March 11, 2010 / 25 Adar 5770
The 12 underground fighters executed under British Mandate Palestine for their struggle to establish the State of Israel were memorialized in the Knesset on March 16, 2010, in a special ceremony hosted by the Menachem Begin Heritage Center and the Uri Zvi Greenberg Heritage Home.
The Olei Hagardom sentenced to death under the British Mandate are: Shlomo Ben Yosef, Dov Gruner, Mordecai Alkachai, Yehiel Drezmer, Eliezer Kashani, Meir Feinstein, Jacob Weiz, Avshalom Haviv, Meir Nakar, Eliyahu Hakim, Eliyahu Bet-Zuri, Moshe Barzani.
The Knesset ceremony was the first of a series of events held throughout the week to commemorate the Oleh Hagardom (Hebrew for those "hanged in the gallows"), members of the Irgun and Lehi, the majority of whom were hanged by the British in 1947.
Distinguished speakers included Speaker of the Knesset Reuven Rivlin, Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky, former President of the Israeli Supreme Court Meir Shamgar, former Israeli politician and journalist (and former member of the Irgun) Geula Cohen, and Director of the Menachem Begin Heritage Center Herzl Markov.
Prime Minister Bejnamin Netanyahu and Opposition Leader Tzipi Livni also gave speeches remembering the Oleh Hagardom on the Knesset floor.
"I was never an Oleh Hagardom, but I was on my way," quipped Sharansky, the former Soviet dissident who spent years in a Soviet prison.
Sharansky said he identified with the underground fighters' strength and commitment to the Jewish State, sharing with the audience the seismic shift experienced by Soviet Jews in 1967 when they discovered the State of Israel and that Jews could fight for their freedom.
"We learned we have a fantastic history, we have a nation, and we can fight on its behalf," said Sharansky. "The minute we made this shift we had the strength to fight. We learned that there are things more important in this world than physical health; than life itself."
Even a young wife waiting for him in Jerusalem did not deter him.
"Nothing else matters, not hunger, not the passing of time," said Sharansky. "You have your whole life before you and you know you might die, but because you are part of history, it is incumbent upon you to fight. If not, you return to being a slave."
In a moving speech on the Knesset floor, Tzipi Livni read from the memoirs of her late father, Eitan, an operations chief for the Irgun who was in the Acre prison with the Oleh Hagardom and who recalled the young men singing Hatikvah before they were led to their deaths.
"It is to my dismay that it has taken so long to commemorate these heroes and tell their stories," said Livni. "These men gave their lives for the Zionist dream. They had one goal: The establishment of the State of Israel in the land of Israel."
Knesset Speaker Rivlin echoed these words when he said, "Where are the people like this today? They have been forgotten and we need to give them their respect, not for us but for our children and grandchildren, so that they remember why we are here and what they are fighting for."
Family members of the Oleh Hagardom were invited to the ceremony and were called to the stage to receive Medals of Honor on behalf of the fallen heroes. Rachel Saad of Jerusalem was there to remember her brother, Meir Nakar, who was only 21 when he was executed in 1947. "Meir was so full of life and love and wisdom. He was only 21, but he was wise like he was 100 years," she said.
Saad, who was born in Jerusalem in 1932, was only 16 when her brother was hanged. The very next day she joined Lehi in solidarity. "I am as sad today as I was when he was killed," she said, calling her late brother a "flower who was not given time to bloom."
"He died for this country, but no one knows about him or about the others, and it is so important for our young people to know their history," she said.
There are streets in Israel named after the Olei Hagardom, including in the Armon Hanatziv neighborhood in Jerusalem.
The Government of Israel recently issued a stamp commemorating the 12 fighters.