Following national movements such as Bundists and Zionists, different facets of Jewish people’s daily lives in Europe underwent a revolution in the mid-nineteenth century. The acts posed a collection of conflicting ideas among the Jewish people on issues such as nationhood, ethnicity, and civilizational problems. Prior to that, the Jews had to deal with the fragmentation of the ancient Jewish community, and Zionism was the most radical movement of the time. Zionism is a nationalist ideology that asserts that the Jewish people are a country with a right to their own territory. The movement was established in the 1890’s and was initially founded based in England. Chaim Weizmann and Nahum Sokolow, staunch Zionists, were very involved in achieving the 1917 Balfour Declaration, a promise of support for the creation of a Jewish national home in Palestine.
Subsequent years saw a solidification of the Jewish cultural life characterized by extensive Hebrew education, construction of Jewish settlements, both urban and rural, and perfection of autonomous organizations. By March 1925, the Palestinian Jewish populace had hit the 108, 000 mark, rising by more than 20 percent to 238, 000 in 1933. However, the immigration levels remained rather low until Hitler’s rise, though the Arab population was in constant fear of Palestine becoming a Jewish state. This caused a bitter resistance to Zionism and the British that supported it. The British forces had to counter the sequence of Arab uprisings in a bid to maintain order. The struggle to suppress the long and sustained 1936-39 Arab revolt prompted the British to re-evaluate their policies. Thus, in their effort to maintain peace between the Arabs and Jews, while also hoping to retain Arab support against Italy and Germany in WWII, Britain chose to control Jewish immigration. The new restrictions faced violent opposition from the Zionist underground groups including Stern Gang and Irgun Zvai Leumi. The opposition was through assassinations and acts of terrorism against Britain, as well as illegal immigration of Jews into Palestine .
The massive execution of European Jews by the Nazis caused an influx in Palestine as many sought refuge, while many others particularly in America, embraced Zionism. Tensions between the two neighbors, Arabs, and Zionists, were presented to the Anglo-U.S. and later the UN for a solution which came on November 29, 1947, proposing for the partitioning of the nation into separate Jewish and Arab states, with the internationalization of Jerusalem. The Israeli state was created on May 14, 1948, triggering an invasion by the bordering Arab nations. By 1949 during the signing of the armistice agreements, Israel owned more land than initially allotted under the UN partition schedule. Close to one million Arabs had fled or been forcefully evicted from the new Israel nation. Zionists had finally achieved their initial objective of establishing the Jewish nation in Palestine 50 years after their first congress. This was in spite of the country becoming an armed camp surrounded by aggressive Arab neighbors, and Palestinian organizations engaged in terrorist activities within and without Israel .
The Zionist Terrorist Gangs
Haganah, Irgun, and the Stern Gang are some of the most notorious paramilitary organizations in Israel which were in operation in the period between WWII and when the country acquired statehood in 1948. They originated from the Jewish Defense Organization which was formed in 1929 at the helm of the Arab disturbances. Armed conflicts intensified in the last phase of World War II, with the Irgun declaration of a mutiny in February 1944, and bringing to an end the hiatus it had started in 1940. Beginning with the 1944 Lord Moyne’s assassination, the Haganah group was actively opposed to the activities of Lehi and Irgun during a period of escalated inter-Jewish conflicts dubbed “The Hunting Season.” In the 1945 autumn, after the war ended, Haganah initiated a period that saw a close collaboration with the other two groups to form the Jewish Resistance Movement .
In June of 1946, the Haganah group attacked the bridges that linked Palestine to its Arab neighbors with the aim of bringing the movement of weaponry to a stop. Dubbed the “Night of the Bridges,” it was followed by a series of other attacks, prompting the launch of “Operation Agatha” by the British. This was characterized by curfews as British police, and military forces traveled around the country conducting searches for militants and arms caches in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa and other Jewish settlements. They also raided the Jerusalem based Jewish Agency headquarters, seizing huge amounts of documents and arresting Jews assumed to be mixed up in terrorism. By holding the leaders without a trial, they hoped to deter the organizations from engaging in further attacks . While the Haganah withdrew from anti-British operations and instead centered its efforts on attacking immigration restrictions by the British, the Lehi and Irgun responded by intensifying their ambush on police and military targets. Irgun bombed the King David Hotel which held the central branches of Palestinian military and civil administration, causing 91 deaths .
The bombing incident raised controversy as Haganah and Irgun disagreed over the approval, as well as the timing of the attack. There was information stating that the British had failed to evacuate the building despite having received a warning before the incident. It was also said that the Irgun, having limited knowledge in the effect of temperature on fuses, had caused the bomb to explode earlier than planned at a time when the hotel was full. The Palestinian based commander of the British forces, General Sir Evelyn Barker, reacted to the bombing by ordering all British personnel to boycott everything Jewish. At the same time, the Jews were experiencing grave anti-Semitism . The British administration was a consistent recipient of complaints from the Jewish Agency about the anti-Semitic statements by soldiers. “They frequently said ‘Bloody Jews’ or ‘pigs,’ sometimes shouted ‘Heil Hitler,’ and promised they would finish off what Hitler had begun. Churchill wrote that most British military officers in Palestine were strongly pro-Arab.”
