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A Haganah poster from the 1940s.
|Country||Yishuv, British Mandate of Palestine
Unified armed forces (post-independence)
|Role||Defense of Jewish settlements (pre-independence)|
|Engagements||Palestinian Arab revolt
World War II
Palestine Civil War
1948 Arab-Israeli War (for two weeks)
|Disbanded||May 28, 1948|
Haganah (Hebrew: הַהֲגָנָה, lit. The Defence) was a Jewish paramilitary organization in what was then the British Mandate of Palestine from 1920 to 1948, which later became the core of the Israel Defense Forces.
The predecessor of Haganah was Hashomer (Hebrew: השומר; "The Watchman") established in 1909, itself a successor of Bar-Giora, founded in 1907. The Bar-Giora consisted of a small group of Jewish immigrants who guarded settlements for an annual fee. At no time did the group have more than 100 members.
1920 and 1921 Arab riots
After the 1920 Arab riots and 1921 Jaffa riots, the Jewish leadership in Palestine believed that the British, to whom the League of Nations had given a mandate over Palestine in 1920, had no desire to confront local Arab gangs that frequently attacked Palestinian Jews. Believing that they could not rely on the British administration for protection from these gangs, the Jewish leadership created the Haganah to protect Jewish farms and kibbutzim. In addition to guarding Jewish communities, the role of the Haganah was to warn the residents of and repel attacks by Palestinian Arabs. In the period between 1920–1929, the Haganah lacked a strong central authority or coordination. Haganah "units" were very localized and poorly armed: they consisted mainly of Jewish farmers who took turns guarding their farms or their kibbutzim.
Following the 1929 Palestine riots, the Haganah's role changed dramatically. It became a much larger organization encompassing nearly all the youth and adults in the Jewish settlements, as well as thousands of members from the cities. It also acquired foreign arms and began to develop workshops to create hand grenades and simple military equipment, transforming from an untrained militia to a capable underground army.
1931 Irgun split
Many Haganah fighters objected to the official policy of havlagah (restraint) that Jewish political leaders (who had become increasingly controlling of the Haganah) had imposed on the militia. Fighters had been instructed to only defend communities and not initiate counterattacks against Arab gangs or their communities. This policy appeared defeatist to many who believed that the best defense is a good offense. In 1931, the more militant elements of the Haganah splintered off and formed the Irgun Tsva'i-Leumi (National Military Organization), better known as "Irgun" (or by its Hebrew acronym, pronounced "Etzel").
1936–1939 Arab revolt in Palestine
During the 1936–1939 Arab revolt in Palestine, the Haganah worked to protect British interests and to quell Arab rebellion using the FOSH, and then Hish units. At that time, the Haganah fielded 10,000 mobilized men along with 40,000 reservists. Although the British administration did not officially recognize the Haganah, the British security forces cooperated with it by forming the Jewish Settlement Police, Jewish Supernumerary Police and Special Night Squads, which were trained and led by Colonel Orde Wingate. The battle experience gained during the training was useful in the 1948 Arab–Israeli War.
1939 White Paper
By 1939, the British had issued the White Paper, which severely restricted Jewish immigration to Palestine, deeply angering the Zionist leadership. David Ben-Gurion, then chairman of the Jewish Agency, set the policy for the Zionist relationship with the British: We shall fight the war against Hitler as if there were no White Paper, and we shall fight the White Paper as if there were no war.
In reaction to the White Paper, the Haganah built up the Palmach as the Haganah's elite strike force and organized illegal Jewish immigration to Palestine. Approximately 100,000 Jews were brought to Palestine in over one hundred ships during the final decade of what became known as Aliyah Bet. The Haganah also organized demonstrations against British immigration quotas.
World War II participation
In 1940 the Haganah sabotaged the Patria, an ocean liner being used by the British to deport 1,800 Jews to Mauritius, with a bomb intended to cripple the ship. However the ship sank, killing 260.
In the first years of World War II, the British authorities asked Haganah for cooperation again, due to the fear of an Axis breakthrough in North Africa. After Rommel was defeated at El Alamein in 1942, the British stepped back from their all-out support for Haganah. In 1943, after a long series of requests and negotiations, the British Army announced the creation of the Jewish Brigade Group. While Palestinian Jews had been permitted to enlist in the British army since 1940, this was the first time an exclusively Jewish military unit served in the war under a Jewish flag. The Jewish Brigade Group consisted of 5,000 soldiers and was initially deployed with the 8th Army in North Africa and later in Italy in September 1944. The brigade was disbanded in 1946. All in all, more than 30,000 Palestinian Jews served in the British army during the war.
