Military Wiki
Active 1920–1948
Disbanded May 28, 1948
Country Yishuv, British Mandate of Palestine
Type Paramilitary (pre-independence)
Unified armed forces (post-independence)
Role Defense of Jewish settlements (pre-independence)
Size Average: 21,000[1]
Engagements Palestinian Arab revolt
World War II
Palestine Civil War
1948 Arab-Israeli War (for two weeks)

Haganah (Hebrew: הַהֲגָנָה </noinclude>, lit. The Defence) was a Jewish paramilitary organization in what was then the British Mandate of Palestine from 1920 to 1948, which later became the core of the Israel Defense Forces.


The predecessor of Haganah was Hashomer (Hebrew: השומר‎; "The Watchman") established in 1909, itself a successor of Bar-Giora, founded in 1907. The Bar-Giora consisted of a small group of Jewish immigrants who guarded settlements for an annual fee. At no time did the group have more than 100 members.[citation needed]

1920 and 1921 Arab riots

After the 1920 Arab riots and 1921 Jaffa riots, the Jewish leadership in Palestine believed that the British, to whom the League of Nations had given a mandate over Palestine in 1920, had no desire to confront local Arab gangs that frequently attacked Palestinian Jews.[2][3] Believing that they could not rely on the British administration for protection from these gangs, the Jewish leadership created the Haganah to protect Jewish farms and kibbutzim. In addition to guarding Jewish communities, the role of the Haganah was to warn the residents of and repel attacks by Palestinian Arabs. In the period between 1920–1929, the Haganah lacked a strong central authority or coordination. Haganah "units" were very localized and poorly armed: they consisted mainly of Jewish farmers who took turns guarding their farms or their kibbutzim.

Following the 1929 Palestine riots, the Haganah's role changed dramatically. It became a much larger organization encompassing nearly all the youth and adults in the Jewish settlements, as well as thousands of members from the cities. It also acquired foreign arms and began to develop workshops to create hand grenades and simple military equipment, transforming from an untrained militia to a capable underground army.

1931 Irgun split

Many Haganah fighters objected to the official policy of havlagah (restraint) that Jewish political leaders (who had become increasingly controlling of the Haganah) had imposed on the militia. Fighters had been instructed to only defend communities and not initiate counterattacks against Arab gangs or their communities. This policy appeared defeatist to many who believed that the best defense is a good offense. In 1931, the more militant elements of the Haganah splintered off and formed the Irgun Tsva'i-Leumi (National Military Organization), better known as "Irgun" (or by its Hebrew acronym, pronounced "Etzel").


Haganah members in training (1947)

Haganah Ship Jewish State at Haifa Port (1947)

1936–1939 Arab revolt in Palestine

During the 1936–1939 Arab revolt in Palestine, the Haganah worked to protect British interests and to quell Arab rebellion using the FOSH, and then Hish units. At that time, the Haganah fielded 10,000 mobilized men along with 40,000 reservists. Although the British administration did not officially recognize the Haganah, the British security forces cooperated with it by forming the Jewish Settlement Police, Jewish Supernumerary Police and Special Night Squads, which were trained and led by Colonel Orde Wingate. The battle experience gained during the training was useful in the 1948 Arab–Israeli War.

1939 White Paper

By 1939, the British had issued the White Paper, which severely restricted Jewish immigration to Palestine, deeply angering the Zionist leadership. David Ben-Gurion, then chairman of the Jewish Agency, set the policy for the Zionist relationship with the British: We shall fight the war against Hitler as if there were no White Paper, and we shall fight the White Paper as if there were no war.

In reaction to the White Paper, the Haganah built up the Palmach as the Haganah's elite strike force and organized illegal Jewish immigration to Palestine. Approximately 100,000 Jews were brought to Palestine in over one hundred ships during the final decade of what became known as Aliyah Bet. The Haganah also organized demonstrations against British immigration quotas.

World War II participation

In 1940 the Haganah sabotaged the Patria, an ocean liner being used by the British to deport 1,800 Jews to Mauritius, with a bomb intended to cripple the ship. However the ship sank, killing 260.

In the first years of World War II, the British authorities asked Haganah for cooperation again, due to the fear of an Axis breakthrough in North Africa.[citation needed] After Rommel was defeated at El Alamein in 1942, the British stepped back from their all-out support for Haganah.[citation needed] In 1943, after a long series of requests and negotiations, the British Army announced the creation of the Jewish Brigade Group. While Palestinian Jews had been permitted to enlist in the British army since 1940, this was the first time an exclusively Jewish military unit served in the war under a Jewish flag. The Jewish Brigade Group consisted of 5,000 soldiers and was initially deployed with the 8th Army in North Africa and later in Italy in September 1944. The brigade was disbanded in 1946.[citation needed] All in all, more than 30,000 Palestinian Jews served in the British army during the war.[citation needed]

On May 14, 1941, the Haganah created the Palmach (an acronym for Plugot Mahatz—strike companies), an elite commando section, in preparation against the possibility of a British withdrawal and Axis invasion of Palestine. Its members, young men and women, received specialist training in guerilla tactics and sabotage.[4] During 1942 the British gave assistance in the training of Palmach volunteers but in early 1943 they withdrew their support and attempted to disarm them.[5] The Palmach, then numbering over 1,000, continued as an underground organisation with its members working half of each month as kibbutz volunteers, the rest of the month spent training.[6] It was never large—by 1947 it amounted to merely five battalions (about 2,000 men)—but its members had not only received physical and military training, but also acquired leadership skills that would subsequently enable them to take up command positions in Israel's army.

