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Volume 10: 27-28(2007)

Take an excursion on the authoritative, expanded 22-volume  Encyclopaedia Judaica waited since 1972:


Jewish Terrorism?



Hebrew “National Military Organization”

I.Ẓ.L., Eẓel, or the Irgun], a Jewish underground

armed organization founded in Jerusalem in the spring of

1931 by a group of *Haganah commanders, headed by Avraham

Tehomi, who had left the Haganah in protest against its

defensive character. Joining forces with a clandestine armed

group of *Betar members from Tel Aviv, they formed a parallel,

more activist defense organization.

In April 1937, during the Arab riots, the organization split

over the question of how to react against Arab terrorism, and

about half its three thousand members returned to the Haganah,

which was controlled by the *Jewish Agency. The rest

formed a new Irgun Ẓeva’i Le’ummi, which was ideologically

linked with the Revisionist movement and accepted the authority

of its leader, Vladimir *Jabotinsky. Rejecting the “restraint”

(Heb. havlagah) policy of the Jewish Agency and the

Haganah, the organization carried out armed reprisals against

Arabs, which were condemned by the Jewish Agency as “blemishing

the moral achievements of the Jews of Ereẓ Israel, hindering

the political struggle, and undermining security.” Many

members and sympathizers were arrested and one of them,

Shelomo *Ben-Yosef, was hanged for shooting at an Arab bus,

but IẓL intensified its activities. It also cooperated with the Revisionist

movement in *“illegal” immigration, succeeding in

smuggling many thousands of Jews into Palestine.

After the publication of the *White Paper in May 1939,

IẓL directed its activities against the British Mandatory authorities,

sabotaging government property and attacking security

officers. The British retaliated with widespread arrests,

and at the outbreak of World War II, when hundreds of Revisionists

and members of IẓL (including its commander

David *Raziel and his staff commanders) were in prison, IẓL

declared a truce, which led to a second split (June 1940) and

the formation of a new underground group (*Loḥamei Ḥerut

Israel, or Leḥi) led by Avraham *Stern. IẓL members contributed

to the war effort against the Nazis by joining the British

Army’s Palestinian units and later the Jewish Brigade. During

a clandestine operation by an IẓL unit, in cooperation with

British Intelligence, against the pro-Nazi regime of Rashid

Ali in Iraq, David Raziel fell at Habbaniya, near Baghdad, on

May 20, 1941. Ya’akov Meridor took command, and was succeeded

in December 1943 by Menahem *Begin. By this time,

the full extent of the Holocaust in the Nazi-occupied territories

had become known, and in February 1944 IẓL declared

war against the British administration, which continued to

implement the White Paper. It attacked and blew up governirgun

ment offices, several CID headquarters, and four police stations,

also capturing weapons and ammunition.

The British authorities made many arrests, and 251 prisoners

(including Leḥi members) were deported to Eritrea on

Oct. 20, 1944. No organized reaction to the deportation was

possible because of the repercussions following the assassination

of Lord Moyne by Leḥi in Cairo (Nov. 6, 1944). The

Jewish Agency and the Haganah moved against the IẓL in a

campaign nicknamed by the underground the “saison” (“hunting

season”), during which some of IẓL’s members (including

several leaders) were kidnapped and handed over to the

British authorities. The “saison” limited the scope of IẓL’s activities,

but did not halt them; after the war it began attacking

military installations, bridges, and the vital Kirkuk-Haifa oil

pipeline (May 25, 1945).

When the British Labour government’s anti-Zionist policy

disappointed post-war hopes, Haganah, IẓL, and Leḥi

formed a united front, sabotaging bridges, railways, and patrol

boats. IẓL again attacked CID and police stations, as well

as seven army camps, gaining control of their ammunition

stores, and damaged planes at two military airfields. The IẓL

attacks culminated in blowing up a wing of the King David

Hotel in Jerusalem, headquarters of the Palestine government

and the military command, on July 22, 1946.

The united fighting front disintegrated in August 1946,

after the arrest of the Jewish Agency leaders, but IẓL and

Leḥi continued their attacks on military and governmental

objectives. The British increased their military strength to a

hundred thousand men and reacted with increased ferocity:

curfews, arrests, deportations, floggings, and hangings. IẓL

reacted by flogging British officers and kidnapping hostages.

It also extended its activities abroad, the most striking act being

the bombing of the British embassy in Rome on Oct. 31,

1946. Four members of IẓL – Dov Gruner, Yeḥiel Drezner,

Mordekhai Alkaḥi, and Eliezer Kashani – were hanged in Acre

prison on April 16, 1947, and another two – Meir Feinstein

and the Leḥi member Moshe Barazani – who were due to be

hanged in Jerusalem, blew themselves up in the condemned

cell on April 27. IẓL broke into the fortress at Acre on May 4,

and freed 41 IẓL and Leḥi prisoners. Under the pressure of the

continual attacks, the British retreated to security zones where

they lived in a state of siege. When three other IẓL members,

Meir Nakar, Ya’akov Weiss, and Avshalom Ḥaviv, were condemned

to death by the British, IẓL kidnapped two British

sergeants and hanged them in July, when the three were executed.

The IẓL revolt was given wide publicity in the United

States, where the Hebrew Committee for National Liberation,

led by Peter Bergson (Hillel Kook), was established. In Palestine

publicity was conducted through a clandestine radio

station, newspapers, and leaflets bearing the IẓL emblem, a

hand holding a rifle on the background of a map of Ereẓ Israel

including Transjordan.

After the United Nations resolution of November 29,

1947, on the partition of Palestine, IẓL gradually came out of

hiding, helped to repulse the Arab attacks, and continued to

attack British army camps in order to capture weapons. On

April 25, 1948, it began a large-scale attack on Arab Jaffa; the

capture of the town was completed by the Haganah. After the

Declaration of Independence, the high command of IẓL offered

to disband the organization and integrate its members

into the army of the new Jewish state, but, until integration

was achieved, it acted independently in various sectors, particularly

in Jerusalem, where its activities were loosely coordinated

with the Haganah. Its attack on the Arab village of

Deir Yasin near Jerusalem, which caused many civilian casualties

and led to panic among the Arabs, was denounced by

the Jewish Agency. On June 20, during the first Arab-Israel

cease fire, an IẓL ship, Altalena, clandestinely reached the

shores of Israel, carrying a huge quantity of weapons and

ammunition and about eight hundred young people, some

of whom had received military training. During negotiations

with the newly established provisional government of Israel,

IẓL demanded 20 of the arms for the use of its units in

Jerusalem. IẓLrejected a government ultimatum to hand

over the ship, and when it appeared off the shore of Tel Aviv

it was blown up by Israel artillery. The Jerusalem units of IẓL

fought in most sectors of the city and joined the national

army on Sept. 21, 1948, on the orders of the provisional government.

Bibliography: M. Begin, The Revolt (1964); Irgun Ẓeva’i

Le’ummi, Hebrew Struggle for National Liberation (1947); J.B. Schechtman,

Vladimir Jabotinsky Story…, 2 vols. (1956–1); D. Niv, Ma’arkhot

ha-Irgun ha-Ẓeva’i ha-Le’ummi, 3 vols. (1965–67); S. Katz, Days of

Fire (1968); E. Lankin, Sippuro shel Mefakked Altalena (1967); Dinur,

Haganah, 2 pt. 3 (1963), index; D. Ben-Gurion, Bi-Medinat Yisrael ha-

Meḥuddeshet, 1 (1969), 175–91, 281–5.

[David Niv]


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