Under Ottoman Rule - 1882-1917   Under British Mandatory Rule 1918-1948

Under Ottoman Rule - 1882-1917

Bar Giora

In the last quarter of the 19th century, when the first Jewish agricultural settlements came into being (see First Aliyah), the Jewish settlers had to cope with border friction, disputes over water rights and intrusions on their crops and property. Their choice was either to fight for their rights or to be left to the mercy of their neighbors. As a result, individuals and groups of young people organized to fight for these elementary rights. This was the period of the first shomrim - watchmen - typical of whom was Abraham Shapira. After some time, guard duty in most of the settlements became the task of local Arab strong men, who undertook to protect the Jewish settlers by sending their men to guard Jewish life and property.

The immigrants of the Second Aliyah were critical of the early settlers and well aware of the dangers involved in employing non-Jewish watchmen. On the initiative of Yisrael Shochat, about ten of them, including Yitzhak Ben Zvi and Alexander Zeid, met in Jaffa in 1907 and founded a secret sociey called Bar-Giora (named after Simeon Bar Giora, the Jewish military leader in the war against Rome, (66-70 C.E.), with the aim of winning the right to work and guard the settlements as well as developing Jewish settlement in new areas. The members of Bar Giora were given responsibility for the protection of Sejera (Ilaniyah) and, in 1908, of Mesha (Kefar Tavor). In 1909, Bar Giora merged with the new defense body - Hashomer.


HaShomer ("The Watchman") - the association of Jewish watchmen in Eretz Yisrael was active between 1909 and 1920. It was founded in April 1909 and was headed by a committee of three - Yisrael Shohat, Yisrael Giladi, and Mendel Portugali. Within three years, HaShomer assumed responsibility for the protection of some seven villages. Other settlements also passed to an all-Jewish guard system. Members of Ha-Shomer were prominent in the life of the new yishuv and played an important part in settling new land.

At the outbreak of World War I, HaShomer was forced underground and two of its leaders, Manya and Yisrael Shochat, were exiled in 1915 to Anatolia. In 1916, it began to recover: its members collected and stored arms, and organized the protection of Jewish property. Ha-Shomer opposed the espionage activities of Nili (see also Yosef Lishanski).

During the British campaign in Palestine, members of HaShomer joined the Jewish Legion, while others joined the mounted police, and played a prominent part in the defense of Tel - Hai and Jerusalem during the Arabs riots in 1920 and 1921. However, new members of the yishuv leadership demanded the reorganization of defense on a broader basis under the discipline of the recognized Jewish authorities. In June 1920, HaShomer ceased to exist as separate body. Its members, however, maintained contact and made an important contribution to the yishuv's defense.

HaNotrim, the British Mandate's Jewish Supernumary Police Force (1936-39), may be considered a successor to this function.

The Jewish Legion

Logo of the British army's
Zion Mule Corps

Military formation of Jewish volunteers in World War I, who fought in the British Army for the liberation of Eretz Yisrael from Turkish rule. The idea was raised, on December 1914, by Vladimir Jabotinsky and was fully embraced by Yosef Trumpeldor. By the end of March 1915, 500 Jewish volunteers from among the yishuv deportees in Egypt had started training.

British military command opposed the participation of Jewish volunteers on the Palestinian front and suggested they volunteers serve as a detachment for mule transport on some other sector of the Turkish front. Trumpeldor succeeded in forming the 650 -strong Zion Mule Corps, of whom 562 were sent to the Galipoli front. Meanwhile, Vladimir Jabotinsky pursued his project of a Jewish Legion for the Palestinian front. Finally, on August 1917, the formation of a Jewish regiment was officially announced.

The unit was designated as the 38th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers. It included British volunteers, members of the former Zion Mule Corps and a large number of Russian Jews. On April 1918 it was joined by the 39th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers, over 50% of whom were American volunteers. In June 1918, The 38th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers was sent to Palestine, where the volunteers fought for the liberation of Eretz Yisrael from Turkish rule. The Jewish Legion was demobilized by the anti-Zionist British Military Administration (1918 -1920).


First Judeans Regimental Symbol



Secret, pro-British spying organization, which operated under Turkish rule in Palestine during World War I, under the leadership of the agronomist Aaron Aaronsohn. An acronym for the Hebrew verse "Netzah Yisrael Lo Yeshaker" - the strength of Israel will not lie (I Sam. 15:29), which served as its password.

Nili was founded by a number of Jews in the moshavot who believed that the future of the Jews depended on Palestine (Eretz Yisrael) being taken over by Britain. In February 1917, contact was first established between the espionage center in Atlit and British intelligence in Cairo. The connections were maintained by sea for several months and the British received useful information collected by the group.

