The Arabs, who were the clear majority in the land, sharply opposed this plan and they would periodically launch murderous attacks on the Yishuv, which was constantly growing. Britain, interested in maintaining good diplomatic relations in order to advance its imperialist and strategic interests in the Middle East, was concerned about the bloodshed and the support of the Arab world for the Arabs of Palestine. The British authorities decided to renege on tis commitment to the establishment of a Jewish state, expressing its intents in the publication of the White Paper.

The Yishuv was united in its opposition to the perfidy of Britain’s new policy. However, they differed over the best method to challenge it. The Yishuv and the World Zionist Organization dismissed any armed struggle, but Etzel embraced active armed resistance.

Since David Raziel, the commander of the organization, was arrested by the police a few days after the publication of the White Paper, the leadership of the struggle was given over to Avraham Stern, known by the nom de guerre Yair.

Their targets were government buildings and institutions, telephone lines, railroad tracks, post offices and government broadcasting offices. Two British officers were executed in Jerusalem: Barker and Kearns. 

On August 31st, 1939, the police raided an apartment in Tel Aviv, in which the commanders of Etzel were meeting to discuss Jabotinsky’s plan to declare an insurrection; all of the Etzel members were arrested, including Yair.

The next day, World War II broke out, and the Yishuv and the Zionist leadership worldwide allied themselves with Britain against Hitler, without any preconditions, even though the White Paper’s dictates were still being carried out. Jabotinsky and Raziel announced that the Revisionist movement and Etzel would join the war effort against Germany, and they ordered, without consulting the commanders under them, that all aggressive actions against the government be halted.

This unilateral declaration by Etzel of a cease-fire with the British led to a bitter quarrel between its supporters and its opponents. At the head of the opponents stood Yair, with his fellow senior commanders, leading to open and uncompromising confrontation with David Raziel.

Jabotinsky tried desperately to exert his authority as the supreme commander of the underground and to enforce discipline in the ranks, but he died suddenly on August 3rd, 1940. The split between Yair and Raziel was a fait accompli.

This led Yair to set up a new organization, called Irgun Tzvai Leumi be-Israel, which shortly adopted the name Lohamei Herut Israel, Freedom Fighters of Israel.