Monday, April 23, 2007

Happy Israeli Independence Day!

Every year the somber reflection and grief of Israel's Memorial Day, when Israelis remember their fallen soldiers, give way to the joyous celebration of Israeli Independence Day, Yom Aztmaut. This year those two days on the Hebrew calendar, the 4th and 5th days of the month of Iyar, fall out on April 23-24. Above is Dry Bone's Yom Atzmaut greeting.

Of great historical interest is an article that appeared in today's Jerusalem Post online, entitled "Independence 1948," by Yehuda Avner. A little background for the reader will prove useful. In May 1948, when the State of Israel declared its independence, the impending attack by five Arab armies was not the only problem facing Israel. Many people feared civil war. During the struggle for independence from the British mandate, the Jewish forces included the Haganah-- the military arm of the Jewish Agency, dominated by the Labor Zionist Party of David Ben-Gurion-- and the Irgun Tsvai Leumi ("National Military Organization"), a clandestine militia organized by the Revisionist Zionists, led by Menachem Begin. As leftists are want to do, in order to insure their grip on power, the Labor Zionists had slandered Begin and the Irgun as terrorists who planned a military takeover of the new-born Jewish State. On the night of May 15th, Menachem Begin, who had been in hiding from the British (and from the Haganah) for years, addressed the new nation of Israel from a clandestine radio station, and announced that the Irgun would dissolve and incorporate its units into the Israel Defense Forces. Begin proclaimed:
The Irgun is now leaving the underground. We Jews now rule ourselves over a part of our Homeland, and in that part the law of a Jewish government prevails. This law is the law of the land; it is the only law. Hence, there is no longer a need for an armed underground. From now on we are all soldiers and builders of the State of Israel. And we shall all respect the government of the day, for it is our government.

The determination of Menachem Begin to forge Jewish unity in Israel was put to an extreme test one month later, when Ben Gurion ordered Haganah troops, led by a young Yitzchak Rabin, to open fire on an Irgun-chartered ship, the Altalena, which was attempting to land a shipment of arms that was badly needed by the hard-pressed and under-armed Jewish forces fighting the Arab invaders. Ben Gurion insisted that Begin and the Irgun intended to use the arms to overthrow the legitimate government of Israel--a charge that clearly had no basis in fact, since the Irgun had informed the government of the time and place of the ship's arrival, and had requested trucks and assistance in landing and distributing the arms. Instead of the requested aid, the Altalena was met with artillery and automatic weapons fire that killed and wounded many of its crew and eventually sank the ship and destroyed the arms shipment. Sixteen Irgun men died; Menachem Begin himself, who was on the ship when the Haganah opened fire, narrowly escaped injury. Despite this most extreme of provocations, Begin again took to the airways, imploring his supporters not to seek revenge or raise their arms against their fellow Jews. Begin later said, "My greatest accomplishment was not retaliating and causing civil war".

The Avner article relates the reaction of ordinary Israelis, including supporters of both the Haganah and the Irgun, to Begin's first radio address, on May 15, 1948.


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Sunday, May 06, 2007 10:48:00 AM  

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