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Pre-Independance Underground Organizations (Israel)

Last modified: 2024-04-20 by martin karner
Keywords: israel | etzel | irgun | irgun tsvai leumi | lekhi | lehi | lohame herut yisrael | stern |
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ETZEL – Irgun Tsvai Leumi (National Military Organization)

image from Wikipedia

The Jewish underground organisation Irgun fought in the 1940's against British domination in Palestine. The emblem shows the contours of the British Mandate of Palestine, claimed by the Irgun. This emblem had been placed on a white cloth with two small blue stripes. (Source: Spiegel 32). [translated from German by Jarig Bakker]. Shows an Israeli national flag, fringed, with a map including Israel and Jordan in the middle, instead of the Magen David. On the map is a hand holding a rifle.
Jaume Oll?
, 11 September 1999

Irgun Tsvai Leumi also spelled Irgun Zvai Leumi, which is Hebrew for National Military Organization.
Insight taken from Wikipedia:
"Irgun, shorthand for Irgun Tsvai Leumi was a paramilitary Zionist group that operated in the British Mandate of Palestine from 1931 to 1948. In Israel, this group is consistently referred to Etzel, a contraction of the Hebrew initials. It was classified by British authorities as a "terrorist organization" but many regarded it to be a "liberation movement".
Founding, development and key events: The group was an offshoot of the Haganah in protest both against its policy of restraint and socialist leanings. Based on the premises formulated by Ze'ev Jabotinsky that "every Jew had the right to enter Palestine; only active retaliation would deter the Arabs; only Jewish armed force would ensure the Jewish state," (Howard Sachar: A History of the State of Israel, pps 265–266) the group made retaliation against Arab attacks a central part of their initial efforts. The Jewish Agency denounced the existence, strategy, and tactics of the group from the very outset, leading to a full-fledged confrontation in 1948 that led to the dissolution of the group.
Irgun was founded in 1931 by Avraham Tehomi, following a largely political and ideological split with the Haganah after he had assumed leadership over the district of Jerusalem. Irgun differentiated itself from the Haganah by disassociating from the socialist ideology and the prevalent strategy of Havlagah, or restraint. Throughout its history Irgun advocated a more decisive use of force in the defense of Jews in Mandate Palestine and in advancing the formation of a Jewish state.
While the strategy, tactics, and operational methods of the organization changed through the years, its primary goals were to: Provide a non-Socialist alternative to the leading Zionist organizations; Eliminate or reduce the threat of Arab attacks on Jewish targets by assured and harsh retaliation for such attacks; Bring to an end the British mandatory rule, which they considered in violation of international law
From its inception, the group went through several phases in its short lifespan.
From 1931 to 1937 it was a small, renegade group that undertook scattered attacks against Arab targets. This phase ended when the group itself split, with some of its leaders, including the original founder, Tehomi, returning to the Haganah; and the group formally identifying itself as "Etzel" (Irgun).
During the Great Uprising (1936–1939), in which about 400 Jews were killed in Arab attacks, Irgun resumed its reprisal attacks against Arabs. Following the killing of five Jews at Kibbutz Qiryat Anavim on November 9, 1937, Irgun launched a series of attacks which lasted until the beginning of World War II, in which more than 250 Arab civilians were killed.
These attacks coincided roughly with Irgun's campaign of facilitating immigration of European Jews who faced discrimination, murder and pogroms in Europe. The first vessel arrived on April 13, 1937, and the last on February 13, 1940. All told, about 18,000 Jews escaped genocide in Europe in this way.
