Jewish Legion: Israel Forge
How did the modern Israel Defense Forces grow from simple mule drivers? And how did the Jews liberated the lands of their forefathers on the First World War?
If I forget you, Jerusalem ...
The beginning of the First World European Jews met with hope, fear and confusion. Many believed that the coming war was not a Jewish matter and would bring them nothing but new oppression and suffering. But there were those who succumbed to the general patriotic impulse.
In France and Britain, the Jews went to the recruiting stations. German Jews almost surpassed the Germans themselves in German patriotism, more than ten thousand of them signed up as volunteers already in the first days of the war. Many believed that they would help their brethren in the east to get rid of humiliation, pogroms and lines of settled life.
Jewish soldiers of the German and Austro-Hungarian armies celebrate Hanukkah, 1916
Few doubted that the war would somehow affect the Ottoman Empire that still owned Palestine, which meant that new opportunities would open up for the Jews.
Immediately after the Ottomans entered the war in November 1914, several well-known Zionists came out with proposals for the creation of separate Jewish military units. In Ottoman Palestine, David Ben-Gurion and Yitzhak Ben-Zvi proposed the creation of Jewish units for the Turks.
David Ben-Gurion and Yitzhak Ben-Zvi in Turkey in 1912
The Turks did not support the idea and launched a wave of repression on the Zionists, expelling more than 18,000 Jews. Two-thirds of the exiles settled in British Egypt, where Zeev Zhabotinsky and the one-armed cavalier of the Russian Cross of St. George, Joseph Trumpeldor, were just offered the same thing to the British military.
From mule drivers to infantry battalions
The British military to the ideas of Trumpeldor and Zhabotinsky reacted coolly. The only thing they allowed was a small rear transport unit, known as the Zion drovers.
A detachment with mules landed with the British army on the Gallipoli peninsula, where he engaged in hard and dangerous work on the delivery of supplies from the moorings on the shore to the trenches. On a small, sweep from all sides bridgehead at Cape Helles, danger lurked everywhere.Bullets and fragments did not understand the status of "non-combatants," and the "drovers" earned the respect of their uncomplaining work under heavy fire.
There were, however, internal problems: the romantics and those who just wanted to get out of the refugee camps and earn extra money faced the detachment.
Trumpeldor, who received another battle wound, made great efforts to maintain order. The detachment was evacuated along with the rest of the troops in early 1916, burying 13 comrades. Immediately upon arrival in Egypt, the "case of drovers" dissolved.
Vladimir Zhabotinsky surrounded by fellow volunteers
During the entire 16th year, Zhabotinsky tried to organize a new part of the Jews for the “liberation of Jerusalem”, but did not find understanding.
The British government was not up to it, and the British Jews believed that the “Russian” native of Odessa, Zhabotinsky, persistently called them to someone else's war.
The situation changed in the summer of 1917, when the government that prepared the “Balfour Declaration”, in which it promised to “create a national center for the Jewish people,” approved the formation of a Jewish infantry battalion.
Jewish Legion in Jerusalem
In order not to annoy once again both the anti-Semites and the non-sympathizing Zhabotinsky Zionists, the battalion received the unremarkable name "The 38th Battalion of Royal Fusiliers." Soon he was joined by the second Jewish battalion (the "39th"), and together they were called the "Jewish Legion".
In a linguistic and cultural sense, the battalions turned out to be a hodgepodge.
Half of the fighters of the 38th were citizens of the British Empire, and the second half came from the Russian Empire.
In the 39th half of the soldiers were American volunteers, the second part - the natives of Canada.
Sami Jabotinsky and Trumpeldor, of course, joined the troops, like Ben-Gurion and many other Zionists. These were the first national Jewish military units in many centuries.
In the summer of 1918, both battalions of the Jewish Legion were sent to Palestine. True, Jerusalem was captured long ago, but the fighting continued north of it. Already in Palestine from the local natives created the third battalion. These battalions, like some "political formations", were not thrown into the fire. They were given calm sections of the front and secondary directions along with third echelons. Losses from malaria significantly exceeded combat losses.Nevertheless, the "legionnaires" contributed to the final victory over the Ottomans.
After the end of hostilities, the battalions quickly demobilized. The British army was rapidly reduced. In addition, politics played a role. Many battalion soldiers wanted to return home to their former occupations, some of whom planned to become settlers in Palestine itself. The British were also not too happy to keep Jews in the service.
In the administration of Palestine, the British relied on the local Arab elites and treated the impulses of the Zionists with ill-concealed suspicion.
Former legionaries played an important role in the formation of self-defense forces (Hagani): they became its first fighters and instructors. In the first clashes with the Arabs on Passover in 1920, it was the former soldiers of the British army who formed the core of resistance. Two former legionnaires, along with Trumpeldor himself, died defending the Jewish settlement of Tel Hai.
The Jewish Legion has become a real forge of military and civilian personnel for the future of Israel. They managed to serve almost all the fathers of the future state.
The modern Israel Defense Forces lead the way,including from these battalions.