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The Haganah (Hebrew: "Defense", הגנה) was a Jewish paramilitary organization in Palestine during the British mandate of Palestine from 1920 to 1948. The Haganah are known to be the foundation of the modern Israel Defense Forces (צה"ל)—Israel's army.


The predecessor of Haganah was the Ha-Shomer (Guild of Watchman) established in 1909. It was a small group of Jewish immigrants who guarded settlements for an annual fee. At no time did the group have more than 100 members.

The Arab riots of 1920 and 1921 made it clear to the Jewish leadership that Jewish farmers and settlements need protection from the Arabs. It was clear that the British had no desire to confront the Arabs over the Arab attacks on the Jews in Palestine. The Jewish leadership decided that the Jews need to rely on themselves for protection, and so the Haganah came into existence. The role of the Haganah was to guard the Jewish Kibbutzim and farms, to warn the residents of the Arab attacks, and to repel the attackers. 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 Arab riots of 1929, that left 133 Jews dead and led to the ethnic cleansing of all Jews from the city of Hebron, the Haganah's role changed dramatically. It became a much larger organization encompassing nearly all the youths and adults in the 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. It went from being an untrained militia to a capable army.

In 1936 the Haganah fielded 10,000 mobilized men along with 40,000 reservists. During the Great Uprising 1936-1939, it participated actively to protect British interests and to quell Arab insurgence. Although the British administration didn't officially recognize the Haganah the British Security Forces cooperated with it by forming the Jewish Settlement Police, Jewish Auxiliary Forces and Special Night Squads. The battle experience gained in the Great Uprising was to become very useful in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war 1947-1949.

In 1937, the most right-wing elements of Haganah branched off for the second time and formed Irgun Zvai-Leumi, more known as just "Irgun". They were discontented with the policy of restraint when faced with British and Arab pressure. Irgun and their off-shoot, the Stern gang terrorist group, became well-known for their clandestine combat methods.

To appease the Arabs, the British severely restricted Jewish immigration to Palestine in 1939. In response, Haganah started to organize illegal immigration and demonstrations against Britain. It set up the "Organization for Illegal Immigration", Aliyah Bet, which worked through bases in Switzerland and Turkey.

World War II participation

Despite the 1939 White Paper which deeply angered the Zionist leadership in Palestine, 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. The Irgun, however took a more extreme stance and began bombing British installations.

In the first years of World War II, the British authorities asked Haganah for cooperation again, due to the fear for an Axis breakthrough in North Africa. After Rommel was defeated at El Alamein in 1942, the British stepped back from their all-out support for Haganah. 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. The Jewish Brigade Group consisted of 5,000 soldiers and was deployed in Italy in September 1944. The brigade was disbanded in 1946.

All in all, more than 30,000 Palestinian Jews served in the British army during the war.

On May 19, 1941 the Haganah created the Palmach (an acronym for Plugot Mahatz—strike companies), a military-like section which focused on giving out training to youngsters. It was never big, by 1947 it amounted to only five battalions (about 2,000 men), but its members had received not only physical and basic military training, but also acquired some leadership skills that allowed them to take up command positions as part of Israel's army.

After the war

After the war, the Haganah carried out anti-British operations in Palestine. Liberation of interned immigrants from the Atlit camp, the bombing of the country's railroad network, sabotage raids on radar installations and bases of the British police. It also continued its organizing of 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. Irgun challenged the decision which led to a brief clash between Haganah and Irgun. Eventually Irgun laid down their weapons and Menachem Begin transformed his militia to a political party, the Herut.

Famous members of the Haganah included: Yitzhak Rabin, Ariel Sharon, Rehavam Zeevi, Dov Hoz, Moshe Dayan, Dr. Ruth Westheimerar:هاجاناه de:Hagana he:ההגנה ja:ハガナ nl:Hagana pl:Hagana sv:Haganah


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