Members of Knesset,
Yair Ben-Avraham Stern and Family,
Friends and Admirers of “Yair”,
Today, the Knesset honors the memory of Avraham Stern, “Yair”, fighter for the freedom of Israel, commander of the fighting underground, philosopher, poet and intellect, lover of his people and his country, zealous and passionate in his beliefs, desperately dedicated to his mission.
One hundred years have passed since “Yair” was born, but he only lived for 35 stormy years until he was murdered in the prime of his life, in cold blood, by an officer of the British secret police in a safe house in the Florentine neighborhood of Tel Aviv. On the monument erected in his memory by his comrades and subordinates on the way to Jerusalem, a line from his poem, “For You Are Sacred to Me, My Homeland!” is engraved:
“For you are sacred to me, my Homeland
According to Jewish law.
A bowing maidservant, kneeling and lost,
I am a husband to you and redeemer—
He will come, the great one will certainly come,
The dismantler of the burden, the redeemer,
He who raises up the bent and releases the chains –
A day of freedom in the Kingdom of Israel.”
The shortness of “Yair”’s life – the master of the plot – could serve as inspiration for a gifted scriptwriter or playwright. The writer Moshe Shamir, at the end of his life, wrote an impressive biographical novel about “Yair”. What is missing in the story of “Yair”’s life? Revolution, strong emotions, tensions and a combination of strong urges for the love of a beautiful, captivating woman and for total, pure loyalty to national liberation; command of a small group of fighters challenging a huge power; a life lived in darkness and underground, with a price on his head as a wanted criminal; and in between – enthusiastic and eloquent writing expressive poetry and liturgy, breath-taking in their power, sermons of sacrifice and martyrdom on the altar of freedom – fire and blood and pillars of smoke, words of contemplation and philosophy, classical studies and dreams and hallucinations about the thin line between the bold and the somnambulist. These are the materials from which larger than life characters are built, the greatest of dramas, fascinating novellas from which the reader’s eye does not stray from the first page until the final line.
What was the secret of “Yair”’s power? Where did his ability to unify underground fighters with opposing, even polar outlooks – religious and strictly secular, radical left and messianic right and those with “Canaanite” tendencies: Natan Yellin-Moore, Israel Eldad and Yitzhak Shamir; Amos Keinan and Geula Cohen and others – come from?
Avraham Stern was certainly not a great orator nor a leader that swept crowds off their feet. He was not even really a fighter who bore weapons. His influence spread in intimate groups, among enthusiastic young people who were fascinated by his maximalist, revolutionary, anti-imperialist and uncompromising teachings. His truth was as sharp as a razor, straight and blunt without any opaqueness or obtuseness. The goals he set were transcendent and optimistic and dedicated all means – blood, sword, sacrifice and death – to the idea: “redemption of the land – resurrection of the kingdom – renaissance of the nation”.
There is another thing which always strikes me when I think of this unique and special man. His terrible loneliness, alone in a room – in his hiding place – alone with a small group of people, and with a fervent and unshakable belief that from that lonesome room, from that hiding place, would come forth a great change, one which would eventually lead to the redemption of the land and the people. Off what did he think? We will never know how he coped with the terrible loneliness, waiting for the merciless and cruel murderer to come. What did he hope for? What did he pray for? What did he long for? What was it he could not let go off?
As we mark 100 years since his birth, and 65 years since his murder, “Yair” deserves that the State of Israel should remember and commemorate him as one of the designers of the spirit of freedom and heroism, without which our nation would not have been reborn. This does not mean that we must identify with all his teachings, because “Yair” paved a very independent path in the Zionist struggle.
Whatever reservations there may be, “Yair”’s contribution to the freedom of Israel cannot be denied. The LEHI fighters who acted because of his inspiration made an important contribution, in belief and dedication, to the struggle for the rebirth and an end to the Mandate rule in the Land of Israel.
“Yair” is counted as one of the family of fighters towards whom I have a profound personal sentiment, despite the fact that the paths diverged. “Yair”’s path was not the high road of the Zionist struggle, but it had dedicated and brave soldiers, those who were hanged from the gallows and courageous fighters who fell in battle. All who were educated as to his greatness and bravery, even the most bitter of “Yair”’s rivals, are respectfully beholden to his and their valor.
“Yair” was that match which burned and kindled a large flame. May his memory be blessed.