Zion Mule Corps Is Created

March 23, 1915

In December 1914, fearing that they posed an enemy threat to the Ottoman Turkish Empire in World War I, thousands of Jews, mostly previous immigrants from Europe, were expelled from Palestine. Nearly 12,000 made their way to British-protected Egypt; many found a home in refugee camps in Alexandria.

Ze’ev Jabotinsky, then working as a Russian journalist, believed that the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire was necessary for the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine.  He sensed  that a Jewish force of soldiers fighting with the Allies against the Ottomans would curry favor for the Zionist cause among the victors, should they be successful in the war. Jabotinsky traveled to Alexandria, where he tried to rally support for his idea among the refugees who had been expelled from Palestine.

One of the refugees who embraced Jabotinsky’s idea was Joseph Trumpeldor, who had fought in the Russian Army during the Russo-Japanese War in 1902. He made aliyah in 1912 before being deported to Alexandria in 1914 for refusing to accept Ottoman citizenship. Trumpeldor and Jabotinsky organized a meeting of Jewish leaders in Alexandria in early March where a Jewish fighting force won approval. Ten days later, Jabotinsky spoke to a group of 200 Jewish refugees in a converted stable; 180 signed up for a yet–to-be-created unit, hoping for an opportunity to fight the Ottomans in Palestine.

Officially created as the Assyrian Refugee Mule Corps in a ceremony on March 23rd, Rabbi Raphael della Pergola, the Grand Rabbi of Alexandria, Egypt, administered the oath of allegiance to approximately 500 volunteers, forming the new unit. (The photo shows a registration card for the Mule Corps.) Trumpeldor became the highest-ranking Jewish officer in the unit. After a brief training period, the Zion Mule Corps was sent to Turkey in late April 1915, where they participated in the Battle of Gallipoli.

Eventually the British formed thee official Jewish brigades in which about 5,000 Jewish volunteers from around the world served during WWI, including 500 Jewish soldiers from Palestine. These brigades were dismantled after the war with some  Jewish volunteers returning to Palestine. Zion Mule Corps’ training and war experiences later helped develop security concepts and self-defense organizations for the Yishuv.