Did Menachem Begin Err? - Part I

The entire country was in an uproar when Uri Elitzur, editor of the Nekuda monthly and director-general of the Prime Minister's office under Binyamin Netanyahu, called for refusal to obey the order to uproot settlements and even justified violence.

Nadia Matar

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The entire country was in an uproar when Uri Elitzur, editor of the Nekuda monthly and director-general of the Prime Minister's office under Binyamin Netanyahu, called for refusal to obey the order to uproot settlements and even justified violence.

In the B'Sheva newspaper, Elitzur wrote: "The uprooting of a settlement is illegal and shocking, and therefore justifies refusing an order and the use of force - except for firearms - and every way in which a person can defend his home, from which he is expelled for political reasons."

As was to be expected, a number of Knesset members from the Left filed requests with Attorney General Menachem Mazuz to bring charges against Elitzur and his supporters for incitement and sedition. In addition, the leftists also filed complaints against the Judea, Samaria and Gaza Council of Rabbis, and called for charges to be pressed against them for having declared: "No citizen, policeman, or soldier is permitted to assist in the uprooting of settlements."

In marked contrast, the country remained quiet when public figures from the Left called to refuse any order of transfer of the Arabs, and also advocated violence. The examples are numerous:

Yossi Sarid and Yair Tzaban wrote in Yedioth Ahronoth, Wednesday, June 27, 1990, in response to the proposal to temporarily move several Arab villages until the end of the grape harvest: "Let there be no misunderstandings amongst us, and let it not be said that you were not warned in advance: We shall not obey the transfer order, nor will our children and those we have educated obey it. The day that the transfer order - which is a patently illegal order - will be given, shall be the day of refusal to obey an order." Others in the leftist camp wrote that they were willing to blow up bridges in order to stop the evacuation of Arab settlements.

As regards the violence which the Left is willing, and wants, to employ, there are even more numerous examples. The following are only a small portion of these instances.

* Yehonatan Gefen, 1998: "Secular Israel is the occupied territories of the religious parties. If the secular desire to live here, they have no choice but to start an intifada. Yes, I am prepared to throw the first stone."

* An article in the Ha-Kibbutz newsletter, August 1995: "They [the settlers] are not my brothers. ...A civil war will be a war... I will run to it... and I will crush their flesh with mighty blows, to rout them. ...I will go forth to the foe in order to fight, for once, a justified war. ...Much blood will be shed."

* Zeev Sternhal, in the Davar newspaper, 1988: "Fascism cannot be stopped with rational arguments. This can be stopped only by force, and when there is willingness to risk a civil war. When necessary, we shall have to forcibly deal with the settlers in Ofrah or in Elon Moreh. Only a person who is willing to advance against Ofrah with tanks will be capable of curbing the fascist drift that threatens to inundate Israeli democracy."

* In an article in the Ha'aretz newspaper in 2001, this same Sternhal incited the Arabs to murder settlers, advising the terrorist organizations to place explosive charges only on the eastern side of the Green Line. "There is no doubt regarding the legitimacy of the [Arab] armed resistance in the territories themselves. If the Palestinians had a bit of sense, they would concentrate their struggle against the settlements. ...They would similarly refrain from placing explosive charges on the western side of the Green Line."

When Women in Green filed a complaint against Sternhal with the police, for incitement to murder and identification with a terrorist organization, I was informed of "the decision to no longer investigate your complaint, for the reason that 'there is no criminal guilt'" in Sternhal's statements.

* Ami Ayalon: The same thing happened when we filed a complaint against the statement by Ami Ayalon, former head of the secret service, when he incited to murder settlers in an interview in Yedioth Ahronoth, November 14, 2003. According to Ayalon, another Altalena has to be done against the settlers who would refuse to evacuate of their own free will. "There is more than one Altalena in the life of every state or nation. ...The political leadership in the State of Israel has already taken difficult decisions when the alternative was clear, and in the future, the political leadership will have to take difficult decisions when the alternative is clear," said Ayalon.

Anyone who knows a bit of history knows that this is a call for the murder of Jews. Talia Sasson, at the time the director of the Division for "Special Tasks" in the Justice Department (better known in nationalist circles as "the Department for the Persecution of Nationalist Jews") answered me:

"After an examination of this matter, it was decided that what Mr. Ami Ayalon said in the context of the interview that is the subject of the complaint, does not constitute a criminal transgression.

"It is our understanding that Mr. Ami Ayalon did not call for the implementation of a violent act against settlers, but rather estimated that when it will be necessary to evacuate settlements, there will be a certain percentage of inhabitants who will not consent to be evacuated from the settlements of their own free will. In such a situation, he maintains, the state will have no alternative other than to confront anyone who will not obey the legal order of the elected government."

In other words, Talia Sasson agrees that in the event that settlers refuse to be evacuated, the state must "confront anyone who will not obey," and, according to her, Ayalon's statements are within the realm of the permitted. Talia Sasson does not have a problem with the state conducting an Altalena against them - that is, that the state will shoot and murder them.

