Lord Moyne, known to be an anti-Zionist, was appointed Minister of State in the Middle East, and from his residence in Cairo was in charge of implementing the White Paper. The Lehi, holding Moyne responsible for the expulsion of immigrant vessels (including the 'Struma', which went down at sea with 760 of its passengers), plotted to assassinate him. Two members of the organisation, Eliyahu Hakim and Eliyahu Bet-Zuri, were sent to Cairo to decide on a plan of action and to carry it out. This they did on November 6, 1944.
Not surprisingly, the assassination caused an uproar throughout the world. Not only was Lord Moyne a Minister of State, but he was also a personal friend of the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill.
The following day the Jewish Agency Executive convened and published the following statement:
TO THE YISHUV
Together with all the civilized world, the Jewish community has been shocked to hear of the despicable crime of murder of the British Minister in the Middle East - a crime rendered more despicable by the fact that the British people have been engaged for the past six years with great heroism and supreme effort, together with their allies, in a life-and-death struggle with the Nazi foe.
This terrible crime, carried out outside the borders of our country, and whose circumstances have not yet been clarified, demonstrates once again the increasing threat of the terrorist gangs, which still exist in this country.
Terror in this country can stifle the prospects of our political struggle and destroy our inner peace. The Yishuv is exhorted to cast out of its midst all members of this destructive and ruinous gang, not to succumb to their threats and to extend the necessary aid to the authorities to prevent acts of terror and to eradicate its organisation, since this is a matter of life and death for us.
(Signed) The Jewish Agency Executive
It is interesting to note that this statement was published before the identity of the two young men arrested in Cairo became known. Moreover, it contains, for the first time, an appeal for co-operation with the British authorities in the fight against underground organizations.
A week later, my teacher Yitzhak Staretz came into the classroom, his expression even graver than usual. A colorful figure, forceful and strict, he was also warm-hearted and always willing to help. He was a superb teacher and taught mathematics with an enthusiasm we pupils grew to share. He announced that day that the Zionist Executive had decided to hold a special convention with representatives of Jewish youth, to discuss the new situation arising from the actions of the 'porshim' (dissidents, i.e. the Irgun and Lehi). Zionist youth movements had been invited to attend, as well as representatives from high schools. Each school was to send four delegates; Staretz proposed that we elect our delegates and hold a discussion after the convention. To my surprise and pleasure, I was chosen to represent my class, and the following day four of us from the Ohel-Shem high school set out for the Jewish Agency in Rehavia, Jerusalem (my sister Rivka was also a delegate).
At the entrance to the building stood a guard armed with a long-barrelled Mauser revolver. He directed us to a small room, where we underwent a careful body search before being permitted to enter the auditorium. On the platform, at a long table, sat the Zionist leaders, among them the President of the Zionist Organisation, Dr. Chaim Weizmann (who had arrived in Palestine several days before the assassination in Cairo, after an absence of five years), the Chairman of the Jewish Agency Executive in Jerusalem, David Ben-Gurion, and the Chairman of the Political Department, Moshe Sharett (Shertok).
The meeting was opened by Chaim Weizmann, who explained in halting Hebrew the political damage inflicted on Zionism by the activities of the Irgun and Lehi. Ben-Gurion then delivered a long speech, which concluded with his scheme for waging war on the dissident organisations. The scheme included four main elements: expelling them from places of employment and from schools; depriving them of refuge by forcing them out of their homes; refusing to succumb to their threats and handing them over to the British Police.
After Ben-Gurion's speech, there was a general debate, in which most of the speakers objected to collaboration with the British authorities. The main argument was that even if the struggle against the dissidents were justified, the British were the real enemies of Zionism because of their implementation of the White Paper. The debate grew heated and Ben-Gurion adjourned the meeting to the following day.
We made our way to the Himmelfarb Hotel in Hasolel Street, where we were lodged four to a room and continued to argue until after midnight. We decided unanimously not to sign any manifesto, which advocated collaboration with the government. The following morning we again underwent the security checks and the discussion was taken up from the preceding day. Ben-Gurion attacked all those whom he thought sympathized with the underground, and at a certain juncture said:
"And I know that even in this auditorium there are representatives of the dissidents, who are trying to influence the debate."
