Themes

BETAR

 

(from Shmuel Katz memoirs)

 

The “pelugot giyus” of the Betar were the calculated embodiment of all the high ideals which Jabotinsky had formulated for the new generation of Jews of which he dreamed and sang:

 

 The breed which, “out of the pit of dust and decay” would arise “proud and generous and strong.”

 

Their central principle was utter dedication.

 

*For two years, without the compulsions of State or society, indeed in the face of their hostility and derision, they voluntarily gave themselves to national service, ready to go wherever sent, to do whatever was generally regarded as too difficult or too dangerous.

 

The most concentrated effort was the revival of Jewish development in Galilee, largely neglected by the official Zionist institutions which applied their passion and their toil to the Jezreel Valley (the Emek), and the Sharon.

 

The private enterprise agriculture in Galilee, established half a century before, was in a state of sloth and backwardness.

 

The younger generation tended to move to the towns.

 

The Betar pelugot, at Metullah, at Mishmar Hayarden, at Rosh Pina injected a new dynamic into the area.

 

Here they toiled to revive the production of tobacco, previously abandoned by the Histadrut.

 

Here they became the only producers of olive oil in the country.

 

Both branches demanded self-sacrifice: grinding work and a pitifully poor return. 

 

Elsewhere they hired themselves out to the farmers. 

 

In other parts of the country, like Zichron Yaakov and Kefar Sava, where the Histadrut had failed in its efforts to establish Jewish labor, the pelugot re-fought and won the battle. 

 

They planned aeronautical development, and the first glider, designed by Eri Jabotisnksy, was launched under their aegis.

 

They volunteered and were expected only to give, and to take nothing.

 

Their two years service, undertaken immediately on their arrival in the country, earned them no rights, gave them no personal foundations in the country.

 

They worked and lived as a collective; often primitive conditions of great material hardship. 

 

When they left the pelugah, they left with empty hands.

 

***Everywhere they took over the defense of the area.

 

They were given military training; and with the rise of the independent Irgun – they were placed under its overriding discipline.

 

In the Old City of Jerusalem “security” was the sole purpose. 

 

Pelugat Hakotel (the Wailing Wall platoon) was the self-appointed watchman of the Jewish community there. 

 

It provided protection for Jewish pilgrims to the Wailing wall and maintained a permanent guard over the heavily outnumbered Jewish quarter constantly and dangerously exposed to attack. 

 

Into a community whose ranks were being gradually depleted by insecurity and fear of massacre the Betar pelugah injected a new spirit of steadfastness. 

 

Here too, apart from the pitifully meager subsidy provided by the Betar Headquarters, the group maintained itself from the earnings of the members who could be spared in the daytime hours for work in the new City.

 

Most lost their health in the pelugot; some lost their lives.

 

The phenomenon they personified was never recognized, never encouraged, perhaps not even understood, by the official mouthpieces of Zionism. 

 

Yet in a generally idealistic generation which sang “We have come to the land to build and to be built” they who came only to build, and specifically not to “be built,” were surely the elite.

 

(see more in SETTLEMENTS theme under ROSH PINA)

 

          *        *        *

 

SHANGHAI BETAR / JUDITH HASSER:

 

In London that freezing fortnight I was enabled to pursue further the idea for a major operation which had been born during my autumn stay in Europe.

 

Among the Irgun’s supporters throughout the world, one of the best organized groups was the Shanghai branch of Betar.

 

Its leader was Judith Hasser, in whom youth and feminine grace were blended with executive capacity.

 

She was also one of the heads of a large import and export firm.

 

(read SHANGHAI LOST, JERUSALEM REGAINED)

 

*IN BASLE AND IN PARIS IN DECEMBER WE DISCUSSED THE POSSIBILITY OF SINKING BRITISH MERCHANT VESSELS IN SHANGHAI HARBOR.

 

She and her group were to work out the details.

 

Once Tel Aviv was assured that the plan was ready in detail permissive instructions would be sent to Shanghai.

 

The group there would inform us as soon as a target had been chosen. 

 

At that point the Irgun would issue a statement to the World Press.

 

I later prepared a rough draft.

 

*After explaining that we were determined that at sea too there would be no one-sided wars against us, the statement was to conclude that from a given date:

 

          “*Any British vessels wherever they may be will be regarded as legitimate targets for attack.

 

*We warn prospective passengers on British ships to transfer to ships of other nations. 

 

*We warn traders to send there goods by other ships.”

 

The Irgun’s reputation for making good its undertakings ensured that the warning would not be disregarded; the warning itself would strike at Britain’s vital “invisible export.”

 

*Driven home within a week or a fortnight by a sinking in an area demonstratively remote from Palestine this new thereat might have powerful effect.

 

Most passengers and shippers after all had a choice.

 

We were still awaiting word from Shanghai.

 

I was mortified to learn that the projected operation in Shanghai had been stultified by a garbling there of the letter-code. 

 

The message I found awaiting me in Paris was quite incomprehensible. 

 

Meantime however two members of the Shanghai branch had arrived in Europe and were undergoing a course of training. 

 

They would return to Shanghai adequately briefed.

 

 

 




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