In September 1917, the Turks caught a carrier pigeon sent from Atlit to Egypt with clear proof of espionage within the Jewish population. The leadership of the Yishuv and the Ha-Shomer organization dissociated itself from Nili's actions. One of the group, Na'aman Belkind, was captured by the Turks. The network was later uncovered by the Turkish police and in October 1917, Turkish soldiers surrounded the moshava Zikhron Ya'akov and arrested numerous people, including Aaronsohn's sister, Sarah Aaronsohn, who committed suicide after four days of torture.

The prisoners were incarcerated in Damascus. Lishansky and Belkind were sentenced to death. With Aaron Aaronsohn's death in an air accident on May 1919, the group finally broke up.

Under British Mandatory Rule 1918-1948

The Haganah

The underground military organization of the yishuv in Eretz Yisrael from 1920 to 1948. The Arab riots in 1920 and 1921 (q.v., see also Tel Hai) strengthened the view that it was impossible to depend upon the British authorities and that the yishuv needed to create an independent defense force completely free of foreign authority. In June 1920, the Haganah was founded.

During the first nine years of its existence, the Haganah was a loose organization of local defense groups in the large towns and in several of the settlements. The Arab riots in 1929 (q.v.) brought about a complete change in the Haganah's status.


  • It became a large organization encompassing nearly all the youth and adults in the settlements, as well as several thousand members from each of the cities.
  • It initiated a comprehensive training program for its members, ran officers' training courses;

  • Established central arms depots into which a continuous stream of light arms flowed from Europe.

  • Simultaneously, the basis was laid for the underground production of arms.



1936-1939, the years of the
Arab Revolt, were the years in which the Haganah matured and developed from a militia into a military body. Although the British administration did not officially recognize the Haganah, the British Security Forces cooperated with it by establishing HaNotrim (Jewish Supernumary Police - J.S.P., and an elite unit within it, the Jewish Auxiliary Police - the ghafirs), which was a civilian militia that grew from 6,000 to 14,000 and became absorbed into the British Army during the Second World War, and was at the core of the Yishuv's demand for a separate Jewish Unit within the British armed forces. In the summer of 1938 Special Night Squads - S.N.S. were extablished, under the command of Captain Orde Wingate (Plugot Sadeh, Yitzhak Sadeh).

During the years of the riots, the Haganah protected the establishment of over 50 new settlements in new area of the country (see Homa Umigdal - Stockade and Watchtower Settlements). As a result of the British government anti-Zionist policy, expressed in the White Paper of 1939, the Haganah supported illegal immigration and organized demonstrations against the British anti-Zionist policy.

With the outbreak of World War II, the Haganah was faced with new problems. It headed a movement of volunteers, from which Jewish units were formed for service in the British army (see Jewish Brigade Group). It also cooperated with British intelligence units and sent its personnel out on various commando missions in the Middle East. Another example of this cooperation was the dropping of 32 Jewish parachutists in 1943-44 behind enemy lines in the Balkans, Hungary and Slovakia. Europe (see also Hannah Szenesh, Enzo Sereni, Haviva Reik).

At the same time, the Haganah further strengthened its independent basis during the war. A systematic program of training was instituted for the youth of the country. In 1941, the Haganah's first mobilized regiment, the Palmach came into being. At the end of the war, when it became clear that the British government had no intention of altering its anti-Zionist policy, the Haganah began an open, organized struggle against British Mandatory rule in the framework of a unified Jewish Resistance Movement, consisting of Haganah, Irgun Zevai Le'umi - Etzel, and Lohamei Herut Yisrael - Lehi.

Haganah branches were established at Jewish D.P. [displaced person] camps in Europe and Haganah members accompanied the "illegal" immigrant boats. In the spring of 1947, David Ben Gurion took it upon himself to direct the general policy of the Haganah, especially in preparation for impending Arab attack. On May 26 1948, the Provisional Government of Israel decided to transform the Haganah into the regular army of the State, to be called "Zeva Haganah Le-Yisrael" - The Israel Defense Forces.

Irgun Zeva'i Le'umi - "The National Military Organization" (abbr. Etzel, I.Z.L.)

Armed Jewish underground organization, founded in 1931 by a group of Haganah commanders, who left the Haganah in protest against its defense charter. In April 1937, during the Arab riots, the organization split - about half its members returned to the Haganah. The rest formed a new Irgun Zeva'i Le'umi (abbr. Etzel), which was ideologically linked with the Revisionist Movement and accepted the authority of its leader, Vladimir Jabotinsky.

Etzel rejected the "restraint" policy of the Haganah and carried out armed reprisals against Arabs, which were condemned by the Jewish Agency. Many of its members were arrested by the British authorities; one of them, Shlomo Ben Yosef, was hanged for shooting an Arab bus. After the publication of the White Paper in May 1939, Etzel directed its activities against the British Mandatory autorities.

At the outbreak of World War II, the organization declared a truce, which led to a second split (see Lohamei Herut Yisrael). Etzel members joined the British Army's Palestinian units and later the Jewish Brigade.

