The Knesset will hold a ceremonious session on Tuesday in memory of the Olei HaGardom – the 12 pre-State Jewish underground fighters who fought Arab attacks and the British Mandate's betrayal of the Jews and whom the British sentenced to death by hanging between 1938 and 1947.
The words Olei HaGardom mean “those who ascended (were hanged on) the gallows.” Most of them, all members of the Etzel (Irgun Zvai Leumi - National Military Organization) and Lehi (Lohamei Herut Yisrael - Fighters for the Freedom of Israel), were hanged in Acre (Akko) prison.
You should know this: There is no power in the world that can sever the tie between the Jewish people and their one and only land. Whosoever tries to sever it - his hand will be cut off and the curse of G-d will rest on him forever.
The Etzel and Lehi were Zionist underground groups that fought to free the Land of Israel from British rule during the 1940s.
The Knesset session will be the main commemoration during three days of special events in honor of the 12 and will be held by the Menachem Begin Heritage Center and the Uri Zvi Greenberg Legacy Center.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Opposition Leader Tzipi Livni, whose father Eitan was a senior Etzel commander, will address the Knesset session.
The two most famous Olei HaGardom were Shlomo Ben-Yosef and Dov Gruner. Ben-Yosef was executed on June 29, 1938 (Sivan 30) after he shot at an Arab bus carrying near Tzfat in response to frequent Arab attacks against Jews in the country's north. Gruner was executed on April 16, 1947 (Nissan 26) after attacking a British police station in Ramat Gan.The others were: Eliyahu Hakim, Eliyahu Beit-Zuri, Mordechai Alkachai, Yechiel Drezner, Eliezer Kashani, Meir Feinstein, Moshe Barazani, Yaakov Weis, Avshalom Haviv and Meir Nakar.
#13: Mordechai Schwartz
A 13th, recently-added “Ascender of the Gallows” was Mordechai Schwartz, who was hanged on August 16, 1938 after he killed an Arab policeman. It has been testified that the Arab drunkenly boasted about the Jews he had killed and raped, and that he planned to murder more. Schwartz belonged to the more-establishment Haganah, which was the official militia of the Jewish Agency under the leadership of David Ben-Gurion. Haganah commanders did not “adopt” Schwartz's as they feared other fighters would folloew his example. As a result, his memory was all but forgotten until recently.
In honor of the occasion, Education Minister Gideon Saar granted prizes to high school students who wrote, sculpted and filmed the best projects commemorating the Olei HaGardom. “Integrating the stories of the 12 in our educational systems, symbolizing heroism and self-sacrifice in the fight for Jewish revival in the Land of Israel, is a model of great value for our youth, and can tighten the bonds of our students to their country and their heritage,” Saar said.
Dov Gruner, during his trial by the British, expressed the feelings of many of the Olei HaGardom when he said:
“I do not recognize your authority to try me. This court has no legal basis... You came to Palestine because of the commitment you undertook at the behest of all the nations of the world to rectify the greatest wrong caused to any nation in the history of mankind, namely the expulsion of Israel from their land, which transformed them into victims of persecution and incessant slaughter throughout the world. It was this commitment - and this commitment alone - which constituted the legal and moral basis for your presence in this country. But you betrayed it willfully, brutally and with satanic cunning. You turned your commitment into a mere scrap of paper...Just before he was hanged, Gruner wrote to his commander, Menachem Begin, as follows:
"You should know this: There is no power in the world that can sever the tie between the Jewish people and their one and only land. Whosoever tries to sever it - his hand will be cut off and the curse of G-d will rest on him forever."
From the bottom of my heart I thank you for the encouragement which you have given me during these fateful days. Be assured that whatever happens I shall not forget the principles of pride, generosity and firmness. I shall know how to uphold my honour, the honour of a Jewish soldier and fighter.
… There are many schools of thought as to how a Jew should choose his way of life. One way is that of the assimilationists who have renounced their Jewishness. There is also another way, the way of those who call themselves 'Zionists' - the way of negotiation and compromise, as if the existence of a nation were nothing but another transaction. They are not prepared to make any sacrifice, and therefore they have to make concessions and accept compromises. Perhaps this is indeed a means of delaying the end but, in the final analysis, it leads to the ghetto. And let us not forget this: in the ghetto of Warsaw alone, too, there were five hundred thousand Jews.
The only way that seems, to my mind, to be right, is the way of the Irgun Zvai Leumi [Etzel], the way of courage and daring without renouncing a single inch of our homeland. When political negations prove futile, one must be prepared to fight for our homeland and our freedom. Without them the very existence of out nation is jeopardized, so fight we must with all possible means. This is the only way left to our people in their hour of decision: to stand on our rights, to be ready to fight, even if for some of us this way leads to the gallows…Your faithful soldier,