to Main Research Listing
Self-Defense and Terrorist Groups Prior to the Establishment of
the State of Israel:
Roots and Traditions
Arie Perliger and Leonard Weinberg
So far as many people are concerned the principal role played by
Jews in modern terrorist activity in the Middle East and elsewhere
is that of victim. Nothing is more emblematic of this role than
the wave of suicide bombings carried out against targets in Jerusalem,
Tel Aviv and Haifa over the last several years. Largely because
of Israel’s long-standing conflict with the Palestinians and
Muslim groups sympathetic to their cause, Jews and Jewish institutions
have been the targets of terrorist attacks not only in the Middle
East but in Europe and other parts of the world. The role of Jews
as victims of terrorist attacks fits into a wider conception of
Jewish identity over the centuries: Jews as quintessential victims.
Because of this by now stereotypical view, readers may have some
difficulty adjusting to this paper’s subject: Jews not as
victims but as perpetrators of terrorism; that is, Jews as members
of relatively small sub-national groups carrying out acts of politically
motivated violence intended to influence the behavior of some audience.
If terrorism is a weapon of the weak and those operating at society’s
margins, on reflection it should not be all that astonishing that
Jews have employed this particular tactic. For until recently Jews,
in general, have been exceptionally weak and usually at the margins
of society, both Christian and Muslim.
We intend to focus most of our attention on the terrorist activities
of Jewish organizations in the years before and during the decades
of the British Mandate in Palestine culminating in the establishment
of the State of Israel in 1948. However, before investigating the
terrorism perpetrated by Jewish organizations in this era, one spanning
roughly the first half of the 20th century, we need to point out
that their violence was not unprecedented.
In a widely discussed article David Rapoport recalls the ancient
Zealots, a millennial Jewish sect whose militants used daggers or
sicarri to carry out murders in public. In the years leading up
to the Jewish rebellion against Roman rule (66- 73 C.E.), “…
The Zealots waged a ruthless campaign of assassination…. The
Zealot would emerge from the anonymous obscurity of a crowded marketplace,
draw the sica concealed beneath his robes and, in plain view of
those present, slit the throat of a Roman legionnaire or of a Jewish
citizen who had been judged by the group guilty of betrayal, apostasy,
or both.” The Zealots hoped their actions would provoke Roman
repression and the Jews to rebellion. They believed themselves to
be living in the ‘end times’ and that the righteous
and Godly would prevail despite Rome’s vastly superior military
prowess. Their miscalculation brought on not only defeat but an
enormous calamity for the Jewish people, the sacking of Jerusalem,
the destruction of the Second Temple and the advent of the Exilic
The catastrophe was so great that a strong tradition developed in
the Talmudic literature, known as the "Three Oaths", which
admonished Jews to avoid provoking government authorities at all
costs. Terrorism of course is, if nothing else, provocative. It
is therefore not all that surprising that the next significant participation
of Jews in terrorist violence involved individuals who had largely
abandoned their communities and its values on behalf of secular,
revolutionary concerns. We refer to the substantial role played
by Jewish students and intellectuals in Russia during the last decades
of the 19th and the first decade of the 20th centuries in various
attempts to bring down the Czarist autocracy by means of terrorist
violence. Estimates vary, depending upon the particular revolutionary
band, but scholars repeatedly call attention to the significant
presence of Jews in such groups as the Combat Organization of the
Socialist Revolutionaries. For example, the historian Anna Geifman
reports that approximately 30% of the latter's female terrorists
were of Jewish origins. She goes on to write that "…
By joining the movement, a Jewish girl was not only opposing her
parents' political beliefs, but was also flouting one of the very
foundations of Jewish society – her role as a woman in the
The career of Sofia Ginsburg appears emblematic. Completely indifferent
to the situation of the Jewish community in the Pale and a convert
to Russian Orthodoxy (for reasons of expediency) she became caught
up in revolutionary agitation during the 1880s. Fearing arrest Ginsburg
fled to Switzerland where she joined other exiled Jewish student
revolutionaries in planning terrorist attacks on the Czarist regime.
After some years she returned to Russia to pursue her revolutionary
objectives. In 1991 Ginsburg was arrested for publicly advocating
the Czar's assassination and sentenced to a life term. She committed
suicide shortly after beginning her sentence.
The participation of significant numbers of Jews or people of Jewish
background at least in revolutionary terrorism was not confined
to Russia during the reigns of Alexander III and Nicholas II. The
United States during the Nixon Administration (1969-1974) offers
another instance. The context was the anti-Vietnam war movement
and the role played in it by the Students for a Democratic Society
(SDS). Among other things, the university-centered SDS promoted
large-scale protest marches and demonstrations aimed at getting
the United States to withdraw from the Vietnam conflict. In 1969
SDS suffered a factional split. Those most committed to direct action,
violence and making what they thought would be a genuine revolution
separated and formed the Weathermen. Over the next few years, the
Weathermen precipitated a number of highly publicized confrontations
with the police, the so-called 'Days of Rage' in Chicago for example.
These public and violent protests gave way to clandestine terrorist
operations involving bank robberies and the bombing of public buildings.
In the course of these revolutionary adventures several members
of the Weathermen managed to blow themselves up while attempting
to manufacture bombs in their New York headquarters, the Greenwich
Village town-house owned by one of the revolutionary's wealthy parents.
Many Weathermen were, like their pre-Russian Revolution counterparts
almost a century earlier, young university students or ex-students
who had seemingly detached themselves from their Jewish roots. In
conversations with each other Mark Rudd, Kathy Boudin, Susan Stern
and other Weathermen often discussed how far they had come from
their cloying bourgeois Jewish backgrounds. But how far had this
journey really taken them?
As in the case of their substantially more serious Russian predecessors,
these Jewish radicals had come to view the world in messianic terms.
They defined themselves as a vanguard of the enlightened whose task
was to lead the 'masses' or the working class to victory over the
forces of injustice and thereby redeem the world. We may be accused
of reductionism, but the 'non-Jewish' Jews who embarked on this
course were of course expressing a secular version of an important
element in the Jewish religious experience.
Jewish involvement in modern terrorism is certainly dominated by
but not completely restricted to this pattern. An important exception
is provided by the All- Jewish Workers Union or Bund active in Lithuania,
Poland and Russia from 1897 on. The Bund's founders were committed
to bringing an end to the Russian autocracy and replacing it with
a new socialist economic and political order. They were also secularized.
However, by contrast to Sofia Ginsburg and the other Jewish advocates
and practitioners of revolutionary agitation and violence, they
confined themselves to organizing Jewish workers within the Czarist
Empire. The Bund represented an effort to promote the Jewish workers'
often desperate cause by merging Russian socialist revolutionary
ideas with Jewish nationalism. The Bund's nationalism was defined
in terms of the claim to Jewish rights within Russia at a time when
Zionist ideas were also winning supporters among other Eastern European
The Bund's initial revolutionary program explicitly rejected individual
assassinations and other forms of terrorism but less as a matter
of principle than out of a sense that these extreme measures were
counter-productive. Over time and in practice the Bund leaders came
to applaud various terrorist attacks particularly when they were
directed against business owners and other symbols of 'capitalist
exploitation.' By the early years of the 20th century Bundist functionaries
at the local level participated in terrorist violence with considerable
frequency. Revenge and self-defense were almost always employed
to justify these attacks. Accordingly, after a Bund member shot
and wounded the Russian governor of Vilna in 1902, after he had
ordered the flogging of 20 young Jewish workers, the party's central
committee proclaimed, "Honor and Glory to the avenger, who
sacrificed himself for his brothers!"
The Bund's practice of eventually endorsing and practicing terrorist
methods on the basis of self-defense and vengeance was taken up
by Zionists in Palestine from the period of the second Aliya forward.
