'Punish Those Responsible'

On May 28, 1939, 25 Etzel fighters led by Moshe Moldovsky attacked the village of Bir Adas in the coastal plain, on the grounds that its residents were harboring "gangs." In his book, "The Birth of an Underground Organization," Prof. Yehuda Lapidot wrote that the attackers had received instructions not to harm women, children and the elderly, but out of the five people killed in the village, four were women.

Ze'ev Jabotinsky read about the operation in the London newspaper The Times and sent off a sharp letter, written in Hebrew in Latin letters and addressed to the command of the Etzel - the prestate militant underground also known as the Irgun (Irgun Zvai Leumi). He signed it with the code name "Mendelssohn."

Jabotinsky wrote the following in the letter dated June 24, 1939. "An order: The Times reports that at Bir Adas four women were killed with the use of a revolver, and those who shot were found not outside the house but inside. That means that they intended to target the women. If this is a lie, you must immediately deny it. If it is true, you must punish those responsible and inform me what the punishment was.

"A general instruction: Public opinion, that of both the Jews and gentiles, is in favor of responses as long as the impression is not given that women are also being intentionally hurt. When defending oneself, it is not possible to distinguish between the sexes, but in a response, one must refrain from any step likely to create an impression of this kind.

"This is the rule for responses: Shooting - it is better not to shoot at all than to endanger a woman. A mass action - one must avoid, when possible, [hitting] places where women habitually gather. A warning to the public must be broadcast and printed in Arabic because these days it is not fitting for a man to send his wife to the market or a similar spot; he will go alone.

"N.B.: The rule for small children and the elderly is the same as for women."

Jabotinsky's letter was kept with other Etzel documents in a jar hidden in a private home near Tel Aviv's Dizengoff Square. It was uncovered 50 years ago. And how did the Etzel react to its leader's order? Did it punish those responsible for the murder? Lapidot, who published the letter in full in his book, says no one was punished.