Migdal (tower going up)
The Palmach was formed to be the first standing army of the Haganah -- an elite force, able to provide force when necessary.
Against the background of a possible German invasion of Palestine on May 16, 1941, the Palmach was created to establish an elite ready reserve for the Haganah. The Palmach consisted of full time soldiers, who worked 14 days per month on kibbutzim, and trained for another 10 days. Between 1941 and 1943, there was close cooperation between the Palmach and the British, with the British using Palmach units for behind-the-lines assaults in Vichy-dominated Lebanon and Syria. By 1943, as the Axis threat receded, the British began to fear that the Palmach might become a threat to their continued rule in Palestine, and they therefore began to make unsuccessful attempts to suppress the Palmach. From late 1945 to mid-1946, the Palmach worked together with the Irgun in attempting to undermine British rule in Palestine. From 1946 until 1947, the Palmach concentrated on helping to facilitate Jewish emigration to Palestine. When the War of Independence began, the Palmach was the only ready standing army available to repel the Arab attack.
The Palmach fought valiantly during the war, but sustained heavy casualties. At the end of the war, Ben Gurion dissolved the independent structure of the Palmach, and merged it into the IDF.
The Palmach was established by the Haganah High Command on 14 May 1941. Its aim was to defend the Palestinian Jewish community against two potential threats. Firstly the occupation of Palestine by the Axis in the event of their victory over the British in North Africa. Secondly, if the British army were to retreat from Palestine, Jewish settlements might come under attack from the Arab population. Yitzhak Sadeh was named as Palmach commander.  Initially the group consisted of around one hundred men. In the early summer of 1941 the British military authorities agreed to joint operations against Vichy French forces in Lebanon and Syria. The first action was a sabotage mission (Operation BOATSWAIN) against oil installations at Tripoli, Lebanon.  Twenty-three Palmach members and a British liaison officer set out by sea but were never heard of again.  On 8 June mixed squads of Palmach and Australians began operating in Lebanon and Syria. The success of these operations led the British GHQ to fund a sabotage training camp for three hundred men at Mishmar HaEmek. Since the Palmach consisted of unpaid volunteers, the funding was used to cover the needs of twice that number of men.  When the British ordered the dismantling of Palmach after the Allied victory at the Second Battle of El Alamein in 1942, the organization went underground.
Since British funding had stopped, Yitzhak Tabenkin, head of the kibbutz union HaKibbutz HaMeuhad, suggested the Palmach could be self-funding by having its members work in the kibbutzim. Each kibbutz would host a Palmach platoon and supply them with food, homes and resources. In return the platoon would safeguard the kibbutz and carry out work such as agricultural work.  The proposal was accepted in August 1942, when it was also decided that each month Palmach members would have eight training days, 14 work days and seven days off. The program of combined military training, agricultural work and Zionist education was called "Hach'shara Meguyeset" הכשרה מגויסת (meaning "Drafted/Recruited Training"). Later, Zionist youth movements offered members aged of 18 an opportunity to join core groups (gar'in) for agricultural settlement that became the basis for the Nahal.
Basic training included physical fitness, small arms, mêlée and KAPAP, basic marine training, topography, first aid and squad operations. Most of the Palmach members received advanced training in one or more of the following areas: sabotage and explosives, reconnaissance, sniping, communications and radio, light and medium machine guns, and operating 2-inch and 3-inch mortars. Platoon training included long marches, combined live-fire drills with artillery support and machine guns and mortars.
The Palmach put great emphasis on training independent and broadminded field commanders who would take the initiative and set an example for their troops. It trained squad commanders and company commanders. The major commanders training course was in the Palmach and many Haganah commanders were sent to be trained in the Palmach. The Palmach commanders' course was the source for many field commanders, who were the backbone of Haganah and, later, the Israel Defense Forces.
The tragedy and triumph of the Palmach, on the 75th anniversary of its founding
This week, as we do every year, we remembered May 15 as the anniversary of the establishment of the State of Israel (per the Gregorian calendar). May 15 should also be remembered for another important event on that day in 1941: The Haganah formed nine Plugot Mahatz — loosely translated, “strike companies” — that would comprise full time recruits under arms at all times, to be known by the acronym “Palmach.”
A few days later, while the Palmach existed only on paper, the Haganah lost 23 of its best fighters during an attempted raid on Vichy French military targets in Lebanon. Many of the fallen were slated for leadership positions in the new force. Thus, the Palmach’s first commander, the legendary Yitzchak Sadeh, heart-broken over the loss of so many young men he had nurtured and trained personally, chose new commanders to act as his deputies: Moshe Dayan and Yigal Allon.
The Palmach’s first mission was reconnaissance, supporting British operations against pro-Nazi, Vichy-controlled Lebanon. During this campaign, Moshe Dayan became the first battle casualty of the Palmach when he lost his eye in combat.
True to its socialist orientation the Palmach recruited women as well as men, some who served in combat. Although it had a command structure, all “comrades,” as they called themselves, lived and worked together. Distinctions based on rank were minimal compared to regular armies. Nevertheless, Sadeh and Allon, succeeded in molding the Palmach into a nimble and highly effective guerrilla army.
The Palmach led the struggle against British rule. It carried out a series of spectacular raids, culminating with “The Night of the Bridges” during which Palmach commandos destroyed bridges linking Palestine to its neighbors. Palmach operatives likewise helped smuggle Jewish refugees over land and sea. Unlike the right-wing underground militias also fighting the British, the Palmach tried to avoid harming British personnel, inflicting only a handful of British casualties in their operations.