For many Zionist young people arriving in Palestine from Eastern
Europe in the first years of the twentieth century defense of the
new Jewish communities was an overriding consideration. Often trained
in self-defense techniques in Europe, these Socialist - Zionist
youth formed two principal groups, the "Shomer" and the
"Hagana", to protect the Jewish presence in Ottoman-controlled
pre World War I Palestine.
The Zionist-Socialist Self-Defense Groups
The Zionist movement in the early twentieth century served as an
impetus for the mass migration of Jewish youth from Eastern Europe
to Palestine, which began at the end of 1903. These young people,
numbers of whom were trained by Jewish defense organizations in
Europe, made it their goal to implement the lessons learned in the
Diaspora (see above) by forming a defensive framework for the protection
of the Jewish community. In this manner they served as the basis
for the establishment of several Zionist-Socialist groups that focused
on the security aspects involved in creating a Jewish political
presence in Palestine. The two main groups were the 'Shomer' and
The “Shomer” (Guard), established in 1909 and based
on the Bar-Giora organization , was a clandestine, elitist organization
that had among its goals not only the protection of the Jewish settlers
but also broader nationalist goals such as the further development
of the Jewish settlements as well as influencing the political and
ideological development of Jewish society in Palestine . In addition
to guarding the settlements, ‘Shomer’ members also helped
found new settlements and establish groups of Jewish agricultural
laborers (known as the “Laborers’ Legion”).
The organization focused its efforts on activities that were intended
to realize a broad-range of political goals. These goals stemmed
from the members’ unique view of Shomer as a political, security-based
avant-garde that promoted the development of the Jewish community
The decline of the ‘Shomer’ began in 1914, due to factors
both in and outside the organization. Most notable among the internal
factors was the development of oppositional factions within the
organization, which had a negative effect on group solidarity and
undermined the authority of the founding leaders. One of the two
influential external factors was the ongoing oppression of Palestine's
Ottoman rulers, who considered the ‘Shomer’ to be an
illegal militia and repeatedly expelled its leaders during World
War I. The second external factor was the decline in the organization’s
relationship with landowners in the south of Palestine. As a result,
‘Shomer’ lost ground, and eventually made way for what
became the largest and most prominent Jewish military organization
after World War I, the ‘Hagana’.
The ‘Hagana’, which began its activities in 1919-1921,
was, not unlike its predecessor, an organization with a nationalist
and leftist orientation. The organization functioned as the military
branch of the Jewish settlement and its institutions, first under
the leadership of the Unified Labor party –“Ahdut Haavoda”,
then under the workers’ union, and finally as the official
military representative of the population’s elected establishment.
However, it wasn’t until 1929 that the organization became
firmly established, for reasons that relate to the relatively stable
security conditions and the constant shortages of resources, namely
arms and manpower. This paucity reflected, to a great extent, the
indifference felt by leaders of the Jewish settlement to the importance
of a Jewish defense force.
However, this state of affairs changed dramatically in 1929, following
a wave of Arab attacks on Jewish targets. In the wake of these events,
which left 133 Jews dead and more than 300 wounded, the ‘Hagana’
established a national headquarters whose goal was to provide a
military response to the needs of the Jewish population living under
the British mandate. The headquarters, which answered to the National
Committee (the official executive office elected by the organized
Jewish population of Palestine), functioned as the operational center
situated between the ‘Hagana’ and the Jewish political
institutions. In effect it strengthened the Hagana’s position
as the major security organization of the Jewish population in Palestine.
Parallel to its civic activities, which were intended to serve as
the basis for the Jewish state’s institutions, the ‘Hagana’
established a military infrastructure, trained soldiers, and manufactured
arms . Additionally during this period, the organization adopted
technical and tactical changes in an attempt to raise the level
of static defense of the settlements to proper military standards.
From the a tactical perspective, the ‘Hagana’ managed
not to get drawn into an active role against Arab terrorism. It
focused instead on passive defense of the Jewish settlements and
of the roads leading to them. But in later years the ‘Hagana’
expanded the deployment of units with active combat orientation,
such as the “field units” and “Special Night Squads”.
By the time the state of Israel was established, the ‘Hagana’
became an established military institution which then served as
the basis for the establishment of Israel's army in 1948.
In sum, the left-wing Zionist organizations active prior to the
founding of the State largely engaged in vigilante activities intended
to provide basic defense to the Jewish settlements, particularly
in light of the ineffectiveness of the foreign authorities (whether
Turkish or British) in dealing with the continuing conflict between
the Arab and Jewish populations. Over the years, these organizations
expanded their goals regarding the development of the Jewish settlements
to include activities such as helping Jewish immigration and establishing
new settlements; however, their main activity remained preparing
a defense for the Jewish settlements.
The ideological character of these groups was unusual: on one hand
they were influenced by the Russian revolutionary left, while on
the other they held strong nationalistic goals. Hence these organizations
anticipate the dual character of Jewish terrorism in the years to
come, i.e., Jewish nationalism combined with other ideological and
Along with the activities of the groups with a leftist-socialist
orientation such as the ‘Shomer’ and the ‘Hagana’,
at the end of the 1920’s several smaller, right wing, nationalistic
organizations began to emerge which stressed political violence
as a legitimate path. These rightist groups formed the operational
and ideological basis for Jewish terrorism following the founding
of the State of Israel.
The Arabs' harsh attacks on Jews in 1929, which led to agitation
among the Jewish population and particularly among members of the
‘Hagana’ (which at the time was the only defense force
available to the Jewish population), represent the events that ended
leftist organizations' monopoly on the Jewish population’s
organized military activities. (In contrast to the ‘Etzel’
and ‘Lehi’ established later from within the ranks of
the establishment) the first right wing group to be formed was characterized
by its complete disassociation from the Zionist establishment. This
group, known as “Brit Habirionim” (the Ruffians’
Treaty, its name reminiscent of the fanatics who fought against
the Romans in the period of the Second Temple), was composed even
at the height of its activity only a few dozen members. Active between
1930 and 1933, the organization considered itself to be a national
revolutionary movement intended to function as an ideological and
military avant-garde. Members of the organization refused to accept
the existing consensus among the majority of the Jewish population,
according to which the British were perceived as allies of the Jewish
cause. Therefore, they considered the authorities of the British
mandate and the Zionist establishment to be bound together, inefficient
and corrupt organizations incapable of leading the process of fulfilling
the national Jewish destiny in the land of Israel.
The ideology of Brit Habirionim, which was greatly influenced by
Italian fascism, considered the British rulers of Palestine and
the socialist–Zionist establishment the targets of its struggle,
whereas the struggle against the Arab population was considered
of secondary importance. This view was based on a broader concept,
developed and expressed by the organization’s leader, Abba
Haheimeir, who regarded fascism as strong enough to oppose the spread
of communism on one hand and liberal democracy on the other hand.
Haheimeir considered both of these ideologies as inherently incapable
of formulating a national political entity that would survive. Rejecting
ideas that stemmed from the left, he led the organization to act
against the Zionist establishment and against the British.
With some support from the Israeli right led by Zeev Zabotinsky
(ideological and political leader of the Jewish population’s
civilian right wing at that time), members of ‘Brit Habirionim’
carried out several largely minor operations some violent and most
of them illegal, which included attempts to initiate demonstrations
against both Zionist and British institutions, attempts to interrupt
the census conducted by the British, and other illegal activities
intended as public provocations such as blowing the Shofar at the
Western Wall (forbidden to Jews at that time), and removing the
flags of foreign consulates.
‘Brit Habirionim’ came to an end in 1933, following
punitive measures taken against its members by the British Mandatory
Authority, including the arrest of Abba Haheimeir and other leaders.
The organization received its final blow when its leader was accused
of acting as an accomplice to the murder of Haim Arlozorov, a leader
of the socialist camp. Although a year later, in 1934, Haheimeir
was acquitted of all involvement in the murder, his now tarnished
reputation led to his isolation by former political supporters among
the Jewish populace.
