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Turning terrorists into "heroes"

This is a revised version of the original article posted on Monday 20th September 2010

Celebrations have taken place in Israel to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Hagana, the Jewish paramilitary organisation which paved the way for the establishment of the state of Israel and the Israeli Defence Forces. A headline in the Jewish Chronicle refers to "the generation that established Israel" above a photograph of some elderly veterans rather sadly wearing military uniforms.

Describing the veterans as the "heroes of Israel", the IDF's Chief of General Staff, Gabi Ashkenazi, is quoted by the JC, saying, "You were the ones to pave the way for the IDF as the army of the Jewish people, and as a body that can promise to the world 'never again'", a pointed reference to the Holocaust.

The past few years have seen many celebrations of the diminishing band of survivors from the First and Second World Wars. History is written by the victors, and it is true to say that the exploits of Allied troops in both world wars were not entirely devoid of unacceptable actions long since covered up and forgotten about by official historians. While not exactly a whitewash, it has had the same effect. The same is true of the Hagana "heroes", to the extent that it is surprising that a British-based publication can laud an organisation which first cooperated with (including receiving training by British officers) and then agitated and fought against British Mandate rule in Palestine.

And that's not all; once the British were effectively out of the picture as the main stumbling block to the creation of the state of Israel, the Hagana turned its not inconsiderable military skills and manpower (up to 80,000 well-trained and armed soldiers) against the largely civilian Palestinian population. The result was what Israeli historian Ilan Pappe has called "The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine". (One World Publishing, 2006)

Ostensibly formed to defend early Jewish settlements in Palestine, by 1939 the Hagana was helping to organise illegal Jewish immigration to Palestine. Post-Second World War it joined with two more extreme splinter groups, Irgun and Lehi ("the Stern Gang") to form the "Jewish Resistance Movement". It was the Stern Gang which assassinated Lord Moyne, the British Minister for the Middle East, in 1944. The Hagana and its elite Palmach commando unit, along with the Stern Gang and Irgun, carried out numerous terrorist acts against British governmental installations across Palestine between 1944 and 1947, including the following:

