The Palmach Is Founded

The Palmach is founded as an elite special strike force of the Haganah, the underground military organization of the Yishuv and Zionist movement in British Mandate Palestine. The name of the six unit division derives from an abbreviation of the Hebrew Plugot Mahatz, strike force.  Its original intent is to protect Jews from a possible attack by the Axis Powers and from Arabs in the event of British retreat. The six units consist of three ground forces plus an aerial, naval, and intelligence unit. Yitzhak Sadeh is in command of these volunteer forces. Palmach units are stationed in kibbutzim, where they both train for their military duties and work for two weeks each month in order to earn money to support themselves.

From the end of WWII in 1945 through the end of 1947, when the leadership of the Mandate suppressed further building of Jewish settlements and halted Jewish immigration into the country, the Palmach succeeds in bringing tens of thousands of Jewish refugees and Holocaust survivors from Europe in 65 illegal shiploads. The Palmach also launched revolts against British Mandatory rule by destroying police stations, railroad systems and radar installations, sinking naval vessels, and demolishing bridges.

Immediately following the UN decision on November 29, 1947 to partition Palestine, Arab armed gangs, mostly comprised of irregular forces of the Arab Liberation Army, barricade access roads and besiege Jewish towns, including Jerusalem. The Palmach forces strike back, even though these 2,200 active fighters and 1,000 reservists are greatly outnumbered and inadequately armed. They manage to defend many cities throughout the region, bring supplies to besieged Jerusalemand other towns, open blocked roadways and, participate in the defeat the invading armies of Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. Despite their many military successes, the casualties were extensive: 1,168 dead and hundreds wounded.

During the early part of the 1948 war , the Palmach maintains its own organizational autonomy within the framework of Israel Defense Forces (IDF), including a separate command structure and training. Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion both wants to depoliticize the IDF (and since the Palmach was closely linked to the Kibbutz Movement this served his agenda) as well create a single military organization encompassing all previously active underground forces. The same policy of integration into the IDF was applied to Etzel (Irgun) and Lehi (Stern Gang). On September 14, 1948 Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion summoned dozens of commanders of the Palmach for a conference at which he she dismantling of the elite unit and its integration into the newer IDF.

The photo shows Palmach commander Yitzhak Sadeh (left) and Yigal Allon in 1948.  Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain.