Most of the people who crowded into the auditorium of the Begin Heritage Center
in Jerusalem last week were in their eighties and nineties. All of them, some
with bent backs, others in wheel chairs or walking with the aid of canes were
former heroes and heroines recruited by the charismatic Avraham Stern, whose nom
de guerre was Yair, to join the Lehi, an acronym for Lohamei Herut Israel (the
Israel Freedom Fighters).
They had been anonymous soldiers without
uniforms and they had passionately believed in Stern’s credo, the foundation of
which was redeeming the land of Israel in accordance with the boundaries set
down in the Bible, reestablishing its sovereignty and driving out any foreign
Following the Arab riots of 1929, Stern joined the Haganah, but
found it be too moderate in its policy. He joined the breakaway movement known
as the Irgun Zvai Leumi, or Etzel, an acronym for Tzva Hagana L’Israel (the Israel Defense
Army). The Irgun split over ideological issues. Some of its members returned to
Others followed Stern, who unlike Irgun leader David Raziel,
who regarded the Arab front as the confrontation line, saw the British as the
principal enemy. Stern and his anonymous soldiers were dedicated to getting rid
of the British one way or another.
The Irgun was willing to suspend anti-
British activities and to even join the British in battling the Nazis, but Stern
was convinced that sovereign statehood could be achieved only by continuing the
struggle against the British.
While every speaker referred to this, none
mentioned that he was even prepared to collaborate with the Nazis in his bid to
repel the British who regarded him as a terrorist.
This was however
mentioned by Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who noted that the
British referred to Stern’s followers as The Stern Gang.
dedication to the cause is expressed in the Lehi hymn penned by Stern. Two lines
in the first verse state: “We are recruited for life to be released only by
death.” Addressing the veterans, Stern’s son, veteran broadcaster Yair Stern,
who bears a remarkable resemblance to the father he never knew who was killed by
the British in 1942, reminded them: “You embraced Yair’s vision because you
believed in the liberation of the nation.” He noted that the Lehi’s ranks
included Sephardim and Ashkenazim, religious and secular, haredim from Mea
Shearim and Arabs from Abu Ghosh whose common denominator was the desire to be
rid of foreign rule.
Begin Center director Herzl Makov termed Lehi “the
pillar of fire that went before the camp.”
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin
noted that the time had come to give the much maligned Lehi and its soldiers
their due recognition and to correct the errors of history. It was important to
reexamine the events and values of those days, he said. There were differences
between all the clandestine groups, but their common ambition was much greater
than what divided them.
It was not easy to explain to today’s youth that
have grown up in Israel that they take for granted what induced the
establishment of the Etzel and the Lehi, said Rivlin, who underscored that
Israel still faces an existential threat. “The world is still the same
Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat’s parents Shulamit and
Azriel Weiss- Livnat were prominent figures in the Lehi, and Shulamit Livnat, a
well-known singer, was the Etzel and the Lehi singer. Livnat said that she had
passed the torch onto the third generation and had named her son Yair. All three
generations were seated together in the front row of the
Israel still has to contend with anti- Semitism, enemies and
“people who hate us,” Livnat said, emphasizing that it was too early to disband
Alluding to evader of IDF service, Livnat said that young people
today do not fall short of those of yesteryear, “they just need direction.” What
distinguished the Lehi, she continued, is that no one saw themselves as exempt
from the battle.
“They were recruited for life, and today we have to take
the same attitude.”
Ya’alon, who was not raised upon the ideology of the
Etzel or the Lehi, admitted that he had grown up with very negative perceptions
of the Lehi, whose fighters were described as extremists and were sometimes
compared to terrorists.
In later life he had studied the history and
ideology of the Lehi, and reached the conclusion that attitudes towards it
followed the Bolshevik system of delegitimizing the enemy.
concurred with the Rivlin that history must be re-examined and that Israeli
students must study precisely what it was that motivated the Lehi leaders. Like
speakers before and after him, Ya’alon spelled out the message that “the
existential war is not yet over, and we have no-one to rely on but ourselves.
The situation today is no different to what it was then.” Almost everyone who
spoke drew a parallel with the past. The approval of the audience was palpable,
especially during the address of MK Arieh Eldad, whose father Israel Eldad, an
ultra right-wing nationalist, had been the Lehi ideologue and editor of its
Echoing Livnat’s statement that the time has not yet come
to disband the IDF, Eldad added: “I have bad news for you. The time has not yet
come to disband the Lehi.” Zionism was born as a solution to anti-Semitism in
the diaspora, said Eldad, with the understanding that the problem could not be
solved in the diaspora. “Yair understood that Zionism was not the panacea for
anti- Semitism, and he didn’t want the Land of Israel to be a haven. He wanted a
return of sovereign rule in the Jewish homeland.” Eldad questioned whether
Israel was indeed a haven, pointing out that more than 22,000 soldiers have paid
the supreme sacrifice, “and even now nuclear weapons are being produced for the
purpose of eradicating the Jews.”
Eldad who is opposed to a two-state
solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, declared: “We can never
terms with any foreign power ruling on our land, ruling us, supervising
fighting for us, or treating us as victims.
Allowing the Palestinians to
establish a state is tantamount to saying that the land does not belong
Anyone who agrees to a Palestinian state cannot be considered a fighter
freedom of Israel.”
Eldad justified the assassination by Lehi in
September 1948 of Swedish diplomat Count Folk Bernadotte, the United
mediator between the Arabs and the Jews saying, “Count Bernadotte wanted
internationalize Jerusalem. In response the Lehi killed him. With his
concept of taking Jerusalem away from the Jewish people died with
The heroism of the Lehi is not just a myth or a legend, he
continued. “It’s a vision which we have yet to complete.”
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