At the beginning of 1919, a young Yemeni worker came to a remote Jewish settlement of the former Ottoman Palestine – Saadia.
Saadia spoke Hebrew well, had a thick beard and wore side locks. He worked hard - one could feel the experience of working on plantations. However, two days later the Yemeni disappeared somewhere right in the middle of the working day. To everyone's horror, later he was found dead in the stable.
The last to talk to him was David, a soldier of the 40th battalion of the Jewish Legion who was passing through the colony. The battalion had just been withdrawn from Egypt the day before, and the soldiers recruited from local Jews were returning home.
The authorities’ representatives, who arrived at the scene, quickly established that Saadia, according to Turkish documents, passed as Abad El-Qadar, and did not come from Yemeni Jews at all, but from a local Muslim family. Until recently, he worked in Rishon LeZion. Soon, rumors spread throughout the country of the disappearance of Yemenis seeking employment in Jewish colonies. Moreover, all these cases surprisingly coincided with the appearance in those places of several British soldiers, whose commander was a stately young resident of Jaffa named David.
Having accidentally learned from an Arab friend that a provocation was being prepared against the Jews, David planned and successfully carried out his first operation to eliminate terrorists. Arab leaders came up with a cunning plan: the task of “Saadia” and his comrades was to infiltrate the ranks of the Jewish colonists under the guise of “Yemeni brothers”, to obtain information on the number of weapons and fighters and to hand them over to the police. With the arrests of young men, it would be easier to attack Jewish colonies.
Soon the identity of “David from Jaffa”, the spy killer, was revealed. David Tidhar (at that time - Todrasovich) and his family were well known in Palestine. From an early age it became clear that a boy could not become a Torah sage. But Tidhar's main passion was football. In 1913 he became the initiator and player of the Maccabi Tel Aviv football team. Young footballers needed a rival, and David found a way out: instead of fights, he invited the local Arabs to compete in the sports arena.
At the peak of the First World War, in January 1915, when the governor of Jaffa Hasan-Bek demanded a contribution from the representatives of the Jewish Yishuv to buy a new plane for the Turkish army, David Tidhar was one of the organizers of charity sports competitions. Members of Maccabi fought in track and field disciplines and football with soldiers of the Turkish army. From the side of the Turks, the co-organizer of the event was a young Turkish officer Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Lieutenant Colonel Kemal Pasha had a friendship with Tidhar and once asked the Maccabi players to teach their officers the British ball game outlandish for the Turks. A large crowd came to the competition, which lasted eight days in a row, generously donating money. They were transferred to the Turkish authorities for the purchase of the aircraft.
But, in spite of the loyalty of his subjects, Hasan-Bek did not stop and ordered the confiscation of all the available weapons of the Jews. Another danger loomed over Yishuv: the Arabs, having learned about the actions of the Turkish governor, prepared to attack the defenseless Tel Aviv. Then David Tidhar went with his friend Meir Rotberg, one of the founders of the Haganah, to Jerusalem for weapons. The daredevils brought two baskets with “arguments” on a regular passenger train “Jerusalem-Jaffa”, cleverly leaving the patrol.
Soon, residents of the Jewish quarters of Jaffa were completely evicted from their homes and deported to the north of the country. As a member of the Jaffa Refugee Committee, Tidhar tried in every possible way to help his neighbors, but as a Turkish citizen, in 1917 he was drafted into the Ottoman army.
By expelling foreigners from Palestine and constantly oppressing even those Jews who were honored to wear "tarbush" (that is, had citizenship of the Ottoman Empire), Hasan-Bek ensured that British soldiers were greeted as liberators. David also welcomed the arrival of the British.
In mid-November 1917, the young man returned with British troops to Jaffa, where he was appointed on the recommendation of the future mayor of Tel Aviv, Meir Dizengoff, as a censor of British intelligence under the command of Captain Wally, a scion of the Montefiori family. Speaking several languages, Tidhar checked the correspondence and publications of the local press for classified information. Appreciating his courage and knowledge of the area, the British began to entrust him much more important tasks. Several times he crossed the front line between Petah Tikva and Jaffa to the location of the Turkish army, where he observed the enemy and collected operational data for the British.
In November 1917 was published a letter from the British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour to Lord Rothschild, in which he promised to create a Jewish national home in Palestine. Jewish communities around the world welcomed this decision and began forming armed forces to defend their future Jewish home. Already on February 2, 1918, the first Jewish battalion marched along the main streets of London with bayonets attached, and on Passover in Tel Aviv, the registration of local volunteers began.
David Tidhar became one of the first fighters of the 40th battalion of the royal riflemen of the British army, with which he soon left to fight in Egypt. Returning in early 1919 from Cairo, the young man continued to contribute to strengthening the security of the Jewish quarters of Tel Aviv.
The young veteran of the Jewish Legion and the head of local self-defense impressed even the chief secretary of the High Commissioner of Palestine, Brigadier General Wyndham Deedes. David sent him several letters with the results of his own investigation, which revealed that Arab conspirators were actively smuggling weapons through the port of Jaffa. The letters included a list of 13 suspects.
In December 1921, David Tidhar was officially invited to serve in the British Mandate Police. After completing a course at a special school on Mount Scopus, he was appointed an officer of the investigation department in Jaffa, and two weeks later he was transferred to Jerusalem, where he immediately became the chief of police of the new city.
During 4 years of service outside the Old City, Tidhar developed a new literary talent. He recounted his fascinating experience as a law enforcement officer in his book Criminals and Crimes in the Land of Israel, the first publication of its kind in Eretz Israel.
Having married in late 1924, Tidhar continued to strengthen security in Jerusalem until he quarreled with the British for various reasons. In the spring of 1926, he resigned from the police and opened a very outlandish enterprise for the Middle East – the country's first private detective agency, the Private Detective and Information Bureau.
