Zionism and terrorism: An unwelcome reminder
Recently declassified British intelligence documents on a plot by Jewish terrorist groups in 1946-47 to assassinate the then Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin and bomb London are an embarrassing reminder of the prominent role that terrorism played in the establishment of the state of Israel.
AS Israel intensifies its campaign to isolate Hamas by claiming that it is a 'terrorist' organisation, it has received a rude reminder from the past about Zionism's own nexus with terrorism.
Newly declassified British Security Service (MI5) files have revealed that in 1946, MI5 had warned British Prime Minister Clement Attlee that Jewish terrorists were plotting to assassinate the Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin as part of a bombing campaign on British soil.
The planned terrorist campaign was later confined largely to letter bombs. In 1947, some 20 such letter bombs were sent to leading figures in Britain, including Bevin and his Conservative predecessor, Sir Anthony Eden.
In addition, the files also disclose a plot by American Zionist Rabbi Koriff to bomb London from the air - a plot that was apparently later foiled by MI5, with a number of arrests being made in Paris.
However, the focus of the warning was on the activities of the two principal Zionist terrorist groups, the Irgun and the Stern Gang.
In his warning, James Robertson, head of MI5's Middle East Section, revealed that its agent in Jerusalem had received information 'that the Irgun and Stern groups have decided to send five cells to London' and that they had been 'training selected members for the purpose of assassinating a prominent British personality. Special reference has been several times made to Mr Bevin.'
The Irgun was founded in 1937 as a response to the Palestinian revolt which erupted in 1929 after Britain refused Arab demands for full independence and reaffirmed its commitment to the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. The revolt was directed not only against the British rulers but also against the Jewish settlements which had been growing apace as a result of this commitment.
The Irgun justified its policy of targeting the Arab population by claiming that these were 'preventive strikes'. The methods it employed in launching such strikes introduced, in the words of Israeli historian Benny Morris, 'a new dimension into the conflict'. As he explains:
'Before, Arabs (and, less frequently, and usually in retaliation, Jews) had sniped at cars and pedestrians and occasionally lobbed a grenade, often killing or injuring a few bystanders or passengers. Now, for the first time, massive bombs were placed in crowded Arab centres, and dozens of people were indiscriminately murdered and maimed.. This innovation soon found Arab imitators and became something of a tradition; during the coming decades Palestine's (and, later, Israel's) marketplaces, bus stations, movie theatres, and other public buildings became routine targets, lending a particularly brutal flavour to the conflict.'1
Among the early members and leaders of the Irgun were Avraham Stern, who was to figure prominently in the history of Israeli terrorism, and a future Prime Minister of Israel, Yitzhak Shamir.
In 1939 the Irgun turned against Britain after the publication of a British government White Paper which proposed the limiting of Jewish immigration into Palestine. The terror which had hitherto been directed against the Arabs was now extended to include the colonial authorities.
In 1940, however, the leadership of the terrorist organisation decided to suspend its campaign against the British so as not to weaken the allied war effort against Nazi Germany. This decision provoked a split within the Irgun, and the hardliners from the organisation, led by Stern and Shamir, formed a rival terrorist organisation, the LEHI. This organisation, which was better known as the Stern Gang, continued its terror campaign unabated.
The Nazi connection
In the following year the Stern Gang made contact with the Nazis and proposed a pact with Germany against Britain. In its memo to the Nazis, it claimed that there were 'mutual interests between designers of the New Order in Europe [i.e. the Nazis] and the nationalistic aspirations of the Jewish people'.
The common ground was the 'solution of the Jewish question via evacuation'.
The Stern Gang expressed its full agreement with the Nazi view that the 'evacuation of Jewish masses from Europe' was a 'pre-condition for the solution of the Jewish question'. However, it asserted that 'this can only be made possible and complete through the settlement of these masses in the home of the Jewish people, Palestine, and through the establishment of a Jewish state within its historical boundaries'. It therefore offered 'to cooperate in the war on Germany's side' on this basis.2
It is not clear how the Nazis responded to this overture but there was no let-up in Stern's terrorist offensive. In November 1944, it carried out the murder of Lord Moynes, British Minister of State for the Middle East, the highest-ranking British official in the region.
