Nicole Levin
Historic Preservation Lawyer

From Trumpledor, Jabotinsky to Rutenberg

Tel Chai. Photographer Israel Preker, 4.2.19. From Pikiwiki site.
Tel Chai. Photographer Israel Preker, 4.2.19. From Pikiwiki site.

Who built Israel? Who owns it? Was this country built by the kibbutzim who were socialists and some even communists in awe of Stalin? Was the country built because of capitalistic endeavors?  Who gets to be the lord of the land?

I ask these questions because when I turn on the news these days, I see a lot of angry people. Some people are angry because they and their families suffered here, fought in the wars, and built the country and now this country that they love is changing and perhaps is being taken away from them. On the other side I see people who are angry because they feel that they also, suffered , fought in wars and built the country and yet they are not recognized for this, but rather relegated to the back of the line as second class citizens.  I hear shouts and name calling: Nazis! Anarchists! Dictators!

Who is right? Does it even matter at this point?

On March 1, 1920, a small group of Jewish settlers in Tel Chai were attacked by their Arab neighbors. They lost the battle, eight defenders were killed, and the settlement was abandoned at that time. In memory of these eight defenders the town of Kiryat Shemona was named and a grand statue was erected in the cemetery of Kfar Giladi where they are buried. The most famous of these defenders was Joseph Trumpeldor. As his life was ebbing away, he uttered the famous quote “it is good to die for our land” (although there is some debate as to whether those were his exact last words or perhaps, he said something similar but in incorrect Hebrew).  It really doesn’t matter, Trumpeldor was indeed a Jewish hero, admired by many on both sides of the political spectrum.

Joseph Vladimirovich Trumpledor was born on November 21, 1880, in Pyatigorsk in Russia. After finishing his high school studies, he learned dentistry.  In 1902 he volunteered for the Russian army and fought in the Russian – Japanese War. He participated in the siege of Port Arthur where he lost one of his arms in battle. He continued his army service despite this and when Port Arthur fell, he went into Japanese captivity where he organized classes and a Jewish newspaper for his fellow Jewish comrades in arms. After the war, he moved to St. Petersburg where he studied law. He received many medals for his valor in the Russian Army which was a rare thing for a Jew to have in those days. He was a Zionist and together with a group of Zionists that he organized he moved to Palestine in 1911.

Joseph Trumpeldor 1917. Israeli Internet Association, Pikiwiki
When World War 1 broke out he was a Russian citizen living under Ottoman Rule and so he was forced to leave the country since Russia and the Ottomans were on opposite sides of the war.  He moved to Egypt where, together with Ze’ev Jabotinsky he formulated the idea of a Jewish Legion. The idea was to fight with the British in the war and hopefully take part in the capture of Palestine as Jewish soldiers. Together with Ze’ev Jabotinsky, he formed the Zion Mule Corps which was part of the British army and fought in Gallipoli. He was wounded in this battle as well. He received medals from the British Army for his service during the war. The Zion Mule Corps was disbanded towards the end of the war and Trumpeldor, together with Jabotinsky, went to London to form a Jewish legion as part of the British army who would take part in the freeing of Palestine from the Ottomans.

Although he was successful in this, he was not allowed to serve in the army anymore due to his injuries.  He returned to St. Petersburg to try to convince the new (Russian) provisional government to form a Jewish regiment that would fight the Ottomans in the Caucuses and reach Palestine in that way.  He also organized Jewish defenses in the various settlements in Russia and the Ukraine where violent Pogroms against the Jews was an almost daily occurrence.  He also formed the “Hahalutz” youth movement in Russia whose goal was to prepare its members for aliya to Jewish agricultural communal settlements in Palestine.

Trumpeldor was a socialist and his dream was to live and work on a commune in Eretz Yisrael.  Trumpeldor was a hero to both right-wing and left-wing Zionists. The Revisionist Zionist movement which is a precursor to the Likud party named its youth movement “Beitar” after Trumpeldor. The left-wing movement remember him as a defender of the Kibbutzim.