On May 14, 1941, the Haganah created the Palmach (an acronym for Plugot Mahatz—strike companies), an elite commando section, in preparation against the possibility of a British withdrawal and Axis invasion of Palestine. Its members, young men and women, received specialist training in guerilla tactics and sabotage. During 1942 the British gave assistance in the training of Palmach volunteers but in early 1943 they withdrew their support and attempted to disarm them. The Palmach, then numbering over 1,000, continued as an underground organisation with its members working half of each month as kibbutz volunteers, the rest of the month spent training. It was never large—by 1947 it amounted to merely five battalions (about 2,000 men)—but its members had not only received physical and military training, but also acquired leadership skills that would subsequently enable them to take up command positions in Israel's army.
1944 Lord Moyne assassination
In 1944, after the assassination of Lord Moyne, (the British Minister of State for the Middle East), by members of the Lehi, the Haganah worked with the British to kidnap, interrogate, and in some cases, deport Irgun members. This action was called The Saison, or hunting season, and was directed against the Irgun and not the Lehi. Future Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek was later revealed to be the Jewish Agency liaison officer with the British authorities and he had passed on information that led to the arrest of many Irgun activists.
Many Jewish youth, who had joined the Haganah in order to defend the Jewish people, were greatly demoralized by operations against their own people. The Irgun, paralyzed by the Saison, were ordered by their commander, Menachem Begin, not to retaliate in an effort to avoid a full blown civil war. Although many Irgunists objected to these orders, they obeyed Begin and refrained from fighting back. The Saison eventually ended due to perceived British betrayal of the Yishuv becoming more obvious to the public and increased opposition from Haganah members.
Post World War II
The Saison officially ended when the Haganah, Irgun and the Lehi formed the Jewish Resistance Movement, in 1945. Within this new framework, the three groups agreed to operate under a joint command. They had different functions, which served to drive the British out of Palestine and create a Jewish state.
The Haganah was less active in the Jewish Rebellion than the other two groups, but the Palmach did carry out anti-British operations, including a raid on the Atlit detainee camp that released 208 illegal immigrants, the Night of the Trains, the Night of the Bridges, and attacks on Palestine Police bases. The Haganah withdrew on 1 July 1946, but "remained permanently unco-operative" with the British authorities. It continued to organize illegal Jewish immigration as part of the Aliyah Bet program, in which ships carrying illegal immigrants attempted to breach the British blockade of Palestine and land illegal immigrants on the shore (most were intercepted by the Royal Navy), and the Palmach performed operations against British to support the illegal immigration program. The Palmach repeatedly bombed British radar stations being used to track illegal immigrant ships, and sabotaged British ships being used to deport illegal immigrants, as well as two British landing and patrol craft. The Palmach performed a single assassination operation in which a British official who had been judged to be excessively cruel to Jewish prisoners was shot dead. The Haganah also organized the Birya affair. Following the expulsion of the residents of the Jewish settlement of Birya for illegal weapons possession, thousands of Jewish youth organized by the Haganah marched to the site and rebuilt the settlement. They were expelled by British shortly afterward while showing passive resistance, but after they returned a third time, the British backed off and allowed them to remain.
In addition to its operations, the Haganah continued to secretly prepare for a war with the Arabs once the British left by building up its arms and munitions stocks. It maintained a secret arms industry, with the most significant facility being an underground bullet factory underneath Ayalon, a kibbutz that had been established specifically to cover it up.
British estimates of the Haganah's strength at this time were a paper strength of 75,000 men and women with an effective strength of 30,000. After the British army, the Haganah was considered the most powerful military force in the Middle East.
In July 1947, eager to maintain order with the visit of UNSCOP to Palestine and under heavy pressure from the British authorities to resume collaboration, the Jewish Agency reluctantly came into brief conflict with the Irgun and Lehi, and ordered the Haganah to put a stop to the operations of the other two groups for the time being. As Palmach members refused to participate, a unit of about 200 men from regular Haganah units was mobilized, and foiled several operations against the British, including a potentially devastating attack on the British military headquarters at Citrus House in Tel Aviv, in which a Haganah member was killed by an Irgun bomb. The Haganah also joined the search for two British sergeants abducted by the Irgun as hostages against the death sentences of three Irgun members in what became known as the Sergeants' affair. The Jewish Agency leadership feared the damage this act would do to the Jewish cause, and also believed that holding the hostages would only jeopardize the fates of the three condemned Irgun members. The attempts to free the sergeants failed, and following the executions of the three Irgun members, the two sergeants were killed and hanged in a eucalyptus grove. However, the campaign soon disintegrated into a series of retaliatory abductions and beatings of each other's members by the Haganah and Irgun, and eventually petered out. The campaign was dubbed the "Little Season" by the Irgun.
