1945: Eliyahu Bet-Zuri and Eliyahu Hakim, Lord Moyne’s assassins

Add comment March 22nd, 2017 Headsman

British-occupied Egypt on this date in 1945 hanged two young Jewish assassins for slaying the British plenipotentiary to the Middle East.

Walter Edward Guinness was heir to the barley beer fortune and a Tory politician of near 40 years’ standing. “Lord Moyne”, to call him (as history does, and as we will henceforward) by his aristocratic honorific, allied with his former rival Winston Churchill in the 1930s as a staunch foe of placating Hitler, eventually serving several roles in Churchill’s wartime government.*

The last and perforce most famous was Resident Minister of State in Cairo from January 1944, where he directed British affairs in North Africa, Persia, and the Middle East, crucially including Mandatory Palestine.

Such a figure must necessarily represent many things to different subjects, but to Zionists he represented the hostility to their project of both his own person and (more importantly) of London. While there is endless nitpicking about the man’s precise degree of disfavor for Jewish people or interests, “Lord Moyne was the highest British official in the Middle East,” in the words of Yitzhak Shamir, the emigre terrorist who orchestrated the hit and would one day become Prime Minister of Israel. “Because we fought against the British in this area, we took him for a target. This was the main reason for his assassination.” Nothing personal. (Maybe a little personal.)

On November 6, 1944, two of Shamir’s young cadres in the late Avraham Stern‘s militantly anti-British Lehi network, Eliyahu Bet-Zuri (Ben Suri) and Eliyahu Hakim, ambushed Moyne as his limousine pulled up at his villa, and shot him dead with pistols. (They also killed Moyne’s driver, a Lance Corporal named Arthur Fuller.) Once their affiliations became apparent it was Jewry’s turn to bask in the collective censorious scowl that minorities everywhere can anticipate given any perceived ethnic affinity to the latest atrocity’s author. These sortings-out from the London Times would do almost word for word for whatever horror tomorrow’s news might bring.


London Times, Nov. 10, 1944


London Times, Jan. 29, 1945

Similarly, Lord Moyne’s killers took every pain to link their martyrdom to Jewish/Zionist patriotism, no matter any moderate rabbi’s attempt to wash his hands of it.

Raised in Mandatory Palestine, both Bet-Zuri and Hakim spoke Arabic but insisted on speaking only Hebrew in the Cairo court. They went to the gallows singing the hymn “Hatikvah” — later to become Israel’s national anthem.

In the near term, their deed hardened hearts: “If our dreams for Zionism are to end in the smoke of an assassin’s pistol, and the labors for its future produce a new set of gangsters worthy of Nazi Germany, then many like myself will have to reconsider the position we have maintained so consistently and so long in the past,” Churchill snarled to Parliament.

But in fact the British reconsideration was soon seen to run counter to the dangerous meddling policing these “gangsters” would have demanded. Within only a few years London struck its colors in the Levant. Bet-Zuri’s and Hakim’s cause triumphed, and they too with it: as Prime Minister, Yitzhak Shamir arranged for the hanged men’s remains to be repatriated from Egypt; today, both rest in honor at Mount Herzl.

* There was a personal side to Lord Moyne’s anti-Naziism: his son, Bryan, had been abandoned by his socialite wife Diana Mitford … who became Diana Mosley in 1936 when she married British Union of Fascists chief Oswald Mosley, in a ceremony held at Joseph Goebbels‘ home no less.

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1947: Three Jewish terrorists and two British hostages

1 comment July 29th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1947, three members of an Irgun commando team who had engineered a massive prison break of Zionist terrorists were hanged for the affair.

The Acre Prison Break was a meticulously coordinated operation by the Zionist underground in British Mandate Palestine that, a Conservative MP later charged, “reduced British prestige to a nadir.”

A team of guerrillas attacked the prison from the outside, coordinating with imprisoned Irgun and Stern Gang operatives who had explosives smuggled into their cells to help detonate their way through the walls. Hundreds of prisoners — most of them Arabs availing the opportunity — escaped.

According to the London Times (May 6, 1947), 16 escaping prisoners were slain in the affray, with eight British guards and police wounded.

More crucially for our purposes, five of the guerrillas who assailed the prison were captured. Three — Haviv Avshalom, Yaakov Weiss, and Meir Nakar — were taken armed, and sentenced to death by the British.

To browse the contemporaneous western press coverage is to visit a Holy Land very familiar to the present-day reader, filled with “terrorists” and “extremists” and “fanatics” and “murderers” abetted by “those who incite them from a safe distance and supply the funds and the weapons which they put to such deadly use.”* Except that this discourse was directed at Jews, not Arabs.

