Revolt is Proclaimed
(February 1, 1944)
by Prof. Yehuda Lapidot
In 1943, it was already clear that the victory of
the Allies was only a question of time. The dimensions of the Holocaust were known in Palestine, but the British government adhered to the White Paper policy, and continued to bar the gates of the country
to Jewish immigration. Moreover,
those immigrant ships which succeeded in escaping from occupied Europe
were not only prohibited from entering Palestine, but were sometimes
even forced to return to Europe, although the fate that awaited their
passengers was clear to all.
The conduct of the British government further infuriated
young Jews in Palestine. The Irgun General Headquarters came to the conclusion that the truce it had proclaimed
when war broke out had to be ended, and that it was essential to take
action against the British without waiting till the war was over.
In the higher echelons of the Irgun the feeling prevailed that, in order to renew the struggle against the
British, it was essential to make far-reaching changes in the leadership.
According to Eliyahu Lankin,
who was then a senior commander in the Irgun:
We said that we had to find a man to command us who had no connection
with what had occurred during and after the split (i.e. the split
with Avraham Stern), but
it was hard to find such a man in Eretz Israel.
Begin, Betar leader in Poland,
arrived in Eretz Israel at this point. When war broke out, he had been
arrested by the Soviet authorities and sent to a detention camp in Siberia.
About a year later he was released under the terms of the Soviet-Polish
treaty, which freed all Polish nationals from Soviet jails. He then
joined the Polish force established in the Soviet Union (General Anders
Army) and reached Eretz Israel with this army. He reported immediately
to the Irgun command, but
refused to desert from the ranks. Only after being officially discharged
was he asked to accept command of the Irgun. Eliyahu Lankin, one of
those who approached Begin,
remembers that his response was: "Gentlemen, I have been a Betarite
and a soldier in the Polish army, but I have no military experience."
"We told him," Lankin recalls, "that we did not lack
fighters. We needed a leader of authority to blaze our political and
In December 1943, Begin was
chosen as Commander of the Irgun
Zvai Le'umi in Eretz Israel. He established a new General Headquarters,
which included Aryeh Ben Eliezer, Eliyahu Lankin and Shlomo
Levi-Lev Ami (Levi was the only one who had been a member of the previous
command). At its first meeting, the General Headquarters passed two important
resolutions: the first - that an armed struggle against the British
Mandatory government had to be launched without delay, and the second
- that the Irgun had to detach
itself from the Revisionist party and determine its own path.
On February 1, 1944, the Irgun plastered posters on the walls of buildings all over the country, proclaiming
a revolt against British rule. It stated, among other things:
TO THE HEBREW NATION IN ZION!
We are in the last stage of the world war. Each and every nation
is now conducting its national reckoning. What are its triumphs
and what were its losses? What road must it take in order to
achieve its goal and fulfil its mission? Who are its friends
and who its enemies? Who is the true ally and who the traitor?
And who is proceeding towards the decisive battle?
Sons of Israel, Hebrew youth!
We stand at the final stage of the war, we face an historic
decision on our future destiny.
The truce proclaimed when war broke out has been violated by
the British authorities. The rulers of the country have taken
into account neither loyalty nor concessions nor sacrifice;
they have continued to implement their aim: the liquidation
of sovereign Zionism.
We must draw the necessary conclusions without wavering. There
can no longer be a truce between the Hebrew nation and youth
and the British administration of Eretz Israel, which is betraying
our brethren to Hitler. Our nation will fight this regime, fight
to the end.
And this is our demand:
Rule over Eretz Israel must immediately be handed over to a
provisional Hebrew government.
The Hebrew government of Eretz Israel, the sole legal representative
of the Jewish people, must, immediately after its establishment,
begin the implementation of the following principles:
a. establish a national Hebrew army.
b. conduct negotiations with all authorized bodies on the organization
of the mass evacuation of European Jewry to Eretz Israel.
The establishment of a Hebrew government and the implementation
of its plans - this is the sole way of rescuing our people,
salvaging our existence and our honor. We will follow this path,
for there is no other.
We will fight! Every Jew in our homeland will fight!
Our fighting youth will not be deterred by victims, blood and
suffering. They will not surrender, will not rest until they
restore our past glory, until they ensure our people of a homeland,
freedom, honor, bread, justice and law. And if you help them,
then your own eyes will soon behold the return to Zion and the
rebirth of Israel.
May God be with us and aid us!
THE IRGUN ZVAI LE'UMI IN ERETZ ISRAEL
When the struggle began, the Irgun stipulated two restricting conditions: avoidance of individual terror
as a method and postponement of attacks on military targets until the
The first target of the Irgun fighters were the immigration offices of the British Mandatory authorities.
These offices, more than anything else, symbolized the restriction of
immigration and the frustration of efforts to rescue the Jews of Europe.
The Immigration Office was careful to grant certificates only according
to the quota fixed by the White
Paper, i.e. the number of immigrants was not permitted to exceed
1,500 per month. From this tiny number were deducted those Jews who
immigrated illegally and were caught by the authorities. According to
the White Paper, immigration was to cease completely on March 31, 1944.
On Saturday night, February 12, 1944, Irgun fighters attacked immigration offices simultaneously in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa.
The operation went smoothly and without casualties. Two weeks later,
the fighters set out again, this time to blow up the income tax offices,
again in the three large towns. An income tax law had been introduced
in Eretz Israel in 1941 and, as anticipated, had proven highly unpopular,
particularly since most of the burden fell on the Jewish population.
One of the reasons for selecting this target was that even those who
did not support the Irgun campaign against the British were unlikely to condemn an attempt to
prevent the collection of income tax. This operation also proved successful
and claimed no casualties.
