Hebrew-Language Clandestine Radio Broadcasting During the British Palestine Mandate



Douglas A. Boyd

University of Kentucky

Lexington, KY 40506-0042


Phone: 606.257.3369

Fax: 606.257.4103/606.257.7818

E-Mail: boyd@pop.uky.edu

 Boyd is a Professor in the Department of Communication and the School of Journalism and Telecommunications, University of Kentucky. He acknowledges the assistance of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Monitoring Service Written Archives Section, Caversham Park, England, Carol Forrester, BBC World Service, London, and Professor Akiba Cohen of Tel Aviv University in gathering data for this study. This research was made possible in part by a grant from the Kaltenborn Foundation.


Hebrew-Language Clandestine Radio Broadcasting


During the British Palestine Mandate


It was an intriguing idea to some governments, pressure groups, political enthusiasts, and revolutionary organizations in the mid-20th century that well crafted radio broadcasts directed to supporters and opposers alike might play a major role in successfully promoting a particular cause to achieve a specific goal. This does not mean that other forms of communication--handbills, newspapers, the telephone, or even person-to-person communication--were not important. However, broadcasts "coming from the ether" were thought to be a very effective means of communication, especially if the "opposition" controlled or influenced state-run or -sanctioned radio and newspapers. It was Lenin who reportedly observed that radio was a "newspaper without paper and without frontiers." By the late 1930s, "the magic of radio" was a well known expression. After all, where commercial broadcasting was permitted, businesses attested to the effectiveness of radio advertising. World War II and the period just before it proved to be a time when psychological warfare attracted a great deal of attention, and for those involved in it clandestine radio became a growth industry, albeit with little, if anything, to show in terms of specific outcomes.

Various types of revolutionary/clandestine radio operations have existed since the Russians first used them in an attempt to rally German workers to support the revolution (Hale, 1975). Flicke (1977) confirms that the "use of broadcasting as a means of propaganda by government originated with the Soviet Union" (p. 280). Clandestine stations are challenging to discuss in geo-political, social, or economic contexts because they are so difficult to define; those countries and groups that have used such stations have often done so without specific goals, adequate equipment, or experienced personnel. By their very nature clandestine radio groups are not known for keeping historical records. In the case of Palestine, the British government does not permit the public to examine official British Mandate Authority documents housed in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Archives and related to clandestine stations operating in the 1930s and 1940s,1 apparently fearing that the documents might reveal the identities of British intelligence contacts in Palestine. Soley (1989) writes that clandestine radio operations are "illegal political stations that advocate civil war, revolution, or rebellion." Further, they "provide misleading information as to their sponsorship, transmitter location, or raison d'être" (p. 2). With regard to the potential impact of clandestine radio on consumers, Browne (1982), discussing clandestine radio stations in Africa, observes:

Listening to them can be dangerous, and few who do so would be willing to report the fact in a survey. Most of them are difficult to receive. Their typically polemical tone would be attractive to their supporters, but one that would probably not be very appealing to anyone other than a ‘true believer.’ (p. 279)

After noting that there is no precise definition of clandestine radio, and referring specifically to the Middle East, Hale (1975) states that, "[clandestine] radio comes in a variety of shades from pristine white to hellish black--from, that is, the most open and above-board to the most devious, misleading and underground" (p. 103).

This research concerns Jewish clandestine radio broadcasting in Palestine--commonly referred to as the Holy Land--under the British Mandate, and for a brief period after the creation of Israel. Palestine was part of the Ottoman Empire until Turkish forces were defeated toward the end of World War I. The British and French were allowed to administer some Middle Eastern territory after various agreements negotiated by these two countries and agreed to by the League of Nations. Although there have been changes in the political map of the area, until various forms of independence took place in countries under League of Nations (and later under United Nations) mandates, the British administered Iraq, Transjordan, and Palestine; the French, Syria and Lebanon.2

It is important to note that shortly after World War II ended the British realized they needed to find a face-saving way of leaving Palestine. Economically, the area had become a further drain on the British economy already devastated by the war. The British also knew that Jewish immigration from Europe and rising anti-Zionist feelings by Arab governments were key ingredients of a potential disaster. The World War II experience of Britain in the field of radio propaganda made them aware of the potentially damaging effects of such broadcasts in Palestine. Wood (1992) notes, "The expenditure on broadcasting equipment by the British during the war years was staggering" (p. 60). Thus, as noted below, the British Mandate Authority devoted considerable resources attempting to locate and stop clandestine transmitters.