A tremor ran through me. I feared that they had checked the list of participants with the Haganah's Intelligence Service and that he was referring to me. When the general debate ended, the youth organisation delegations were summoned, one by one, to a side room. Surprisingly enough most were easily persuaded to sign the manifesto. However, this did not work with the school delegations, the great majority of which refrained from signing.
The following day a press release was issued on behalf of this extraordinary gathering of representatives of Zionist youth, held on November 19, 1944, on the initiative of the Zionist Executive. It read:
A war of Jewish youth against terror and its perpetrators!
The savage terror of the "porshim" and those who have cast off the yoke...which is ostensibly directed against the British authorities and their institutions, in practice causes harm primarily to our own suffering people and to the future of our Zionist hopes...
Those who aid the enemy - are themselves enemies!
The perpetrators of terror, who denote themselves the National Military Organization (Irgun Zvai Leumi) and Freedom Fighters of Israel (Lehi) are traitors...
You are exhorted now to rise up and root out the terror from the Yishuv.
Do not lend a hand to those who have broken down the walls!
Banish them from the classroom, and from the workshop.
Do not permit their propaganda, whether written or spoken - neither in the street nor the assembly hall, neither in the synagogue, the school or anywhere else.
Do not give refuge to these trouble-makers in the homes of your parents, relatives and acquaintances; do not succumb to threats and blackmail.
Let the young people be on their guard. Let them act on their own initiative and extend all possible aid to public institutions and to the authorities to prevent terror and to disband its organizations. Let the gang members know that they will encounter the relentless opposition of united Jewish youth. The road to repentance is still open to them. But the incorrigible destroyers must be isolated and boycotted, until they are spewed out of the ranks of the Yishuv, until terror ceases and its organizations are eradicated.
Our school and some others were missing from the list of participants in the convention, which appeared at the end of the press release.
We returned to Ramat Gan full of impressions, and the following day regailed our classmates with our adventures in Jerusalem. In the ensuing class debate I tried to remain passive; I contented myself with an informative report without expressing my opinion. The other speakers, including those who were members of the Haganah, objected to any form of collaboration with the British. Staretz refrained from expressing an opinion, but during the recess he came over to me and whispered: "I am proud of you for not signing the manifesto". Staretz did not belong to any of the underground organisations, nor did he know about my connection with the Irgun, but as a nationally aware Jew, he objected to collaboration with the British authorities.
Two days later, the matter was brought before the Histadrut (trade union) Council, the only body with more authority than the Jewish Agency in determining patterns of behavior of the 'organized Yishuv'. Ben-Gurion reiterated the 'four actions to be taken in order to eradicate the terrorist organizations', but with one addition. Ben-Gurion called on the Education Department of the Jewish Agency to instruct all schools to join in the fight against terror, and in particular to appeal to those schools which had not signed the manifesto at the Jerusalem convention.
Anti-Irgun action had begun before the assassination of Lord Moyne in Cairo. As early as April 1944, Ben-Gurion had passed a resolution on the methods to be adopted against the Irgun and the Lehi. In accordance with this resolution, a widespread information campaign was launched to isolate the underground movements; measures were taken to check the recruitment of funds from the Jewish public. However, Haganah forces refrained from handing over Irgun fighters to the authorities and from kidnapping and torture. When it became clear that Irgun activities were gaining momentum, pressure was stepped up and violent measures introduced. The operation was given the code-name 'The Season', a reference to the hunting season.
At a five-hour meeting held on October 31 between the Haganah (represented by Eliyahu Golomb and Moshe Sneh) and the Irgun (represented by Menahem Begin and Eliyahu Lenkin), both sides analysed the political situation and made predictions for the future. As anticipated, neither side could persuade the other that their way was correct and towards the end of the meeting Golomb began to utter threats. He demanded the immediate cessation of all military activities against the British, and threatened to use force against the Irgun if it did not comply.
Begin dismissed Golomb's threats and added that Irgun weapons had never in the past and would never in the future be directed against Jews. The two sides parted without reaching agreement.