Upon the publication of the White Paper in May of 1939, Irgun concentrated all its efforts against the British, whose restrictions on Jewish settlements, they felt, were leading to avoidable deaths by the hands of the Nazis.
From 1940 through 1943, Irgun declared a truce against the British, and supported Allied efforts against Nazi forces and Arab allies in the area by enlisting its members in British forces and the Jewish Brigade. A small group group lead by Avraham Stern, who insisted on continuing to fight the British, broke off and formed and independent group (LEHI). In 1941, the Irgun leader, David Raziel volunteered for a dangerous mission in Iraq to assassinate Amin al-Husayni, but was killed by a German bomber before the operation could be finished. In February of 1944, under the new leadership of Menachem Begin, Irgun resumed hostilities against the British authorities. The purpose of these attacks was to bring public attention to the cost and ineffectiveness of the British mandatory rule. It included attacks on prominent symbols of the British administration, including British military, police, and civil headquarters at the King David Hotel and the British prison in Acre. Although these attacks were largely successful, several Irgun operatives were captured, convicted, and hanged. Refusing to accept the jurisdiction of the British courts, those accused refused to defend themselves. The Irgun leadership ultimately responded to these executions by hanging two British sergeants, which effectively brought the executions to an end.
Following the murder of Lord Moyne by Lehi, the Yishuv and Jewish Agency initiated "The Hunting Season" on Irgun and the Lehi group, facilitating the arrest of some 1000 members of those organizations who were interned in British camps. The British deported 251 of them to camps in Africa.
From about October of 1945 until July 1946 Irgun was in an alliance with the Haganah and Lehi called the Jewish Resistance Movement, organized to fight British restrictions on Jewish immigration. This alliance ended when Irgun bombed British military, police, and civil headquarters at the King David Hotel as a retaliation for Operation Agatha.
From July 1946 until June 1948, Irgun fought as irregulars against the British mandate and Arab forces, informally in coordination with Haganah forces. Their participation in alleged "war crimes" at Deir Yassin has been widely discussed and documented. Their largest single operation was a successful assault on Jaffa (an Arab enclave according to the UN partition plan) starting on May 25. In 1948, the group was formally dissolved and its members integrated into the newly formed Israeli Defense Forces. This integration largely coincided with the sinking of the Altalena, a ship with fighters Irgun had recruited and arms Irgun had acquired for Israeli forces.
Legacy of Irgun: Leaders within the mainstream Jewish Agency, Haganah, and Histadrut, as well as British authorities, routinely condemned Irgun operations as "terrorist" and branded it as an "illegal organization". In their defense, former Irgun leaders assert that: The premises for their founding and strategy were vindicated by subsequent events. Arab violence against Jews in the mandate of Palestine could only be deterred through retaliation; the British authorities only ended their restrictions on Jewish immigration when pressured by force; and unrestricted Jewish immigration was a matter of saving lives, both during the Shoah and during post-World War II pogroms in Poland and the Ukraine.
Operations that are usually characterized as "terrorist" had another character. The King David Hotel attack was considered a legitimate military target, being the British military headquarters; the attack on Deir Yassin was part of a campaign to control the road between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv; the attack on the Acre prison was to release prisoners the British intended to hang. At least one of the attacks plainly made against civilians was unauthorized by the Irgun.
For further information see <>.
E.R., 8 May 2005

