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Palmaḥ

PALMAḤ

PALMAḤ (abbreviation for peluggot maḥaẓ; "assault companies"), the permanently mobilized striking force of the *Haganah and later, until its dissolution, part of the Israel Defense Forces (idf). The Palmaḥ was established by an emergency order of the Haganah's national command on May 19, 1941, when the Axis forces were nearing the approaches to Palestine. In view of the worsening situation, nine assault companies were to be established and placed in a state of readiness: three in northern Galilee, two in central Galilee, three in southern Galilee, and one in the Jerusalem area. They were to consist of volunteers from existing Haganah units prepared to report for active service at 24 hours' notice and serve in any capacity whenever and wherever required. The Palmaḥ was to serve as a national and regional fighting reserve. For purposes of administration and training the companies would be under the orders of the area commander, but for operational purposes, they were to be directly subordinate to the Haganah's high command, which would appoint a commander for each company on a permanent basis. A staff officer was appointed to supervise training and organization through the area commanders.

Yiẓḥak *Sadeh was appointed general staff officer for Palmaḥ affairs and set about establishing the first six companies, which were to be composed entirely of volunteers, in coordination with the area commanders of the Haganah. While it was in the process of formation, the Palmaḥ was called upon to participate in special operations in advance of the Allied invasion of Syria and Lebanon, which were under the command of the Vichy French. On the day before the official establishment of the Palmaḥ, a boat carrying 23 men, with a British liaison officer, sailed in secrecy to sabotage the refineries in Tripoli (Lebanon), but all traces of the detachment were lost. Scores of Arabic-speaking members of the Palmaḥ crossed the frontier dressed as Arabs and carried out intelligence and sabotage work in these countries. The first units of A and B companies participated in the invasion of Syria and Lebanon in June 1941 as saboteurs, guides, scouts, and intelligence men.

Gradually, the number of companies grew to 12, which were combined into battalions and, together, constituted a corps. Sadeh became its commander, with a staff of the type usual in such a force. The commander of the Palmaḥ was directly subordinate to the Haganah chief of staff. The Palmaḥ assumed the character and function of a commando unit and, in addition to the infantry, prepared a special naval force to carry out tasks that would be required in connection with *"illegal" immigration: sabotage and small engagements at sea. It also established the nucleus of an air force disguised as a civilian flying club, in which pilots were trained to fly light planes which were more than once engaged as fighters against enemy forces. The Palmaḥ achieved high standards in physical fitness, field training, and guerilla fighting by day and night. It was the first of the Haganah forces to establish the battalion as a tactical and administrative unit. It developed high-level intelligence, sabotage, and scouting. Special attention was paid to educational activity and ideological guidance. On the principle of training every fighting man according to his ability, more section and platoon commanders were trained than were needed for current operations, on the assumption that in an emergency the Palmaḥ would widen its framework and absorb many recruits.

As the mobilized units of the Haganah until the *War of Independence, the Palmaḥ served, in effect, as a kind of laboratory for experiments in training methods and operational, tactical, and administrative concepts. Although stationed in different parts of the country, it made up a national army not restricted to local self-defense. It was given six main tasks:

(1) to prepare during World War ii for guerilla warfare against German and Italian invasion forces if these reached Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine;

(2) to carry out, after the war, the main military operations, on land and sea, against the British Mandatory regime;

(3) to play a central role in halting a possible Arab military invasion;

(4) to punish Arab terrorist units that attacked the Jewish population;

(5) to assume the offensive at the first suitable opportunity;

(6) to establish settlements in strategically and politically important areas. The general staff of the Haganah decided in June 1941 that in the event that the front reached Palestine, the Palmaḥ would operate in strategic areas distant from Jewish centers.

