The IDF (Israeli Defense Force), was born in the heat of the Israeli War of Independence. As the brand new state was declared and the country came under attack, the Israeli government created its official fighting force from three separate, pre-state para-military units (each with its own political ideology), the Haganah, Irgun and Lechi.

The history of each of these organizations is fascinating in its own right. In honor of this year’s Yom Ha’zikaron (Day of Remembrance), however, Jewish Treats presents the history of the Palmach, the specialized fighting force within the Haganah.

In 1941, the British worried that the Germans would attack their Middle Eastern holdings. Since the first line of defense was the British Mandate in Palestine, the British therefore agreed to support a Jewish military unit, which was organized by the (then underground) Haganah military organization. The Palmach, which is an acronym for Plugat Mahatz, “Strike Force,” was given the ulterior mission of protecting the Jewish settlements from Arab attack if the British were to retreat from the territory.

When the British determined that the Palmach was no longer necessary, they ordered it disbanded. Instead, the Palmach went underground. Without British support, however, it was impossible to pay the soldiers of the Palmach. The units were therefore stationed on different kibbutzim. In addition to their training, the Palmachnicks spent 14 days of each month earning their keep working the farms.

After 1945, as the British mandate became unfriendly to the Jewish settlement, the Palmach assisted in bringing Jewish refugees from the Holocaust on illegal transports and attacking British installations that were impeding Jewish settlement.

Although the Palmach was integrated into the greater IDF in 1948, it was a noted crack force during the 1948 war. In the course of the war, over 1,100 members of the Palmach were killed in action.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

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