One Chasing a Thousand
By Joseph Evron
Gefen Publishing House, 2009, 414 pages
Amihai Paglin, known by his code name Gidi (1922-1965), was a leading fighter to free Palestine of British presence and, since 1946, the operation commander of the Irgun Zvai Leumi. Virtually every famous exploit performed by the Irgun in Palestine was performed under his command. This book deals with Gidi’s feats during the underground period.
The concept of the "good cop – bad cop" way of acquiring information from criminals is well known in law enforcement. The police use this procedure consciously with great success. In Palestine, as Israel was called since Roman times until 1948, during the shameful period of British occupation of the land and the treacherous aid that these supposedly impartial custodians of Palestine gave to the Arabs, there were several groups of Israelis who undertook measures to force the British to leave Palestine. The principle organizations were the Haganah, the Irgun and Lehi. The Haganah – the "good guy" – generally, but not always, attempted to work with the British to agree to leave. The Irgun and Lehi – the "bad guys" - saw that the kind acts of the Haganah were not successful, and they felt it was necessary to fight against the British.
The Irgun was successful. Winston Churchill admitted that, "It was the Irgun Zvai Leumi that caused the British evacuation from Palestine." The history of these times and the exploits of Gidi are subjects that all people should know, and Joseph Evron presents the history very well.
The British forces in Palestine of 100,000, although claiming that they were neutral, were pro-Arab. They shamefully restricted Jewish immigration, many of whom were holocaust survivors, to a total of 75,000 during a five-year period. In February 1942, the British refused to allow the refugee ship Struma to enter Palestine, with the result that all but one of its 770 passengers died when the ship sank. The Jewish underground felt that "bombs were the only possible response to tyranny."
Many of the Irgun attacks are described in this excellent book. These include the bombing of the British construction company and the attack on the income tax offices – "the chief tool for the exploitation of the Hebrew worker." The Book tells about the weapons seizure in Rehovot, the arms raid on the exhibition site, the Jerusalem railway bombing, the battle for Jaffa, and the foray into the airfields that damaged 22 British aircraft at a cost of two and a half million dollars, forcing the British to relocate their airfields to Egypt. Another adventure was the raid on the Tel Nof Camp where there were 10,000 soldiers. The Irgun made sure as much as humanly possible not to harm any person; they called the British before every bombing to warn the British of the imminent explosion.
The story of the explosion of the King David Hotel, led by the Irgun under Gidi’s command, is told in detail. Most people mistakenly believe that the Haganah was not involved, but this is not true. The story is exciting and includes the attempts of a Jewish traitor to warn the British long before the traditional Irgun call warning the British to vacate a building that will be bombed.
The British sentenced and hung four Irgun fighters in April 1947. The Irgun’s response a month later was the Acre prison break, which freed many Irgun and other Jewish prisoners who were held there. Only 34 Jewish fighters were involved, the youngest was 17 and the oldest was 34.
After years of successful Irgun attacks, the British told the United Nations that they wanted to pull out of Palestine, and on November 29, 1947, the United Nations decided to partition Palestine into Jewish and Arab states.
On April 18, 1948, just 27 days before the end of the British Mandate over Palestine, seeing that the British were arming the Arabs, Gidi led an Irgun unit against a military train loaded with ammunition. Most of the Jewish fighters were immigrants, newly arrived from a detention camp in Europe. The operation seemed to go bad, but it was ultimately successful. Gidi used a trick to get the British soldiers, who outnumbered the Jews, to surrender, and even got the soldiers to help his small unit to load the captured weapons on Irgun trucks.
Gidi’s wife Tzipora also fought in the Irgun. The two heroes were killed in a road accident in 1965.