At first the Allies financed part of the maintenance of the Palmaḥ units, but when the danger of foreign invasion passed, they went underground. For lack of a national budget, the fighters maintained themselves by working in settlements, mainly kibbutzim, and in the ports. In 14 days' work per month, they earned their keep for the rest of the month, which was mainly given over to training. No wages were customary in the Palmaḥ: the men received small sums for pocket-money, traveling expenses, and clothes. It fostered a comradeship in arms between officers and men, which stood the test of fire. Discipline was founded on personal conviction. According to a special decision of the staff, the men went into the reserves: privates after two years' service, squad commanders (equivalent to corporal or sergeant) after three years, and platoon commanders after four years.

In 1945, when Yiẓḥak Sadeh was appointed chief of the Haganah general staff, his deputy, Yigal *Allon, was appointed to command the Palmaḥ. In August 1948, when Allon became the commander of the southern front with the rank of aluf (brigadier general), his deputy, Uri Brenner, was appointed acting commander of the Palmaḥ, retaining the post until the corps was disbanded in 1948.

In 1947, when the security situation of the yishuv was becoming graver, units of the Palmaḥ operated in Upper Galilee, western Galilee, the Jezreel Valley, the Eẓyon Bloc, and the Negev. Others provided covering forces for convoys in hilly regions or Arab-populated areas in Upper Galilee, the road to Jerusalem, and the Negev. In the War of Independence, when the reservists were called up and the Palmaḥ received new recruits, it operated in three brigades: Yiftaḥ, under Shemu'el (Mula) Cohen; Harel, under Yosef Tabenkin; and the Negev, under Naḥum Sarig. The Palmaḥ was an integral part of the Israel Defense Forces and played a major role in all stages of the war, from the defense of isolated settlements and dangerous supply routes in strategic areas to important offensives which liberated parts of the country. Yiftaḥ led Operation Yiftaḥ to liberate Upper Galilee and Safad and repulse invading Syrian and Lebanese forces. At a later stage it fought on the southern front, the Negev, and Sinai. Harel bore the brunt of Operation Harel for the establishment and widening of the Jerusalem corridor, the liberation of the Jerusalem suburbs and Mount Zion, and the breaking through to the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. It was also active in the operations that led to the liberation of the Negev and the occupation of northern Sinai.

At the beginning of August 1948 Allon was appointed commander of the southern front. The question of whether the Palmaḥ should continue to preserve its special character under the command of its own special staff was raised by David *Ben-Gurion, prime minister and minister of defense in the provisional government, and others who argued that all units must be under the direct command of the idf general staff in all respects. The leaders of the Palmaḥ, on the other hand, believed that the separate framework was necessary in order to enable it to continue to make its own special contribution to the war effort and character of the idf. The provisional government accepted Ben-Gurion's view and decided on November 7, 1948, to disband the separate staff of the Palmaḥ. In May 1948 the three Palmaḥ brigades were merged with other idf units.

Many of the leading officers of the idf rose from service in the Palmaḥ. To mention only the generals, they included, in addition to Yiẓḥak Sadeh and Yigal Allon, three chiefs of staff – Moshe *Dayyan, Yiẓḥak *Rabin, and Haim *Bar-Lev – as well as Yoḥai Bin-Nun, Avraham Eden, David Elazar, Yeshayahu Gavish, Mordecai Hod, Yitzḥak Ḥofi, Amos Horev, Uzzi Narkis, El'ad Peled, Mattityahu Peled, Ezer Weizman, Ẓvi Zamir, and Raḥavam Ze'evi: This is only one indication of the Palmaḥ's special contribution to the building of the idf, in addition to its major role in the main operations during the Haganah period and the War of Independence.

bibliography:

Y. Allon, Shield of David; The Story of Israel's Armed Forces (1970); idem, The Making of Israel's Army (1970); Y. Bauer, From Diplomacy to Resistance (1970); Sefer ha-Palmaḥ, ed. by Z. Gilead, 2 vols. (1953); Y. Sadeh, Mah Ḥiddesh Palmaḥ (1950); Y. Allon, Ma'arekhot Palmaḥ (1966).

[Yigal Allon]

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