The Hunting Season
The Hunting Season or The Saison (Hebrew: הסזון, short for French: la saison de chasse) was the name given to the Haganah's suppression of the Irgun's insurgency against the government of the British Mandate in Palestine, November 1944 to February 1945.
At the break of World War II the Yishuv was torn between its fight against the British for free Aliyah and a Hebrew state, and the desire to join them against Nazi Germany. The Jewish Agency Chairman David Ben-Gurion called to "fight the war as if there was no White Paper and fight the White Paper as if there was no war". Indeed, by 1940 Irgun ceased its activities against the Mandate and sent its men to assist the British in several missions, one of which resulted in the death of its commander, David Raziel, in Iraq.
In 1943, as the tide was shifting in favor of the Allies, the Agency decided to assist the British in any possible way, hoping to gain political benefits after the war. The Irgun and Lehi opposed the decision, which resulted in a heated confrontation.
In the autumn of 1943 Lehi resumed its insurgencies against the British. Several months later, on February 1944, Irgun commander Menachem Begin declared a “Revolt” against the British Mandate, stating that the British had betrayed the Yishuv’s trust and that denial of Jewish immigration was a crime. Therefore, Irgun announced its intention to fight the British in order to drive them out of the Land of Israel. Ben Gurion and the Agency objected and started a public struggle to force the Irgun and Lehi to cease such activities.
Between February and November 1944 the parties negotiated but to no avail. In addition to the British issue, there was also a question of the Agency’s authority to rule unelected. The Agency's leadership regarded the issue as an important power struggle and the Haganah forces started preparing for a possible armed conflict.
On November 6, 1944 Lehi members Eliyahu Hakim and Eliyahu Bet-Zuri assassinated the British Resident Minister of state, Lord Moyne. This was the last straw as far as the Agency was concerned, and it made a series of decisions to curb Irgun and Lehi:
- Firing suspects of membership from workplaces and expelling them from schools.
- Denial of members of shelter and sanctuary.
- Withholding funds for their activities
- Cooperation with the British struggle against them.
Haganah leaders placed in charge included Yigal Allon, Moshe Dayan, Yisrael Galili, Moshe Sneh, Yaakov Dori, Eliyahu Golomb and Teddy Kollek. A special force was made out of Palmah and SHAI men, some of whom were specifically trained for the mission. It was commanded by Shimon Avidan.
The Saison unit began following Irgun members for reconnaissance. A list of Irgun donors that was found was handed over to the British. Unit squadrons arrested Irgun members in hiding places in Kibbutzim (Ein Harod, Mishmar HaEmek and Alonim, among others). Irgun vice commander Ya'akov Meridor was even handed over to the British while Yaakov Tavin, the head of the Irgun intelligence, was held in solitary confinement at Ein Harod for about six months. Some testimonies suggested violent inquisitions and severe internment conditions. In addition to the kidnappings, dozens of Irgun members and supporters were fired from their jobs and students were expelled from educational institutions.
The Irgun refused to cease action against the British. Begin ordered his men not to react violently in order to prevent a "fraternal war". At that point the conflict worsened as the Agency ordered the Haganah to hand Irgun men to the British. Obedience to that order was purely voluntary, and some Haganah members were relieved of their duties for refusing to go along with it. Nevertheless, there was partial cooperation between the Agency's "department for special tasks" and the Palestine Police in the struggle against the Irgun.
During the Saison, the “department for special tasks" provided the British with information regarding several hundred Irgun members and armories. The transfer of information was conducted mostly by Kollek, who had direct contact with MI5. Thanks to that information, several Irgun leaders and hundreds of its members were arrested and some were even deported to detainment camps in Africa (mostly in Eritrea). There is also evidence suggesting that the Agency used the Saison for political motives, naming members of the Revisionist Party who weren’t Irgun members. A letter from the High Commissioner to the Minister of Colonies dating March 1, 1945, read: "Unfortunately, the Jewish Agency's lists of so-called terrorists continues to include numerous people who have no terror connections, but politically speaking are undesirable to the Jewish Agency. This adds to the difficulties the police has in separating the sheep from the goats [...]”
Despite the efforts, Begin’s hiding place wasn’t found. Still, the Irgun was severely struck by the Saison and by the end of February, 1945, its main aim – ceasing action against the British – was achieved. Subsequently, protests increased among the Yishuv against the Saison and by the end of March the Agency aborted it. In May 1945 the Irgun resumed its activities against the British, although to a lesser extent. In late October 1945 the Jewish Resistance Movement was established, joining Haganah, Irgun and Lehi together in a violent struggle against the British Mandate.
The "Little Saison"
The “Little Saison” refers to the actions committed by the Haganah in the spring and summer of 1947, meant to sabotage the Irgun and Lehi insurgencies against the British when Palestine was handed to the UN and UNSCOP. This time, the Haganah did not collaborate with the Mandate and didn’t hand people over.
The term is also used in reference to the actions by Irgun against Lehi in 1940, during the Avraham Stern split. The Irgun leadership gave the British the Lehi leaders’ hiding place and many of them were arrested.
The Saison is regarded as one of the biggest moments of crisis faced by the Yishuv, setting it as the brink of a civil war. Uri Avnery considered Begin's decision to restrain as one which prevented a violent conflict. The Saison was also seen as a decisive step in establishing the Jewish Agency’s position as the sole leader of the Yishuv. Some think the Agency’s hegemony made possible the establishment of the State of Israel without a violent sectarian struggle. It has also been seen as a “minor civil war” which vaccinated the Israeli society.
The Saison left its mark on the Israeli political discourse in the following decades. It is sometimes linked to the tension between Herut and Mapai, specifically between their respective leaders, Begin and Ben Gurion. Ben Gurion would address Begin as “The MK sitting to the right of MK Bader” and mention “the sacred cannon” which opened fire on the Altalena. He would also say "without Herut and Maki" in reference to his potential coalition parties.
The Saison was mentioned by the Israeli right in the context of Israel's unilateral disengagement plan, and parallels were also drawn between the Saison and the Hamas-Fatah conflict in the Israeli occupied territories.
- Statement by Ben Gurion in September 1939, quoted in James William Parkes (1947), A History of Palestine from 135 A.D. to Modern Times, p. 342
- Lapidot, Yehuda. "The "Hunting Season"". Retrieved 2008-01-08.
- Eric Silver, Begin, A Biography. 1984, ISBN 0-297-78399-8. Page 51: "His captors wanted information. In order to get it they were ready to beat him, suspend him from a wall, knock out his teeth, keep him chained in his own filth, and stage mock executions."
- Arens, Moshe (2007-04-12). "Add them to the Pantheon". Haaretz. Retrieved 2008-01-08.
- Andrew, Christopher (2009) The Defence of the Realm. The Authorized History of MI5. Allen Lane. ISBN 978-0-7139-9885-6. Pages 355,356.
- Lapidot, Yehuda. "Recovering from the Season". Daat. Retrieved 2008-01-08.
- Avnery, Uri (2003-06-03). "The Sacred Cannon". CounterPunch. Retrieved 2009-06-01.
- שגב, שרון; תמי רון. הריבועים והזיפים של ההגנה. Nana 10 (in Hebrew). Retrieved 2008-01-08.
- Kantor, Myles (2007-04-12). "A Culture of Repression". Arutz Sheva. Retrieved 2008-01-08.
- Avnery, Uri (2007-03-19). "Unity Government". ZNet. Retrieved 2008-01-08.
- לפידות, יהודה. ה"סזון" צייד אחים. Daat (in Hebrew). Retrieved 2008-01-10.