The acquittal by the Palestine appeals court of Abraham Stavsky on the charge of having murdered Dr. Chaim Arlosoroff, head of the political department of the Jewish Agency for Palestine and outstanding Laborite leader in Palestine, brings to a close a cause celebre which has stirred the Jewish world to its very foundations and caused great bitterness between various Zionist factions all over the world.
One June 16, 1933, late in the evening as Dr. and Mrs. Sima Arlosoroff were walking along the seashore near Tel Aviv, the thirty-five year old labor leader was shot and fatally wounded by two men who had been following the couple. One of the killers asked for the time in Hebrew and when Dr. Arlosoroff answered a light was flashed in his face and the second of the two shot twice at the Zionist leader. Several hours later Dr. Arlosoroff died in a Tel Aviv hospital.
A round-up of suspects followed by Palestine police. Several days after the murder Mrs. Arlosoroff selected the picture of Abraham Stavsky from a group of photographs shown her by the police declaring that he resembled the taller of the two men who took part in the murder of her husband.
Later, Zvi Rosenblatt, another young Revisionist Zionist, was identified by the widow of the murdered man as the second of the two killers. Aba Achimeier, leader of the Palestinian Revisionists, was arrested by the police and charged with having inspired the murder of Dr. Arlosoroff.
MEJID ENTERS CASE
A sensational turn in the case came when the defense learned that an Arab convict Abdul Mejid, held for another murder, had confessed to the murder of Dr. Arlosoroff, implicating his crony Issa Darwish. Placed on the stand, Abdul Mejid utterly denied his confession, stating that he confessed at the behest of Stavsky and Rosenblatt, who had urged him to do so and promised him Â£1,000 and assistance if he would shoulder the blame for the killing. Stavsky and Rosenblatt indignantly repudiated the confession and denied having anything to do with the convict save an exchange of greetings in the jail courtyard.
During the entire trial the defense hammered at the identification of Stavsky and Rosenblatt pointing to the faultiness of the identifications. Attorney Samuel insisted that his clients were innocent declaring that he would prove that Abdul Mejid and Issa Darwish killed Dr. Arlosoroff. He made a passionate summation declaring that the murder was non-political and demanding full exoneration for his clients.
On June 8, 1934, the court handed down its verdict. Stavsky was found guilty of the murder of Dr. Arlosoroff and sentenced to hang. Zvi Rosenblatt was acquitted.
“A majority of the court finds,” the text of the verdict declared, “that in Tel Aviv on the night of June 16 and 17, with premeditated intent to kill Stavsky did take part in the premeditated killing of Arlosoroff by following him, waiting for him, stopping him and directing an electric torch upon him and by being close during the commission of an offense contrary to the law.”
“The accused Stavsky will suffer death according to the law.”
“NOT GUILTY,” STAVSKY SHOUTS
As soon as the verdict was read Stavsky sprang to his feet with a shout: “I am not guilty.”
Stavsky’s mother who had come from Poland to be near her son during his trial burst into tears, shouting: “He is innocent! He is innocent!”
Given an opportunity to make a final statement to the court Stavsky declared: “I know nothing of the murder. I was sleeping during the murder at the Turgeman Hotel in Jerusalem.
“This is a provocation by the Jewish Labor party and the Palestine government against me. I am totally innocent.
“You judges will be responsible for my life and for the lives of my parents. Those who have sworn falsely here will have to bear a guilty conscience. I believe British justice in England will not teach how to sentence innocents.
“You have convicted here the honor of an entire nationâ€”not mineâ€”because I am innocent.”
Stavsky concluded his statement amidst a deep silence broken only by the sobbing of his mother. As police guards moved forward to remove him, his mother rushed and clung to him, sobbing hysterically. Police were able to separate her from her son only with the greatest of difficulty.
The verdict created a deep impression in Palestine and all over the Jewish world. The verdict was greeted with indignation everywhere.
A movement was set on foot immediately to secure a review of the case by the Palestine Appeals Court. Stavsky defense committees were at once formed in Palestine, Poland, the United States, Great Britain and in all centers of Jewish population. The venerable chief Rabbi of Palestine, Rabbi A. I. HaCohen Kook, headed the Palestine Stavsky defense committee.
On July 16, before a court composed of Chief Justice Sir Michael Francis Joseph McDonnell, and Justices Francis Howard Baker and Julian Mignon de Freitas, defense counsel Samuel began his argument hinged on the identification of Stavsky by prosecution witnesses and the fact that no corroborative evidence to support the identification of Stavsky by Mrs. Arlosoroff had been offered by the prosecution.
A sensation was added to the appeal when Dr. Eliash, Jewish attorney who is defending Abdul Mejid on a murder charge (Mejid and Issa Darwish are accused of having killed an Arab barber, Lufti), swore to an affidavit saying that Mejid had once more confessed that his friend Issa had killed Dr. Arlosoroff and that he had accompanied him on the night of the murder. Samuel asked the court to take cognizance of the confession, but the court refused, dismissing the confession as unreliable and incapable of affecting the case.