Veteran fighters from the Lehi Underground ("Lohamey Herut Yisrael" - Fighters for the Freedom of Israel) that fought the British Empire during the 1940s to liberate the Land of Israel, gathered in Jerusalem Sunday night to celebrate the 70th anniversary of their movement’s founding.
The ceremony, which packed the capital’s Menachem Begin Heritage Center to capacity, included speeches from Lehi veterans and leading politicians as well as musical interludes featuring Zionist poetry from the era of the anti-British struggle for freedom.
Lehi was founded in 1940 by revolutionary poet Avraham “Yair” Stern after the "Irgun Tzvai Leumi" (National Military Organization) agreed to a ceasefire with Britain while the British were engaged in fighting Nazi Germany. Stern, then an Irgun commander, criticized the ceasefire and argued that although the Germans were haters of the Jewish people, the British were the primary enemy of the Jewish people and that only through liberating the Land of Israel from British rule could the Jews of Europe be saved by having an independent Jewish state to which to flee.
Stern led his followers out of the Irgun and launched an urban guerrilla war against the British occupation of Palestine.
The British administration reacted swiftly to Lehi’s insurrection with a series of arrests and targeted assassinations. Stern himself was shot dead while handcuffed by British detectives in 1942 after being discovered in a Tel Aviv apartment. Although the movement’s leadership was either dead or imprisoned and the organization was virtually extinct, Lehi fighters began to stage daring jailbreaks and eventually reorganized their movement into an effective clandestine underground led by the triumvirate of Natan Yellin-Mor, Dr. Israel Eldad and future Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir.
According to Lehi Heritage Foundation Chairman Yair Stern (son of slain leader Avraham Stern), the movement included fighters from all walks of life “including Ashkenazim and Sephardim, secular and religious, left and right, ultra-Orthodox Jews from Mea Sha'arim and Arabs from Abu-Ghosh.” All were united in the common anti-imperialist struggle to liberate the Land of Israel from British rule.
Following World War II, when the Irgun – and for a very brief period also the "Haganah" – joined in the struggle against British occupation in Palestine, Lehi adopted a “Neutralization Plan” for the Middle East that would prevent the region from taking sides in the Cold War between the United States and Soviet Union. Lehi proposed a unification of Middle Eastern peoples against imperialism in the region and called on the Arab proletariat to join in the broader anti-imperialist struggle by overthrowing their puppet leaders, such as the Hashemite King Abdullah of Trans-Jordan.
When the British were forced to end their occupation of Palestine in 1947, a pro-Soviet trend had already taken root within Lehi. For the Marxists within the movement, this trend was ideological but for others it was tactical. Soviet Russia viewed Britain and the United States as enemies and looked favorably upon militant national liberation movements fighting against the forces of Western imperialism. Lehi’s daring actions and anti-imperialist ideology greatly impressed the Soviet Union and contributed to Moscow’s temporary support for the establishment of a Jewish state.
At the ceremony on Sunday marking 70 years since Lehi’s establishment, Minister of Culture and Sport Limor Livnat (Likud) said that “unfortunately after 62 years of Jewish statehood we see that we still cannot disband the Israel Defense Forces,” to which Member of Knesset Professor Arieh Eldad (National Union) responded, “After 62 years we plainly see that we should have never disbanded Lehi.”
Eldad, whose late father Dr. Israel Eldad served as Lehi’s ideological leader following Stern’s assassination, went on to speak about the movement’s platform, the "18 Principles of Rebirth," which includes the establishment of a utopian society based on the morality of Israel and justice of the Prophets as well as the construction of the Third Temple in Jerusalem as a symbol of the Jewish people’s complete liberation.