Irgun (Izl, Irgun Zvai Le'umi; National Military Organization, in Hebrew)

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IRGUN (IZL, Irgun Zvai Le'umi; National military organization, in Hebrew)

Nationalist extremist Jewish movement that surfaced in Palestine in spring 1931 after a scission in Haganah between political and military figures. Its principal founder, Avraham Tehomi, resigned from the Haganah in April 1931 to create the National Haganah, or Haganah B, along with nineteen other officers. In August of 1933, inspired by the revisionist ideas of Vladimir Jabotinsky and backed by the religious party Mizrachi, the movement decided to reply in kind to Arab attacks, taking as a slogan Rak kach ("only this way," in Hebrew). In 1936, the leadership of Haganah B strongly criticized the policies of the British in Palestine, which it considered pro-Arab. The British authorities accepted increased Jewish participation in police duties. David Ben-Gurion asked the semiofficial Haganah to exercise havlagah ("restraint," in Hebrew), that is to say cease all terrorist activity.

In April 1937, a scission surfaced in the movement between the partisans and the adversaries of havlagah, as well as between the revisionists and diverse political tendencies in the organization. Tehomi and his supporters decided to rejoin the Haganah and those who embraced the hard line, headed by David Raziel and Avraham ("Ya'ir") Stern, created their own movement, the Irgun. On 14 November 1937 a commando of the latter group killed eight Arabs in the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem, which led to such a vigorous repression on the part of British authorities that the Irgun decided to cease all violent actions until June, when Shlomo Ben-Yosef, a member of Betar close to the Irgun, was hanged.

Between 4 July and 26 August 1938, the Irgun organized a wave of anti-Arab attacks that caused more than 100 deaths. On 11 September at the Betar World Congress in Warsaw, Menachem Begin attracted notice with his advocacy of armed struggle. In May 1939, the Irgun, under the guidance of Avraham Stern, resumed attacks on the British and Arabs. In September 1940, a scission caused by Jabotinsky's death led to two currents surfacing in the Irgun: one, under the impetus of David Raziel, favoring an alliance with the British against Nazi Germany; the other, headed by Avraham Stern, favoring struggle against British forces in Palestine. Stern quit the Irgun to form his own movement, the Lohamei Herut Yisrael (LEHI). In May of 1941, David Raziel was killed in the course of a mission in Iraq. Yaacov Meridor replaced him as the head of the Irgun but was not able to supply the impetus necessary for the organization to survive.

In December 1943, Begin, after being demobilized from the Polish army, took command of the Irgun. On 2 February 1944 he published a communiqué calling for the Jewish people to struggle against the British forces present in Palestine. Although his program was similar to LEHI's, Begin was not successful in rallying its members to his party. In October 1945 the Irgun, LEHI, and Haganah decided to coordinate their actions against the British authorities, creating a united front, the United Hebrew Resistance (Tnuat ha-Meri ha-Ivri), under the control of Committee X of the Haganah.

On 17 June 1946, Irgun and Palmach units blew up ten of the eleven bridges linking Palestine and Transjordan. On 29 June the British authorities started Operation Agatha, during which a number of members of the United Resistance were arrested along with leaders of the Jewish Agency and a significant quantity of arms and documents were seized. The captured documents were stored at the headquarters of the British army at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. On 22 July an Irgun commando led by Israel Levy blew up part of the hotel, killing ninety-one people. Confronted with the traumatized reaction of the Jewish community, the United Hebrew Resistance was disbanded, although the Irgun continued the struggle against the British forces.

Between December 1946 and August 1947, the Irgun's attacks were responsible for the deaths of many British soldiers, shocking the British public. British leaders branded the Irgun leaders, including Begin, terrorists and threatened to hang them. At the end of August 1947 the United Nations proposed partitioning Palestine into two independent states, Jewish and Arab. The Irgun, thinking its battle had been won, directed its operations solely against the Arabs. On 9 April 1948, accompanied by men from LEHI, an Irgun commando attacked the Arab village of Deir Yassin, massacring more than 100 of its 750 villagers. The following May the Irgun recognized the authority of David Ben-Gurion's provisional government while warning against renouncing all of Greater Israel.

The Altalena incident on 21 June 1948, in which the eponymous ship carrying Irgun arms to Israel was sunk by gunfire ordered by Ben-Gurion, marked the end of the Irgun, most of whose members joined the new Israeli army, the Israel Defense Force. Begin, after creating the nationalist Herut Party, became prime minister in 1977.

SEE ALSO Altalena;Begin, Menachem;Ben-Gurion, David;Betar;Haganah;Herut Party;Israel Defense Force;Jabotinsky, Vladimir;Lohamei Herut Yisrael;Meridor, Yaacov;Mizrachi;Palmah.

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Irgun (Izl, Irgun Zvai Le'umi; National Military Organization, in Hebrew)

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