This study's importance rests in part with its uniqueness; Jewish clandestine radio operations were apparently among the first successful effort by revolutionary groups to use the sound medium to help achieve specific goals, in this case the departure of an unwelcome, occupying force, and eventually the creation of an independent Jewish state.

The purpose of this study, outlined in subheadings that follow, is to provide readers with (1) an understanding of the motivations behind the Jewish clandestine stations; (2) information about the sponsoring organizations; and (3) a discussion of some of the programming that may help explain the role radio played in Britain's departure from Palestine in May 1948, the creation of Israel, and the resulting political situation that continues to exist in Israel and the Arab world, despite the historic agreement signed on September 13, 1993, in Washington, D.C., between Israel and the Palestine Authority and its Chairman Arafat's subsequent move to Gaza. This study examines only Jewish clandestine stations because there was very little Arab clandestine radio activity during the 1940s. This was due, at least in part, to the fact that state-run radio stations in neighboring Arab countries--primarily Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt--were enthusiastic outlets for Arab information and editorial opinion. No such facilities in the area were available to Jewish groups. Also, most Arabs believed that Sharq al-Adna, an Arabic-language station secretly operated by the British government, sided with them. As the British announced that they would leave Palestine, the Arabs believed that they had the upper hand psychologically and militarily and thus had little need for secret radio operations.

Clandestine broadcasts in Palestine are mentioned in several articles or books, many used in this study; but only Zimmerman (1973/1974), dealing exclusively with Arabic-language broadcasts, examined radio monitoring service reports of both clandestine stations and those from neighboring states. He found that Jewish-sponsored Arabic-language broadcasts did not suggest that Arabs leave Palestine upon British withdrawal. Zimmerman's research is dissimilar to the present study and is very limited because he relied only on radio monitoring reports. Monitoring reports are helpful and are used in this study, but both British and U.S. monitoring was limited because those who did it only sampled broadcasts and then did not transcribe or summarize all that were heard.

For the purpose of this study, clandestine broadcasting as regards Palestine is defined as those unofficial stations, mostly identified with specific underground organizations, that attempted to gain a psychological or military advantage as well as to communicate, often via coded messages, with operatives in the field.

Palestine Electronic Media Environment

It was Italy that first brought foreign radio broadcasts to the Middle East, specifically to Arabic speakers. Because of the creation of Radio Bari's Arabic service, at least a few Arabs could hear what a Western country thought about them. For the first time Arabs and a few Western observers became aware of the potential influence of radio later in the Middle East. The Italian broadcasts provided sufficient motivation for the reluctant BBC to start its first foreign-language service in Arabic on January 3, 1938 ("Arabic broadcasts," 1938; Reith, 1949).

The first local radio station, the Palestine Broadcasting Station (PBS), started under the British Mandate Authority with BBC supervision in 1936 (Palestine department of posts, 1935; Palestine department of posts, 1936). However, the trilingual (English, Hebrew, and Arabic) PBS, operating as the Voice of Jerusalem, was not the first radio station in the Middle East. Firsts are often difficult to identify with regard to the introduction of radio services, and so too in the Arab world. But Egypt seems to be the Middle Eastern state that can boast of the first radio broadcast in the 1920s (UNESCO, 1949; Metwally, n.d.), just after experimental transmissions started in North America and Europe. After World War II Britain started an English-language only British Forces Station (JCPA) in Palestine that provided no local news items, but did rebroadcast BBC short-wave broadcasts, thus making them available to citizens without short-wave radios. First headquartered on Mount Zion in the Old City of Jerusalem, the station later moved to a location near Bethlehem (Martin, 1949). Finally, special mention is necessary for an almost unique Arabic-language station started in Palestine - Radio Sharq Al-Adna.

