Arson Suspected in Fire at Yitzhak Sadeh's Historic Jaffa House

Ilan Lior
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Ilan Lior

The fire services are investigating suspicions that last week's fire near the historic Yitzhak Sadeh house in Jaffa was arson.

Firefighters were called to the house late Thursday night, while colleagues were battling the massive Carmel blaze. They extinguished the fire before it damaged the building or the surrounding yard.

Sadeh was the founder of the Palmach, the elite strike force of the pre-state underground Jewish militia the Haganah. He was also the founding commander of the Israel Defense Forces tank corps. His son Yoram Sadeh, who lives in the house, is convinced the fire was started deliberately and has filed a complaint with the police.

The police said they are waiting for the results of the fire department's probe, which will shed light on whether the fire really was arson.

Yoram Sadeh said a neighbor spotted the fire and and woke him. "She called me, in hysterics, and said, 'Listen, your garden is going up in flames.' I looked out the window and saw enormously high flames."

"The house is surrounded by vegetation," Sadeh added. "If the neighbors hadn't woken us, the house would have turned into a firetrap." He said the fire could easily have resulted in fatalities had the firefighters not extinguished it in time.

One reason Sadeh suspects arson is that the house has been the focus of a local controversy for some time. For years, certain neighbors have claimed that Sadeh fenced in the yard without obtaining a permit, and effectively appropriating public property. The Tel Aviv municipality agreed, and even issued a demolition order against the fence nine years ago; a local court also upheld the neighbors' claim.

But recently the court suspended the execution of the demolition order while the city reviews Sadeh's application for a permit. Sadeh argues that the fence is necessary to protect the historic site.

In recent months Sadeh filed several police complaints against one of his neighbors, who he says has been harassing him, and even obtained a restraining order requiring the neighbor to keep his distance from Sadeh. He also installed security cameras in front of the house, which he claims recorded the neighbor uprooting plants from the garden and damaging the fence.

But the cameras shed no light on the fire, because it began on the other side of the house.

Since his father died 58 years ago, Sadeh has worked hard to preserve the house. He has refurbished Yitzhak Sadeh's study and all its contents, including the furniture, books, weapons and maps.

He has cared for the garden, which was planted by Tel Aviv's first landscape architect, Avraham Karavan, and where the wagon his father Sadeh used as a brigade commander in the War of Independence now stands. He also allows groups to tour the house and garden.

Two months ago a group of former army officers and intellectuals wrote Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai and urged him not to destroy the fence, so as to help preserve the historic site.