Aaronsohn, Aaron

(1876–1919)
   Head of Nili spy group in Palestine. Aaronsohn was brought to Palestine from Romania at the age of six and grew up in Zichron Ya’akov, which his father helped to found. He was later joined by his sister Sarah.
   Trained in France as an agricultural expert, he discovered an important strain of wild wheat in the Galilee, ran an experimental station at Athlit, and headed an anti-locust drive for the Turkish government.
   During World War I the yishuvsuffered from economic stagnation, and harsh Turkish rule. Aaronsohn formed an espionage group to assist the British forces concentrated in Egypt. It was called Nili. Aaronsohn made his way through Europe to London, got into touch with British intelligence, and was sent to Cairo. Two members of the group, trying to get to him across the Sinai desert in Arab dress, were attacked by Bedouin at El-Arish. One of them, Avshalom Feinberg, was killed; the other, Yosef Lishansky, was wounded but got away and reached Cairo.
   In 1917, Lishansky and Sarah Aaronsohn were sent to Palestine with Ј2,000 in gold coins. At about the same time one of their carrier pigeons with an important message was intercepted by the Turks. They began to search for subversives. The yishuv leadership disassoci-ated itself from all anti-government activities. Sarah had meanwhile ordered the Nili members to disperse but she herself, in order not to arouse suspicion, remained in Zichron Ya’akov. There she was arrested in October and tortured for four days. She revealed nothing and finally succeeded in shooting herself.
   In 1918, Aaronsohn was sent by Dr WEIZMANN to the United States to arouse support for the Zionist cause. He participated in the Zionist delegation to the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 and later that year was killed in an air crash.

Who’s Who in Jewish History after the period of the Old Testament. . 2012.

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