Lehi (Hebrew acronym for Lohamei Herut Israel, "Fighters for the Freedom of Israel") was a radical underground Jewish paramilitary group, a terrorist group according to both its own description and that of its opponents. It was active during the British Mandate of Palestine prior to the founding of the State of Israel and during the first part of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. The British authorities dubbed it the Stern gang, after its founder, Avraham Stern.
German covering letter attached to Stern's January 1941 offer of an alliance with Nazi Germany
Lehi was founded by Stern in 1940 as an offshoot from Irgun. It was initially named Irgun Zvai Leumi be-Yisrael (National Military Organization in Israel). Following Stern's death in 1942, and the arrest of many of its members, the group went into eclipse until it was reformed as "Lehi" under a triumvirate of Israel Eldad, Natan Yellin-Mor, and Yitzhak Shamir. Shamir became the Prime Minister of Israel forty years later.
Lehi was known for its Anti-Imperialist ideology. It considered the British rule of Palestine to be an illegal occupation, and concentrated its attacks mainly against British targets (unlike the other underground movements, which were also involved in fighting against Arab militant groups). 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.
Late in 1940, the 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.
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 (not always voluntary) and robbing banks.
Lehi was formally dissolved after the state of Israel was created, but continued to operate especially 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.
Noted Lehi attacks:
- 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.
- September 17, 1948, Lehi assassinated the UN mediator Count Folke Bernadotte. Bernadotte's insistence on the right of the Palestinian refugees to return to their homes was the cause for his murder. 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.
In 1980 Israel instituted the Lehi ribbon, red, black, grey, pale blue and white which is awarded to former members of the Lehi underground.
Pronunciation: "Le" as in "let", "hi" as in "he" but with a hard guttural "h" similar to German "ch". Accent on first syllable.
- "Neither Jewish morality nor Jewish tradition can negate the use of terror as a means of battle.
- "...We are quite far from moral hesitations on the national battlefield. We see before us the command of the Torah, the most moral teaching in the world: "Obliterate - until destruction." We are particularly far from this sort of hesitation in regard to an enemy whose moral perversion is admitted by all.
- "But primarily terror is part of our political battle under present conditions and its role is large and great:
- "It demonstrates, in clear language, to those who listen throughout the world and to our despondent brothers outside the gates of this country of our battle against the true terrorist who hides behind his piles of papers and the laws he has legislated.
- "It is not directed against people, it is directed against representatives. Therefore it is effective.
- "If it also shakes the Jews in Israel from their complacency, good and well.
- "Only so will the battle for liberation begin."
-- He Khazit (The Front, a Lehi underground newspaper), Issue 2, August 1943. The italicised quotation is a combination of two Biblical references to the Amalekites, Ex. 17:14 and Num. 14:45: Utterly blot out their remembrance...and destroy them completely.
- J. Heller, The Stern Gang (Frank Cass, 1995) ISBN 0714645583
- K. Marton, A death in Jerusalem (Pantheon, 1994) ISBN 0679420835 -- Bernadotte assassination
- Proposal by the Stern Gang to participate in WWII on the side of Germany (http://www.marxists.de/middleast/brenner/irgunazi.htm) (Note: this is a link to a book by Lenni Brenner, but the letter from Lehi presented has been checked against its source.)
- Lehi's website (Hebrew): http://www.lehi.org.il/