Collaboration in terror
After the war, it was joined in its terror campaigns by the Irgun, which under the new leadership of Menachem Begin (another future premier of Israel) had resumed operations. In July 1946, the Irgun blew up the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, the location of the British military and civil administration, killing some 91 people, including Britons, Arabs and Jews.
Despite their differences and rivalry, the Irgun and the Stern Gang were not averse to co-operating with each other in their terror campaigns. The most infamous of such joint terror campaigns was their 9 April 1948 attack on the Palestinian village of Deir Yassin. After slaughtering the residents in their homes as they moved from house to house, the commandos from the Irgun and Stern Gang rounded up many of the remaining inhabitants in the village and shot them in cold blood. More than 100 children, women and old men were massacred in this way.
A veteran Stern Gang commando recalled: 'There were people killed in the most brutal way. One Israeli took a piece of explosive with a 15-second fuse, stuck it on an old Arab's head, lit it, and told the man to walk. Ten steps later his head exploded. Why did they do this? I am not a psychiatrist, but they were frustrated. They wanted to fight for Jerusalem.'3
In 1982, Professor Zvi Ankori, who had commanded the force that later occupied the village, told a gathering of Irgun veterans who returned to the scene of their infamous crime to commemorate their activities there: 'I went into 6-7 houses. I saw cut-off genitalia and women's crushed stomachs. According to the shooting signs on the bodies, it was direct murder.'4
The atrocity, which took place within sight of the Jewish Holocaust memorial of Yad Vashem, was to have a fateful impact on the future of the Palestinians. For it was the terror unleashed at Deir Yassin which triggered (and was calculated to trigger) the Palestinian exodus and the Palestinian refugee problem. 'This single event is one of the most significant in 20th century Palestinian and Israeli history, not because of its size or brutality, but because it marked the beginning of the depopulation of over 400 Arab villages and cities and the expulsion of over 700,000 Palestinian inhabitants to make room for the victims of the Holocaust and other Jews from the rest of the world.'5
But while this act of terror failed to grab the headlines in the international media, the murder by the Stern Gang some five months later of Count Bernadotte, a UN-appointed mediator, shook the world.
Appointed by the UN Security Council in May 1948 to try to establish a truce between the Arab and Israeli forces and work towards a peace settlement, Folke Bernadotte had in 1945, during his tenure as President of the Swedish Red Cross, saved thousands of Jewish prisoners held captive in Nazi Germany's death camps. But that did not spare him the Stern Gang's death sentence.
His crime had been to suggest, in the course of his mediation, that Jerusalem should be included as 'Arab territory, with municipal autonomy for the Jewish Community'. This made him the target of snide charges by the Zionists that he was a British agent, specifically, 'Bevin's agent'.
Bevin's 'new imperial vision'
Which brings us to the question of why the Zionists hated the British Foreign Secretary and why Jewish terrorists were prepared to assassinate him.
Bevin was often accused of being 'pro-Arab' and anti-Zionist. His alleged pro-Arab sympathies can only be understood in the context of his evaluation of British imperial interests in the post-war world.
When he took over the British Foreign Office in 1945 after the Labour Party's victory, Bevin brought along with him what one student of his role in this critical period has described as 'a new imperial vision which rested on the premise that Britain simultaneously was a world power and a power with world obligations'.
Despite its obvious economic decline, he felt that Britain could salvage its imperial interests in the changed and changing post-war world. In his view, it was crucial for Britain to preserve her economic and strategic interests in the Middle East if she was to remain a world power.