The Technology of Clandestine Transmission in Palestine

Of course, during the 1940s there was no FM radio broadcasting in the Middle East. Medium- and long-wave receivers were the norm, but most home sets were also capable of receiving short-wave transmissions. This was because of the long-established practice of listening to European news from the BBC and other stations. A survey done in 1943 by social science faculty members at the American University of Beirut showed that among Arabs surveyed in Palestine, 87% had sets capable of receiving medium-, long-, and short-wave signals (Dodd et al., 1943). Partner (1988) states that Jewish homes in Palestine in the mid-1940s had a higher percentage of short-wave receivers than did Arab homes. This state of affairs proved to be very helpful to those operating clandestine stations; they all transmitted on the short-wave band, most on frequencies between 45 and 50 meters. Although primarily used by international broadcasters to reach listeners far away from transmission sites, short-wave transmission was ideal for Palestine clandestine operations because a relatively low power output could reach a large area. Additionally, short-wave transmitters did not need the extensive antennae and grounding facilities required for mediumwave, thus making them both portable and relatively easily hidden.3

"Establishment" Clandestine Broadcasting

The clandestine radio broadcasts sponsored by Jewish groups from the late 1930s until 1948 were done not by those interested primarily in radio broadcasting, but rather by groups that understood both the strategic and tactical importance of the sound medium. These broadcasts had five major goals. First, they were intended to provide various types of information to scattered Jewish communities in Palestine, an area where the Mandatory Authority controlled print and radio. Second, they were intended to gain favor, and members, among the Jewish population for the three major independence groups discussed herein. Third, they aimed to hasten the departure of the British and foster the subsequent creation of an independent Jewish state. Fourth, they were used to provide specific political and tactical military instructions to members who otherwise would have had to rely on slower, less reliable communication channels. Finally, they solicited funds and military aid from outside Palestine.

Haganah Radio, a station operated by the Haganah (Hebrew for defense)--an illegal military organization established in 1920--started Hebrew-language broadcasting in the late 1930s when there were violent disturbances by Arabs who opposed Jewish immigration to Palestine. For the most part, clandestine radio in Palestine ceased operations during World War II as the British, most Jews, and many Arabs united to defeat the Axis powers. However, as the war was in its last year, clandestine radio activity started anew. On October 13, 1945, the New York Times quoted an AP dispatch from Tel Aviv telling of a resistance radio station with an unspecified name that had broadcast for the fourth time.

Listen to the voice of Israel! This is not a terrorist station. This is the station of Hebrew resistance.

Never again will Jews be deported from their homeland. Our patience is over. No power in the world shall break our determination ("Secret radio urges," 1945, p. 6.)

Haganah Radio was the most extensive and well organized of the Jewish clandestine radio services, having started transmissions first from Tel Aviv in 1940 to protest a British law banning British press censorship and the sale of certain types of land to Jews (A. Avnerre, advisor, Israeli Broadcasting Authority, personal communication, January 3, 1992). Between 1945 and 1948 the Haganah added Arabic broadcasts, at one time headed by Shaul Bar-Haim, an Iraqi Jew who had immigrated to Palestine and later became the Director of the Israeli Radio Arabic Service (S. Bar-Haim, personal communication, January 26, 1980). A Jerusalem station hidden on the sixth floor of a well located apartment building started in 1947 and was especially active during the months before May 1948, when the official British departure from the area triggered the first Arab-Israeli war. At first the station used the name Kol Israel (Voice of Israel), but Haganah leadership objected, wanting to reserve the name for the official radio broadcasting service of the new state. Thus, from March 1948 until independence, the Jerusalem station used the name Voice of the Jewish Defender (A. Avnerre, advisor, Israeli Broadcasting Authority, personal communication, January 3, 1992; British Broadcasting Corporation, 1948, March 25). Because the Haganah was very well organized and funded, and as the British departure date came closer--thereby decreasing somewhat British enthusiasm for finding and closing clandestine stations--the Jerusalem station was able to add a greater variety of programming, including children's shows, to its Hebrew radio broadcasts.

Like most secret operations in Palestine during the pre-independence period, there were elaborate security precautions in an attempt to protect both Haganah radio sites and those involved in operating them. Thus, the transmitting equipment, most home-made in Palestine, was very valuable. The stations became regular reminders to listeners that the resistance groups operating them were still active.

