The peace process targeted at eliminating violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is extremely complex and multi-dimensional. Before the establishment of the state of Israel, the British government that was in control of Mandatory Palestine developed strict immigration policies that prevented Jews from immigrating to the territory. This led to the increased opposition between the two populations that escalated into a series of armed conflicts associated with thousands of casualties on both sides. Noting the role of the Irgun is essential to the exploration of the conflict because the organization contributed to the exasperation of violence and the absence of peaceful dialogue.
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Background of the Organization
Irgun Zval Leumi (translated from Hebrew as the National Military Organization) is a right-wing movement of Palestine that was founded in 1931 (White, 2011). In the beginning, the movement was given support by multiple Zionist parties that opposed Haganah, which is a Zionist military organization representing the Jewish majority of Palestine between 1920 and 1948. By 1936, Irgun became the key instrument of the Revisionist Party, which was an extreme group of nationalists that had developed on the basis of the World Zionist Organization. The policies of the group called for the use of violence and force in order to create a state ruled by Jews on both sides of the Jordan river.
Irgun committed numerous terrorist acts and performed assassinations against the British that were regarded as the illegal occupiers of Palestine. In addition, the group was also radically anti-Arab and participated in the organization of illegal immigration into Palestine after the publication of the British White Paper on Palestine in 1939 that significantly limited the process of illegal immigration. The violent activities of the organization led to the execution of many of its members by the British that retaliated against the crimes committed by the Irgun. In response for their loss, Irgun also executed hostages from the British army.
As with many terrorist groups, Irgun disciplined its members and taught them to be extremely daring the majority of their actions. For example, on July 22, 1946, the organization detonated a bomb in a wing of the King David hotel located in Jerusalem, which led to the killing of ninety-one British, Arab, and Jewish soldiers and civilians (Aderet, 2016). On April 9, 1947, a small group of Irgun commandos organized and implemented the raid of the Arab village of Dayr Yasin and killed around a hundred of its innocent inhabitants (Aderet, 2016). After the Israel state was established in 1948, the last units of Irgun disbanded and took the loyalty oath to the Israel Defense Forces on September 1, 1948 (Aderet, 2016). Therefore, the organization to be discussed further had a significant impact on the destabilization of the situation in Palestine and Israel, which contributed to further difficulties associated with the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Understanding the Opposition Between Israel and Palestine
The conflict between Israel and Palestine dates back to the end of the nineteenth century and was predominantly focused on territory ownership. After the end of the Arab-Israeli war in 1948, the territory of the Holy Land was separated into three parts, including the State of Israel, the West Bank of the Jordan River, and the Gaza section (Tessler, 1986). A number of successive wars contributed to some minor shifts in the territory until the occurrence of the Yom Kippur War in October 1973 (Tessler, 1986). During this conflict, both Syria and Egypt launched an unexpected attack on Israel because the country occupied the Golan Heights and the Sinai Peninsula. The opposition between countries was eventually mitigated with the help from Camp David Accords in 1979 when Israel and Egypt established a peace treaty.
However, with the war over territory coming to a halt, an increase in violence and uprisings among the population of Palestine began. In 1987 a first massive uprising occurred and involved hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who lived in the West Bank and the region of Gaza. With the assistance from Oslo Accords in 1993, the conflict was mediated through helping Palestinians to establish a framework with the help of which they can govern themselves and develop relationships between the government of Israel and the newly emerged Palestinian Authority. However, in 2000, the second uproar of Palestinians occurred due to the reoccurring grievances of the population. The second intifada was much more violent and bloodier compared to the first. After the ongoing opposition and violence that took place between Palestinians and Israelis in 2015, the President of Palestine, Mahmoud Abbas, announced that the government would no longer follow the provisions established by the Oslo Accords’ efforts to mitigate the conflict.
The United States was also involved in the attempts to stop the violence between Israel in the West Bank in the past two decades. Nevertheless, despite the intentions of the US to revive the peace process in 2015, the ruling party of Palestine, Fatah, created a unity government with its rival organization, Hamas. The process of reconciliation has proceeded since that time with the additional signing of a peace agreement in October 2017. Due to the relative stability in the region that could break at any moment, President Donald Trump communicated the need to reach an Israeli-Palestinian deal a priority. For example, the decision of the US to relocate the country’s embassy to Jerusalem, thus reversing the ongoing policy, was met amicably by the leadership of Israel. However, Palestinian leaders condemned the decisions along with the representatives from Europe and the Middle East.
