Early Zionist terrorism

These kind of people who blow up subways and buses
are not people you can negotiate with, or reason with, or appease.

President George W. Bush

How standards, and memories, change.
These days it seems that terrorism in the Mideast is, for many,
exclusively associated with extremist Muslim elements.
It was not always so.
The Zionists did their share of it, back during the days when
Britain was the occupying power in Palestine and
the conventional forces of Zionism were weak.
The leaders of Zionism’s two main terrorist organizations
each went on to become prime minister of Israel,
contrary to assertions that
terrorism was rejected by the Zionist mainstream.
In fact, the current President Bush’s father
negotiated with, and possibly even reasoned with, one of them,
Yitzhak Shamir,
while Jimmy Carter did the same with the other,
Menachem Begin.

It seems useful to recall this early Zionist terrorism,
if for no other reason than to provide background information
for the question:
Is the current Palestinian terrorism against the Israelis
any more immoral than
the Zionist terrorism against the Palestinians and the British
in the 1930s and 1940s?

To recall Zionist activities of that time,
excerpts from Israeli historian Benny Morris‘s
Righteous Victims:
A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881–2001

appear below, from the green start line to the red end line,
divided into sections
  1. Overview

  2. The 1937 revolt

  3. During the Second World War

  4. The King David Hotel bombing

  5. The British decision to leave Palestine

  6. The 1948 civil war

  7. The assassination of Count Bernadotte

These excerpts are deliberately selective.
I have omitted almost all mention
of what the Palestinians were doing.
That is partially justified by my view that the Palestinians
were fighting an essentially defensive insurgency
against a group invading their homeland and displacing them.
Also, the negative acts of the Palestinians
seem to get full play in America’s media—
I don’t think anyone can plead ignorance of them.
This is an attempt to redress the balance.

I have done some light editing, for (hopefully) clarity,
and have added some emphasis, headings, links to relevant web pages,
and, occasionally, paragraph numbers.
There are a few comments in square brackets and this color.
After the excerpts from Morris
there is a short defensive comment of my own.

0. Overview
[RV, page 681 (657 in the 1999 hardback edition)]
The Zionists [of the 1930s] proved brutally innovative.
While the Haganah generally cleaved to the defensive,
the dissident right-wing organizations,
the IZL [Irgun Z’vai Leumi, or just Irgun,
whose leaders included Israeli prime minister-to-be
Menachem Begin]
and LHI [Lohamei Herut Israel, Lehi, or “the Stern gang,”
whose leaders included Israeli prime minister-to-be
Yitzhak Shamir],
introduced into Palestine (in 1937–38 and 1947–48)
what is now the standard equipment of modern terrorism,
  • the camouflaged bomb in the market place and bus station,

  • the car- and truck-bomb, and

  • the drive-by shooting with automatic weapons
(though not the suicide bomber,
which was an Arab innovation of the 1980s and 1990s)
[i.e., fifteen years after the 1967 war,
and after the never-yield-an-inch Likud government
of Menachem Begin came into power in Israel]

1. The 1937 revolt
[RV, page 147]
[In 1937] Britain’s problems in Palestine were aggravated by
the advent of Jewish terrorism.
Until mid-1937
the Jews had almost completely adhered to the policy of restraint
But the upsurge of Arab terrorism in October 1937
triggered a wave of Irgun bombings against Arab crowds and buses,
introducing a new dimension into the conflict.
Before, Arabs (and, less frequently, and usually in retaliation, Jews)
had sniped at cars and pedestrians and occasionally lobbed a grenade,
often killing or injuring a few bystanders or passengers.
Now, for the first time,
massive bombs were placed in crowded Arab centers,
and dozens of people were indiscriminately murdered and maimed—

for the first time more or less matching
the numbers of Jews murdered
in the Arab pogroms and rioting of 1929 and 1936.
This “innovation” soon found Arab imitators
and became something of a “tradition”;
during the coming decades
Palestine’s (and later, Israel’s)
marketplaces, bus stations, movie theaters,
and other public buildings became routine targets,
lending a particularly brutal flavor to the conflict.

The Irgun bombs of 1937–38 sowed terror in the Arab population
and substantially increased its casualties.
Until 1937 almost all of these
had been caused by British security forces
(including British-directed Jewish supernumeraries)
and were mostly among the actual rebels,
but from now on,
a substantial proportion would be caused by Jews
and suffered by random victims.
The bombs do not appear in any way
to have curtailed Arab terrorism,
but they do appear to have helped persuade moderate Arabs
of the need to resist Zionism and to support the rebellion.

