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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
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.
from theMay, 1998 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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