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Towards the end of the First World War, while the British and the Turkish forces were still fighting in
The Foreign Office
"His Majesty's Government views with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country."
I should be grateful if you would bring this declaration to the knowledge of the Zionist Federation.
The first Arab riots took place in
Six Jews were killed and some two hundred injured in
After the riots, the British conducted widespread arrests among both Arabs and Jews. Among those arrested was Jabotinsky himself, together with 19 of his associates, on a charge of illegal possession of weapons. Jabotinsky was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment with hard labor and deportation from the country after completion of his sentence. When the sentence became known, the Vaad Hatzirim made plans for widespread protests, including mass demonstrations and a national fast. Meanwhile, however, the mandate for
With the arrival in
Two and a half years after his release from jail, Jabotinsky resigned from the Zionist Executive and issued a strong appeal for an extensive revision of Zionism. The party, which he founded in 1925, after having established the Betar youth movement (Brit Yosef Trumpeldor - the Yosef Trumpeldor Alliance) two years previously in
Relations between the socialist parties and the Revisionists were fraught with tension, not only because the former supported the Zionist establishment which Jabotinsky challenged, but also for reasons of ideological rivalry. Jabotinsky rejected the introduction of socialist orientation into the settlement movement in Eretz
As leader of Betar, Jabotinsky scrupulously observed outward standards of dress and conduct, thereby furnishing the socialist parties with the pretext they needed to term him a militarist, a fascist and an "enemy of the workers". This was a blatant distortion of the truth. Jabotinsky was a liberal and friend to the workers: it was on his initiative and instructions that every member of Betar who immigrated to
The 17th Zionist Congress, which convened at
After the establishment of this new body, the Revisionist movement in Eretz
The British disapproved of Jabotinsky's activities, and when he left the country in 1930 on a lecture tour of
As noted earlier, the first Arab riots against the Jews took place in April 1920. Scarcely a year later the Arabs launched a further attack against the Jews. This time the unrest began on the
The Arab attacks sharpened Jewish awareness of the need for self-defence. The inaugural conference of the Trade Union Movment (Histadrut), held in Haifa in December 1920, decided, among other things, to set up a national defence organization (the Haganah) "to safeguard the national and social content of popular defence in this country". The Haganah now came under the authority of the Histadrut and its institutions.
The 1921 riots were followed by seven years of calm, in which the Yishuv doubled in size (from 87,790 on 23 of October 1922 to 150,000 in 30 of June 1927). This lull was exploited by the Haganah for organization, training and arms' purchase. The quiet also generated a sense of complacency, and some of the Yishuv's leaders began to question the need for a national defence organization, which would require considerable funds. These leaders believed that the British Mandatory government could be relied on to defend the Yishuv in times of need. The events of 1929 proved these beliefs hopelessly misplaced.
The riots began in
The unrest took the Jewish community and the Haganah by surprise. The great majority of the Jewish leaders were out of the country (attending the 16th Zionist Congress in
In the wake of the riots, severe criticism was levelled at the Haganah, and the controversy regarding its policies and its leadership was revived. There was a growing demand for authority over the Haganah to be transferred from the Histadrut to the Jewish Agency, which represented the entire Yishuv. Moreover, the leaders of the socialist parties within the Histadrut tended to be anti-militaristic in outlook, equating militarism with the fascism then emergent in
According to its constitution, the objective of the Haganah was the 'defence of the Yishuv and preparation of a popular militia'. This basically anti-military stance was countered by many commanders within the Haganah, who sought to impart a more military flavor to the organization, but it was not until the 1940s that it actually adopted a military framework. Professor Yohanan Ratner, who served on the Haganah command, writes: (My life and I, p.222)
Today it often seems to us to be self-evident that the Haganah had to develop into a regular army, or at least that this was the universal aspiration ... but this is a superficial assumption. Nowhere has it been stated that the Haganah had to become an army, or even that it was intended from the outset to become such; till almost the last moment, certain highly influential elements held a different view.
The issues of authority and of militarism caused considerable turmoil within the Haganah rank-and-file and, in conjunction with the Tehomi affair (see below), constituted the underlying causes of the 1931 split in the organization.
