At the age of 95, Ezra Yachin travels every day from his home in the Beit Hanina neighborhood of Jerusalem, and gives lectures all over the country. In them he interweaves the story of his life together with the story of the Jewish settlement in the period before the establishment of the state. Often an invited person will prepare to speak in two or three places a day, and the listeners sit captivated by his words for 3 hours or more. “For 5 years I was in the abyss of death, my life was in danger dozens of times,” he says. “But on the day when shell fragments pierced my head, all I was interested in was knowing what happened to Jerusalem.”
“Slaughter of a Jew”
Yechin was born in the city of Jaffa in 1928, but already at the age of infancy he moved to Jerusalem. “We arrived during the events of 1979.” He opens. “When I was a one-and-a-half-year-old baby, rioters came to our house, which was at the edge of the Katmon neighborhood in Jerusalem. They were going to break down the door to slaughter us all. In those terrible moments, someone suddenly threw a large stone from one of the upper floors of the house, at the head of one of the rioters. He He fell wounded, and everyone who was with him panicked and fled the scene. Later, they came again – and this time to rob property, along with women and old men. But then we heard the voice of one of the women shouting – ‘This is a poor neighborhood, there is nothing to take from them, let’s move forward ‘, and again the crowd left the house. Since those events, we would hear my mother for years screaming her fears at night.”
From there the family moved to a house in the Mahane Yehuda neighborhood. “Many of my childhood friends were orphans,” describes Yachin. “The girl in the house across the street lived with her grandmother after her mother was murdered in Hebron, the children of another family lost both their parents there. Another friend followed his father in the Yamin Moshe neighborhood, and saw him slaughtered by an Arab. This was the reality in those days.”
Close to the age of 16, young Ezra could no longer bear the situation “The more difficult things I saw, the more I wanted to fight. I had heard about the Atzel and the Lahi, but they were operating underground, I didn’t know how to reach them. I was then working as a messenger in the mail, and I kept my eyes open to find someone who would connect me to them. Only 8 months later I was able to enter the organization’s ranks.”
8 months later, Yakin managed to enter the ranks of the organization, when his first position caused him severe disappointment. “By virtue of being a postman, I could enter the centers of British government without hindrance. I saw in my mind’s eye how I would plant bombs in these places and deal them a fatal blow. In practice, the heads of the organization knew that I was too young for such positions, and instead they asked me to copy letters addressed to the British, that passed through my hands. I didn’t realize how important this intelligence was, I expected that they would give me more things to do.”
When did the moment come when you joined the fighters?
“A few years later. I grew up, and a place became available for me among them. We set out to carry out various operations against the British. You have to understand that at that time Britain was an unshakable power. Colonies under its control were scattered all over the world. The war against the Germans also gave them the upper hand. The leadership in Israel did not look favorably on fighting them at the time, they preferred to keep them in power. Almost no one believed that such a power could be undermined, or undermined to establish an independent state.”
The Echelon and Lehi fighters, who tried to harm the British, were seen as criminals. “They called us the Stern gang (after Yair Stern, the founder of the Lahi), distributed leaflets against us, even planted spies among our ranks, who betrayed some of our people to the British and led to their deaths. By the way, in my childhood I also followed the crowd that thought so, but the British proved otherwise They sank ships with holocaust survivors, Odes sheltered from fire, who only asked for rest for their feet. When they asked Lord Moyne, a minister in the British government, to act to stop the extermination of Hungarian Jews, he said: ‘Why do I need another million Jews, where will we put them?’ ‘ In Israel, the mandate rule regularly sided with the Arab side, and often acted brutally against the Jewish residents. It was impossible to continue in this situation.”
Did your parents know about your activities in Lehi?
“I didn’t say anything to them, but they felt it. My mother really cried, she said to me: ‘You know it’s impossible against the English, they are strong and cruel.’ , but I knew I had to keep fighting.”
