Sunday, January 6, 2013

Killing Meir Tobianski

Running a country necessitates difficult decisions. Even in peaceful countries, someone has to make allocations of funds which impact the lives of citizens. In countries at war, leaders must make direct decisions about life and death. Setting up a country, and especially in the midst of war, calls for hard men (and women) who are capable of very hard decisions. Founders of nations will often turn out not to have been the kind of person you'd invite over for tea.

Yet there are degres of hardness. Today's document deals with a small group of hard men who were present at the founding of Israel, indeed, played significant roles in its early years, yet who were too hard, too ruthless, and who crossed lines which shouldn't have been crossed. These were Issar Beeri, Avraham Kraemer (Kidron), Binyamin Gibli, and David Karon. Together, the four of them killed Meir Tobianski on June 30, 1948, as told in today's chilling document.

Meir Tobianski was born in Kovna (now Kaunas) in 1904, and came to Mandatory Palestine in 1925. For most of his adult life, he was affiliated with the Hagana, mostly concurrently with civilian jobs. In 1947, he began working as an engineer in the Jerusalem electricity company. Once the war started he commanded various bases in the Jerusalem area. On June 29, he and his troops swore allegience to the just-created IDF. The next day he traveled down to Tel Aviv on errands.

While in Tel Aviv he was accosted by some officers who summoned him to an urgent meeting. They took him to a building up the road back to Jerusalem and interrogated him, accusing him of transfering sensitive information to the enemy. He admitted giving some information to British colleagues in the electricity company. At this stage, his interrogators declared themselves a military court, sentenced him to death, and had him shot. All on the same day. His body was dumped in a nearby hole. His wife was told his fate only a few days later.

The document drawn up after the event described who Tobianski was, what he admitted, who was on the court, the verdict, the report of execution, and the signatures of the judges, if judges they were, all on one page.

Issar Beeri was tried and discharged from the IDF in February 1949, for the killing of an Arab Israeli called Ali Kassem who had been a Haganah informer suspected of being a double agent. When, a few months later, the newly appointed Attorney General, Yaacov Shimshon Shapira, insisted he be tried for the unlawful killing of Tobianski, there was some resistance since he had already been discharged. Shapira insisted, in an important case demonstrating the supremacy of the rule of law, and Beeri was convicted. He was sentenced to one day in jail but pardoned that same evening by the president. In 1950, he was called to testify in the trial of Paul Kollek (Teddy Kollek's brother) in the case of yet another unlawful wartime killing, of IZL activist Yedidia Segal in 1948. In spite of his crucial achievements in the creation of a military intelligence branch duirng the War of Independance, his violence seems to have ended his career. He died in 1958, age 57.

Beeri's three subordinate officers, who had served as the judges and signed the document, fared better. They were not tried, as it was accepted they had been following Beeri's orders, had assumed they had the authority, and had been convinced of Tobianski's treason.

Avraham Kraemer changed his name to Kidron, and eventually rose to become the General Director of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. David Karon worked for the Mossad, spending years in Teheran. Binyamin Gibli remained in the IDF and rose to become a Colonel in an army which at the time had only two higher ranks; among other positions he was the head of Military Intelligence in the 1950s, where he was probably involved in the 1954 attempt to provoke American and British anger at Egypt by attacking their installations there.

Meir Tobianski was entirely exonerated in 1949. Here is his page on the official website of fallen IDF soldiers. He is buried in the military cemetary on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem.

1 comment:

  1. This pales before the Altalena, for which no one paid any price.