He was 39 years old when he fell.

Trumpeldor cooperated with Ze’ev Jabotinsky to form the Jewish Brigade despite the fact that they held different political beliefs. Since Trumpeldor died a young man, I always see Jabotinsky as being his elder. However, this is not true.  Vladimir Yevgenyevich Jabotinsky was born on October 17, 1880, only a month before Trumpeldor. He was born in Odessa which is part of modern-day Ukraine. He did not complete his studies, but he spoke many languages including Russian, Yiddish, Hebrew and Italian.  He worked as a journalist. He joined the Zionist movement where he was a respected orator and writer. Due to the many Pogroms of the late 19th and early 20th centuries he formed a Jewish Defense Organization. He participated in the Sixth Zionist Congress in Basil in 1903 and after that became the leader of the right-wing Zionists. He was very active in Russia as a proponent of rights for the Jews.

Zeev Jabotinsky 1918. Unknown photographer. Machon jabotinsky in Israel, from Pikiwiki Site.

During World War 1 Jabotinsky established the Zion Mule Corps together with Trumpeldor. After the Zion Mule Corps was dismantled, he travelled to London to try to convince the British government to establish other Jewish regiments. Despite lack of support from other Jewish Zionists such as Weizmann and Ahad Ha’am, he and Trumpeldor were successful in bringing about the establishment of a Jewish regiment. Jabotinsky served in the British Army until 1919. He saw action in Palestine in 1918.

In 1920 he worked for the Zionist Organization and the Keren Hayesod. He left the mainstream Zionist movement due to disagreements with Chaim Weizmann and he established the “Alliance of Revisionist Zionists” and the youth movement “Beitar” which is the Hebrew acronym of “the League of Joseph Trumpeldor”. He believed in freedom of the press and a free market.  His ideas were different from those of Ben Gurion’s Labor party in that he believed in a strong middle class and felt that the new Jewish State should be established along those lines. Many of his supporters where in Eastern Europe.  The British refused to allow Jabotinsky back into the country after a trip to South Africa in 1930 and he continued his activism from abroad. He died in New York, while visiting a Beitar Camp in 1940 and he was buried there.

Jabotinsky In Acre prison. 1920. Unknown photographer. Machon Jabotinsky in Israel , from Pikiwiki site.
He foresaw the Holocaust and warned the Jews of Europe of this.  His ideas had a strong influence over Israeli politics.  He formed the Irgun, an underground Jewish militia which operated in Palestine before 1948. His party later became the Likud party. After Israel became a State Ben Gurion refused to allow his remains to be moved to Israel but this was overturned by Levi Eshkol and Jabotinsky is buried on Mt Herzl. His son, Eri, was a Knesset member between 1949 and 1951 in the opposition party.

Where was Pinchas Rutenberg’s part in all this?  For one thing he was only a couple of years older than Jabotinsky and Trumpeldor, born on February 5th, 1879. He was born Pyotr Rutenberg in Romney which was then part of the Russian Empire but today part of Ukraine.  This was the hometown of Chaim Arlozorov and several founders of Kibbutz Degania. He studied in the Technology Institute of St. Petersburg and while there joined the Socialist-Revolutionary Party. He participated in the revolution in Russia in 1905 and later again in 1917. He was a supporter of Krensky, the head of the provisional government and was jailed for this by the Bolsheviks. During world War 1 Rutenberg also had the idea to form a Jewish fighting force in order to free Palestine for the jews. To this end he travelled and visited heads of state and finally hooked up with Jabotinsky and Trumpeldor in their efforts in establishing a Jewish Legion.  He travelled to the US to garner support for this idea, there he was among the founders of the American Jewish Congress. Later he immigrated to Palestine and through his connections managed to gain concessions to set up electric power plants in Palestine. He founded the Palestine Electric Company which is today the Israeli Electric Company.