However, every time he went down the stairs of the house, Yachin was accompanied by his mother’s prayers. “She used to tell me in tears: ‘May you go in peace and return in peace, may God protect you and blind the eyes of your enemy.’
smile before death
Underground members caught by the British were sentenced to severe punishments. “Elijah Hakim and Elijah ben Tzuri assassinated Lord Moin, the same one who allowed the Hungarian Jews to be murdered, and were sentenced to be hanged. After their death, their executioner recounted their last moments. When he reached Eliyahu ben Tzuri, his hands were shaking. Ben-Tzuri then told him: ‘I know that you are only performing the role assigned to you. You are not guilty, tell me how I can help you.’ The most beautiful thing I’ve worn in my life.’
The martyrs Moshe Barzani and Meir Feinstein were also heard singing passionately just before their death. “They sang ‘Adon Olam’ together with the rabbi who came to tell them that they had been sentenced to the gallows. When the rabbi came out of their prison cell, the English soldier outside asked him if they knew about their sentence. The rabbi told him, ‘Yes, of course.’ ‘They sing because they know what they are going to give their lives for.’ The same soldier then answered him – ‘With such heroes you have defeated us.’ Everything”.
However, knowledge will also prepare for difficult and painful days in the underground. “What hurt me the most was the death of my good friend – Alexander Rubovich the 14th. He was captured by British commandos, and was tortured to death. At the age of 16 and a half they hit him on the head and cut his flesh, yet – he didn’t say a word. His burial place was never known, so his killers hid the severe acts of abuse. But in a moment of drunkenness, Roy Farran, the commando who caused his death, told about what happened. This story made it very clear to those living in Israel how useful it is to join forces with the English. Even those who thought differently from us began to sober up.”
Death before your eyes
In the course of his many actions, he saw death more than once in front of him. “On one occasion we tried to assassinate General Holmes Alexander McMillan, the commander of the British forces in the Land of Israel. We waited for him near a sharp turn on the Jerusalem Tel Aviv road, and planned to set off a large mine as soon as he slowed down his car. We knew what time he was supposed to pass by, but time passed and he didn’t We’ll see on the horizon. A few hours later we went out to check the reason for the delay, and saw to our astonishment that the British had discovered the mine.”
How did it happen?
“We didn’t know it at the time, but a defense fighter planted among our ranks gave them the information. We quickly realized that we had to escape. We hid our weapons and began to quickly descend the mountain. The English began to surround the area from all sides. We reached a street in the Kfar Shaul area and saw a group of soldiers in front of us , advancing with sniffing sniffer dogs. They all looked in the direction of the dogs, and paid no attention to us. The only place we could run away from was a path halfway between us and them. With no choice, we began to move towards them cautiously. Amazingly – none of them raised their heads At a distance of ten meters from them, we managed to turn into an alley and started an escape run to the center of the city.”
Another time, the fighters found themselves locked inside a building, waiting to die. “We thought of acting against the English from within this building, and again – following the tip-off, they started a search. We saw them through the window of the building passing house by house, and we knew that they would soon reach us. There wasn’t too much to do, just try to shoot them as soon as they discovered us, until we were hit by their fire. When they entered the building, we were already with our hand on the trigger, ready for action. We heard them enter the room next to us, shouting, turning things over, looking for hidden weapons caches. Then they reached the door of the room where we were – and stopped. We heard another soldier arrives and starts a conversation with them. Time went by, and the tension we were under was tremendous. I had time to see my whole life pass before my eyes, say goodbye to my family and say ‘Shema Israel’, and still – they were left standing outside. I wanted to end this whole story already, but they They didn’t go in. It was the last room they had left to search in, and just then, for an unknown reason, they turned back.”
On the night of the 29th of November, with the UN decision on the division of the country into Jews and Arabs, crowds went out to dance in the streets. “People were happy about the announcement that a Jewish state would be established, and we stood sad and shocked,” describes Yachin. “Perhaps since the sin of the calf, the Israelites have not danced around trees and stones as they did that day. The meaning of this unfortunate decision was to give the Arabs everything possible – the Galilee, Judea and Samaria, Jaffa, Lod, Ramla, Beer Sheva. And what did they leave us? A piece of Tel Aviv , and another finger in the Negev and a finger in the North. And the worst of all – Jerusalem was not supposed to be part of that Jewish state. The city to which the people of Israel swore ‘if I forget you’, and in front of it – crowds are dancing. The Lahi organization did not have a symbol at the time, and on that day it was created – A hand is raised in an oath, and under it are the words ‘If I forget you, Jerusalem, forget my right hand’.”
