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On the 40th Anniversary of Ya'acov Meridor’s memoir being published in English, it is being remembered as "Zionist History Book Of The Month"

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Ya’acov Meridor, MK, survived through five escapes from British prisons to become a founder of the Herut political party and a cabinet minister under both former Irgun colleagues Begin and Shamir. His memoir recounts his life as a freedom fighter for the creation of the Jewish State with Irgun

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Ya’acov Meridor begins his memoir of the nearly three year period of his life he spent in a British prison camp and elsewhere in East Africa with hundreds of other young Zionists with the words  “I was arrested at 3AM on the 13th of February, 1945.”

His book is titled Long Is The Road To Freedom: Chronicles of one of the Exiles. and was first published in a U.S. edition forty years later. Meridor died 25 years ago this summer and his remarkable book is worth recalling as is his amazing life.

But more than the tale and the man we should take the time to consider the overwhelming sacrifices that the women and men who comprised Israel’s founding generation took upon themselves and be inspired to do more for the Jewish People. Yaakov Viniarsky was born into a middle-class family in Poland in 1913. After hearing reports of the first Arab rebellion in Mandatory Palestine, he became a member of the Betar Movement in 1930 and studied law at the University of Warsaw before immigrating to Palestine in 1932.

Meridor was just 19 when he led over two dozen other young members of the Jabotinsky movement against the British blockade that was in place stopping European Jews from entering the Land of Israel. Once in Israel, he joined the Irgun underground army, as did hundreds of other recent immigrants. He rose quickly and became a part of the underground’s leadership.

The summer of 1940 left the Irgun reeling. The Nazis launched their North Africa Campaign in June and Ze’ev Jabotinsky died in August.

In  May 1941 Meridor agreed to accompany the commander of the Irgun, David Raziel, on a British army conceived commando sabotage mission to Iraq aimed at destroying a high value target, an aviation fuel depot near Baghdad. The operation was during the pro-Nazi Rashid Ali al-Gaylani coup that had led to what is remembered as the Anglo-Iraqi War. Raziel was killed in action. Subsequently, Meridor became the Irgun’s commander after he returned home.

When Menachem Begin arrived in the British Mandate in 1943 Meridor handed over his command to him. Meridor, however, did not leave the Irgun and continued as a member of its high command.

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In 1945 Meridor was captured by the British, at the time he was second-in-command of the Irgun. Begin depended on Meridor so thoroughly that he relates in his memoir The Revolt that when he learned of Meridor’s arrest he “thought the blow (to the Irgun) would be fatal.”

It is seldom remembered today that the British Mandate authorities sent over 430 Jews to prison camps in East Africa in an attempt to disable the Zionist revolt against them.

Meridor was one of the highest ranking prisoners and as such he personally led five escapes from the camps and spent 18 months at large.

His imprisonment and escape make up the bulk of Long Is The Road To Freedom and Meridor’s exploits rival –and at times surpass– those dramatized in the World War Two epic 1963 film The Great Escape.

Memorial plaque at Ya'akov Meridor house in Ramat Gan | Photo: Dr. Avishai Teicher

On January 14, 1947, Meridor and future Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Shamir escaped prison through a 200 foot long tunnel they had dug by hand. Later, they hid in an oil truck’s tank for three days as it was driven over the Djibouti border Eventually, Meridor made his way to France and it was there that he was granted political asylum.

Meridor arrived in Tel Aviv on a flight with other exiled top Irgun leaders. It was the first passenger flight to land in the new State of Israel.

He was at the center of the tragedy of the Altalena episode when Jewish forces attacked Irgun soldiers without provocation and killed many.

After Israel’s independence, Meridor turned to politics and alongside Begin founded the original Herut party. He won a seat in six out of the first 10 Knesset elections and eventually served as Israel’s Minister of Economics and Inter-Ministry Coordination when Begin was prime minister and most fittingly held the post under Shamir as well. He died in 1995 at the age of 81.

Yitshaq Ben-Ami, a leading Irgun member and the father of the founder of J Street, Jeremy Ben Ami, wrote about Meridor in his Irgun memoir Years of Wrath, Days of Glory. “Meridor was undoubtedly one of the most courageous men we ever had…” recalled Ben-Ami, and his record of service to the land of Israel remains a model for all Zionists.

Moshe Phillips is the national director of Herut North America’s U.S. section. More information is available at: www.herutna.org.

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

We thank you for your ongoing support.

Happy reading!

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