Tel Aviv (Feb. 19)
– ### Mendelevich arrived in Israel last night to a joyous welcome from hundreds of singing, dancing, cheering people, including Cabinet ministers who come to Ben Gurion Airport to greet him. The former Prisoner of Conscience, the ### of the Jewish defendants at the 1970 Leningrad hijack trial to be freed, had spent 11 years in Soviet prisons and labor camps. His unexpected release this week electrified the nation.
Premier Menachem Begin hailed it as a great event for the Jewish people and Leon Dulzin, chairman of the World Zionist Organization and Jewish Agency Executives, called his arrival here “a festival for the Jewish people.” He said Mendelevich had “suffered as an Orthodox Jew and as a Zionist… He embodies the very essence of the Zionist struggle–not to surrender, and to triumph in the end.”
Absorption Minister David Levy was on hand at the airport to personally present Mendelevich with Immigrant Certificate No. I as he stepped off the El Al plane that brought him from Vienna. The certificate is the first of the new series now issued by the Absorption Ministry instead of the Jewish Agency as was the case in the past.
GREETS WELCOMERS IN HEBREW
The 33-year-old Orthodox Jew looked haggard from his long ordeal and the excitement attending his freedom. Speaking fluent Hebrew, he told the welcomers, “As you greet me, so I greet you who are here building up this country. May we all continue to observe the holy commandments enjoined on us by God.”
According to his sister, Rivka Dori of Gust Etzion who was at the airport to meet him, Mendelevich insisted on walking from Ben Gurion Airport to the Western Wall in Jerusalem–a distance of some 40 miles, mostly uphill. He said he had studied maps while in prison and thought the distance was not too great. But friends and relatives deterred him from undertaking that feat. He was persuaded to travel by car to the outskirts of the city and continued his pilgrimage from there on foot.
ELEMENTS IN MENDELEVICH’S RELEASE
The reasons why the Soviet authorities decided to release Mendelevich at this time–more than a year before he was due to complete his 12 year sentence–and allow him to leave for Israel remained a mystery. All Begin would say, in a radio appearance yesterday, was that the Israeli government received hints two days earlier that he might soon be freed. He would not explain where the hints came from or how the release was achieved.
Levy told reporters at the airport that many friendly governments, organizations and individuals had been active in attempting to obtain freedom for Mendelevich but that much work remained to be done to secure the release of other Jews imprisoned in the USSR.
According to reports from Vienna yesterday, the World Jewish Congress played an important role through its president, Edgar Bronfman, who has close personal contacts with the Soviet Ambassador in Washington, Anatoly Dobrynin.
Dulzin said Mendelevich’s release was one of a number of recent “signs” that give grounds to hope that Jewish migration from the Soviet Union this year would be “much higher than last year.” He said that while Israel could not read the Kremlin’s motives, the Jewish Agency’s assessments of these matters had proven fairly accurate in the past.
Dulzin said that a desire by the Soviets to improve relations with the new American Administration, the combined efforts of world Jewry with governments, international bodies and even Communist parties outside the USSR and the forthcoming Communist Party Congress in Moscow usually an occasion for amnesty, all contributed to the hope for an upswing in emigration figures.