JERUSALEM (Jun. 29)
The Government called drastic curfews and police clubs into play today to combat indignant demonstrations surging over Jewish Palestine as Shlomo Ben Josef died on the gallows for shooting at an Arab bus — the first Jew to be executed officially in hundreds of years of Palestine history.
City-wide curfew from seven p.m. to five a.m. was imposed on Tel Aviv, where police had dispersed two stormy demonstrations by firing into the air and beating twelve marchers, injuring one of them seriously. Eleven-hour curfew, beginning at seven p.m., was proclaimed in jerusalem.
Amid the unprecedented nation-wide tension, the 25-year-old Zionist-Revisionist stoically mounted the gallows in grim acre prison at eight o’clock this morning, wearing the blue-trimmed brown uniform of the Betar, or Brith Trumpeldor, militant Zionist youth organization, which was permitted him as a last request.
“I’ll die like a man and a Betar,” He had told visitors yesterday. “I’m proud to be the first victim for the Jewish nation and the Jewish people.”
The fortress prison, built by the Crusaders, was closely guarded during the execution. Troops and police barricaded all roads to the prison as the Polish-born youth stepped on the gallows. No rabbi attended him and no Jews were present in the death chamber.
The trap was sprung by an English executioner of concealed identity. When the youth, officially described as “prisoner 3118,” was pronounced dead, a black flag was hoisted over the prison, announcing the execution to a great crowd of Jews waiting in the heavily-guarded acre square.
Absence of a rabbi to administer the last rites was accounted for by the fact that today is Rosh Hodesh, the first day of the hebrew month. the authorities had refused an appeal by Chief Rabbi Isaac Herzog to postpone the execution. Last minute appeals by defense counsel, the chief rabbinate and representative Jewish organizations for retrial or commutation of sentence had likewise been rejected.
Official witnesses in the death chamber were the Assistant District Commissioner, the District Officer, the District Superintendent of Police, the prison superintendent, an Arab physician in the Health Department and the arresting officer.
At 9:15 a.m. Ben Josef’s body was turned over to six Betarim, his former comrades. With other friends and mourners banned, and under heavy military guard, the youths escorted the coffin to Rosh Pina, where funeral services were held this afternoon. Permission to conduct the services in Tel Aviv was refused.
Jewish Palestine, meanwhile, was seething with tension. As yesterday, general strikes were called in jerusalem, Haifa, Tel Aviv and other cities. jerusalem streets were thronged, many Jews carrying black flags of mourning, which the police beat down. in Tel Aviv, even banks, the Harbor Department and City Hall were closed, all municipal and Jewish organizational buildings displaying black flags.
The Jewish National Council and the chief rabbinate telephoned to Jewish communities throughout Palestine the following manifesto: “the entire Yishub (Jewish community) mourns the loss of a son of israel. Let us bear the pain quietly and with restraint suitable to the dignity of a people struggling for life.” a similar proclamation was issued by the Tel Aviv municipality.
Although the authorities had cautioned the Hebrew press not to say anything to increase the tension, editorial comment reflected the Jewish public’s deep feelings. The laborite Davar said: “hundreds of murders have gone unpunished. Hundreds of Jews have been killed and wounded because of the government’s impotence. A faulty system, therefore, is no justification for carrying out the verdict, adding to the blood of innocents that of Ben Josef.” The editorial concluded with a plea for self-restraint and resistance to provocation. The independent Haaretz warned the Jewish community not to lose its equilibrium “during this terrible unprecedented ordeal.”
Public emotion over the execution was stimulated still further by details concerning Ben Josef’s last hours and the unflinching manner in which he met death. A policeman guarding the youth was heard to declare: “I never saw such a strong guy.” Arab and British policemen outside the prison told bystanders that they had heard him singing in hebrew as he walked from the death chamber to the gallows.
In a letter to his mother in Poland, who had appealed vainly to the authorities for a stay in execution to permit her to say farewell in person, ben Josef wrote: “Be strong, forget your sorrow. Not every mother is honored by bearing a son who, in dying, gives an unimportant life for his people.” He also wrote a farewell letter to Vladimir Jabotinsky, Revisionist leader in London.
Meanwhile, seven persons were injured in Tiberias today when a Jewish wedding was bombed. In another quarter of Tiberias, an arab mob stoned Jews.