Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The Palmach (in Hebrew - " פלמ"ח ") was the regular fighting force of the Haganah (the underground army of the Jewish settlers in Israel in the time of the British mandate on Palestine). Palmach was established on May 15, 1941. From a humble beginning Palmach grew to 3 fighting divisions and auxiliary aerial, naval and intelligence units in the war of 1948. Being a Palmachnik (Palmach member) was not considered only as performing soldier duties, but also as a way of life. Significant leaders of the Palmach include Moshe Dayan, Itzhak Sadeh, Yigal Allon and Yitzhak Rabin. Palmach has contributed to Israeli culture and ethos, way beyond its undoubtable military contribution. Its members formed the backbone of the Israeli Defence Forces high command for many years, and were prominent in Israeli politics, literature and culture.
The Palmach was established by Haganah and the British military on May 15, 1941 in order to help the British to protect the land of Israel from the Nazi Germany threat. They were also to assist British forces with the upcoming invasion of Syria and Lebanon, held by Vichy French forces. British experts trained the Palmach special soldiers and equipped them with small arms and explosives.
However, after the British victory at El-Alamein in 1942, the Britons ordered the dismantling of Palmach, and the whole organization went underground. Since the British funding had stopped, Yitzhak Tabenkin , head of the Kibbutzim union offered that Palmach would be self-funding by letting the warriors work in the Kibbutzim. Each Kibbutz would host a Palmach platoon and supply them food, dwellings and resources and in return the platoon would work (such as agricultural work) in the Kibbutz and safeguard it. The proposal was accepted in August 1942. It was also decided that Palmach members would have 8 training days a month, 14 work days, and 7 rest and vacation days.
The solution of combining military training with agricultural work allowed:
- Maintenance of an independent, ready-to-mobilize military force, in which its member's labor funded 80% of its budget, and dedicated its Haganah-given budget for weapons and training.
- Maintenance of an independent, underground, ready-to-mobilize military force, which would be hard to track down.
- Recruitment of more people from the Kibbutzim, Moshavim and the cities.
- Combining military training with agriculture training and thus creating groups of settlers, who would form the base for future settlements in the land of Israel.
- Education of the soldiers to make them absorb Zionist values.
Later on, it was agreed with the Zionist youth movements that each "Gar'een" (means "nucleous" or "kernel" in Hebrew) from the ages of 18-20 would undergo a "drafted training". That was the base for the Nahal settlements. The "drafted training" enabled Palmach to expand its manpower and recruit more people to its lines.
Basic training included physical fitness, small arms, melee and Krav Maga, basic marine training, topography, first aid, and squad operations. Most of the Palmach members received advance training in one (or more) of the following areas: sabotage and explosives, reconnaissance, sniping, communications and radio, light and medium machineguns and operating 2 intch and 3 inch mortars. Platoon training included long marches, combined live-fire drills with artillery support and machineguns and mortars.
Palmach put emphasis on training self-dependent and broad-minded field commanders who would take the initiative and set an example for their troops. Palmach 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 which were the backbone of Haganah, and later, the Israeli Defense Forces.
The Hebrew Revolution Movement (1945-1946)
Between the years 1945 and 1946, Palmach units carried out attacks against British infrastructure such as bridges, railroads, radar stations and police stations. Such activities ceased, however, after the "Black Sabbath" (june 29, 1946), in which the british forces carried out mass arrests of Palmach and Hagannah leaders.
The Independence War (1947-1949)
Palmach units took a major part in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. In the beginning of the war, Palmach units were responsible for holding Jewish settlements (such as Gush Etzion, Kfar Darom and Revivim ) against the Arab militias. Although they were vastly inferior in numbers and arms, Palmach soldiers managed to hold out long enough to let Haganah mobilize the Jewish settlement and prepare for war.
After the establishment of the Israeli Defence Forces, the Palmach was disolved into two IDF brigades - the Negev Brigade and Yiftah Brigade . The Negev and Yiftah Brigade fought in the Negev against the Egyptian army and managed to stop them and later to repulse them into the Gaza Strip and Sharem al-Sheikh . Yiftah Brigade later was transferred to the north.
The Palmach was organized into regular companies (6 at 1943), and 5-6 special units.
Palmach special units included:
- Ha-Machlaka Ha-Germanit: the "German Department", its role was to perform covert ops and sabotage operations against the Nazi infrastructures in the Middle East and the Balkan.