The “Etzel” (National Military Organization)
The unrest caused by the events of 1929, which gave rise to the
founding of ‘Brit Habirionim’, also affected certain
groups from within the Jewish military establishment. One such group
was the Jerusalem branch of the ‘Hagana’, led by Abraham
Tehomi. Following the events of 1929, Tehomi warned against the
use of antiquated tactics of the ‘Hagana’ and demanded
an organizational change that would be more militaristic in character,
in contrast to its current militia-like structure, which lacked
discipline and military norms. Tehomi and his companions complained
of the poor quality of arms and maintenance, the low level of training,
and the lack of development of effective means of intelligence gathering.
At the same time they demanded that the ‘Hagana’ be
subordinate to a national-level leadership which would represent
all the active political factions and not just the socialist left
(not a surprising demand, given the fact that the majority of the
Jerusalem branch belonged to the revisionist right and its youth
It appears that this conflict might not have resulted in a split
if Tehomi and his companions had not had the political support of
the Zionist Revisionist Federation (which was, at the time, the
representative body of the civic right-wing of the Jewish settlement)
and its leader Zeev Zabotinsky, who allocated all of Beitar’s
human resources to the newly formed organization. Despite repeated
efforts to find a compromise, the Jerusalem branch finally split
off from the ‘Hagana’. The new organization called itself
“Irgun Bet” (i.e., alternative organization) or the
“National Defense” until1932 when it took on the official
name of “Etzel” (acronym of National Military Organization).
‘Etzel’ devoted most of its early years to its development
as a clandestine military organization with a right wing activist
and nationalist ideology. Almost simultaneously it established a
professional command center and expanded its sphere of activity
throughout Palestine. Politically the ‘Etzel’ was clearly
a right-wing organization whose personnel came from the ‘Beitar’
and other movements from the political right as well as from Zionism's
religious wing. Over the early years, Zabotinsky became the head
of the organization, and representatives from the Revisionist sections
of public institutions also functioned as representatives of the
In addition to its emphasis on the development of its military character,
the Etzel’s activities focused on illegal operations aimed
at smuggling Jewish immigrants into Palestine. Thus, in 1934, the
‘Etzel’ initiated the immigration of 200 Jews from Egypt
and Greece. In 1938 more than 2000 Jewish immigrants arrived in
eight separate operations; and in 1939, the organization brought
to Palestine’s shores a record of fifteen ships carrying more
than 10,000 Jewish immigrants. In the 1940’s, as the British
exerted greater pressure against the ‘Etzel’s’
activities in particular, and against Jewish immigration in general,
the ‘Etzel’ decreased its activity in this area and
turned its efforts to militia activities within the country. In
fact, the organization became renowned for its internal terrorist
actions initiated in the 1930’s at first against the Arab
population and later against the British presence in Palestine.
The events that took place between 1936 and 1939 known as the “Arab
Uprising,” provided the ‘Etzel’ with its first
opportunity to distinguish itself from the ‘Hagana’,
as it chose not to join the latter's “restraint policy”
(a policy that opted not to respond with counter-attacks against
the Arab population). As the events began, the ‘Etzel’
leadership decided to choose a middle path of “responding
without engaging in a terrorist war with the Arabs”. In fact,
the ‘Etzel’ leaders did choose a terrorist approach,
i.e., conducting operations that had political goals, intended to
establish a reign of terror by carrying out arbitrary attacks on
the Arab population, such as the killing of two Palestinian workers
in a banana plantation on April 20th, 1936, followed two days later
shooting and throwing a grenade at Arab passers by in Tel-Aviv and
Between 1936 and 1939, the ‘Etzel’ continued to conduct
terrorist activities while methodically attempting to provide a
rational justification for the violence by calling it retaliation
for Arab attacks; for example, the shooting at a passenger train
in August 1936 was justified as a response to the shooting at civilian
Jews in Tel-Aviv a day earlier by Arabs. Soon, however, the ‘Etzel’
abandoned this policy line and announced a terrorist campaign intended
to provide a suitable response to the “Arab Uprising.”
This approach reflected the ‘Etzel’s’ worldview,
which considered political violence and terrorism legitimate tools
in the Jewish national struggle for the Land of Israel.
The ‘Etzel’s’ terrorist campaign against the Arab
population lasted until the end of the “Arab Uprising”
in 1939, and included more than sixty attacks. An attempt to characterize
the Etzel’s activities in this period leads us to note its
four major tactics: assassination attempts, attacks on transportation
routes, shootings, and the use of explosive devices. More specifically,
its first course of action was random assassination of Arab labor
workers or passersby. These attacks occurred in various cities (such
as the shooting at Arabs in the downtown area of Haifa in June 1938
and a month later at Arabs walking near the Sheari Tzedek Hospital
in Jerusalem) as well as at more isolated areas (such as the killing
of two Arabs on the beach in Bat-Yam in March 1937 and the killing
of two other Arabs in the fields near the Hefer valley that same
Encouraged by its success and the experience accumulated by its
members, the ‘Etzel’ expanded its range of activities
to include ambushes and systematic attacks on major transportation
arteries (shooting at a bus with Arab passengers in July 1938, throwing
explosives at another bus in September 1937, shooting at a truck
with an Arab driver in November 1937), and shooting attacks on Arab
population centers (using a semi-machine gun and throwing a grenade
at an Arab coffee shop in Jerusalem in November 1937, throwing explosives
at another coffee shop in Haifa in April 1937, and the use of a
semi-automatic machine gun to shoot at an Arab group in Haifa in
May of 1939). The organization also expanded its tactics to include
the detonation of explosives by remote control. The most dramatic
act in this regard was the planting of a mine in the Arab market
in Haifa in July 1938, an attack which resulted in the death of
more than seventy Arabs.
In 1939, the ‘Etzel’ changed its goals and shifted its
focus to actions aimed against the British forces in Palestine.
The change was due both to the cessation of Arab violence on one
hand, and on the other, a list of restrictions imposed by the British
on the Jewish settlements regarding various issues, including the
number of Jews allowed to enter Palestine, and the Jews’ ability
to purchase land. These restrictions were part of a series of British
reforms regarding their policy in Israel (known as the “White
Book”). The ‘Etzel’s’ anti-British activities
included the use of explosives against British targets and assassination
attempts on British soldiers. For example, the British government’s
broadcast center in Jerusalem was blown up in August 1939 by detonation
envelopes that had been smuggled in. A few days later, the ‘Etzel’
killed a high-ranking British official who was accused by the organization
of torturing ‘Etzel’ prisoners.
However, it was the outbreak of the Second World War that finally
caused the ‘Etzel’ to bring its activities in line with
the general consensus of the entire Jewish settlement and to declare
a ceasefire in its struggle against the British authorities. This
ceasefire was not to the liking of a small radical group of members
within the ‘Etzel’ headed by Yair Stern, which then
withdrew and founded an alternative organization that was first
called “the Etzel in Israel” and later “Israel
Liberation Fighters” (also known by its acronym, “Lehi”)
, which will be reviewed in detail herein.
However, in February 1944, the ‘Etzel’, at the initiative
of its leader at the time, Menahem Begin, decided to end the ceasefire.
There were several reasons for this decision, prominent among them
were signs of the allied forces’ approaching victory . A second
important factor in the decision to end the ceasefire was the Jewish
settlement’s sense that its contribution to, and support of
the British in World War II was not sufficiently recognized by the
British authorities; thus, the British failed to demonstrate the
loyalty to the Jewish cause that was anticipated in return for Jewish
participation in the war efforts. For ‘Etzel’ members,
this lack of loyalty was expressed in the increased restrictions
on immigration of Jews to Palestine and in the attempts to prevent
Jews from purchasing land. Therefore, the organization declared
an uprising against the British. With this declaration, the organization
chose its future political path. The organization called for the
withdrawal of the British mandate on the Land of Israel and the
establishment of a temporary Jewish government. In addition, its
declaration also included the organization’s political platform
for the period following the founding of a Jewish State. Among other
things, the declaration mentioned establishing a Jewish military,
inculcating nationalist precepts that stem from Jewish tradition,
imparting full civil rights to the Arab population, and changing
the status of holy sites to be extraterritorial.