From 1943 Etzel was headed by Menahem Begin. In February 1944, Etzel declared war against the British administration. It attacked and blew up government offices, military installations and police stations. The Jewish Agency and the Haganah moved against the Etzel in a campaign nicknamed the Sezon. Etzel joined the Jewish Resistance Movement and after its disintegration in August 1946, Etzel continued attacks on British military and government objectives.

In April 1947, four members of the organization were hanged in Acre prison. In May 1947, Etzel broke into the fortress at Acre and freed 41 prisoners. In July 1947, when 3 other Etzel members were executed, the I.Z.L. hanged two British sergeants.

After the Declaration of Independence, the Etzel high command offered to disband the organization and integrate its members into the army of the new Jewish state. It was subsequently disbanded and full integration was achieved in September 1948.

Lohamei Herut Yisrael (abbr. Lehi)

Armed underground organization founded by

Abraham Stern in June 1940, after the Irgun Zeva'i Le'umi decided on a truce on armed activities against the British during the war. Lehi declared a continuation of the struggle against the British, opposed the voluntary enlistment of Jews into British Army, and even attempted to contact representatives of the Axis.

During January and February 1942, clashes between members of the "Stern group" and the British authorities reached their peak. The British forces reacted by arresting and killing leading members of the group. Abraham Stern himself was caught and killed by British police officers. In early 1944, Lehi resumed its operations, joining in the struggle against the British through affiliation to the Jewish Resistance Movement. During and after this period, Lehi carried out sabotage operations and armed attacks on British military objectives and government installations. In April 1947, Lehi began organizing sabotage operations outside Palestine, mailing bombs to British statesmen.

In May 29, 1948, two weeks after the establishment of the State of Israel, members of Lehi joined the Israeli army. In Jerusalem, however, they continued to fight separately. After the assassination of the U.N. mediator, Count Folke Bernadotte, in Jerusalem in September 1948, an act which a group of Lehi members were suspected of carrying out, the Israeli authorities enforced the final disbanding of Lehi in Jerusalem. Lehi ceased to exist.

The Jewish Resistance Movement

At the end of world War II, when it became clear that the British government had no intention of altering its anti-Zionist policy, the yishuv organized the Jewish Resistance Movement, which was run by the Haganah in cooperation with Etzel and Lehi.

The movement carried out its first operation on Oct. 1945, when a Palmach unit attacked the Atlit internment camp and liberated the 208 "illegal" immigrants held there. In Nov. 1945, the Movement showed its strength by launching a major attack on railroads all over the country and sinking several coastal patrol launches. In the following months, the Movement carried out attacks upon British police posts, coast guard stations, radar installations and air-fields.

In June 1946, the Jewish Resistance Movement blew up the bridges linking Palestine with neighboring states. The British authorities reacted to this attack on June 29, 1946 ("Black Saturday"), by arresting the members of the Jewish Agency Executive. Military forces conducted searches for arms caches in the settlements and thousands of people were arrested. The Jewish Agency ordered a halt in the armed operations against the British, but Etzel and Lehi refused to comply. In July 1946, Etzel blew up the central government offices at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. 80 people were killed - government officials and civilians, Britons, Jews and Arabs. After this operation, condemned outright by the Jewish Agency and by the Haganah, the Jewish Resistance Movement ceased to exist.

The Jewish Brigade Group

The only military unit to serve in World War II in the British Army - and, in fact - in all the Allied forces - as an independent, national Jewish military formation, the Jewish Brigade Group comprised mainly of Jews from Eretz Yisrael and had its own emblem. The establishment of the Brigade was the final outcome of prolonged efforts by the yishuv and the Zionist Movement to achieve recognized participation and representation of the Jewish people in the war against Nazi Germany.

In 1940, the Jews of Palestine were permitted to enlist in Jewish companies attached to the East Kent Regiment (the "Buffs"). These companies were formed into three infantry battalions of a newly-established "Palestine Regiment". The battalions were moved to Cyrenaica and Egypt, but there, too, as in Palestine, they continued to be engaged primarily in guard duties. The Jewish soldiers demanded to participate in the fighting and the right to display the Jewish flag.

It was not until September 1944, however, that the British government agreed to the establishment of a Jewish Brigade. It consisted of Jewish infantry, artillery, and service units. After a period of training in Egypt, the Jewish Brigade Group - approximately 5,000 soldiers - took part in the final battles of the war on the Italian front. In May 1945, the Brigade was moved to North East Italy where, for the first time, it encountered survivors of the Holocaust. The Brigade became a major factor in the "Illegal Immigration" (see also Berihah). In the summer of 1946, the British authorities decided to disband the Brigade.


More Information about the Jewish Brigade:











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31 May 2005 / 22 Iyar 5765 0