Former MK and father of settlement movement Elyakim Haetzni dies aged 96

German-born lawyer arrived in Israel in 1938 after Kristallnacht, settled in Kiryat Arba in 1972, helped found settlement umbrella group and served in Knesset for nationalist party

Former MK Elyakim Haetzni in his home in Kiryat Arba, near Hebron in the West Bank on September 11, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Elyakim Haetzni, a former lawmaker and one of the fathers of the settler movement, died Sunday at Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem, at the age of 96.

Haetzni, born Georg Bombach in Kiel, Germany in 1926, moved with his family to Mandatory Palestine in 1938 following the Kristallnacht Nazi pogroms.

After the Six Day War in 1967, he became an active supporter of Jewish settlement in the West Bank, moving to Kiryat Arba on the outskirts of Hebron in 1972 and serving as a founding member of the Yesha Council settlement umbrella group.

Haetzni is survived by his sister, four children and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. In a statement, his family mourned the loss of a “great man who has no equal, a fighter against corruption” and a father of the settler movement.

After his arrival in the country, Haetzni studied law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem while also serving as a member of the Haganah pre-state Zionist militia.

He left his home in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan for the settlement of Kiryat Arba in 1972, along with his wife Tzipora, who died in 2018. He established a legal office in the settlement, taking in both Jewish and Palestinian clients.

From 1990 to 1992, Haetzni served in the Knesset as part of the ultranationalist Tehiya party. After being sworn in, he immediately filed a no-confidence motion against then-prime minister Yitzhak Shamir (Likud), after the latter agreed to allow Palestinians deported from the West Bank to participate in US-brokered peace talks.

Portrait of Elyakim and Tzipora Haetzni at their home in Kiryat Arba, near Hebron in the West Bank, September 11, 2016 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Haetzni left the Yesha Council in 2005, angered by the organization’s opposition to the strategy of breaking into the Gush Katif settlement bloc in Gaza to protest Israel’s disengagement from the Strip and the eviction of all Jewish settlers there.

Haetzni’s death attracted grief from both lawmakers and settler leaders.

Opposition chief Benjamin Netanyahu expressed “deep sorrow,” with the former premier saying Haetzni’s “love of the Land of Israel will serve as an eternal honor of his memory.”

Defense Minister Benny Gantz said: “Haetzni was a man led and guided by his values. He passionately acted in accordance with his beliefs, and alongside that, he never forgot to be humane toward every human.”

Religious Zionism party chief Bezalel Smotrich called Haetzni “a man that lived and breathed Zionism” and acknowledged his role in the success of the settlement movement.

The Yesha Council praised its former member as a “pillar of the settlement movement in Judea and Samaria.”

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