A Conscience of the Nation

Georg Bombach was born in 1926 in Kiel, Germany and emigrated in 1936 with his parents to Mandatory Palestine. They bought a home on rehov Radak in the Rehavia section of Jerusalem and Georg, who now had translated his entire name into Hebrew, became Eliakim Haetzni. He was educated in the Jerusalem schools and was an outstanding pupil.

During the War of Independence in 1948, he was very seriously wounded and lay on a hospital bed for one and a half years, his entire body badly scarred.

When I first met him in 1951, I was impressed that a young man with so many physical disabilities had survived and went on to become a national hero.

I was often a visitor at his parent’s home on rehov Radak and was always excited by Eliakim’s zealous patriotism.
He and a group of fellow sympathizers had formed a group known as Shurat Ha-Mitnadvim, (Volunteers Service). Their job at first was to help in aliyah absorption of new immigrants, guarding the maabarot (tent & hut camps for new immigrants) against Arab marauders and infiltrators.

Later they increased their duties to search out those who violated the “tzena”… the long-term ration-controlled system of the government, limiting small portions of meat to once weekly, a few eggs per month, and limits on bread, sugar, margarine, rice and all other basic staples. By checking garbage bins in front of homes, the Shurat Ha-Mitnadvim was able to determine who had violated the rationing by consuming more meat, eggs, etc. than were permitted with ration coupons which every Israeli had to use when purchasing food.

Haetzni was consumed with routing out the violators and with opposing the corruption within his own Mapai party. In this volunteer work, he met a fellow worker, Tziporah, who was later to become his wife. He went on to study law at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and was admitted to the Israeli Bar.

In 1956 he published a brochure describing the corruption within the government led by Ben-Gurion’s Mapai party.
Before the reparations agreement with Germany had been officially signed, four Israeli men were sent to Germany (among them was the husband of Israel’s beloved singer, Yaffa Yarkoni) to purchase hundreds of thousands in currency to order chinaware for the Jewish Agency from a Bavarian porcelain company.

The German owner complained to the Israeli government that one of the Israeli businessmen, Zaidman, had requested that an additional 15 percent be added to the bill, that money to go into the pockets of the four businessmen.

Shurat Ha-Mitnadvim, under Eliakim Haetzni’s leadership, exposed the scandal in a published document in the Israeli press .

Haetzni was then sued by Amos Ben-Gurion, son of Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, and was represented by Attorney Shmuel Tamir. The case was tried before three judges, that number usually reserved for capital crimes such as murder, and Shurat Ha-Mitnadvim lost. The case was then appealed to the Supreme Court.

In 1957 I was privileged to sit in the Supreme Court in the Russian Compound of Jerusalem when the appeal was heard by Justice Agranat. He ruled to uphold the decision of the lower court.

Haetzni suspected that the Shin Bet, Israel’s Security Service, had been involved in supressing the case at the request of Prime Minister Ben-Gurion. As a result, Shurat Ha-Mitnadvim was dissolved and Haetzni went into a private practice of law.

He published frequently and his name was widely known by the Israeli public.

In 1972 he and his family moved into Kiryat Arba, the new Jewish area of the Arab-occupied city of Hebron, and there they built the very first home in the new settlement.

Haetzni was respected by local Arabs as being a trustworthy lawyer and he took many of their cases into the Israeli courts.
Later he was elected to the Knesset as a member of the short-lived Tehiya party.

I last saw him in Israel in 1979. I was planning to come from Rishon Lezion to a visit in Jerusalem and I wrote a letter to Eliakim asking to meet with him at the Knesset. He replied that he would be happy to see me.

On my arrival at the Knesset, I was directed to his office for the time which he had agreed to meet with me. He was not in his office and his secretary informed me that I could find him in the Knesset cafeteria. And so I did.

He was sitting at a table, reading a newspaper, and sipping either tea or coffee from a cup. He was surprised to see me and it was obvious that he had forgotten about our meeting. We chatted briefly and he excused himself to go into the Knesset chambers for an important vote.

Several years later we met in New York where he had come to deliver a series of lectures. We never met again.

Outspoken, fearless, defiant Eliakim Haetzni was a voice crying in the wilderness for several decades. He remains at almost 90 years of age as one of the genuine consciences in Israel’s political history.

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.
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