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A former leader of the pre-state Irgun underground that fought to drive the British out of Mandatory Palestine said Thursday that newly declassified British intelligence information indicating that the late Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek aided British authorities in their 1940s crackdown against the Zionist underground movement constituted a long awaited outing of "hushed up" history.
"Now the truth is finally crumbling out. It took years, but the truth is finally seeing the light," said Mordechai Tzipori, a one-time Irgun commander.
Tzipori was deported by the British in 1944, along with hundreds of other Jewish activists, and spent four years in Africa. He was only allowed to return after the establishment of the state.
Analysis: Taking Kollek out of context
He said that until the rise of the Likud party to power in 1977, he and his comrades were virtual outcasts in establishment circles.
"For years I waited to see when these documents would come out and now the truth is finally out," he said.
While some former Irgun members were shocked by the report but pleased the truth had emerged, others said that Kollek's conduct was long known and was not news.
"The fact is that Kollek handed over the names of Jews to the British," said historian Shmuel Katz, also a former Irgun member.
"It was not anything sensational in those years, but today most people would not know about it," he said.
In his autobiography, Kollek said he had always opposed "anarchy within our ranks."
"When it was decided by the highest echelons of the agency and the Hagana to take action against these groups, then I assumed a role in the movement called Saison.
"I took it upon myself as a necessary step on the way to the independence of our country."
The MI-5 document, which was first reported on in Yediot Aharonot, confirms that Kollek supplied the names of dozens of Jewish underground activists to the British, and helped in their unsuccessful attempts to capture Menachem Begin, who led the Irgun from 1944 to 1948 and later became prime minister.
According to the document, Kollek supplied British intelligence with information about the activities of the Irgun and Stern Gang.
Known by the code-name, "The Scorpion," Kollek is said to have disclosed at an August 10, 1945, meeting with an MI5 officer the location of a secret Irgun training camp in an abandoned building near Binyamina.
Although MI-5 released its war-time files last year, the Foreign Ministry asked that Britain suspend publication of Kollek's file so long he was alive.
Kollek, who served as mayor of Jerusalem for nearly a quarter of a century, died in January at the age of 95.
"Kollek's senior position in the Jewish Agency at the time gave him access to sensitive information that the British wanted," said Yossi Kistir, the director of the Etzel (Irgun) Museum in Tel Aviv.
"The policy of the Hagana at the time, eager to gain the confidence and support of the British, was not to allow any activity by splinter groups, and they actively collaborated with the British, giving them lists of names of the Jewish organizations," said Yizhak Avinoam, a former Irgun commander in Jerusalem.
"The British document is historic confirmation for the actions that the Hagana in general and that Mr. Kollek in particular took against the Jewish underground," he said.
Avinoam was exiled to Kenya in 1947 and was incarcerated there for the next 18 months.
Prof. Yehuda Lapidot, a former Irgun member who has written a book about the Hagana's cooperation with the British, said that even though Kollek admitted to assisting the British government - boasting about his cooperation in a letter to a British paper - successive Israeli governments tried to keep the issue away from the public eye.
"Until Begin's election victory in 1977, they tried to erase this chapter from the history of the Jewish people," Lapidot said, noting that during the first decade after independence, the Hagana's hunt for Irgun members did not appear in Israeli history books.
"The fact is that a whole new generation of Israelis does not know about this history at all," he said.
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