British Intelligence office after bombing.
After the baptism of fire, it was decided to take a
more daring step and attack the nerve center of British rule, British
Intelligence and the police. Once again the operation was coordinated
to take place simultaneously in the three large towns. In Jerusalem,
the task was more difficult since the British Intelligence was housed
in the Russian Compound, as were the police headquarters and the law
courts. Despite the difficulties, the Irgun fighters, under Rahamim
Cohen (Gad) succeeded in infiltrating the British Intelligence offices
and placing the explosives. However, the duty officer that night, Sergeant
Scott, on a routine patrol of inspection noticed a suspicious movement
on the balcony. He was injured when fire was opened on him, but before
he collapsed he succeeded in shooting one of the Irgun fighters, Asher Benziman (Avshalom). Despite the exchange of fire, the
sappers succeeded in preparing the explosive devices and retreating.
Several minutes later, there was a loud explosion and the building collapsed.
Benziman succeeded in escaping, but died of his wounds shortly afterwards
- the first casualty of the revolt. The British officer also died as
a result of his injuries.
The raid on the British Intelligence headquarters in Jaffa was commanded
by Amichai Paglin (Gidi) and
the attack on the Haifa British Intelligence was led by Yaakov Hillel. The two raids were carried
As more operations were undertaken, the fighters gained
military experience and they became increasingly daring. On May 17,
1944, some 40 fighters set out to attack and occupy the government broadcasting
station at Ramallah in order to make an underground broadcast from there.
The takeover was smooth and was carried out without loss of life, but
the broadcast itself did not take place because of an unexpected hitch
in operating the transmitters. On the other hand, two months later,
the blowing up of the district British Intelligence in Jerusalem was carried out without a hitch: on the night of July 13, 1944, an Irgun unit broke into the building in Mamilla Street, detonated explosive
devices and retreated without suffering casualties.
The 'Wall' Scheme
of the operations which undermined the prestige of the British authorities
and made them the object of ridicule was the 'Wall' scheme, which concerned
prayer arrangements at the Western Wall.
In the late nineteen twenties, the Arabs had already begun to complain
that blowing the shofar at the Western
Wall was an insult to Islam.
In 1931, the King's Order in Council (the legislative authority of the
Mandatory government) stipulated that the Moslems' ownership rights to
the Temple Mount also
encompassed the Western Wall area. As a result, Jews were banned from
blowing the shofar at the Wall, despite
the fact that this ceremony is an integral part of the Rosh
Hashana (New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) prayer services.
The ban deeply offended Jews, and the Irgun decided to act. After the imposition of the ban, Irgun and Betar members "smuggled" a shofar into the Western Wall area every Yom Kippur. There a volunteer
was waiting to blow the 'Tekia Gedola', the blast which marks the end
of the fast. This was not easily done, since large numbers of British
policemen were stationed along the routes to the Wall and conducted
careful searches of the belongings of the Jews visiting the Wall. The shofar blower was usually arrested
and jailed in the Kishleh, the police building in the Old
City, which had served as a jail since the Turkish era. (The building
is still standing and is now used by the Israeli police). The blowing
of the shofar at the Wall at the end of Yom
Kippurr was not only a religiously ceremony, but also bolstered
national pride throughout the country. On Yom
Kippur 5703 (September 1942), Menahem
Begin visited the Wall and witnessed the British policemen bursting
into the area in search of the Betarite who had blown the shofar.
In summer, 1944, the question of the shofar ceremony at the Wall was raised
again. This time the Irgun decided not to confine itself to bringing in a single shofar-blower
to mark the end of Yom Kippur.
Several weeks before the High Holy Days, the Irgun began to issue warnings to the British to keep away from the Wall,
and announced that any policemen found near the Wall on Yom Kippur would be punished.
As the fast-day approached, the warnings were reiterated daily. Nine
proclamations were issued in all; the following is the text of one of
Any British Constable who will commit acts of violence near
the Western Wall on the Day of Atonement and, in defiance of
the moral law of civilized people, will disturb the worshippers
assembled there and will desecrate the sanctity of prayer will
be regarded and LISTED by the HEBREW Youth as a CRIMINAL OFFENDER.
Visitors or passers-by, whether Moslems or Christians, will
not be disturbed in their approaching or passing the Western
IRGUN ZVAI LE'UMI IN ERETZ ISRAEL
The tension mounted. The Irgun created the impression that it intended to concentrate large forces
in the Western Wall area, to bar
access by violent means. This was, however, a diversionary tactic, and
the Irgun had an entirely
different plan in mind. As Yom Kippur came to an end, attacks were launched at four police stations throughout
the country. These buildings, known as Taggart fortresses, were large
structures of reinforced concrete, built in the 1930s according to the
design of the British engineer, Sir Charles Taggart. The Irgun's warnings
about the Western Wall were examples
of psychological warfare, serving to divert attention from the main
military operation. Surprisingly enough, the authorities heeded the
Irgun's warnings, and not a single British policeman was present in
the Wall area on Yom Kippur.
The traditional blowing of the shofar after the final prayer took place without interruption, and the congregation
then burst into a loud rendering of "Hatikva",
the national anthem. No clashes occurred that day at the Wall or en
route to it, and the British detectives, who were present in mufti,
were disappointed by the absence of Irgun armed forces. They were unaware that the Irgun's fighting units were
at that very moment conducting an operation against the Taggart fortresses
in Haifa (under Rahamim Cohen),
Kalkiliya (under Nathan-Niko
Germant), Gadera - Katra (under Yehoshua Weinstein and Shraga
Alis) and Beit Dagan (under Yaakov
Sources: The Irgun Site