In 1947, Britain announced it would quit Palestine in 1948. On November 29, 1947, the UN General Assembly proposed to partition Palestine into a Jewish and Arab state. The Arab side rejected the proposal and on the very next day, Israel’s War of Independence began, when Arab armed gangs attacked Jewish targets across Palestine. While the Haganah scrambled to convert it’s large militia into a full time fighting force, only the Palmach was ready to immediately to resist Arab aggression and provide security to beleaguered Jewish villages and transportation lines. When the Jewish side went over to the offensive in March, 1948, Palmach units spearheaded the attacks on Arab strongholds and strategic positions.
On May 15,1948, seven years to the day from when the Palmach came into existence, the State of Israel declared its independence and several Arab regular armies invaded the country. For the first month of the war, the most dangerous in Israel’s history, Palmach units bore the brunt on all fronts, fighting desperately with nothing but light arms against mechanized units, artillery and aircraft. Palmach units stopped the Lebanese army in the north, helped stop the Syrians in the east, blunted the Egyptian thrust northward towards Tel Aviv and fought pitched battles against the superior, British-led Arab Legion in and around Jerusalem.
During the first of three truces, the Israel Defense forces (IDF), established on May 26, 1948, began the daunting task of organizing from the disparate underground military organizations into a cohesive, modern army. The Palmach would soon cease to exist on paper, but when the fighting resumed, Palmach units continued to operate independently and would do so until the end of the war with great valor and success. A famous picture shows the Palmach’s Avraham “Bren” Adan raising a home-made Israeli flag over what would become Eilat as the last act of the war.
Adan, Allon, Dayan and future Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin were just a few of well-known Palmach veterans who would go one to be key leaders in the IDF and the government. So many Palmach veterans became leaders in the ‘60s and ‘70s that it is almost easier to recount who did not have service time in the Palmach. Such is its legacy and one that should be honored in at this time of its auspicious anniversary.
Israeli Martial Arts – A Look Into History
Google the term Israeli martial arts and you get over 1.7 million pages.
A quick glance at the Wikipedia entry will reveal two short lines listing two names, Kapap and Krav Maga as Israeli Martial Arts. Although there are several other names used for Israeli Martial Arts, these two are the most well known, and they captivate the imaginations of millions of people around the world.
A discussion of what constitutes an Israeli martial art would easily provide the bases for an article, but it will not be the subject of this article. Instead we will discuss the many misconceptions regarding Israeli martial arts and its origins.
Misconceptions regarding the origins of Israeli Martial Arts abound. Given the copy paste culture created by the internet and the scope of coverage of both Krav Maga and Kapap, this is not surprising. A quick glance across the web will supply ample evidence confirming this statement.
So much of this web information affirms and reaffirms information about Israeli Martial Arts, but this affirmation and reaffirmation does not make the information true. In martial arts styles, oral tradition plays a significant role in the history of the arts. We all know that oral tradition is not necessarily reliable historically. As an example, researchers found that within decades documented oral traditions of lineages in African tribes had significantly changed, altering perceptions, relationships and historical facts. The same holds true in the world of martial arts, both in the east and in the west.
For this reason, it is of paramount importance that we look at the historical unfolding of events as accurately as possible, recognizing the various stages of development of Israeli Martial Arts and attributing specific innovations, changes and adjustments to those responsible for the process.
For the purpose of this article we will concentrate on pivotal pieces of information commonly disseminated, their place in Israeli martial arts history, and the informations relationship to what some call the new “upstart” Kapap.
Following are a few links to web information about Israeli Martial Arts from different organizations. The information tells the same basic story, with only slight variations.
All of these “histories” condense Israeli Martial Arts history and in so doing they distort history, creating misleading impressions of the historical events they describe. Some of the “histories” are simply ignorant of real history, others omit important facts that don’t fit the story they are trying to tell.
For the sake of this article we have chosen to focus on a pivotal moment in Israeli history, the transition of the Jewish community into statehood and the formation of its military, the IDF.
Let’s look at one example of these “histories” as they are presented on both private and organizational web sites and analyze what they are telling us.
In 1948 the State of Israel is formed and the fledgling Israeli government asked Imi to develop an effective system of self defense and fighting, which later became the Krav Maga system. The Haganah was eventually incorporated into the Israeli Defense Force, and Imi became the Chief Instructor for the military school for Physical Training and Krav Maga.
What is being said?
In 1948 a state is formed called Israel, it has a government and the government commissioned a person to develop an effective system of self defense. This system later became Krav Maga. The Hagana was eventually incorporated into the IDF. Imi became the chief instructor for the military school for Physical Training and Krav Maga.
What is being implied?
Upon the inception of the state of Israel in 1948 a government was formed. This government was directly involved in micro managing the military and therefore commissioned a man named Imi Lichtenfeld to develop a self defense system to replace the ineffective unnamed systems used up until that point. The system was developed and at a later stage was called Krav Maga. A military school for Physical Training and Krav Maga was formed and Imi became the chief instructor of this school.
Please note the lack of mention of dates in the process. This allows the condensing of time periods and allows the switching of the order of events.
At this point we must stop and ask, are these statements and their implied meanings true and accurate?
The answer is no, they are not accurate. A government was indeed formed but was not involved in micro managing the military and therefore it is unlikely that individuals within the government would ask someone to develop a self defense system.
