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Appreciation Arrives, 65 Years Later

The Lechi undergound of the 1940's, persecuted by most of the Jewish public at the time, is now enjoying a warm embrace from the Israeli consensus.
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 1/30/2008, 1:07 PM

The underground Lechi (Fighters for Israel's Freedom) organization of the 1940's, which was persecuted by most of the Jewish public at the time, is now enjoying a warm and admiring embrace from the Israeli consensus.

This week, the Knesset marked the 100th birthday of Lechi founder and commander Avraham Stern, known by his codename Ya'ir.  Prime Minister Ehud Olmert spoke warmly of the former anti-British fighter, saying, "His way was not the general path taken by the Zionist movements, but we are all obligated to honor his greatness.  He was like a match that ignites a large flame."

Olmert also noted the loneliness and hiding that Stern was forced to undergo, up until the very moment he was found and killed by the British in a Tel Aviv apartment in 1942. "There is something that doesn't leave me every time I think of this extraordinary man," Olmert said, "and that is the terrible loneliness.  Alone and solitary in hiding... What did he think about? We will never know.  How did he deal with it, waiting for the moment that the ruthless murderer would come? What did he hope and pray for?"

The Tuesday session was organized by MK Aryeh Eldad (National Union), whose father Yisrael was one of the leading Lechi members. 

Opposition Leader Binyamin Netanyahu said at the session, "It was not the decision by the United Nations that established the State of Israel; Israel arose in the merit of the Aliyah and the settlement enterprise, and in the merit of the struggle by the Lechi and Etzel, the Haganaha, and even HaShomer and Nili.  But above all, the State of Israel was established in the merit of those who continued - the warriors of the Israel Defense Forces, who repulsed the Arab attack after the declaration of the State."

Among those who took part in the special Knesset session were MK Rabbi Avraham Ravitz (United Torah Judaism), who served in the Lechi himself; MK Limor Livnat (Likud), whose father was an underground fighter who was exiled to Erithrea for his actions; and MK Yitzchak Ben-Yisrael (Kadima), both of whose parents were Lechi members.

Other Events
Publicist Yigal Amitai reports that other events were held this week to mark the date, including university seminars, an appearance at the famous Tzavta club, a nation-wide quiz for elementary and high school students, and a public memorial ceremony.

Prior to the special Knesset session, a ceremony marking the occasion was held in the Knesset auditorium. The ceremony featured a presentation by Ariel University Professor Dr. Udi Lebel showing the government's past opposition to memorializing Yair and his Lechi colleagues - as opposed to its current admiration of their contributions. 

Lebel detailed how Yair's actions to rid the country of the British - which ultimately succeeded, paving the way for the UN to establish the State of Israel - were all but erased from official history books, memorial sites and school curricula.