Mandate authority laws stipulated imprisonment for those caught transmitting illegally. Unlike at least one of the other clandestine broadcasters, there is no record of any Haganah station being discovered by the British. This was due, at least in part, to frequent transmitter moves and an elaborate security system that was so effective that even close friends did not know they were working in various capacities for the same station. The Tel Aviv station serves as an illustration of the elaborate security arrangements. Elkana Galli was a news reader for the station for approximately one year between 1946 and 1947. His "all clear" signal after each broadcast, indicating that all had gone well, was to walk on the previously designated side of an automobile that someone was watching. During a period when the British decreed an all-day curfew in Tel Aviv, newscasts were passed from those who wrote them to news readers by concealing them in partially hollowed-out oranges that were then thrown across streets during brief periods when the curfew was lifted in order for residents to get food (E. Galli, personal communication, Tel Aviv, January 5, 1992).

Martin (1949) states that Haganah eventually started some English-language programming, but after the British announced they would leave the area, it was Haganah Radio's Arabic broadcasts that were effective, at least to some extent, in attracting an Arab audience.

The speed at which the news about these [Haganah] daily broadcasts in Arabic got around was amazing. The Jews would say jokingly (and the Arabs took up the joke), that the Haganah would start raids at 8:45 p.m., because at the time all the Arabs were at home listening to Haganah's Arabic news broadcast. There was a great deal of truth in this. The news bulletins in Arabic included ‘information’ about individual Arab leaders, their ‘corruption,’ and ‘facts about their embezzlement of public funds.’ The station would broadcast warnings to individual Arabs (some of whom took these warnings very seriously and escaped to Egypt), and gave ‘inside information’ on the situation ‘behind the Arab lines’ (Martin, 1949, p. 192).

On March 11, 1948, an Arabic-language station believed to be Haganah- operated, Free Jewish Station, was monitored in Cairo. Foreign Broadcasting Information Bureau (FBIB) monitors noted that the station seemed "in its propaganda trend" to resemble Haganah broadcasts (British Broadcasting Corporation, 1948, March 18).

Another Haganah-sponsored Hebrew-language station, Station of the Moon, appeared briefly on March 11, 1948, announcing that it would be on the air for a limited schedule on Tuesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays (British Broadcasting Corporation, 1948, March 18). Some former Haganah broadcasters in both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv believe that this station operated in one of the rural areas in an attempt to serve Jewish settlements that were not in range of Tel Aviv or Jerusalem.

On May 12, 1948, Haganah Radio announced that it would soon become the Voice of Israel, Kol Israel (Foreign Broadcast Information Service, 1948)--the official name of the Israeli national radio service that was a department of the Prime Minister's office until the creation of a Broadcasting Authority in 1965 (Encyclopedia of Zionism and Israel, 1971). The next day the Haganah announced in a broadcast monitored in Cairo that its first program would be a live broadcast from the National Assembly and called on the Voice of the Defender in Jerusalem, the Voice of Haganah in Haifa, the Voice of Galilee, and the Voice of the Negev to convey "this announcement to your listeners" (British Broadcasting Corporation, 1948, May 13, p. 55).

Hard-Line Clandestine Stations

If the Haganah was the primary illegal military organization destined to play an important part in Israel's political and military future, two other organizations that were also broadcasters discussed herein were seen as renegades in the Jewish struggle to drive the British from Palestine and establish a Jewish state. Briefly, there were some in Palestine who believed that the "establishment" Jewish organizations such as the Jewish Agency4 and the Haganah were not doing enough to create a Jewish state, the precondition for which was the departure of the British from Palestine.

Until his death in 1940, Ze'ev Jabotinsky was the "spiritual leader" of the Irgun Zevai Leumi (IZL), National Military Organization, an underground resistance group whose most famous military operation was the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. From early 1944 until the creation of Israel, Menachem Begin--later Prime Minister who signed the Camp David peace accords establishing diplomatic relations with Egypt--was the IZL commander (The Jabotinsky institute a national treasure, n.d.; Begin, 1951; Encyclopedia of Zionism and Israel, 1971).

The primary founder of Lohame Herut Yisrael (Fighters for the Freedom of Israel)--known also as the Lechi or Stern Group5--was Avrahim Stern, a Polish-born immigrant and former IZL member who believed that an organization more militant than Irgun was essential to the creation of a Jewish state. After British police killed Stern in a Tel Aviv apartment in 1942, Lechi was commanded by a triumvirate including Yitzhak Shamir, twice Israeli Prime Minister until his defeat in the June 1992 general election (Political dictionary of the state of Israel, 1987; Katz, 1987; Apelboim, 1991). These were relatively small organizations that did not find enthusiastic public support for their military operations, but because the leadership understood the potential tactical value of clandestine radio, both the Irgun and Lechi were active clandestine radio broadcasters.