This system was supposedly developed for military use, as there was no other purpose at the time. Military hand to hand combat is not about self defense and this sort of language is conceptually wrong. The reference to this self defense system also implies that whatever system was being used at the time was ineffective. The omission of Kapap is convenient and thus no conflict is created regarding its existence prior to Krav Maga.
The chronology of events or lack of correct chronology also poses problems. The proper order of events should be as follows:
- founding of the state of Israel
- formation of the military on the foundation of the Hagana forces
- formation of a school for physical training
- formation of a Krav Maga branch within that school
- appointment of Imi as chief of the Krav Maga branch
To critically analyze the events and properly organize them, two elements were necessary. The first, knowledge of historical events in their chronological order and second, a familiarity with the biographical background of the person about whom this information is being delivered.
To be fair to the authors of this paragraph they did provide background information on Imi regarding the years preceding the events describe. We omitted them so we could keep this article to a reasonable size. It would have been just as revealing to dissect the preceding paragraphs. Sadly, we would find them to be rife with the same kind of mistakes and distortions.
Following are historical dates, and to find the answers we are looking for, we need to compare these dates to Imi’s personal biography.
A general time line:
- In 1920 the Hagana is formed as a civilian militia whose charter is to protect the Jewish community in mandatory Palestine. From this moment, and even before, there is a constant exploration of hand to hand combat and training methodologies.
- In January 1941, hand to hand combat disciplines such as boxing, knife fighting, stick fighting and jujutsu are taught separately with guiding principles and uniform methodologies under the name Kapap. The first Hagana Kapap instructor’s course takes place. The courses chief instructors are: Maishel Horowitz, Menashe Harel, Gershon Kofler, Yitzhak Shtibel.
- In May 1941 the Palmach is formed jointly with the British military mandate forces. Shortly after its formation, the Palmach goes underground and becomes the Hagana’s standing military force besides its militia forces.
- In May 1941 Maishel Horowitz is brought to the Palmach to teach his stick fighting method as part of the first Kapap instructor’s course for the Palmach. Moshe Pinkel Zohar is appointed chief instructor of physical training in the Palmach and remains in this position until 1948 when the Palmach is incorporated into the IDF where Moshe Pinkel Zohar continues to fill this position.
- On November 29 the UN General Assembly passes Resolution 181 which is a Partition Plan for Palestine, a two state solution. As a result of this and the rejection of the plan by the Arab leadership, civil war broke out between both communities in Palestine.
- In May 1948 the state of Israel is formed. The Arab states respond with a military invasion of the state of Israel, turning the conflict into a full blown war. Within two weeks of the declaration of Israel’s independence the IDF (a conscript army) is formed, integrating the three Jewish underground organizations Hagana, Palmach (Palmach was part of the Hagan and not an independent organization. It was the Hagans standing army) and Etzel and Lehi into one military body.
- In May and June 1948 the service for physical training (Sherut Leimun Gufany) in the IDF is formed and the head of the service is Moshe Pinkel Zohar. Within the service a school for physical training is formed and its chief officer is Mairon Avramson.
- In June 1949 the service for physical training is decommissioned and replaced by the branch of physical training. The school and its staff all continue in their same capacities only as part of the branch.
- In September 1948 the first documented use of the term Krav Maga is used interchangeably with Kapap. The first instance shows up in the documents of an officer named Amos Golani, whose job is to supervise the physical training in the combat field units.
- 1954 the terms Kapap and Krav Maga are still used interchangeably in official documents.
Imi’s corresponding biographical time line”
- In 1920 Imi is 10 years old and living in Bratislava.
- In 1939 Imi is head of a Jewish self defense group in Bratislava. At this time he has experience as an accomplished sports wrestler and boxer and knows jujitsu.
- In 1940 Imi leaves for Israel.
- In 1941 he is in active duty in Czech Legion under the command of the British military and he serves for a year in Egypt, Libya and Syria.
- In 1942 Imi arrives in Israel, and upon the recommendation of former comrades of his self defense group is conscripted into the Palmach.
- Between 1942-1948 Imi functions as a Kapap instructor teaching knife, jujutsu and boxing according to the Palmach curriculum.
- In 1948, with the integration of the Palmach into the IDF and the formation of the school for physical training Imi is commissioned as one of the eleven instructors on staff at the school.
- Sometime between 1956 and 1958, Imi becomes the chief instructor of physical training and perhaps the head of a new branch formed, the Krav Maga branch. It is yet undetermined when this branch was formed, it is however known to have existed as early as 1958. Documentation confirming earlier dates has yet to be found. Review of documents from the period 1956-1958 is still pending. No witness accounts have been found to confirm any earlier dates.
- In 1963 Imi retires from the IDF and opens his civilian Krav Maga club in Netanya.
- The task at hand is to marry both timelines and then compare them to the condensed narrative presented on the websites quoted in this article.
A short narrative describing the integrated timelines:
In 1948 the IDF was formed and the forces of the Palmach were incorporated into it. As a result, Imi Lichtenfeld, a talented Kapap instructor, was commissioned alongside his fellow instructors and officers to keep teaching and training soldiers in the hand to hand fighting disciplines known at the time as Kapap. Imi was in active duty as a hand to hand and physical training instructor in the IDF for 15 years. During those 15 years he was part of the process of developing the hand to hand combat disciplines in the IDF. Imi rose in rank and responsibility until in the last five years he headed the newly formed Krav Maga branch in the IDF. This period seems to be the time frame during which Krav Maga began transitioning into an “integrated system” made up of Kapap’s structure group of hand to hand combat skills and using Kapap’s guiding principles.
