The Legion and the Hagana (Defense)

 The Jewish Legions


Some two years before World War One erupted, in an article published on January 1, 1912, entitled "Horoscope", Jabotinsky wrote that "a war of destruction between two or more superpowers" is about to occur, "with all of the sublime insanity of modern methods…   with inconceivable losses and an enormous expenditure of resources, directly, indirectly and incidentally". With the outbreak of the war, Jabotinsky was sent to the Western Front as a journalist for 'Russkie Verdomosti' newspaper. When Turkey entered the war, he saw an opportunity to act, and declared that "our fate depends on liberation in Eretz Israel from Turkish rule, and, with this liberation, we must participate as a Jewish military unit." In Madrid he met with Max Nordau, leader of the political branch of the Zionist Organization, and raised the idea of establishing a Jewish force to fight alongside the Allies to free Eretz Israel from the Turkish yoke. Nordau objected and even wrote to Nahum Sokolov, a member of the Zionist leadership: "I definitely reject (Jabotinsky's) plan, which is both imaginary and undesirable." During this period the Turkish began a mass deportation of Jews from Eretz Israel to Egypt. Jabotinsky criticized the powerlessness of the Zionist Organization in the face of the Turkish rule, and during his stay in Alexandria, helped to organize the first deportees. There he met the war hero, Yosef Trumpeldor. On the 8th of Adar 5675 (4/3/1915), Jabotinsky and Trumpeldor participated in a meeting of refugee youth and signed some 100 of them on their willingness to volunteer for the Jewish Legion under the British government, with the aim of liberating Eretz Israel. They trained in military formation and translated military terms to Hebrew. As a result of the agreement between Trumpeldor and the British military commander in Egypt, the Zion Mules Corps was formed. The Irish pro-Zionist Colonel John Henry Patterson was appointed Corps Commander with Trumpeldor serving as his deputy. In April 1915 the Corps was sent to the front in Gallipoli, where it earned recognition on the part of the British Command, although, according to Jabotinsky, the corps' main task was to establish a fighting Jewish unit. He travelled to Italy and France and spoke with statesmen he knew in order to continue his fight to establish the unit. After these efforts did not succeed, he went to Great Britain and attempted to convince the government that Britain's interests obligate that the Jews have permission to fight. Thus, at the end of 1916, after the Zion Mules Corps disbanded, 120 of its soldiers arrived in London and became the core of the Jewish Legion. To serve as an example, Jabotinsky enlisted in the Legion as a private, took a sergeant's course and, shortly before the Legion departed for Eretz Israel, was promoted to First Lieutenant. Two years later, during which he fought "alone in the battle" to establish the force, the British government publicized confirmation to create a Jewish Legion, on August 23, 1917, the "38th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers", which, with time, changed its name to "First to Judah" and was granted its own Jewish symbol – the Menorah. In February 1918, Legion soldiers marched en masse in London after which they left for the front in Eretz Israel. In total, 10,000 people were signed up for the Legion and only one half that number reached Eretz Israel. In August 1918, the Legion was sent to fight in the Jordan Rift Valley, under Jabotinsky's command. "The advance within Transjordan was the most difficult effort that I ever experienced," Jabotinsky told. The operation succeeded and its commander won praise from Colonel Patterson, who said, "I will never forget Jabotinsky's courage in command of the Fusiliers." Veterans of the Legions became the base upon which the Hagana organization was formed.


Beginning of British Mandate and Founding of the Hagana


With the entry of the British to Eretz Israel, the Jews expected Zionist activity to expand, along with a period of construction and calm. But the military government, in opposition to the Balfour Declaration, did not support this goal, and began to raise difficult obstacles before the Jews there. Jabotinsky, as spokesman for the "Zionist Commission" in negotiations with the military government, sharply criticized these actions. Weizmann thought Jabotinsky pessimistic and excessively harsh, and under pressure from the local British government, dismissed him from his position. In January 1919, Jabotinsky wrote to his wife, "The Arabs draw encouragement from the fact that the British do not uphold their promises; the situation is bound to end up like Kishinev." On February 1st, he decided to resign from the Zionist Commission and sent a sharp letter to General Allenby, writing that his work was about to explode into slivers, "under the heavy burden of disappointment, despair, breached promises and anti-Semitism". Alllenby was furious that a junior officer would criticize him, and immediately released Jabotinsky from military service. Following his release, Jabotinsky settled in Jerusalem with his family. His main concern was the Legions and their soldiers. One of his aims in establishing the Legions was to create a Jewish defensive force in Eretz Israel, and thus, at the end of 1919, he began building a defensive organization. A controversy arose between him and the Labor parties, who wished to establish an underground organization. Jabotinsky argued against this, claiming that going underground would signal relinquishment of basic rights, and that a secret defensive organization wasn't sufficient to guarantee the well-being of the Yishuv (pre State Jewish community). He demanded that the authorities provide arms, and when his demand was refused, he began organizing to obtain them in secret. Jabotinsky insisted that establishment of the Legions was the first condition for the Yishuv's security and development of the Zionist project in Eretz Israel, "It remains for us to defend Eretz Israel, and not to rely on the favor of the English soldier nor the kindness of the Arab policeman," he said.


