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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Seeking Closure

Exactly 62 years ago today (according to the Hebrew Calendar), a 16 year old named Alexander Rubovitz was hanging posters near the Jerusalem intersection of Ushiskin and Keren Kayemet streets.  He had been tasked with this job by the Lehi (which along with the Etzel/Irgun, was one of two underground paramilitary Jewish groups) of which he was a member.

While engaged in this task, he was abducted and never seen again.

His abduction had been witnessed, and a hat found at the scene was linked to a British policeman (actually a soldier seconded to the Police) named Major Roy Farran.  Farran fled the country but was returned to face a military court martial connected with his role in the disappearance of Alexander Rubovitz.

Unfortunately, since the body was never found and no eye witness could positively identify him as having been at the scene of the abduction, Farran was acquitted due to lack of anything but the most circumstantial evidence.

Considering the lack of solid evidence in the case at the time, and the fact that Farran was a highly decorated WWII veteran, it is not particularly surprising that he was acquitted.  Add to that the fact that he was accused of having kidnapped a member of what the British considered a terrorist organization, and the outcome makes perfect sense.

After the acquittal, members of both the Etzel (Irgun) and Lehi (Stern Gang) plastered the country with posters holding Farran personally responsible for the abduction and murder of the 16 year old boy, and swore revenge against him.

An article that appeared in Time Magazine in 1947 paints Roy Farran in fairly glowing terms, and recounts how, shortly after his return to England, a package bomb intended for him was opened by his brother Rex, resulting in Rex's death.

According to Wikipedia, former MK Geula Cohen (who served in the Lehi) recounted having heard that a package bomb was addressed to 'R. Farran', and that they did not know at the time that he had a brother who shared his first initial. 

Roy Farren moved to Canada, served in the Police force there, and entered politics... ultimately rising to hold the position of Solicitor General until his retirement in 1979.  Throughout his life he refused to discuss the case of the abduction of Alexander Rubovitz, and he presumably remained on the assassination list of the Lehi until his death of natural causes in 2006.

Some 57 years after the abduction of Alexander Rubovitz, Israeli private investigator Steven Rambam of Pallorium Investigations released a Report containing evidence, interviews and previously classified British documents allegedly proving that a British "Q" team headed by Farran had abducted Rubowitz, and that Farran had personally "bashed in Rubowitz's head with a rock" and then disposed of the body with local assistance.  His body was allegedly buried in the desert between Jerusalem and Jericho, near what is today the Jewish town of Ma'aleh Adumim. [Source: Fay Greer, Jerusalem Post, March 17, 2009]

In a very well researched book entitled 'Major Farran's Hat', extremely compelling evidence is presented that leaves little doubt that Farran was involved in the abduction, and that he even delivered the fatal blow.  But since he is now dead (and considering the egregious fact of the botched assassination attempt that took the life of his blameless brother), I think it would be unproductive in the extreme to continue the pursuit of the case with the sole goal of proving Farran's guilt.

However, the body of a 16 year old boy named Alexander Rubovitz remains missing to this day, and his family, friends and former comrades deserve the closure that can only come with the discovery of his remains and his re-interment in a marked grave.

It may be a bit cynical of me to say, but I feel in my heart that if this young man had been a member of the Hagannah, the Israeli Defense Ministry's unit tasked with locating missing combatants (including pre-state paramilitary participants) would have long ago found him and laid his remains to rest on Mt. Herzl.

This afternoon at 4:00PM, a group of Lehi veterans will hold a memorial service at the site of the kidnapping – the corner of Ushiskin and Keren Kayemet streets in Jerusalem's Rechavia neighborhood.  I urge anyone who can, to attend and show their support.  [If you attend, please send me a photo so I can add it to this post.]

Anyone can argue that it was only through the efforts of the Hagannah... or of the Etzel... or of the Lehi... that the British were finally convinced to depart and hand the Mandate for Palestine to a world body empowered to approve the Partition Plan that would lead to our statehood.  But the truth is that all three acted in what they thought the best interest of the nascent Jewish state, and some combination of their efforts did eventually have the desired result.

Now is the time to find the remains of a boy who fought for Israel's Independence, and who certainly deserves to be interred among the heroes of the nation he helped to create.

Posted by David Bogner on May 10, 2009 | Permalink

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B"H

Interesting post.

I don't think you're being cynical at all in comments regarding the haganah.

Look at the Alta Lena incident.

Will there ever be any justice served there?

Posted by: Ben-Yehudah | May 10, 2009 5:43:36 PM

Facinating! I am extremely interested in Etzel and Lechi history and was unaware that this new book was released and just ordered a copy after reading your posting. Thanks for pointing it out.

Posted by: A Simple Jew | May 10, 2009 5:49:10 PM

Well said, David. And, I might add, the next-to-last paragraph is dead on. As much as I love The Revolt, by Menachem Begin, I couldn't bear to read the introduction in the new version by Moekie Katz. If you listen to Katz, you would think that David Ben-Gurion was the worst person in the history of the world, and that it was solely Menachem Begin that caused the founding of the State. (And, I would cringe equally at anyone who said the converse.)