Of the two main underground military organizations competing with the Haganah, Irgun was the first to use clandestine radio by transmitting in March, 1939 (A. Avnerre, advisor, Israeli Broadcasting Authority, personal communication, January 3, 1992). Hurewitz (1968) notes that the Irgun first operated a clandestine station in 1939 and in one transmission claimed responsibility for Arab deaths resulting from land mines detonated in a Haifa fruit market. The broadcast also included an attempt to recruit new members. Begin writes about the Irgun's Voice of Fighting Zion, whose broadcasts in late 1947 were used to get information to the public about the British-proposed partition of Palestine and replacement of British military forces with some type of United Nations-sponsored police force (Begin, 1951). As noted later, until the 1948 War of Independence, the Irgun did not devote as much time and effort to its broadcasts as did its rival Lechi. Because production equipment of the two non-Haganah stations only consisted of microphones, there was no way of playing recorded music. In order to tell listeners they had found the intended station, an announcer for Voice of Fighting Zion would whistle Lamut Lichbosh et Hahar, the anthem of an Irgun youth movement. The Stern radio, Fighters for the Freedom of Israel, used the opening bars of an anthem composed by Stern himself.

Of the two groups, Stern's broadcasts appear to have been somewhat better known because of the strident and emotional nature of the organization and those organizing broadcasts. Unlike Haganah and Irgun, Stern did not completely stop broadcasting during World War II. Also, Stern was a writer and poet who, until his death, broadcast some of his own material. The importance the Stern Group attached to its Tel Aviv-based Fighters for the Freedom of Israel clandestine radio service is evident from a visit to the house where Stern was killed. On the top floor of the house, now a small museum and headquarters for the Lechi Memorial Committee, there is a replica of the room in one of the houses from which broadcasts originated. Further, in a booklet published by the Jabotinsky Institute, there is a picture of a Stern Group broadcast showing an announcer and engineer operating a transmitter from the home of Pinhas Ginnosar (Jabotinsky institute catalogue, 1989). The intensity of clandestine broadcasting from all three Jewish groups was highlighted after World War II, as it was clear to the British, the Jews, and Arabs that the current state of affairs in Palestine could not continue.

After World War II, Geula Cohen, who would later become an outspoken, right-wing member of the Knesset,6 was recruited as an announcer for the station. Arrested by the British on January 18, 1946, and jailed for clandestine radio activity, Ms. Cohen is Israel's most celebrated underground broadcaster, in part because she wrote a book about her exploits; also she is the only female to be apprehended while actually on the air (Cohen, 1966). Inspired to participate in clandestine broadcasting by hearing Stern's own broadcasts, she broadcast twice per week on the Stern station until her arrest while broadcasting; her first broadcasting partner was Yitzhak Shamir. Her book tells of her escape and eventual return to clandestine radio broadcasting after being sentenced to 7 years in prison--2 for illegal broadcasting, 5 for firearm possession (Cohen, 1966; G. Cohen, Member of Parliament, personal communication, January 6, 1992). One of Cohen's broadcasts provides some indication of the reason Lechi devoted time and attention to them:

From the depths of the Hebrew Underground our voice will rise. We do not speak by the grace of the British regime, or under its supervision. Our voice calls out freely. It

is the voice of those fighting for the liberation of the Jewish people and its historic homeland . . . .

Again and again we have been dealt insult and injury. Again and again our blood has been shed. Where now are those who insulted us? Where are the shedders of our blood? But the People of Israel lives [sic] on, bearing its glorious past . . . .

No war is holier than ours, for none is more just. The land of our fathers, the land of the Kingdom of Israel awaits our redemption. The land is rich, the nation is large and deserving. Who then stands in the way? (Cohen, 1966, pp. 96-97)

A July 7, 1946, transmission from Irgun's Rising Zion Broadcasting Station clearly indicates they were hoping that shortwave broadcasting would help secure military aid from sympathizers in Europe:

Free peoples of the world; peoples striving for Freedom - listen. . . . Do not stand aside while you witness a struggle between unequal forces, between justice and evil, between the striving for freedom and the appetite for oppression. Rise (sic) your voices! Come to our aid! Help our wandering brothers return to their country. Send us arms; send us ammunition, send us help! (Irgun Zvai Leumi, The Rising Zion Broadcasting Station, p. 1) Another Fighters for the Freedom of Israel broadcast tells of something the Stern Group had wanted for years: the Haganah to join them in military operations directed at the British.

