The birth of the Haganah
The Haganah (or Hagannah) (means defense in Hebrew - pronounced "Hah Gah nah') Jewish underground was created in 1920.
The official name of the Hagannah was "Irgun HaHagannah Ha'vri" - The Hebrew defense organization.
Foundation Doctrine stressed loyalty, secrecy and devotion to humanitarian and Jewish values including the sanctity
of life. By candlelight, and with a pistol on the table, recruits swore the <
to abide by the foundation doctrine of the Hagannah in a dramatic induction ceremony.
A personal recollection of the dramatic induction ceremony and
oath (1947) is given here:
Joining the Haganah.
Beginning in January 1920 activists in Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv in
particular formed defense committees acquired some light weapons, and recruited and trained volunteers. After the
fall of Tel Hai in March of 1920, the Jerusalem committee headed by Ze'ev Jabotinsky and Pinchas
Ruttenberg took the lead. In April of 1920, the Haganah had some role in defending against Arab attacks during the
Passover (Nebi Samuel) riots. In that period, Palestine was still under British military rule, and the Jewish community was
administered by the delegate committee (Vaad Hatzirim) of the World Zionist Organization. Jabotinsky was
charged by the Vaad Hatzirim with organizing the defense of Jerusalem. He did so to some effect, though six Jews
were killed and about 200 injured in the disturbances. The British arrested Jabotinsky and sentenced him to 15 years in
prison. When the Mandate government took over, he was amnestied, along with all the Arabs and Jews arrested in the
The Haganah before 1929
The existence of the Haganah was formalized by the Achdut Ha'avoda
party, which combined Poalei Ziyon and the Federation of Agricultural workers, in its convention in Kibbutz Kinneret in
June of 1920. The volunteers were mostly veterans of the Jewish Legion (Gdudim Ivri'im - Jewish
Brigades) and Zion Mule Corps,
who had fought for the British in WW I, and the Hashomer guards group, that had been formed in 1907-09 to guard Jewish
settlements. Friction soon developed between the army veterans who wanted a tight-knit professional group, and the
Hashomer people, who wanted a popular militia. The argument was futile. The Haganah was illegal, had no source of weapons and few
opportunities for training. It could not really be either a militia or a body of professional soldiers. In December of
1920 it was put under the control of the Histadruth Labor federation, but in the May 1921 riots the Haganah was not
effective. Thereafter, the political leadership of the Zionist organization wanted the Haganah to become a legal body
subordinated to the British, while the soldiers of the Haganah objected, because they would lose their independence and
probably their arms. The Zionist organization deprived it of funds. In any case, the British would never allow any
independent Jewish self defense, though they did eventually create the "notrim" (monitors) and
the SNS under Wingate. In 1923, the Hashomer people left
the Haganah, weakening it further. There were three main chapters in Tel-Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa, with about 350
members in the Tel-Aviv chapter in 1926. The Haganah had 750 rifles, 750 hand grenades, about a thousand pistols and 27
machine guns, all weapons of uncertain vintage. The Haganah was a tiny underground at this time, that used small boys to
carry messages. Weapons were hidden in caches in the kibbutzim, which also afforded places for training.
The riots of 1929 turn the Haganah into a force
riots of 1929, the Haganah proved more successful, especially in Tel Aviv, Haifa and the center of Jerusalem,
and eventually in peripheral settlements as well. The case for a militia seemed to be proven. With the backing of the
political leadership, the Haganah now became a country-wide organization that involved all youth and young adults of the
kibbutzim and settlements and several thousand in the cities. Some light arms were brought in from Europe. A clandestine
arms industry was set up in Palestine. The factories were literally underground - in subterranean cellars where imported
war surplus machinery eventually produced quantities of ammunition.
