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Lohamei Herut Yisrael (LEHI; Hebrew for "Combatants for the Liberty of Israel")

LOHAMEI HERUT YISRAEL (LEHI; Hebrew for "com-batants for the liberty of Israel")

Jewish extremist underground organization, founded in Palestine in October 1940, following a schism in Irgun. Supporters of radical action against the English and Arabs, the LEHI was also called the "Stern Group," after the name of its founder, Abraham ("Yaʾir") Stern, a former Irgun member, who claimed to represent the "true Irgun." In December 1940, seeing in Germany the only power able to rid Palestine of the British presence, Abraham Stern sent Naftali Lubentchik to make contact with representatives of the German Third Reich in Lebanon in order to propose an alliance with the German army. Lubentchik was not able to transmit the German reply to Stern after being arrested in June 1941 by French authorities. Stern then sent a second emissary, former Irgun member Nathan Yalin Mor, who was arrested soon after in Syria. This attempt to join up with the Germans prompted a few LEHI members to quit the group. Those remaining faithful to Yaʾir decided to launch a series of attacks against British police forces, as a consequence of which many members of the group were arrested and imprisoned.

On 12 February 1942, the British police killed Stern in Tel Aviv, beginning a crisis period for LEHI. By 1943, the organization had been reconstructed, moving toward the left and openly embracing the Soviet Union and class struggle, under the leadership of Natan Yellin-Mor, Israel Eldad, and Yitzhak Shamir. The LEHI, which considered itself to be the spearhead of the national movement of Hebrew liberation, tried in vain to coordinate its actions with those of Irgun. On 6 November 1944, two LEHI members killed the British minister for the Near East, Walter Edward Guinness (Lord Moyne), who was stationed in Cairo. Confronted by the wave of repression unleashed by the British police, the movement suspended its operations until the end of World War II. In October 1945, Haganah, Irgun, and LEHI decided to coordinate their actions against the British forces of order in Palestine by forming a united front, the "United Hebrew Resistance," directed by Committee X of the Haganah. On 26 June 1946, British authorities—who were unable to put an end to the operations of the movement—launched the "Agatha" operation, in the course of which almost 2,700 people were arrested and a large arsenal of weapons was seized. On 22 July, an Irgun commando exploded part of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, which housed the headquarters of the civil and military administration of Palestine. The attack caused ninety-one deaths. Many LEHI and Irgun leaders were arrested, among them was Yitzhak Shamir, who was deported to Eritrea, effectively putting an end to the existence of the United Hebrew Resistance.

In October 1946, after reorganizing their forces, Irgun and LEHI began a wave of anti-British operations, which continued until November 1947, when the United Nations proposed a plan to partition Palestine into two states: one Jewish and the other Arab. From this time onward, Arabs became the principal target of Irgun and LEHI operations. On 9 April, more than one hundred Irgun and LEHI men attacked the Arab village of Deir Yasin, massacring inhabitants. During the following June, LEHI participated in a campaign against the proposal of the special envoy of the UN, Count Folke Bernadotte, who was recommending modifying the plan of partition of Palestine in favor of the Palestinians and Transjordan. On 17 September, a LEHI commando killed Count Bernadotte and Colonel Sérot, head of the UN French observers, in Jerusalem. The next day, the Israeli army proceeded to arrest members of LEHI en masse, but the perpetrators of the crime were not discovered. Sentenced for belonging to a terrorist organization, the LEHI members later benefited from a general amnesty, and many of them joined Herut, the political party founded by the former head of Irgun, Menachem Begin. Yitzhak Shamir became a member of Mossad from 1955 to 1969, and then after joining Herut, he began a political career, which led him to become Israeli prime minister in the autumn of 1983, succeeding Menachem Begin.

SEE ALSO Begin, Menachem; Bernadotte, Folke; Haganah; Herut Party; Irgun; Mossad; Shamir, Yitzhak.

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