The Menachem Begin heritage center and the Uri Zvi Grinberg heritage home [named after the nationalist poet] are holding several events this week to commemorate the Olei Hagardom - the Zionist militant members of the Stern Gang and the Irgun underground, executed by British authorities in the Mandate period.
The main event will take place tomorrow at the Knesset, with speeches by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition leader Tzipi Livni, whose father was a prominent Irgun commander. Memorials will be held for the 12 Irgun and Lehi fighters accused by the British of terrorist acts.
And there's a 13th person not listed by the organizers, but who will be mentioned at the ceremonies nevertheless: Mordechai Schwartz.
Schwartz was born in Czechoslovakia in 1914. He immigrated to Israel alone in 1933, and joined the British police. Like most Jewish policeman, he was also a member of the Haganah, the largest mainstream underground organization. The Great Arab Revolt against the British mandate in the Jewish community in Palestine broke out in 1936. During the revolt, hundreds of Jews were killled by Arab militias and yet the Jewish leadership decided not to retaliate.
Schwartz and several other policemen were posted at the summer camp of the High Commissioner in Atlit in northern Israel. On the night of September 1, 1937, he shot and killed an Arab policeman. He was tried, and was sentenced to hang. He was executed on August 16, 1938, and buried in the old cemetery of Haifa. The execution took place six weeks after the death of the first of the Olei Hagardom, Shlomo Ben Yossef of the Irgun, executed for shooting at a civilian Arab bus near Safed.
Ben Yossef was acting against the orders of his commanders, but they embraced him and made him their first martyr. In contrast, the Haganah disowned Schwartz. Only a handful of journalists and researchers have written about Schwartz; he was by and large forgotten. Recently a group of researchers working for the Toldot Yisrael, a non-profit association involved in oral history documentation, found a new interest in his story.
At his trial, Schwartz claimed he heard gunfire, left his tent with his gun, and fired several shots. "When I returned to the tent ... I saw my fellow policeman Mustafa Khoury was dead," he claimed. The court rejected his testimony, and ruled Schwartz murdered Khoury.
After his death, claims were made he shot Khoury in self-defense, and that the murder had something to do with him being homosexual - even though Schwartz had a fiancee, Hannah Blum.
Recently, however, researchers found testimony confirming Schwartz's motive was political.
"One of Schwartz's friends testified the Arab policeman entered the tent drunk, boasting he had raped and killed Jews and that Schwartz's turn would come," said director Peleg Levi.
Menachem Begin's first government sought to correct what it called discrimination against the dissident Jewish underground organizations. Museums were set up in Acre and Jerusalem, and Schwartz's name was commemorated once again. The respect paid to Schwartz by their old rivals prompted the Haganah veterans to acknowledge him, and his picture now hangs at the Olei Hagardom museum in Acre.
"It angers me that Schwartz is not on the list for the Knesset ceremony," said the director of the Haganah Veterans Association management committee, who was jailed in 1947 for possession of explosives. "It's painful the Irgun and Lehi are monopolizing the memory of Olei Hagardom. I've approached the prime minister's office a number of times about the matter."
Geula Cohen, one of the organizers of the event, said in response: "The Haganah didn't commemorate Schwartz and it pained me for years. We're actually working to commemorate him and we will read his name at the ceremony, even though this is a ceremony by the Lehi and the Irgun. We've also issued a medal for him and invited his family.
The Knesset spokesman said the organizers were responsible for the content of the ceremony.
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