The outrage at the Cairo assassination was exploited by Ben-Gurion to expand the framework of anti-Irgun action and to give the names of underground fighters to the British authorities. It is interesting to note that the 'Season' was directed exclusively against the Irgun, although it was the Lehi, which had assassinated Lord Moyne. The reason behind this lay in the settlement arrived at by Golomb and the Lehi leaders, according to which Lehi guaranteed to suspend its activities against the British for the time being. There were even cases in which Lehi people kidnapped by the Haganah were released after twenty-four hours with an apology.1
In preparation for the 'Season', the Haganah recruited more than 300 people, who were paid a full wage, in order to follow Irgun members. In parallel, several detention centers were set up in large towns and on kibbutzim. The first stage of the 'Season' was the kidnapping of Irgun commanders. On December 11, Eliyahu Ravid, the Irgun's chief storekeeper, was kidnapped and interrogated. Next to be kidnapped was Daniel Yanovsky, who was kept blindfolded throughout his detention. He was followed by Raanan (Mordechai Kaufman-Raanan) of Petah Tikva, whose interrogation was accompanied by torture (after his release, Raanan was transferred to Jerusalem and during the War of Independence, was Irgun District Commander in the city).
With all the Haganah detention centers filled, suspected Irgun members were passed to the British. The first to be handed over were Eliyahu Lenkin, Shlomo Levi and Yaakov Meridor, all members of the High Command. A fourth member, Yaakov Tavin, was not handed over, but kept in detention at Kibbutz Ain Harod. He was the head of the Irgun Intelligence Service, and the Haganah people hoped to extract information from him about members of the Irgun and about the hiding place of Menachem Begin. Tavin was held in detention for six months and was interrogated and tortured. He was released only with the begging of "The United Resistance", established in September 1945 (see later on).
There are no accurate figures on the number of people kidnapped and the number handed over to the British Police. The historian Yehuda Bauer writes that "within a brief period some 100 Irgun people were handed over to the British; the addresses of additional people were given, and they were subsequently arrested by the British."2 In "The History Book of the Haganah" we find the following details:3
According to one source, 20 people were kidnapped by the Haganah for interrogation and 91 were interrogated without being arrested... some 700 names of individuals and institutions... were given to the Police, and some 300 people were arrested on the basis of these lists. A Special Committee was appointed to discuss the problem of the high-school students who were active in the Irgun, and it decided to expel 30 students from various schools.
I was one of the students whom the Special Committee determined should be expelled from school. The decision was conveyed to the school principal, who then informed my father. Walking with my father to the bus stop one morning, he suddenly turned to me and asked whether I was a member of the Irgun. I naturally denied I was. Later I learned that he had demanded that the principal convene a meeting of the school board to discuss my expulsion. At the meeting the principal explained that I had been seen pasting Irgun posters. My father had requested that the witnesses be brought before the board so that they could be questioned. The principal, who was a member of the Haganah, explained that there was no way he could do this since they could then be identified and avenged by the Irgun. My father summed up by saying:
"My son is being charged by two anonymous people, who refuse to appear here. My son utterly denies the charges. What are we to believe - anonymous information or my son, who is known to be a decent and honest person?"
After a brief discussion, the board dismissed the principal's request, and I stayed on at school. The next day, however, the principal turned to me and said:
"You can tell stories to your father, but I want you to know that I know the truth...We will catch you some day."
A different response came from Staretz. He came over to me in recess and told me that he had fought against my expulsion, regardless whether I was a member of the Irgun or not.
I decided to be more cautious in the future and to sleep away from home. My uncle was living in an isolated villa at the time in Ramat Gan. In addition to the family apartment, there was a small basement apartment which nobody ever used and which had a separate entrance reached from the courtyard. I explained my situation to my uncle and asked permission to use the basement from time to time in order to evade arrest or kidnapping. To my utter amazement he flatly refused, explaining that as an importer of pharmaceutical drugs, he had commercial connections with the Histadrut Health Insurance Fund (Kupat Holim). The Haganah had approached him with a request for a donation and had asked him not to donate to the Irgun. He was told explicitly that in the event that he refused, the Histadrut Health Insurance Fund would stop purchasing drugs from him. My uncle, a businessman, made a simple arithmetic calculation and decided not to lose the larger client. He told the Haganah representatives that he had decided to collaborate with them. When the Irgun also asked for a donation, he refused. He was afraid that if the Haganah discovered an Irgun member living in his house, they would regard it as a breach of the agreement and would carry out their economic threat.
