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Jewish Defense Organizations:
The Haganah


Jewish Defense: Table of Contents | Palmach | Irgun (Etzel)


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The underground military organization of the yishuv in Eretz Yisrael from 1920 to 1948. The Arab riots in 1920 and 1921 (q.v., see also Tel Hai) strengthened the view that it was impossible to depend upon the British authorities and that the yishuv needed to create an independent defense force completely free of foreign authority. In June 1920, the Haganah was founded.

During the first nine years of its existence, the Haganah was a loose organization of local defense groups in the large towns and in several of the settlements. The Arab riots in 1929 (q.v.) brought about a complete change in the Haganah's status.

  • It became a large organization encompassing nearly all the youth and adults in the settlements, as well as several thousand members from each of the cities.
  • It initiated a comprehensive training program for its members, ran officers' training courses;
  • Established central arms depots into which a continuous stream of light arms flowed from Europe.
  • Simultaneously, the basis was laid for the underground production of arms.
During1936-1939, the years of the Arab Revolt, were the years in which the Haganah matured and developed from a militia into a military body. Although the British administration did not officially recognize the organization, the British Security Forces cooperated with it by establishing civilian militia (see Jewish Settlement Police—J.S.P., and also, Jewish Auxiliary Police—ghafirs). In the summer of 1938 Sepcial Night Squads—S.N.S. were extablished, under the command of Captain Orde Wingate (see also Plugot Sadeh, Yitzhak Sadeh).

During the years of the riots, the Haganah protected the establishment of over 50 new settlements in new area of the country (see Homa Umigdal—Stockade and Watchtower Settlements). As a result of the British government Anti-Zionist policy, expressed in the White Paper of 1939, the Haganah supported illegal immigration and organized demonstrations against the British Anti-Zionist policy.

With the outbreak of World War II, the Haganah was faced with new problems. It headed a movement of volunteers, from which Jewish units were formed for service in the British army (see Jewish Brigade Group). It also cooperated with British intelligence units and sent its personnel out on various commando missions in the Middle East. Another example of this cooperation was the dropping of 32 Jewish parachutists in 1943-44 behind enemy lines in the Balkans, Hungary and Slovakia. Europe (see also Hannah Szenesh, Enzo Sereni, Havivah Reik).

At the same time, the Haganah further strengthened its independent basis during the war. A systematic program of training was instituted for the youth of the country. In 1941, the Haganah's first mobilized regiment, the Palmach came into being. At the end of the war, when it became clear that the British government had no intention of altering its Anti-Zionist policy, the Haganah began an open, organized struggle against British Mandatory rule in the framework of a unified Jewish Resistance Movement, consisting of Haganah, Irgun Zevai Le'umi - Etzel, and Lohamei Herut Yisrael—Lehi.

Haganah branches were established at Jewish D.P. [displaced person] camps in Europe and Haganah members accompanied the “illegal” immigrant boats. In the spring of 1947, David Ben-Gurion took it upon himself to direct the general policy of the Haganah, especially in preparation for impending Arab attack. On May 26 1948, the Provisional Government of Israel decided to transform the Haganah into the regular army of the State, to be called “Zeva Haganah Le-Yisrael”—The Israel Defense Forces.


Sources: The Pedagogic Center, The Department for Jewish Zionist Education, The Jewish Agency for Israel, (c) 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, Director: Dr. Motti Friedman, Webmaster: Esther Carciente

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