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Jewish Legion


Four battalions of Jewish volunteers in the British army during World War I.

On the urging of Russian Zionist Vladimir Zeʾev Jabotinsky, Jewish units were formed to serve in the British army during World War I. The "Zion Mule Corps" consisted of 650 Palestinian Jews; it served in Gallipoli and was disbanded in 1916. The Thirty-eighth Battalion Royal Fusiliers (800 men) was recruited in England mainly from Russian immigrants, and was sent to Egypt and then Palestine in February 1918. The Thirty-ninth Battalion Royal Fusiliers enlisted some 2,000 men in the United States under the leadership of David Ben-Gurion, Yizhak Ben-Zvi, and Pinhas Rutenberg. It arrived in Egypt in August 1918 and was sent to Palestine. The Fortieth Battalion Royal Fusiliers was recruited from Palestinian Jews in British-controlled southern Palestine in July 1918. Commanded by Lieutenant Colonel John Henry Patterson, these units of the Jewish Legion participated in Edmund Allenby's campaigns in Palestine and Syria in 1918. At the end of the war, the Thirty-eighth and Thirty-ninth battalions were disbanded, but the 1,000 men of the Fortieth Battalion remained in active service as part of the British forces in Palestine until after the riots of May 1921.

Proponents of Zionism believed that if their volunteers supported Britain in World War I, it would reflect favorably on their aspirations for a national home in Palestine. A decidedly practical result was that members of the Jewish Legionincluding Berl Katznelson, Shmuel Yavnieli, Dov Hos, Eliahu Golomb, and Levi Eshkolgained valuable organizational and military experience and later formed the nucleus of the future Jewish army in Palestine, the Haganah.


Ben-Gurion, David. Letters to Paula, translated by Aubrey Hodes. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press; London: Vallentine Mitchell, 1971.

Fromkin, David. A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East. New York: Henry Holt, 1989.

Schechtman, Joseph B. The Vladimir Jabotinsky Story, vol. 2: Rebel and Statesman: The Early Years. New York: T. Yoseloff, 1956.

zachary karabell
updated by neil caplan

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