THE SPLIT IN THE HAGANAH
Avraham Tehomi, a senior officer in the Haganah, was appointed district commander of
From the 1920s on, there was one outstanding group among the
Tehomi had been involved in the Jewish self-defence organization in
In the spring of 1931, Tehomi took leave of the Haganah command to visit the
Tehomi returned to
Their organization was named the "Irgun Zvai Le'umi" (National Military Organization), but for reasons of secrecy, its members used the name infrequently. The more commonly-used name was "Irgun B" or Haganah Le'umit (National Defence). It was in dire financial straits and lacked sufficient funds to cover its expenses. In addition, the Histadrut institutions boycotted the organization's members, who were employed in construction or road building, and prevented them from obtaining work (the employment office was at that time part of the Histadrut).
About a month after the split, the Haganah leaders decided to bow to the authority of the Jewish Agency. A joint General Headquarters was established for the first time, half of its members drawn from the Histadrut and the other half from non socialist parties. Despite this seeming parity, the great majority of the senior commanders of the Haganah were members of the Histadrut and affiliated to the labor parties. The co-opting of non socialists to the Haganah leadership did not bring Tehomi back into the Haganah ranks and the split became an established fact.
The new organization was concentrated in
In June 1933, Dr. Chaim Arlozorov, chairman of the Political Department of the Jewish Agency and one of the prominent leaders of the labor movement in Eretz
We are not concerned here with details of the affair, but rather with its impact on the development of the Irgun. The unbridled incitement against the Revisionist Party proved effective, and at the 18th Zionist Congress in
It is difficult to understand today why these people officially supported a seceding organization, when a general Haganah organization existed whose administration was based on equal representation, and which was undoubtedly aware of the need for a united stand in defence of the Yishuv. It may be assumed that narrow party considerations influenced them. First of all, the Histadrut's decisive influence on the Haganah was manifest, both because the Haganah had, in effect, been a Histadrut department for the first ten years of its existence, a fact which could not be overlooked.... and also because left-wing activists in the Haganah always enjoyed greater influence and public weight than the right-wing representatives in the command.
It will be recalled that after Black Sabbath (Saturday), Menahem Begin received a letter from Moshe Sneh (chief of the Haganah General Headquarters) with instructions to blow up the King David. After preparatory work and several postponements, Irgun fighters gathered at 7 am. on
After the weapons had been distributed, the first unit - the group of "porters" - commanded by Yosef Avni, set out. Their assignment was to reach the hotel by bus and to wait at the side entrance so as to assist in unloading the explosives from the van when it arrived. All six "porters" were disguised as Arabs so as to avoid arousing suspicion. The strike force left next in a van loaded with seven milk-churns, each containing 50 kilograms of explosives and special detonators. The commander of the operation, Yisrael Levi (Gidon), rode in the van dressed as a Sudanese waiter, while his deputy, Heinrich Reinhold (Yanai), and the other members of the unit, were dressed as Arabs. The van drove through the streets of
During the withdrawal from the basement, heavy gunfire was levelled at the group and two fighters were injured. One of them, Aharon Abramovitch, later died of his wounds.
After exiting the hotel, Gidon summoned two women fighters who were waiting nearby, and ordered them to carry out their mission. They ran over to a nearby telephone booth, and delivered the following message to the hotel telephone operator and to the editorial office of the Palestine Post:
I am speaking on behalf of the Hebrew underground.
They also delivered a telephone warning to the French Consulate, adjacent to the hotel, to open their windows to prevent blast damage. The telephone messages were intended to prevent casualties.
Some 25 minutes after the telephone calls, a shattering explosion shook
For ten days, the British Engineering Corps cleared the wreckage, and on July 31 it was officially announced that 91 people had been killed in the explosion: 28 Britons, 41 Arabs, 17 Jews and 5 others.
It is almost impossible to recapitulate what occurred in the government secretariat offices in the half hour preceding the explosion, but all the evidence suggests that there were numerous flaws in the security arrangements in the King David, and that a series of omissions occurred. The telephone warning was disregarded, and although the warning signal was given, an all-clear was sounded shortly before the explosion. These facts indicate that there were serious errors in the decision-making process and that internal communication did not function properly.
