In this true story, filled with deep intrigue and political drama similar to engrossing fictional tales written by John Le Carre or Daniel Silva, Patrick Bishop lays out the history of the British Mandate in Palestine and all parties affected by their rule. He describes the personal and ideological clashes between the British and various Jewish factions, and between Jews and Arabs. Bishop focuses in on specific members of the British police who were targeted by Lehi, also known as the Stern Gang.
The author explores the mystery of Stern Gang leader Avraham Stern’s death. Stern, alias “Yair,” was shot four times in the attic room where he was cornered by Assistant Superintendent Geoffrey Morton, London-born head of the Tel Aviv district CID. Was he murdered in revenge for his role in killing British police, or was he killed simply because he was attempting escape? This mystery may never be solved, but readers learn much about Stern’s rise to leadership, his arrogance and single minded ambition, his dealings with other resistance fighters, his married life with Roni, and their separation while he was in hiding.
Stern’s colleagues were divided in their opinions about him. Resistance fighters such as Yitzchak Shamir and Menachem Begin looked up to him. David Raziel had recruited Stern to the Irgun Zvai Leumi, a Revisionist breakaway group from the Haganah. Revisionists believed that Jews had to fight for their state, differing from the ideology of Chaim Weizmann and David Ben Gurion, who relied on Britain for their Zionist dream. Zeev Jabotinsky “imagined a future Israel as Britain’s ally in the region” and Raziel eventually turned against Stern, following the view that the “Irgun Zvai Leumi should be helping the British rather than fighting them.”
Bishop paints Stern as outrageous and extreme in his actions against the British, so much so that he tried to make a deal with Nazis in his effort to oust the British. In printed leaflets, Stern “denounced Britain’s refusal to allow refugees from the death camps to enter Palestine and urged readers to wake up to the fact that the Mandate government is the enemy of Zionism.” He called any Jews who aided the British cause traitors and enemies of Israel. Solomon Schiff, the highest ranking Jewish member of the Palestine Police Force, was killed by a bomb planned by Stern. The Jewish Agency and other leading organizers of the Yishuv were openly outraged by Stern’s terrorist tactics.
The idea that Stern had been murdered by the British while attempting escape elevated his status as a sort of martyr and turned the tide of Jewish public opinion against the British. British leaders settled for a policy of appeasement of Stern’s followers. The Stern “Gang” was soon referred to as the Stern “Group.” British rulings on illegal firearms became different for Arabs versus Jews. Thoroughly researched and minutely detailed, The Reckoning proves that Stern’s death played a definite role in the ultimate disbandment of the British Mandate.