This Week in Israeli History: Roi Klein, Sergeant’s Affair and the Founding of Rishon LeZion

Roi Klein
Roi Klein was born in Raanana in 1975. At the age of 18 he was drafted into the IDF and served in Egoz, the elite counter-terror unit of the Golani Brigade, where he excelled as a soldier and later as an officer. Roi held the rank of Major, and was the Deputy Commander of Golani’s 51st Brigade at the time of the Second Lebanon War.
In the Battle at Bint Jbeil during the war, Klein led his men to rescue a fellow officer’s unit that had been trapped within the city. Whilst in the middle of evacuating the wounded, a grenade was thrown in the middle of Klein’s forces.
Without hesitating, Roi shouted “Klein’s down! Klein’s down!” and threw himself on the grenade, sacrificing his own life for the sake of his fellow soldiers.
In the last moments of his life, Klein laid on the ground over the grenade and yelled out “Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokaynu Hashem Eched!” (Hear O Israel, Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is One).
Roi received the Medal of Courage for his actions and turned into a national symbol of heroism and bravery.
The Sergeants Affair
In May 1947, the Irgun (Etzel) carried out the “greatest jail break in history” when they broke into the Acre Prison and freed 28 incarcerated Underground members. During the mission five Irgun members fell into captivity, three of whom (Avshalom Haviv, Yaakov Weiss and Meir Nakar) were sentenced to death.
In an attempt to stay the execution of Haviv, Weiss and Nakar, the Irgun captured two British sergeants and threatened to kill them if the Irgun members’ death sentences were not commuted.
Despite the threats, the British carried out the execution of Haviv, Weiss and Nakar on July 29, prompting the Irgun to hang the two captured British soldiers, Clifford Martin and Marvin Paice.
The “Sergeants Affair” drew harsh condemnations from Jews and non-Jews alike, yet many historians attribute this event as the "straw that broke the camel's back" of the British rule in Mandatory Palestine. After the hanging of the British soldiers, no more Jews were executed under the British rule for the remainder of the Mandate.
The Founding of Rishon LeZion
Rishon LeZion was one of the first modern Jewish settlements established in the Land of Israel. The name Rishon LeZion, literally meaning “First to Zion,” was taken from a passage in the Book of Isaiah: “We are the first to Zion and will bring good tidings to Jerusalem.”
Pioneers from Ukraine founded Rishon LeZion on July 31, 1882, and hoped to earn a livelihood by working the land and growing crops. However, the inexperienced pioneers met hardships and were unable to overcome the rough conditions.
The settlers decided to reach out to Baron Edmond de Rothschild, who answered their pleas by sending money and experts who helped the people find water and cultivate the land.
Backed by Baron Rothschild, Rishon LeZion flourished and attracted many notable Zionist pioneers. David Ben-Gurion worked at the Carmel Winery (one of the first modern wineries in the Land of Israel) and Eliezer Ben-Yehuda taught Hebrew in the first modern Hebrew school.
Hatikvah was written by Naftali Tzvi Imber while he was visiting Rishon LeZion, and the first Israeli flag was unfurled in a procession marking the settlement's third anniversary.
With a population of over 230,000, Rishon LeZion is currently Israel’s fourth largest city and is one of the fastest-growing cities in the country.