The Irgun: How Israel originally adopted its militant actions and ideology

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The Irgun was a pivotal player during Israel’s pre-state era. Operating within the British Mandate and persisting until Israel's establishment in 1948, it was branded a terrorist organization by British authorities, engaging in a spectrum of violence targeting Palestinians, British soldiers, and Jews alike, according to Khaberni.

The Irgun's full Hebrew name translates to "The National Military Organization in the Land of Israel." Established in 1931 under Avraham Tehomi's leadership, its emblem featured a hand holding a rifle, symbolizing its militant stance in historical Palestine and Jordan.

Over the years between 1931 and 1948, the Irgun carried out dozens of terrorist operations, resulting in the deaths of thousands of Palestinians. However, their violence extended beyond Palestinians to include British soldiers and even some Jews. Some of which include:

  • On July 4, 1938, the organization executed terrorist attacks in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, resulting in the deaths of 5 people and injuries to 20 others.
  • On July 6, 1938, an Irgun member disguised in Arab attire placed several booby-trapped milk cans in a market in Haifa. The explosion killed 23 people and injured 75 others.
  • On July 25, 1938, a similar operation was carried out in Jerusalem, resulting in the killing of 10 people and injuries to 29 others. Members of the organization Irgun executed a terrorist act in Haifa, claiming the lives of 39 individuals and injuring 46. Most of the victims were women and children.
  • On July 22, 1946, the Irgun committed a major crime by detonating an explosion at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, killing 91 people, mostly Palestinians, along with individuals of various other nationalities.
  • On December 29, 1947, the Irgun carried out the Bab Al-Amoud massacre in occupied Jerusalem, where its members hurled a barrel of explosives, resulting in the killing of 14 Palestinians and injuries to 27 others.
  • On December 30, 1947, Irgun members threw a bomb from a speeding car in Jerusalem, causing an explosion and the killing of 11 Palestinian citizens.
  • Then, on March 1, 1948, the Irgun demolished the British Officers' Club in Jerusalem, killing 11 British individuals. The organization justified this operation as retaliation for three of its members who had been sentenced to death by the British in February 1948.
  • On June 27, 1948, Swedish diplomat Count Folke Bernadotte proposed his peace plan, which included keeping all of Jerusalem under Arab sovereignty and allowing the return of Palestinian refugees who had fled the conflict or been expelled by the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF), along with the restoration of their properties. These proposals angered Zionists, leading the Irgun and the Stern Gang to agree to assassinate Count Bernadotte. The assassination was carried out on September 17, 1948.
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However, it was Ze'ev Jabotinsky who shaped the Irgun's ideology and rooted it in Revisionist Zionism. Leaders like Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir, who later became Israeli prime ministers, were prominent figures who aligned with Jabotinsky's principles.

The expansionist ideas of the Irgun, influenced by Jabotinsky, are rooted in the belief that historical Israel encompasses all of Palestine, eastern Jordan, and even parts of Iraq up to the Euphrates River. It extends westward to include the entire Sinai Desert and southward to cover the Hijaz region of the Arabian Peninsula.

Jabotinsky's Revisionist Zionist movement, dating back to 1923 with the Betar youth movement in Riga, Latvia, laid the ideological groundwork. The Irgun's split from the Haganah in 1931 stemmed from discontent with British restrictions on dealing with Palestinian rebels and immigration limitations, fueling Palestinian resentment.

Secret support from Poland since 1936 aimed to facilitate Jewish immigration to Palestine and alleviate poverty among certain Jewish groups. Tehomi's belief in "political violence and terrorism" led the British government to designate the Irgun as a terrorist organization in 1931.

From 1938, the Irgun actively organized secret Jewish immigration to Palestine. Menachem Begin assumed leadership in 1943, propelling the organization into a period marked by massacres like Deir Yassin.

Jabotinsky's vision emphasized mass Jewish immigration to Palestine through armed resistance, forming the nucleus for the Zionist army. His Iron Wall concept epitomized a right-wing, expansionist perspective that viewed Arabs as obstacles to Jewish aspirations.

Despite controversies, on September 1948, the Irgun was integrated into the IOF. David Ben-Gurion, the Prime Minister of Israel at the time, honored Irgun leaders in November 1968 for their leadership role in establishing the State of Israel. Thus cementing its role in Israel's establishment.

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