Writer Netiva Ben Yehuda Is Born
Netiva pictured with Israeli literary icon Dahn Ben-Amotz. Photo: Palmach Archive

July 26, 1928

Netiva Ben Yehuda, a Palmach member, early Israeli feminist, acclaimed writer and media personality, is born in Tel Aviv to a father from Lithuania and a mother from Ukraine. She has two younger sisters.

In 1947, Ben Yehuda joins the Haganah’s elite Palmach, which defends Jews in the Yishuv and smuggles in thousands of immigrants from Europe against British law. She fights in the War of Independence and becomes an officer in the Israel Defense Forces.

Much of her public fighting, however, occurs over the Hebrew language. As a freelance editor, she advocates the written use of the spoken language and the funny, inventive slang from her Palmach days. She and fellow Palmach veteran Dahn Ben Amotz publish the irreverent “The World Dictionary of Hebrew Slang” in 1972. Ben Yehuda returns to her military experiences and between 1981 and 1991 publishes her Palmach trilogy: “1948: Between the Calendars”; “Through the Binding Ropes”; and “When the War Broke Out.” The trilogy is neither fiction nor history, she says, but a “worm’s-eye view” of the traumatic experiences of a woman on the front lines. She presents a story that de-mythologizes the heroic narrative of Israel’s founding and exposes the sexism of the Palmach. She also shows remorse about the way natives of the Land of Israel treated the new immigrants who joined the fight for independence.

Ben Yehuda serves as an editor of the Encyclopedia Hebraica and as a spokeswoman for the Labor Ministry. In 1996 she begins hosting a weekly late-night talk show. Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski names Ben Yehuda a Yakir Yerushalayim, a worthy citizen of Jerusalem, in 2004.

Ben Yehuda dies at age 82 in 2011.