Irgun (Organization) is the name given by the Mandate authorities. Here it is always called ETZEL.
Basically it was the military wing of the Zionist Revisionist Federation, whose youth movement was BETAR (see also Betar (Youth organization)).
After the independence, members of ETZEL led by Menahem Begin founded a political party named "Herut" (Freedom) which is the major ingredient of the today Likud Party.
The "New Zionist Federation" (the official name of the revisionist organization) never accepted the British decision to change the San-Remo pact of 19 April 1920 (in which the UK was given a mandate on "Eretz-Israel" of both side of the Jordan River (as appear on the map on the emblem) in order to establish there a "Jewish National Home") and to separate "Trans-Jordan" from it.
Dov Gutterman, 8 May 2005

The historical movement Irgun Zvai Leumi a.k.a. ETZEL was a Jewish paramilitary association since 1931 up to september 1948. Irgun Zvai Leumi is National Military Organization in Hebrew. It was a radical nationalist organization. Originally was a hardline split of Haganah. From 1943 ETZEL was headed by Menachem Begin (Prime Minister of Israel from 1977 to 1982)
The symbol of Irgun: The symbol of Irgun Zvai Leumi was a hand gripping a rifle over the profile of a map including the land of current Israel,Pallestine and Jordan. The Jordan river is also marked in the map. Two Hebrrew characters at right side and two other at left side (rak-kah) are also part of the symbol.
The flag of Altalena: The flag of Altalena is the Irgun flag of the vessel named Altalena that was bombed and burned in a confrontation between the Jewish paramilitary organisation and the recent Israeli Defence Forces in 1948. The complete event is explained in at
It is a vertical flag. In the flag of Altalena the Irgun symbol is placed inside of the six-pointed star (Magen David). This historical flag is conserved in the Israel Army Museum in Jaffa (Tel Aviv-Yafo).
The explanation printed in Hebrew and English over the protective glass: "The flag of Altalena was saved at the last minute, before the ship went up in flames, by Iphtah – the signal operator. He risked his own life by returning to the ship and rescuing the flag"
Another Irgun flag variant is the flag that was used in the battle of Jaffa (1948) – It's a horizontal flag. The Irgun symbol is replacing the Magen David. Two sentences in Hebrew have been also incorporated.
Those are two different Irgun flags, but both looks like home-made. It's difficult to say which one is the original and which one is the variant.
Santiago Tazón, 7 September 2005

These are the Hebrew words Rak Kakh (Only thus). Not to be confused with the later "Kach" movement which took its name from this motto. The words usually go on either side of the logo, not above it.
I wouldn't say "vertical" – after all, the Irgun symbols are arranged horizontally. Most likely (from appearance) a handmade Israeli flag with an off-center star, and the Irgun symbols drawn on it. It's most likely hung that way so it can fit in the case.
Nathan Lamm, 8 September 2005

The inscription on "Jaffa" flag: above – HaIrgun HaTtzvai HaLeumi (The National Military Organization), below – BeEretz Israel (In Israel-land)
The ETZEL didn't had an official flag so the flags were probably initiated separately to "fill the gap". The Altalena flag was probably arrived with it from France (it deaprted on June 11, 1948) while the other one was was probably made in Tel Aviv for the first "reveled" ceremony of the ETZEL held in Ramat-Gan on 24 April 1948 in advance of the Jaffa campaign that started the next morning.
Dov Gutterman, 8 September 2005