1944 Lord Moyne assassination

In 1944, after the assassination of Lord Moyne, (the British Minister of State for the Middle East), by members of the Lehi, the Haganah worked with the British to kidnap, interrogate, and in some cases, deport Irgun members. This action was called The Saison, or hunting season, and was directed against the Irgun and not the Lehi.[citation needed] Future Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek was later revealed to be the Jewish Agency liaison officer with the British authorities and he had passed on information that led to the arrest of many Irgun activists.[7]

Many Jewish youth, who had joined the Haganah in order to defend the Jewish people, were greatly demoralized by operations against their own people.[citation needed] The Irgun, paralyzed by the Saison, were ordered by their commander, Menachem Begin, not to retaliate in an effort to avoid a full blown civil war. Although many Irgunists objected to these orders, they obeyed Begin and refrained from fighting back. The Saison eventually ended due to perceived British betrayal becoming more obvious to the public and Haganah youth becoming increasingly vocal in their opposition to the policy.[citation needed]

Jewish Resistance Movement

The Saison officially ended when the Haganah, Irgun and the Lehi formed the Jewish Resistance Movement, in 1945. Within this new framework, the three groups had different functions, which served to drive the British out of Palestine and create a Jewish state.

The Haganah officially withdrew from the Jewish Rebellion on 1 July 1946, but "remained permanently unco-operative."[8] British estimates of the Haganah's strength at this time were a paper strength of 75,000 men and women with an effective strength of 30,000.[9]

Post World War II

Haganah fighters in 1947

Haganah female officer in 1948

After the war, the Haganah carried out anti-British operations in Palestine, such as the liberation of interned immigrants from the Atlit detainee camp, the bombing of the country's railroad network, and sabotage raids on radar installations and bases of the British Palestine police. It also continued to organize illegal immigration.

On May 28, 1948, less than two weeks after the creation of the state of Israel on May 15, the provisional government created the Israeli Defense Forces, which would succeed the Haganah. It also outlawed maintenance of any other armed force. The re-organisation led to several conflicts between Ben-Gurion and the Haganah leadership, including what was known as The Generals' Revolt. The disbanding of the Palmach was particularly bitter.

Famous members of the Haganah included Yitzhak Rabin, Ariel Sharon, Rehavam Ze'evi, Dov Hoz, Moshe Dayan, Yigal Allon and Dr. Ruth Westheimer.

The Museum of Underground Prisoners in Jerusalem commemorates the activity of the underground groups in the pre-state period, recreating the every day life of those imprisoned there.

Pal-Heib Unit

Some Bedouins had longstanding ties with nearby Jewish communities. They helped defend these communities in the 1936–1939 Arab revolt in Palestine. During the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, some Bedouins of Tuba formed an alliance with the Haganah defending Jewish communities in the Upper Galilee against Syria. Some were part of a Pal-Heib unit of the Haganah. Sheik Hussein Mohammed Ali Abu Yussef of Tuba was quoted in 1948 as saying, "Is it not written in the Koran that the ties of neighbors are as dear as those of relations? Our friendship with the Jews goes back many years. We felt we could trust them and they learned from us too".[10]

See also

  • History of Israel


  1. Johnson, Paul (May 1998). "The Miracle". pp. pp 21–28. 
  2. "The Role of Jewish Defense Organizations in Palestine (1903-1948)". Jewish Virtual Library. 
  3. Sahar, Raz (30 May 2013). "Defending the nation for 65 years". IDF Spokesperson. 
  4. Yigal Allon, Sword of Zion. ISBN 978-0-297-00133-1. pp. 116, 117.
  5. Allon, pp. 125, 126.
  6. Allon, p. 127.
  7. Andrew, Christopher (2009) The Defence of the Realm. The Authorized History of MI5. Allen Lane. ISBN 978-0-7139-9885-6. pp. 355, 356.
  8. Horne, Edward (1982). A Job Well Done (Being a History of The Palestine Police Force 1920–1948). The Anchor Press. ISBN 978-0-9508367-0-6. pp. 272, 288, 289
  9. Horne. p. 288, 289.
  10. Palestine Post, "Israel's Bedouin Warriors", Gene Dison, August 12, 1948

Further reading

  • Bregman, Ahron. Israel's Wars: A History Since 1947. London: Routledge, 2002. ISBN 978-0-415-28716-6.
  • Niv, David. The Irgun Tsva'i Leumi. Jerusalem: World Zionist Organization (Department for Education and Culture), 1980.
  • "Text of the British White Paper Linking Jewish Agency to Zionist Terrorism in Palestine," The New York Times, July 25, 1946, p. 8.
  • Zadka, Dr. Saul. Blood in Zion, How the Jewish Guerrillas drove the British out of Palestine. London: Brassey's, 1995. ISBN 978-1-85753-136-7.
  • Jim G. Tobias, Peter Zinke. Nakam — Jüdische Rache an NS-Tätern. Konkret Literatur Verlag, Hamburg 2000. 173 Seiten, ISBN 978-3-89458-194-7 (German, about 1944–1947)
  • Bergman, Ronen. "Kollek was British informer". Ynet news. March 29, 2007. [1]

External links

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