The Jewish Resistance Movement: United Armed Offensive against the British
Prime Minister Atlee and Foreign Secretary Bevin
Illegal immigrants detained in Atlit
Yishuv leaders in Latrun after the Black Sabbath
Ben-Gurion testifies before the Anglo-American Committee
Cyprus detention camp
Underground fighters escorted to trial
CID Headquarters after the bombing
Factories in Kishon
By Nechemia Ben-Tor
The Jewish Resistance Movement: United Armed Offensive against the British
In spring 1945, the world was stunned by dramatic developments: the Allies invaded Europe, the German Army was driven back and the horrors of the concentration camps were uncovered.
The Yishuv was shocked by the revelation of this great tragedy, and it eagerly awaited the reaction of the world. Certainly its conscience would be stirred by the enormity of the Holocaust to create a place for the survivors and refugees in Eretz Israel, allowing for the establishment of a Jewish state!
May 8th, 1945, was Victory in Europe Day, as Germany surrendered. The British believed they had defeated their primary enemy, so Churchill immediately dissolved the wartime Parliament and scheduled new elections. He was certain that a grateful nation would return him and his Conservative Party to power, but instead Britons voted for the Labour Party, and Clement Atlee became prime minister.
The Yishuv was thrilled by the Labour victory. In December 1944, it had accepted a very pro-Zionist decision, going beyond what the Zionists themselves had asked, proposing resettlement of the Arabs of Eretz Israel in other lands, to make room for mass Jewish immigration. They were sure that the White Paper would soon be revoked and the Yishuv would soon see independence.
These hopes were quickly dashed. Already at the end of August, the Jewish Agency realized the bitter truth: the Labour Party had no intention of fulfilling its promises. On the contrary, the Royal Navy was ordered to tighten the closure on the shores of Eretz Israel, repelling any attempt by concentration-camp survivors to immigrate.
The bitterness and rage only grew in the Zionist leadership and in the Haganah. Based on external and internal factors, there was no longer a possibility of avoiding opening a front against the government, due to its altered policy. The Lehi’s dream was always unification of the Yishuv’s fighters, despite their different worldviews. Lehi and Haganah men met as long as Eliyahu Golomb was alive, and only stopped doing so after his death. However, as the anti-Zionist positons of the Labour Party became known, the talks resumed. Lehi suggested that all the forces come together under one roof.
At the next stage, IZL was invited. Despite the bitterness lingering from the saison, IZL did not reject the proposal.
Early in September 1945, the three orgnaizations came together: Moshe Sneh and Yisrael Galili (Haganah), Natan Yellin-Mor (Lehi) and Menachem Begin (IZL). They reached the following conclusion:
- The Jewish Resistance Movement would be established as a united movement against the British, consisting of the three armed organizations: the Haganah (through its Palmah wing), IZL and Lehi.
- The leadership would consist of two Haganah representative and one representative of IZL and Lehi.
- All military operations would be performed in the name of the Resistance Movement, unless otherwise decided.
- IZL and Lehi would maintain their independence, but they would give up the right to independent activities. This would exclude operations to acquire funds and arms and or to free prisoners.
- The nature of operations would be determined, after a political debate, by consensus in the name of the Jewish Resistance Movement. The entire orgnaizations would be allowed to propose operations, but the operatives would not necessarily be those who proposed the operations.
What were the aims of the Jewish Resistance Movement?
The Haganah maintained that they had no intention of competing with the security forces of the British Empire, but rather wanted to express unequivocally their opposition to the White Paper and their readiness to oppose it with force of arms.
IZL saw the aim as revolution, leading to the establishment of a temporary Jewish government.
Lehi argued that by attacking sensitive strategic points, they would undermine the British government, causing it to crumble and compelling it to evacuate from Eretz Israel as a result of its failure.
Lehi expressed its view unambiguously: not an emotional struggle, not a general struggle, not a struggle at all—not a show of force, not an application of pressure. Rather, their goal was this: war! A war of liberation!
The national command decided on operations, and the details were managed by the operational officers of the organizations.
The Jewish Resistance Movement’s operations began on November 1st, 1945 (which became known as the Night of the Trains), and continued for nine months, including some thirty operations: attacks on transportation routes, roads and railways; on bridges; on police and CID stations; on factories; on army camps, radar stations, coast guard ships and more.
