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I WAS AN ISRAELI TERRORIST
Actually the title should be: I was an Israeli Freedom Fighter, not AN ISRAELI TERRORIST. There is a great difference between the two as you will read below. I used the title terrorist above to attract attention.
My personal story as printed in The Sacramento Bee
In 1944, when I joined the Israeli underground LECHI at age 15, the British, and most Israelis, called me a terrorist and tried to arrest and even kill whoever they could from our meager membership. Before I joined LECHI, an Israeli told the police where our leader Avraham Stern was hiding and British detectives murdered him in a closet. We were called "the Stern Gang," the British murdered most of our leaders, and arrested almost all the rest.
One member, Yehoshua Cohen, who later became my friend and was, many years later, the bodyguard of Ben Gurion, resurrected us from obscurity and built up our dedicated teams (cells) slowly, spreading them over the country. Many of our leaders escaped prison by digging a 150-foot tunnel and joined the fight. Many, many, dedicated members died, including my cell leader, Mordechai. He was shot by a Jewish policeman and refused to shoot back.
I was lucky; I spent just a short time in jail. My brother spent nearly two years in a British detention camp in Africa like hundreds of other freedom fighters. His wife, a freedom fighter too, was arrested with him, and served that time in prison.
I knew in my soul, as my friends did too, that Israel was ours and the British would have to leave, no matter how long it would take, and how many of us would die in that fight. All my education, my upbringing, my inner feelings told me that one day, all this area would, again, be our land. We expected the local Arabs and Christians to live in our Jewish State as equal citizens.
We called ourselves Lochamai Cherut Israel, (LECHI), Fighters for the Freedom of Israel, and after years of fighting the British alone, convinced the other two undergrounds, the Irgun and Hagana, to fight together our enemy -- Britain. All three undergrounds then coordinated their attacks on British installations, making an effort not to kill even their soldiers unless it was necessary, and we raised so much hell for them that they asked the United Nations to take over. And we got a sliver of a free state.
Were we terrorists or freedom fighters? Terrorists aim to create terror in the civilian population by killing innocent civilians, men, women and children. The freedom fighters of Israel did their best to prevent killing even British policemen.
One of our underground members hated the British and killed a policeman without orders. We warned him, but he did it again. One of our leaders killed him under orders. We had many opportunities to kill British policemen, but we targeted those that killed and tortured our members while prisoners.
When the Irgun underground decided to blow up the King David Hotel, a British headquarters, they warned the British half an hour earlier, but the British could not believe that the Irgun could penetrate their command center and did not evacuate it. Their arrogance caused the death of many people, including civilians.
Why am I telling this old story now? Because I am concerned about the way some Americans, and painfully some Jews, misunderstand the situation in Israel and what occurred there for the last hundred years, and now. Some still blame Israel for the agony there. Some withhold their support because they find lack of perfection in this Jewish State, which is fighting continuously for its survival. Some sit here in judgment on a state and people that they have little understanding of.
Please understand that most people know very little about the utterly desolated and unpopulated land Palestine was 100 years ago, when Jews started to come to Israel in increasing numbers. The Jews did not displace anybody; it was nearly an empty land. Americans know very little about the Arab pogroms in Israel starting in earnest in 1929 when my sister-in-law family escaped Arab murderers in Hebron by sheer luck, but 69 others Jews did not. You may know about the murders of 21,000 Israelis by Arab armies and Palestinians to date, but it did not touch you personally as it still does the majority of Israeli families. You heard, but you do not know, how much the Israelis sacrificed to live on this thin sliver of a land just 5 percent the size of California. Yes, twenty Israel's can be placed inside California, and this current sliver is a tiny fraction of the land we expected to have as the Jewish Homeland when I was growing up there.
Please allow me to tell you a little of my own family experience there so you may start to feel a little of the agonies that the Jews of Israel went, and going, through. The dream of my family for an Israeli State was not different from the dreams of most Jews there.
My father was two years old when his parents left Russia to go to Cairo, Egypt. They hoped to go to Israel, but the poverty and severe occupation of the Turkish Ottoman Empire was so hard that Jews already there left Israel to live in the British-controlled Egypt. A few years later my mother and her family left Metula, on donkeys, in the Galil of northern Israel, also for Cairo, after living there a 150 years, because of starvation and torment under the Turks. When my father was 17 the British government issued the Balfour Declaration giving their support to the creation of a Jewish State on the two sides of the Jordan River (as it was in biblical times). After the British conquered the Middle East in 1918, and promised the Jews to help them create a state on the two sides of the Jordan, my father and many of his friends moved to Israel to build the new state. In 1922 Churchill created Trans Jordan and gave three-quarters of the land promised to be Israel to the Arabs. The smaller portion, all the land between the Jordan River and the sea was to be a temporary British Mandate under the League of Nations dedicated to the creation the state of Israel in that full area.
My older brother, my sister, and I were raised to continue our hope for an Israel on both sides of the Jordan, and to fight to achieve that goal. We did not accept the duplicity of the British, cutting down our country to its minimum size. You may say it was an unrealistic dream, but that was part of our soul, an integral part of who we were. And we fought for it, as many other Israelis did. The Left and the Hagana accepted the shrinking of Israel; the Right, and the Irgun and Lechi undergrounds, did not. We were still hoping.
As the United Nations divided Israel in 1947 into an Arab and Israeli portion, our hearts were cut again. It was a severe blow to our dreams, but we wanted a Jewish State to accept the millions of wondering, stateless Jews. Eventually most Israelis, including my father, my brother, my sister, and I, accepted that sad reality. I accepted this reality despite the Arabs' killing a quarter of my elementary and high-school friends during the war of 1947-48 that they imposed on us, despite their killing three of my kibbutz friends, out of 40 members, in "peace time" after the 1948 war. We wanted bygones to be bygones.
You may have read about the anguish in Israel, but unless you went through this yourself, with your relatives and friends dying in one war or another, or by a suicide bomber, you are not likely to feel it like an Israeli feels it. Almost all Israelis have a friend or a relative that was injured or killed in the many attacks or wars imposed on them.
And still these Israelis want peaceful coexistence, minimize civilian casualties, and do not lash out, as some other nations would have done. One hundred million refugees were resettled around the world in the last 50 years starting new lives, but not the Palestinians. They want all of the land, from the river to the sea, and clearly state that their aim is to have whatever land they can get now, so it could be used as a springboard to take over all the land from the Jordan to the sea.
Unlike the Palestinians, we did not accept this sliver of land as a step to take over all the land. Maybe a small number still dream about that larger Israel, but most Israelis want to build the country and bring in as many Jews as possible and accepted the reality with a heavy heart. The Palestinians claim that the Israelis took their lands. It is not true and we can, needlessly, argue about it for a long time. Some say, see how much the Palestinians suffer losing their lands. Israelis suffered no less from the slicing of their promised lands, reducing it from the two sides of the Jordan and then cutting it to the current sliver of land.
The question is what to do with the reality of today? The question is what can be done now so both people live in peace and safety?
The answer I hope for is: for the Palestinians to have a good life they have to accept reality, stop the terror, and give peace a chance.