the Etzel 2018-02-19T22:11:59+00:00

The National Military Organization (Etzel)

Why was it established?

In 1931, there was a rift in the Haganah because some of its people did not agree with the policy of restraint toward Arab terrorism practiced by the Haganah. They maintained that only a policy of retaliation will put an end to the Arab terrorism against Jews. They broke away and formed an organization called “Organization B”. In 1937, they joined with members of Beitar and they established the Etzel.


What were their policies?

At first, the Etzel concentrated on retaliating for the Arab attacks against the Jews. However, after the publication of the British White Paper in 1939, the British became the main target of the Etzel attacks. The horrifying news of the mass annihilation of the Jews of Europe, together with Britain’s refusal to allow Jewish refugees to enter the Land of Israel, led the Etzel to renew their struggle against the British Mandate in 1944. The Etzel attacked government institutions and the British responded with arrests.
After the UN decided on the Partition Plan in 1947, the Etzel retaliated against Arab bands in Haifa, Tira, Jerusalem and Jaffa. About one month after Israel declared its independence; the Etzel brought a ship, the Altalena, to Israel. The ship carried large amounts of weapons and 800 volunteers. Ben Gurion saw this as an attempt to undermine the authority and the unity of the State of Israel and the IDF. After the Etzel refused to hand over the weapons to the Haganah, the ship was shelled by the Haganah and it went up in flames off the shores of Tel Aviv. 17 Etzel fighters and three IDF soldiers were killed in the incident. That same day, Menachem Begin delivered a speech on the radio:
“There will not be a civil war. The enemy is at the gate. If there is a renewal of the attacks, we will all be brothers, standing together. Again, we will bear arms and we will fight shoulder to shoulder with the Palmach, shoulder to shoulder with the Haganah. … Help me to convince my people. Help me to convince them because brother must not bear arms against brother. Hebrew weapons must not be used against Hebrew fighters.”
Etzel forces and their people took an active part in the War of Independence and on September 21, 1948, members of the Etzel joined the IDF.


Ze’ev Jabotinsky (1880-1840)

Ze’ev (Vladimir) Jabotinsky was a Zionist leader, a writer, a poet, a translator, a journalist and a famous orator. He was one of those who renewed Hebrew militarism. He was one oef the founders of the Gdud Haivri, the Jewish Brigades during World War I. He established the Jewish Self-defense Organization in Odessa; he founded Revisionist Zionism; he served as the head of Beitar, the military leader of Etzel and president of Hatzohar, the Revisionist Zionists. He was one of the outstanding liberal philosophers of the modern era.

“The day will come when my people will be free and all the colors of the rainbow will shine on the beautiful Land of Israel. Through the sweat of my people’s brow, my labor – the labor of one builder, who are laboring to establish a new temple, to the only god whose name is – the nation of Israel”
Everything that is Hebrew within us was given to us by the Land of Israel. Anything else within us – is not Hebrew. Israel and the land of Israel – they are clear. There, we were born as a nation, there we grew, and when the storm came that exiled us from the Land of Israel, we could no longer grow, just like an uprooted tree cannot grow, and all our lives were dedicated to safeguarding our uniqueness which was created in the Land of Israel.
Zionism and the Land of Israel, 1904


Menachem Begin (1913-1992 )

On December 1, 1943 Menachem Begin was named the commander of the Etzel. “To the Hebrew people in Zion!” was the headline of the first proclamation issued by Etzel written by Begin in which he called for a revolt against the British government. In declaring a revolt, he accused the British government of subverting the last hope of national Zionism and of betraying the Hebrew nation. Therefore, he declared, there is no choice but a war until the end. In the proclamation he wrote, “We will fight. Every Jew in the Homeland will fight. The God of Israel, of the army, will help us. There is no going back. Freedom or death.” It did not take long for the actions to follow.

At first, there were approximately 1000 people in his army, of which only 200 were actual fighters. This number rose to 5000 in 1947.This “army” carried out almost 300 acts in Begin’s four years of command. Each act was carefully weighed and considered.
Three operations especially stand out: blowing up the King David Hotel in Jerusalem – the center of the British government, breaking into the Acre prison and releasing Lehi and Etzel prisoners and conquering Jaffa. Begin’s main role was to chart the policies of the underground, to gain the support of the public and to ensure the efficient running of the organization. Begin applied strict restrictions to the organization’s war. Everything they did was directed against the British army, its facilities and its soldiers, their police and secret police and representatives of the mandatory government. The civilian population was out of bounds and was not a target, even if, unintentionally, civilians were sometimes killed. When members of the Irgun, (Etzel) were persecuted by the Yishuv, and especially by the Haganah, Begin forbade his people from responding. Thanks to this restraint, he prevented a Civil War on two occasions. First, at the time of the Saison, from the end of 1944 till the middle of 1945, when Haganah people captured members of the Etzel and handed them over to the British. The second time was the Atalena Affair and the disbanding of the Etzel which began in June 1948 with the integration of Etzel forces into the IDF. Begin made an announcement to his fellow soldiers, which was broadcast from the Etzel radio station the day after Israel declared its independence on May 15th.
In his speech, which he considered his most important one, he said, among other things, “Our only prize is that we have lived to see our nation free itself and really fight – the whole nation – for its liberty. Our true prize will be when we live to see – if we return from the front – all over the cities, the mountains and the valleys, Hebrew children playing without fear hanging overhead. Overhead there is an airplane, a Hebrew airplane and a soldier approaches, and he is a Hebrew soldier, and from afar a train rattles and it is a Hebrew train. Is there any greater joy?”
After the disbanding of the Etzel in the summer of 1948, Begin founded the Herut movement and for many years he served as its undisputed leader. Begin strongly opposed the reparations agreement between Israel and West Germany and he supported the government during every war that Israel fought. When the Likud won the 1977 election (the “Revolution”), Begin became prime minister. In 1979, he signed a peace treaty with Egypt. In 1982, he led the country in “Operation Peace for Galilee” which turned into the first Lebanese war. Begin was the sixth prime minister of the State of Israel.


David Raziel (1910-1941)

He was born on December 19, 1910 in the Russian part of Vilna. When he was three years old, he and his family immigrated to Israel. His father was a Hebrew teacher at an elementary school in Tel Aviv. With the 1929 riots, Raziel joined the Haganah in Jerusalem. There, he studied philosophy and mathematics at the Hebrew University. He was one of the first members of the Etzel where he displayed outstanding military abilities. In 1937, he was named commander of the Jerusalem district. One year later, in 1938, Jabotinsky appointed him commander of the Etzel after just one meeting at which Raziel impressed him greatly.

Under his command, acts against the Arabs were carried out all over the land as a response to the riots that had broken out. On May 17, 1941, he, along with three others, went on a special mission to Iraq, on behalf of the British army. The following day he was killed in a German aerial attack. The family made great efforts to try and bring his body back for burial in the Land of Israel. However, it was only in 1955 that the Iraqi government allowed the British to take his remains out of the country, but only on condition that he be buried in Cyprus. In September, 1960, shortly after Cyprus won its independence, Knesset member, Menachem Begin, appealed to the president of the new republic, the Archbishop Makarios, and asked him to allow the remains to be brought to Israel. The request was granted and on March 16, 1961, David Raziel was buried in a military ceremony which was attended by many people. He was buried in the military cemetery of Har Herzl in Jerusalem.

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