue in Tel Aviv under an assumed name. From his long time underground he developed an appreciation of the religious Jews, which lasted the rest of his life. It is noteworthy to mention that he was the first Israeli Prime Minister to don a traditional skullcap and to publicly thank G-d for his successes.

The Jewish Agency and their group, the Hagannah moved against the Irgun. The Hagannah kidnapped several of the Irgun's members and handed them over to the British. The Irgun's activities were not reduced but not stopped. After World War II, the Hagannah realized that the British were not relenting their ban on immigration, nor were they helpful in combating Arab terrorism. The three groups, the Irgun, the Hagannah, and the Stern Group (known also as Lechi ) combined to fight the British.

The Irgun in a sensational attack blew up the wing of the King David hotel in Jerusalem, in May 1946, which housed the British Palestine Command. Warnings went unheeded and many lives were lost. The British were furious and carried out mass arrests. The Hagganah, ceased it's actions when it's leaders were arrested in August 1946, but the Irgun continued fighting. The British increased their troops to one hundred thousand men. The ferocity of the British reprisals increased including public floggings, deportations, arrests and hangings.

The Irgun staged a heroic prison break, freeing 41 prisoners in a daring break at the Arce fortress. When the British hung three Irgun members, the Irgun captured three British soldiers and hung them in retaliation. The reputation of the Irgun was growing.

The State of Israel was being established. The Irgun offered to join forces with the Hagganah to form the Israeli army. The Irgun had a boat, the Altalena, of supplies and men coming into Jaffa port. The boat was laden with munitions needed by the Jewish defenders. The Hagganah wanted to take all supplies. Negotiation between the Irgun and the Hagganah ensued. No agreement was forged. The Hagganah opened fire on the Altalena, sinking the boat, killing and wounding Jewish lives and destroying supplies. The commander of the Hagganah was Yitzhak Rabin.

The new state was established. The Jewish Agency and it's followers took up the leadership of the state. Today their political party is known as "Labor." The opposition party, led by those valiant soldiers in the Irgun became what is known today as the "Likud." These two groups till today are still fighting it out between themselves, just as they did in the time of the birth of the state of Israel.

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from theMay, 1998 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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