cover of Days of Fire by Samuel KatzI picked up Days of Fire as part of my background reading for the Divided Land megagame last Saturday. Samuel Katz was a member of Irgun in the mid 40s, and Days of Fire is his story of how Irgun pushed Israel into being.

Days of Fire

Days of Fire is aptly titled, Palestine from 1944 until the end of the British Mandate was a turbulent place. Thousands of people were killed or wounded in the violence and more were dispossessed. Even before the British withdrew there was a civil war.

Irgun were an extremist breakaway group of the Revisionist Zionists. A bit like PIRA three decades later. Mostly they tried to cause chaos and avoid killing people, although sometimes their warnings went unheeded, like the bombing of the King David Hotel.

Katz started as a secretary to the South African consulate in Palestine and closet supporter. He then worked as a journalist, spending most of the war in Britain before returning to Palestine in early 1945. Days of Fire is an easy to read first hand account of how Irgun started the counterinsurgency campaign against the British in November 1944 and prosecuted it to the end.

Irgun men disguised as British soldiers
Irgun men disguised as British soldiers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There’s a very strong anti-British feeling amongst the Zionists, and for good reason. From their perspective Britain failed to act to save Jews from the Holocaust. Before the war visas were hard to obtain and limited in number. When the Holocaust became known the British didn’t act to interdict it. Several plans to save Jews were delayed or blocked, mainly by the Foreign Office or the Colonial Office. So Irgun members saw the British as complicit in the murder of their people.

Days of Fire is unapologetic. Irgun did some terrible things to force the creation of a Jewish state. For those involved the context made these evils necessary. Never again could Jews rely on others to look after them, or to protect them. The British seemed only the appear during the mandate to prevent retaliation, but never early enough to stop the Arabs attacking. Even when the neighbouring Arab states invaded the British Army stayed in its barracks and let the nascent Israeli Defence Force do the fighting.

I’d strongly recommend Days of Fire to anyone interested in the last days of the Mandate and the partition of Palestine to form Israel. Although I would also recommend reading a few other books with different points of view, because this one is strongly partisan.