LEHI – Lohame Herut Yisrael

image from Wikipedia

Insight taken from Wikipedia:
"Lehi (Hebrew acronym for Lohamei Herut Yisrael, "Fighters for the Freedom of Israel") was a radical self-described terrorist group that had as its goal the eviction of the British from Palestine to allow unrestricted immigration of Jews and the formation of a Jewish state.
Foundations and founding: Avraham ("Yair") Stern was originally an adherent of the Revisionist Zionist movement founded by Ze'ev Jabotinsky and a member of Irgun, but separated from these groups in 1940 to form his own group, which he called Irgun Zvai Leumi BeYisrael (National Military Organization in Israel).
Specifically, Stern believed that the Jewish population should focus its efforts on fighting the British rather than supporting them in World War II; and that terrorist methods were an effective means to achieve those goals. He differentiated between "enemies of the Jewish people" (e.g., the British) and "Jew haters," (e.g., the Nazis), believing that the former needed to be defeated, and the latter neutralized. To this end, he initiated contact with Nazi authorities offering an alliance with Germany in return for the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine.
Evolution of the organization: British authorities quickly focused their efforts against Stern's group. In 1942, British police shot Stern under disputed circumstances. Several of the group members were arrested, and the group went into eclipse until it was reformed as "Lehi" under a triumvirate of Israel Eldad, Natan Yellin-Mor, and Yitzhak Shamir (later prime minister of Israel). The new Lehi was guided by spiritual and philosophical leaders Uri Zvi Greenberg and Israel Eldad, while the old Lehi was primarily guided by the writings of Abba Akhimier. The smallest by far of any of the Jewish armed groups during the mandatory era, it never attracted more than a few hundred followers,and was reviled by most of its contemporaries.
Although the name of the group only became "Lehi" about 1943 after Stern's death, this article follows the common practice of calling it that throughout its history.
Lehi adopted a non-socialist platform of Anti-Imperialist ideology. It viewed the continued British rule of Palestine as a violation of the mandate's provision generally, and its restrictions on Jewish immigration to be an intolerable breach of international law. Unlike the Haganah and Irgun, which fought on two fronts against British and Arabs, Lehi concentrated its attacks exclusively on British targets.
Lehi also rejected the authority of the Jewish Agency and related organizations, operating entirely on its own throughout nearly all of its existence.
Lehi prisoners captured by the British generally refused to present a defence when brought to trial in British courts. They would only read out statements in which they declared that the court, representing an occupying force, had no jurisdiction over them and is illegal. For the same reason, Lehi prisoners refused to plea for amnesty, even when it was clear that this would have them spared from the death penalty. In one case two Lehi men killed themselves in prison to deprive the British of the ability to hang them.
Contact with Nazi authorities: In 1940 and 1941, Lehi proposed intervening in the Second World War on the side of Nazi Germany to attain their help in expelling Britain from Mandate Palestine and to offer their assistance in "evacuating" the Jews of Europe arguing that "common interests could exist between the establishment of a new order in Europe in conformity with the German concept, and the true national aspirations of the Jewish people as they are embodied by the NMO (Lehi)." Late in 1940, Lehi representative Naftali Lubenchik was sent to Beirut where he met the German official Werner Otto von Hentig and delivered a letter from Lehi offering to "actively take part in the war on Germany's side" in return for German support for "the establishment of the historic Jewish state on a national and totalitarian basis, bound by a treaty with the German Reich". Von Hentig forwarded the letter to the German embassy in Ankara, but there is no record of any official response. Lehi tried to establish contact with the Germans again in December 1941, also apparently without success.
Actions: Apart from the small number of high-profile operations, Lehi mostly conducted small-scale operations such as assassination of British soldiers and police officers and, on occasion, Jewish "collaborators". Another operation (1947) was to send bombs in the mail to many British politicians. Other operations included sabotaging infrastructure targets: bridges, railroads, and oil refineries. Lehi financed their operations from private donations, extortion, and bank robbery.
November 6, 1944 – Lehi assassinates Lord Moyne, a British government representative blamed for the White Paper immigration policy, in Cairo. This act rocked the British government, and outraged Winston Churchill the British Prime Minister. The two assassins were captured, sentenced to death, and executed.
April 9, 1948 – Lehi and Irgun attack Deir Yassin
September 17, 1948, Lehi assassinated the UN Mediator, Count Folke Bernadotte, who had been sent to broker a settlement in the dispute. The assassination was directed by Yehoshua Zetler and carried out by a four-man team led by Meshulam Markover. The fatal shots were fired by Yehoshua Cohen. Lehi leaders Nathan Yellin-Mor and Matitiahu Schmulevitz were arrested two months after the murder. Most of the suspects involved were released immediately and all of them were granted general amnesty on the 14th of February, 1949.
Dissolution and integration: The conflict between Lehi and mainstream Jewish and subsequently Israeli organizations came to an end when Lehi was formally dissolved and integrated into the Israeli Defense Forces on May 31, 1948, its leaders getting amnesty from prosecution or reprisals as part of the integration. However, it maintained independent operations in Jerusalem until it was forcefully broken up after the assassination of the UN-envoy Count Folke Bernadotte. Members of the Lehi founded a political party known as "Fighters," and Yellin-Mor was elected to the first Knesset, but the party was short-lived.
In 1980 Israel instituted the Lehi ribbon, red, black, grey, pale blue and white which is awarded to former members of the Lehi underground who wished to carry it."
For further reading see
E.R., 8 May 2005