The ‘Etzel’ considered itself a national liberation
movement with clearly defined goals. The first was to liberate Palestine
from British rule through an uncompromising battle using all possible
means. The other goals related to the period after the founding
of the state and focused on establishing sovereign Jewish rule over
all of Palestine. This rule would be social-democratic in spirit,
including upholding human and civil rights. The ‘Etzel’
also emphasized the importance of Jewish tradition both in the struggle
for sovereignty (in this sense, members of the ‘Etzel’
considered themselves as continuing in the path set by Jewish leaders
throughout the generations in their struggle for independence) as
well as in its role in establishing ethical guidelines for the Jewish
state to come.
In the context of Jewish tradition, the ‘Etzel’ considered
the war against the British as a commandment; thus, it was part
of a framework that regarded the Jewish principle of warding off
the enemies of the people of Israel (such as the biblical Amaleks
and the Medianites and the present day British) as superior to the
commandment “you shall not kill” in its political manifestation.
Members of the ‘Etzel’ subordinated their personal morality
to the national one. They found support for this in a quote from
the Rambam, one of the greatest Jewish philosophers, who determined
that the commandment “Honor thy parents” and the concept
of love of family should be rejected at times of war . Thus, ‘Etzel’
members were able to provide an ethical rationale for the use of
The ‘Etzel’ used the ceasefire during the Second World
War to fortify its organizational infrastructure. At the same time,
the organization's headquarters was established, which oversaw the
various branches such as the medical, financial, public relations,
intelligence, and maintenance divisions. The organization expanded
its deployment throughout Palestine and placed a regional commander
in each area, someone who was directly subordinate to the organization’s
general headquarters and superior to the military units. Simultaneously,
the Etzel developed a philosophy of warfare, which would be its
path in the years to come and consisted mainly of terrorist acts,
based on the element of surprise, carried out by small, military
trained, compartmentalized units.
On February 1st, 1944, the ‘Etzel’ renewed its battle
against the British authorities with a symbolic act that included
setting-off explosives in the British Immigration offices of the
three largest cities (Tel-Aviv, Jerusalem, and Haifa), which the
‘Etzel’ associated with the severe restrictions imposed
by British authorities on Jewish immigration. A great deal of property
was destroyed, although there were no casualties, since the operation
took place on a weekend. Throughout that year and the next, the
organization continued its activities against the British. At the
end of February, the British Income Tax offices in the three major
cities were blown up and at the end of March, the ‘Etzel’
carried out a more complex operation, which began with a combined
attack on the offices of the British Secret Police in the three
cities, followed by a raid on the British broadcast station in Ramallah
in mid May 1944.
Responses to the Etzel’s terrorist network were harsh, both
from the Jewish establishment that mostly cooperated with the British
in an effort to stop the ‘Etzel’s’ activities,
as well as from the British, who responded with sweeping arrests
that sent most of the ‘Etzel’ activists to detention
camps outside of Palestine.
Despite external and internal pressures that were brought to bear
on the Etzel, it did not abandon its warfare policy until the end
of 1945. Most of its activities were focused on attacking British
police stations, including the central headquarters of the British
Secret Police in December 1945. At the end of that year, mainly
due to the pressures exerted on it, cooperation was established
between the ‘Etzel’ organization, the ‘Hagana’,
and the ‘Lehi’, united under an umbrella organization
called the “Hebrew Rebellion Movement.” Within this
framework, each organization could maintain its independence but
had to obtain approval of its operations from the headquarters of
the new organization.
The cooperation between these organizations ended with the most
famous of the ‘Etzel’s’ terrorist acts, the blowing
up of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, in July of 1946. The ‘Etzel’s’
intent was to provide a response to several British acts against
the Jewish population by blowing up the southern wing of the hotel,
which housed the central government offices of the British mandate
as well as its central military headquarters. However, more than
82 people were killed in the attack, including civilians, and dozens
more were injured or registered as missing.
The position of the Hagana and the “rebellion Movement’s”
consent to the operation remains unclear to this very day; however,
it is clear that this attack effectively ended all cooperation among
the organizations. In 1946-1947, the ‘Etzel’, released
from the restrictions imposed by the cooperation with the ‘Hagana’,
renewed its terrorist activities with full vigor. These attacks
were mainly on government offices and military bases, including
the blowing up of the Income Tax offices in November 1946, systematic
attacks on police targets throughout the same month, and raids on
the military airport and on the Schneller base in Jerusalem in January
and March of 1947. An exceptional operation, particularly in terms
of its location, was the concealment of explosives in a suitcase
at the British embassy in Rome, which destroyed the entire embassy.
It was the first time the ‘Etzel’ had moved its operations
to the international arena.
Once the State of Israel was founded, the ‘Etzel’ forces
joined the Israeli army and the organization as such ceased to exist.
Yet many of its members found it difficult to accept this and the
fact that they were part of a military framework that was governed
by the establishment headed by the Labor Party. The most obvious
expression of such sentiment came on June 20th 1948, when the ship
“Altalena” reached the shores of Israel full of arms
and munitions purchased by the ‘Etzel’. Former ‘Etzel’
members demanded that the goods be handed to them and not distributed
among the army’s units. Beyond this point the unfolding of
events is unclear, but the results were critical. Following failed
attempts to reach a compromise, a battle ensued on the Tel-Aviv
coastline, during which the ship was sunk along with the ‘Etzel’
members that were on board. The “Altalena” affair gave
the young State’s leadership sufficient reason to raid the
remaining active ‘Etzel’ bases and put a definite end
to its activities.
Despite the broad-based terrorist activities carried out by the
‘Etzel’ against the British authorities in Palestine
of the 1940’s, the ‘Etzel’ was neither the most
violent nor the most extreme Jewish nationalist group struggling
for sovereignty. Moreover, it was not this group that laid the foundations
for Jewish terrorism following statehood. This role is reserved
for the ‘Lehi’ organization.
As mentioned, the ceasefire declared by the Etzel in 1939 with the
beginning of the Second World War led to the withdrawal of a group
of members of the ‘Etzel’ organization under the leadership
of Yair Stern. Stern established a new organization, first called
the “Etzel in Israel” and then later referred to as
Israel Liberation Fighters, or by its acronym, ‘Lehi’.
More than any other Jewish group, the ‘Lehi’ considered
a violent struggle in general and terrorism in specific, to be legitimate
measures for realizing the national Jewish vision of the Jewish
people, and a necessary condition for achieving national liberation.
Not unlike the groups mentioned previously, the ‘Lehi’s’
ideology also reflected an inherent tension between its national
goals and its comprehensive socio-political views that would serve
to influence the future State’s political and social direction.
‘Lehi’s’ ideology combined national militant ideas
linked to Jewish history, tradition, and religion, with influences
drawn from a broad range of political philosophies (mostly from
the Bolshevist revolution and Italian fascism).
Nevertheless, the ‘Lehi’s’ point of departure
emphasized the superiority of the national and religious values,
including the concept of liberation by means of a violent struggle,
over any alternative value system. War and the violent struggle
were considered by ‘Lehi’ members to be essential components
in the development of the Jewish nation and for the removal of restrictions
that bound them in their many years in the Diaspora.
According to ‘Lehi’s’ leaders, the rationale for
these priorities of Jewish and national values stemmed from the
assumption that neither social reform nor personal redemption could
be achieved without attaining the status of a sovereign people,
and Israel’s experience in the Diaspora provided the undeniable
proof for support this assumption. In sharp contrast to the other
organizations active at that time, ‘Lehi’ adopted a
series of religious symbols and complementary messianic terminology
that constituted a central component of its ideological framework.
Stern considered his group a chosen sect of the 'chosen people'.