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Many of the issues remain unresolved to this day since Israel considers complete and united city of Jerusalem the center of its state while Palestinians still claim that the East of the megapolis as the capital of their future state. The concerns of the third uprising breaking out still exist today due to the risks of past tensions renewing and escalating into large-scale violence. At the moment, the United States is invested in supporting and protecting Israel as its long-term ally as well as aims to achieve a lasting peace deal between the territories of Palestine and Israel.
The Role of the Irgun
The role of the Irgun in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be traced back to 1947 when the United Nations implemented a plan to divide Palestine. Shortly after the plan’s enactment, the Palestinian population (Arabs and Israelis) began a series of violent protests that are also referred to as the first stage of the Arab-Israeli war (1947-1949) or the War for Independence. In response to the terror and violence that occurred as a result of Arab-Israeli opposition, Irgun decided to implement a range or terrorist attacks against the Arab population. The peak of their efforts occurred in the winter of 1947-1948. For example, on December 30, 1947, the terrorist of Irgun threw a bomb into a group of Arab men who were working at an oil refinery in Haifa. The attack resulted in six Arabs being killed and thirty-nine Jewish workers murdered by their Arab colleagues as a retaliation (White, 2011). During that winter, more than a hundred Arab citizens were murdered in acts of terrorism organized by Irgun while around two hundred and fifty Jews were killed by Arab terror and violence.
The conflict escalated further when during the battle for Deir Yassin, between 107 and 254 Arabs, including children and women, were killed. To retaliate against the acts of terror from Irgun, Arabs justified their attack on the medical convoy that was headed in the direction of Hadassah hospital in a Jewish East Jerusalem enclave. This resulted in the deaths of seventy-nine Jews, including women, medical workers, the wounded, and guards. Irgun participated in multiple military efforts during the first stage of the War for Independence, including the battles for Haifa, Jaffa, Jerusalem, and Tiberias.
After the establishment of the Israel state and the declaration of the country’s independence, the second period of the Arab-Israeli war began, and Irgun played an important role in it. At the beginning of June 1948, the Deputy Defense Minister of Israel, Yisrael Galili, and the leader of Irgun, Menachem Begin, signed an agreement that the combats of the organization would be integrated into the Defense Forces of Israel (White, 2011). The only exception was associated with the Irgun units in Jerusalem that were not subjected to the sovereignty of Israel.
Also, in June of 1948, Irgun established its own political movement under the leadership of Menachem Begin. During the elections to the Knesset that took place on January 25, 1949, the Herut movement created based on Irgun received 11.5% of votes. In 1947, with the use of the Herut forces along with the support from several smaller parties, the Likud party was created as a center-right to a right-wing political force led by Menachem Begin (Tessler, 1986). As a result of the rising power of the party and its victory in the elections, Menachem became the Prime Minister of Israel. Therefore, Irgun had gained significant support in the government. In addition to this, in 1979, the government of Israel created a distinction sign for the members of the Irgun as essential players in the struggle for the creation of an independent state.
Irgun prevented effective communication between Israel and Palestine due to a large number of terrorist attacks targeted toward the rival country. The operations of the Irgun lasted through the Arab revolt, the Jewish insurgency, and the Civil War, contributing to the ongoing opposition of violence between the two countries. At the times of the Arab revolt in Palestine (1936-1939), the Irgun detonated bombs and implemented shooting attacks predominantly to target the Arab population (Hughes, 2010). The specific targeting of Arabs in the country was caused by their uprising to oppose the British Administration of the Palestine Mandate as well as to demand their independence and the ending of the open-ended immigration of the Jewish population to the territory. The Jewish population deemed the uprising as both terroristic and immoral as well as anti-Semitic in its nature. Being a radical organization that in its interests served the sovereignty of the Jewish population, the Irgun was consistent in its acts to specifically target Arabs.
During the Jewish insurgency that occurred between 1944 and 1947, the Irgun operations were predominantly focused on violent acts committed against British officials (National Army Museum, n.d.). These included the attacks on police stations, the assassinations of police officers, the targeting of British soldiers, guards, as well as civilians. During the Civil War in Mandatory Palestine, which was characterized by the clash of Arab and Jewish communities as well as the British, the Irgun targeted both the Arabs and the British. Therefore, the organization did not seek ways to resolve the conflict peacefully; rather, it focused on deliberately militant acts of violence.