The venture turned out to be very successful, but his adherence to principles did not allow David to stay away from the discrimination of his colleagues by the British police leadership. It all started when the British placed Jewish police officers under the command of British sergeants. In an article on the pages of the weekly Haishuv, Tidhar asked the question: if the British government distinguishes between its subjects on a national basis, why not assign a purebred British sergeant to the chief inspector of police Arthur Mavrogordato, whose father is Greek and mother is English?
A lawsuit loomed on the horizon. Reasonably fearing revenge on the part of Mavrogordato, Tidhar in 1927 was forced to close his detective bureau for an indefinite time and, leaving his young wife and little daughter in his homeland, flee to Cairo. In Egypt, he quickly got a job in the local police as a censor of correspondence in Yiddish and Hebrew.
In his spare time, David took part in the activities of the local Jewish club, taught everyone Hebrew and even forged connections between Egyptian athletes and their colleagues from the Jewish Yishuv. But this was only the visible side of his Egyptian period.
Tidhar closely observed the actions of the Syrian-Palestinian Congress and especially the famous Arab leader Abdurrahman Shahbender, who was preparing an uprising in the territory of the Mandate.
During the Palestinian riots in August 1929, Tidhar proposed his plan for a settlement to the leadership of the mandate police, but did not receive a response from the British.
Tidhar remained in Egypt until the end of 1931. All the articles published during his stay in Cairo, he published as a separate book entitled “Between a rock and a hard place”.
Back in Tel Aviv, Tidhar resumed his private investigations, not forgetting about social work and assistance to the Jewish community, often in a very original way. So, from frequent business trips to Cairo, the detective always came with a new woman. He remained faithful to his wife until the grave, but under the guise of his “beloved” he managed to illegally bring into Eretz Yisrael a dozen Jewish women who did not have an entry visa.
The detective had an abundance of exciting stories from practice. The popularity of detective literature in the world was gaining momentum. And a new turn took place in Tidhar's life: he became a real Jewish Sherlock Holmes. The idea came to the head of journalist Shlomo Ben Israel (Gelfer).
Ben-Israel decided to create a market for detective literature in Hebrew, starting with a series of small books available. The main character of the series was supposed to be a character from real life. It was a rather original idea, although not entirely new - in the West, a similar technique was used. He planned to find in Eretz-Israel a character that could show the heroism of the “sabras” – the indigenous inhabitants of the country.
Tidhar, who is fond of literature, enthusiastically responded to the journalist's proposal. Together they began to publish “Ha-balash” (“Detective”) – a series of short exciting detective stories. A total of 28 books were published, the texts of which were written by Ben-Israel – partly based on similar Western publications, but with a local flavor, partly based on real cases from the police and private detective practice of Tidhar.
Tidhar is portrayed in these stories as an almighty detective who, together with his assistants, solves tricky mysteries that the helpless representatives of the British police cannot cope with. And all this is happening in mandated Palestine, in Tel Aviv and Haifa, on the streets well known to readers.
Very quickly, such popularity began to burden. David agreed that he would cease to be the “face of the series”, as readers besieged his office every day and prevented him from doing serious business.
And there were really a lot of serious cases. Throughout the 1930s, Tidhar's services were needed during the search for terrorists of Sheikh Izz al-Din al-Qassam's Black Hand organization in Haifa, the investigation of the mysterious murder of engineer Yakov Zwinger and the head of the Political Directorate of the Jewish Agency, Haim Arlozorov.
During the events of April 19, 1936, Tidhar personally transported Jews who remained in Jaffa in Arab houses to Tel Aviv. Dashing around the city during gunfights and attacks, he saved dozens of lives.
All this time, Tidhar also kept in touch with Eliyahu Golomb of the Haganah, and also helped Lehi and Irgun by providing them with information of interest to them about the British police. But Tidhar's aid to Jewish militant organizations was exposed, he was arrested, and his entire archive confiscated. However, searches and checks of the archive gave nothing to the British, and after a while Tidhar was released.
Paying close attention to the security of Eretz Israel and its inhabitants, initiating and supporting a huge number of public initiatives, among which the organization of the first Maccabiad, participation in the development of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art and the construction of the Jabotinsky House, negotiations with Arab leaders and assistance to Jewish military organizations (which included the children of Tidhar), the detective never forgot his main passion – literature.
From 1946 until his death, he edited and published the “Encyclopedia of Yishuv Pioneers and Its Builders: People and Photo Portraits”. For 24 years he managed to prepare materials on the history of the old and new Yishuv in 19 volumes, containing 5816 pages with data on more than 6000 people. To collect materials, Tidhar compiled and sent out thousands of questionnaires, which, at his request, were filled out by the characters of interest to him or their descendants. Often, however, it was necessary to conduct whole detective investigations. Sometimes – to incriminate people in providing false information, or, conversely, to pull out unknown “modest heroes” into the light.
Thanks to Turo College and the Tidhar family, his fundamental “Encyclopedia” was digitized and made available to readers on the Internet.
In 1963, he published his memoirs “In the Service of the Fatherland: 1912-1960. Memories, Personalities, Documents and Photos”, in which he talked about his 48-year-old social work. Three years later, in 1966, Tidhar published a book dedicated to the Israeli Masonic lodge Barkai, of which he had been a member since 1926.
A true son of his people, brave and talented, he was not only the hero and builder of Eretz Israel, but also one of the brightest chroniclers of the restored Jewish statehood.
On Tuesday, December 15, 1970, at the age of 73, the legendary David Tidhar died in Tel Aviv and was buried in the Kiryat Shaul cemetery.
1897 – 1970