Oh, and to Ben-Yehudah above, you are obviously aware that Menachem Begin forgave Ben-Gurion for the Altalena about 4 decades ago. It might be time you did the same.

Posted by: Yehuda | May 10, 2009 6:05:14 PM

Very interesting. I just added this to Haveil Havalim.

Posted by: Jack | May 10, 2009 7:00:13 PM

corner keren kayemet and ushiskin is just about where we will be staying in a few months time - i would have liked to be there today. certainly we will think of young Alexander Rubovitz as we walk past that corner this summer...thanks for posting this fascinating little known story - i am sure there are many more out there waiting to be told...

Posted by: Debbie | May 10, 2009 8:42:54 PM

Each of the groups contributed and without any one of them it might not have come together. But two things are essential in my view.
1. Begin prevented civil war and Ben Gurion was willing to risk it.
2. We were lucky we had Ben Gurion when it came to proclaiming the state in May 1948 or we might have been afraid to do it.
Two sides of the same coin.
see: http://isramom.blogspot.com/2009/04/anda-play-about-eichmann-trial.html

Posted by: Risa | May 11, 2009 1:37:42 AM

"We were lucky we had Ben Gurion when it came to proclaiming the state in May 1948 or we might have been afraid to do it."

Or we were lucky that Ben-Gurion was looking over his (right) shoulder at Begin, worrying that Etzel would beat him to the punch if he didn't declare first.

Posted by: Nachum Lamm | May 11, 2009 2:41:42 AM

Inasmuch as former Etzel chief Begin was PM for a while, as was former Lehi chief Shamir, I think there is blame to go around aplenty for the failure to find the remains of this martyr.

Posted by: jordan Hirsch | May 11, 2009 3:27:24 AM

great post. thanks for informing us about this unknown part (to me at least) of israeli history. i hope they find his body soon. as fewere contemproaries remain among the living, the chances become slimmer.

"a group of Lehi veterans will hold a memorial service at the site of the kidnapping"

the lehi was such a small group to begin with. how many veterans are still alive?

"It may be a bit cynical of me to say . . ."

what about all the likud governments (including the newest one)?

Posted by: Lion of Zion | May 11, 2009 5:50:19 AM

Ben-Yehudah... Doubtful.

A Simple Jew ... I'm looking forward to reading the whole thing.

Yehuda... actually, Begin never forgave Ben Gurion for the Altalena. Ben Gurion later came to understand that Begin was a good man and in '67 even went so far as to say that if he had known the man better in 47, history would have been different. My big problem is still with the IDF's commander on the Beach; Yitzhak Rabin, who was quoted shortly before his death saying that one of his proudest moments was ordering the IDF to open fire on the Altalena. May he rot in hell for such a sentiment. I certainly will never forgive him for saying such a thing.

Jack... Thanks.

Debbie... That's one of the amazing things about Jerusalem. Literally every inch is packed with echoes from the recent and ancient past.

Risa... If you read the transcripts and diary entries from that era it soon becomes apparent that Begin was under the impression that he had reached an agreement with Ben Gurion and that only the details had to be worked out once the ship landed. Ben Gurion decided to send his commander and issue an armed ultimatum in order to embarrass and discredit Begin in the eyes of the IDF. Ben Gurion complained about the problem of having the Irgun as 'an army within an army'... but he didn't disband the Palmach until nearly a half a year after this incident. Clearly some armies were acceptable within the IDF and others were not.

Nachum Lamm ... I hadn't heard that theory but it is an interesting point.

jordan Hirsch... As you are certainly aware, for much of the time that the Likud has held the Premiership, the Defense Ministry has been in the hands of other parties. True, the Likud could have set aside running the country and made this young man's remains a priority, but in the grand scheme of things, trying to keep coalition partners from bolting has had to be a higher priority for the Likud.

Lion of Zion... My responses to those above answer your questions.

Posted by: treppenwitz | May 11, 2009 11:56:58 AM

'Free Jerusalem', one of my most treasured possessions..:-)..someone should push some people to fund a geophysical survey of the deep natural wells and desert.

Posted by: Rami | May 11, 2009 3:01:50 PM

Interesting approach to it.
Farran was a major, not a simple policeman.
Don't forget the sezon, when Haganah handed Jews to the British. That predated the Altalena.

Just because Menachem Begin wasn't willing to make Ben Gurion and followers do their "cheshbon nefesh" for those evil things they did to fellow Jews, doesn't mean that he was right. Begin made many mistakes; don't forget that he gave the Sinai to Egypt and destroyed Jewish communities in the process.

Posted by: Batya | May 11, 2009 4:29:53 PM

I will try to raise this question (why not search for the hero's remains?) with Dani Danon, who is the right man (proud head of World Beitar) in the right place (recently elected MK, deputy Speaker of the Knesset) to pick up this gauntlet.

Also, anything that has anything to do with Maale Adumim catches my eye:-)

Posted by: Gidon Ariel | May 12, 2009 10:19:10 PM

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