Night of the Beatings

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The Night of the Beating (Hebrew: ליל ההלקאות‎‎) refers to an action taken by the Irgun on December 29, 1946 in the British Mandate of Palestine, in which several British soldiers were flogged in response to a similar punishment inflicted upon an Irgun member.

Background[edit]

Irgun poster warning the British not to carry out the flogging punishment.

On December 13, 1946 the Irgun robbed a bank in Jaffa. Three of the perpetrators - Benjamin Nes, Eliezer Sudit and seventeen years old Benjamin Kimkhi - were caught and tried a few days later. Nes and Sudit were convicted of robbery and illegal possession of firearms and were given long sentences, while Kimkhi was also convicted of discharging a firearm with intent to endanger life. He refused to recognize the British courts jurisdiction and was sentenced to an eighteen-year imprisonment and eighteen lashes. Twelve lashes was also the punishment given to another Irgun member, Aharon Katz, for possession of propaganda material.[1]

Upon notification about the punishment, the Irgun headquarters convened and decided that such a "humiliating" punishment was not to be tolerated. It published a warning, in Hebrew and English, to the British authorities not to carry out the flogging, threatening to do the same to British officers.

On Saturday, December 28, Kimkhi was lashed eighteen times.[2]

The Action[edit]

Irgun poster threatening to respond "with fire" to further lashing punishments.

After Kimkhi's sentence was carried out, armed Irgun squads were sent into the streets of Jewish cities throughout Palestine, with orders to abduct and flog British soldiers.

In Netanya, armed Irgun men broke into the Hotel Metropole where they found Major Paddy Brett sitting with his wife in the lounge. He was whisked away from the hotel, led to a eucalyptus grove, where he was stripped to his underwear, had his "sentence" read out to him, and was given eighteen lashes. His trousers were confiscated for future use by the Irgun, and he was returned to the hotel still in his underwear. At Cafe Theresa in Rishon LeZion, Irgun fighters seized a British sergeant-major who had been dancing with a local girl, and flogged him the street. In Tel Aviv, two sergeants were kidnapped in front of a hotel, tied to a tree in a public park, and lashed eighteen times each. Two other soldiers were caught in northern part of the city and suffered eighteen lashes as well.[2][3][4][5][6]

The unprecedented incident caused an outrage in Britain and prompted a strong hand policy.[7] The flogging punishment was later abolished, but capital punishment was introduced.[1][7]

From 22:00 to 1:00 army cars drove around the streets of Tel Aviv and ordered the soldiers of the 6th Airborne Division to return to their bases. From Lod to Netanya, loudspeakers ordered the soldiers to return to their camps.[4]

The British Army launched a large cordon and search operation in the Karton Quarter of Tel Aviv, and in Netanya, Petah Tikva and Rishon LeZion, to hunt for the perpetrators, placing curfews and questioning thousands of people. In the Kfar Saba area, roadblocks were set and a car transporting five armed Irgun men (carrying a whip) was caught. One of them, Avraham Mizrahi, was killed when fire was opened at the car, while four others - Eliezer Kashani, Mordechai Alkahi, Yehiel Dresner, and Haim Golevsky - were captured. [8]

Trial and Execution[edit]

After Kashani, Alkahi, Dresner and Golevsky were captured, they were held in a British paratroopers' camp, during which they were repeatedly subjected to severe beatings and humiliations. After five days, they were transferred to the Central Prison in Jerusalem.

On February 10, 1947, the trial of the four took place before a military court. They were tried on capital charges. They refused to participate in the proceedings, and denied the authority of the court to judge them. When given the opportunity to speak in their defense, they made defiant statements to the court. After ninety minutes, all four were convicted. Alkahi, Dresner, and Kashani were sentenced to death, while Golevsky was sentenced to life in prison, as he was 17: too young for the death penalty under British law. Upon hearing their sentences, the four stood and began singing Hatikvah.

The three men were taken back to Jerusalem Central Prison, where they joined Dov Gruner on death row. The Palestine High Court rejected an appeal on their behalf filed by their attorney Max Seligman, and General Evelyn Barker, the commander of British military forces in Palestine, confirmed the sentences on the day his term expired and he left Palestine.[9] The action shocked the Yishuv (Jewish community in Palestine), and the municipality of Petah Tikva, from where Alkahi and two others were from, organized a petition on their behalf signed by 800 residents. However, the condemned men themselves reprimanded the petitioners in a public statement.

On April 15, the three men and Gruner were transferred to Acre Prison in strict secrecy, and on the early morning of April 16, all were executed by hanging. All went to the gallows signing Hatikvah, and were joined by the other Jewish prisoners. In violation of British custom, no rabbi was present at the executions.

Aftermath[edit]

The British authorities decided not to permit the men to have a traditional Jewish burial, or to grant their final request that they be buried in Rosh Pinna, near the grave of Shlomo Ben-Yosef. Rather, the bodies were taken to Safed in a convoy that included tanks and armored cars, and buried in the cemetery there. Neither the chevra kadisha nor the families were informed, and the British would guard the graves for months afterward to prevent the Irgun from secretly exhuming the bodies and fulfilling their wishes to be buried in Rosh Pinna. The executions were announced, and a curfew was imposed on the country. Hundreds of Jews defied the curfew and to come out onto the streets of Safed and marched to the cemetery. The executions were condemned by Jewish communities around the world, and American priests organized memorial services for them.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Lapidot, Yehuda. האצ"ל בחיפה ה"אדומה". Daat (in Hebrew). Retrieved 2008-03-06. 
  2. ^ a b "British Rule in Palestine (1918-1947)". Jewish Virtual Library. Retrieved 2008-03-06. 
  3. ^ "Kidnappings, Beatings, Murders and Hangings". Retrieved 2008-01-15. 
  4. ^ a b בוגרי האצ"ל ציינו 60 לליל ההלקאות. Arutz Sheva (in Hebrew). 2007-01-03. Retrieved 2008-03-08. 
  5. ^ Shilon, Avi: Menachem Begin
  6. ^ Gordis, Daniel: Menachem Begin: The Battle for Israel's Soul
  7. ^ a b Bagon, Paul (2003). "The Impact of the Jewish Underground upon Anglo Jewry: 1945-1947". St Antony’s College, University of Oxford. Retrieved 2008-01-15. 
  8. ^ "Un-British". Time Magazine. 1947-04-28. Retrieved 2008-03-06. 
  9. ^ Uncredited, "Renewed violence marks Sabbath in Holy Land". Associated Press via the Globe and Mail, February 17, 1947, p. 1.