The situation caused a major insurgency, with the Jews constantly engaging in attacks against the British, the primary perpetrators being Lehi (Stern Gang) and Irgun. They financed their campaigns through donations, bank robberies, and extortions, offering them solid ground to carry out attacks on police/ military stations, state offices, and vessels used in deporting illegal migrants. Besides, they damaged infrastructure including oil installations, roads, and railways, while also attacking major economic targets . Motivated by the Zionist groups, Jewish civilians also partook in strikes, riots, and demonstrations aimed at opposing the British administration, which retaliated by carrying out extensive raids and search operations to unearth illicit arms reserves and arrest the militants. Collective punishments, curfews, cordons formed the basis of administration in the country, with draconian laws that allowed for arbitrary arrests being applied to try and curb the paramilitary organizations. However, in spite of the widespread efforts by the British, it became increasingly difficult to stop the insurgency. The security forces were unable to detect and thwart the activities of the groups, particularly Lehi and Irgun . This was largely due to the organizational structures which divided them into individual cells, with members of one cell remaining unknown to members of another cell. The loyalty levels of the operatives also made it impossible for the British intelligence to infiltrate, such that the captured and arrested members refused to divulge any kind of information regarding the groups .
In addition to the insurgency, the groups also used propaganda, both locally and internationally, to gain sympathy. Thus, in a bid to create negative publicity for the British, Jewish authorities publicized the predicaments faced by Holocaust survivors, and further highlighting the attempts of stopping their migration to Palestine. In public, Ben-Gurion declared that insurgency by the Jews was “fed by despair,” that Britain had “declared war against Zionism,” and that British policy was “the liquidation of the Jews as a people.” The well organized global propaganda campaign by the Irgun and Lehi groups touched the core of prospective international supporters, in particular, the United States. The American Jews, in particular, got increasingly hostile to the British, while their sympathy for the Zionist cause grew. In their claims, they maintained that the restrictions imposed on Jewish migration went against international law since it was in violation of the terms of the mandate. They also accused the British of high-handedness, where they oppressed the Jews by turning the country into a police-state. Further, they equated the British policies to those of the Nazi, citing anti-Semitism as something they suffered under the administration, leaving insurgency as the only option for self-defense. The propaganda, alongside actions and declarations perceived as anti-Semitic by the administration’s officials and security forces, earned the rebels international credibility, while further tarnishing the image of Britain in the eyes of the world .
Consequences of Zionist Terrorism
The growing international and local pressure pushed Britain to see the attempts to repress the insurgency as a pricey and fruitless exercise. This led to a weakened resolve as the security forces became incapable of containing the insurgents due to their tactics, under-developed intelligence, and non-collaborative civilians. The country was also becoming ungovernable by the day as a result of the actions of the insurgents. The King David hotel bombing had killed a huge number of civil servants I addition to the loss of a large amount of paperwork. This had upset the administration, while IED ambushes carried out on British vehicles began to interfere with their ability to move freely within the country. The British authorities were humiliated by their inability to take control after the Acre Prison break and public floggings and hangings of their soldiers by the Irgun .
The British also suffered monetary loss, with the attacks on economic targets costing the administration nearly £2 million in financial damages. At the moment, the country was spending approximately £40 million in a year to have its troop stay in Palestine, while the effects of World War II were causing a profound economic catastrophe that saw extensive power cuts and severe rationing. Britain depended on America for financial aid. Indications pointed to the fact that the insurgents were directing war to Britain, as opposed to fighting the British in Palestine. This was in addition to the negative international publicity and constant diplomatic harassment being accorded the British government from, particularly in the United States. These unfavorable factors forced the British to leave Palestine, with non-essential British citizens being evacuated in January 1947, after which the British cabinet voted for total evacuation on September 20, 1947. Though the Jewish revolt is cited as a primary player in persuading the British to leave Palestine, other factors also influenced the British policy. Faced with deep financial crisis and heavily depending on America, Britain was experiencing a substantial economic burden due to its large number of colonies, armed force bases, and overseas obligations .
A civil war erupted between the Jews and Arabs in Palestine as the British began their withdrawal. While checking Jewish immigration the British also offered police and military positions to the Arabs, freezing the assets of the Jewish Agency in London. With the intervention of the United Nations through a special committee dubbed UNSCOP (United Nations Special Committee on Palestine), investigations into the civil conflicts were carried out, with recommendations being made to partition the country into Jewish and Arab states .
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