'My Mother Was a Warrior'

Yigal Hai
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Yigal Hai

Sara Livni, the mother of Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, was laid to rest in the Nahalat Yitzhak cemetery in Tel Aviv yesterday. She died of cancer on Monday at the age of 85.

Hundreds of friends, relatives and former members of the Irgun Tzvai Leumi ("National Military Organization") attended the funeral. Livni had been a fighter in the Irgun, a pre-state underground commonly known by its Hebrew acronym Etzel, and her husband Eitan was the group's operations officer.

After Israel was established in 1948, Sara and Eitan became the first couple to marry in the new Jewish state.

"My mother was a warrior - not only in the Etzel, but in general," Tzipi Livni said in her eulogy. "She dragged everyone around her in her wake. After having fought to establish the state, Mother continued to fight for us, doing battle against anyone who hurt us, but also took care that we would not become arrogant. We knew what being a human being meant in Mother's view; [we knew] her high standards.

"She fought the Tel Aviv municipality because it wanted to name a street after my father in the wealthy northern section of the city," Livni continued. "Mother demanded that the street be in the southern part of the city, whence the Etzel members came.

"She also fought old age. At the age of 80, she traveled to Eilat and returned with pierced ears, as if she were a girl of 16. She also fought to be allowed to feed the alley cats, and even adopted a pigeon that landed in the window of her house."

Although Eitan Livni was a Likud Knesset member, Tzipi Livni said that Sara fully supported her daughter's decision to abandon Likud and join Kadima. "In the end, Mother also accepted the idea of dividing the land, after hearing about the steps I was promoting. She did this out of pure love of her daughter, and told me: 'Keep going.' Mother defended my views unstintingly to the other fighters of the underground."

Eli Livni, the foreign minister's brother, also eulogized his mother. "You came here on a boat at age three," he said. "At age seven, you lived through the 1929 riots, and [later] the 1936 riots, in a hut in Haifa, in the lower city. You had nothing to eat, but you held fast to the land. At age 16, you joined the Etzel - and that was in Red Haifa, where being in the Etzel then was more dangerous than roaming around Gaza today. You established the state. God wanted you back, Mother, so that you could help him up there. Perhaps the state will go back to being what you dreamed of when you established it."

One trait mentioned by everyone who knew Sara Livni was her love of singing. "At every family gathering she would sing songs, mainly songs about the Land of Israel," said a relative, Pinhas Shmueli. He noted that one of the Etzel's songs was written in her honor.

Before the funeral, Livni's coffin was on view at Beit Jabotinsky in Tel Aviv, where former Etzel fighters held a ceremony in her memory. At it, Yoske Nachmias, an Etzel fighter who today is curator of the organization's museum in Tel Aviv, recalled how Livni got herself out of jail after she was arrested by the British, who controlled the area at the time, due to her pro-independence activities.

"Sara was arrested by the British in 1947 and held in the Bethlehem lock-up," he said. "Later, she was transferred to Atlit, with all the Jewish detainees, and there, she feigned illness. They say she injected herself with milk, and developed a high fever. She was transferred to Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, which was run by the British, and there she demanded transfer to a Jewish hospital on [Mount] Carmel. She was taken to Carmel, and there she took advantage of a moment when the guard wasn't paying attention and fled from the clinic. After fleeing, she returned to the ranks of the fighters.

"Sara was a regular fighter, and took part in many operations against the British and the Arabs," he continued. "When we gathered for an operation, she would make the preparation time pass pleasantly by singing songs of the underground."