Pinhas Rutenberg : biography
Pinhas Rutenberg (February 5, 1879 – January 3, 1942; , Pyotr Moiseyevich Rutenberg; ) was a Russian-born Zionist, businessman, and Jewish Nationalist in Mandatory Palestine. He played an active role in two Russian revolutions, in 1905 and 1917. During World War I, he was among the founders of the Jewish Legion and of the American Jewish Congress. Later, through his connections in the British Mandate of Palestine, he managed to obtained a concession for production and distribution of electric power and founded the Palestine Electric Company, currently the Israel Electric Corporation. A vocal and committed Jewish Nationalist, Rutenberg also participated in establishing the Haganah, the main Jewish militia in pre-war Palestine. He subsequently served as a President of the Jewish National Council.
In a couple of months, Petrograd Soviet, headed by Leon Trotsky, became an alternative power in the capital, hostile with the Duma. It was clear that the Soviet were planning to overthrow the government. On November 3, Rutenberg became a member of the emergency Supreme Council, created by Kerensky to preserve the order and the justice. During the assault of the Winter Palace on November 7, the night of the October Revolution, Rutenberg defended the government residence after Kerensky had escaped. When the Bolsheviks prevailed, he was arrested and put to jail, together with the "capitalist ministers".
In March 1918, when German troops approached Petrograd, the Bolsheviks released Rutenberg, among many other prisoners. He moved to Moscow, the new capital, and took a position in the cooperative movement. However, after the unsuccessful attempt upon Lenin's life by Fanny Kaplan in August 1918, the "Red Terror" against Esers was launched. Rutenberg escaped from Moscow and soon left Russia forever.
In 1919, Rutenberg appeared in Paris and joined other Zionist leaders, preparing propositions for the Treaty of Versailles. Promoting the electrification plan, he received financial support from Baron Edmond James de Rothschild and his son James A. de Rothschild and, finally, settled in Palestine to realize it.
However, his first contribution after arrival was establishing, together with Jabotinsky, the Jewish self-defense militia, the Haganah. Rutenberg was the chief officer of these troops in Tel Aviv during the Arab hostilities in 1921.
He participated in the demarcation of the British Mandate of Palestine's northern border, defining British and French areas of interest.
In 1923, Rutenberg founded the Palestine Electric Company, Ltd. (later, the Israel Electric Corporation, Ltd.) Following initial difficulties in launching the project, he sought and received support from then Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill. Rutenberg invited influential British politics, Lord Herbert Samuel and Lord Reading, as well as Hugo Hirst, the Director of The General Electric Company, to be members of his Corporation Council.
The formidable achievement of Rutenberg was the hydroelectric power station at Naharayim on the Jordan River, which opened in 1930, and earned him the nickname "The Old Man of Naharayim". Other power plants were built in Tel Aviv, Haifa, Tiberias which supplied all of Palestine. Jerusalem was the only part of the British Mandate of Palestine not supplied by Rutenberg's plants. The concession for Jerusalem was granted by the Ottoman Empire to Greek Euripides Mavromatis. After Palestine was conquered by British forces, Mavromatis resisted Palestine Electric Company's attempts of building a power station that would serve Jerusalem. Only in 1942, when his British-Jerusalem Electric Corporation failed to supply the demands of the city, did the Mandatory government ask the Palestine Electric Company to take over the responsibility for supplying electricity to Jerusalem.
Rutenberg died in 1942 in Jerusalem. A large modern power station near Ashkelon is named after him. Additionally, a street in Ramat Gan is named in his honor.
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