What do we deduce from this timeline compared to the popular narratives cited?
There was no commissioning of any persons to develop a system, but a known group of people are responsible for a recognizable process of evolving the existing system, adjusting it to the times and organizations using it.
There was no unnamed ineffective system to replace, but rather the known system of Kapap, its disciplines, principles and methodologies were used as the foundation.
There was no head position and no branch for Imi to be the head of until a much later period of time.
As it turns out Kapap was the precursor of Krav Maga. Krav Maga, at its outset, was simply a new version of Kapap. Even though Krav Maga has sprouted many different civilian versions, one can still recognize the roots of Krav Maga as reflected in historical Kapap. Modern Kapap, on the other hand, can be recognized as being true to the approach and philosophy of Kapap but not based on its physical attributes.
When we are willing to reexamine what we believe to be the story of Krav Maga and Israeli Martial Arts, then we will be able to appreciate the contributions of all those figures, such as Imi Lichtenfeld, who helped develop Israeli Martial Arts.
We have looked at the unfolding of historical events around the development of Israeli Martial arts as accurately as is possible at this time. We recognize the various stages of it’s development and therefore we can attribute changes and adjustments to all those who played a role in the process of developing Israeli Martial Arts. In light of historical facts, we see Imi for who he was, a pivotal figure in the transition from Kapap to Krav Maga and he is the originator of civilian Krav Maga.
1941 The PALMACH FORMED - History
The Palmach (Hebrew acronym for Plugoth Mahatz = Shock Companies) was first formed in 1941 by the Haganah (the secret army of the Jewish Agency) to help defend Palestine against possible invasion by Axis forces. It took the form of a popular militia, composed of men prepared to defend their home town or village. In 1945 a Flying Platoon was established with eight Palmach members who had previously gained their pilot's licences with Aviron, (which was also owned by the Jewish Agency). the historical seed of the Hagana pre-state "air force". The unit borrowed aircraft from Aviron as required. During 1947 there was a rapid increase in tension between the Jewish and Arab populations and also with the British security forces. As a consequence, the unit was tasked with conducting many supply and communications flights to Haganah forces in the Negev region, and also the reconnaissance of possible targets and strategic points. The Platoon was superseded by the formation of the Sherut Avir (Air Service) in November 1947, and the establishment of the Tel Aviv Squadron.
THE HAKHSHAROT HA-MEGUYASSOT
When the Hakhsharot ha-Meguyassot joined the Palmah in 1943, the proportion of women rose from ten to approximately thirty percent and a completely new non-selective sector was introduced, who joined not as “individuals” but as a group, not necessarily out of a desire to serve in the Palmah but simply because this was the result of their decision to join a hakhsharah. Their impact on women’s status and duties proved considerable.
While Ha-Mahanot ha- female/sing. individual(s) who immigrates to Israel, i.e., "makes aliyah. " Olim youth movement was the first to discuss joining the Palmah, the first movement to do so was the No’ar Oved, four groups of which joined between March and July, 1943. Their entrance into this elite Palmah framework was not a success the young women, in particular, were distressed by their inferior status. In 1943 the Palmah approved the proposal of the A voluntary collective community, mainly agricultural, in which there is no private wealth and which is responsible for all the needs of its members and their families. Kibbutz ha-Meuhad leadership to accept each hakhsharah in its entirety as a group composed of both men and women, without removing anyone or adding other recruits.
Composed of equal numbers of men and women, these groups posed a problem for the Palmah, which preferred a ratio of one-third women to two-thirds men in its companies. Nevertheless, the Palmah acceded to the demands of the hakhsharot and the predominant element in the memoirs of the hakhsharah women is that of the life “together,” the common background of the youth movement. What was most significant for them was precisely this joint recruitment as a hakhsharah, rather than their joining the Palmah, which was altogether secondary in their estimation. Perhaps it was precisely because the Palmah was less important than joining a kibbutz, that these women were less concerned with participation in training and combat than with being together with their male comrades. They thus fared better socially and so far as morale was concerned even during the War of Independence, accepting women’s non-participation in combat and deriving the most from maintaining contact with their group, being near the fighting men and caring for them.
In the first and third battalions from which the Yiftah brigade was formed in the War of Independence it had so high a proportion of members from the hakhsharot that, in the words of its commander Yigal Alon, “It could have been nicknamed the Blue Shirts Brigade. The significant number of women not only contributed to the physical attractiveness of the brigade but also to improving its morale, strengthening its structure and improving its services. The women even participated in the combat units.” Yet although women constituted forty percent of the brigade, the book dedicated to the brigade which appeared in 1970 had not a single woman among its editors. Only the illustrations bear witness to their presence, yet the very few women contributors to the book stress that they experienced a true fellowship with the men in the war effort and did not perceive themselves as merely an attractive element contributing to maintaining the men’s morale.
In fact, most of the women in the Yiftah brigade largely fulfilled a maternal role, washing and ironing the men’s clothes, preparing the beds for their return, placing a bar of chocolate and a vase of flowers alongside. “They served as fighters, radio operators, clerks, medics, quartermasters, but they were also ‘mothers.’” Every squad had two such “mothers.” The headquarters company was composed primarily of women.
In the entire Yiftah Brigade there were only three women officers—a women’s officer, a welfare officer and, in the third battalion, a communications officer—and this despite the significant number of women in the battalions who worked in administration, communications, quartermaster’s stores, education and culture.
