Lehi (group)

From Academic Kids

Avraham Stern
Avraham Stern

Lehi (Hebrew acronym for Lohamei Herut Israel, "Fighters for the Freedom of Israel") was a radical self-described terrorist group that had as its goal the eviction of the British from Palestine to allow unrestricted immigration of Jews and the formation of a Jewish state.

British authorities termed the group the Stern Gang, a label that persists in historical accounts.


Foundations and founding

Avraham ("Yair") Stern was originally an adherent of the Revisionist Zionist movement founded by Ze'ev Jabotinsky and a member of Irgun, but separated from these groups in 1940 to form his own group, which he called Irgun Zvai Leumi be-Yisrael (National Military Organization in Israel).

Specifically, Stern believed that the Jewish population should focus its efforts on fighting the British rather than supporting them in World War II; and that terrorist methods were an effective means to achieve those goals. He differentiated between "enemies of the Jewish people" (e.g., the British) and "Jew haters," (e.g., the Nazis), believing that the former needed to be defeated, and the latter neutralized. To this end, he initiated contact with Nazi authorities offering an alliance with Germany in return for the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine.

German covering letter attached to Stern's January 1941 offer of an alliance with Nazi Germany
German covering letter attached to Stern's January 1941 offer of an alliance with Nazi Germany

Evolution of the organization

British authorities quickly focused their efforts against Stern's group. In 1942, British police shot Stern under disputed circumstances. Several of the group members were arrested, and the group went into eclipse until it was reformed as "Lehi" under a triumvirate of Israel Eldad, Natan Yellin-Mor, and Yitzhak Shamir (later prime minister of Israel). The new Lehi was guided by spiritual and philosophical leaders Uri Zvi Greenberg and Israel Eldad, while the old Lehi was primarily guided by the writings of Abba Achimier. The smallest by far of any of the Jewish armed groups during the mandatory era, it never attracted more than a few hundred followers, and was reviled by most of its contemporaries.

Although the name of the group only became "Lehi" after Stern's death, this article follows the common practice of calling it that throughout its history.

Lehi adopted a non-socialist platform of Anti-Imperialist ideology. It viewed the continued British rule of Palestine as a violation of the mandate's provision generally, and its restrictions on Jewish immigration to be an intolerable breach of international law. Unlike the Haganah and Irgun, which fought on two fronts against British and Arabs, Lehi concentrated its attacks exclusively on British targets.

Lehi also rejected the authority of the Jewish Agency and related organizations, operating entirely on its own throughout nearly all of its existence.

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.

Contact with Nazi authorities

In 1940 and 1941, Lehi proposed intervening in the Second World War on the side of Nazi Germany to attain their help in expelling Britain from Mandate Palestine and to offer their assistance in "evacuating" the Jews of Europe arguing that "common interests could exist between the establishment of a new order in Europe in conformity with the German concept, and the true national aspirations of the Jewish people as they are embodied by the NMO (Lehi)." Late in 1940, 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 assassinations 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, extortion, and bank robbery.

Assassination of Lord Moyne

In November 6, 1944 Lehi assassinated 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.

Deir Yassin

April 9, 1948 - Lehi and Irgun attacked Deir Yassin (see Deir Yassin massacre).

Assassination of Count Folke Bernadotte

Missing image
UN mediator Count Folke Bernadotte was assassinated by Lehi in Jerusalem in 1948.

September 17, 1948, Lehi assassinated the UN Mediator, Count Folke Bernadotte, who had been sent to broker a settlement in the dispute. 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.

Dissolution and integration

The conflict between Lehi and mainstream Jewish and subsequently Israeli organizations came to an end when Lehi was formally dissolved and integrated into the Israeli Defense Forces on May 31, 1948, its leaders getting amnesty from prosecution or reprisals as part of the integration. It however maintained independent operations 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.

In 1980 Israel instituted the Lehi ribbon, red, black, grey, pale blue and white which is awarded to former members of the Lehi underground who wished to carry it.

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.

See also


  • J. Heller, The Stern Gang (Frank Cass, 1995) ISBN 0714645583
  • K. Marton, A death in Jerusalem (Pantheon, 1994) ISBN 0679420835 -- Bernadotte assassination

External links

de:Lechi he:לוחמי חירות ישראל nl:Lechi


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