Israel budgets NIS 10m. to keep alive memory of Nili spy ring

The memory of the Jewish espionage network and its pivotal role in the events that led up to Israel's establishment will now be protected for posperity.

A LARGE ROLE in securing the Balfour Declaration was played by the Jewish underground movement headed by Aaron Aaronsohn, seen at the rear of this family photograph. (photo credit: BEIT AARONSOHN ZICHRON YA’ACOV)
A LARGE ROLE in securing the Balfour Declaration was played by the Jewish underground movement headed by Aaron Aaronsohn, seen at the rear of this family photograph.
To ensure that Israeli kids know about the heroism of Sarah and Aaron Aaronsohn and the role the Nili underground played in aiding the ouster of the Ottomans from Palestine, the cabinet on Sunday allocated NIS 10 million to restore and refurbish the Aaronsohn House – Nili Museum in Zichron Ya’acov and the Aaronsohn experimental farm at Atlit.
As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu noted, the decision came during the week that will mark the 100th anniversary of the death of one of the group’s key members, Sarah Aaronsohn.
“Nili and its founder, Aaron Aaronsohn, have an honored place in the revival of Israel in the new era,” Netanyahu said. “Israeli children and citizens should know more about the activities of Aaron Aaronsohn and his splendid and heroic family for their important work in liberating the land of Israel.”
Netanyahu said he hoped that in coming years “all Israeli children will be able to tell me about Nili and the Aaronsohn family instead of me telling them.”
Nili is an acronym for the biblical verse, “netzah Yisrael lo yishaker,” which means “The Eternal One of Israel will not lie.”
Aaron Aaronsohn was a world-famous agronomist who lived in Zichron Ya’acov and discovered a weather-resistant form of wheat. With the onset of World War I, Aaronshon and his siblings, including Sarah, set up a spy ring to help the British invade Palestine and defeat the Ottomans. The group provided Britain’s Gen.
Edmund Allenby with invaluable information that aided his raid on Beersheba in late October 1917, opening the way to the British conquest of Jerusalem and the rest of the country.
In September 1917, one of the homing pigeons the group used to send messages to the British fell into Turkish hands, and the spy ring was uncovered.
Sarah Aaronsohn was captured and – after being tortured – committed suicide. Aaron, who was abroad at the time, survived, only to be killed two years later in a plane crash.
Aaron Ahronson, Netanyahu said, was a “multi-faceted” individual “who identified wild wheat that has since fed hundreds of millions of people. It was he who renewed scientific agriculture in the State of Israel and in California, because they invited him there. Aaronsohn was also a great statesman. He and his friends founded the underground that provided the British Army with high-value, vital intelligence that greatly assisted in bringing about the end of Ottoman rule in the Land of Israel.”
Netanyahu told the cabinet that after the war ended, British official documents defined Aaronsohn as “their most important agent in World War I.”
In addition, Netanyahu said, “Aaronsohn personally had very great influence, I would even say decisive, on several British personalities who later advanced and even worded the Balfour Declaration.”
The centenary anniversary of that seminal document will be held on November 2.
Nili’s activities have long been a subject of dispute.
Some in the Zionist leadership at the time accused the ring of acting irresponsibly and on their own, thus endangering the rest of the Jews in the country. That controversy spilled over well into the 1960s.
Environmental Protection and Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin (Likud), whose ministry is also responsible for Israel heritage sites, alluded to this in his comments at the cabinet meeting.
“There was once a public dispute in Israel whether the story of Nili should be commemorated or not,” he said. “Today, I think it is clear to everyone that this is a very important chapter in the Zionist struggle for the Land of Israel.
And, therefore, I think the time has come when the government will invest a serious amount of money to make these two places accessible for future generations.”