The War of Independence brought out most clearly the seemingly insoluble conflict engendered by the intake of the hakhsharot in their entirety: on the one hand, establishing the Palmah as an elite unit and, on the other, including women and physically less able men. The Palmah urgently needed the men, not only because they were the major source of manpower at the time (1943–1944), but also because they were a select group, intelligent and highly motivated. But the men came with their female fellow members and to this problem the Palmah at first had no solution.
The years that elapsed between the first recruitment of the hakhsharot and the War of Independence enabled the transformation of the Palmah into a “recruited youth movement.” The members spent most of their time together in the work camps and training in the A voluntary collective community, mainly agricultural, in which there is no private wealth and which is responsible for all the needs of its members and their families. kibbutzim in which they were posted. Here the military aspects of their training did not predominate, both because of its underground, partisan and informal nature and because of the everyday, civilian environment. Although this environment of the kibbutz was inconsistent with the norms and demands of a military unit, it served as a successful breeding ground for the unique social experience of the recruited youth movement.
As for the young women, these years developed within them a great degree of identification with the group of which they were a part—both the close, intimate hakhsharah and the larger Palmah. Thus, when the war broke out, revealing the difference between the expectations and what actually occurred, they were not only unable but also unwilling to engage in open disagreement.
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“The wounded officer lay in the street bleeding for some time, because according to an instruction from high up, no Magen David Adom ambulance was dispatched,” the Hebrew newspaper Hamashkif reported. Bruce died near midnight at the Mount Scopus military hospital.
“A British inspector was murdered last night on Jaffa Road while walking alone in civilian dress at Zion Square,” Haaretz reported the following day.
Why was Bruce murdered and by whom? Initially the media maintained that Bruce wasn’t the target and was shot by mistake. “It appears that the officer William Bruce’s killers did not intend to harm him, but rather an undercover police officer who was with Bruce until a few minutes before his murder,” Haaretz wrote.
Still, the initial reports were mistaken, as were the reports that the Etzel and Lehi right-wing undergrounds – the obvious suspects in such incidents – were behind the assassination.
Seventy years have gone by, and it turns out that Bruce was indeed the target. Also, in a glaring exception, the killers were from the Palmach, the elite strike force that was formed in 1941 and initially cooperated with the British. The reason for the murder is also known: revenge for Bruce torturing Palmach prisoners in a British jail several months before.
The 2010 project Toldot Yisrael (History of Israel), which filmed hundreds of testimonies from the 1948 War of Independence generation, interviewed the commander of the assassination, Aharon Spector. On the 70th anniversary of the event, the people at the project have kindly allowed details of the interview to be published in Haaretz.
Aharon Spector, the leader of a Palmach squad that killed a British police officer in 1946. Peleg Levy / Toldot Israel
In the interview, Spector, who was 23 at the time, said he did not regret his participation and would do it again. “I followed him in order to punish him,” he told the interviewer Modi Snir and cameraman Peleg Levy. “I waited for him. He could tell he was in our gun sight.”
Spector voiced concerns that “one of Bruce’s relatives could catch me in London,” but he still described the action in detail.
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The assassination was preceded by a “verdict” of a special Palmach court convened to convict Bruce to death for his responsibility for the torture of Palmach fighters. They had been arrested a few months earlier by the British in Biriya in the north, where illegal arms were also seized. During their interrogation, the Palmach members were told they had to be fingerprinted, and when they refused, the British broke their fingers.
A few months later, the time for revenge against Bruce, the officer responsible for this violence, had come.
The original plan was to assassinate Bruce in Safed, where he served. “The plan was simple: I go for a walk in the street with a few friends, take him out and get away,” Spector recounted.
But Bruce managed to avoid his assassins and was transferred to Jerusalem. The long arm of the Haganah’s intelligence service found him there, and Spector went after him.
“I recruited the Jerusalem squad, six guys. I received weapons from the Jerusalem commander, from a cache that was hidden in the Ticho House,” one of the first homes built outside the Old City in the 1860s.
To verify that they had locked on to the right target, the squad members closely followed Bruce. “The last thing I needed was to screw the wrong Brit,” Spector said. “It would have been my disgrace. I showed them a photograph so they’d recognize him.”
After two or three days of searching, Spector found Bruce. The signal would be that Spector would take off his hat as soon as he was sure about the target. “I recognized him and started to walk behind him. I took off my hat and continued to walk,” he recounted.
Members of the squad, which included one woman, overtook Spector and ran toward Bruce. “Each put two bullets into him, then they ran away and hid their weapons,” Spector said. “The main thing is that the operation succeeded.”
Decades later, Spector had no pangs of conscience. “I would do it today,” he said. “He beat prisoners, and he should have known it was forbidden to strike Jews. It wasn’t legitimate. We didn’t kill him for no reason.”
Spector revealed that the man behind the operation was none other than Yigal Allon, the Palmach commander who later became an Israeli foreign minister and education minister (and a prime minister for 19 days).
“It was an instruction from headquarters,” Spector said. “Yigal kept it for me. Yigal had a talent for such things.
Levy from the History of Israel documentation crew notes how unusual the case was. “According to Spector’s testimony, the order came from Yigal Allon, the symbol of the handsome sabra and the purity of arms,” Levy said, referring to native Israelis and the Israeli army's ethics code.
“This is the only case we’ve heard of where the Palmach did such a thing,” he said. “They marked a guy and rubbed him out. They probably had reached the breaking point, so they let themselves do it, once in history.”
During that period the struggle between the Jews and the British peaked. A few months earlier, Etzel activists had blown up the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, where the British Mandate’s headquarters was based. Around 90 people were killed, British, Arabs and Jews.