The Influence of the Ideology
The alignment of the group with Jabotinsky’s ideology of Revisionist Zionism meant that its main goal was to establish a Jewish state reaching both ends of the Jordan river. Since this goal had to be achieved through any means, the Irgun had to combat Great Britain as well as those who can prevent the group from reaching its established objective. Removing the British from Palestine meant that the White Paper immigration policy would be eliminated, giving a chance for the Jewish population to move to Palestine more freely. However, despite the great importance of opposing the British within the Zionist ideology of the Irgun, it can also be argued that the Arab population represented another important enemy of the terrorist group.
The removal of both the Arabs and the British were expected to ultimately allow the Irgun to create a Jewish state. Nevertheless, identifying one group that Irgun detested more is complicated. As mentioned by Brenner (1965) in his article “The ‘Stern Gang’ 1940-48,” while “the majority of the Irgun considered the Arabs to be their ultimate adversary, Stern’s splinter group looked upon the Arabs as mere rivals and on the British as the real enemy (p. 40). Brenner (1965) also cited the decision of David Raziel, one of Irgun’s commandos, to ally the group with the British with some activities; however, the reasons why this had occurred remain unclear. Although, it is notable that the British were among the countries that opposed the Nazi regime in the Second World War, which may explain some aspects of leniency. Bowyer (1977) mentioned that Irgun felt the need to oppose the most effective enemy of Germany, with “a few followers of Avraham Stern undertaking armed action against the alien occupier” (p. 51). Therefore, there was a degree of opposition within the ideology of the Irgun itself as it disseminated its terrorist attacks both on the Arab population and on the British officials that governed Mandatory Palestine.
Calculating the total number of casualties caused by the operations of the Irgun is near to impossible as in some instances these figures were unknown. However, since the organization was openly operating to cause as many Arab or British deaths as possible was the direct sign that the Jewish population was not prepared to participate in a peaceful process. The overarching support of the population for the Irgun-led political party also reflected this sentiment – the radicalization of Jews with the help of Zionist ideologies was inevitable and therefore hampered any considerations of establishing peace.
The high number of violent acts that the Irgun implemented against the Arab population of Palestine as well as British officials limited even minor chances of Palestine and Israel of establishing a peace treaty. The Zionist ideology of the organization to create a Jewish state at both sides of the Jordan river meant that the Irgun would not accept any compromises from their opposition and would proceed with their intentions at any cost. The attempts to make a peace plan became possible only in the 1970s while the Irgun seized to exist in 1948. This shows that without the continuous occurrence of violent acts against the Arab population and the British, Israel and Palestine could engage in the process of negotiation and share their requirements for reaching a peaceful consensus.
The principles of Revisionist Zionism developed by Jabotinsky suggested that the Irgun had to protect the right of each Jew to enter Palestine and establish a Jewish state according to its religious and social ideology. These principles were reinforced by the ongoing violence that was manifested through bombings, armed attacks, robberies, and murders of the British and the Arabs. Because of this, the Irgun had been viewed as a terrorist organization that was committed to their ideology and racist intentions. The fact that the Irgun had also managed to form a majority political party, Likud, whose leader attained the position of Israel’s Prime Minister, also contributed to significant difficulties in creating an environment for effective and productive peace negotiations with the government of Palestine. Overall, the ‘language’ of violence could not replace the language of a peaceful process, thus slowing down the progress of establishing the environment of understanding and respect between the populations.
Aderet, O. (2016). Historian on King David Hotel bombing: ‘It was an act of terror.’ Web.
Bowyer, J. (1997). Terror out of Zion. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press.
Brenner, Y. (1965). The ‘Stern Gang’ 1940-48. Middle Eastern Studies, 2(1) 2-30.
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Hughes, M. (2010). From law and order to pacification: Britain’s Suppression of the Arab revolt in Palestine, 1936-39. Journal of Palestine Studies, 39(2), 6-22.
National Army Museum. (n.d.). The British army in Palestine. Web.
Tessler, M. (1986). The political right in Israel: Its origins, growth, and prospects. Journal of Palestine Studies, 15(2), 12-55.
White, Jonathan. (2011). Terrorism and homeland security (7th ed.). Belmont, CA: Cengage Learning.