The Hunting Season
By Prof. Yehuda Lapidot
As a result of the Irgun's proclamation of a revolt against British rule, military operations were launched against various government targets. The official leadership of the Yishuv, the heads of the Jewish Agency, were opposed to this activity and demanded that it cease. They argued that the national institutions had been democratically elected, and that consequently the Irgun and Lehi should accept their authority.
In September 1944, Menahem Begin, Irgun commander, held two meetings with Moshe Sneh, head of the Haganah General Headquarters, and Eliyahu Golomb, one of the Haganah leaders. At these meetings, which lasted into the night, relations between the Irgun and the Yishuv leadership were discussed at length.
On the question of national authority, Moshe Sneh said, inter alia:
Eliyahu Golomb was even blunter:
The turning point in the struggle against the Jewish underground was the assassination of Lord Moyne in Cairo. Lord Moyne, who was known to be an Anti-Zionist, had been appointed Minister of State for the Middle East, and from his place of residence in Cairo was responsible for implementing the White Paper policy. Lehi, which considered Lord Moyne to be responsible for the deportation of the immigrant ships, plotted to assassinate him. Two of its members - Eliyahu Hakim and Eliyahu Bet-Zuri - were despatched to Cairo, and on November 6, 1944, they carried out the assassination, but were caught shortly after carrying out their mission. On January 10, 1945 they were charged with murder. Hakim and Beit-Zuri, manacled, stood calmly beside their Egyptian guards with red fezzes. Both were, and had been since their capture, completely self-possessed. They did not take part in the proceedings, and when the testimony was completed, Eliyahu Hakim rose to his feet and said:
After being sentenced to death, they rose to their feet and sang the national anthem. On March 23, 1945, they were dressed in the traditional, ill-fitting red burlap suit of condemned men, marched barefoot to the gallows, were blindfolded at the scaffold, and hanged.
The assassination of Lord Moyne created shock waves in Palestine and throughout the world. Even before the identity of the assassins became known, the Jewish Agency Executive convened and issued a fierce condemnation of the act. At the same meeting, it decided on a series of measures against "terrorist organizations" in Palestine.
Once the Season had been approved by the Jewish Agency Executive, the matter was submitted to the Histadrut Council, the body which, more than any other framework, determined the conduct of the "organized Yishuv". It published an official announcement on the matter:
As regards collaboration with the British police, the announcement went on to declare:
Two members of the Jewish Agency Executive, Rabbi Yehuda Fishman-Maimon and Yitzhak Greenboim, continued to oppose any form of collaboration with the British police, and when the decision was taken, Greenboim announced his resignation.
The following is a 1944 pamphlet published by the Irgun proclaiming the policy of non-retaliation.
It was not easy for Begin to persuade his subordinates to exercise restraint. There were two underlying reasons for his decision: firstly, he said, to react could result in the Yishuv being plunged into a civil war, which would spell the end of the struggle against British rule in Eretz Israel. Secondly, he felt it undesirable to exacerbate relations with the Haganah, because they might later decide to join the struggle against foreign rule. Members of the Irgun who had been trained in the spirit of 'breaking the havlaga', found it hard to accept the decision of the General Headquarters. They did not, however, violate the order, possibly in the hope that their leader's evaluation would prove correct, and that the Haganah would join the struggle against the British. (This did indeed occur a year later, when the United Resistance - Tenuat Hameri Ha'ivri - was established).
The entire Haganah command was preoccupied with the Season, and information on the Irgun and the Lehi was amassed by the Haganah's intelligence service, 'Shai'. The intelligence service had some 250 Palmach fighters (the elite Haganah unit) at its disposal, who were brought to town and assigned to the Season operation. They shadowed suspects and kidnapped Irgun fighters on the basis of lists they received from the Shai. In addition, the Palmach guarded the Jewish Agency leaders for fear that the Irgun or Lehi might react by perpetrating counter-kidnappings. The Jewish Agency in Jerusalem set up a Department for Special Assignments, which maintained close contact with the British Intelligence. It was this department which handed over to the British a list of names of persons suspected of being members of the Irgun.
Close to one thousand people were handed over to the British. Most of them were taken to the Latrun detention camp and several hundred were deported to detention camps in Africa (see "African Exile"). In addition, dozens of suspects were kidnapped and detained in prison cells built especially for this purpose on various kibbutzim. They were interrogated by members of the Haganah Intelligznce Service and occasionally suffered torture.
A letter from the High Commissioner in Jerusalem to the Colonial Secretary in London dated March 1, 1945 reveals that the Jewish Agency exploited its collaboration with the British Intelligence in order to hand over active members of the Revisionist party, who were not even members of the Irgun, and thereby to rid itself of political rivals. The letter states, among other things: (Public Records, CO733/457).
The most serious kidnapping incident was the case of Yaakov Tavin, who was in charge of the Irgun's intelligence service and on the Haganah's most wanted list. For three months, Tavin succeeded in evading the Haganah men who were shadowing him, but at the end of February 1945, he finally fell into their hands. The kidnapping was described in Ha'aretz of March 2, 1945 as follows:
Tavin's kidnappers blindfolded him, tied his hands and forced him to lie on the floor of the car. He was driven to Kibbutz Givat Hashlosha and from there was taken to Kibbutz Ein Harod, where he was imprisoned in a barn which had been converted into a detention room. Tavin was held there for six months and underwent numerous interrogations, accompanied by severe torture. He was released when the war ended and the Haganah entered into negotiations with the Irgun for the establishment of 'The United Resistance' .
The kidnappings were fiercely condemned in the Yishuv. The Chief Rabbinate published a strongly-worded notice, which declared:
The distinguished philosopher, Hugo Bergmann, who was a member of 'Brit Shalom' and a sworn opponent of the Jewish underground, wrote:
The protesters were joined by civil organizations and by the Tel Aviv Municipality, together with municipalities and local councils all over the country. Public pressure proved effective and the Season gradually lapsed.
Although the Season caused the Irgun considerable harm, it did not liquidate it. Many of the fighters were arrested, but new recruits took the place of the veterans, and in the spring of 1945 the organization began to recover. After a seven-month interval, the Irgun again went into action. In May 1945, telephone poles were sabotaged throughout the country, and home-made mortars were set up opposite various government targets in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. In Jerusalem, mortars were put into position opposite the King David Hotel (the seat of the British military command and the government secretariat), and opposite the government printing press (alongside the railway station). In Tel Aviv, the mortars were located near the Sarona military camp (now the Kirya government area in Tel Aviv). The oil pipeline linking the Iraqi oilfields to the Haifa refineries was also sabotaged. On July 23, 1945, a joint unit of Irgun and Lehi fighters, under the command of Yehoshua Weinstein (Benyamin) blew up a railway bridge adjacent to the Arab village of Yibne (present-day Yavne). This was the first joint operation of the two organizations, after they had resolved to act together against British rule.
Source: The Irgun Site