In those days, there were several dozen assassination attempts against the British, but only this one by the Palmach.
Yisrael Medad from the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem researched the affair for a lecture series he gives on the purity of arms. It was so unusual that Palmach headquarters made sure to clarify that it wasn’t “personal terror,” as such operations were called in those days.
“This incident is very strange,” he said of the Palmach’s announcement after the killing. “They should have explained that they weren’t like the terrorists of the Etzel and Lehi but were forced to behave exactly like them to prevent the British treating their prisoners like they did those of the Etzel and Lehi.”
He even finds some historical irony in the event. Spector’s brother Zvi was the commander of the 23 Yordei Hasira fighters who left in 1941 on a sabotage mission in Lebanon. They never returned.
A British officer joined the mission, testimony to the Palmach’s cooperation with the British during that period. Zvi Spector’s son, the pilot Brig. Gen. Iftach Spector, was a signatory of the 2003 “pilots’ letter” signed by Israeli airmen who refused to take part in military operations at the height of the second intifada.
Bruce’s assassination is now a footnote of Israeli history there isn’t even a picture of him on the internet. The database of fallen British imperial soldiers shows that he’s buried in the Protestant British cemetery in Jerusalem. He was survived by his parents, who lived in London.
The Palmach Museum in Tel Aviv: History between Fact and Fiction
Exhibition at the Palmach Museum: reconstruction of a street in Tel Aviv, 1941. Courtesy of the Palmach Museum. O n May 31, 2000, several hundred people gathered in Ramat Aviv, an affluent suburb north of Tel Aviv, for the inauguration of the Palmach Museum. It was no ordinary group of people. Among the important guests were Ezer Weizman, President of Israel, and Ehud Barak, Prime Minister and Minister of Defense, who both made speeches. Other guests included ministers, Knesset members, high-ranking army officers and other members of the political and cultural elite of the country. Moreover, what was inaugurated was no ordinary historical museum. Whereas most history museums teach about the past with the help of authentic objects displayed in glass boxes, the Palmach Museum does it through a sophisticated multimedia presentation. The inauguration ceremony was the culmination of a complex commemorative project that had begun more then twenty years earlier, in 1978. The museum, then, has a unique history of its own, which partly explains its particular way of presenting the past. What follows is a brief history of the creation of the Palmach Museum and an analysis of its exhibition.
Soldiers visiting the exhibition at the Palmach Museum. Courtesy of the Palmach Museum. In order to explain the origins of the museum, one has to go back to the Palmach itself: the paramilitary unit created in 1941 by the Jewish Yishuv in Palestine to help the British combat the Nazis who were advancing eastward in North Africa. Once the danger had passed, it became a semiclandestine militia associated with the Labor movement with special ties to the kibbutzim. The Palmach, a Hebrew acronym for Smash Platoons (Plougot Machatz), became the backbone of the Israeli army during the 1948 War of Independence, but was dismantled toward the end of the war by David Ben-Gurion. He was apprehensive of the ties between some of the unit's commanders and the pro–Soviet Union left wing parties—a sensitive issue during the era of the Cold War. The dispersal of the Palmach, however, did not diminish its impact. Since its veterans, who formed a strong social network, already belonged to the Labor movement elite that continued to govern the newly created state, their influence on post-1948 Israeli society was immense. They occupied important positions in both the army and political life, and also became prominent in all the domains of civil society—among them the arts, the sciences, and the mass media, where they usually continued to advance a Zionist-Socialist agenda.
The Palmach Museum grew out of the need felt by the veterans thirty years after the unit's dissolution to create a central site of memory that would commemorate their dead companions and celebrate their achievements. Why did this need arise after so much time? The answer should be sought in the results of the 1977 elections. For the first time in the history of Israel, the Labor party, which had been the pivot of all coalition governments, lost power to a coalition led by the right wing Likud party. The leaders of the Likud had belonged to the right wing underground organizations that were the rivals of the Palmach, and since the Labor movement through its control of the state imposed its own version of the pre-1948 past, it was to be expected that the new government would try to promote a different narrative in which its own "ancestors" would occupy a central position. The place of honor that the Palmach held in national memory, which had seemed secure because of its identification with the Labor movement, was all of a sudden in danger. (The Etzel Museum was created after 1977, and the process of integrating it into the Ministry of Defense began in 1983, when Moshe Arens was in charge of the ministry. It was fully integrated in 1991.) The sporadic commemorative occasions of the Palmach veterans were no longer adequate to the new situation, and a concerted effort was needed. Later, during the 1980s and the 1990s, another "front" in the war over national memory was opened. A group of "new historians," the most prominent among them Benny Morris, attacked the policies of the Labor movement, the Palmach, and the Israel Defense Forces, arguing that they had played an active role in the expulsion of many Palestinian refugees during the War of Independence. The Palmach veterans, then, eventually found themselves attacked both from right and left, and the museum was their answer to their contesting versions of the national past.
