World War II

The events of World War II had a major impact on the future State of Israel. From an Israeli perspective, the most significant event of World War II was the Holocaust.

Just prior to the Holocaust, many Jews tried to escape from Germany. Many attempted to get into the United States, but they were turned down. The same thing happened in other countries. As a result, they were forced to return and eventually perished in the Death Camps. Others tried to immigrate to Israel (Palestine), but the British (who had were in charge of a Mandate government in the region) purposely instituted policies that made it quite difficult for many Jews to immigrate to Israel.

In 1939, the British government put forth a new White Paper in an attempt to appease the local Arab population. Among other things, the White Paper of 1939 put significant restrictions on the numbers of Jews who would be allowed to immigrate to Israel; for all intents and purposes the White Paper closed the gates to Jewish immigration.

Jews living in Israel thus faced a serious dilemma: on the one hand, they wanted to assist the British in their efforts to fight the Nazis in Europe; on the other hand, however, they wanted to fight the British efforts in Israel to prevent Jewish immigration. This love/hate attitude toward the British was best summed up by future Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion - at the time, the Chairman of the Jewish Agency Executive: "We will fight Hitler as if no White Paper existed and we will fight the White Paper as if Hitler did not exist." Thus, Jews would assist the British in Europe, but they would reserve a right to fight against the British in Israel.

One of the most famous Jews who fought in Europe was Hanna Senesh, an immigrant from Hungary who came to Israel in 1939. Although she enrolled in the Nahalal Agricultural School and intended to become a farmer on a kibbutz, history had other plans for her. Just a few short years after her arrival in Israel, Senesh - along with the rest of the world - began to learn of the Nazi Holocaust back in Europe. She soon volunteered to serve in an elite unit of Jewish paratroopers. After undergoing grueling commando training, Senesh was chosen, along with 31 other volunteers, to parachute into Europe to fight the Nazis head-on.

In January 1944, she parachuted into Yugoslavia and crossed into Hungary. Unfortunately, she was caught by Hungarian Partisans, known for their anti-Semitism. The Partisans turned her over to the Nazis. For five months, she was held in a Gestapo jail in Budapest, where she was severely tortured. As hard as they tried, however, the Nazis could not break her. Finally, on November 7, 1944, Senesh was executed by a firing squad; she refused to be blindfolded. Hanah Senesh was reburied in Jerusalem in 1950.

Meanwhile, back in Israel, the majority of the Irgun (the Jewish National Military Organization, or Irgun Tzvah Leumi - commonly abbreviated Etzel) decided to cease fighting against the British and, instead, assist them in Europe. However, Avraham Stern led a small faction of the Irgun against the British. Stern believed that the war in Europe was so important to the British that they would be more than willing to make consessions to Jews in Israel if this proved necessary. He even negotiated with the Germans and the Italians!

Soon, Stern found it necessary to break with the Irgun altogether. He formed the LEHI (Lochamei Cherut Yisrael - "Freedom Fighters of Israel"), also known as the "Stern Gang." The British did everything possible to track LEHI members. Finally, in 1942, the British arrested Stern himself and killed him shortly thereafter. This only served to make Stern a martyr to LEHI members, and their resolve to attack the British was strengthened with Stern's death.

Meanwhile, at about the same time as Stern's death, Irgun leader David Raziel was killed in Iraq while on a mission for the British. He was replaced with future Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. By 1944, it had become clear that the Allies would win the War. Consequently, on February 1, Begin announced that the Irgun was resuming its fight against the British.

As the world outside of Germany began to learn the gruesome details of the Holocaust, the Jews of Israel increased their pressure on the British to rescind the White Paper and allow Holocaust survivors to come to Israel. The British, however, refused to cooperate. As a result, the struggle against the British intensified - especially from the LEHI, whose members considered any British policeman or soldier a legitimate target.

With more and more British being killed in Israel, the people of the United Kingdom increased their demands that the British pull out of Israel altogether. The British finally gave up, returning the Mandate for Palestine to the United Nations in 1947.

For many Jews, the events of World War II underscored the need for a safe haven for Jews, so that they would never again be without a place to flee from anti-Semitism in the Diaspora. Consequently, the State of Israel was founded in 1948, just three years after World War II ended.

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The Arab-Israel Conflict Prior to the State of Israel’s Establishment

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