The Roots of Zionist Terrorism
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The terrorism practiced nowadays by Zionists gangs like Lahava (the flame), Paying the Price, Youths upon the Hills, and the Jewish Fighting Organization cannot be divorced from the terrorism practiced during the British Mandate over Palestine by Zionist gangs which began to form at the beginning of the Twenties of the last century, becoming very active especially in the Thirties and Forties. However, what distinguishes the current Zionist terrorist gangs is that their acts of murder, arson, expulsion, sacrilege and cutting of trees being carried out against the Palestinians on the West Bank take place with the full support, and sometimes the active participation, of the soldiers of the Israeli army of occupation.

Zionist terrorism before 1948

The terms “Jewish terrorism” and “Zionist terrorism” were both used prior to 1948 to refer to terrorist acts committed by armed Zionist gangs which targeted the Arab inhabitants of Palestine as well as the British Mandate authorities. Since the Great Palestine Revolt of 1936-39 and right until the establishment of the State of Israel, Zionist terrorism was used as a strategic military weapon to hasten the founding of an independent Jewish state. Numerous attacks were mounted against Palestinians to terrorize them and drive them out of their ancestral land, and against British army and police outposts. Many assassinations were carried out as well as bombs planted in markets, ships and hotels. Heading these Zionist gangs were men who, in later years, became prime ministers of Israel, such as David Ben-Gurion, Menahem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir.

Zionist terror gangs before 1948

In discussing Zionist terrorism before the creation of the State of Israel, one might point to the activities of four principal gangs: the Haganah, the Irgun (ETZEL), the Stern and the LEHI.

  1. The Haganah gang:

In 1909, an organization called Hashomer (the Guardian) was founded by Yitzhak Ben Zvi and David Ben-Gurion as the first paramilitary formation which raised the slogan “Judaea was lost by blood and fire and will rise again by blood and fire.” It began its activities by assuming security functions for the settlements in the Galilee, then turned into a fighting force. In June 1920, and at the conference of Ahdut Ha Avoda, the formation of the Haganah (Defence) was announced, as an extension of Hashomer. In 1924, it issued its “constitution”, declaring itself to be a secret military formation whose object was to protect the Jewish community in Palestine, the Yishuv. The Haganah was linked to the Jewish Labor Unions (the Histadrut), and trained its members in the use of firearms in the Zionist Kibbutzes and settlements, before some of them enlisted in the British police force in Palestine. This gang also struck deals to buy weapons from outside Palestine which it then smuggled into the country and manufactured some weapons in small workshops founded in these kibbutzes and settlements. In 1939, a leadership structure was created for the Haganah, and was headed by Yacov Dori, later to become the first chief of staff of the Israeli army.

During World War II, hundreds of Haganah members enlisted in the British army to help Britain in its war against Nazi Germany and her allies. This gave them valuable military experience and enabled them to amass large hoards of weapons. At war’s end, and in order to hasten the creation of a Jewish state, members of the Haganah and their elite units, called the Palmach, numbering some 60 thousand male and female fighters and 700 officers, began to carry out terrorist operations against British military and civilian outposts throughout Palestine. Their intelligence outfits then began to gather a lot of information on the Arabs, their towns and places of residence which they made use of in the years 1947 and 1948 in mounting military operations against Palestinian Arabs to drive them out of their towns and villages. Following the establishment of Israel, the Haganah was the base upon which was built the Israeli army and many of its leaders took part in leading that army as well as in occupying political posts in successive Israeli governments.

  1. The Irgun (Etzel) Gang:

In 1923, the head of Revisionist Zionism, Vladimir Jabotinsky, founded in Riga, capital of Latvia, the youth movement called Bitar. In 1931, and following the military principles propagated by Jabotinsky among Bitar members, the Irgun gang was formed in Palestine as the military wing of Revisionist Zionism, following a rift among members of the Haganah gang. Irgun was known as the “National Military Organization” headed first by Avraham Tehomi, who declared that “ political violence and terrorism” were “legitimate means in the Jewish national struggle for the land of Israel.” Beginning in 1938, this gang became active in organizing secret Jewish immigration into Palestine.

Following his arrival in Palestine in 1942, Menahem Begin, a Bitar leader in Poland, succeeded in rearranging and reforming the ranks of this gang and declared a revolt against the British mandate regime in Palestine. He then led a series of terrorist attacks against British and Palestinian Arab targets. The British government declared him a wanted individual and announced a prize for his arrest. Following the creation of Israel, Begin at first announced that Israel had come into existence but that “the entire homeland has not been liberated.” This was because his project entailed that Greater Israel would include all the lands between the Nile and the Euphrates but thereafter came to an agreement with the Provisional Government in Tel Aviv to disarm the Irgun gang and turn it into a political movement called Herut (Freedom) which, in 1973, participated in the creation of the Likud party.

