Despite his promises at the end of the war, throughout World War II prime
minister Winston Churchill had not gone out of his way for the Jews. In fact,
under his leadership, Britain had denied European Jewry refuge in the one
country designated as the solution to their suffering.
promises mattered even less when the post-war elections swept the Labor party
into office and Churchill out. Indeed, they paled in comparison to Labor’s
public endorsement of Jewish statehood.
In Palestine, the Histadrut organ
Davar hailed British Labor’s victory as “a clear victory for the demands of the
Zionists in British public opinion.” David Ben-Gurion rejoiced, “The British
workers will understand our aims.”
The good news came at the close of the
“Season” – the violent campaign undertaken by the Jewish Agency, Histadrut and
Haganah against the Irgun Zvai Leumi, which had in February 1944 announced a
revolt against British rule in Palestine.
The election results seemed to
confirm the official opposition to the revolt.
The Irgun, however,
Nevertheless, the Irgun announced that in light of
Labor’s promises “we consider it our duty... to give them an opportunity of
proving whether they mean... to fulfill their solemn public
But if Labor’s promises would be added to “the many tragic
illusions of the Jewish people,” then the Irgun called on the people “To War,
War to the End, War till Victory.”
True enough, “the Midsummer Night’s
Dream vanished” leaving only “the traditional British fist,” Menachem Begin
Britain needed to maintain its strategic position in Palestine
and economic interests in the Middle East. That required Arab good
Even raising the Jewish immigration quota, let alone admitting
100,000 Jewish refugees into Palestine as president Truman demanded, would
Instead, the new foreign secretary, Ernst Bevin, warned
of the consequences of Jews trying to get “to the head of the queue” and soon
denied that Britain ever undertook to establish a Jewish state.
Paper policy of 1939 remained intact.
Suddenly, those “terrorists” who
had been ridiculed, demonized and hunted had been right all along. Polite
personal diplomacy and settlement construction alone would not achieve Jewish
Of course, the establishment had never been wrong. As Terror
Out of Zion author J.
Bower Bell described it, they “stole the
Revisionists’ analytical clothes, then claimed that they the righteous had
always been so garbed.”
Either way, violence was recognized as
Haganah commander Moshe Sneh, who had threatened the Irgun to
stand down before launching the Season, now proposed that the Irgun merge into
Begin, however, wanted Irgun independence in case the
Haganah abandoned the revolt. He counter-offered: organizational independence
with a joint command to approve and coordinate operations. The Lehi agreed and
so did the Haganah. Tenuat HaMeri, the United Resistance Movement, was
The coalition was christened by a coordinated attack on the night
of October 31, 1945.
The Haganah sabotaged hundreds of points along the
railroad and sunk naval patrol boats, the Irgun destroyed a locomotive and
damaged another six, the Lehi attempted an attack at a Haifa oil refinery and a
number of other targets were hit.
The attacks continued and intensified
with bombings, arms raids, sabotage and assaults on British military bases, and
police and coastal patrol stations.
The numerous attacks included the
destruction and damage of £2,000,000 worth of British aircraft (according to
British estimates) by the Irgun in February 1946; the detonation of five bridges
in April; bombings on June 10 causing £100,000 in damage to trains and railway
lines; and the destruction of 11 bridges six days later.
In response, the
Sixth Airborne Division was summoned to Palestine. Heavy naval units guarded the
coast. New generals were put in charge. Curfews were enacted. Roadblocks set up.
Searches and mass arrests conducted.
Eighty thousand British soldiers and
other security forces roamed the country. “Tegart” police forts were common.
Barbed wire and sandbag fortifications were established around government and
military buildings, including “Bevingrad” in Jerusalem.
Anglo-American Committee, intended to bring the US on board with British
Palestine policy, toured the country since March. Bevin promised that if its
recommendations were unanimous Britain would comply.
Yet in May, when the
Committee unanimously recommended the immediate admission of 100,000 Jewish
refugees, the government refused to comply.
On June 29, “Black Sabbath,”
the British initiated Operation Agatha and arrested close to three thousand
Jews, including Jewish Agency leadership, and raided the offices of the Jewish
Agency and other official institutions, confiscating large numbers of documents,
including evidence of Jewish Agency complicity in the resistance.
evidence was shipped off to the King David Hotel, the headquarters of the
British mandatory administration, which the Irgun had earlier proposed bombing
under the codename Operation Chick.
On July 1, the Haganah wrote to the
Irgun, “You are to carry out as soon as possible the Chick... Do not publish the
identity of the body carrying out the operation.”
On July 22, the date
agreed upon, “cracker- bombs” meant to ward off pedestrians were set off near
the hotel as the Irgun crew loaded milk cans, labeled “Mines – Do Not Touch,”
into the kitchen in the hotel basement. The hotel, The Palestine Post and the
nearby French Consulate were called with warnings that the hotel would be bombed
in 30 minutes.
A half-hour later the bombs went off and the hotel’s
southwest wing, housing the administration offices, collapsed. Though 91 people
were killed and 45 wounded, this did not include many who been in the lodging
and guest areas.
The operation was a success, but the loss of life was
greater than expected, more than the official institutions would accept
The Jewish Agency never adopted the Irgun and Lehi’s
“War to the End” philosophy. Many of the Haganah’s attacks focused on targets
related to immigration restrictions in order to send a message. Ben-Gurion still
believed the British would adopt a pro-Zionist position.
And after Black
Sabbath, he began to fear further British retaliation.
After the King
David bombing, the British released evidence of Haganah and Jewish Agency
participation in Tenuat HaMeri.
General Evalyn Barker issued his infamous
order barring soldiers from socializing with Jews and instructing them to
“punish the Jews in the manner this race dislikes the most: by hitting them in
Then, a massive two-week search operation was conducted,
utilizing “screening” cages, hitting every Jewish home in major
Begin evaded detection by hiding in a tiny hole built into his
home for four days with almost no water. Lehi commander Yitzchak Ysernitzky
(Shamir) was not as lucky – he was one of the few rebels the British managed to
The establishment’s response was to again scapegoat the Irgun. The
Haganah’s Kol Israel radio denounced the “dissident’s operation” while the
Haganah privately asked the Irgun to assume responsibility for the King David.
The leftist papers issued denunciations. Reverting to his pre-Season rhetoric,
from Paris Ben-Gurion labeled the Irgun “the enemy of the Jewish
The Irgun refrained from public protest to keep Tenuat HaMeri
together. And joint planning continued throughout most of August – until
Ben-Gurion overruled Sneh and rejected continued Haganah
On August 23, 10 months after it began, Tenuat HaMeri –
Israel’s first national unity coalition – was terminated.
however, would go on.
Part V in a series on Revisionist-Zionist