- Ha-Machlaka Ha-Aravit: the "Arab Department", its role was to perform covert ops and espionage missions against the Arab bandits and terrorists. Arab gangs had frequently attacked the Jewish settlement in the land of Israel and the Palestinian leader Haj Amin al-Husayni allied with Adolf Hitler against the Jews and the Britons. It was the base for the Israeli Defense Forces's and MAGAV's "Mistaarvim" units.
- Pal-Yam: the sea force of the Palmach. The Pal-Yam main activity was Haapala העפלה - the bringing of Jewish refugees from Europe by ships, despite the British White Paper of 1939 which limited Jewish immigration into Israel. Later the Pal-Yam became the Israeli Navy in the IDF.
- Sabotage Units: explosive experts, were the base for the Israeli Engineering Corps in the IDF.
- The Air Force: composed from Jewish pilots, trained by the British army, the Palmach air force was the base for the Israeli Air Force. Until late 1948, they didn't have any airplanes, but later they obtained some light scout aircrafts.
The image of the Hebrew commander in the Palmach
The Palmach put emphasis on training field commanders (מפקדי שטח), which would be the basis for the future Israeli army. Palmach-trained field commanders were trained far more extensively than in other armies and were guided to be broad-minded, professional, skillful, and full of initiative. Palmach field commanders were encouraged to undertake personal initiative and bear responsibility for their actions. Palmach commanders also took care of their soldiers' daily needs.
The mythologic battlecry of the Palmach commander was "!אחרי" (Aharay), litterly means "Follow me!". While in most armies the battlecry was "Charge!" the Hebrew commander lead the troops instead of sending them and staying behind. The idea behind the "Follow me!" battlecry was that the commanders should be role models to their soldiers.
The Palmach commanders' course, commanders' reputation and values were embedded into the Israeli Defence Forces and their legacy is alive even today, in the current generation of IDF field commanders.
Palmach in Israeli politics
The Palmach was a left-wing organization, associated with left-wing parties. Its members trained and lived in Kibbutzim, that were by definition left-wing sympathizers. The political tendencies of its leaders such as Yigal Allon and Itzhak Sadeh, was towards Mapam a left-wing party in opposition to David Ben Gurion and the Mapai ruling party. Those tendencies caused Ben Gurion to order the dissolving of Palmach in 1948.
Palmach members were not, however, a unified, homogenous collective, with concrete ideology. In the first years of the state of Israel they could be found in all the parties of the zionist left. Yigal Allon, considered by many to be the representative of the Palmach generation, never reached a position of national leadership (Although he was Prime Minister for a few days between Eshkol's death and Golda's appointment in 1969). His premature death in 1980 is considered Palmach's greatest loss in Israeli politics.
Palmachniks can be found anywhere in the Israeli politics. Besides left-wing activists such as Mati Peled , Yair Tsaban and Shulamit Aloni , Palmach veterans include right-wing extremists such as Rehavam Zeevi and Rafael Eitan.
Notable commanders and warriors
- High command:
- Special units commanders:
- Shimon Koch Avidan - commander of the "German Department"
- Israel Ben-Yehuda - commander of the "Arab Department"
- Yigal Allon - commander of the "Syrian Department"
- Companies commanders (as for 1943):
List of weapons used by Palmach
This list is incomplete.
- 2 inch, 3 inch
- Davidka (Israeli manufactured)
Besides military contributions, the Palmach had great influence over the Israeli "Tzabar" culture. Palmach activists like "Kumzitz" (sitting around a fire at night, eating, talking and having fun), public singing and cross-country foot trips became a myth and favorite activities for the Israelis.
The Palmach also contributed many anecdotes, jokes, "chizbat" (short funny tales, often based on exaggerations), songs and even many books and stories.
Notable Palmach culture figure:
- Netiva Ben Yehuda - journalist, writer, radio host
- Shoshana Damari - singer
- Haim Hefer - poet, writer
- Haim Guri - poet, writer
- Naomi Polani - singer, actor
- Moshe Shamir - writer, playwright
- Hannah Szenes (Senesh) - poet
- Dan Ben Amotz - writer, journalist
- Shayke Ofir - actor
- Zohara Levitov - Diarist.
See also: Culture of Israel.
- "The Palmach - Its Warriors and Operation" by Uri Brener , special edition for Palmach national convention, 1978
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