Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Hamas: A Pale Image of the Jewish Irgun and Lehi Gangs

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Hamas: A Pale Image of the Jewish Irgun and Lehi Gangs

Article excerpt

As easy as it is to dismiss clichés as banal and misleading, the troubling problem is that they often cloak an essential truth. Scoffs and derision often greet the cliché that "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter." Yet freedom fighters is exactly how Israelis view the early Zionists who fought in 1947 for the establishment of Israel-and how Palestinians now consider their fighters resisting Israeli occupation.

The reality is that when faced with a superior military force, such as Britain possessed in 1947 and Israel does today against the Palestinians, terror is the underdog's only viable weapon. Once a state has been established and legitimized, however, as in the cases of Israel and South Africa, the former "terrorists" tend to gain a veil of legitimacy as well. But legitimacy is now being denied Hamas. Even though Palestinians elected a Hamas-led government in free and fair elections, Israel denies it legitimacy on the grounds that Hamas is a terrorist organization.

Sixty years ago, however, at the time of the British Mandate, it was Jews in Palestine who mainly waged terrorism against the Palestinians. As Jewish leader David Ben-Gurion recorded in his personal history of Israel: "From 1946 to 1947 there were scarcely any Arab attacks on the Yishuv [the Jewish community in Palestine]."

The same could not be said for the Zionists. Jewish terrorists waged an intense and bloody campaign against the Palestinians, British, and even some Jews who opposed them leading up to the establishment of Israel.

The two major Jewish terror organizations in pre-independence Palestine were the Irgun Zvai Leumi-National Military Organization, NMO, also known by the Hebrew letters Etzel-founded in 1937, and the Lohamei Herut Israel, Fighters for the Freedom of Israel, Lehi in the Hebrew acronym, also known as the Stern Gang after its leader Avraham Stern, known as Yair, founded in 1940.

The Irgun was led by Menachem Begin, the future Israeli prime minister who was a leading proponent of Revisionist Zionism, the militant branch of Zionism pioneered by Vladimir Zeev Jabotinsky, which openly despised the Arabs and sought restoration of what it called Eretz Yisrael, the ancient land of Israel. By this was meant "both sides of the Jordan," the Irgun slogan meaning all of Palestine and Jordan was the rightful home of the Jews.

Another belief of Begin's was that of the "fighting Jew," a romanticized idea expressed in Jabotinsky's old Betar movement song of "we shall create, with sweat and blood, a race of men, strong, brave and cruel." Israeli scholar Avishai Margalit translated the verse as "proud, generous and cruel," adding: "Many are still waiting for the generous part to emerge."

The Irgun was the dominant Jewish terrorist organization, both in size and the number and frequency of its attacks. Its most spectacular feat up to this time had been the July 22, 1946 blowing up of the King David hotel in Jerusalem, with the killing of 91 people-41 Arabs, 28 British and 17 Jews. Mainstream Zionists despised Begin and his Revisionists, although there was cooperation between the two on military matters. Ben-Gurion, the leader of mainstream Zionism, fought throughout his premiership with Begin.

The other major Jewish terrorist group, Lehi, was more extremist than the Irgun, claiming all the land between the Nile and the Euphrates as belonging to the Jews. …

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