This Week in Haaretz / 1947: Haganah Fighters Crack Down on Opposition

"Haganah takes punitive action in Rehovot," Haaretz declared on November 24 1947. "Shouts and occasional shouts were heard in recent nights in some Rehovot neighborhoods. Members of the opposition [right-wing Zionist groups that did not belong to the Labor Zionist mainstream] organizations have been assaulting their antagonists and those whom they believe have been removing their posted circulars. These organizations have also started to recruit youths who were invited to late-night meetings; and they have harassed those who did not attend. Such actions taken by the opposition groups have stirred retaliatory Haganah acts; some youngsters from opposition groups have been beaten. Members of Haganah circles warn that they will take punitive actions against opposition elements in the future.

During the final months of 1947, newspapers in the pre-state Yishuv were filled with reports like this one, which surveyed violence and clashes between Haganah forces and those of the "opposition," which was comprised of the Irgun Zvai Leumi (Irgun ) and the Lehi. "On August 15th, opposition activists who were distributing flyers clashed with youths from Rishon Letzion on Ahad Ha'am Street," Haaretz reported in this period. "One of the opposition members took out a pistol and shot Yehuda Levy, a passerby on the street. He was wounded and his condition is serious. Shots fired by opposition youths in Rishon Letzion which wounded two Jewish youths early Friday morning also shocked residents of Rehovot, where opposition activists were also active that same night. Three rounds were fired by opposition men at guards on Weizmann Street in Rehovot; miraculously, nobody was injured. These incidents had sequels, and as retaliatory punishment in Rehovot, some ten youths from the opposition groups were badly beaten in their homes, and in the street."

Lehi released a public announcement: "In recent weeks, there have been increasing numbers of provocative acts undertaken by the Haganah against our movement. Our men have been badly beaten in colonies in the Sharon region and in Tel Aviv, either when they were posting our circulars, or when they were in their apartments. Our public recoils from civil war. We have done our utmost to prevent such provocations, but out efforts have been to no avail. We have learned both that our restraint does not calm affairs, and also that such restraint plants in the hearts of Haganah men the idea that they can assault our men with impunity. We are therefore forced to take steps to protect our men and property. In the future, those who attack our people are liable to faced armed resistance and mines en route to our places of work." The announcement ended with a list of names of persons who had "received their punishment."

Haaretz's editorial 63 years ago was categorical about the apportionment of responsibility for these episodes. "Responsibility rests with the opposition elements. There is no need to try to clarify who threw the first punch against another, or who fired the first shot. The opposition groups have violated national discipline, and thus any act taken against them by the organized Yishuv is tantamount to an expression of national will. The Yishuv can have one sovereign power only, and that power rests with its institutions." However, when addressing the issue of practical policy steps, the Haaretz editorial drew a distinction between apportioning blame and taking punishment.

"The question of responsibility and moral right is not the sole issue," the editorial opined. "More important than that question is the people's welfare. That such clashes at this moment are undesirable and extremely dangerous is indisputable. Any action has an appropriate psychological time. Such a time for taking aggressive measures transpired after the hanging of the two [British] sergeants, when even the opposition groups themselves were stunned by the level of shock and hostility stirred by their repulsive acts in the Yishuv. This was the right hour [but] the Yishuv institutions did nothing, and allowed this internal disease to fester. But now, at a moment when there are urgent tasks to be carried out, and national unity is required to face external dangers, is it wise to create another front [of violent action] within our own house?"

As it turned out, these violent, intra-Yishuv clashes had almost exhausted themselves; the UN partition resolution at the end of the month focused energy in other directions.