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  • Excerpts from The Gallows
  • Haïm Hazaz (bio)
    Translated by Atar Hadari (bio)

The Noose


They had both been sentenced and were due to meet their sentence by hanging. The heads of the Jewish Agency and National Council pleaded for clemency from one official body after another but got no response. The British army commander signed the warrant. Their nearest and dearest pleaded with them to beg the high commissioner for a pardon—but they refused. The more they badgered them, the more stubbornly they refused to ask. The end of the matter was clear from the beginning. From the beginning, they wouldn't recognize the occupying authority and its court, and in the end they wouldn't agree to plead with it for mercy.

They were both men with a record. Menachem Halperin was an Irgun man and Eliyahu Mizrachi one of the Stern Gang boys. Menachem was caught when the Irgun tried to blow up the Jerusalem train station, and he was wounded by the British militia and lost his left arm. As for Eliyahu, he got caught lying in wait for the Jerusalem regional commander with a grenade in his pocket during those two days when martial law was declared over Jerusalem. Each stood trial in his turn. Each paid no mind to the trial or its procedure and didn't think much about it at all. Didn't appoint counsel to argue his case or plead his own cause. Aside from Menachem's remarks before sentencing, blurted in the faces of the officers trying him:

"Officers of the occupying army! You want to impose a rule by gallows over our land, which was meant to be a light unto the nations and model to other countries. But do you think, in all your proud corruption, you'll be a match for us or break our spirits?" Etc., etc.

When his trial was concluded and the presiding judge pronounced [End Page 82] his sentence, "Till you be dead," he stood up and shouted:

"In blood and fire Judea fell, in blood and fire Judea will rise!"

And it was the same with Eliyahu, when he heard from his presiding judge the week before. "Till you be dead," he called out. "You won't scare us with hangings!"

They were returned straight away, each in turn, to the jail—manacled and dressed in the condemned man's crimson uniform.

It was just a few days before they were both locked up in the condemned cell and banged up together.

So they trod two paths and did two good deeds and were done for with one noose.


Eliyahu Mizrachi was a lad of twenty who looked sixteen, eighteen tops. Dark-skinned, level-headed, and to the point. He was short and thin and had the face of a man consumed by just one passion, which drove him on and to which he was devoted. He came of a poor Iraqi family with many children, the whole family barely making ends meet on what his father earned making amulets, telling fortunes, and "divining." Ever since he was a boy he'd been busy supporting the family and busily working, first at a carpenter's shop, then at a cobbler's, and finally in a fizzy-drinks factory. Whatever little bit of learning he had, he got in the religious school, a few evening classes, and what he'd picked up from friends in the Stern Gang. Menachem Halperin was different. He was Jerusalem born and bred and as a boy had studied in yeshiva. At thirteen he dropped out of yeshiva and made the move to secular studies. Barely two or three years later he went on to agricultural training in the kibbutz and made up the rest in the Irgun and the Jewish Brigade. Now he was in his twenty-fourth year. Bold and enthusiastic, with a stormy disposition and a mind like an open book, whatever he said was sharp. When he was glad, it shone in his eyes and when he laughed, it showed all of his teeth, and he looked like the world was his oyster.

Their different outlooks did not meld in prison...


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pp. 82-88
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