This Week in Haaretz 1948 Government Passes Emergency Laws to Eliminate Terrorism

Move followed ambush and assassination of Folke Bernadotte, the Swedish count dispatched by the UN to mediate between Israel and the Arab states.

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On September 17, 1948, Folke Bernadotte, the Swedish count dispatched by the UN to mediate between Israel and the Arab states was traveling in Jerusalem when members of the Lehi (Stern Gang ), a pre-state underground militia, ambushed and assassinated him. The temporary government in Israel convened hurriedly: Members had earlier started preparing emergency regulations to root out terrorism, to replace the emergency regulations instituted by the British administration.

With Bernadotte's assassination the regulations became a top priority and three days after the assassination, on September 20, the government announced the emergency regulations to prevent terrorism signed by Defense Minister David Ben-Gurion.

"The goal of the law," Haaretz reported, "is to provide the government with an effective tool to quash and uproot organized terrorism." A terrorist organization was defined as "a group of people who use actions involving violence that could cause death or injury, or threaten to use such violent actions." A member of a terrorist organization was defined as someone who is part of such a group, takes part in its activities, collects money and other items for it or publicizes propaganda on its behalf; an active member can expect five to 20 years in jail, and a member who supports terrorist activities, materially or in theory, is likely to get from one to five years in jail.

In order to eliminate any doubts about the power of the law to act against terrorist elements in the Jewish population, alongside the regulations, a government edict was issued declaring the Lehi a terrorist organization.

Three days later, when the regulations were presented to the Provisional State Council, they were unanimously approved. Ben-Gurion delivered "an emotional eulogy" for Bernadotte and referred to his killers as "a gang of cowardly and scheming scoundrels." The killing, Ben-Gurion said, "is despicable and immeasurably more frightening given that it was directed against the highest human council in our day, the United Nations organization, while hiding under the guise of erstwhile patriotism, which is nothing but a sham, impure and prohibited, in that it in effect attacks the dignity and independence of the young State of Israel that is still struggling for its existence, desecrates the honor of the Jewish people in public and stains our holy city of Jerusalem with innocent blood."

Ben-Gurion concluded his remarks with a promise "not to tolerate from here on in any shape or form, any deviation or illegal organization."

In its editorial, Haaretz praised the sweeping consensus from right to left, the fact that for the first time "the communist representative voted together with the revisionist delegates ... This in itself is a meaningful victory for the civil sense of the State of Israel."

However the author of the piece was worried about the undemocratic nature of the law, which sufficed with scanty evidence for convictions and also applied itself retroactively to the date of the declaration of independence; and he was also worried about the scorn for legalists voiced by Ben-Gurion, who at a certain stage of the debate over the law's clauses, mocked "the spider webs of the jurists, that you should come up with fine points."

The editorial author hoped that the government would find a way to preserve internal freedom and refrain from random actions even after the legislative body had granted it broad authority.

In early 1949, Lehi members Natan Yellin-Mor and Matityahu Shmuelevitz were sentenced to eight and five years in jail for their involvement in Bernadotte's assassination, but a few days later they were released as part of a general pardon granted in honor of the declaration of the state.

At around that time, there was a split between Lehi veterans and Yellin-Mor established a party called the Fighters List (Reshimat Halohamim ) which Shmuelevitz, as well as Yitzhak Shamir and Yisrael Eldad joined.

In the first Knesset election, the party won just one seat, which put only Yellin-Mor in the Knesset.

Later on the party fell apart due to internal disagreements and disappeared from the political map.

However, Shmuelevitz returned to politics after Menachem Begin appointed him director general of the Prime Minister's Office during his term.

As part of the peace agreement with Egypt, Shmuelevitz was the person in charge of overseeing the agreement on compensation for Sinai evacuees. (Lital Levin)



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