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The Haganah, Etzel and Lechi Museums

Three museums display the military dimensions of the struggle for the state prior to and during the War of Dependence – the Haganah, Etzel and Lehi Museums. All are located in Tel Aviv and are not far from each other.


The Haganah Museum was established in 1961 during the time of the Labor government and is on the Independence Trail, the Ezel Museum during the time that the Likud government was in power, and the Lehi Museum was established in 1985 close to the time of the premiership of Yitchak Shamir, who was the leader of Lehi after the death of Abraham Stern. One might surmise that there were political implications in the setting up of these museums.


The Irgun was a breakaway from the Haganah, and Lehi was a breakaway from the Irgun. Hence, although Lehi was the most extreme and radical of these three para-military organizations and least influential, it is ironically the Lehi Museum that provides the clearest synthesis of the views and actions of these three parties, since the other museums give only short mention of other factions.


There were two military underground movements in Israel during the British Mandate. Etzel (Irgun Zvai Leumi, National Military Organization) or the Irgun (the Organization) for short, came about as a result of the Arab riots of 1929 when many Jews came to the conclusion that the British were never going to adequately restrain Arab attacks and it was up to the Jews of Palestine to take a proactive role in their protection. The main Jewish paramilitary organization in Palestine, the Haganah, on the other hand, saw itself at that time purely in a defensive role.


The other underground movement Lehi was formed by Abraham Stern (alias Ya’ir) in the period leading up to the Second World War. The British had issued a White Paper severely restricting Jewish immigration to 75,000 Jews over 5 years. The Haganah and Irgun decided that they would support the British in their struggle against the Nazis despite the White Paper. Lehi, on the other hand, believed that a Jewish state would never be formed if the British remained in control of Palestine and it was more important to fight the British than the Nazis. This made Stern and his comrades (pejoratively called the Stern Gang) wanted men by the British. Stern’s whereabout was discovered by the British (actually the site of this museum) and he was shot here.

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The Haganah, Etzel and Lechi Museums


The Lehi or Beit Ya’ir Museum is at 8 Stern Street in the Florentin neighborhood. It is open 9.00 a.m. to 4.00 p.m. Sunday to Thursday. It is run by the Museum Department of the Ministry of Defense. Directions: Enter “Lehi Museum” into Waze. There is no designated parking for the museum. For public transport enter “Lehi Museum” into Moovit. The museum is only a few minutes’ walk from the nearest bus stop.


There are two floors of exhibits. The top floor of the museum is where Abraham Stern lived for three weeks before he was discovered and shot by the British. A 30-minute movie is shown about his life. He was initially an academic in classic Greek and Latin languages and literature. Before separating from the Irgun, he was influential in the Irgun as a commander for arms procurement and illegal immigration. Following Stern’s death many Lehi members were arrested, but the organization managed to reestablish itself, and the actions and writings of Stern continued to be an inspiration to the organization.


The Main Hall exhibit is on the second floor and is dedicated to the Lehi organization. This includes a Hall of Remembrance commemorating the Lehi fighters who fell in underground operations and during the War of Independence as members of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). There are also exhibits about the operations of Lehi, including the controversial assassination of Lord Moyne in Egypt.


The Haganah Museum is on the Independence Trail on Rothschild Boulevard. It is an important museum since much of the history of the state relates to its military responses to its conflicts. The Haganah, and its offshoots the Palmach and the IDF, were the chief players in these conflicts (see the essay below). The museum is interesting and easy to follow. An audio guide is available in English. The museum is open Sunday to Thursday 8.00 a.m. to 4.00 p.m. Their phone number is 03 560-8624. This is their website.

Directions: Enter “The Haganah Museum.” The museum is in the former home of Eliyahu Golomb, the founder and leader of the Haganah.


The Etzel Museum is in a completely renovated building from 1900 on the coast on King George Street.