How is it that people are becoming so excited by the statements of Uri Elitzur and the Judea, Samaria and Gaza Council of Rabbis, but completely disregard the incitement by the Left? It could be argued that the media and the judicial system have a leftist bias, and therefore relate forgivingly to the invective of leftists, but are up in arms against individuals with a nationalist orientation. But this is an overly simplistic explanation, as well as being incorrect, for Uri Elitzur was also denounced by senior members of the nationalist camp such as Benzi Lieberman and others in the Council of Jewish Settlements in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, as well as Zevulun Orlev and other National Religious Party people.

What shocks them so?

In my humble opinion, the answer lies in the policy of restraint of Menachem Begin during "the Season" and the episode of the Altalena.

The Menachem Begin Heritage Center was recently opened, and the Maariv newspaper published a special section to mark this event. The section contains an article by Menahem Rahat entitled "Jew Shall Not Take Up Sword Against Jew", in which Rahat reminds us of the following, which many of us have unfortunately forgotten: "Many remember Menachem Begin mainly for the peace treaty with Egypt... but Begin himself wanted to be remembered, more than anything, because of a completely different event that occurred decades before he was first elected Prime Minister. ...'After my death, I hope to be remembered, above all, as the one who prevented civil war.'

"Israel stood before civil war twice before the establishment of the State. In each circumstance, Begin, then the Commander of the IZL - Irgun Zvai Leumi - used all his influence... to prevent a war of Jews against Jews. The first time was during the time of the Season (the 'hunting season') in 1944-1945, when Ben-Gurion declared total war against the IZL because of their refusal to accept the policy of restraint adopted by the organized Yishuv [the pre-State Jewish community in Eretz Israel]. Hundreds were arrested and handed over to the British, but Begin persuaded his people not to respond. The second time was when the IDF shelled the Altalena that was anchored off the Tel Aviv coast, due to the fear that the arms [on board] would help the IZL as independent military force in the fledgling State of Israel. Begin, who was on the ship, ordered his men not to return fire. 'Civil war - never,' he ordered on both occasions."

For perfectly clear reasons, very little is spoken about the time of "the Season", during which Ben-Gurion's leftists persecuted their brothers from the IZL, kidnapped them, and handed them over to the British, knowing that the latter would abuse them and even murder them. Israeli youth is totally unaware of this scandalous episode. Consequently, in order to understand what is happening today, and to remember what leftists are capable of doing to their brothers, it is important to recall the horrifying details. Let us therefore continue quoting Menahem Rahat's article:

"In December 1943, the 30-year-old Menachem Begin assumes command of the IZL. A month later, in January 1944, the IZL issued a flyer proclaiming the revolt against British Mandatory rule. The reason: 'The refusal of the British to allow the refugees from the Nazi beast to enter Eretz-Israel.' Some time later, the IZL initiated a series of attacks against the institutions of British rule. The organized Jewish Yishuv, under the leadership of David Ben-Gurion, the Chairman of the Jewish Agency, demanded that the IZL stop the attacks, but the IZL refused. ...Begin ridiculed what seemed to him to be the childish innocence of the Yishuv leadership, which wanted to rely upon Churchill's good will, while the British were blocking the shores of Eretz Israel against the surviving remnant. When Begin rejected all the requests not to conduct an independent war against the British, Eliyahu Golomb, the Minister of Security of the Yishuv [i.e., the head of the Haganah], declared: 'If so, then we will step in and eliminate them.'

"At that point, Ben-Gurion began to plan the Season. In the first stage, Palmah members were brought into the big cities, in order to conduct surveillance of IZL members and plan their kidnapping. The IZL learned of these threatening plans, but the order was given not to fall prey to provocations. ...For the Season operation, 250 Palmah members, hundreds of members of the Plugot ha-Poel [Labor troops], and active members of the Haganah's Intelligence Service were mobilized. They gathered information, kidnapped IZL activists, and handed them over to the British Criminal Investigation Division. In his book The Revolt, Begin speaks about some 1,500 IZL members who were arrested.

"Begin resolved not to respond. He writes in his book The Revolt: 'This horrendous episode continued for many months. We said: There will be no civil war. In actuality, a cruel civil war raged throughout Eretz-Israel, but this was a unilateral civil war.' ...Indeed, the IZL refrained from responding to the persecutions, the denunciations, and the arrests that were initiated by the organized Yishuv. In a flyer issued on December 3, 1944, Begin explained the policy of non-response: 'Shall a civil war erupt in Eretz-Israel? Shall we see our children raising a hand or a weapon against his fellow? ...Be calm, loyal Jews, there shall be no war of Jews against Jews in this land.' The fighters from the ranks of the IZL opposed Begin's policy of restraint, but he convinced them of their duty to show restraint in the face of the persecutions.

[Part 1 of 2]