Haifa district

12 Feb 1944 Immigration offices bombed

27 Feb 1944 Tax offices bombed

23 Mar 1944 Police station bombed

25 July 1945 Railway bridge bombed

31 Oct 1945 Police launches mined in harbour

9 Sep 1946 British policeman killed

21 Mar 1947 Oil refineries destroyed

26 Apr 1947 Head of British CID killed

Tel Aviv and Jaffa district

23 Mar 1944 Police station bombed

25 Apr 1946 Seven British soldiers killed in arms raid

2-17 Mar 1947 Martial law imposed; 14 Britons killed

Nathanya district

29 Dec 1946 British army officer captured and flogged

29 July 1947 Two British army sergeants hanged; their bodies were booby-trapped

Jerusalem district

12 Feb 1944 Immigration and tax offices bombed

23 Mar 1944 Police station bombed

27 Sep 1944 Four police stations attacked

29 Sep 1944 British policeman killed

27 Dec 1944 Police HQ attacked

22 July 1946 King David Hotel bombed; 91 killed

24 Oct 1946 Bombs explode at roadblocks around the city

30 Oct 1946 Suitcase bomb left at railway station


6 Nov 1944 Lord Moyne assassinated


31 Oct 1945 Several hundred bombs exploded on railways all over Palestine

10 June 1946 Three trains destroyed

16 June 1946 Eight railway bridges destroyed around the borders of Palestine

  • Source: Guerrilla Warfare from 1939 to the present day, Robin Corbett

Although efforts have been made to distance the Hagana from the overtly terrorist activities of Irgun and the Stern Gang, Robin Corbett claims that "Zionist armed resistance… included the much larger, nut more moderate, Hagana self-defence force [sic]". David Ben-Gurion "insisted" to the British and American Governments that "his Jewish Agency and the Hagana were opposed to the Irgun and its terrorism". According to Alan Hart in Zionism: The real enemy of the Jews, this was plainly not true: "The truth was not only that the Hagana and so the Jewish Agency were colluding with the terrorists. After initially saying "No" to Operation Chick – the codename for the plan to blow up the King David Hotel – the Hagana ordered the Irgun to execute it." Ben-Gurion, of course, went on to become Israel's first Prime Minister; the brains behind the bombing of the hotel, in which 91 people were killed, Menachim Begin, was one of Ben-Gurion's successors at the helm of Israeli politics. To his dying day Begin was wanted by the British authorities for terrorist crimes, as was another ex-Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Shamir, a leading figure in the Stern Gang; for this reason, neither ever visited the UK. In a foretaste of things to come, money was donated "by organisations… across America to support illegal Jewish immigration into Palestine and to raise funds for Zionist terrorism". (Hart, volume 1, page 193)

Alan Hart also gives a detailed account of the circumstances which led to the Hagana supplying weapons and ammunition to the Irgun and the Stern used in the assault on the village of Deir Yassin in April 1948, in which, according to a report by the International Red Cross, 254 Palestinians were murdered, 145 of them women (of whom 35 were pregnant at the time).

Deir Yassin was but one of many massacres committed by Jewish militias in the months before the state of Israel came into being, and Hagana personnel were involved in many of them. According to Dr. Pappe, "the Hagana, the Palmach and the Irgun were the forces that actually occupied the [Arab] villages" prior to the expulsion of their residents. Indeed, "the Hagana would enter villages looking for 'infiltrators (read 'Arab volunteers')… Any resistance to such an incursion usually ended up with the Jewish troops firing at random and killing several villagers". The Hagana was well-schooled in such tactics by British officer Orde Wingate "who had instructed the Hagana in the use of this terrorist method against Palestinian villagers in the 1930s". One Palmach commander (the Palmach were the elite of the Hagana, remember) sent his troops into Khisas, a mixed Muslim and Christian village, in December 1947 and "randomly started blowing up houses at the dead of night while the occupants were still fast asleep. Fifteen villagers, including five children, were killed in the attack." At first, Pappe records, the Hagana denied responsibility but "eventually admitted it". Ben-Gurion apologised publicly. The 75,000 Palestinians of Haifa were chosen as the target for "a campaign of terror jointly instigated by the Irgun and the Hagana". Explosives, fireballs and machine-gun fire were all employed in these attacks.

More than 500 Palestinian towns and villages have been wiped off the map since 1948, and the Hagana were responsible for a major part of that ethnic cleansing. For that reason if for no other, the state of Israel erected a memorial to the Hagana on the site of a village called Qastal near Jerusalem. Of course, the plaque makes no mention that it stands on what was once a Palestinian village; instead, in a grotesque form of the propaganda which also turns Hagana terrorists into "heroes", Qastal is described as an "enemy base". According to Ilan Pappe, "Palestinian villagers [are thus] dehumanised in order to turn them into 'legitimate targets' of destruction and expulsion". Plus ça change…

Given the propensity for the Israeli Defence Forces to commit crimes against civilians, it is perhaps fitting that their roots lie in a group which was itself responsible for terrorist acts across Palestine. What is not so fitting is the way that these roots are overlooked by legal authorities around the world. The real irony is that Israel's current batch of leaders and their supporters in the West blithely label legitimate Palestinian resistance against the illegal military occupation of Palestine as "terrorism", knowing full well that Zionist militias committed terrorist acts against Palestinians and the British alike in the run-up to and beyond the Zionist state's declaration of independence in May 1948. It is fair to say that the state of Israel was founded upon the terrorism of Zionist militia groups, including the Hagana. The fact that General Ashkenazi can then call members of the Hagana "heroes of Israel" speaks volumes for the morality underpinning the Zionist state, a far cry from the "purity of arms" claimed to this day by the Israeli Defence Forces.

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