These were the main operations carried out by Lehi under the umbrella of the Jewish Resistance Movement:
Attacking the Lydda Railway Station (1.11.1945)
Together with IZL, a Lehi group attacked, destroying three engines, as well as damaging a train and a signal box. A number of policemen and railway workers were injured and killed.
Attacking the Haifa Refinery (1.11.1945)
This had been planned by Lehi for quite some time, but the decision was to strike on the Night of the Trains. Various explosives were placed in the refinery in suitcases. However, due to a technical problem, one of the bombs went off early, killing the commander of the operation, Moshe Bar-Giora. Two of his comrades were seriously injured, but they managed to flee. The operation was a failure.
Attacking Police and CID Headquarters
On December 27th, 1945, Lehi and IZL jointly attacked the police and CID headquarters in Jaffa and Jerusalem. British Intelligence sat in a number of buildings in Jerusalem’s Russian Compound and was well-guarded due to the concern about an attack by members of the underground. Shraga Alis of IZL was the commander of the operation, and his deputy was Yaakov “Blond Dov” Granek of Lehi. Dov had the responsibility of attacking the building. Dov led the charge, throwing grenades with his left hand as he shot a submachine gun with his right hand. His men followed.
The gate was breached with explosives. The shockwave ruined Dov’s trousers, so he took them off and charged inside. He was met by a British officer with a submachine gun, whom he promptly shot. The demolitions experts dispersed their explosive devices, lit them and fled. A loud explosion was heard, and the four-story building collapsed. As they retreated, they were caught in a British ambush. Dov killed another officer, but he was injured in his lungs. Nevertheless, he survived.
The British Intelligence building collapsed, and the echoes were heard throughout Eretz Israel and across the globe. Yitzhak Sadeh, chief of the national command of the Jewish Resistance Movement said: “This was the cleverly-planned work of a small fighting force.”
The central British Intelligence building for the Tel Aviv-Jaffa district was also four stories. Eliyahu Tamler of IZL was the commander of the operation, while his deputy was Immanuel Hanegbi of Lehi.
They approached the building under the cover of darkness, the demolitions experts climbing ladders, over the part of the building damaged in a previous IZL attack. They put explosives in the gap between the first and second floors and detonated it. Afterwards, the demolitions experts entered and blew up most of the rooms on the second floor. They then retreated with no losses.
Attacking the Kfar Syrkin Airfield
On the night of February 25th, 1946, Lehi fighters attacked the RAF airfield in Kfar Syrkin. On the same night, IZL attacked airfields in Qastina and Lydda. Yaakov “Blond Dov” Granek was the commander of the Kfar Syrkin attack, in which thirty fighters participated.
The fighters gathered in Yitzhak Merkin’s packing house in Moshav Segula, and from there they were transported to the Beilinson neighborhood, which bordered on the airfield. At 8:30 in the evening, they cut through the fence without attracting any attention. They tied explosive devices to nine Spitfire combat planes, lit the fuses and left the airfield. Immediately afterwards, the nine planes started to blow up.
The retreat through the orchards happened as planned.
This operation earned the Jewish Resistance Movement a great deal of acclaim for their struggle.
The Attack on the Kalaniot
The Kalaniot, as the Yishuv called them, were the 6th Airborne Division in Palestine; they had a car park on HaYarkon Street in Tel Aviv. The goal was to acquire weapons. In the firefight, seven British soldiers were killed. The fighters lost no one, and they acquired both rifles and ammunition.
Attacking the Haifa Railroad Workshops
On June 18th, 1946, this attack was launched, involving more than forty fighters, the greatest in scope ever done by Lehi. The aim was to destroy the transportation links of the British Empire in Eretz Israel. Ben-Ami “Boaz” Yulevitz was the commander of the operation, and he was fortunately one of the Lehi commanders who had military experience. The plan was authorized by the commander of the combat division.
The fighters gathered in a residence in Kiryat Haroshet. After the briefing and the distribution of the weapons, they left at 7:30 in the evening in a truck, reinforced with steel plates, towards the destination.
When they reached the factory, they breached the gate under a hail of gunfire. Gaining control of the area, they put bombs under the engines, the cars, the swing bridges and various types of equipment, which blew up with a deafening noise.
The order was given to retreat, but this time they were out of luck. On the way, they encountered an enemy ambush, which fired heavily upon them. The fighters were caught in the trap, but they returned fire until they were overwhelmed. Eleven fighters fell, and many were injured. Ten manage to escape, and the remaining twenty-two fighters were captured and brought before a military tribunal. Four fighters were sentenced to life imprisonment, and the rest were condemned to death, a sentence later commuted to life in prison.