One good way to earn such an imprecation would be to kidnap two British soldiers and hold them hostage against the execution of the sentence. That’s exactly what the Irgun did.

The British searched for their men, but disdained to stoop the majesty of the law at the pleasure of some seditious blackmailer. So, early this morning at that same Acre Prison they had lately helped to liberate, Avshalom, Weiss, and Nakar went to the gallows.


Left to right: Avshalom, Weiss, and Nakar.

Palestine awaited with anxiety the expected discovery of two kidnaped British sergeants whom the Irgunists have vowed to kill in retaliation. The Mosaic law of vengeance applies and any show of clemency would be regarded by the extremists as evidence of cowardly submission.

New York Times, July 30, 1947

The Irgun had already applied that Mosaic law of vengeance.

On the evening of that same July 29, it hanged its two hostages, intelligence corps sergeants Clifford Martin and Marvin Paice. The bodies were moved and strung up in a Eucalyptus grove near Netanya, to be discovered the next day, booby-trapped with a land mine. A scornful note announced their condemnation for “criminal anti-Hebrew activities.”


The bodies of Sgts. Clifford Martin and Marvin Paice, as discovered on July 31, 1947, hanging from Eucalyptus trees.

Moderate, mainline Zionists were horrified.

Of all the crimes that took place till this day on this land, this is the most grievous and disgusting one and will stain the purity of our peoples struggle for freedom. May this act of hanging remain as a sign of Cain on the doers of this disgraceful deed! The heavens and the earth are my witnesses that most of our population took desperate measures to free the hostages and prevent this shame.

-Netanya Mayor Oved Ben Ami

Said disgraceful deed-doers were far from apologetic.

And you could say they had a point, since although the threat did not prevent the death sentences at hand from being carried into execution, its example proved to be a lively deterrent: Avshalom, Weiss, and Nakar were the last Zionists executed by the British. Then-Irgun leader, and later Israeli Prime Minister, Menachem Begin made no bones about the trade.

The Brits were a little less sanguine about “the sergeants affair”.

A Times editorial for Friday, Aug. 1 fulminated against “the violent deeds of the Palestine terrorists [that] will not readily be effaced,” comparing them to “the bestialities practised by the Nazis themselves.”**

Over the ensuing long weekend’s summer bank holiday, racist riots against Jews shook Britain. Jewish businesses, cemeteries, and synagogues were smashed up and vandalized all over the island, to the horror this time of milquetoast liberals like the Manchester Guardian, with again-familiar lines like: “to answer terrorism in Palestine with terrorism in England is sheer Hitlerism. We must be desperately careful to see that we do not let ourselves be infected with the poison of the disease we had thought to eradicate.”

Fine points for debate in Britain, which within months was bugging out of the Levant as open war engulfed Palestine — the violent birth pangs of modern Israel and its embrace of its own subject populace with its own frustrated national ambitions pursued by its own violent extremists.

* London Times editorial, May 21, 1947.

** Irgun propaganda’s riposte: “We recognize no one-sided laws of war. If the British are determined that their way out of the country should be lined by an avenue of gallows and of weeping fathers, mothers, wives, and sweethearts, we shall see to it that in this there is no racial discrimination.”

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1952: Yosef Basri and Shalom Salah, Jewish bombers?

Add comment January 22nd, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1952, Iraq hanged Yosef Basri and Shalom Salah for an alleged Zionist bombing campaign in Baghdad.

The most remarkable thing about this campaign is that it was perpetrated against Iraq’s Jews — and if these men’s conviction was rightly secured, it was conducted by other Jews for the purpose of driving those Iraqi Jews to emigrate to the still-tenuous new state of Israel.

As the 1940s closed, well over 100,000 Jews lived in Iraq, a populace legendarily* dating to the Biblical Babylonian exile.

While this community had at certain moments in centuries past been the very flower of the diaspora, it was justifiably nervous here in the perilous 20th century.

In 1950-51, the Iraqi government offered its Jewish citizens an emigration window from a homeland tense with anti-Jewish hostility — at the same time the Israeli government was practically begging them to come. (The cost: give up Iraqi citizenship permanently. Iraq seems to have expected only a few thousand to depart.)

Against the grain of this “monstrous” mutuality of interest stood the natural obstacles for any emigre: affection for the familiarity of one’s native lands, the trauma and uncertainty of uprooting … plus the specific problem that most stood to lose their illiquid wealth either by hasty firesale disposal or (as eventually happened) outright confiscation. Particularly pending clarity in property remuneration, many Iraqi Jews were initially wary about departing.

