101 Years since the Founding of the Haganah
Dr. Ephraim Lapid, of the Department of Political Studies, talks about the paramilitary organization which shaped the State of Israel
This week, 101 years ago, the Haganah was founded. The main paramilitary organization of the “Yishuv” (Jewish population) in pre-State Israel, the Haganah operated for 28 years until the state’s establishment, and was, in fact, a crucial factor in the formation of the nascent State of Israel. The Haganah also filled important civilian roles - bringing new immigrants to Israel and promoting Jewish settlement.
The battle of Tel Hai in March 1920, where Joseph Trumpeldor and his comrades were killed, led to a change in thinking in the “Yishuv.” The leadership realized that Jewish defense organizations, such as “Hashomer” and “Bar-Giora”, which operated mainly in the Galilee, were not sufficient, and that a larger, national organization was needed. The Haganah was established by the Ahdut HaAvoda (Labor Unity) party, however, it was soon understood that the Haganah (Hebrew for “defense”), should not answer to a political entity but rather to the national bodies of the time - the Histadrut Hazionit (Zionist Organization) and the Jewish Agency - the official governmental body in charge of the Jewish community during the British Mandate. Thus the Haganah was tasked with preparing the Yishuv for the declaration of the State.
Delving into the Haganah’s history highlights the key contributions of such leaders as David Ben-Gurion, David Remez, Moshe Sharett, Dov Hoz, and Eliyahu Golomb (the Haganah’s “uncrowned military commander”). Dr. Ephraim Lapid, of BIU's Department of Political Studies, says that it’s possible to view the Haganah as an organization that shaped the character of the future State of Israel.
Some characteristics of the organization are also evident in modern-day Israel, such as the tendency for political division. In 1931, part of the Haganah split to form “Irgun B”, a faction which re-joined the Haganah six years later. However, some of its members left to establish the “Irgun” (Irgun Zevai Leumi), which, in 1940, split into “Lehi” (Lohamei Herut Israel), a group opposing cooperation between the Irgun and the British Mandate. The Irgun and Haganah cooperated with the British, until 1944, when the Irgun declared a revolt against them. The controversy between the Irgun, led by Menachem Begin, and the Haganah, as well as the “Saison” or “Hunting Season”, occasionally resonate in the Israeli discourse.
On the other hand, the Haganah, itself, continued traditions that originated in the Hashomer movement, such as the active participation of women in its ranks. The organization declared that the “The Haganah is open to every Jewish man and women, who is ready and capable of carrying out the national defense duty.” Membership in the Haganah is the “duty and right of every man and woman in Israel.”