The birth of the Irgun
In 1930 or 1931, a small group of officers set up the "Second Organization" - Irgun Beth, which wanted to take
offensive as well as defensive action. This group soon identified itself with the Revisionist movement. During the Arab
riots of 1936-9 (see: Arab
uprising in Palestine) the leader of the Irgun Beth, Avraham Tehomi, and part of its members returned to
the Haganah. A second group remained outside the Haganah, and in April
1937 it renamed itself the Irgun Zvai Leumi (National Military Organization, IZL or Irgun). The chief difference between
the groups was that the Haganah believed in a policy of Havlagah - restraint, while the Irgun urged reprisal and
terrorist attacks on Arabs for terror attacks on Jews. Irgun members also were unwilling to remain under the control of
the Histadrut The Irgun began a series of bombings in Arab markets and similar
operations. Toward the end of the riots, under the leadership of Yitzhak Sadeh, the Haganah formed "field forces" that specialized in attacks on targets that
were supposedly bases for the Arab terror groups. This was the beginning of an effort to move from static defense to
taking the battle to the enemy. A third group, Lohamei Herut Israel ("freedom fighters of Israel") or LEHI,
under Avraham Stern, soon split off from the Irgun. They viewed the main enemy as British Imperialism, and included both
leftist and right wing members. The LEHI's attacks were rather indiscriminate at first, and they cam to be known as the
"Stern Gang." Stern refused to stop fighting the British during World War II.
The Haganah in the Arab Revolt
In the Arab revolt of 1936-1939, the Haganah, under the guidance of
Charles Orde Wingate, organized Special Night
Squads (S.N.S.) trained in commando tactics, surprise attack and mobility. These incorporated the field forces (Plugot
Sadeh) of Yitzhak Sadeh. The primary mission of these groups was to guard the Iraq to Haifa oil pipeline (TAP), but these squads
also learned to bring the offensive to the enemy rather than remaining behind the protective
fencing of settlements under attack. The Haganah was officially illegal, and yet at the same time the British cooperated
with it during the Arab riots and later during World War II. Beginning in 1939, the Haganah helped to greet and guard
illegal immigrant ships organized by the Mossad Le'Aliya Bet. After the British had squelched the Arab revolt with
massive use of force, they clamped down on the Haganah. Haganah members went into hiding, and some were arrested. In
1941 however, the British amnestied a group of 41 Haganah members who were held in Acco prison, including
Moshe Dayan. They joined the British war effort. The Haganah also cooperated
in special operations sending Zionist Parachutists
Haviva Reik (Chaviva Reich) and over thirty
others into Nazi-occupied Europe in daring commando rescue and liaison operations.
The Birth of the Palmach
In 1941, under British tutelage, a special mobile strike force, the Palmach, (Plugoth Machatz) was created by Yitzhak
Sadeh, to meet an anticipated Nazi takeover of Vichy Syria. Beginning in 1944, the Haganah cooperated briefly with the
British in the "Sezon" (season) arresting members of the rival Irgun and Lehi groups.
The Revolt against the British
At the conclusion of World War II, it became apparent that Britain would not change its policies in Palestine and
would not allow Jewish immigration. The Haganah then joined forces with the Irgun and LEHI in attacking the British in
various commando raids and sabotage attacks.
Preparing for war
David Ben-Gurion foresaw that a large scale clash with
the Arabs of Palestine was inevitable. The Zionist Executive raised relatively large sums of money abroad, enabling the
Haganah to purchase more light arms and a number of Piper Cub and Auster airplanes, ostensibly for civilian agricultural
purposes. About 26,000 Palestinian Jews had served with the British forces in World War II, though most had not seen
combat experience. These formed the nucleus of the army that was coming into being. They were joined by illegal
immigrants who had served in the Red Army, some who had served in the French Foreign Legion, and eventually by
volunteers from the United States and Canada (including notably, about 300 air-force veterans who would serve in the
nascent IDF) as well as some British soldiers. These were organized in the MACHAL. Volunteers had begun
arriving even before partition, to help with illegal immigration. Training activities and purchase of arms were
stepped up after the partition decision of the UN General Assembly, ( see UN General Assembly Resolution 181) on November 29, 1947. About $130 million were
raised abroad and used to purchase arms in Europe, through a clandestine arms purchasing network.
