This evening we shall cheer as Israel celebrates its birthday; we shall raise the state on a chair 59 times - that is, those of us who still have the strength - and one more time for next year also. In May 1948, the empire lowered the Union Jack and the last of its soldiers left the shores of Palestine without looking back. Great Britain took leave without hesitation and without tears, and the sigh of relief - "thank God that we are rid of that" - could be heard from here as far as London.
A month ago, Yedioth Ahronoth published classified MI5 documents that had recently been made public. They revealed that Teddy Kollek, later mayor of Jerusalem, had given the British security service information about the activities of the Etzel and Lehi underground movements. The newspaper published this and there was an outcry, as if by conditioned reflex. Since then, not only those involved, but also numerous infuriated talkback participants have had their say, and there were suggestions that Teddy's name be removed from the Jerusalem stadium that bears it and replaced with that of Lehi leader Avraham ("Yair") Stern. Indeed, it is not nice to be a teller of tales and not fitting to pass such information to the British, and we all know what happens to an informant under Jewish religious law. But there are times when such behavior should not necessarily be criticized.
In his autobiography, Kollek wrote: "I was always opposed to the anarchy among our people. It was vital that the Jewish Agency, our government at the time, take action against terrorist groups who took the liberty of making their own decisions and endangering policy ... I was opposed to the Etzel and the Lehi, just as after the Yom Kippur War, I was opposed to those who set up settlements against government policy."
Kollek was right, and whoever wishes to be convinced of this is invited to take a look at Israel's position toward the Palestinian Authority. Israel categorically demands that the PA assert control over its rebels and impose the central government's authority on them. Israel also praises any sign of Palestinian cooperation with it. But every nation under a foreign yoke has the tendency to consider its dissidents as heroes, and those who collaborate as traitors.
History teaches us that lawbreakers bring disaster upon movements of national liberation. Had the Palestinians stopped their indiscriminate violent opposition and turned it into civil disobedience, they would have been rid of the occupation a long time ago. Terrorism is harming their justified struggle for independence; every terrorist attack merely delays the end of their subjugation.
The violent underground activities of the Etzel and Lehi, which were also stained with terrorist acts, did not further Israel's independence, and possibly even held it up. From time to time, the argument flares up over who really expelled the British from here - the organized Yishuv (Jewish community) or those who did their own thing - and it seems that there is still no more burning argument than this one, which brings all the bears out of the forest.
According to historian Yehuda Bauer, "no one expelled them; they decided to go because they considered this in their best interests after they lost the support of the Americans, and this was lost because of the impact of the Holocaust." And Haim Guri once said to me that one "Exodus" - a ship overflowing with refugees - at sea was worth as much as all the campaigns on land, from the attempt on Lord Moyhinan's life to the attack on the King David Hotel.
David Ben-Gurion, Kollek and their colleagues in the Haganah understood that Britain had made up its mind to fold up the flag of the empire and that the Yishuv must prepare for its real war of liberation, against the Arabs, and not waste its strength in a war against the rearguard of an imaginary enemy. Following World War II, it became clear that the empire was a liability rather than an asset, and United Kingdom citizens were more interested in how to heat their homes than whether the sun would ever set over India and Ceylon. Palestine was as interesting to them as last year's snow.
England saved itself when it shed its colonies; the burden of control was too large for its democratic measurements and vital needs. The other colonial powers followed suit, throwing colony after colony and mandate after mandate off the deck so that they would not sink.
When Britain departed from here, it left behind two bleeding peoples that are still struggling for their independence - the occupier and the occupied. And next year, when we celebrate 60 years since the end of the mandate, let us be free peoples in our own lands. How good it is that there is always another year ahead on which we can pin our hopes.
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