Historical Dictionary of the British Empire

By James S. Olson; Robert S. Shadle | Go to book overview
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HAGANAH. Formed in 1920, the Haganah (Hebrew for "defense") was an underground Zionist* military organization, dedicated to protecting Jewish settlements in Palestine.* Originally, the Haganah limited itself strictly to defensive measures, but, by 1936, the Haganah had expanded its operations to include occasional preemptive strikes. In 1938, the British allowed the Haganah to arm itself legally, so that the Palestinian Jews could help crush the Arab rebellion. The government organized special constabulary units, under the command of the unorthodox Captain (later General) Orde Wingate*; these "Special Night Squads" were composed largely of members of the Haganah. When World War "began, the Haganah cooperated fully with Britain, and it encouraged Palestinian Jews to join the British army. Altogether, some 43,000 Palestinian Jews saw service in British units during the war, and these veterans would later prove highly useful to the Haganah during Israel's 1947-1948 war for independence.

After the war, to protest British restrictions on Jewish immigration to Palestine, the Haganah conducted a terrorist campaign against Britain; unlike the rival Jewish terrorist groups, the Irgun* and the Stern Gang,* the Haganah generally hit strictly military targets and attempted to minimize casualties. When the United Nations* voted to partition Palestine in 1947, the Haganah assumed responsibility for protecting Israel. Due to the small number of Jews in Palestine compared to Arabs, the Haganah had, from its beginnings, recruited women as well as men; even so, the Haganah could field only some 60,000 soldiers during the war for independence. Ultimately, this small but well-trained force succeeded against the larger Arab forces. In May 1948, the Israeli government dissolved the Haganah and replaced it with the Israeli Defense Forces.

REFERENCES: Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre, O Jerusalem, 1972; KoestlerArthur

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