73. The decade of the 1940s….

The years from 1939 to 1945 were bloodied by World War II. It was during this time that the Jews in Europe at large and Nazi Germany, in particular, faced horrible atrocities. However, the atmosphere in Palestine was stirred up, and many incidents directing the Jews towards their independence had started to take place.

On 1st September 1939, Hitler’s Germany attacked Poland which turned out to be the sounding of the bugle of World War II. For the first two days, German bomber planes pounded Poland. Thousands of Polish Jews were killed in the attacks. Then on 3rd September, Britain and France declared war on Germany. Thus, Britain too was dragged into war.

Despite being occupied with war, the stringent policy concerning the Jews, adopted by the British did not change even by a jot. A large number of Jews were trying to reach Palestine by boats while the British had termed most of them to be illegal. With this, the British would intercept these boats, check them thoroughly and apprehend the ‘illegals’. A ‘Quota System’ was imposed on the Jews for entry into Palestine, and only those with valid permits were allowed to enter the land. Those Jews without entry permits from the ‘Jewish Agency’ were considered ‘illegal immigrants’. The British decided to detain such illegals and deport them back to their country of origin after the war.

The British intercept boats carrying‘illegal Jews’ from Europe to Palestine

However, the Jews found a guerilla solution to overcome this problem. The Jews strategically decided to back and aid Britain and the Allied nations in World War II. As a result, the British started recruiting the Jews in Palestine into their armed forces. However, while recruiting them, the British knowingly turned a blind eye to the status of their entry permits. Thus the Jews without entry permits took a keen interest in joining the British forces to make it easier for them to enter Palestine.

At the same time, considering world war to be an opportunity, the Jews took to the modernization of the ‘Haganah’ self-defence units – this was the start towards building a modern armed force. They also bought airplanes which were actually used in spraying pesticides on crops – this laid the foundation of an air force for the future.

Haganah air force

Some of the British leaders like Winston Churchill, in fact, advocated giving advanced weapons to the Jews for their self-defence. Justifying his argument, Churchill said that by arming the Jews, Britain would free up 11 of its large battalions stuck in Palestine on peace-keeping duties. These 11 battalions could be deployed elsewhere in the world war. Churchill also opined that restricting the Jews from buying the land in Palestine meant halting of the agricultural progress of the region. However, due to the opposition from many members of the Cabinet of then Prime Minister Chamberlain, Churchill’s arguments were dismissed. They disputed Churchill’s proposal of arming the Jews saying that it would instead turn to be a headache for the British in Palestine and Britain would draw ire of the Arab world. This shut the way for the Jews to secure arms by official means.

However, taking into consideration the need for the coming time, the Haganah focused on secretly building and modernizing its armament. The Haganah received modern arms from its supporters and also the Jewish Diaspora spread across the globe. These would then be systematically distributed to various Jewish settlements. These weapons sent to various Haganah units would be hidden in some local house or similar places. On getting wind of these contrabands, the British officials would raid the Jewish settlements to seize them. However, the Haganah used various diversionary tactics to hide the weapons.

One such episode was once narrated by the late Israeli leader Shimon Peres. Those were the times when he was still a student. Once, the local Jewish leaders received information about a raid by the British police which was to happen any moment. On learning about the news, the leaders quickly gathered all the students to study at a particular place and made it resemble as if some school class was being conducted. Searching the entire settlement including houses and other places, the British police party descended upon the place where all the students were gathered. However, as already told to them, the students continued convincingly pretending to study. Seeing the scene and having found nothing suspicious, the police party left without even searching the place, though the fact was that the site was used to camouflage a large cache of arms of the local Haganah unit. Presence of mind of the local Jewish leaders and daring by the students saved a sizeable arsenal from falling into the hands of British police.

BeitHaArava kibbutz

Moreover, new kibbutzim were gradually being built and used as a tool to establish and expand the continuity of Jewish-controlled areas between the settlements in British Mandatory Palestine.

In October 1939, young Jewish immigrants from Germany and Central Europe came together to establish a kibbutz – ‘BeitHaArava’ next to the ‘Dead Sea’, which later become famous for its agricultural experiments. Right since the biblical times, the Dead Sea is known the world over for its extreme salinity. Naturally, the land beside it too was saline, was considered infertile and was thus desolate. While setting up a kibbutz here, the Jewish immigrants actually drained the complete top salty layer of the soil with the waters from the River Jordan that flows in the vicinity. They followed this by carrying out several experiments on the land to turn it productive and under took cultivation of vegetables and fruits.

Sdot Yam kibbutz

Many other kibbutzim were established in a similar manner. A couple of leading examples are ‘Beit Yitzhak’ and ‘Sdot Yam’.Well-educated Jews who migrated from Germany in 1940 came together to create ‘Beit Yitzhak’ kibbutz on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. This kibbutz had the cultivation of citrus fruits as its main occupation. Likewise, the immigrant German Jews established ‘Sdot Yam’ kibbutz, also on the Mediterranean coast. They mainly practiced fishing. Sdot Yam was also smartly used to take in and facilitate passing of the Jews into Palestine who were without entry permits.

Though the British employed a somewhat hostile policy towards the Jews during the time of World War II, the Jews did allow themselves to be stopped or restricted by it. They used all such means to find all the possible ways out of the situations. (To be continued…)

– Shulamith Penkar-Nigrekar

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.