During this stint in the reserves, I finished Menachem Begin’s ‘The Revolt’, a first hand account of the Irgun by its commander-in-chief. The book was extremely interesting, and easy to read. I’ve always been fascinated by the Irgun and how important of a role the organization played in destroying the British desire to occupy a land they didn’t belong in. Begin’s amazing narrative covers the whole period from his imprisonment in Siberia through to the country’s declaration of independence. He delves into the Irgun’s war on the British (the daring raids on the British army depots, the King David Hotel bombing, the Acre Jail break etc), the tragic betrayal of Jews by the Jewish Agency & Haganah (the ‘Season’, the Altalena Affair – I need to mention though that Ben Gurion was deliberately misled and hence allowed the Yitzchak Rabin led forces to destroy the ship, the kidnapping of Y. Stern etc.), and the amazing destruction of the Arab & British forces in Jaffa, which ensured Tel Aviv would be safe from potential invasions during the Independence War. What amazes me about Begin was his handling of the period of self-delusion and self-hatred of the elitist Jewish Agency and Haganah leadership. He refused to even contemplate retribution, despite non-stop betrayal of his organization – be it to the British or to the yishuv itself. His love for the Jewish people and desire to stay focused on the goal (the eradication of British rule in Israel) allowed him to deal with the severe blows of seeing a people who’ve been destroyed time after time by not only their enemies, but also by their self hatred, potentially go down the same track yet again. Begin’s book gives a much needed first hand account of events that have sadly only been narrated by the people who held power till he became prime minister in 1977.
When I made aliyah, my parents rightfully warned me that Israel wasn’t the Israel I was dreaming about. The Israel I was obviously yearning for was the one that Begin so elegantly strove for: An Israel where Jews were proud to stand up for their undeniable right to live on this land, where brothers stood united on all fronts, and were were driven by a deep love for the Jewish faith and the values it tought (and still teaches). While this Israel did in fact shows signs of developing despite the elitist attitude of its leadership, I really wonder how much differently Israel would have been had Begin been given a chance to run the country his leadership helped bring into existence. I’d just like to quote one part of his famous May 14th, 1948 speech (I wish we still had leaders who cared so much like this man obviously did):
Citizens of the Hebrew State, soldiers of Israel, we are in the midst of battles. Difficult days lie ahead of us … We cannot buy peace from our enemies with appeasement. There is only one kind of ‘peace’ that can be bought – the peace of the graveyard, the peace of Treblinki. Be brave of spirit and ready for more trials. We shall withstand them. The Lord of Hosts will help us; he will sustain the bravery of the Hebrew Youth … And you, brothers of our fighting family, do you remember how we started? With what we started? You were alone and persecuted, rejected, despised and numbered with transgressors. But you fought on with deep faith and did not retreat; you were tortured but did not surrender; you were cast into prison but you did not yield; you were exiled from your country but your spirit was not crushed; you were driven to the gallows but went forth with a song. You have written a glorious page in history ...
And as Begin ended his book, so I will end my entry with the following tribue to the wonderful boys and girls of the IZ”L, the Irgun Zvah Leumi … “Their Life was a struggle; their death heroism; their sacrifice sacred; the memory eternal”