  1. The Stern Gang:

This gang, a breakaway from the Irgun, was founded in 1940 by Avraham Stern, whose code name was “Yair.” This followed a dispute which started as a result of this gang’s intention to continue terrorist activities against the British Mandate without regard to the ongoing world war, its opposition to Jews enlisting in the British army, and its intention to cooperate on a tactical basis with any movement that supported fighting the British in Palestine or obstructed Jewish institutions and organizations created during the Mandate. To that effect, Stern wrote: “Our current leaders haver learnt to say ‘No’ to the British. They are ghetto Jews, whose mentality has not changed. It is up to us, a small minority, to declare this war in the name of the people, and the masses will follow us, willy-nilly.” Stern called for a state extending from the Nile to the Euphrates and contacted Italian Fascists with a view to weakening British power in the Middle East. Under his leadership, this gang carried out operations of robbery and attempted assassinations targeting British officials and Jewish police officers, labelled “collaborators” with the British.

  1. The Lehi Gang:

On February 12, 1942, the British police killed Avraham Stern while he was hiding out in Tel Aviv. His followers then formed a new and secret movement called Lehi, an acronym for “Fighters for the Freedom of Israel.” Lehi became notorious for using assassinations as terrorist weapons, carrying out some 42 assassinations, amounting to double the number of assassinations committed by both the Irgun and the Haganah. The Israeli government, seizing the chance of the assassination of Count Folke Bernadotte in September, 1948, dismantled Lehi’s military structure and a military court sentenced its leaders, Natan Yellin-Mor and Matityahu Shmuel Vitz, to long prison terms, later commuted through a general pardon. From among its ranks, Yitzhak Shamir was prominent, becoming Israel’s Prime Minister in 1983.

The most infamous terrorist acts committed by these gangs

These gangs carried out numerous terrorist acts against the Palestinian Arab population, especially during the Great Palestinian Revolt, and these included:

--On March 17, 1937, a member of the Irgun terrorist gang, and for the first time, tossed a hand grenade into a café frequented by Palestinians in Jerusalem, causing numerous casualties.

--On July 6, 1938, members of the Irgun gang detonated time bombs in a crowded Haifa market, killing 21 Palestinians and wounding 52.

--In June 1939, the village of Balad al-Shaykh, in Haifa province, was attacked by a unit of the Haganah. Five villagers were abducted then murdered.

--On the morning of November 25, 1940, a huge explosion shook the city of Haifa. The explosion, it was later determined, took place on the SS Patria, a French ship which had docked in the city’s harbor. On board were 1800 male and female Jews whom the British authorities wanted to deport to the island of Mauritius, since they did not have the necessary residence permits to enter Palestine. This the Haganah rejected and so decided to blow up the ship to prevent their deportation. As a result, 252 Jews and 12 British policemen were killed and 172 passengers were wounded. Palestinian workers in Haifa harbor managed to save the rest of the passengers. Following that incident, the British authorities decided to allow survivors to reside in Palestine.

As World War II was coming to an end, and in its immediate aftermath, these Zionist gangs intensified their anti-British operations. These included:

--On August 8, 1944, Lehi attempted to assassinate Sir Harold McMichael, the British High Commissioner in Palestine.

--On November 6, 1944, two members of the Lehi gang assassinated Lord Moyne in Cairo. Lord Moyne was then the highest-ranking representative of the British government in the Middle East. He was targeted for advocating the creation of an Arab federation in the Middle East. The two assassins, Eliyahu Bet-Zuri and Eliyahu Hakim, were arrested, tried by a military court, and hanged on March 23, 1945.

--On 18 June 1946, hostages were abducted in Tel Aviv to pressure the British authorities, the first time this terrorist strategy was used.

--On 29 June 1946, the British mandate police force carried out a wave of arrests in the offices of the Jewish Agency. The Irgun gang, led by Menahem Begin, decided to retaliate by targeting the British army’s HQ in Jerusalem, located in the King David Hotel, dynamiting it on July 22, 1946. As a result, 28 Britons, 17 Jews, 41 Palestinians and 5 others were killed, a total of 91 dead.

--On October 31, 1946, the British Embassy in Rome was bombed.

--On December 5, 1946, and for the first time, a car parked near some buildings in Sarafand was detonated.

--From June 4 to 6, 1947, twenty letter bombs were sent from Italy to British politicians in London.

--On July 29, 1947, members of that same gang kidnapped and killed some British soldiers in the Netanya region.