While the Jewish Resistance Movement was active, the waves of illegal immigration (known as Ha’apala or Aliyah Bet) continued, with thousands of Jews making their way to the homeland. Fourteen ships were brought to the shores of Eretz Israel by the Haganah, filled with more than ten thousand immigrants, but they were captured by the British. Most were detained in Atlit, and from the middle of 1946, they were deported to Cyprus.
As the Jewish Resistance Movement was active, the United States and the United Kingdom established the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry to find a solution for the Jewish refugees and British policy in Eretz Israel. On May 1st, the report was published, recommending the immigration of one hundred thousand displaced Jews, as well as getting rid of the restrictions on land purchase. It was also recommended that the efforts to suppress terror and to put an end to Ha’apala be immediately ceased. Not many days passed before the British government made it clear that it had no intention of fulfilling the committee’s recommendations.
In response, the Jewish Resistance Movement decided to strike the bridges throughout the borders of Eretz Israel. On June 17th, 1946, one day before the Lehi’s attack on the railroad workshops in Haifa, the Palmah attacked eleven bridges throughout the country, in the Night of the Bridges. The military and political impact of the operation was huge. Eretz Israel was cut off from its neighbors. However, this required many sacrifices from the Palmah fighters.
The first response to the Night of the Bridges was searches through the kibbutzim, with many bloody altercations.
Two weeks after the bridges were blown up, the British struck the Yishuv on what became known as Black Sabbath. Seventeen thousand British soldiers were sent out in Operation Agatha and Operation Broadside. The aim was to break the Palmah. 2,700 Jews were arrested, including the leaders of the Yishuv, members of the Jewish Agency and mayors. In Yagur, many arms were seized as well.
Two days after Black Sabbath, the Jewish Resistance Movement’s leadership decided to respond with three operations in Jerusalem and Bat Galim, including the attack on the King David Hotel by IZL, targeting the British Mandatory authorities of Palestine, principally the Secretariat of the Government of Palestine and the Headquarters of the British Armed Forces in Palestine and Transjordan.
Haim Weizmann, head of the World Zionist Organization, demanded that the Haganah halt its operations until the Jewish Agency could come to a decision, but on July 22nd, 1946, IZL attacked the offices of the Mandate in the King David Hotel, killing and wounding dozens of people—British, Jewish and Arab. Even though this had been approved by its Committee X, the Haganah denied responsibility afterwards.
The explosion had echoes throughout Eretz Israel and across the globe. Once again they publicized condemnations and attacks on “the criminal, irresponsible acts of the separatist movements.”
The incitement of the institutions and the newspapers increased in the face of the threats of the British and punitive measures against the Yishuv.
Evelyn Barker, General Officer Commanding (GOC) British Forces in Palestine and Transjordan, issued an order forbidding his soldiers from spending any time in Jewish establishments or having any contact with Jews.
Lehi decided to attack Barker with a powerful bomb hidden in a baby carriage, which would be set off electrically when Barker when to work. However, this attempt failed because Barker didn’t show up; instead, he travelled to Egypt and was spared.
The British pressure upon the Zionist leadership continued to increase, in order to force a halt of the armed struggle and the elimination of the underground movements.
One week after the King David Hotel Bombing, Tel Aviv became the focus of a huge police action, codenamed Operation Shark. Twenty-seven thousand soldiers and policemen participated. For five days, the British forces swept through the houses in the city. One hundred thousand people were interrogated. 762 suspects were arrested. The leaders of the underground—Menachem Begin, Natan Yellin-Mor and others—managed to hide or slip away without being identified, but Yitzhak “Michael” Shamir, member of the Lehi central committee, was identified and arrested.
In August of 1946, the British government began deporting the illegal immigrants to Cyprus; this act led to demonstrations by the Yishuv and attacks on the ships by the Palmah.
In response, the British conducted extensive weapons inspections in kibbutzim throughout the country.
The debate about the continuation of the armed struggle was fiery. The activists wanted to intensify the struggle, while the moderates on the left wanted to stop it. At the Jewish Agency’s Paris Conference in the beginning of August, the decision was made to halt the armed conflict until the World Zionist Congress meeting.
The Haganah followed this directive. The Congress decided, at their conference in Basel, on December 9th, 1946, to halt the armed conflict.
Once again, the battle fell to Lehi and IZL.