Seventy years ago, on February 12, 1942, Yair Stern was killed by British detectives in Tel Aviv, in Palestine.
Avraham Stern, alias, ‘Yair’, was a Jewish paramilitary leader who founded and led the militant Zionist organization, later known as Lehi and also recognized by the British colonial authorities and their collaborators in the Jewish Yishuv in its nickname the “Stern Gang.”
Lehi stands for Fighters for the Freedom of Israel.
Phonetically, Le’ch’ie- Lochamei Cherut Israel, (Hebrew pronunciation: לח”י – לוחמי חרות ישראל) that operated in the British Mandate of Palestine and its avowed aim was a forcible eviction of the British authorities from Palestine, allowing unrestricted Jewish immigration to the land and the formation of a sovereign Jewish state.
Lehi was one of the three, and the smallest, Zionist paramilitary groups operating in Israel under the British authorities’ nose; the other two were Haganah and Irgun. The claim was that Lehi was the smallest and the most radical paramilitary Zionist group in Palestine. Since Lehi is known to have assassinated Lord Moyne, the British Minister Resident in the Middle East and it made many other attacks on the British in Palestine, the British authorities described the group as a ‘terrorist organization’. Lehi also assassinated the United Nations mediator Folke Bernadotte and the United Nations Security Council called the assassins “a criminal group of terrorists,” and Lehi was similarly condemned by Bernadotte’s replacement as mediator, Ralph Bunche.
Avraham (“Yair”) Stern was born in Suwałki, Poland. At the age of 18, he immigrated, on his own, to Palestine and studied at the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus in Jerusalem, specializing in the Classical languages, Greek and Latin, and literature.
Avraham’s first political involvement was to found a student organization called “Hulda,” that was dedicated “solely to the revival of the Hebrew nation in a new state.” During the 1929 riots in Palestine, Jewish communities came under attack from local Arabs, and at that time Stern served with the Hahanah, doing guard duty on a synagogue rooftop in Jerusalem’s Old City.
Stern became one of the university’s top students. He was awarded a stipend to study for a doctorate in Florence, Italy. Avraham Tehomi, who was Stern’s commander and friend, made a special trip to Florence to recall him in order to make him his deputy in the Irgun.
When Avraham Tehomi quit the Haganah because it was operating under the authority of the local labor movement and union Stern followed him. Tehomi’s hope was to create an independent army, and to take a more active and less defensive military position. Tehomi founded the ‘Irgun Tzva’i Leumi’- National Military Organization, simply known as the ‘Irgun’-Organization; Stern joined the Irgun and in 1932 completed an officer’s course.
Though a fierce fighter, during his life Stern wrote poetry, that was heavily influenced by Russian and Polish poetry. He wrote dozens of poems embodying a physical, almost sensual, love for the Jewish homeland and a similar attitude towards martyrdom on its behalf. His song Unknown Soldiers was adopted first by the Irgun and later by the Lehi as the underground groups’ anthem:
Stern spent the rest of the 1930s traveling back and forth to Eastern Europe to organize revolutionary cells in Poland and promote immigration of Jews to Palestine in defiance of the White Paper British restrictions. In modern Jewish history this was therefore known as “illegal immigration” of Jews to Israel.
Stern developed a plan to train 40,000 young Jews to sail for Palestine and take over the country from the British colonial authorities. He succeeded in enlisting the Polish government in this effort. The Poles began training Irgun members and arms were set aside for them, but when Germany invaded Poland and began the Second World War, the project of training ended, and immigration routes to Israel were cut off. Stern, who was in Palestine at that time, was arrested the same night the war began. He was incarcerated together with the entire High Command of the Irgun in the Sarafand Detention Camp, in Gush Dan-Dan Region, in central Israel.
While under arrest, Stern and the other members of the Irgun argued about what to do during the war. Though the organization did not adopt its name until after his death, in August 1940 Stern founded Lehi by splitting from the Irgun. The Irgun adopted the Haganah policy of supporting the British in their fight against the Nazis. Stern, however, rejected collaboration with the British, and claimed that only a continuing struggle against them would lead eventually to an independent Jewish state and resolve the Jewish situation in the Diaspora. The British White Paper of 1939 allowed only 75,000 Jews to immigrate to Palestine, over five years period, and no more after that, unless local Arabs gave their permission. Stern defined the British Mandate as “foreign rule” regardless of their policies and he took a radical position against such imperialism even if it were to be benevolent.
Stern was unpopular with the official Jewish establishment leaders of the Haganah and Jewish Agency and also those of the Irgun. His movement drew an eclectic crew of individuals, from all ends of the political spectrum, including people who, after Israel got her independence became prominent figures, such as Yitzhak Shamir, who later became the State of Israel 7th Prime Minister and who supported Jewish settlement throughout the land, and opposed ceding territory to Arabs in negotiations; Natan Yellin-Mor who later turned to radical politics, and Israel Eldad, who was a well known Israeli public thinker and formerly one of the leaders of Lehi and have spent nearly 15 years writing tracts and articles promoting Lehi’s brand of revolutionary Zionism.