The initiative was taken by Yigal Alon, the ex-supreme commander of the Palmach, who had become a Labor party politician, and had served in ministerial functions in several cabinets between 1961 and 1977. After a successful Palmach veterans commemorative ceremony that marked the thirtieth anniversary of the state, he convened a meeting of his fellow commanders in June 1979. In this meeting it was decided to establish a formal association, "Palmach Generation," with the aim to "pass on the heritage of the Palmach to our generation and future generations." The association included some of the most powerful figures in Israeli politics. Three of them, for example—Yigal Alon, Haim Bar-Lev, and Yitzhak Rabin—were Knesset members for the Labor party at the time the last two had also been chiefs of staff and members of several cabinets between 1972 and 1995, while Rabin was Prime Minister twice (1974–77, 1992–95). Initially, however, with the Likud in power the association had great difficulties obtaining the necessary funding to realize an ambitious project including a museum, a commemorative monument, an archive, a library, classrooms, and an auditorium—the "Palmach House." Only in 1989, when Rabin was Minister of Defense in the second "National Union" government, the Ministry of Defense agreed to allocate a plot it owned near the Ha'Aretz Museum in Ramat Aviv. The Palmach House would be run as one of Israel's military museums, owned and operated by the Ministry.
Because of budgetary constraints, the project envisaged by the association had to be reduced, and only the museum was finally built. After the inauguration, other elements were added, such as a photographic archive and a small library, but the museum still constituted the core of the edifice. The building was designed by Zvi Hecker, a wellknown, innovative Israeli architect, who had won the open architectural competition launched in 1992. He planned a symbolic structure that looked like a military outpost on a frontier: entrenched in the sandstone hill behind it, with some of the outer walls made of rough, grey cement, full of holes, as though they had suffered heavy shelling. The most innovative feature of the building, however, was the sandstone mined on site and fastened in a natural fashion to the large front wall. A similar mixture of authentic material and artificiality also characterizes the exhibition inside the building.
Work on the exhibition began soon after the allocation of the Ramat Aviv plot in 1990, once it was evident that the project was taking off. The team responsible for creating the exhibition was comprised of people who were relatively new to the field and therefore open to new approaches: the chairman of the program committee, Haim Hefer, a Palmach veteran well known in the Israeli entertainment industry as a lyrics writer the curator, Orit Shaham-Gover, daughter of a famous Palmach veteran writer (Nathan Shaham), who had been a history teacher and studied museology in the USA the designer, Eliav Nahlieli, who studied design at Bezalel and was later trained at Disney World a script writer, Yitzhak Ben-Ner, a well-known novelist, who was later replaced by the photographer Udi Armoni and two historians, Meir Pa'il, a Palmach veteran and a military historian, and Yigal Eilam, who was considered a critical historian of Zionism.
The planning and execution of the permanent exhibition took about ten years, during which the team grappled with questions of historical representation and narrative construction until they finally came up with a solution. Having decided to do away with "authentic" objects and to emphasize the visitor's experience, they developed a unique display that engaged all the senses.
The visit begins and ends in commemorative hall whose walls are inscribed with the names of fallen Palmach soldiers. The main exhibition is described in a brochure produced by Nahlieli's office. It explains that:
[T]he museum uses the walk-through experience as a unique way to combine education and entertainment in a style known as 'edutainment.' Using a trail along which the audience walks, the museum tells the story in a very dramatic way of a fictional filmed group of young people at a historical crossroad, the choices they made, and their fates, while also giving serious histo-documentary information. The 'story of the group' is projected in full color while the documentary footage is in black and white. The experience, in fact, is more like watching a play while surrounded by the scenery and actors. At each stage, visitors watch three-dimensional replicas of people and situations, which reflect the experiences and landscapes in which the Palmach acted. The dimming of light and sound on one particular stage acts as a cue for the audience to move on to the next scene.
By following the personal histories of ten fictional characters, from their recruitment to the Palmach in 1941 to the 1948 War of Independence, the audience is made to identify with the protagonists, the way one does in a feature film. But viewers also learn of the main historical events of the 1940s, either through the documentary footage, or in an oblique way—when the protagonists take an active part in them. The Jewish illegal immigration to Palestine, for example, is represented in the film through the story of one of the main characters who becomes the commander of an immigrant ship.
The power of the museum stems from its capacity to erase the differences that are characteristic of more traditional history museums. Some of these are mentioned in Nahlieli's text: the differences between education and entertainment, between history and documentation, and between film and theater. To these one can add the differences between historical analysis and commemoration, actor and spectator, past and present, and fact and fiction. Thus the visitor gets a history lesson camouflaged as a moving feature film without realizing that this is only one possible version of the past.
The exhibition tends, for example, to minimize or obliterate the partisan and controversial aspects of the Palmach. The political affiliation of many of its commanders is disregarded, and the circumstances of its dismantlement are absent from the narrative. The deep hostility between the Palmach and the right wing underground organizations, the Etzel and Lehi, is barely mentioned, and the sensitive issue of the expulsion of the Arab population during the War of Independence is ignored. At the end of the exhibition, the film moves from depicting a 1950 commemorative ceremony at the (real) military cemetery of Kiriyat Anavim, where several of the (fictional) heroes are buried, to a magnificent aerial view of today's Israel. A direct connection is thus implied not only between the past and the present, but also between the Palmach and the achievements of contemporary Israeli society, as though one naturally leads to the other.
Palmach: The Birth of Israel’s Elite Fighting Force
Israel’s Palmach was formed 79 years ago today, on May 15, 1942. But, you might ask, what was the Palmach?
Before the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) served as the Jewish state’s “watchmen on the walls,” and before the formation of the modern state of Israel, the Jews of the Holy Land needed protection from those who wished them harm.
Defending the Jews of British-Mandate Palestine
As World War II spread across the globe, it reached the Middle East in full force. The Holy Land at the time was still British-mandate Palestine. Although the British ruled the land, its Jewish residents knew they would need a fighting force of their own. This was for two main reasons…
First, if the Nazis were to defeat the Allies in the region, the Holy Land’s Jews would face the same deadly threat as European Jews experienced. And secondly, if the British military were forced out, the surrounding Arabs would surely attack their Jewish neighbors.