Here the role of Palestine was of critical importance. It was clear that Britain could no longer maintain its hegemony, troops and bases in Egypt in view of the growing tide of anti-colonialism in that country. Palestine offered the only alternative. '[O]nly Palestine could function as a substitute base, serve as an alternative lifeline to the new "informal" British empire and operate as the centre from which British hegemony in the region would be exercised'.6
In sum, if the Middle East was to remain within the British sphere of influence, Britain would need the co-operation and friendship of the Arab rulers in the region.
What this meant was that Britain could not afford to alienate the Arabs, particularly the Palestinians. But that was precisely what British moves to turn Palestine into a Jewish homeland would do. From Bevin's point of view, 'if the Jews succeeded in establishing an independent state, it would jeopardise a lasting peace in the Middle East and thus undermine his plans for a Pax Britannica based on a series of alliances with Arab states.'7
This did not mean he was unsympathetic to the plight of the Jews, especially those displaced by Hitler's racial policies. He could not however accept the Zionist argument that creating a Jewish state at the expense of the Palestinian Arabs was the whole solution to the problem. The Jewish refugee problem was a global problem, and while Palestine should open its doors to them, so should Europe and the US.
In this connection, he was incensed by the US attitude to this problem. While the US government, under the influence and pressure of the powerful Jewish lobby (and the huge Jewish constituency in New York), was agitating for the admission of Jews into Palestine, it was not prepared to relax its own tight immigration laws to accept more of these refugees. In a moment of exasperation, Bevin uttered the following fateful words which earned him the undying hatred of the Zionists in the US:
'... There has been the agitation and particularly in New York, for 100,000 Jews to be put in Palestine. I hope I will not be misunderstood in America if I say that this was proposed with the purest of motives. They did not want too many Jews in New York.'8
With the US now leading the 'war on terror', it is pertinent to recall that at this juncture, many Zionists in the US supported the 'terror out of Zion'. Some even openly declared their admiration for the terrorists and applauded their acts of terror.
In a 'Letter to the Terrorists in Palestine' published in the New York Herald Tribune, Ben Hecht, the famed Hollywood screenwriter, asserted, 'The Jews of America are for you. You are their champion. You are the grin they wear. You are the feather in their hats. You are the first answer that makes sense to the New World. Every time you blow up a British arsenal, or wreck a British jail or send a British railroad train sky high or rob a British bank, or let go with your guns and bombs at the British betrayers and invaders of your homeland, the Jews in America make a little holiday in their hearts ...'9
Today, such open glorification of terror in the columns of an establishment paper would be inconceivable. A 'Letter to Hamas' in a Western newspaper applauding them for their decision to 'let go with your guns and bombs' against the 'invaders of your homeland' would evince not only moral outrage, but attract the full sanction of the law. The fact is that, after 11 September, the glorification of terrorism has become a criminal offence in many countries.
Attempts to show up the hypocrisy of the Zionists in their current campaign against Hamas by drawing attention to their own terrorist past have always elicited a predictable response. Commenting on the latest revelations from the MI5 files, Lord Bethell, author of The Palestine Triangle, observed that 'Zionists would be very angry if you compared these people with terrorists now... They would say they were at war with the British and behaved well, fighting under Marquess of Queensberry rules. They would say that they didn't target civilians.'10
Outrages like Deir Yassin expose the lie that civilians were not the targets of Zionist terror. While such claims do not warrant serious scrutiny, a more ingenious defence is that terrorist groups such as the Irgun and the Stern Gang were fringe groups which in no way represented mainstream Zionism and the Israel Defence forces (IDF) (and its predecessor the Haganah). The claim is that such groups did not engage in 'terrorism'.
Unfortunately for the Zionists, even this claim will not withstand scrutiny. It is quite clear, despite the efforts of Zionist historians to rewrite history, that, for example, the Haganah was a party to the decision to bomb the King David Hotel and that it participated in the attack on Deir Yassin. In both cases, mainstream leaders of the Haganah decided to disassociate themselves from the resulting carnage after it became clear that the political fallout would be too costly.