1920 Riots and Incarceration in Acre Prison


When the Session of the Provisional Committee discussed the Problem of Defense of  the Upper Galilee Settlements, Jabotinsky claimed that real defense of the northern settlements was not possible, and that, if a Jewish unit would be caught by Arab rioters, it would be a death sentence for the defenders, or in the best case, capture. He called to return the defenders of Tel Hai inland – headed by Trumpeldor. Provisional Committee members rejected his comments, and in the Arab attacks, that reached a climax on 11 Adar 5680 (1/3/1920), Tel Hai fell and its defenders were killed. The event shocked Jabotinsky deeply, who claimed that the Committee's obligation had been to dispatch reinforcements to help the defenders or to evacuate them. Instead, Committee members "left a handful of youth on their own, on a tiny farm, surrounded by thousands of well-armed Bedouins; there must be someone guilty of terrible irresponsibility here." Jabotinsky didn't at all doubt Trumpeldor's and his comrades' volunteer spirit nor their willingness to fulfill their national obligation, but not at the cost of their lives. But he did question the ability of the organized Yishuv (pre-State Jewish community) to fulfill its duty and to act in order that there would be a value to the victims' sacrifices. At the memorial rally held in the courtyard of Beit HaAm in Jerusalem, he spoke: "And what is the difference between those who were killed and injured, and those who have yet to be hit by a bullet? The same spirit drove everyone, the same song of revolt." He ended by saying, "In their death they commanded us the fighters the right to the Galil." When Jabotinsky understood that Colonel Storrs, Governor of Jerusalem, was ignoring his warnings that the Arabs were planning to carry out a massacre of Jews on the Festival of Nebi Musa, he organized some 600 demobilized soldiers, legion veterans and volunteers, along with Pinhas Rutenberg, thereby establishing the first defense unit in Eretz Israel. In April 1920, Arabs began rampaging against Jews of Jerusalem, leaving six Jews killed and over 200 injured, over three days. Upon hearing that 19 defenders who had battled rioters had been arrested, Jabotinsky went to police headquarters and declared that, as organization commander, he would take responsibility and blame, and that the others accused should be released immediately: "If you see those as guilty, then I am guilty, because I am their leader. If you insist on their arrest, you must arrest me as well," he said. Jabotinsky was arrested on April 7th, and conducted his own defense, attempting to justify his actions and those of his comrades. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison in Acre Prison, along with hard labor. His imprisonment flared tempers throughout the world. On April 26, the Jewish Yishuv declared a day of mourning and a general fast. Protest assemblies were held in London, and at one of them, Nordau called, "Don't be Silent! As long as the conscience of Zionism is imprisoned in Acre!" There was a commotion in the British House of Commons as well, and, due to pressure of public opinion, Jabotinsky's sentence was lightened to one year. His comrades' sentences were reduced from three years to six months. On July 1, 1920, the British military administrative government was replaced by a civilian government, headed by Herbert Samuel, the First High Commissioner in Eretz Israel. In his speech on July 8th, in Haifa, Samuel granted pardons to all prisoners of the riots, releasing them unconditionally.

During his stay in Acre Prison, Jabotinsky lectured his comrades on a variety of subjects, including Chekhov and Gorky, Herzl and Ahad Haam. He translated Dante Alighieri's "The Divine Comedy" from Italian to Hebrew and also several stories by Sherlock Holmes. Additionally, in memory of Trumpeldor, he wrote his poem "Prisoners of Acre", the same one which became a symbol of his struggle for national liberation of the Jewish people.