So England agreed to fund a fighting force of unpaid Jewish volunteers. This was the Palmach.
A Christian Friend of Israel
While British support of the Palmach always seemed questionable, a British Christian named Orde Wingate believed wholeheartedly in the Zionist dream. Transferred to the Holy Land by his superiors in the 1930s, Wingate trained many of the fighters who would go on to form the Palmach.
The British gave in to Palestinian pressure – the Jewish people’s enemies didn’t appreciate this Christian Zionist helping the Jews – and transferred Wingate elsewhere during WWII. Wingate showed his valor in both the Ethiopian and Burmese theaters of the war before dying in a plane crash in 1944.
But to this day, Israel remembers him as “ha yedid” or “the friend.”
But after the Second Battle of El Alamein in 1942, England ended its support of the Palmach. The group was forced to go underground.
Many of the areas Jews lived on kibbutzim (the plural of kibbutz, which is a collective farming community). These communities needed protection, as well as workers. So each Palmach platoon became part of a kibbutz, providing protection and farm work in return for food and housing.
Serving the New State of Israel
Once Israel declared her independence and founded the IDF, the Palmach became part of the Israeli military, forming three crucial brigades for the 1948 War of Independence. The Negev Brigade successfully defended southern Israel against the Egyptian army. The Yiftah Brigade helped in the south before being transferred to fight in northern Israel. And the Harel Brigade defended the Holy City of Jerusalem.
Many members of the Palmach made great contributions to the Jewish state and the rest of the world. You may recognize their names. Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Dayan, and even stylist Vidal Sassoon fought for Israel and her people.
So, as the Palmach celebrates its anniversary, let the memories of its 1,187 fallen be a blessing, and let its history be an inspiration to those of us who stand for Israel.
Israeli History/From World War II to Partition
British did not allow Jews to form a fighting unit till Sept. 1940 with 200 men. Sept. 20, 1944 Jewish Brigade formed. to restrict enlistment number of Jews was supposed to equal number of Arabs. Arabs did enlist, mainly inactive during war. end of 1941 more than 10,000 Palestinian Jews joined army. also in 1941 Palmach - peluggot mahaz - "Shock Companies" - created by Haganah Elite Strike Force designed to defen Yishuv in an emergency
Jews increasingly aware that British would not implement Balfour Declaration, i.e., giving Jews a state. May 1942 Zionists meeting at Biltmore Hotel in NY urged Britain to allow Jewish Agency power to form a Jewish State. state not a separate country until a Jewish majority. Agency responsible for country's agriculture and industry
Jews v. British Edit
Feb. 1, 1944 Menachim Begin, leader of Irgun declared a Jewish revolt against British. Irgun attacked military targets. Late Feb. 1944 Irgun attacked the offices of Immigration Department in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Haifa. protested closed gates of Palestine
Nov. 1943 20 members of Lehi a.k.a. Stern Gang escaped from Latrun prison. Nathan Friedmans-Yellin among them, and resurrected Lehi and became its leader. Lehi believed British wouldn't leave because of oil refinery in Haifa. They threatened British army installments, camps, interrupted transportation with mines, intimidated soldiers with death threats, patrolled streets till they found a group of British police or soldiers and opened fire on them.
British response: a. curfews on Jewish cities b. mass arrests c. instituting death penalty for carrying firearms d. underground Jewish forces intensified attacks
Chaim Weizmann sent letter of condolences to a wounded British soldier. Jewish leadership appalled by killings afraid violence would jeopardize the creation of a Jewish State. The Jewish Agency feared for their own positions. April 2, 1944 Agency officially declared a policy of opposition -prevent activities -increase negative propaganda against "terrorists"
Yom Kippur 1944 Edit
Begin announced that shofar will be blown at the Western Wall. this had been prohibited since 1929 riots. Sept. 27 shofar sounded and at the same time Irgun attacked 4 different British fortresses. Psychological victory. British did not retaliate.
Radical elements among the Zionists aimed to assassinate key British leaders as punishment for complicity in Holocaust. 4 attempts on Sir Harold MacMichael all failed. British minister of Cairo, Lord Moyne, former Colonial Secretary.. Nov. 6, 1944 Eliahu Hakim and Eliau Bet-Zouri assassinated Moyne. assassinators both tried and hanged.
Jewish survivors of the Holocaust were not taken to Israel but rehabilitated in camps in Europe. However, many of these survivors were strongly motivated to leave Europe. Without a legal means of emigration, they turned to "Aliyah Bet" in even greater numbers than before, a movement called Berihah. Britain opened internment camps in Cyprus to house Holocaust survivors they had captured some were held until 1949. In the SS Exodus incident, the British Royal Navy seized one of the Berihah ships and sent it back to Germany, causing a media scandal.
Holocaust survivors (DPs) and Zionist militancy Edit
The continuing flow of refugees enraged Arab leaders and, in the eyes of the British, threatened the stability of the region. The British thus refused to accept 100,000 refugees in 1946. In response, militant elements among Hagana, the Irgun, and Lehi kidnapped British officers and bombed the King David Hotel, killing 91 British, Jewish, and Arab employees. The response from leaders in Britain was actually helpful from the Zionists: Churchill announced that he did not see much of a British interest in Palestine, and the general British public began to weigh the costs of a continued occupation.