How Menachem Begin Saved Israel in 1948

On June 20, 1948, the Altalena dropped anchor on Israel’s northern coast. The ship was loaded with arms and munitions brought by the Irgun—a Jewish militia led by Menachem Begin—to help the recently created state of Israel fight its Arab attackers. Because of a dispute with Begin over whether the ships’ cargo should go directly to Irgun units or to the nascent IDF, David Ben-Gurion ordered his troops not to allow it to land. Meir Soloveichik describes how the events that followed made the Jewish state’s continued existence possible:

“Jews do not shoot at Jews.” So the young Menachem Begin confidently assured a worried young man . . . assisting in the unloading of [the Altalena’s] cargo, [who] fretted that those who had just come ashore might be fired upon. Begin . . . proved badly mistaken. A firefight did break out, and the Altalena fled back to the Mediterranean, landing near what is now Tel Aviv’s Frischman Beach on June 22, with Begin on board. David Ben-Gurion ordered the ship shelled. Sixteen members of the Irgun were killed.

Standing on the ship while being fired upon—with dear friends of his dying—Begin ordered those aboard the Altalena not to fire back, declaring milḥemet aḥim l’olam lo, never a war between brothers. After leaving the smoldering Altalena, with much of its arms cache lost forever, Begin went on the radio and again ordered his seething followers not to seek revenge. After wrongly predicting that Jews would never shoot at Jews, Begin now enunciated an even more extraordinary principle: Jews do not shoot at Jews even when those Jews are shooting at them.

This was his greatest moment. The survival of the newly born state was anything other than assured, and shooting back, however justified the self-defense might have been, would have torn the people apart. . . .

Statesman, leaders, great men of history, are usually remembered for what they achieved. Yet often their greatest moments are best understood by what they choose not to do. We speak of George Washington as the father of our country, and in that context we recall what he accomplished: expelling the British from Boston, crossing the Delaware in the dead of night, conquering Cornwallis at Yorktown, leading the Constitutional Convention, becoming the first president of the United States. Yet it may well be that these achievements pale in comparison to Washington’s decision not to seize power and also to resign his commission once victory over the British had been secured.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Altalena, David Ben-Gurion, George Washington, Israel & Zionism, Israeli history, Menachem Begin

Only Hamas’s Defeat Can Pave the Path to Peace

Opponents of the IDF’s campaign in Gaza often appeal to two related arguments: that Hamas is rooted in a set of ideas and thus cannot be defeated militarily, and that the destruction in Gaza only further radicalizes Palestinians, thus increasing the threat to Israel. Rejecting both lines of thinking, Ghaith al-Omar writes:

What makes Hamas and similar militant organizations effective is not their ideologies but their ability to act on them. For Hamas, the sustained capacity to use violence was key to helping it build political power. Back in the 1990s, Hamas’s popularity was at its lowest point, as most Palestinians believed that liberation could be achieved by peaceful and diplomatic means. Its use of violence derailed that concept, but it established Hamas as a political alternative.

Ever since, the use of force and violence has been an integral part of Hamas’s strategy. . . . Indeed, one lesson from October 7 is that while Hamas maintains its military and violent capabilities, it will remain capable of shaping the political reality. To be defeated, Hamas must be denied that. This can only be done through the use of force.

Any illusions that Palestinian and Israeli societies can now trust one another or even develop a level of coexistence anytime soon should be laid to rest. If it can ever be reached, such an outcome is at best a generational endeavor. . . . Hamas triggered war and still insists that it would do it all again given the chance, so it will be hard-pressed to garner a following from Palestinians in Gaza who suffered so horribly for its decision.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict