Irgun fighters
Irgun fighters Jabotinsky Institute

The Irgun Tzva’i Le’umi or National Military Organisation, usually known by its Hebrew acronym Etzel or simply as “the Irgun” (“the Organisation”), was maybe the most efficacious fighting force in pre-independence Israel. Far smaller than the Haganah, and incomparably smaller than the British Army which was the legal occupying power, it packed more punch per person than any of the others except, perhaps, the Lehi (Lohamei Herut Yisrael, or Fighters for the Freedom of Israel, also known as the Stern Group).

The Etzel made extensive use of propaganda in their underground war against British occupation. This consisted mainly of two components: radio broadcasts, and printed broadsheets.

Their operatives pasted these broadsheets on walls – usually children who were too young to bear arms and fight, and who if caught and arrested by the British would not face death penalty for supporting was they called “terrorists”.

Others took bundles of these broadsheets and scattered them throughout public areas, where anyone could take and read them.

75 years ago this week, the Irgun published the following broadsheet in English, directed at the rank-and-file soldiers of the British Army. I reproduce it here word-for-word, adding solely the references to the historical notes which were unnecessary at the time:

To All Other Ranks:

Your generals, who serve the oil magnates and the blue-blooded aristocracy, are throwing away your lives.

They are doing it every day. They keep you in a foreign country which is rebelling against enslavement and fighting for its freedom.

They lock themselves up in “fortresses” and behind barbed wire – but they send you to oppress – and to be killed.

But the best illustration of their complete disregard for your lives was given you this last week by the hanging of three Hebrew soldiers [1] and the subsequent hanging of two of your Intelligence sergeants [2].

You will remember than when two others of our comrades were “sentenced” to death a year ago [3], we captured five British officers. Your generals quickly “commuted” the sentence on their Hebrew prisoners in order to save the lives of the officers.

One day before our comrade Dov Gruner was to be hanged last February we captured a British major and a British judge – of an “aristocratic” family. Your generals at once postponed the murder “indefinitely” – in order to save the members of their own class.

And now we captured, as it happened, two of your sergeants – and your generals did not hesitate for a moment to leave them to their fate, even though they knew that the Irgun always keeps its word. The Irgun demands the status of prisoners of war for its soldiers and is prepared to extend the same status to enemy soldiers falling into their hands. It has always done so.

When thirty of your men were captured by us during an operation at the Exhibition Grounds in Tel-Aviv and were completely at our mercy, not a hair on their heads was harmed.

But if Irgun soldiers are hanged, the soldiers of the enemy will be hanged too. Your Generals knew this. But in spite of this they murdered our three comrades – and sealed the fate of the two sergeants.

Why?

Because the two sergeants were not sons of the “aristocracy,” or members of the ruling class, because they were just sergeants.

And so they throw away your lives – for their profit and their positions. So they send you to be killed – so that they should be able to live in luxury.

British soldiers!

How long will you continue to be blind tools of your rulers?

How long will you continue to shed your blood for their oil?

Demand your repatriation!

There, in your country, you can live in peace with your families.

There, in your Homeland, there is constructive world to be done.

Go home – and leave us in peace in our Home.

Do not give your lives to fill the pockets of your oil magnates, or to satisfy the stupid ambitions of the most stupid Cabinet Minister [4] you have ever had.

IRGUN ZVAI LEUMI

b’Eretz Israel

Historical notes:

[1] At dawn on Wednesday 9th July 1947, the British occupation authorities hanged three Irgun soldiers, Avshalom Haviv (21 years old), Meir Nakar (21 years old), and Ya’akov Weiss (23 years old), in Acre Prison. These three had served as the covering unit in the Acre Fortress prison-break on 4th May 1947.

Located on the coast of an Arab town with no Jewish inhabitants, the Acre Prison was the most heavily-protected prison in the country, ringed by British Army bases, and should have been impregnable.

There were 163 Jews in the prison (60 Irgun soldiers, 22 Lehi soldiers, 5 Haganah soldiers, and 76 criminals), and about 400 Arabs (all criminals). The Irgun blew up the outer wall at 4:22 in the afternoon, thus beginning the prison-rescue. 42 Irgun and Lehi soldiers escaped (214 of the Arab prisoners also exploited the opportunity and escaped).

Avshalom Haviv, Meir Nakar, and Ya’akov Weiss were arrested there, charged with “illegal possession of arms” and “intent to kill or cause other harm to a large number of people”, and after swift trials were executed; from arrest to execution was just 9 weeks. They were denied due process of law, and even denied right of appeal.

[2] Sergeant Clifford Martin and Sergeant Mervyn Paice, both from the Intelligence Corps.

[3] Yosef Simchon and Michael Ashbel were arrested on 6th March 1946 for raiding the Sarafand British military base; they were sentenced to death on 13th June. The Irgun then kidnapped six British Army officers; one escaped, and the Irgun released two others, for them to deliver the warning that the remaining two would be hanged.

The clandestine radio station Kol Tziyyon ha-Lohemet (the Voice of Fighting Zion) broadcast the warning: “If you hang our prisoners, then as G-d is our witness, we will break your gallows. We will give you gallows for gallows”.

As a consequence, the British agreed to a compromise, worked out with the Mayor of Tel Aviv Yisrael Rokach: the High Commissioner Sir Alan Cunningham commuted their death sentences to life imprisonment, and the next day the Irgun released the two officers.

[4] Ernest Bevin, at the time British Foreign Secretary. He was probably the single most hated British official in Israel, largely due to his stubborn refusal to allow survivors of the Shoah into British-ruled Palestine and his claims that there was some shadowy international Jewish conspiracy against Britain and against him personally.

Daniel Pinneris a veteran immigrant from England, a teacher by profession and a Torah scholar who has been active in causes promoting Eretz Israel and Torat Israel.