You are listening to the Voice of the Hebrew Underground! You are listening to the Voice of the Hebrew Underground! The British divisions could not stop us. The solid wall of British bayonets has been smashed. During the night of the twenty-first of October, Jewish fighting forces struck a sin-gle co-or-di-na-ted blow at the enemy, from Acre to Gaza, from the sea coast to the hills of Judea and Jerusalem . . . . (Cohen, 1966, p. 97)

Another Stern-run radio station, the Voice of the Jewish Spearhead, was first monitored on May 2, 1948. That transmission included an attack on both the Haganah and Britain (British Broadcasting Corporation, 1948, May 6).

When it became clear that the British were, in fact, going to leave Palestine, their enthusiasm for locating Jewish clandestine transmitters and jamming radio broadcasts diminished. As 1948 approached and as it became clear that there would be fighting after the British left, the radio stations started targeting other resistance groups as they moved beyond attempting to attract new recruits and into forcing the British to leave.

Radio Battles Among Jewish Clandestine Stations

Disagreements over political and military tactics against the Mandate Authority spilled over into some radio programs, especially as the British were leaving Palestine; after independence, when these groups, especially Irgun and Stern, were positioning for control within the government and military of the new Jewish state, the radio warfare intensified. On April 25 and 26, 1948, Haganah transmissions criticized Irgun military activities; the transmissions said that Irgun had "concentrated all its forces from throughout Palestine and had begun action against Jaffa without informing Haganah of this action beforehand" (British Broadcasting Corporation, 1948, May 6, p. 72). Then on April 28 a Haganah broadcast announced a "union" with Irgun:

The Jewish defence force, Haganah, is the force of the nation and of its elected institutions. According to the decision of the Zionist Executive Committee, Haganah and Irgun representatives met and the Executive Committee's decision was put into effect. This decision was taken to assure the Jewish population that no separate military action will be taken, which will only do harm from the military, moral and internal viewpoints. (British Broadcasting Corporation, 1948, May 6, p. 72)

A May 5 transmission via Stern's Fighters for Freedom of Israel attacked Irgun, allegedly for contacts with the British; defending itself on Voice of Fighting Zion, Irgun said that it had never "negotiated" with or "surrender[ed]" to the British (British Broadcasting Corporation, 1948, May 13, p. 67). With this and other exchanges, it was clear that the battle of the airwaves had intensified beyond jockeying for military and political positions in the soon-to-be-created state. Irgun and Stern were positioning themselves financially as they relied heavily on contributions from the Jewish Palestine population to finance operations.

Eventually, Stern and the Irgun understood that the Haganah had the upper hand and that those involved with the military organization would form the basis of Israel's Army, Navy, and Air Force. However, an Irgun station, Kol Haherut (Voice of Freedom), continued to broadcast for about 4 months after the British departure and the State of Israel was officially proclaimed. An offshoot of Voice of Fighting Zion, this station existed as a protest voice against those heading the new state, especially Ben-Gurion. According to the official English translation of the final night's broadcast on September 18, 1948, the announcer said, "[we are] discontinuing the broadcasts which sounded forth the truth since the days of the great insurrection unto this very day. It behooves us, in line with our practice, to tell the public the truth." Further, the broadcast noted that the Israeli government had adopted British laws permitting the government to close unofficial stations and practicing censorship, rather than using the "Book of Books as the basic law of our country and nation." The closing statement by Kol Haherut, in what was apparently the last broadcast by a Jewish clandestine station, was:

We send our greetings to you all -- greetings for victory, the unity of our homeland, and the freedom of man and citizen. The broadcasting station Kol Haherut is discontinuing its broadcasts, but the Voice of Freedom will never be silenced. They, who lived and died

so that freedom might reign here, they are your guarantors. (Irgun Zvai Leumi, The Voice of Freedom, p. 1)


Jewish organizations in Palestine broadcast clandestine radio programming because they believed the human voice received at home and in the work place vital to their respective interests. The printing and distribution of written information was difficult for Jewish groups, especially as the British prepared to leave the area. Clandestine broadcasts were thought to be an effective and inexpensive way of (1) stating philosophical positions; (2) recruiting new members; (3) staying in touch with those who were already members; (4) disseminating coded information of military importance; (5) communicating, in a "back-channel" way, with the British; (6) providing information to the world press; and (7) stating information that would later appear in the form of handbills.