The first Irgun attack occurred on November 11, 1937,
killing two Arabs at a bus depot near Jaffa Street in Jerusalem,
and wounding five.
Three days later a number of Arabs were killed
in simultaneous attacks around the country—
a day that the Irgun thereafter commemorated as the
“Day of the Breaking of the Havlaga (restraint).”
On July 6, 1938, an Irgun operative dressed as an Arab
placed two large milk cans filled with TNT and shrapnel
in the Arab market in downtown Haifa.
The subsequent explosions
killed twenty-one and wounded fifty-two.
On July 15 another bomb
killed ten Arabs and wounded more than thirty
in David Street in Jerusalem’s Old City.
A second bomb in the Haifa market—
this time disguised as a large can of sour cucumbers—
on July 25, 1938,
killed at least thirty-nine Arabs and injured at least seventy.
On August 26, a bomb in Jaffa’s vegetable market
killed twenty-four Arabs and wounded thirty-nine.
The bombings were condemned by the Jewish Agency
and the Yishuv’s middle-of-the-road and left-wing political parties and press,
which at first refused to believe that the terrorists were Jews.

2. During the Second World War
[RV, page 171]
On November 6, 1944, Lord Moyne, the British minister resident in the Middle East, was shot dead by LHI terrorists in Cairo.


[Parenthetical to the subject of this post,
but nonetheless of general interest,
Morris also observes on page 171:

In Washington the [political] battle for [American] support
was decisively won by the Zionists, because of
  • the impact of the Holocaust,

  • effective propaganda, and

  • the electoral and financial clout
    of the five million American Jews.]
[For a look at how American Jews lobbied President Harry Truman, see this.]

[RV, pages 174–176]
The Haganah and Palmah
were to join the simmering anti-British struggle,
but only after the war ended.
The first note had been struck years before by the LHI—
led initially by Avraham (“Yair”) Stern
which believed that Britain was
Zionism’s main obstacle and
an accomplice in the Nazi crimes against the Jews
and, paradoxically,
even tried to establish an anti-British alliance with Germany. [!!!]

On February 1, 1944,
several days after Menachem Begin took over command of the IZL,
it announced the resumption of the struggle against Britain.
The Irgun [IZL] felt that the war against the Nazis
had been decided;
London was now the problem.
It immediately began blowing up or attacking
government immigration and income tax offices and police buildings.
The LHI also launched a number of spectacular attacks;
on August 8 they even tried to assassinate
the high commissioner, Sir Harold MacMichael.


[I]n May 1945 the IZL bombed British targets,
including police stations, telephone poles,
and the IPC (Iraq Petroleum Company) pipeline....
In July the LHI came out of hibernation, and,
following an agreement with the IZL,
a joint team of sappers blew up a bridge...
Next they turned their attention to Labor-affiliated
Jewish targets, robbing banks and Histadrut affiliates
of money and stocks of explosives.

On the night of October 9, 1945,
the Palmah raided the British detention camp at Atlit
and freed 208 illegal immigrants.
In November, Palmah sapper squads sabotaged railway tracks
at 153 points around Palestine;
a British patrol vessel was sunk; and,
in response to the capture of a ship
carrying illegal immigrants by the Royal Navy,
two British coast guard stations were blown up.
Periodically during the following months
the Haganah, IZL, and LHI attacked more British targets.
The most spectacular attack was by Palmah squads
on the night of June 17, 1946,
when eleven bridges were blown up simultaneously.

3. The King David Hotel bombing
[RV, page 179]

Publication of the report
[in 1946 of the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry]
did nothing to stop Jewish attacks on British targets,
culminating in the Palmah’s “Night of the Bridges” (1946-06-17).
On 06-29, in response, the British launched “Operation Agatha,”
aimed at seriously reducing Jewish military capabilities.
Haganah intelligence had obtained advance warning,
and most commanders escaped the dragnet.
The operation, in which hundreds were arrested,
including four members of the Jewish Agency Executive,
only marginally affected the Haganah’s strength
and did nothing to improve Britain’s image in the United States
[where Jews are always right]....

However, the operation also provoked a desire for revenge,
as the IZL, rather ironically,
took up the cudgels for its sometime enemy, the Haganah, on 07-22.
Without coordinating with the Haganah,
IZL sappers placed a number of bomb-laden milk containers
in the basement of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem,
which served as a British military and administrative headquarters.
The resulting explosion,
which demolished an entire wing of the building
and killed ninety-one people—Britons, Arabs, and Jews—
was the biggest terrorist action in the organization’s history.
The IZL subsequently claimed it had given the occupants ample warning,
but they had failed to evacuate the building;
the British maintained that no such warning had been issued.
[Jews claim to have high moral standards.
I invite the reader to read this account
of the “justification” for the King David Hotel bombing
and form his own opinion.
Note also that the person who ordered this act of terrorism,
IZL leader Menachem Begin,
rather than being ostracized and marginalized,
was later elected by Israelis as their prime minister.]

In response,
the commander of the British forces in Palestine, Lt. Gen. Sir Evelyn Barker,
issued a nonfraternization order in which
he accused all of Palestine’s Jews of complicity in the outrage.
Personnel were banned from frequenting any Jewish home or business
or having “any social intercourse with any Jew,”
in order to punish “the Jews in a way the race dislikes as much as any,
by striking at their pockets.”
Barker was subsequently rebuked by [Clement] Attlee
but was not removed from his command.