Iraqi Jews also dismayed Zionist recruiters with their “lack [of] a Zionist outlook and even a Zionist instinct.”**

But these stick-in-the-Mesopotamians would soon receive some explosive encouragement: a headline-grabbing series of attacks on Jews and Jewish establishments during the emigration window encouraged thousands to seize the moment.

“The pace of registration for the citizenship waiver was slow in the beginning, but it increased as tensions rose between Jews and their neighbors and after acts of terror were perpetrated against Jewish businesses and institutions – especially the Mas’uda Shem-Tov Synagogue [bombed January 14, 1951]”

-Sasson Somekh, Baghdad, Yesterday: The Making of an Arab Jew

Israel historian Benny Morris summarizes the situation in this Q&A from 2009:

Iraqi Jews being airlifted to Israel.

Ultimately, Israel’s Operation Ezra and Nehemiah, named for two Old Testament prophets who led the Biblical Israelites out of bondage, relocated virtually the whole of Iraqi Jewry to Israel — more than 120,000 people. Today, virtually no Iraqi Jews remain.

Morris’s conclusion that Israeli intelligence did not engineer the bombing campaign that so spectacularly served its statecraft is the subject of vociferous dispute. It’s also, perhaps, a bit finely cut: a handful of zealots in the local Zionist underground, sensitive to the local sentiment and keen on the urgency of the brief denaturalization opportunity, might have undertaken the project freelance without actual straight-from-Jerusalem coordination.

Amazingly, this notion that some species of Zionist agents bombed Iraqi synagogues (pdf) in the interests of the Levant’s demographic future was commonly believed not only by Iraqi Arabs but by emigre Iraqi Jews themselves. Their suspicions can hardly have been allayed when a similar misadventure went down in Egypt a couple years later.

The inevitable dispute over the factual question can’t help but roll over into everything else that’s disputatious about the Zionist Entity.

Like, to pick just one, can Iraq and other Arab states be said to have ethnically cleansed their Jewish populations in the same sense that Zionist militias ethnically cleansed Palestine?

An account already exists between us and the Arab world: the account of the compensation that accrues to the Arabs who left the territory of Israel and abandoned their property … The act that has now been perpetrated by the Kingdom of Iraq … forces us to link the two accounts . . . We will take into account the value of the Jewish property that has been frozen in Iraq when calculating the compensation that we have undertaken to pay the Arabs who abandoned property in Israel.

Moshe Sharett, Israeli Foreign Minister, March 1951**

This sort of opportunistic ethnic arithmetic obviously loses its limited suasion to the extent that Jews can be held to have driven Jews out of Iraq — which is not to say that goring this or that ox is necessarily the reason for any one scholar’s taking this or that position.

One might, however, be less inclined to extend that benefit of the doubt to the Kingdom of Iraq itself. That realm was very pleased to point the finger at its absconding Jewry.

Our Zionist cadres, Yosef Basri and Shalom Salah, were hanged by that Iraqi Entity for three grenade attacks in the bombing series. Basri repudiated his confession in court, plausibly claiming it had been tortured out of him. (A third Jew was also convicted but not executed: Yehuda Tajar is the man Morris refers to, who returned to Israel after spending the Fifties imprisoned in Iraq.)

“Long live the state of Israel,” were their last words.

But not all “beneficiaries” of their alleged efforts shared the sentiment.

“That is God’s revenge on the movement that brought us to such depths,” one Iraqi Jewish refugee in the Holy Land reportedly exclaimed.**

Just where guilt really lies in all of this has been contested (pdf) ever since, a matter that mere hooded functionaries such as your author can hardly address with authority.

Jews Done It …
… They Never Did

* Not necessarily literally; the Mongol invasions are supposed to have broken the cultural chain of Jewish habitation of Babylon, with the city re-populated later by other Jewish migrants not of a lineal connection back to Nebuchadnezzar‘s conquests.

** Quoted by Yehouda Shenhav in “The Jews of Iraq, Zionist Ideology, and the Property of the Palestinian Refugees of 1948: An Anomaly of National Accounting,” International Journal of Middle East Studies (Nov., 1999)

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1944: Hannah Szenes, who gambled on what mattered most

2 comments November 7th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1944, Hannah Szenes was shot by the Nazis in her native city of Budapest — a city she had left five years before, and to which she had returned as a British special operative.

Hannah Szenes (alternatively, “Chana Senesh” or “Hannah Senesh”) grew up in interwar Hungary.

Reaching adulthood in a period of rising anti-semitism in the late 1930’s, she became a Zionist and emigrated to British-controlled Palestine.

But with the onset of war, she signed up with the British Special Operations Executive and was parachuted behind German lines in March 1944.