The Haganah made every effort to prevent the Irgun fighters from carrying out anti-British actions - and sometimes succeeded. One of these cases was connected to the apprehending of four Irgun fighters (three men and a woman) who set out to blow up the Anglo-Iraqi pipeline, which conveyed oil from Iraq to the Haifa refineries. The four were tied up and brought to nearby Kibbutz Yagur, where they were interrogated and eventually handed over to the British police. This operation was recalled years later at a party at the home of David Hacohen in Jerusalem in honor of the publication of Geula Cohen's book 'The Story of a Fighter' (David Hacohen was the printer). The party was attended by former Irgun, Lehi and Palmach fighters and by the journalist Eli Eyal, who wrote about it in Ha'aretz on December 1, 1961. He wrote, among other things:
[...] Hayim Gouri (a famous Israeli poet) tells a story:" one Saturday, when he was duty officer at Yagur, the intelligence officer of the Zebulun sector arrived, a big, curlyheaded fellow, and said that word had reached him that on the following day the Irgun intended to blow up a church on Mount Carmel, while senior British officers and their families prayed. The officer declared that if the explosion took place and British officers were killed, it could be a catastrophe, and asked that five men be sent to seize the Irgun people while they were bringing the explosives to a house in Kfar Ata. Gouri assembled a group of young people, appealed to their sense of national responsibility and explained that the intention was to prevent the murder of innocent people. Before considering whether they agreed to the operation, they asked for the officer's word of honor that the Irgun people would not be handed over to the British. The intelligence officer promised. Towards morning three young men and a young woman from the Irgun were caught and Gouri remembers how they were forced to the ground, their hands tied behind their backs. Ten hours later they were all handed over to the British.
The man sitting to my right, advocate Yaakov Nehushtan, tapped me gently on the elbow: you know who was among those young people who were arrested? - The man sitting next to you.... Guuri heard him and went pale. Others were very moved...
The Irgun never intended to blow up a church, and the intelligence officer of the Palmach knew that they in fact intended to blow up the oil pipeline. But at that time (May 1945) there was growing dissatisfaction among the Palmach fighters, who now wanted to operate against the British and to stop handing over Irgun people to the British authorities. The intelligence officer invented the church story in order to stir the conscience of the young Palmachniks and win their co-operation in capturing the Irgun fighters and handing them over to the police.
The day after the party in the Hacohen home, Hayim Gouri telephoned Nehushtan and said : "I want to tell you that I couldn't sleep all night after I heard you tell the story of your arrest". "And I couldn't sleep for three years," came Nehushtan's response.
The Irgun was forced to come up with a strategy in response to the 'Season'. After a stormy debate, the General Headquarters accepted Begin's view that the Irgun should exercise self-restraint in the face of Haganah actions. The decision read:
(a) The Irgun will not suspend its war against the British
Nor will it guarantee to do so.
(b) There will be no fraternal strife in the Yishuv, because the Irgun will not react against kidnappings, informing and the handing over of its fighters to the British
It was a difficult decision. We had always been opposed to the policy of havlagah (self-restraint); how could we now be expected to accept the contrary standpoint? Begin cited two reasons for his approach: firstly, if we responded we could plunge the Yishuv into a civil war, thus putting an end to the struggle against the British. Secondly, it was not desirable to exacerbate relations with the Haganah since he believed they would soon join us in our fight. I must admit that at the time I was not convinced by his arguments, but in retrospect there is no denying that he was right. It was one of the most courageous and important decisions he ever took. Yehuda Bauer writes: "...the Irgun emerged from the 'Season' with an aura of national responsibility..."4
Meanwhile the number of Irgun arrests was growing, its ranks were dwindling and it had become almost totally immobilized. Of the seven members of the Central Command, five had been arrested - Yaakov Meridor, Eliyahu Lenkin, Aryeh Ben-Eliezer, Shlomo Levi and Yaakov Tavin. The remaining two were the Commander in Chief, Menahem Begin, and the Operations Officer, Yeruham Livni (Eitan). In the districts as well, many officers had been arrested, and sources of financing had been affected. But recovery was swift, and young people took the place of the arrested veterans. New commanders were appointed, both in the central command and in the districts, and Irgun members went into even deeper hiding.
1. Y. Lapidot, The Hunting Season, p. 116 (Hebrew)
2. Yehuda Bauer, Diplomacy and Underground, p.281 (Hebrew)
3. The History Book of the Haganah, Part 3, p.539 (Hebrew)
4. Yehuda Bauer, Diplomacy and Underground, p.283