Jabotinsky was born on October 17, 1880, as Vladimir into a middle-class Jewish family in the Russian city of Odessa. At the age of 18, he left Odessa to study law in Italy and Switzerland, where he also served as a foreign correspondent for several well-known Russian newspapers. His reports and articles were widely read and soon became recognized as one of the brilliant exponents of Russian journalism. All his reports and articles were signed with his literary pseudonym “Altalena.”
Ze’ev returned to Odessa in 1901 where he worked on the editorial staff of Odesskiya Novosti, but the pogrom against the Jews of Kishinev in 1903 spurred Jabotinsky to undertake Zionist activity. Though he admitted that he had “no inner contact with Judaism” and never “breathed the atmosphere of Jewish cultural tradition” during his youth, Jabotinsky took a leadership role in organizing self-defense units and fought for Jewish minority rights in Russia. He then traveled the length and breadth of Russia urging self-defense on the Jewish communities.
Elected as a delegate to the 6th Zionist Congress, Jabotinsky became fascinated by Zionist leader Theodor Herzl and though he voted against Herzl’s “Uganda Plan” for a Jewish national home, Ze’ev was totally taken by the fervor of Zionist activists. Over the next few years, Jabotinsky was active in spreading the Hebrew language and culture throughout Russia and soon became the foremost Zionist lecturer and journalist in the country.
Following the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Jabotinsky left for the war front as a newspaper correspondent with the Moscow liberal daily Russkiya Vedomosti. While in Alexandria, where thousands of Jewish deportees from Palestine were concentrated, he met Joseph Trumpeldor, and together they worked for the establishment of the Jewish Legion. Jabotinsky was not interested in the creation of an auxiliary unit, and, upon reaching London, took energetic steps until the final confirmation was received in August 1917 of the creation of the first Jewish Legion. Jabotinsky also served as a Lieutenant and participated in the assault of the Jordan River crossings in the campaign to free Eretz Israel (Palestine) from Turkish rule.
During Passover in 1920, Jabotinsky stood at the head of the Haganah in Jerusalem against Arab riots and was condemned by the British Mandatory Government to 15 years hard labor. Following the public outcry against the verdict, he received amnesty and was released from Acre prison.
After 1921, Jabotinsky served as a member of the Zionist Executive and was one of the founders of “Keren Hayesod.” After a series of policy disagreements on the direction of the Zionist Movement, he seceded and, in 1925, established the Union of Zionists-Revisionists (Hatzohar) which called for the immediate establishment of a Jewish State.
In 1923, the youth movement Betar (Brith Joseph Trumpeldor) was created. The new youth movement aimed at educating its members with a military and nationalistic spirit and Jabotinsky stood at its head. During the years 1928-1929, he resided in Palestine and edited the Hebrew daily Doar Hayom while, at the same time, undertaking increased political activity. In 1929, he left the country on a lecture tour after which the British administration denied him re-entry into the country. From then on, he lived in the Diaspora.
In 1935, after the Zionist Executive rejected his political program and refused to clearly define that “the aim of Zionism was the establishment of a Jewish state,” Jabotinsky decided to resign from the Zionist Movement. He founded the New Zionist Organization (N.Z.O) to conduct independent political activity for free immigration and the establishment of a Jewish State.
In 1937, the Irgun Tzvai Leumi (I.Z.L) became the military arm of the Jabotinsky movement and he became its commander. The three bodies headed by Jabotinsky, the New Zionist Organization (N.Z.O), the Betar youth movement, and the Irgun Tzvai Leumi (I.Z.L) were three extensions of the same movement. The New Zionist Organization was the political arm that maintained contacts with governments and other political factors, Betar educated the youth of the Diaspora for the liberation and building of Eretz Israel, and the Irgun Tzvai Leumi (I.Z.L) was the military arm that fought against the enemies of the Zionist enterprise. These bodies cooperated in the organization of Af Al Pi illegal immigration. Within this framework, more than 40 ships sailed from European ports bringing to Eretz Israel tens of thousands of illegal immigrants.
Throughout this period of intense political activity, Jabotinsky continued to write poetry, novels, short stories, and articles on politics, and social and economic problems. Among his literary creations, The Jewish Legion, Prelude to Delilah (Samson), and The Five served as an inspiration for Jews of the Diaspora.
Jabotinsky was fluent in many languages and translated into Hebrew some of the best-known classics of world literature.
On August 4, 1940, while visiting the Betar camp in New York, he suffered a heart attack and died. In his will, he requested that his remains be interred in Eretz Israel at the express order of the Hebrew Government of the Jewish State that shall arise. His will was fulfilled by Levi Eshkol, Israel’s third prime minister. In 1964, Jabotinsky’s remains and those of his wife Jeanne were reinterred on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem.
Photos: Public domain.