76. Towards an armed struggle for the freedom….

The Jews having realized the inevitability of war, began active preparations to increase the troop numbers, the war equipment and also establish more Jewish settlements even at desolate locations. Rejecting the immigration restrictions by the British government, a growing number of Jewish immigrants, but ‘without a permit’, were being increasingly but silently taken into the land of Palestine with the help of the Haganah by some or the other means.

A kibbutz, MishmarHaNegev, was established even at the northern fringe of the Negev desert

Of course, not all the Jews were fortunate enough. In the process, some of the Jews fell into the hands of the British forces and were either killed or caught, deported to Cyprus (then also a British colony) and were imprisoned there.The Haganah members, by then armed and duly trained into actual battlefield experience, initially participated in the armed resistance along with the ‘Irgun’ and the ‘Lehi’, but later shifted their focus and instead began taking the Jewish immigrants into Palestine as it was now the most important and the foremost responsibility.

Despite the end of World War II, the anti-Semitism in Europe and the resultant misery of the Jews there was unending. They were released from the German concentration camps, but it was not that joyous for them as their houses did not exist. For many, their entire family was killed. Those who survived to go back to their houses found unknown locals having moved into and squatted on their homes. To temporarily accommodate such people, ‘Displaced Persons Camps’ were built, where those released from the camps stayed as they were left with no other option. However, the most at these camps were keen to return to Palestine.

The British internment camps in Cyprus

When a very few of those whose houses were saved, returned and started to stay in them, within a few days they realized that the anti-Semitism was unabated and that they would now have to face social discrimination and bias.

This meant that those without their own houses and even those with them were left with no other option but to immigrate to Palestine. However, the British government was still fixated to the provisions of the ‘White Paper of 1939’ and not ready to lift the restrictions on immigration.

Taking this into consideration, Winston Churchill in a letter advised Chaim Weizmann to seek the help of the United States on the issue. Then, the US President Harry Truman asked for a report on the prevailing conditions of the Jews in Europe and followed it up with a letter to the British Prime Minister Clement Attlee demanding the lifting of the restrictions on Jewish immigration to Palestine. With it, the United States indicated at being active with regards to the Palestine issue.

At this time, the victor Allied Nations were in the midst of discussions about the treaties to be imposed on the nations which lost at World War II. The ‘League of Nations’ that came into existence after World War I, was till then in the approval of having the ‘Jewish homeland’ under the ‘British Mandate’. The League of Nations was founded after World War I to avoid recurrence of such happening. However, as the League failed to prevent the happening of World War II, its very existence was then uncertain. The war was considered to be the biggest failure of the League.

Consequently, the United Nations (UN) was established after World War II. The Jewish leaders thought that as the League of Nations was in favour of the Jewish homeland, the United Nations would also approve of it.

However, irrespective of the result of the parleys headed by the Allied Nations, the Jews, now desperate for the creation of the ‘Jewish homeland in Palestine’, were not to move back on their aim even by an inch.

The picture after the destruction of Hotel King David in a blast by Irgun (1946)

As a part of the struggle for freedom, the armed underground Jewish organizations in Palestine increased attacks on different installations and various offices of the British.

The ‘King David Hotel’ in Jerusalem was then an expensive, western hotel equipped with modern amenities. On 22 July 1946, the ‘Irgun’ bombed it. This event is one of the major incidents of violence used during the struggle. A part of the building of the hotel housed key military and administrative offices of the British government. It also contained the headquarters of the British forces deployed in Palestine and Transjordan.

The attack on the King David Hotel was rather symbolic. Some days before the bombing, the British forces and police had begun with raids against the Jewish establishments under the ‘Operation Agatha’ also known as the ‘Black Sabbath’. At many places, the British found hidden arms and secret documents pertaining to the Haganah and the Irgun’s proposed plans. The arms and documents seized during these raids were all kept at the British administrative offices inside the building of the King David Hotel. In order to prevent these documents or the plans and their proofs from being revealed, the Irgun planned to blow up the very offices.

The British soldiers searching the Haganah barracks at Kibbutz Yagur during the ‘Black Sabbath’ or the ‘Operation Agatha’

Generally, after 2:00-3:00 in the afternoon, the entertainment areas, restaurants and cafeterias in the hotel would start to get crowded. The Irgun had nothing against the common people and wanted to conduct this attack with a very specific purpose of destroying the secret documents in possession of the British and also to instill terror in their minds. Hence the explosives planted in the basement of the hotel were blasted off avoiding the rush hours of the hotel. The blast completely destroyed the ‘Southern Wing’ of the hotel that housed the British offices and killed more than 90 while injuring more than 45 people who were working at these offices or were there for some work.

The bomb blast led to a furore in Britain and the British media. The British government which till them claimed to have complete control over Palestine came under heavy criticism. Most of the people including Churchill, a supporter of the creation of the Jewish homeland in Palestine, condemned the Irgun’s act. However, along with it, Churchill also claimed that it was necessary to go right to the root of the issue, in fact, he said that it called for the recognition for the Jewish homeland to end such hostilities.

On the other hand, the reverse happened. After the King David Hotel bombing, the British administration in Palestine significantly stepped up their oppression of the Jews. (To be continued…)

– Shulamith Penkar-Nigrekar

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