In his view, religion was the common denominator in the nation’s
existence and it was only religious fanaticism that “kept
the nation’s blood purely Jewish”. Therefore, according
to the ‘Lehi’, a Jewish political framework had to be
characterized by traditional Jewish elements.
Stern and his colleagues repudiated the official Zionist leadership,
which in their view had no operative plan for attaining Jewish sovereignty,
and had demonstrated only compliance with and frailty before the
British authorities and the Arab population. In contrast to the
leftist organizations, the ‘Lehi’ considered itself
part of an historical process, which began with the biblical conquest
of Canaan by Joshua Ben-Noon and was continued in the Zealots’
and Bar-Kochva wars against Rome. As part of his newly formulated
historiography, Stern considered all of these historic events as
struggles intended to ultimately lead to nothing less than the foundation
of a Jewish State. According to Stern’s view, all other ideological
struggles (such as the struggle for emancipation in the Diaspora,
sacrifices made to the democratic cause, and the struggle against
the Nazis) were distractions and, worse yet, they used up valuable
resources necessary for pursuing the national cause. Unlike the
leftist organizations and even the ‘Etzel’, the ‘Lehi’
granted exclusive status to the national struggle, imbuing it with
a religious purity, above and beyond that accorded to any other
Once established, the ‘Lehi’ identified its three main
goals : 1) to bring together all those interested in liberation
(i.e., those willing to join in active fighting against the British);
2) to appear before the world as the only active Jewish military
organization; and 3) to take over the Land of Israel by armed force.
To realize these goals, Stern and his companions concluded that
they could not or should not function as a military organization,
but rather as a revolutionary underground movement with the main
purpose of creating an independent and unique fighting entity within
the international arena. Thus, according to ‘Lehi’ members,
the organization should be perceived as active and ready to help
any of the powerful nations that would recognize the Jews’
holy right over Palestine and provide tangible help in establishing
a Jewish military and state. It should also be noted that given
their negative attitude towards the British on one hand, and on
the other the similarity between elements of the ‘Lehi’s’
worldview and those of the Italian Fascist movement (which was admired
by most members of the Lehi), there was no doubt as to the identity
of the side they supported.
Thus, in the organization’s early years, ‘Lehi’
members believed that the most effective way to realize Jewish sovereignty
in the Land of Israel was to find an opportune moment to recruit
a strong international ally who would, in return for help from the
Jewish military force, expel the British from Palestine and help
found a sovereign Jewish state. Therefore, to convince the potential
ally that this was a worthy plan, Stern decided that the ‘Lehi’s’
major activity would be to enlarge the Jewish military forces, by
bringing together as broad and as organized a force as possible,
and demonstrating its desire for freedom through military operations.
However, according to the nationalist tradition that Stern represented,
anyone who opposed or refused to contribute to the collective goal
was considered an enemy and traitor.
The main problem for Stern and his companions was how to recruit
these forces, most of which already supported or belonged to the
Zionist establishment or to leftist political bodies. This is perhaps
where the ‘Lehi’s’ radical and subversive outlook
is most concretely apparent. From Stern’s point of view, the
goal of recruiting the masses and gaining control of the Jewish
street was obtainable only by revolutionary methods. Stern ruled
out any possibility of reaching an agreement with the Zionist institutions,
whose acts he considered national treason. He believed he must fight
by revolutionary means to eliminate the establishment completely
by exerting both physical and financial pressures.
Operationally, the first goal of the revolution was to establish
Jewish control in Palestine by violently expelling the foreign rule.
This task required educating and training the people to fulfill
this revolutionary function. The next step was to establish a strong,
centralized national authority that would oversee the activities
of national conquest, put end to knavery and intrigue exercised
by the various political parties and, as stated in the ‘Lehi’s’
platform, renew the reign of Israel, establishing a socio-economic
rule according to the moral spirit of the Prophets. While the ‘Lehi’
did not clarify the specifics of the socio-economic program it planned
to apply, it seems that the organization considered the State an
ethnic, religious, and national body that would install a centralized
economy similar to the Italian model of the late 1930’s.
The revolution, according to Stern, was needed not only to take
control of the Jewish settlement, but also as a process. This approach
was complemented by his complete denial of gradual, legal, and democratic
processes for controlling the governing establishment. Stern, who
understood that he had the support of only a small group of revolutionaries,
attributed a great deal of significance to the creation of a centralized
and unified revolutionary organization that would be able to recruit
the masses at the appropriate hour, which would create a revolutionary
spirit. Not unlike the Russian revolutionaries in October 1917,
Stern believed that the revolutionary warrior (i.e., the ‘Lehi’
fighter) must be free of all personal, social, or familial sentiments.
Nevertheless, he and his companions purposely ignored the social
ideals of the Russian revolutionaries, and drew only on their revolutionary
Finally, the ‘Lehi’ organization's ideology places its
worldview in the quasi-Fascist radical right, which is characterized
by xenophobia, a national egotism that completely subordinates the
individual to the needs of the nation, anti-liberalism, total denial
of democracy, and a highly centralized government.
The first year of ‘Lehi’s’ activities was not
particularly successful. The organization focused most of its efforts
on distributing propaganda materials and attempted to raise funds
for its activities by criminal methods, such as a bank robbery in
Tel-Aviv in September 1940. However, most of these attempts failed
and funds that were acquired through robbery were never used to
create the necessary organizational infrastructure. To summarize
briefly, in its first few years, the organization consisted of a
small group of revolutionary radicals who were isolated, and did
not manage to clearly explain the ideological platform that motivated
their withdrawal from the ‘Etzel’.
A series of failures at the end of 1941 and in early 1942 (including
a failed robbery attempt on January 9th 1942, which led to the death
of a Jewish passersby) caused the organization’s temporary
collapse. The last straw was the attempt to assassinate the commander
of the British Secret Police in the central region of Palestine
(in Lod). Because of the poor planning and execution of this attack,
three police personnel were killed, two of them Jewish and one British.
The response of both the British and Jewish establishments was severe,
namely, declaring a comprehensive battle against the ‘Lehi’
and its supporters. The willingness of the Zionist establishment
to cooperate, for the first time, with the forces of the British
mandate in an effort to eliminate a Jewish underground organization
clearly demonstrates the ‘Lehi’s’ isolation from
both the centrist ideology and the operational center of the Jewish
settlement of that period.
By the end of January 1942, most of the ‘Lehi’ activists
had been arrested. Stern himself was also captured and killed in
February of that same year. Seemingly, that should have been the
end of the organization. The ‘Lehi’ was a failing underground
organization with a prominent gap between its goals and its achievements.
The lack of organization, the poor resources, the failed financial
management, the inability to maintain secrecy, and above all the
widespread public hostility it attracted due to its Fascist image,
were the main contributors to the organization’s failure.
Despite the fact that the ‘Lehi’ organization was almost
completely destroyed in the winter of 1942, its few remaining members
tried to maintain its core. In September 1942, this attempt was
reinforced following the escape from prison of two of the organization’s
leaders, Itzhak Shamir (future Prime Minister of Israel) and Eliyahu
Giladi (who was later assassinated by ‘Lehi’ members
due to his desire to return to the ‘Etzel’), both of
whom were aided by two other escapees, Israel Eldad (Scheib) and
Natan Yalin (Mor). In November 1943 they began working to re-establish
the organization. While the others dealt with the operational aspects,
Israel Eldad focused on the publication and distribution of a series
of articles titled “Foundation Blocks,” that aimed to
reformulate the organization’s platform.