[Notice the rather stunning restraint showed by the British.
When, in contrast, in 2006
Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers and killed eight,
Israel went apeshit (sorry, but how else to describe it?),
killing hundreds, if not thousands, of totally innocent civilians
and causing tens of billions of dollars of property damage,
while Israeli leaders said the reason was, quite simply,
to teach the Muslims a lesson.
What if the British in 1946 had taken the same attitude,
and killed hundreds of innocent Jews “to teach them a lesson”?
Can you imagine the outcry by Jews worldwide?

Yes, I know the Holocaust was a terrible thing,
but I don’t think it justifies
Israel’s subsequent mistreatment of the Palestinians and others,
who really were not responsible for the historic suffering claimed by the Jews
(a suffering often mentioned by opinion-leaders,
as if it somehow justifies Israel’s heinous actions).
Two wrongs don’t make a right.]

4. The British decision to leave Palestine
[RV, pages 180–81]
On February 14, 1947,
the British cabinet decided, in effect, to
wash its hands of Palestine and
dump the problem in the lap of the United Nations.
IZL and LHI adherents claim
it was their constant attacks
that persuaded the British to cast off the burden.

The Haganah operations of 1945–46 have also been seen
as portending a clash with the main Zionist militia
that Whitehall was unwilling to contemplate,
while the struggle against illegal immigration
[of Jews into Palestine]
was a headache of major proportions.
Most historians agree that given the Cold War context,
in which the need for Anglo-American amity was seen as paramount,
and Britain’s insolvency,
Whitehall could ill afford to alienate Washington
over a highly emotional issue that,
when all was said and done,
was not a vital British interest.

The political developments of 1947 were played out
against a background of Jewish violence and reprisals
spiraling almost out of control.
Efforts to block and punish illegal immigration
took on new, bloody dimensions,
though by and large the British displayed restraint and humanity
in the face of terrorism.
With evacuation only months away,
Britain appeared no longer capable of properly governing Palestine
and to have lost the will to continue.
And, without doubt,
the decision to withdraw heightened the terrorists’ expectations.

On March 1, 1947,
IZL gunmen killed more than twenty British servicemen,
twelve of them in a grenade attack on their Officers Club in Tel Aviv,
and injured thirty.

In Britain’s Parliament, meeting in special session on August 12,
there was an all-party consensus to quit Palestine, quickly;
“no British interest” was safeguarded by staying on,
said Churchill.
The judgment of historians familiar with the British state archives is that
“the IZL’s draconian methods,
morally reprehensible as they were,
were decisive

in transforming the evacuation option of February 1947
into a determined resolve to give up the burdens of the Mandate.”

5. The 1948 civil war
[RV, page 198]
In Tel Aviv, Jaffa, Haifa, and Jerusalem,
in December 1947 and early January 1948,
hundreds of Arab civilians were killed or wounded by IZL terror.
In Jerusalem alone,
37 Arabs were killed and 80 wounded in two bombings.


The LHI also contributed to the carnage.
On January 4, 1948,
it detonated a truck loaded with explosives outside the Jaffa city hall, which housed the local Arab National Committee offices,
demolishing the building and killing 26 persons and wounded many more.

The Haganah [Jewish army] also contributed to the terrorist campaign,
though its intended targets
were what were believed to be Arab terrorist concentrations
rather than civilians.
On the night of January 5,
a Haganah unit blew up part of the Semiramis Hotel in Jerusalem,
where it suspected an Arab irregulars headquarters was located,
killing 26 civilians.
On February 28 some 30 Arabs died and 70 were wounded
by a car bomb place by a Palmah unit in a garage,
where it suspected similar bombs were being assembled for use against Jews.

[RV, page 201]
On February 29, 1948,
a bomb planted by the LHI near Rehovot
derailed a British troop train traveling from Cairo to Haifa,
killing twenty-seven soldiers.

6. The assassination of Count Bernadotte
[Another notable act of Jewish terrorism,
mentioned only in passing by Morris, was
the assassination on 1948-09-17 of Count Bernadotte,
an assassination approved by Israel’s future prime minister Yitzhak Shamir.]

The reader may note a certain tone running through my comments.
It is this:
Jews seem able to see themselves only as victims.
That attitude, quite simply, is delusional.

Some may see these words as representing hatred.
No, they are not motivated by hate,
but simply by a desire that people, all of us,
understand the world as it really is,
not in an air-brushed way that furthers the goals of one group
at the expense of everyone else.


  1. J. Bowyer Bell
    1. Terror Out of Zion:
      Irgun Zvai Leumi, Lehi and the Palestine Underground, 1929-1949

    2. Terror Out of Zion:
      The Fight for Israeli Independence
    I suspect these are different printings of the same book;
    but each has its own set of reviews at Amazon.

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