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Operation Agatha (Saturday, June 29, 1946) sometimes called Black Shabbat or Black Saturday because it began on the Jewish sabbath, was a police and military operation conducted by the Britishmarker authorities in the British Mandate of Palestine. Soldiers and police searched for arms and made arrests in Jerusalemmarker, Tel-Avivmarker, and Haifamarker, and in several dozen settlements; the semi-official Jewish Agency was raided. The total number of British security forces involved is variously reported as 10,000, 17,000, and 25,000. About 2,700 individuals were arrested, among them Moshe Sharett. The British objectives included dissuading the Haganah and the Palmach, Lehi (Stern Gang), and the Irgun Tzvai Leumi, from undertaking further attacks against British troops and officials, as well as possibly dissuading a unilateral proclamation of a Jewish state, and bolstering morale.

Background

It was a tense time. June 16, 1946 saw the "Night of the bridges" and on June 17, the Lehi attacked railway operations in Haifamarker. Shortly afterwards, the Irgun kidnapped six British officers. One officer escaped, and two were released. The Irgun announced that the remaining officers would be released only in exchange for the commutation of death sentences for two Irgun members.

Historian Thurston Clarke asserts that the British government wished to bolster army morale and forestall a coup d'├ętat in which community leaders would unilaterally proclaim a Jewish state. Another objective was to dissuade the Haganah, and particularly its operational arm the Palmach, from undertaking further attacks against British troops and officials.

Operation

The British operations were extensive. Low flying planes circled Jerusalem. Roadblocks were maintained, trains were flagged down, and passengers were evacuated and escorted home. Special licenses were required for the operations of emergency vehicles. Curfews were imposed.

Arms caches were discovered. At Kibbutz Yagurmarker, the troops found more than 300 rifles, some 100 2-inch mortars, more than 400,000 bullets, some 5,000 grenades and 78 revolvers. The arms were displayed at a press conference, and all the men of Yagur were arrested.

Agatha triggered echoes of the Holocaust in the minds of many people. Women ripped their clothing to expose concentration camp tattoos. There were incidents of people in the settlements herded into cages while screaming that this was what the Nazis did. A minority among the British troops exacerbated the situation by shouting "Heil Hitler," scrawling swastikas on walls, and referring to gas chambers while conducting searches.

Aftermath and consequences

After Agatha ended, the kidnapped British officers were released, and High Commissioner Alan Cunningham commuted the Irgun members' death sentences to life imprisonment.

The Haganah and Palmach was dissuaded from continued anti-British operations. However, the more extreme groups, the Lehi (Stern Gang) and the Irgun Tzvai Leumi, headed by future Prime Minister Menachem Begin, continued and even intensified their attacks.

Specifically, the Irgun retaliated for Operation Agatha by bombing the south wing of the King David Hotelmarker, which was the headquarters of the British government in Palestine.

References

  1. Clarke, Thurston, By Blood and Fire, Putnam, 1981, Ch.6.
  2. The Role of Jewish Defense Organizations in Palestine
  3. Clarke, ibid., Ch.6.
  4. Etzel.org
  5. Clarke, ibid., pp.68-69.
  6. Alan Cunningham, Palestine-The Last Days of the Mandate, International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944), Vol. 24, No. 4 Oct. 1948, pp. 485.
  7. Jewish Virtual Library


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