The general purpose of the renewed ‘Lehi’ was to emphasize
its revolutionary credentials, by describing the gap between the
Jewish people and the British (especially after Hitler’s acts
against the Jews during the World War had become public knowledge),
and pointing out the organization’s uniqueness in this context,
in contrast to other Jewish parties and activist groups. The ‘Lehi’s’
leaders continued to oppose the pro-British attitude favored by
most of the Jewish establishment, and considered the socialist-Zionist
movement a tool used by the British to ensure their continued rule
in Palestine. According to the ‘Lehi’s’ view,
the Arab public, that had failed to maintain their civil rights
and had no national identity, was fostered by the British because
“Britain prefers to rule over the Arabs rather than over a
highly populated and cultured Jewish public”. The solution
offered by ‘Lehi’ members regarding the Arab's status
was either physical annihilation or expulsion from Palestine.
But the most prominent ideological components of the new ‘Lehi’
referred to is justification for terrorism. More than ever, leaders
of the ‘Lehi’ understood that to enable their terrorist
activities they had to provide the Jewish public with a rationale
for such activity, since it was ‘Lehi’s’ constant
reliance on terrorism that caused its isolation from the Zionist
The justification the ‘Lehi’ provided had two levels:
the operational and the ideological. On the operational level the
renewed ‘Lehi’ emphasized the advantage of terrorist
tactics when dealing with an enemy that possessed much greater resources.
Therefore, the terrorist method was the only tool that, given the
organization’s meager resources, would enable the ‘Lehi’
to inflict real harm on the British military forces in Palestine
while simultaneously calling the world’s attention to the
struggle of the Jewish people and the country’s attention
to Lehi’s ideology.
Ideologically, the leaders of the renewed ‘Lehi’ distanced
themselves from the religious, messianic view of violence that Stern
had represented. The renewed organization’s rationalization
for the use of terrorist tactics was a definition of terrorism as
“any coercion enforced through sanctions.” Thus they
affirmed that terrorism is essentially not illegal, since the regulations
imposed by the British authorities are, according to this definition,
practices that express a terrorist rule, i.e., coercive. This logic
enabled ‘Lehi’ members to claim that there is a legitimate
struggle against British terrorism and that terrorism in and of
itself is not an illegitimate tactic. They also emphasized the fact
that terrorism was not a new phenomenon in the tradition of Jewish
struggle against a foreign conqueror. Thus, while self-sacrifice
was no longer upheld as a central ideal in their struggle, members
of the ‘Lehi’ still considered themselves followers
of zealot activists throughout the generations.
After a two-year pause for reorganization, in February of 1944 the
‘Lehi’ was prepared to become active again. Its first
activities were repeated attempts to kill representatives of the
British authority, as in their failed attempt on the Chief British
Commissioner in early February of 1944. Given the failure of these
attempts, the ‘Lehi’ initiated clashes with the British
authority’s police force. Thus, they arranged altercations
with forces whose attention they drew by sending squads to put up
anti-British propaganda. However, members of the organization paid
a heavy price for their multiple attempts to kill British police
and officials. From March 19 through April of that year, the organization
lost four of its members. And at the end of April that same year
six of its members were also captured, including Israel Eldad. Once
again, the gap between the ‘Lehi’s’ notable ability
to create an ideological infrastructure complemented by widespread
propaganda and their operational abilities became evident. The most
obvious shortcomings were faulty organization, careless planning,
and particularly the lack of a well-trained intelligence unit, which
left substantial parts of the organization vulnerable.
However, it is important to note that at this period, and for the
first time in the organization’s history, the ‘Lehi’
and its activities gained some public support. This was in November
1944, due to the assassination of Lord Moyne in Egypt. Lord Moyne.
Minister of the British colonies at the beginning of World War II,
Moyne was appointed Resident Minister for the Middle East on January
28 of the same year. In the Jewish settlement he was already known
for his hostility, expressed both in his long-term support in favor
of a Middle Eastern Arab Federation as well as in his anti-Semitic
lectures (such as his call for Arab sovereignty in the Land of Israel
based on the superior purity of the Arab race compared to the mixed
On November 6, 1944, Lord Moyne was shot and killed in his Cairo
residence by two ‘Lehi’ members. He was an ideal target
for the ‘Lehi’ both because of the location, which proved
that the ‘Lehi’ could fight British imperialism beyond
the borders of the land of Israel, and because of his prominent
position. The need for such a successful act arose due to the ‘Etzel’s’
triumphs, which made it difficult for the ‘Lehi’ to
recruit members and supporters. The assassination of Lord Moyne
fulfilled this role and created a broad wave of publicity in both
the Jewish settlement and in world public opinion. An interesting
aspect of this event was the fact that the attack was practically
a suicide mission. In contrast to the organization’s previous
acts in Palestine, in this case the perpetrators had no means of
escape and in fact both were caught and later executed.
For the British, as well as for the Zionist establishment and the
Jewish settlement, the assassination of Lord Moyne represented an
escalation in the ‘Lehi’s’ activities and a dramatic
departure from the unwritten rules of the Zionist struggle. Therefore,
the reaction against the organization intensified. The Jewish leadership
decided to cooperate with the British forces against the ‘Etzel’
and the ‘Lehi’. Leaders of the Jewish settlement concluded
that the terrorist activities carried out by the two organizations,
the damaged the relationship between the Jewish settlement and the
British rule in the short-term, and the chances of attaining political
sovereignty in the long-term. The period of the Jewish establishment’s
cooperation with the British (known also as the “saison”)
increased to a new high level. The already existing estrangement
between the ‘Lehi’ and the Zionist establishment mounted
as well. The willingness of the Zionist establishment and the ‘Hagana’
to cooperate with the British in an attempt to dismantle the right
wing organizations proved to be a hard blow to the ‘Lehi’,
which already found it difficult to arouse sufficient public support.
This was also a difficult period operationally for the ‘Lehi’;
despite the fact that most of the ‘Hagana’s’ actions
were aimed at the Etzel, the larger organization, the ‘Lehi’
had to leave the arena and wait for the “storm” to pass.
Toward the end of 1945, when the fate of European Jewry became known,
and particularly following the new Labor Government’s announcement
that it would continue enforcing its restrictions regarding both
Jewish immigration to Palestine and land purchases (White Book policies),
the Zionist establishment withdrew from the “saison”
policy. In fact, it was toward the end of that year that the cooperation
between the ‘Hagana’, ‘Etzel’, and ‘Lehi’
began within the framework of the “Hebrew Rebellion Movement”.
The ‘Lehi’ at that time could claim some success, seeing
the escalation of animosity between the Zionist establishment and
the British rule as living proof of the ideology it had been following
since its founding.
Within the “Hebrew Rebellion Movement", ‘Lehi’
members participated in several attacks on British military bases,
the most famous being the sabotage on British aircrafts in three
different airports, carried out in February 1946.
The tension between the ‘Lehi’s’ activism and
desire to carry out indiscriminate assassinations and terrorist
acts, and the ‘Hagana’s’ restraint and moderation
expressed in the tendency to carry out only acts that would not
lead to uncontrolled bloodshed, made it clear to ‘Lehi’
members that their presence in this co-operative framework could
only be temporary. The ‘Lehi’s’ attack in April
of 1946 in which British soldiers were killed in their sleep, and
later the attack of the ‘Etzel’ on the King David Hotel
marked the end of the cooperation. Each organization again pursued
its own path.
The ‘Lehi’ continued its terrorist activities even after
the United Nations’ declaration of the founding of Jewish
and Arab states, living side by side, in November 1947. Throughout
that year, the ‘Lehi’ considered the British political
attempts to hand the issue of Palestine over to the United Nations
as maneuvers intended to secure the British Empire’s rule
in the Middle East. According to the ‘Lehi’, the arrival
of British forces in Middle East and particularly the improved relations
between the British and the Arabs, endangered the ability of the
Jewish settlement to attain sovereignty in Israel. Therefore the
organization increased its activities against the British and initiated
a series of acts, among them the bombing the British shipping company’s
offices in Haifa and the sabotage of the British Military offices
in the same city in early March of 1947. A week later, the ‘Lehi’
attacked the Jerusalem offices of the British Government; however,
the peek of its activities was the attack on the Office of Colonies
in London, followed shortly by an assault on a large military base
near Pardes Hana.
Following the United Nations’ declaration and the Israeli
army’s preparations to battle the Arab armies, the gradual
dismantling of the ‘Lehi’ began. Most of its units (excluding
the Jerusalem region) joined the ‘Hagana’ and the ‘Etzel’
as part of the Israeli military. The Israeli government officially
declared the ‘Lehi’s’ dissolution after recruiting
its members to the Israel Defense Forces on the 29 of May 1948.
However, before its final demise, the ‘Lehi’ carried
out one final terrorist act that brought on a broad-ranging operation
by the Israeli security forces against it, including Israeli government
decision to declare it as a terrorist organization. On September
16 1948, ‘Lehi’ members assassinated the Swedish Count
Folke Bernadotte, who came to Israel as a diplomat of the United
Nations. Apparently the reasons for the assassination were grounded
in the ‘Lehi’s’ basic lack of trust in the temporary
Israeli government. The ‘Lehi’ members considered the
attempts to negotiate and reach a ceasefire between Israel and the
Arab states a step backwards, and the beginning of a dangerous process
whereby the powers at large would again take control over the region
and aim to maintain political stability by further reducing the
size of the Jewish State.
The ‘Lehi’ tried to deny its responsibility for the
assassination; nevertheless, the murder of Bernadotte highlighted
the dual nature of the Lehi in the period of its decline. On one
hand it wanted to preserve itself as a political non-belligerent
organization, while on the other hand it wanted to maintain a fighting
underground organization in areas that were not strictly under Jewish
sovereignty. Following the assassination, the temporary Israeli
government declared the ‘Lehi’ a terrorist organization
and acted forcefully to arrest its members and confiscate its property.
This was the organization’s final act, and after a short imprisonment
period, most of its members were released from prison. A substantial
number of its former leaders (such as Itzhak Shamir and Israel Eldad)
continued to play an active role in the Israeli political system.
Any attempt to understand the source of Jewish terrorism before
the establishment of the State of Israel demands an in-depth observation
of it roots in both Jewish tradition and in the Zionist movement.
Therefore, in this paper we tried to present the major tendencies
in the activities of the various Jewish groups and sects that strove
to attain their political goals by violent methods, and to review
the formation of the ideological and theological bases for Jewish
terrorism following the founding of the State of Israel.
In general, we note two major tendencies in the development of violent
Jewish groups. The first involves vigilante groups, which were essentially
devoid of revolutionary goals. Instead these groups focused on providing
effective defense to the Jewish collective wherever it might be.
These groups performed a self-defense function when foreign rulers
seemed incapable or unwilling to protect of the Jewish community
when it came under attack Thus the Jewish defense organizations
in Europe at the end of the 19th century aspired to ensure that
the Jewish community members live safely without pogroms, given
the neglect of the ruling governments. The 'Shomer' and 'Hagana'
organizations that came later were similar in that their activity
focused on security of the Jewish settlements given the Turks’
and the British ineffective reaction to the emerging conflict between
the Jewish and the Arab residents in Palestine. These Jewish defense
groups wanted to cooperate with the government; but even when this
was not possible and they were forced to act secretly, the groups
were careful not to oppose the governments and to avoid revolutionary
activity. It is important to note that although the ‘Shomer’
and the ‘Hagana’ incorporated nationalistic slogans
and expressed their desire for a future Jewish sovereignty, their
essential goal was to defend the Jewish collectivity.
The second tendency is of radical Jewish groups that emphasized
the need for a security-based, combat Jewish vanguard that would
realize, by means of political violence, the independence of the
Jewish people in the Land of Israel. These groups did not content
themselves with acting as defense groups to Jews at large; rather,
they considered themselves to be the core of a Jewish army that
would liberate the Jewish people from its Diaspora and the ongoing
dependence on foreign political elements.
Thus, the Sicarii struggled against the Romans during the period
of the Second Temple, and the 'Etzel' and 'Lehi' struggled to defeat
the British; defending the Jewish populace from their Arab neighbors
was not their top priority. The wide-ranging political goals of
these groups created a serious gap between their operational abilities
and their far-reaching visions, which caused them to choose terrorist
tactics, the only violent tool that allows the weak to contend with
an adversary whose resources, are significantly greater. However,
it appears that it was precisely the use of terrorism that led to
the isolation of these groups and paradoxically impaired their ability
to raise funds from the Jewish public.
Despite the differences between the two types of organizations,
both of them tended to incorporate into their statements some universal
ideas that became part of the ideological scheme of the group. Some
of the groups incorporated the anti-colonial or fundamentalist-messianic
components on one hand or socialists elements from the other. The
important fact is that only the first combination (of anti-colonial
and traditional-religious elements) created in the Jewish case well
established platform that drove groups into terrorism. This link
was not a coincidence. These groups justified their use of terrorist
tactics on the basis of religious ideas.
The question’s that should be asked is if the Jewish fundamentalism
was adopted by those groups on order to rationalize terrorism or
if the opposite is truth, the religious components in their ideology
drove them to use terrorist tactics. From our analysis of those
groups, it seems that in the Sicarii and the ‘Lehi’
cases the Jewish tradition had a major role in their tendencies
to use radical violence, in regards to the ‘Ezel’ the
situation is less clear.
From the operational aspects that refer to the targets and the weapon
that were chosen by the Jewish organization, we should notice that
they didn’t differ from much from anti-colonial terrorist
organizations in other parts in the world, (i.e., by acting especially
against military and governments targets using the traditional gun
But an important matter we need to consider is whether or not these
groups fit established definitions of religious fundamentalism.
Is the fact they incorporated religious elements in their doictrine
enough? The answer is largely positive. First, both the 'Ezel' and
the 'lehi' adapted traditional texts in perpetrating new strategies
in fighting the British and the Arabs. Second, their ideology reflected
the classical dichotomy between the forces of good and the forces
of evil i.e., everyone opposed to the messianic model they presented.
Third, they saw themselves as the followers of historical radical
religious groups. Finally they were strongly organized along authoritarian
lines during their most active periods. So, we man conclude that
the 'Lehi', and for most part the 'Ezel" as well should be
considered as examples of Jewish fundamentalism.
To conclude, the founding of the State of Israel led to the disappearance
of these radical groups, since the goal of Jewish sovereignty was
attained. However, a fascinating process ensued. While revolutionary
Jewish violence disappeared, vigilante violence continued to exist
even after the founding of the State of Israel. It appears that
the tradition, formed in the late 19th century in Europe and expanded
with the activity of the leftist groups in early 20th century Palestine,
which includes the development of social functions that complement
the government and supplement it in an array of political and military
roles, survived after the founding of the State of Israel and continues
to accompany the political reality in Israel to this very day. However,
while the socialist tendencies were prominent before the founding
of the State, after this event it was the Israeli right that adopted
this tradition and mode of action.
to Main Research Listing
Rapoport, “ Fear and Trembling: Terrorism in Three Religious
Traditions,” American Political Science Review 78:3 (
September 1985) pp. 660-672.
2 Bruce Hoffman, Inside Terrorism (London: Victor Gollancz,
1998) p. 88.
3 Gabriel Almond, R. Scott Appleby, and Emmanuel Sivan, Strong
Religion (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003) p. 67.
4 Anna Geifman, Thou Shalt Kill (Princeton: Princeton University
Press, 1993) p. 12.
5 Norman Naimark, Terrorists and Social Democrats (Cambridge:
Harvard University Press, 1983) pp. 219-223.
6 See the autobiography of Susan Stern, With The Weathermen
(Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1975) ad passim.
7 Alexandr Lokshin, " The Bund in the Russian Jewish Historical
Landscape," in Anna Geifman (ed.), Russia Under the Last
Tsar (Oxford: Blackwell, 1999) pp. 57-72.