War for Independence
After the British announced they would withdraw from Palestine, and the United Nations approved the partition of Palestine, the 1947-48 Civil War in Mandatory Palestine broke out. The Haganah played the leading role in the Yishuv's war with the Palestinian Arabs. Initially, it concentrated on defending Jewish areas from Arab raids, but after the danger of British intervention subsided as the British withdrew, the Haganah went on the offensive and seized more territory. Following the Israeli Declaration of Independence and the start of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War on May 15, 1948, the Haganah, now the army of the new state, engaged the invading armies of the surrounding Arab states.
On May 28, 1948, less than two weeks after the creation of the state of Israel on May 15, the provisional government created the Israel Defense Forces, merging the Haganah, Irgun, and Lehi, although the other two groups continued to operate independently in Jerusalem and abroad for some time after. The re-organisation led to several conflicts between Ben-Gurion and the Haganah leadership, including what was known as The Generals' Revolt and the dismantling of the Palmach.
Some Bedouins had longstanding ties with nearby Jewish communities. They helped defend these communities in the 1936–1939 Arab revolt in Palestine. During the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, some Bedouins of Tuba formed an alliance with the Haganah defending Jewish communities in the Upper Galilee against Syria. Some were part of a Pal-Heib unit of the Haganah. Sheik Hussein Mohammed Ali Abu Yussef of Tuba was quoted in 1948 as saying, "Is it not written in the Koran that the ties of neighbors are as dear as those of relations? Our friendship with the Jews goes back many years. We felt we could trust them and they learned from us too".
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- "The Role of Jewish Defense Organizations in Palestine (1903-1948)". Jewish Virtual Library.
- Freund, Gabriel; Sahar, Raz (30 May 2013). "Defending the nation for 65 years". IDF Spokesperson.
- Yigal Allon, Sword of Zion. ISBN 978-0-297-00133-1. pp. 116, 117.
- Allon, pp. 125, 126.
- Allon, p. 127.
- Andrew, Christopher (2009) The Defence of the Realm. The Authorized History of MI5. Allen Lane. ISBN 978-0-7139-9885-6. pp. 355, 356.
- Bell, Bowyer J.: Terror out of Zion>
- Horne, Edward (1982). A Job Well Done (Being a History of The Palestine Police Force 1920–1948). The Anchor Press. ISBN 978-0-9508367-0-6. pp. 272, 288, 289
- Ben-Yehuda, Nachman: Political Assassinations by Jews: A Rhetorical Device for Justice, pages 227-229
- How a fake kibbutz was built to hide a bullet factory
- Horne. p. 288, 289.
- The birth of Israel: Long, long road, economist.com.
- Hoffman, Bruce: Anonymous Soldiers (2015)
- Palestine Post, "Israel's Bedouin Warriors", Gene Dison, August 12, 1948
- Bregman, Ahron. Israel's Wars: A History Since 1947. London: Routledge, 2002. ISBN 978-0-415-28716-6.
- Niv, David. The Irgun Tsva'i Leumi. Jerusalem: World Zionist Organization (Department for Education and Culture), 1980.
- "Text of the British White Paper Linking Jewish Agency to Zionist Terrorism in Palestine," The New York Times, July 25, 1946, p. 8.
- Zadka, Dr. Saul. Blood in Zion, How the Jewish Guerrillas drove the British out of Palestine. London: Brassey's, 1995. ISBN 978-1-85753-136-7.
- Jim G. Tobias, Peter Zinke. Nakam — Jüdische Rache an NS-Tätern. Konkret Literatur Verlag, Hamburg 2000. 173 Seiten, ISBN 978-3-89458-194-7 (German, about 1944–1947)
- Bergman, Ronen. "Kollek was British informer". Ynet news. March 29, 2007. 
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Haganah.|
- Official Haganah website
- The Haganah, from the Jewish Virtual Library
- Lexicon of Zionism: Haganah (Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
- The Haganah: History of the Israeli Underground Defense force, by the ZIIC
- From Hashomer to the Israel Defense Forces Armed Jewish Defense in Palestine, by Me'ir Pa'il