The Lehi (also known as the Stern Gang) splintered from the Irgun in 1940, in response to the Irgun decision to halt attacks on British Forces. As World War II was underway, the Irgun had decided it was in their best interest to cooperate with the British for the time being.
The Lehi, who wanted unrestricted Jewish migration to “Eretz Israel”, were in direct opposition to 1939’s “White Paper”, which restricted Jewish immigration to Palestine. They were extremely committed to “liberating” Palestine from the British. So much, indeed, that they continued to carry out terrorist attacks against the British, during World War II.
Although they were the smallest of the 3 groups, the Lehi were an extremely violent and radical organization, whose ideology was a mix of religious mysticism and ideas of Jewish Ethnic Superiority. The group carried out attacks against Palestinians, Jews, British Forces and UN figures. Despite their size, the Lehi were responsible for carrying out more assassinations than the Haganah and Irgun combined.
For insight into the ideology of the group, check out Avraham Stern’s (founder of the Lehi) short essay, “18 Principles of Rebirth”.
Note the reference to the bible to justify claims to the land of Israel, the use of the sword and book imagery and the threat of “constant war against all those who stand in the way…” . There’s so much that interests me about these principles. In particular, the reference to the British as foreign rule. This is illuminating. It makes clear the fact that Stern believed the Jewish people to be indigenous to the land and that the Lehi was an Anti-Imperialist Movement. This is further illuminated in the Principle of “Reviving the Wilderness.” This principle was/is not actually that radical amongst Zionists. Actually, the idea that Palestine was a desolate wasteland before Jewish immigration, and that Jewish immigration was responsible for “making the desert bloom” is a commonly (yet factually incorrect) claim used to support the occupation. And, might I add, this template is probably the most commonly used ammunition for supporters of colonialism all over the world.
However, the all-time, most incredibly, insanely radical Principle is the 17th. The Principle of Revival. I’m talking, of course, about the use of language in the following sentence:
“The purification of the national character in the fire of revival.”
This manages to make what can be easily perceived as the threat of genocide, and at the very least, ethnic cleansing.
Although the Lehi had both Left and Right-Wing elements, it is difficult to place it accurately on the spectrum. There are some incredibly Fascist Elements, you have already read about, though many members were also committed communists. Stern, himself, had been a member of a communist organization in his youth. In 1940, the Lehi and Irgun attempted to side with Nazi Germany in the War. They suggested to the Germans that in return for German assistance in expelling the British from Palestine, the Lehi and Irgun would assist in transferring Jews out of Europe and to Palestine. The offer was conveyed to Germany in 1941, but no reply was received. I imagine that history could have turned out very differently if Nazi Germany chose to cooperate.
As mentioned, the Lehi carried out attacks against Palestinians, other Jews, British Forces and UN figures. It was responsible for a number of high profile terrorist attacks. Including:
– The 1944 assassination of the British Minister Lord Moyne, in Cairo.
– The infamous 1948 Deir Yassin Massacre, which was carried out in partnership with the Irgun. The number of murdered is estimated between 107 – 120 (many who were killed after they were captured and paraded around the West Jerusalem Streets).
– Cairo-Haifa Train Bombings, which killed 28 soldiers and 40 civilians.
The assassination of Count Bernadotte, is particularly tragic and ironic. Folke Bernadotte, a Swedish diplomat, was celebrated for his successful negotiation of the release of about 31,000 prisoners from German Concentration camps during World War II, including over 400 Jews. Also noteworthy is the fact that Yitzak Shamir (Israel’s 7th Prime Minister) was the Lehi Supreme Commander at the time of the assassination.
The Lehi was absorbed into the IDF in 1948. Shamir joined the Herut Party, then headed by Menachem Begin (see the 1st post in this series). Herut, which was the Political Party that was criticised by Albert Einstein and a number of other high-profile Jewish Intellectuals as being Fascist, eventually became the Likud Party. Both Begin and Shamir went from being the supreme commanders of terrorist organizations, to being the Supreme Commanders of a nation state.
I think it is sobering to examine the roots of the Likud party and ask ourselves how much old skin has been shed, if any at all. The Likud Party Charter, which can be read at the Israeli Knesset’s website, is expansionist by nature. The charter encourages the building of illegal settlements in the West Bank, in that it claims the Jordan River as the Eastern Border of the State of Israel:
“The Jordan Valley and the territories that dominate it shall be under Israeli sovereignty. The Jordan river will be the permanent eastern border of the State of Israel.”
It also claims that:
“Jerusalem is the eternal, united capital of the State of Israel and only of Israel. The government will flatly reject Palestinian proposals to divide Jerusalem, including the plan to divide the city presented to the Knesset by the Arab factions and supported by many members of Labor and Meretz. The government firmly rejects attempts of various sources in the world, some anti-Semitic in origin, to question Jerusalem’s status as Israel’s capital, and the 3,000-year-old special connection between the Jewish people and its capital.”
I would suggest that, there is an unbroken strand of militance, of expansionism and of the belief in Jewish Ethnic Superiority that has “stood the test of time” throughout it all. That is to say, the ideology of the Irgun and Lehi has essentially remained intact while the organizations have splintered, names have been changed and parties have been merged. The Ideology of Revisionist Zionism is still very much alive in the Policies of Netanyahu (a Likud man).
This song (the Lehi anthem “Unknown Soldiers) goes out to him:
חיילים אלמונים הננו, בלי מדים,
וסביבנו אימה וצלמוות.
כולנו גויסנו לכל החיים:.
משורה משחרר רק המוות.,
Unknown Soldiers are we, without uniform
And around us fear and the shadow of death
We have all been drafted for life.
Only death will discharge us from [our] ranks,
בימים אדומים של פרעות ודמים,
בלילות השחורים של ייאוש.,
בערים ובכפרים את דגלנו נרים,.
ועליו: הגנה וכיבוש
On red days of riots and blood
In the dark nights of despair
In towns and villages shall we raise our banner
On which are inscribed defence and conquest
לא גויסנו בשוט כהמון עבדים,
כדי לשפוך בנכר את דמנו.,
רצוננו להיות לעולם בני חורין,.
חלומנו למות בעד ארצנו
We were not drafted by the whip, like a mob of slaves
To shed our blood in foreign lands
Our will is to be forever free
Our dream – to die for our country
ומכל עברים רבבות מכשולים ,
שם גורל אכזרי על דרכנו,
אך אויבים, מרגלים ובתי אסורים,.
לא יוכלו לעצור בעדנו
From all directions, tens of thousands of obstacles
Cruel fate has placed on our path
But enemies, spies and prison houses
Will never be able to stop us
ואם אנחנו ניפול ברחובות, בבתים ,
יקברונו בלילה בלאט,
במקומנו יבואו אלפי אחרים
להגן ולשמור עדי עד
And if we fall in the streets and homes
We will be buried silently in the night
Thousands of others will fill our places
To protect and defend forever
בדמעות אימהות שכולות מבנים ,
ובדם תינוקות טהורים ,
כמו במלט נדביק הגופות ללבנים
את בניין המולדת נקים
With the tears of bereaved mothers
And the blood of pure babies
Like mortar shall we put together the cadaver building blocks
The edifice of the homeland shall we raise