Havlagah (Hebrew: ההבלגה, "The Restraint") was a strategic policy used by the Haganah members with regard to actions taken against Arab groups who were attacking the Jewish settlements during the British Mandate of Palestine. Its core principles were fortification and abstention from taking revenge on Arabs by attacking innocent civilians. The political leadership and many leftwing Zionist groups supported the Havlagah policy.
Many of the Zionist leadership saw Havlagah as a moral policy and a source of pride for the Jews.
Jewish National Council of Palestine
The Jewish National Council posted an announcement with their opinion of Havlagah:
Not with pouring innocent blood our holies' blood would be forgiven, but with new methods to promote our project and a never ending aiming at new actions for our freedom. For our deep sorrow Jerusalem had seen revenge actions at Arabs, which had stained the honor of the Jewish settlement and put in danger the peace of Jerusalem. The national council gathering... horrified about these crimes, subverting the moral basics of Judaism and Zionism, spreading hatred in this region's nations and can bring a tragedy for the Jewish settlement and the whole land.
Workers Party of the Land of Israel
Havlagah means, our weapon will be pure. We learn weapon, we carry weapon, we resist those who come to attack us, but we do not want our weapon to be stained with blood of innocents... Havlagah is both a political and a moral system, caused by our history and reality, our behavior and the conditions of our fight. If we were not loyal to ourselves and adopted a different strategy, we would have lost the fight a long time ago.— Berl Katznelson
David Ben-Gurion, another leader of Mapai, supported the Havlagah for more practical reasons. He noted that the restraint will bring good relations with Britain and a positive sentiment to the Zionist ideology in the world, which will help the efforts for Jewish settlement:
For political reasons we should not act like the Arabs... The Arabs are fighting England, and their political interest is to fight England because they want to banish it from the land they believe belongs to them. We do not wish to banish England, on the contrary, we want to get it closer to this land, attract it, make it purchase this land and help us return to the Land of Israel.— David Ben-Gurion
Chief Rabbinate of Israel
We are now standing in a very hard position... I said to one man who came to argue with me; If I will be shot and become a moribund, I would command all of Israel and the Yishuv to be careful and to abstain any revenge actions. We should not learn the way of the violent non-Jews. What have we reached for two years? A great achievement, Kiddush Hashem, and here in the Land of Israel the Yishuv showed for two years a pure spirit, gave an expression for this Jewish institute, yes this is a great achievement...— Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog
Irgun members, acting against the Arab aggression and violating the Jewish settlement's decision, referred to themselves as "Havlagah breakers". Their vision was attacking for self-defense. Also, Irgun's policy led revenge actions against innocent Arabs, as a response to the Arab terrorism.
... I have mentioned the word "Havlagah", a rare word, never heard before in modern, every-day-life Hebrew language in the Land of Israel. It seems this word is now the most common and hated word in the Land of Israel... The Jews should not distort the facts and complain. In the Land of Israel there are young political activists from the left and the right who are not afraid to clash with British soldiers, who are forcing them to act like cowards. They do not fear about their own lives, they fear for the destruction of the 1917 Balfour declaration and the violation of the alliance between England and Jewish people... Any indigenous people will fight foreign settlers as long as they believe there is a chance to get rid of the foreign settlement danger. This is how the Arabs in the Land of Israel are acting and will act in the future, as long as they have the spark in their hearts that they could stop the transformation of Palestine into the Land of Israel... Therefore our settlement can (only) grow under a force which is not dependent upon the local population, behind an "iron wall" that the local population could not break.— Ze'ev Jabotinsky
The Arab terrorism and its loyal friend; the Jewish restraint, created a situation in which a Jew must avoid many jobs because death was waiting for him on the roads, while an Arab could go anywhere he wants in freedom and do everything he wishes, even in a pure Jewish environment. That is how the Jews' financial lives suffered while the Arabs continued with their normal lives and normal jobs. Defensive actions only will never bring victory. If the purpose of war is breaking the enemy's spirit, it is impossible without breaking his power, so it is obvious that defensive actions only are not enough... All these calculations lead to one conclusion: one who does not want to be defeated has no option but attack... he should storm his enemy and break his power and desire. Before the enemy will do his attack, he must neutralize the enemy's ability to attack...— David Raziel
Part of a proclamation 5 months before the 1948 Arab-Israeli War:
"End the passive self-defense! We shall go to the killers' nests and eliminate them! We do not have a quarrel with the Arab people. We seek peace with the near-by nations. But we will cut off the hands of murderers with no mercy. And the murderers are not only inflamed Arab rioters, they are also – or mostly – the emissaries of Nazi sympathizers in Britain."
Ariel Sharon, shortly after his election as Israeli Prime Minister in the 2001 elections, expressed an unexpected response to the Palestinian terrorism, declaring that "Restraint is Power". In the first two weeks of Sharon's leadership, 20 Israeli civilians were killed by terrorist attacks and Sharon suffered serious criticism from fellow Likud members, such as Benjamin Netanyahu. In this period the terrorist attacks against Israel (such as the Dolphinarium massacre) escalated. In Sharon's February 2002 national speech he said:
I know it is not easy to speak in these days, but continue to be patient. I said restraint is power and I say today – insistence is power too. We have already proved that. It is hard for us – for me – but I request you to continue with this (the restraint). The financial situation and the security situation are not easy, but together, and together only, we can overcome it.— Ariel Sharon
Shortly after March 2002, when 130 Israeli civilians were killed by terrorist attacks, Israel commenced Operation Defensive Shield.