Joseph Lishansky’s flight, capture, and death show just how low political rivalry can sink | Yemima Hovav

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Unnlike most of Nili’s rank and file, Joseph Lishansky had a foot in both Labor Zionism and the bourgeois homesteaders’ camp. Born in 1890, Lishansky came to the Holy Land with his father in 1896 and was raised in Metulla. As a teenager, he tried joining Ha-shomer, the first Zionist home guard, based in the north and set up by Labor Zionist leader Israel Shohat. Despite several years as a watchman, Lishansky was never formally accepted into the organization. He had been accused (apparently falsely) of killing an Arab marauder, but ideology was no less a factor in his rejection, given that he was no socialist. In 1915 Lishansky established a rival organization, Ha-magen, to protect Jewish villages in the south. Ha-shomer never forgave him.

When the Turks finally rounded up Nili spies, Lishansky was captured by members of Ha-shomer, who decided to kill him and hand his body over to the Turks. The wounded Lishansky managed to escape but was caught by Arabs a few weeks later and turned over to the Ottoman authorities. Long rumored to have taken revenge on Ha-shomer by testifying against its henchmen to the Turks, Lishansky nonetheless kept mum about the money smuggled into Palestine on the Monegam, thus saving several Yishuv leaders, Meir Dizengoff included. Even so, Dizengoff refused to bribe the Turks in order to save Lishansky from the gallows.

Joseph Lishansky-

Joseph Lishansky

This wretched episode remained a festering sore in the relationship between Nili and the Yishuv leadership.