The First Tithe: Memoirs and Edifying Discourses of the Hebrew War for Freedom

Article excerpt

The First Tithe: Memoirs and Edifying Discourses of the Hebrew War for Freedom, by Israel Eldad, ttanslated by Zev Golan. Tel Aviv: The Jabotinsky Institute in Istael, 2008. 420 pp. 60 shekels.

Translator of Nietszche, Ph.D. in Philosophy, gt aduate of a rabbinical seminary, and a Hasid by culture, Israel Scheib is better known as Israel Eldad, the ideologue of LEHI during the war against the British in Palestine from 1942 to 1948. These memoirs first appeared in Hebrew in 1950, and their translation into English is an impôt tant reminder of the ideological conflict between the two branches of Jabotinsky 's Beitar youth movement: one followed Abraham Stern into LEHI and the othet Menahem Begin, who claimed the shreds of Jabotinsky 's mantle, into ETZEL, mote popularly known as the Irgun.

These memoirs are an important contribution to an historical understanding of the origins and development of the Jewish Revolt during the 1940s, the vicissitudes that beset the various underground movements and their respective rivalries, the problems that challenged the British during their life and death struggle with Nazi Germany, and other 1940s topics.

The British experience in the East Mediterranean during the 1940s should provide lessons to an inexperienced United States that inherited Britain's tradition of bungling and added its own. Palestine was one of the hot spots of the British 1940s debacles (Greece and Iraq were others). It was both the overt and covert war in the Yishuv that annoyed the beleaguered British sufficiently so that they abandoned the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine and chose to assist the Arabs in the fight for Palestine.

The anti-British war began in the early 1940s when it became evident that elements of the Yishuv were losing their confidence in the British sense of fair play. LEHI - Fighters fot the Freedom of Israel, declared open war against the foreign occupiers of the Hebrew land in 1942, and sought, according to Eldad, to establish a Malkhut Yisrael, a Sovereign Israel in place of the British-controlled militaty and economic base in the Eastern Mediterranean.

The battle cry of LEHI was drawn from the Beitar Youth theme:

In blood and fire Judea fell

In blood and fire Judea will rise

These youth, and Eldad's very language, were also fired with the prophetic and passionate poetry of Uri Zvi Greenberg, the guru of nationalist fervor. The blood they resurrected was that of ancient Jewish heroes against the Gt eeks and Romans; the blood they shed was that of the occupying British army. The British t esponded with cut fews, searches and seizures, imprisonment, and the gallows.

Between the hard covers of Eldad's book lie the anger and the cold analyses of an intellectual revolutionary who declared war on the British Empire long before Menahem Begin published his own proclamation to the same effect. Eldad argued against both ETZEL and the Haganah and defined the fight against the British as occupiers of the land of the Nation of Israel who must be driven out. His language and arguments resonate in the current propaganda of Al-Qaida and the Palestinians. For the present generation of readers we may note that the British definition of terrorism, applied to LEHI in the 1940s, has been petverted into its contemporary usage by al-Qaida to justify killing innocents whom it defines as enemies.

However, the ideological justification of the open warfare between the occupied and the occupier that produced such animosity between Palestinian Jews and the British still resonates to out own day. The sentiments expressed by the author and his recall of negative British attitudes toward the Jews of Eretz Israel may help us understand some of the blatant anti-Israel policies of the BBC, manifest also among elements of the British public and politicians. …