The heads of the Jewish Agency were stunned. They feared that the British would adopt even more severe retaliatory measures than on Black Sabbath, and hastened to denounce the operation in the strongest terms. The statement they issued the following day expressed "their feelings of horror at the base and unparalleled act perpetrated today by a gang of criminals." Even David Ben-Gurion, who was then in
The denunciation by the Jewish Agency totally ignored the fact that the bombing of the King David was carried out as part of the activities of the United Resistance, and on the explicit instructions of Moshe Sneh. At the request of the Haganah, the Irgun issued a leaflet accepting responsibility for the operation. It stated, among other things:
f. It is not true that the persons who delivered the warning spoke 'on behalf of the United Resistance' (as the press reported)... On this matter, we are refraining at present from making any further statement, but it is possible that - in the context of the savage and dastardly incitement - it will be necessary to issue such a statement at the appropriate time.
g. We mourn the Jewish victims; they too are the tragic victims of the tragic and noble Hebrew war of liberation
A year later the Irgun issued the following statement:
THE TRUTH ABOUT THE
Execution of this plan was postponed several times - both for technical reasons and at the request of the United Resistance. It was finally approved on July 22...
Notwithstanding this, days later, Kol Yisrael broadcast a statement - in the name of the United Resistance - abhorring the high death toll at the King David caused by the actions of the 'dissidents'...
We have kept silent for a whole year. We have faced savage incitement, such as this country has never before known. We have withstood the worst possible provocations - and remained silent. We have witnessed evasion, hypocrisy and cowardice - and remained silent.
But today, when the United Resistance has expired and there is no hope that it will ever be revived... there are no longer valid reasons why we should maintain our silence concerning the assault against the center of Nazi-British rule - one of the mightiest attacks ever carried out by a militant underground. Now it is permissible to reveal the truth; now we must reveal the truth. Let the people see - and judge.
The Hebrew press, and the Haganah publications, continued to condemn the Irgun in the strongest possible terms. They were echoed by the British press, which was briefed by the Mandatory government. However, the effect of the British denunciations was blunted to a large extent by the publication of instructions issued by General Sir Evelyn Barker (British army commander in
"The aim of these orders are to punish the Jews in a way the race dislikes as much as any, namely by striking at their pockets"
Barker's letter reached the Irgun's intelligence service and was immediately made public in
The order was officially rescinded two weeks after it was issued, but the damage to the British cause in
However, as a result of Black Sabbath, the moderates now held the upper hand, and at a meeting of the Jewish Agency Executive in
The terminating of the armed struggle provoked considerable resentment among many members of the Haganah, and Yitzhak Sadeh (commander of the Palmach) gave vent to this emotion in his article "Proposal and Response" in Ahdut Ha'avoda, October 15, 1946 which he signed Noded (Wanderer).
There will be no capitulation, because there is nobody to order capitulation, and should such a person be found, he would find nobody to carry out the order.
The Haganah focused its efforts on bringing in illegal immigrants, and in order to appease those activists in the Haganah ranks who continued to favor armed struggle, it sanctioned the sabotaging of British naval vessels which were hunting down illegal immigrants. Thus, on
When the United Resistance ceased to exist, the Irgun and Lehi continued the armed struggle alone. The Irgun was now both morally and materially stronger than ever before. Support for its cause had grown, since the United Resistance had legitimized its activities. The number of recruits increased, and its stock of weapons and ammunition was expanded as a result of its acquisitions from British army depots. Free of the restrictions imposed by the Haganah command, the Irgun now intensified its anti-British activities.
A poster published by the Irgun
These chapters in the history of the Irgun Zvai Le'umi (the National Military Organization), known in Hebrew by its acronym Etzel, and in English as the Irgun or IZL, were written specifically for this Internet website. They are arranged chronologically in order to provide a complete picture of the history of the Irgun, from its establishment in 1931 to its disbanding after the State of Israel came into being.
In its initial years, the Irgun was primarily concerned with repelling Arab riots in the country. Whilst the Haganah adhered to the policy of self-restrain ('Havlaga') in the face of Arab attack, the Irgun activity resisted Arab aggression.
With the publication of the 1939 White Paper restricting Jewish immigration into
Now, that the British Archives have been opened, it is obvious that the armed fight against the British, in which the Irgun took a prominent part, had a decisive role in their withdrawal from the country
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