Her brief: to save both Jews and downed Allied pilots. It is often described as the only military expedition to relieve European Jewry during World War II.

And it was as dangerous as it sounds.

[flv:http://www.blessedisthematch.com/BITMclip4.flv 425 344]

Hannah was nabbed crossing into Hungary on a mission that her colleagues (rightly, it seems) deemed too perilous to attempt, and withstood months of torture without divulging her codes.

By the time she went in the dock for treason, Nazi control of Hungary was collapsing and judicial administration itself was breaking down to the timpani of falling shells. Her sentencing November 4 was postponed; on November 7, an officer peremptorily informed her that she had been condemned to death. It’s believed that she was actually never formally sentenced, merely mopped up ahead of the unstoppable Red Army, which on this very day first entered Budapest’s suburbs.

A writer as well as a fighter, Szenes’ poetry survived as her monument to life — like the present-day Israeli standard “Blessed is the Match”, also the title of the documentary excerpted above; and, her “Halikha LeKesariya” (“A Walk to Caesarea”), also known as “Eli, Eli” (“My God, My God”). Here it is sung by Regina Spektor.

These lines were reportedly her last-known verses from prison:

One – two – three … eight feet long
Two strides across, the rest is dark …
Life is a fleeting question mark
One – two – three … maybe another week.
Or the next month may still find me here,
But death, I feel is very near.
I could have been 23 next July
I gambled on what mattered most, the dice were cast. I lost.

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1942: Avraham Stern, a strange bedfellow

4 comments February 12th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1942, Zionist freedom-fighter — or was he a terrorist? — Avraham Stern was captured by British colonial authorities and summarily executed.

Stern, as pictured on a 1978 Israeli stamp.

Born in 1907 in a part of eastern Poland then in Russian hands, Stern immigrated to British Palestine in 1925 and became an adherent of Revisionist Zionism — a maximalist strain of the fermenting Jewish homeland movement.

Various threads and factions within the Zionist movement pursued different territorial and political goals with different strategies; Stern was among the most militant foes of anything with the whiff of collaboration with the British. When the armed underground movement Irgun opted in 1940 to suspend attacks against British targets during World War II, Stern created a splinter organization with a programme of continuing anti-British violence.

The “Stern gang,” as imperial authorities knew it, had its reasons — controversial enough that some more moderate Jewish elements were happy to help the British hunt it, but reasons with their own logic, premised on the notion that London was the fundamental enemy of Jewish national interests while Berlin, for all its anti-Semitism, was not.

Between those two lay the room for wartime collaboration with Hitler against Britain with the object of establishing a Jewish state in the Levant open to unlimited immigration from a Reich eager to be rid of its Jews. In one fell swoop, it would solve Germany’s “Jewish question,”* realize Zionist state-building aspirations, and disrupt the Nazis’ wartime enemy. Stern, who had cultivated an affinity for fascism while studying in Italy and pitched a similar bargain to Mussolini, offered a pact with the devil: “the establishment of the historic Jewish state on a national and totalitarian basis, bound by a treaty with the German Reich.”

Berlin never took up the offer. Stern himself would have only a year to live, and his tiny splinter group didn’t get very far off the ground during it, carrying out a few murders and trying to raise money through crime. A high-profile bank robbery in January of 1942 that left several Brits and Jews dead brought down an intense manhunt that caught up with Stern on this day. He was handcuffed and shot on the spot.

His organization would come into its own after his death under leadership that included future Likud Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, carrying out a campaign of assassinations in the mid-40’s as Palestine slid towards the civil war that would give birth to Israel. In that incarnation, it valorized its creator:

He was a lion, and the cravings of the foxes were foreign to him. He was an eagle who did not know how to fly low … He was not of those who live and die, like all human beings. He was a Prometheus, one who appears but once over many generations. (Source)

That valorization has been contested but nonetheless lasting. The Knesset, just days ago as of this writing, voted laurels for Stern’s hundredth birthday. There’s almost no apolitical way to write his story, and given Israel’s persistence as a flashpoint — and its own ironic inheritance of a rebellious subject population reminiscent of pre-1948 Palestinian Jews — the radicalism of his words, deeds and persona invite debate.

Books about the Stern gang in the founding of Israel

There’s a fascinating first-person apologia from a former member of the Stern gang here.

Stern also dabbled as a poet, and wrote this anthem to the struggle with his wife:

Part of the Themed Set: Unruly Britannia.

* Germany itself was tarrying with “faraway Jewish homeland” plans at this time, specifically considering relocating European Jewry to Madagascar. The Final Solution would be implemented later, once these proved unavailing. Stern, for his part, also expected the Axis to win the war.

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