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Israeli Independence War hero pardoned by President Bush

1948 ‘Gunrunner’ for Israel pardoned posthumously by Bush.

Among the twenty presidential pardons announced on Dec. 22nd, was one of significant distinction. In 1949, an American citizen, a Irish Protestant, defied the U.S. Neutrality Act and took actions which directly aided the emerging Jewish state of Israel in its war of independence.

President Bush has pardoned a man who broke the law by providing planes and weapons to Jews fighting for the fledgling state of Israel in its 1948 War of Independence.

Charles Winters, an Irish Protestant who died in 1984 in Miami and was buried in Israel, served eighteen months in prison for violating the US Neutrality Act by helping deliver three converted B-17 Flying Fortress bombers to the Jewish homeland. He piloted one of the planes himself. The three planes became the first heavy bombers of the Israel Air Force.

Two of Winters’ colleagues, Herman Greenspun and Al Schwimmer, were pardoned in 1961 and 2000, respectively.

The posthumous pardon of Winters, who was commended in 1961 by Prime Minister Golda Meir for his contributions to Israel, came after a lengthy campaign by his son, Jimmy. Jimmy Winters said of his father, “I’m overwhelmed. It happened sixteen years before I was born. He went to jail and he didn’t want his kids to know. He was old-school and proud.” He only became aware of his father’s famous past after seeing an outpouring of gratitude from the Jewish community upon his father’s death in 1984.

The fledging Israeli army was not allowed to arm by the British government, which had ruled Palestine until Israel’s independence in 1948. Nor did the United States allow the sale of weapons to Israel or other Middle East countries. The U.S. Army rejected Mr. Winters for service during the Second World War due to a limp left by polio. Winters, nevertheless, worked during the war as a government purchasing agent — a profession he would put in practice in helping Israel in 1948.

Al Schwimmer, a flight engineer who led American efforts to aid Israel’s military, recruited Winters, then 38, to procure three planes for Schwimmer’s group. Winter’s motives remains a mystery, even to his friends and family.

One friend and fellow bomber pilot, Sy Cohen, write in an obituary in the Miami Herald, “To the Jewish people in Palestine, this deed that he did was phenomenal. Why should an Irishman from Boston do such a thing?” Hollywood film director Steven Spielberg was one of the many people who wrote to President Bush asking for a presidential pardon for Winters.

“There are probably many unsung heroes of America and of Israel, but Charlie Winters is surely one of them,” Spielberg stated.

Charles Winters was among nineteen people granted pardons by President Bush in honor of the 2008 winter holiday season. A twentieth person had his prison sentence commuted.

In related news, Tel Aviv chief rabbi Yisrael Lau has asked President Bush to pardon Jonathan Pollard, who has spent twenty-one years imprisoned for spying for Israel.

Source: www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1049403.html


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