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Archive for September 15th, 2021

Yom Kippur in British Mandate Palestine and the Irgun

Ever since the November 1928 White Paper, the blowing of the shofar, the ram’s horn, among other customs, had been prohibited at the Western Wall — Much to the chagrin of the Irgun.

The Irgun successive assassination campaigns against British officers began in earnest.


 SEPTEMBER 9, 2021 01:27


 PALESTINE POLICE Force wanted  poster of Irgun and Lehi members.  Menachem Begin appears at the top  left. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

PALESTINE POLICE Force wanted poster of Irgun and Lehi members.

Menachem Begin appears at the top left.(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

It was on December 1, 1943, that Menachem Begin, upon the resignation of Yaakov Meridor, officially assumed the role of commander of the Irgun Zvai Leumi.

Two months later, during the night of January 31-February 1, 1944, Irgun operatives pasted up on walls and street poles throughout Mandatory Palestine the Irgun’s Declaration of Revolt.

Those who scrutinized it through to the end saw these words:

“Our demand: Rule over Eretz Israel must immediately be handed over to a provisional Hebrew government… Every Jew in our homeland will fight!…

Our fighting youth will not be deterred… They will not surrender, will not rest… until they ensure our people of a homeland.”

Armed attacks began that month.

On Saturday night, February 12, Irgun fighters attacked immigration offices simultaneously in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa.

Two weeks later, on February 26, the fighters set out again, this time to blow up the income tax offices, again in the three large towns. On March 23, the CID offices in those cities were attacked.

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May 17, 40 fighters set out to attack and occupy the government broadcasting station at Ramallah to issue an on-air pronouncement five years after the 1939 White Paper.

The takeover was smooth and was carried out without loss of life, but the broadcast itself did not take place due to a technical problem with a microphone. The Jerusalem District British Intelligence office in the Russian Compound was the next target on the night of July 13, when an Irgun unit broke into the building, detonated explosive devices and retreated without suffering casualties. 

The next operation was rather unique as this time, the Irgun, so to say, would be going up against a wall. CARICATURE, 1938, satirizing British ban on shofar blowing by Yehoshua  Adari.  (credit: Historical Jewish Press website)CARICATURE, 1938, satirizing British ban on shofar blowing by Yehoshua Adari. (credit: Historical Jewish Press website)

EVER SINCE the November 1928 White Paper, the blowing of the shofar, the ram’s horn, among other customs, had been prohibited at the Western Wall. That was reinforced by an International Commission’s decisions in late 1930.

However, beginning already on Yom Kippur 1930, members of branches of Ze’ev Jabotinsky Revisionist Movement, whether Betar, Brit HaBiryonim or the Irgun, had been regularly blowing the shofar at the wall. They were arrested, tried and several received sentences of up to six months imprisonment

Begin was more of a political leader than a military commander. As he later published in his memoirs, The Revolt, his strategic aim in the anti-British campaign was to undermine the prestige of the British authorities, even to the extent of causing them ridicule as in when captured officers were flogged in retaliation for the whipping of Irgun youngsters in 1946.

On Yom Kippur 1942, Begin, who had only arrived in the country in mid-April, visited the Western Wall and was witness to a scene of British policemen bursting into the area in search of the Betar member who had sounded the shofar blast.

During the summer of 1944, the matter of the blowing of the shofar was an agenda item for discussion during an Irgun High Command meeting. The decision reached was one that highlighted Begin approach to waging resistance which academic researchers, such as J.J. Bell, have termed the Irgun’s “Strategy of Leverage.”

It combined elements of attrition with exploiting Britain’s “glass house” situation. Begin set out not simply to blow a single shofar blast but to run with it a parallel public relations campaign with a surprise.

In this case, the object was one of religion and national historical pride. After all, while sounding the shofar is obligatory for Rosh Hashanah, it is but a custom on Yom Kippur.

However, ever since 1930, the Betar members, and later, Irgunists, had chosen Yom Kippur to demonstrate their opposition and disdain for the 1928 decision to prohibit the shofar from being heard at the Wall; Begin followed their lead

Weeks prior to the High Holy Day, the Irgun initiated published warnings in the form of posters and hand-out throwaways that the British should keep away from the Western Wall. They then announced that any policemen found near the Western Wall on Yom Kippur, which fell on September 27, would be punished.

Nine such proclamations were issued in all and toward the end, they were being issued daily. Just the success of the publicity was a victory for the insurgency

Begin decided that the tone of the warnings would also include a threat of punishment. As one announcement read: “Any British Constable who will commit acts of violence near the Western Wall on the Day of Atonement and, in defiance of the moral law of civilized people, will disturb the worshippers assembled there and will desecrate the sanctity of prayer will be regarded and LISTED by the HEBREW Youth as a CRIMINAL OFFENDER.

(Isn’t what the Zionist settlers doing every time they invade the Jerusalem Islamic Al Aqsa?)

”In yet another public relations twist, the Irgun proclaimed that “Visitors or passers-by, whether Moslems or Christians, will not be disturbed in their approaching or passing the Western Wall.” In other words, even if subliminally, the Irgun was asserting itself as an actor of authority.

It would compete with the British Police to provide security. In a clever exploitation, a telegram was sent to Geoffrey Francis Fisher, archbishop of Canterbury, titular head of the Church of England and the symbolic head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, to intercede and prevent behavior the Irgun compared to that of the Nazis. (Funny)

The result of the publicity campaign was to increase the impression that the Irgun intended to create a showdown, as it were, at the Western Wall, perhaps even concentrating large forces at the Western Wall and impeding access to the police employing violence. In reality, this was a diversionary tactic.

WITH PRAYERS over at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, in other cities and towns, several dozen Irgunists, fighters, medical staff, those responsible for weapons’ storage and drivers began to assemble.

Shortly before midnight, four police stations were attacked throughout the country. Housed in what were referred to as Taggart fortresses, they had been built in the late 1930s to counter the Palestinian counterattacks then. Many still serve the Israel Police.

The Irgun’s warnings about the Western Wall, an early form of psychological warfare, being perceived as forcing a concession from the British, had served its purpose in Jerusalem. No clashes occurred that day at the Western Wall or en route to it.

All the attention of the British had been concentrated at the Western Wall. Before the night was over, in Haifa, Qalqiliya, Qatra near Gedera and Beit Dagan, perimeter defenses were overcome, suppression fire allowed the explosives experts to approach the walls and the resulting blasts and exchanges of shots caused significant damage and loss of life on the British side.

As it happened, on that Yom Kippur, Stern Group member Mattityahu (Todi) Pil’i, an observant Jew, for the first time in his life traveled on the most holy day from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. He had participated in the attempted assassination of British High Commissioner Harold McMichael on August 8.

Having located the quarters of Thomas J. Wilkin, assistant superintendent of police, and the CID detective who had found Yair in 1942 and handed him over to Geoffrey Morton to be killed, he reported the news to Yitzhak Shamir.

Shamir authorized Yehoshua Cohen and David Shomron to assassinate him immediately

Two days later, on Friday, September 29, walking along St. Paul’s Way, as he approached Queen Helena Street where he would turn right and ascend to the Russian Compound, he was fired upon and killed.

The curfew declared was ineffective as the two assassins were already on the loose, going to Tel Aviv, having jumped into a waiting taxi in an alley across the street that ran behind the Evelina de Rothschild school.

The High Holy Day season was over.




September 2021

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