What led to the change in the situation?
“The Arabs. They were not ready for the partition plan, boycotted the UN committee and called for the extermination of the Jews. ‘Going to complete what Hitler did not complete’, that’s what they sang. Very quickly Jerusalem began to suffer heavy attacks. They had two shells, and they fired at the city houses with them.”
The residents of the bombed city went through a lot of suffering, but even in this reality, a great miracle was revealed. “Several decades earlier, the governor of Jerusalem, Ronald Storrs, came to Israel, and stood in awe of the city’s beauty. He established a law at the time, that houses in Jerusalem must only be built of stone. The Jews of the city found it difficult to bear the harsh decree. A stonemason had to hit a chisel with a hammer To straighten every stone and turn it into a brick for a building. Until such a stone was prepared, it was possible to build a large house in Tel Aviv. Until they built a house in Jerusalem, it was possible to build an entire colony in Sharon. But as soon as the shelling came, everyone saw the magnitude of the miracle. When a shell hits a stone wall , whoever is inside – lives, whereas if the city was built like the colonies, thousands of Jews would have been killed under the ruins of the houses.”
Faced with the difficult situation at that time, the Atzel, the Lahi, and the Hagana united for the first time. “About two months after the declaration of the state, it was decided to occupy the old city in a joint operation,” describes Yachin. “The moment we wished for and worked so hard for was about to come true. The excitement was at its peak, we felt like we were flying in the air.”
Just before they boarded the trucks that sent them to the battlefield, an exciting surprise awaited the soldiers. “Near our camp was an institution for orphaned children, Holocaust refugees. Children who went through years of terrible hardships and arrived in Israel alone. We were engrossed in the preparations, and we didn’t notice that they heard everything. Those children stood there and shouted at us, ‘Succeed! Succeed! Go in peace and return in peace !’ At that moment, a new insight sprouted inside me. If until then I thought I was fighting out of a connection to our past, out of thousands of years of sweeps to built Jerusalem, I suddenly realized that we are fighting for Jerusalem for future generations as well.”
Those days of fighting left their mark on Yachin’s flesh forever. “We took a position near the wall of a monastery near the wall,” he describes. “The enemy shells came closer and closer to us, and suddenly I felt a strong blow to my head. A stream of blood began to flow over my right eye. My body ached intensely, and I wanted to ask the medic for help. But then I heard someone say ‘Hey’ and I stopped myself. I knew I was seriously wounded, but I was afraid that One of the fighters is more seriously wounded than me. That’s why I waited to see what was happening, and only when I saw that no one got up, I turned to her.”
Yachin quickly heads straight to the hospital. “After the initial dressing, I was carried on a stretcher for a long way. Then I felt another blow to the head – another shell fragment entered and made a hole in my skull. When I arrived at the hospital, the doctor informed me that the head surgery was going to be without anesthesia. I was operated on for a whole day, when I In a state of full wakefulness, and during all this time brain fluid was oozing from my head. Around me I heard ‘bring me the tweezers’, ‘bring me the syringe’, and all I wanted to hear was if they had already broken into the city.”
Later, Shema will prepare Shaara. “Two sisters talked to each other, and from them I understood that the Israeli government chose a unilateral ceasefire, instead of occupying the Old City. All this while the Arabs continue fighting,” he says painfully. “The whole long operation did not bring down my spirit like this news. Since then, I waited for 19 years, until the Six Day War, in which the city returned to us.”
In that Jerusalem where he would prepare bread, he lives to this day. After the Six Day War, he established his residence in Beit HaSheva, a Jewish building in the middle of the Arab neighborhood of Beit Hanina.
Living in an Arab neighborhood, aren’t you afraid?
“Show me one place in the country that doesn’t have many Arabs. Besides, I was always at the front, I can’t be at the rear. To this day, it’s hard for me to see how the people of Israel adhere to a policy of humiliation, ready to hand over the bulk of the land – Judea and Samaria – to those who seek our help. I am the generation of the desert. What hurts me the most is the contempt for Jerusalem, the city that is the soul of our nation. If we only want, the situation in it can be completely different.”