8 Quoted in Geifman, Thou Shalt Kill , p. 103.
9 One of the first Jewish groups active in Palestine of the early
20th century was the Bar-Giora group (1907-1920) the Bar-Giora group
promoted communal ideals among its members, with an emphasis on
a new human image that hails in the budding socialism of the early
20th century. Simultaneously, the group acted to establish Jewish
settlements in the Galilee and to organize Jewish groups that would
be responsible for securing the settlements and protecting them
the attacks of their Arab neighbors (Ben-Yehuda 1993, 85-87).
10 Aziel Lev, “From Bar-Giora to the Shomer”, Monthly
Review- I.D.F Officers Journal. (September, 1985) (Hebrew),
11 Meir Pa’il, The Armed Struggle. 1945-1948 (Efal:
Yad Tabenkin, 1985) (Hebrew), P.12.
12 Lev, "From Bar-Giora to the Shomer," p.109-123.
13 Meir Pa’il, The Evolution of Hebrew Defense Force
(Tel-Aviv: Ministry of Defense, 1987), pp. 33-40.
14 Pa’il, The Armed Struggle. 1945-1948, pp. 34-45.
15 Pa’il, The Armed Struggle. 1945-1948, P. 51; Mordehai
Naor, The Hagana (Tel-Aviv: Education Department Officer, IDF 1975)
(Hebrew). pp. 77-85.
16 Naor, The Hagana, pp. 107-140; Pa’il, The Armed
Struggle. 1945-1948, pp. 72-79.
17 Joseph Nedava, Abba Haheimeir. Tel-Aviv: (The Association
for Strengthening the National Consciousness, . 1987) (Hebrew),
18 Haim Borochov,. & Joseph Paamoni,.(Eds.), Brit Habirionim.
(Tel-Aviv: Zabotinski Institute, 1953) (Hebrew).
19 Nedava, Abba Haheimeir, pp.7-18.
20 Borochov & Paamoni, Brit Habirionim.
21 Pa’il, The Armed Struggle. 1945-1948, pp. 42-43.
22 Joseph Kister, The National Military Organization- 1931-1948
(Tel-Aviv: The Ezel Museum, 1998) (Hebrew), p.4.
23 Jakob Shavit,. “The Political and Public Organization of
the Jewish Setttelment's”, in Joseph Ben-Porat, and Jakob
Shavit, The History of Erez Israel (9) (Jerusalem: Cetter,
24 Marks. I.Z.L. and Lechi in Palestine: The Recruitment of
Funds and Economic Means (1940-1948) (PhD Dissertation, Bar-Ilan
University, 1994) (Hebrew).
25 Kister, The National Military Organization- 1931-1948,
26 Kister, The National Military Organization- 1931-1948,
pp. 23-25; David Niv. Battle for Freedom: The Irgun Zvai Leumi
– Part Two (Tel-Aviv: Klausner Institute, 1975) (Hebrew),
27 Kister, The National Military Organization- 1931-1948,
28 Kister, The National Military Organization- 1931-1948,
29 Kister, The National Military Organization- 1931-1948.
30 Yitzhak Alfasi. The National Military Organization Sources
and Documents (Tel-Aviv: Zabotinski Institute, 1992) (Hebrew),
31 Niv, Battle for Freedom: The Irgun Zvai Leumi – Part
Two, pp. 28-94.
32 Kister, The National Military Organization- 1931-1948,
p. 5; David Niv, Battle for Freedom: The
Irgun Zvai Leumi – Part Three (Tel-Aviv: Klausner Institute,
1967) (Hebrew), pp. 18-19.
33 Niv, Battle for Freedom: The Irgun Zvai Leumi – Part
Three, pp. 45-47
34 David Niv, Battle for Freedom: The Irgun Zvai Leumi –
Part Four (Tel-Aviv: Klausner Institute, 1973) (Hebrew), pp.
35 “Davar” Daly newspaper, 27.1.44.
36 Kister, The National Military Organization- 1931-1948,
p. 6; Alfasi, 1992, pp. 141-145.
37 Alfasi, The National Military Organization Sources and Documents,
38 Josef Heller, Lehi', Ideology and Politics: 1940-1949. (Jerusalem:
Zalman- Shazar Center, 1989) (Hebrew).
39 Niv, Battle for Freedom: The Irgun Zvai Leumi – Part
Three, pp. 244-261.
40 Kister, The National Military Organization- 1931-1948, pp.15
41 “Davar” daly newspaper, 14.2.44; Niv, Battle
for Freedom: The Irgun Zvai Leumi – Part Four, pp. 20-21.
42 “Hamaskif” newsapaper, 27.2.44.
43 Kister, The National Military Organization- 1931-1948,
44 Niv, Battle for Freedom: The Irgun Zvai Leumi – Part
45 Niv, Battle for Freedom: The Irgun Zvai Leumi – Part
Four, pp. 266-269.
46 Kister, The National Military Organization- 1931-1948,
47 Niv, Battle for Freedom: The Irgun Zvai Leumi – Part
Three, pp. 161-162.
48 “Ikaray Hathia – the first Lehi ideological manifest”,
49 Niv, Battle for Freedom: The Irgun Zvai Leumi – Part
Three, pp. 161-164.
50 Heller, Lehi', Ideology and Politics: 1940-1949, pp.
51 Lehi’s political platform, 1948.
52 Heller, 1989, pp. 112; Y. Banai, Anonymous Soldiers
(Tel-Aviv: Hug Yedidim, 1978) (Hebrew), pp.61-62.
53 Heller, Lehi', Ideology and Politics: 1940-1949, pp.
54 Heller, Lehi', Ideology and Politics: 1940-1949, p.
112; Lehi Platform, 1948.
55 see also in Niv, Battle for Freedom: The Irgun Zvai Leumi
– Part Three, pp. 176-179.
56 undated documents of the underground movement; Heller, 1989,
57 Marks, I.Z.L. and Lechi in Palestine: The Recruitment of
Funds and Economic Means (1940-1948), pp. 24-28
58 Lehi’s Platform, 1948.
59 Heller, Lehi', Ideology and Politics: 1940-1949, p.117.
60 Heller, Lehi', Ideology and Politics: 1940-1949, pp.173-179.
Battle for Freedom: The Irgun Zvai Leumi – Part Three,
62 Niv, Battle for Freedom: The Irgun Zvai Leumi – Part
63 Heller, Lehi', Ideology and Politics: 1940-1949, pp.144-145;
Niv, 1967, pp.171.
64 Niv, Battle for Freedom: The Irgun Zvai Leumi – Part
65 Heler, Lehi', Ideology and Politics: 1940-1949, pp.160-161;
Niv, ttle for Freedom: The Irgun Zvai Leumi – Part Three,
66 Heller, Lehi', Ideology and Politics: 1940-1949, pp.172.
67 Heller, Lehi', Ideology and Politics: 1940-1949, pp.
170-173; Lehi Platform, 1948.
68 Heller, Lehi', Ideology and Politics: 1940-1949, pp.173.
69 Heller, Lehi', Ideology and Politics: 1940-1949, pp.173.
70 Heller, Lehi', Ideology and Politics: 1940-1949, pp.173.
71 Yitzhak Shamir, “Why the Lechi Assassinate Lord Moyen”.
The Nation, 32 (119), pp. 333-337 (Hebrew).
72 Heller, Lehi', Ideology and Politics: 1940-1949, p.210.
73 Niv, Battle for Freedom: The Irgun Zvai Leumi – Part
Four, pp. 98-105.
74 Niv, Battle for Freedom: The Irgun Zvai Leumi – Part
Four, pp. 98-99, 116-117.
75 Heller, Lehi', Ideology and Politics: 1940-1949, p.301.
76 “Hamaas” bulletin, 1947.
77 Heller, Lehi', Ideology and Politics: 1940-1949, pp.328-329.
78 Heller, Lehi', Ideology and Politics: 1940-1949, pp.446-447.
79 Heller, Lehi', Ideology and Politics: 1940-1949, p.459.