--But the most important operation carried out by Lehi was the assassination of Swedish Count Folke Bernadotte (1895-1948) who had been Vice-President of the Swedish Red Cross before being appointed by UN Secretary General, the Norwegian Trygve Halvdan Lie, as “mediator” in Palestine in May 1948. On September 17, 1948. Bernadotte actively sought to amend the map that partitioned Palestine in an attempt to reach a compromise between Arabs and Jews. This led the Lehi leadership to decide to assassinate him and four of its members, wearing Israeli army uniforms, blocked his car on September 17, 1948, in the Jerusalem sector controlled by Israel, and shot him along with French Colonel Andre Serot, head of the UN Observers in the city, who accompanied Bernadotte. Both men were killed instantly.  To obscure the identity of the assassins, a movement called the “Patriotic Front” announced its responsibility but this did not succeed as a cover-up for the true assassins. Bernadotte’s assassination was widely condemned, and a minute of silence was observed in his memory at the UN General Assembly then in session.

--On April 9, 1948, units from the Irgun and Lehi committed a massacre in the village of Dayr Yasin, with a population of some 700. More than a hundred of them were murdered in cold blood.

At a meeting of Haganah leaders in Tel Aviv in March, 1948, and with Ben-Gurion present, it was decided to draw up a comprehensive plan for ethnic cleansing, known as “Plan Dalet”, according to which numerous massacres were carried out to terrorize the Palestinian civilian population and to drive them out of their homeland. Some massacres were carried out before the creation of the Israeli army, as in the Tantura massacre, a village south of Haifa, on 22 and 23 May, 1948, which resulted in the killing of more than 200 Palestinian men and women. Others were committed after that army was formed, as in the village of al-Dawaymah in the al-Khalil (Hebron) district, on October 29, 1948, where hundreds of Palestinian men and women were killed.

The Museums perpetuating the memory of these terrorist gangs

After 1948, museums were built to perpetuate the memory of these Zionist gangs, and their terrorist crimes were encompassed under the collective memory of the so-called “Armed Struggle” for the creation of a Jewish state.

--The Haganah Museum: This was founded in Tel Aviv by the “Antiquities Unit” attached to Israel’s Ministry of Defence and carries the name of Haganah founder Eliyahu Golomb. The Museum was set up to the side of his house where the Haganah leaders used to meet to plan terrorist operations against the Palestinians and the British.

--The Etzel Museum: This was founded in Tel Aviv as a result of an initiative by the Society of Etzel Fighters to commemorate their comrades and was named after Amichai Paglin who led the military operation that ended with the fall of Jaffa. It was opened in 1983 by Menahem Begin, Israel’s Prime Minister, a leader of that gang.

--The Lehi Museum or “Beit Yair”: This was founded in Tel Aviv in the house where Avraham Stern, or “Yair”, was killed by British policemen. The Museum runs shows illustrating his life and activities and holds cultural and educational events for students and the young as well as lectures and study periods.


The ancestors of today’s Jewish settlers, who currently terrorize the Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem, committed horrific terrorist acts in the Thirties and Forties of last century.  Members of these Zionist gangs, especially the Irgun and Stern gangs, took the lead in employing terror as a political weapon in the Middle East. After the creation of Israel, they were the pioneers of what often became Israeli state policy of terror as evidenced in the numerous massacres committed by the Israeli army and the violence perpetrated against the Palestinian people under the official sanction of ruling political parties, such as the Likud, founded by former prominent members of Zionist terrorist gangs like the Irgun and Lehi. If Zionist terrorism in Palestine contributed to determining the course of events during the British Mandate, it is Israel’s state terrorism which determines today’s course of events.




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- Yalin-Mor, Nathan. Israel, Israel…Histoire du groupe Stern 1940-1948. Paris: Presses de la Renaissance, 1978.


- بسيوني، أحمد. "العصابات الصهيونيّة: الهاغاناه من ʾالحارسʿ إلى ʾالجنديّ وسلاحهʿ". "عرب 48"، 19/3/2023.

- المركز الفلسطيني للدراسات الإسرائيلية (مدار). "موسوعة المصطلحات: إيتسل".

- ___________. "موسوعة المصطلحات: الليحي".

- __________. "موسوعة المصطلحات: متاحف في إسرائيل".

- __________. "موسوعة المصطلحات: "الهاغاناه".

Author Bio: 

Maher Charif a Palestinian historian, holder of doctorate of State in Arts and Human Sciences from the Sorbonne University - Paris I. He is a researcher at the Institute for Palestine Studies and ssociate researcher at the French Institute for the Near East - Beirut.