Electric Company in Tel Aviv. 1923-1930. Archives of the Israeli Electric Company from Pikiwiki site.
Rutenberg was a committed Zionist and participated in the establishment of the Hagenah. He founded Palestine Airways and served as the president of the Jewish National Council in Palestine. He endorsed the labor party “Po’aley Zion” and cooperated with Ben-Gurion and Yitzchak ben Zvi. He built the electrical power plants in Tel Aviv, Haifa, Tiberias and Naharayim. Later his company also supplied electricity to Jerusalem. In 1934 he attempted to mediate disputes between Jabotinsky and Ben Gurion. He built his house in Haifa but after contracting throat cancer he moved to Jerusalem to be nearer to the hospital. He died there in 1942.

Electric company, Haifa, 1925-1926. Israeli Electric Company, from Pikiwiki site.
Rutenberg was not a religious man. He took part in the Russian revolution. However, in his Last Will and Testament he asked to be buried on Mt. Olives in Jerusalem in accordance with Jewish burial practices and that his nephews say Kaddish for him. One of his last wishes was that the Jewish people stop the division of the nation into groups and political parties and realize that they are all brothers, and a united front is necessary to survive. By the time of his death World War ll was raging and the Nazis were deep in their genocide of the Jewish people which did not differentiate between different types of Jews. To this end he left his house in Haifa to be used in the education of Jewish youth.  I was one of those who spent a week there over 45 years ago as part of a program of my youth organization.

Here are three men. All of them Zionists. All of them individualists with highly developed political views.  All of them were active both abroad and in Palestine. They all agreed to collaborate together for the goal of establishing a Jewish State. None of them lived to see this dream fulfilled. What would they think today if they could see us now, fighting, cursing,  hating each other and destroying everything we and they worked so hard to build?

So, I ask you now.  Who does Israel belong to? Who are the lords and who are the serfs? Does it belong to the people who established the kibbutzim? Does it belong to the middle class city dwellers who built the Israeli cities that we know today? Does it belong to the pilots in the Israeli Air Force? Does it belong to the lawyers, judges and the academics? Does it belong to the students, whether in universities or in yeshivas? Does it belong to the high techies? Does it belong to the construction companies, factory workers and the government technocrats? Does it belong to the factory owners, to the doctors and nurses?  Does it belong to the journalists, the writers, artists, and musicians? Does it belong to the shop owners? Does it belong to the everyday people who get up in the morning and go to work, or to school or to their army posts?  These are people from all walks of Israeli life.  I ask you – who?

Perhaps this country belongs to us all, right or left, rich or poor, religious, or secular, Mizrachi or Ashkenazi, Vatikim or olim. So, let’s stop fighting and learn from these three great men. Let’s take a page out of all their books. Let’s cooperate, negotiate, and settle for the best deal we can all get. It might not be perfect but nothing in life is. Let’s not concentrate on destroying the other side. Let’s concentrate on cooperating together, because if we don’t all our sacrifices, together with the sacrifices of our forefathers will have been in vain and we will not have a country of our own to fight about.

If we are still around (after we destroy ourselves) to have a choice, where do we go then? To the pogroms of Eastern Europe, to the rising antisemitism of Western Europe, U.S.A, Canada, and Australia? Will we be welcomed in North Africa, Iran, India, or Turkey?  Will we be like the Jews in the “Voyage of the Dammed” sailing around looking for a country to give us a haven from tyranny? I hear that Portugal is the next easy destination for immigrants.  Will they let us in?

About the Author
Nicole is one of very few real estate lawyers in Israel who specializes in the restoration and preservation of historic buildings. For over thirty years, she has supported clients in Israel and abroad in complex real estate projects that include property transactions of all types; development and planning; investment and tax issues; and project management. Her expertise in historic restoration enables her to advise entrepreneurs and investors in all aspects of conservation and preservation, such as legislation, economic incentives, modern building preservation technologies, and legal processes and documentation. She has an LL. B from Bar Ilan University and passed the Israeli bar exam in 1983. In addition, she earned a B.A. in Conservation Studies from the Western Galilee College in Akko and an M.A. in Preservation and Development of Landscape and Cultural Assets from the Bar Ilan University.