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Underground military force organized by the Revisionists in April 1937 to combat British repressions in Palestine and the Arabs’ growing rule of terror. The Revisionists were impatient with the policy of restraint practiced by Jewish leaders in Palestine in the face of constant Arab attacks. The Irgun was guided by two fundamental principles: that a Jewish state had to be established in the immediate future, and that every Jew had a natural right to come to Palestine. The Irgun believed the time was right for military action in order to achieve the legitimate aim of establishing a Jewish state. The Irgun’s symbol, a hand gripping a rifle over a map of Palestine that included eastern Palestine, began to appear on all the organization’s posters.

In 1938, a member of the Irgun, Shlomo Ben Yosef, was accused of attacking an Arab vehicle in retaliation for numerous killings of Jews. He was sentenced to the gallows. Ben Yosef became a symbol of the determination of Irgun members to fight to the death for the cause of Jewish liberation.

When World War II broke out and the free world was engaged in a deadly struggle with the Nazi armies, the Irgun committed its small force to fight the common enemy on the side of the British. The first Irgun commander, David Raziel, was killed in 1941 in a commando operation in Iraq. Command of Irgun was then taken over by Yaakov Meridor, and later in 1943, by Menachem Begin. In February 1944, the Irgun called for the end of the British mandate, the freeing of Palestine from “foreign domination,” and the immediate establishment of a provisional government. The British began a ruthless campaign to destroy the Irgun. Several hundred of its members were arrested and exiled to Eritrea, a British colony in Northeast Africa. The arrests swelled to thousands after the Irgun blew up the King David Hotel, the administrative offices of the Palestine (British) government. Each Irgun exploit was countered by an act of British repression. In the spring of 1947, Dov Gruner and four other members of Irgun were hanged at the Acre prison.

Though the Jewish Agency and the Haganah frequently condemned Irgun for its extremist policies, there was a short period after World War II when Haganah and Irgun cooperated in the struggle against the British. This happened when the British Labor party, on coming to power in 1945, failed to fulfill its preelection promises to open Palestine without restrictions to survivors of the Holocaust. To allegations that Irgun was a terrorist organization, Begin replied that Irgun’s aim was not to cause loss of life, but to hasten the British evacuation of Palestine. After the establishment of the State of Israel in May 1948, the Irgun, numbering several thousand, cooperated with Haganah in fighting off Arab invaders.

Open hostility briefly erupted between the Irgun and the Haganah (by then the official army of the State of Israel) in June 1948 when the Irgun brought to Israel the S.S. Altalena, a boat carrying volunteers and munitions for use in the War of Independence. The Haganah claimed that it had not authorized the landing and unloading of the boat; its leaders feared that the Irgun would start a revolt to topple Israel’s provisional government. The Irgun insisted that they had kept the Haganah informed about the boat and that the Haganah leaders with whom they had consulted had raised no objections to the arrangement. The Altalena was sunk by the Haganah, but contrary to the fears of some, Irgun did not put up a fight against Haganah. On September 21, 1948, the Israel government ordered the Irgun disbanded. Most of its members were incorporated into the Israel Defense Forces.

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