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Aaron Aharonson (1876-1919)

The Aaronsohns were a family of pioneers who immigrated to Eretz Yisrael from Romania in 1882. Their father, Ephraim Fischel, belonged to the founders of Zichron Yaakov and was a talented farmer. Six of his children survived: Aaron, Alexander, Sarah and Zvi, (who were born before the family left Romania), Shmuel and Rivra were the only ones born in Zichron Yaakov to survive.


Aaron was born in Bacau, Romania, in 1876 and was six when the family immigrated to Eretz Yisrael.

As an adult, Baron Rothschild's administrators sent him to Grignon in France, where he studied agriculture. In 1896, he took up the position of agricultural instructor in Metullah, but refused to accept the bureaucracy of the Rothschild administration and was dismissed.


After a short period spent in Anatolia, he returned to Zichron Yaakov and opened an agricultural laboratory. He took part in various exploratory studies in this area and neighboring countries, keeping extensive diaries and writing numerous reports on their flora.

The discovery of wild wheat by Aaron Aaronsohn in 1906 in Rosh Pinah caused a sensation in the botanical world. Aaronsohn thought that he had found the "mother" of all kinds of wheat, but triticum dicocoides, which he discovered growing wild, is probably the original strain that yielded emmer wheat. Emmer wheat, or triticum dicoccum, has been planted in Israel since ancient times and specimens have been found in excavations in Eretz Yisrael and in Egyptian tombs. 

This discovery and his articles in European journals gained him scientific acknowledgment and fame. In 1909, he went to the USA at the invitation of the American Ministry of Agriculture. With the support of American Jews, Aaronsohn founded an agricultural research station in Atlit, where he built a rich library, collected geological and botanical samples and inspected crops. He employed Arab workers and promoted their employment on Jewish farms. This led to a serious dispute with the Yishuv, whose Jewish laborers and teachers believed that they should cease to be dependent on Arab workers and guards.


At the outbreak of the First World War, Aaronsohn joined a small committee to help the residents of the war-torn country. In 1915, through his connections to the United States, he distributed American financial assistance in Eretz Yisrael.


One hot day between Purim and Passover of 1915, the desert wind from the east brought clouds of locusts into the country. Aaronsohn was assigned to fight the locusts in the Yishuv and Syria. The corruption he encountered during his work with the Ottoman authorities; the persecution of Jewish settlers and the Armenian massacre, convinced Aaronsohn that only liberation from the Ottoman yoke would bring progress for the Jewish settlements and the entire Yishuv.


With his assistant, Avshalom Feinberg, he organized a small group, which originally consisted of family members and friends, known as NILI. Their members informed British Headquarters in Egypt on Turkish army operations. In 1916, Aaronsohn reached the British Secret Service via Copenhagen to convince them of his plan. He was sent to Cairo to work for British Headquarters and also visited London. Between February and September 1917, he was charged with contacting British ships anchored at Atlit. He supplied information for the British forces and was instrumental in planning the British invasion of Palestine.


After the expulsion of the Jewish population from Yafo and Tel Aviv, Aaronsohn tried to draw the world's attention to the Jews' situation. His philanthropic organization also sent large amounts of money to the Yishuv which was suffering economic distress because of the war. The Yishuv accepted his financial assistance, but distanced itself from Aaronsohn's espionage.


In 1917, Chaim Weizmann sent Aaronsohn on a political campaign to the United States, where Aaronsohn heard that the Nili organization had been uncovered by the Ottoman authorities and learned of the tragic death of his sister Sarah.


In spring 1918, Aaronsohn returned to Palestine as a member of the Zionist Commission and was later a member the Jewish delegation to the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. On May 15th 1919, Aaronsohn was killed in an airplane crash over the English Channel.


Much of Aaronsohn's work was only published posthumously.

Aharon Aaronsohn's family is survived by the descendants of Zvi and Shmuel Aaronsohn.

Acknowledgement: With thanks to Zvi Ahronson and the Aharonson Family for additional information.


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