There were two additional reasons motivating clandestine broadcasts. Even today, there is very little Hebrew-language broadcasting outside of Israel. Around the time of independence, except for that done by the British-run Palestine Broadcasting Station, there was almost none. Second, especially among the smaller political/military groups, radio transmissions were a means of helping to create an identity: I broadcast, therefore I am.

There seem to be three distinct phases to the development of clandestine radio in Palestine. First, the Haganah, Stern, and Irgun organizations started stations because they were struggling for both an identity and support among the Jewish population. They believed that in the environment of tightly British-controlled Palestine, clandestine radio was the only way of reaching a large number of people with the most powerful medium of the day. Second, as World War II ended and Jewish refugees from Nazi Europe headed toward Palestine in large numbers, the Irgun and Stern stations intensified their call for the British to leave so that a Jewish state could be created. Haganah broadcasts were almost always less strident than those of the other two groups because Haganah leaders saw their organization as being synonymous with the government and the legal broadcasting organization of the new Jewish state. Thus they took measures to be responsible, credible broadcasters. Third, just before and after the British officially departed, disagreements over political and military influence in the new state became airborne via these stations, especially since the Haganah clandestine operations had become the new broadcasting service of the Jewish state.

There are no hard data addressing the impact of Jewish clandestine broadcasting during the British Palestine Mandate, but it is clear that the British were concerned about the broadcasts because they devoted a great deal of effort to stopping them. At times the Mandate authorities tried jamming the stations. They also utilized direction-finding equipment in an attempt to locate transmitter sites. Although largely unsuccessful in locating the stations, when they did they arrested, tried, and imprisoned those involved. By all accounts these efforts only strengthened the resolve of the three major broadcasting groups--Irgun, Stern, and the Haganah--to continue transmitting.

Although no survey research was done to help assess the degree to which Palestine residents listened to these clandestine broadcasts, they were apparently well heard; otherwise Jewish organizations would not have gone to such great lengths to provide them.

Largely forgotten except for those who remember hearing the broadcasts and those who made them possible, the clandestine broadcasts illustrate that groups of people with specific goals will use all means at their disposal to help achieve those goals. Although the effects of the broadcasts are admittedly open to speculation, the use of clandestine radio in

Palestine appears to have been the first case of using underground broadcasting successfully to help achieve a goal--the creation of a new state.




1I.S. Lockhart of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office confirms that file FO371/68669 dealing with clandestine radio broadcasting in Palestine remains closed except for those "needing to consult [it] for very strictly defined official purposes." Lockhart was replying to an official request the author made to British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd on January 15, 1991, to open this record for my inspection (I.S. Lockhart, Library and Records Department, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, London, personal communication, January 6 and June 5, 1991).


2There are many sources of information from different points of view detailing the historical, political, and military situation in Palestine between the end of World War I and the creation of Israel. The author suggests that interested readers start with the overview and recommended sources provided by a good encyclopedia.


3For researchers, this situation was advantageous. Because official British government files on Palestine clandestine broadcasts are still closed to public inspection, those records of monitoring activity outside of Palestine were done in Cairo by an agency of the United States government, the Foreign Broadcast Information Bureau/Foreign Broadcast Information Service, which became part of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), created later in 1947. Because the broadcasts were shortwave, they could be heard with varying degrees of clarity in Egypt where FBIB/FBIS had a listening post. All references to clandestine stations in Palestine in the British Broadcasting Corporation Monitoring Service Written Archives Section come from U.S. government sources.


4An article in the British Mandate approved by the League of Nations in 1922 called for the establishment of "an appropriate Jewish Agency" concerning Jewish affairs. It was, until the creation of Israel, the official body dealing with British authorities on matters related to the Jewish community in Palestine (Encyclopedia of Zionism and Israel, 1971).


5A more commonly used name for the organization--derogatory in contemporary English--was Stern Gang.


6Ms. Cohen was not returned to office in the June 2, 1992, general election.






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