By Nechemia Ben-Tor
Three years after the Yishuv’s attempt to eliminate Lehi in 1941, the leadership decided once again to eliminate the Hebrew underground organizations in Eretz Israel.
The decision was reached after the assassination of Lord Moyne in Cairo. The Yishuv was disturbed by refusal of the underground movements to accept the pro-British policy of the official institutions: on the one hand, they were concerned about a vicious reaction towards all the Jews of Eretz Israel by the British; on the other hand, they were worried that the growing power of the nationalist fighters would threaten their own grip. Due to this, they saw (primarily the workers’ parties) their aim to be putting a halt to the underground war and its fighters’ influence. In the organized Yishuv, i.e. the Haganah, there were three views on how to act against the underground: a) condemning and disassociating from their actions; b) pursuing them and handing them over to the British authorities; or c) a physical struggle using the organized units of the Haganah and the Palmah.
The Jewish Agency tried to sully the underground’s reputation, but this tactic failed. The public, under the fifth year of the White Paper, felt that the British were fit for any attack from the underground. Slamming shut the gates of the country to Jewish refugees created antipathy towards the British and sympathy for the underground orgnaizations.
After IZL announced its rebellion and Lehi assassinated Lord Moyne, the Haganah tried to convince them to cease their activities.
Shortly before Hanukkah 1944, Eliyahu Golomb, head of the Haganah, and Moshe Sneh, chief of its national command, met with Menachem Begin, IZL commander, and Eliyahu Lankin, member of the IZL command staff.
The Haganah leaders demanded of the IZL leaders to stop; the imminent victory of the Labour Party in the United Kingdom would change the government’s attitude towards Zionism. The IZL representatives did not believe this possibility, and they rejected the Haganah’s demands, so Golomb threatened that the Haganah would destroy IZL.
Natan “Gera” Yellin-Mor, member of the Lehi central committee, rejected Golomb’s demands, announcing that Lehi would react severely to any harassment of its members and would punish the leaders responsible.
In fact, Lehi had already decided to engage in some self-imposed restraint during the trial in Cairo, to maximize the political and propaganda advantages while it built up its lines.
At the same time, Lehi looked for a superpower to ally with against Britain, turning to the USSR. This move was known as the Soviet orientation.
On November 20th, 1944, at the Sixth Histadrut Conference, David ben Gurion presented four resolutions to climate the underground:
- To fire anyone involved in or assisting “separatist” groups
- To give them no shelter or refuge
- To give them no funds
- To collaborate with the British authorizes in uprooting them
This order was to be carried out by the Shai (Sherut Yediot, “Information Service”) unit as well as their operational unit, the Palmah, which had had nothing to do for years.
The Palmah enjoyed their laid-back atmosphere, sitting “around the campfire” and trading tall tales, but they had grown bored. Now they had a job, one which they referred to as la saison de chasse, the hunting season. One Palmah poet wrote:
When the shots in Cairo were heard,
Disaster within might come to pass.
So our boys then received the word,
They called it la saison de chasse.
The saison men concentered on abductions, arrests and interrogations. After abducting a suspect and searching his residence, he would be transferred to a detention center; these were established next to the big cities and in the Jezreel Valley, where he would be interrogated violently by Shai men. Many were then handed over to the CID.
The saison hit IZL hard. Hundreds of names were handed over to the CID as suspected IZL members, and about thirty-five were seized. The Haganah betrayed the hiding place of Yaakov Meridor, deputy commander of the IZL, to the CID.
In Jerusalem, Haganah men handed over Eliyahu Lankin to the British. The IZL’s own Information Service head, Yaakov Tavin, was handed over as well, and he was tortured and held in a kibbutz in the Jezreel Valley for six months.
As armories were seized and financial sources dried up, IZL was severely weakened; nevertheless, facing all-out war with the Haganah, IZL decided not to respond. “There will be no civil war,” ordered Menachem Begin. “We will not raise a hand against our brothers!”
This is how widespread bloodshed was prevented, which might have threatened the very existence of the Yishuv in Eretz Israel.
As Lehi was lying low, it sustained little damage during la saison de chasse. Two Lehi mmebers were seized, but they were released a few days later. One fighter was severely injured and hospitalized.
The Haganah fooled itself into thinking that la saison de chasse was a rousing success, but public pressure forced it to put a halt to the operation. At the Yagur Convention in April 1945, the end of la saison de chasse was officially announced.
Lehi utilized the seven months of this period for recruitment and training, preparing for the upcoming challenges.
It was clear that Lehi’s personal assassination approach had been used to its fullest. The time had come to move to guerrilla warfare. A fighting divisor was established under Yaacov Eliav, which had the mission to fight the foreign occupier until its destruction.
On the public-relations front, there was news as well: HaMaas was first published; it replaced HaHazit, which had been printed by hand.
With the end of the saison, IZL began to attack the British again, leading to contact between the two underground movements; they agreed to collaborate and coordinate.
Dramatic developments were occurring in the Yishuv which would change the military and political situation in Eretz Israel, especially the relationship between the three underground movements. This was the rise of the Jewish Resistance Movement.