Palmach and the IDF 2018-02-19T22:11:56+00:00

The Making of an Army

The Palmach (strike forces)

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The Palmach, the strike forces, headed by Yigal Alon and Yitzhak Sadeh, was the elite fighting force of the Haganah. The Palmach was established in 1941 while World War II was waging and there was the threat that German forces would conquer the Land of Israel from the south. In June 1941, Palmach fighters served as guides for the British forces that entered Syria. With the advance of the German army in North Africa, from Libya to Egypt and the fear that the Germans might conquer the Land of Israel, the British army helped train and equip six Palmach companies so they would be able to fight the Germans. The cooperation between the British and the Palmach ended at the end of 1942 and from then until the establishment of the State of Israel, the Palmach functioned as an underground army. In order to survive, the members of the organization had to work and train. They lived in camps and kibbutzes, working half the month and training the rest of the month.
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When World War II ended, the Palmach joined the Haganah’s struggle against the British Mandate. Its people played an important role in the illegal immigration and sailing ships carrying the immigrants to the Land of Israel. With the outbreak of the War of Independence, Palmach forces took part in the defense of isolated settlements and fought to enable freedom of movement of the Jewish Yishuv on the roads of the land. Later, with the establishment of the State of Israel, Palmach soldiers participated in the struggle against Arab terror and in the military preparation before the invasion of Arab armies.
On November 7, 1948,the Palmach command was disbanded by order of Prime Minister David Ben Gurion and its brigades became IDF brigades.

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The Black Sabbath

On Shabbat, June 29, 1946, the British carried out an unprecedented extensive military and political operation against the Hebrew Yishuv in the Land of Israel. It was in response to the Yishuv’s struggle and revolt against the decrees of the White Paper.

Tens of thousands of British soldiers set out on their operation at dawn on Shabbat. Policemen and secret police surrounded tens of settlements, cities and villages and imposed a harsh curfew. Thousands of men and women were put in enclosed camps and thousands of others were arrested and sent to detention camps in Latrun and Rafiah. The British broke into Yishuv institutions, including Jewish Agency offices in Jerusalem, the Workers’ Committee of the Histadrut Haklalit Shel Haovdim in Tel Aviv and many others. They conducted thorough searches of the premises, causing extensive damage. Tens of agricultural settlements were attacked and searches for arms and security forces were conducted. The British were met with opposition and killed seven farmers and wounded many. In Kibbutz Yagur, the British uncovered a large cache of Haganah weapons, but in most places, nothing was found. The Black Sabbath was one of the most extensive and harshest operations carried out by the British forces against the Hebrew Yishuv. After the Black Sabbath, when many members of the Haganah and the Palmach were arrested, the Palmach stopped its armed struggle against the British. Its struggle for independence and free immigration took on a different form and concentrated on settlements and illegal immigration.

Palmach and the IDF

A United Official Army

The year 1947 saw the beginning of the formation of the IDF – the Israel Defense Forces, which was built on the basis of the military organizations: The Haganah (Palmach), The Lehi and the Etzel. David Ben Gurion took a very clear and sharp official position: The State has one army and all the underground organizations that functioned as military organizations would be disbanded and would become part of the IDF. Soldiers were equipped with weapons. Gahal soldiers (new immigrants from Europe and North Africa) and Mahal soldiers (volunteers who came from abroad) were integrated into the IDF. The new immigrants received basic military training either abroad or in Israel and immediately joined the fighting forces. Arms, ammunition, planes and tanks were supplied to the young army and a code of ethics, by which the army would fight, began to be formulated.

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Israeli soldiers lighting candles, Chanuka, 2015

Making an Army

The IDF had its start in 1948, at the height of the War of Independence. On May 25, 1948, the IDF was established by a decision of the temporary government of the State of Israel, and its soldiers pledged allegiance to the newly-formed state. With the establishment of the IDF, the Palmach brigades and the field corps, the military units of the Haganah, became IDF brigades. Etzel and Lehi units were disbanded and their forces were divided among different IDF units. At first, the IDF experienced difficulties as it had to adapt from an army of volunteers, characterized by guerrilla warfare to a regular army, with uniforms and ceremonies, a rigid chain of command and structured warfare.
The IDF’s military doctrine, in principle, is based on deterrence and defeating the enemy. The IDF aspires to deter the enemy from starting a war, and to soundly defeat the enemy if a war breaks out. In keeping with this doctrine, the IDF builds its forces, arms them and trains them. From the very beginning, the IDF tried to function according to a moral code, purity of arms. It tries to instill in its soldiers knowledge of the battles it fought, the IDF heritage, and a love of Israel.
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The IDF is an army of the people and it reflects the prevailing mood of the country and the country’s characteristics.
Service in the IDF has significance which differs from service in the armies of many other countries in the world. It plays an important role in absorbing and integrating new immigrants, making them part of the people of Israel.

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