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The Haganah (Hebrew: "Defense") was the military wing of the Jewish leadership during the British rule over the mandate of Palestine. The Haganah was the basis for creation of the Israel Defense Forces.

Unlike its two smaller counterparts, the Irgun (Etzel) and Stern gang (Lehi), the Haganah never engaged in direct terrorist attacks against Arab civilians or British soldiers, prior to late 1947. The Haganah, however, is blamed in a number of attacks on civilians during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Research shows that that forces of the Haganah played a large role in the expulsion and evacuation of Palestinians living inside what today is Israel. See proper discussion at Palestinian Exodus.

Table of contents
1 Origins
2 World War II
3 The UN partition proposal
4 Possible War Crimes


Founded in 1920, the Haganah's purpose was not direct military involvement, but rather the creation of military infrastructure. In particular, this included training troops, smuggling weapons from abroad and collecting intelligence (a small intelligence branch operated since 1931 which gave birth in time to Israel's intelligence-gathering apparatus). Led by Yisrael Galili, the Haganah was mainly a civilian organization, fully subjugated to civilian leadership. Although only a minor power in the first years of its existence (the 1920s were a generally quiet time, in spite of the Arab pogroms of 1920, 1921 and 1929), the Haganah began to occupy an important position as unrest developed among the Arab population in 1936.

The unrest, which then grew into the three-year long Great Uprising, caught the British off-guard. Since the British authorities were initially unprepared and unwilling to defend the Jewish communities from the Arab looters, it was Haganah that was left to defend the Jewish positions. It did so efficiently, teaching the Jewish civilians how to set up defenses in their towns (a skill which proved very useful during both the upcoming unrest and the invasion of professional Arab armies in 1948), and counterattacking the Arab looters. Eventually, as the British overcame their idleness, they began to support the Haganah as well, and it played an important part in the cessation of the uprising by 1939.

World War II

In the first years of World War II, the British authorities asked Haganah for cooperation again, due to their fear of a Nazi breakthrough in Northern Africa. After Rommel was defeated near El Alamein in 1942, however, 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, which took part in the fighting in Europe in 1944/45 and consisted of Haganah men.

In early 1941, the Haganah created Palmach (Plugot Mahatz - strike companies), a military-like section which focused on giving out training to Israeli young. Palmach was initially supported by the British, as a part of their defensive preparations, but later was discarded by them as the rest of Haganah. It was never big, by 1947 amounting to only about 5 battalions (2,000 men), but its members have received not only physical and basic military training, but also acquired some leadership skills that allowed them to take up command positions as a part of Israel's army.

However the British cooling-down at the middle of the war unveiled the Jewish Yishuv's most hurting point - the plight of Holocaust survivors. A small stream of them began to arrive early in the war; by the time the war ended, hundreds of thousands of Jews were in Europe, who were left with no home and no homeland. The British had allowed only a limited number to come to Palestine; the Haganah set out to bring the rest.

The immigrants were brought in illegaly on old, small boats rented by the Jewish leadership. The Haganah played an important function in helping the ships arrive to shore and dispersing the immigrants safely. About 70,000 Jews were brought into Palestine in this way, and a similar number was captured on the way. The British were apallingly insensitive to the latter, arresting them in detention camps on remote lands (Cyprus and Mauritius), returning them to the places of their slaughter or simply killing them by inaction (as happened with the ship Struma).

The UN partition proposal

After the passing of the UN partition proposal in 1947, the Haganah was to face a wholly different sort of challenge, as it was forced to unveil into the full-scale and subordinated army while under the state of constant attacks by local Arabs and at a later scale - of full-scale Arab armies. The description of this metamorphosis can be found under 1948 Arab-Israeli War.

Possible War Crimes

Major General R. Dare Wilson, who served with the British troops policing the British Mandate of Palestine, reported that on Dec. 18, 1947, the Haganah murdered 10, mostly women and children, in the Arab village of al-Khisas. Wilson also claimed that on Dec. 31 the Haganah slaughtered another 14, again mostly women and children, in Balad Esh-Sheikh. (Aldershot: Gale & Polden, p.158, 1949)

The Arabs claim that forces of the Haganah played a large role in the expulsion and evacuation of Palestine Arabs living inside what today is Israel. One of their methods was to impose fear in the local populations. See proper discussion at Palestinian Exodus.

Although the Haganah didn't play an active role in the Deir Yassin massacre, the Haganah commander David Shaltiel is said to have allowed (albeit, with reluctance) forces of the Irgun and Lehi to execute the attack against the village. (Kfir, Ilan, Yediot Ahronot 4.4.72) Haganah units assisted them by providing mortar fire, they later withdrew from the area before the massacre begun. (Levi, Yitzhak, op. cit. p343-344; Pail and Isseroff, op. cit.)

On May 26, 1948, less than two weeks after the creation of the state of Israel on May 15, the Haganah, together with the smaller Irgun and Lehi, became the Israel Defense Forces.

Famous members of the Haganah included: Yitzhak Rabin, Ariel Sharon, Rehavam Zeevi.