The chief strengths of the Haganah and Palmach formed a tradition that came to characterize the IDF as well. This was
a people's militia, a guerilla force that made up for lack of weapons with ingenuity and daring. Underground
status forced informality. Many of the men knew each from childhood and were neighbors in civilian life. Ranks were
generally informal and a tradition of camaraderie and mutual loyalty developed. Wounded and dead would not be left
behind. Soldiers and officers in an army lacking virtually everything developed a high degree of initiative and ability
to improvise. The Haganah made good use of mobility and of the commando and night tactics that were taught by
Wingate. The Haganah also developed a superb military intelligence system. They had tapped into the telephone lines in
Jerusalem and were able to listen in on both British and Arab conversations. They developed excellent covert operations
capabilities that allowed them to steal weapons from the British and to infiltrate immigrants and arms under the noses
of the British army. Some illegal immigrants were drowned or otherwise killed in the rusting, overcrowded old boats that
brought them out of Europe, but many were saved from certain death in Nazi-occupied Europe.
The chief weaknesses of the Haganah were also inherited by the IDF in many respects. Logistics and battle
planning were often lacking. Attacks started late because equipment was missing or units did not assemble in time. Too
much "initiative" by local commanders sometimes resulted in chaos, and the chaos sometimes resulted in disaster.
Despite the high moral values of the Labor Zionist movement that fathered it, the Haganah developed a tradition of
punitive reprisals, often on civilians, that was evident at least as early as the Arab riots of 1929.
The war of Independence
Arab violence broke out almost as soon as the partition plan (UN General Assembly Resolution 181) was announced (see detailed account: Israel War of Independence
). In Jerusalem, the Grand Mufti Hajj Amin Al Husseini
organized an irregular force out of the al futuwah, known to Jews as the "Mufti's Gangs" and led by the Mufti's cousin, Abdel
Khadr El Husseini, who proved to be a worthy opponent and by Hasan Salameh. In the north, the British had allowed Fawzi Al Kaukji
and his Arab Liberation Army, organized by the Arab League, to enter Palestine. These groups, while relatively small, were
better armed than the Haganah initially and were backed by tens of thousands of Palestinian villagers. The villagers formed a
civilian levee or "faza," that would gather in attacks against Jewish convoys, as well as in assaults on
and Palmach were charged with defending the Yishuv against
these attacks. Kaukji's army attacked across the Jezreel
valley, and was ultimately stopped by the Haganah and kibbutz defenders at Mishmar Haemek, in mid-April, 1948. In the
Jerusalem area, the Haganah had to battle the blockade imposed by the Mufti's gangs as well as attacks on Jerusalem and
especially the Jewish quarter, and attacks on Gush Etzion that were backed by the
Transjordan Arab Legion. A major activity of the Haganah was convoying supplies to Jerusalem in makeshift armored
vehicles. Many young men died in those vehicles, which were left by the side of the Jerusalem road as a monument to
their bravery. Danny Mas, murdered in a convoy that brought aid to Gush Etzion on
foot, became a hero and a symbol of the War of Independence.
Ariel Sharon and other future leaders of Israel distinguished themselves in the
fight to save Jerusalem from starvation. Bravery and ingenuity, however, were often marred by poor planning, lack of
weapons, and poor coordination. The Haganah briefly held Latrun, which was
soon to become a critical position in the battle
for the roads to Jerusalem, but gave it up because nobody understood the immense strategic value of this commanding
hilltop position, overlooking the road to Jerusalem.
By May 15, 1948, the Haganah had between 25,000 and 35,000 men and women under arms, including 5-6,000 in the elite
A href="http://www.zionism-israel.com/dic/Palmach.htm">Palmach, but the combat troops only consisted of 9 undermanned active brigades, perhaps 20,000 troops. It should be understood however, that these troops included all the support and logistics personnel as well as
front-line soldiers. They also included women who served in support positions and middle aged men who were only
nominally soldiers given a gun and a uniform, such as the relief troops sent to try to hold the Jewish quarter of the
old city in May of 1948. Some of the "soldiers" included displaced persons just off the boat who could not speak Hebrew
and had never fired a gun.
The Haganah becomes the IDF
When Israel became a state, David Ben-Gurion made a crucial and controversial decision. The new state could have no
armed militias or partisan groups. This rule would have to apply not only to the rival Irgun and LEHI of the
revisionists, but to the Haganah and Palmachas well. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF), Tzva Hagannah Leyisrael,
were formed on May 28, 1948, and the Haganah became the IDF.
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Charles Orde Wingate
Israel War of Independence
The Kfar Etzion Massacre
Riots and Massacres of 1929
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This history is based in part on the account in Morris, B., Righteous Victims,
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