Israeli President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday paid tribute to David Raziel — the co-founder and first commander of the Irgun Zvai Leumi (Etzel), the pre-state right-wing Zionist militia — on the 80th anniversary of his death.
Speaking at the memorial ceremony for Raziel, Rivlin called him a “great leader on behalf of the people and the country.”
The Etzel grew out of the right-wing Revisionist Zionism movement led by Ze’ev Jabotinsky, who personally appointed Raziel to lead the militia in 1938.
Rejecting the mainstream Labor Zionism policy of restraint in response to Arab violence, the Etzel under Raziel undertook a series of retaliatory attacks against Arab targets that aroused considerable controversy in the Zionist movement.
During World War II, however, the Etzel put aside its opposition to British power over Palestine in favor of collaborating in the fight against Nazism. Despite having been imprisoned by the British in 1939, Raziel chose to support the war effort upon his release. Sent to Iraq by British intelligence to fight an attempted pro-Nazi coup, Raziel was killed in action by a German air attack in 1941.
Building on the framework that Raziel established, Menachem Begin eventually took command of the Etzel and led it through a guerrilla war against the British power in Palestine.
The Etzel’s revolt was eventually credited with helping to push the British out of Palestine, paving the way for the establishment of the State of Israel.
“Eighty years since David Raziel the commander fell, and there are few left,” Rivlin said at the memorial ceremony. “Just the very few who were fortunate enough to know him, and too few that can still tell his story.”
“And yet from the distance of time and space, an extraordinary and unique character stands out,” he said. “When Jabotinsky appointed David Raziel to command the Etzel, he said that he had been waiting for someone like him for 15 years.”
Paying tribute to all the fighters of the Etzel, Rivlin said, “This is the last time that I will have the honor as president of standing here, and deliver remarks to this great leader on behalf of the people and the country. To salute the fallen of the Irgun Zvai Leumi, who we remember today.”
“Even though I am completing my term of office, I will continue to carry the name and remember that were it not for their sacrifice we would not have gained the redemption of our people and land, and the liberty of Israel,” he added. “May the memory of our brothers, the soldiers of the Irgun Zvai Leumi, be in our hearts forever.”
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Author: Benjamin Kerstein
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