In January 1941, Stern attempted to make an agreement with the German Nazi authorities, offering to “actively take part in the war on Germany’s side” in return for German support for Jewish immigration to Palestine and the establishment of a Jewish state. Another attempt to contact the Germans was made in late 1941, but there is no record of a German response in either case. These appeals to Germany tainted the Lehi’s credibility and were in direct opposition to the views of other Zionists, such as Ze’ev Jabotinsky, who wanted Britain to defeat the Nazis even though they also wanted to expel the British from Palestine.
Posters of “Wanted “appeared all over the country with a price on Stern’s head. Stern wandered from safe house to safe house in Tel Aviv, carrying a collapsible cot in a suitcase. When he ran out of hiding places he slept in apartment house stairwells. Eventually he moved into a Tel Aviv apartment rented by Moshe and Tova Svorai, who were members of Lehi. Moshe Svorai was caught by British detectives, who raided another apartment, where two Lehi members were shot dead, and Svorai and one other wounded were hospitalized. Stern’s Lehi “contact,” Hisia Shapiro, thought she might have been followed one morning and stopped bringing messages.
On 12 February 1942 she came with one last message, from the Haganah, offering to house Stern for the duration of the war if he would give up his fight against the British. Stern gave Shapiro a letter in reply declining the safe haven and suggesting cooperation between Lehi and the Haganah in fighting the British. A couple of hours later British detectives arrived to search the apartment and discovered Stern hiding there. Two neighbors were brought to attest to the propriety of the search. After they had left, Tova Svorai was also taken away so that Stern was alone with three armed policemen. Then, in circumstances that remain disputed today, Stern was shot dead. The many claims made, by Jewish and British witnesses, were that Stern was simply shot by the British in cold blood.
After Stern’s murder his disciples, Nathan Friedman-Yellinm, who changed his surname to Yellin-Mor, Israel Scheib, later on Professor Israel Eldad, and Yitzchak Izernitzky, better known as former Prime Minister Yitzchak Shamir shared command of the Lehi.
Though the Israeli government did not see eye to eye with Lehi’s activities, on the 14th of February 1949, it granted a general amnesty to Lehi members and in 1980, Israel instituted a military decoration, the Lehi ribbon and from October 20, 1986 to July 13, 1992, Yitzhak Shamir, as Former Lehi leader became Israel’s 7th Prime Minister.
Avraham “Yair” Stern’s memorial day, as this article is being written, is attended every year by Israeli political and government officials.
Stern’s only son Yair Stern was born a few months after his father was murdered. Yair Stern, the son, is a veteran broadcast journalist and TV news anchor who once headed Israel Television.
In 1981 the town of Kochav Yair- Yair’s Star was founded and named after Stern’s nickname.
The efforts of such brave men, members of the Lehi group, have eventually drove the British Mandate Authorities out of Palestine and brought about the birth of the Jewish State of Israel.
Video: Teaching The Legacy Of Yair Stern –
Tzrifin is an area in Gush Dan-Dan Region in central Israel. Nearly the entire area of Tzrifin proper is taken up as a the central Israel Defense Forces base.
Tzrifin was founded in 1917, during Worls War I, as a British base named Sarafand, after the nearby Arab village Sarafand al-Amar. Sarafand was a central British base in a strategic location, having a railway connection to Jaffa and Lydda-Lod. On 14 May 1948, one day before Israel declared its independence, the British forces vacated Sarafand for the Jordanian Arab Legion. The adjacent Arab village Sarafand al-‘Amr was depopulated on 15 May 1948. After a two-day battle, between the 18th and 19th of May, the base was captured by the Jewish forces from the Givati Brigade and the place was named Tzrifin after a historical city with that name located in the area and mentioned in the Talmud.
Yair Stern, is the former Director General of Israel Television, where he was a guiding force in the development of Israel’s television programming and in the management of that country’s broadcast operations. Under his leadership, the news division received the highest journalistic award in Israel, the Sokolov Prize, for coverage of the war in Lebanon. His coverage of the Gulf War in 1991 garnered the Israel Broadcasting Authority Excellence Award. He has been a member of the News Committee of the European Broadcasting Union and of the Academy of the International Emmy Awards. Stern’s involvement in community affairs includes serving as the Chairman of Freedom Fighters for Israeli Heritage and as a member of the Board of Directors of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra. He is the Lew Klein Award Winner, 2008.
Kokhav Ya’ir-Tzur Yigal, 95 meters above sea level, is a town-local council in central Israel, within the Green Line, in the southern Sharon region, north-north-east of the city of Kefar Saba. Kokhav Ya’ir and the neighboring town of Tzur Yigal merged in November 2003. In 2008, together, the population was 11,050. To its south-west Kochav Ya’ir borders Kibbutz Eyal; approximately 2 kilometers (1.2 mi) north-west is the Israeli Arab city of Tira and approximately 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) south is the Palestinian city of Qalqilyah.