A movie is shown and this can be viewed in English. An audio guide is available in English. The exhibits are vividly done, but I personally found it difficult to connect everything together as a continuous narrative.


Directions: Enter “Etzel Museum” into Waze. The museum is open 8.00 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. Sunday to Thursday and is closed on Friday and Shabbat. Admission to 20 Nis and 15 NIS for students and seniors. There is nearby parking. Their phone number is 03 517 7180.

The Lehi Museum in Tel Aviv
The Lehi Museum in Tel Aviv

The formative years of the Haganah and Israel Defense Forces


The Second Aliyah between 1904 to 1913 brought a different type of Jew to this country than the First Aliyah. These new immigrants, many of whom were socialists, believed in working the land and defending themselves rather than relying on Arabs to protect their settlements as a form of protection money. The first paramilitary group formed in Jaffa in 1907, when a small number of individuals took upon themselves to defend a small number of settlements on a payment basis. They called themselves Bar-Giora. Notable members of Bar Giora included Israel Shochat, Alexander Zaid, and Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, individuals who played significant roles in the early Zionist movement and later contributed to the establishment of the State of Israel. n 1909 they disbanded to form the Hashomer (The Watchman), and this provided defense to a larger number of Jewish settlements. It operated until the beginning of the British Mandate in 1920, although it never had more than 100 members.


During the First World War, Jewish Palestinians fought in the Zion Mule Corps and Jewish Legion as part of the British army.


Arab riots in 1920 and 1921 brought appreciation to the Jewish leadership that the British would never seriously confront the Arab gangs perpetrating attacks and the farmers formed local defense units to protect their farms and kibbutzim. This was the beginning of the Haganah, although at this stage there was no centralized organization. Haganah means “the defense” in Hebrew. After the 1929 riots, the Haganah became much larger and encompassed almost all the youths and adults in Jewish settlements.


During the Arab revolts of 1936 to 1939, the British cooperated with the Haganah by forming the Jewish Settlement Police and Jewish Supernumerary Police. The Haganah also began adopting offensive capabilities, and Special Night Squads were formed to protect Jewish settlements from Arab attack. They were trained and led by Colonel Orde Wingate, a Major General in the British army and ardent Zionist who was an exponent of surprise tactics. These paramilitary forces provided valuable military training to the Jews of Palestine, something that was not available to their Arab foes.


When it became apparent that the British were pursuing partition, the planning department of the Haganah directed the building of “tower and stockade settlements” that were rapidly constructed to populate Jewish areas. The issuance of the White Paper in 1939 restricting Jewish immigration was the impetus for the Haganah to organize illegal Jewish immigration to Palestine and about 100,000 Jews were brought to Palestine in this way.


Some 30,000 Jewish Palestinians enlisted in the British army during the Second World War in the Jewish Brigade Group, which saw action in North Africa and Italy. In 1941, when it seemed possible that the Axis powers would invade Palestine, the Haganah created the Palmach, an elite commando section. This was never more than 2,000 men, but it provided the leadership skills that enabled these men to take command positions in the future Israeli army.


Already by 1931 there were many who were frustrated by the restraint of the Haganah with respect to the British authorities and they formed the “Irgun” or Irgun Tsva’i-Leumi (National Military Organization) whose aim was to compel the British to leave Palestine. Lechi was a break away from the Irgun that felt there could be no cooperation with the British despite the Second World War. After the war, the Haganah did cooperate with the Irgun and Lechi, but became less active in this struggle in 1946 and concentrated on organizing illegal Jewish immigration. This reached its peak between 1945 to 1948. The Haganah also secretly prepared for the war they suspected would come when the British left Palestine and they accumulated arms and developed a secret arms factory.


The Haganah came into the open during the civil war with the Palestinians after the adoption of the United Partitions Plan. Shortly after the beginning of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, David ben Gurion merged together all the para-military groups, including the Jewish underground, as the Israel Defense Forces.


This is the outline. The details are in the Haganah museum!

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