In addition, in recent years, the findings of Israeli historians have confirmed what Palestinians had long contended - that there were other massacres besides Deir Yassin. Benny Morris has discovered from more recently declassified documents from the IDF archives that in 1948, the IDF and the Haganah participated in at least 23 other massacres. The worst cases were Saliha (70-80 killed), Lod (250), Dawayima (hundreds) and Abu Shusha (70). There were also many cases of rape committed by members of the IDF and the Haganah. But as he admits, this is not the whole story as most of the archives have still not been opened up.11
In the final analysis, the goal and objective of such terror was no less reprehensible than the terror itself. That objective was 'transfer' - a euphemism used by the Zionists to denote the removal of the indigenous population of Palestine to neighbouring countries to make way for Jewish settlers. In plain language, this was nothing but ethnic cleansing.
It is important to appreciate that this concept of 'transfer' was an article of faith not only of the extremist fringe of the Zionist movement. On the contrary, as Dr Nur Masalha in his classic work on this concept proved conclusively, on the basis of evidence drawn almost exclusively from Israeli archives, 'it was embraced by almost all shades of opinion, from the Revisionist right to the Labour left. Virtually every member of the Zionist pantheon of founding fathers and important leaders supported it and advocated it in one form or another...'12
It was the national consensus on this issue of 'transfer' that made possible the concerted action during the 1948 war to expel en masse the Palestinians from their homeland.
In short, mainstream Zionist leaders were no less culpable than the Irgun and Stern Gang in establishing the state of Israel on the twin foundations of terrorism and ethnic cleansing. When account is taken of the fact that Zionist leaders who perpetrated murder and mayhem (including the slaughter of women and children) were never brought to book, but were instead honoured by elevation to the highest offices in the land, present-day Israeli leaders are surely being sanctimonious in branding Hamas as a 'terrorist' organisation. Instead of continuing their policy of occupying Palestinian lands and unleashing further terror and repression against the Palestinians, they would be better advised to attempt to start a dialogue with Hamas, without pre-conditions, however difficult that process may be.
T Rajamoorthy, a senior lawyer of the Malaysian Bar, is one of the Editors of Third World Resurgence.
1. Benny Morris (2001), Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-2001, New York: Vintage, p. 147.
2. Kati Marton (1996), A Death in Jerusalem, New York: Arcade, p. 54; and Lenni Brenner (1983), Zionism in the Age of the Dictators, London and Canberra: Croom Helm, Westport: Lawrence Hill, p. 267.
3. Marton, op. cit., p. 29.
4. Nahum Barnes (1982), 'Dir Yassin: We have returned to you', Davar, 9 April. Quoted in Lenni Brenner (1984), The Iron Wall: Zionist Revisionism from Jabotinsky to Shamir, London: Zed Books.
5. Daniel A McGowan and Marc H Ellis (eds.) (1998), Remembering Deir Yassin: The Future of Israel and Palestine, New York: Olive Branch Press, p. 4. This point is also confirmed by the leading Israeli authority on the refugee problem, Benny Morris, who writes that the Deir Yassin operation 'probably had the most lasting effect of any single event of the war in precipitating the flight of Arab villagers from Palestine' (Benny Morris (1987), The Birth of the Palestine Refugee Problem, 1947-1949, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 113).
6. Youssef Chaitani (2002), Dissension Among Allies: Ernest Bevin's Palestine Policy Between Whitehall and the White House, 1945-1947, London: Saqi Books, p. 114.
7. Ibid., p. 67.
8. Ibid., p. 64.
9. Marton, op. cit., p. 109.
10. Peter Day (2006), 'Jewish plot to kill Bevin in London', The Sunday Times, 5 March.
11. Ari Shavit (2004), 'Survival of the fittest?: An interview with Benny Morris', Logos, Issue 3.1 (Winter 2004).
12. Nur Masalha (1992), Expulsion of the Palestinians: The Concept of 'Transfer' in Zionist Political Thought, 1882-1948, Washington, DC: Institute for Palestine Studies, p. 2.