Infobox Military Unit
motto="Always at your command"
"לפקודה תמיד אנחנו"
Yigal Allon, Yitzhak Sadeh,
Yitzhak Rabin, Moshe Dayan
The Palmach (Hebrew: פלמ"ח, an acronym for "Plugot Maatz" (Hebrew: פלוגות מחץ), "Strike Companies") was the regular fighting force of the
Haganah, the unofficial army of the Yishuv(Jewish community) during the British Mandate of Palestine. It was established on May 15, 1941and by the war of 1948 had grown to three fighting brigades and auxiliary aerial, naval and intelligence units. Being a Palmachnik (Palmach member) was considered not only as performing military duties, but also as a way of life. 1169 Palmachnik were killed in action from 1941 to 1949. Significant leaders of the Palmach include Yitzhak Sadeh, Yigal Allonand future prime minister Yitzhak Rabinand Defense Minister and member of the Knesset Moshe Dayan.
The Palmach contributed significantly to Israeli culture and ethos, well beyond its undoubtable military contribution. Its members formed the backbone of the
Israel Defense Forceshigh command for many years, and were prominent in Israeli politics, literature and culture.
The Palmach was established by the
British militaryand Haganahon May 15, 1941to help the British protect Palestine from the Nazi German threat. They were also to assist Allied forces with the planned invasion of Syriaand Lebanon, then held by Vichy Frenchforces. British experts trained the Palmach special soldiers and equipped them with small arms and explosives. However, after the Allied victory at the Second Battle of El Alameinin 1943, the British ordered the dismantling of Palmach. Instead the whole organization went underground.
Since British funding had stopped,
Yitzhak Tabenkin, head of the Kibbutzim union suggested Palmach could be self-funding by letting the warriors work in the Kibbutzim. Each Kibbutz would host a Palmach platoonand supply them with food, homes and resources. In return the platoon would safeguard the kibbutz and carry out work such as agricultural work. The proposal was accepted in August 1942, when it was also decided that each month Palmach members would have eight training days, 14 work days and seven days off.
Combining military training with agricultural work meant:
# Maintenance of an independent, easily mobilized military force.
# A force in which members' labor funded 80% of Palmach's budget. Money from Haganah was dedicated to weapons and training.
# The force would be hard to track down.
# Easier recruitment of people from Kibbutzim and
# The creation of groups of settlers, who could form the base for future settlements.
# Education of soldiers in
The program of combined
militarytraining, agricultural work and Zionist education was called "Hach'shara Meguyeset" הכשרה מגויסת (meaning "Drafted/Recruited Training").
Later on, it was agreed with the Zionist youth movements that each person from the ages of 18-20 ("Gar'een" meaning "nucleus" or "kernel" in Hebrew) would undergo training. This was the base for the
Nahalsettlements. The training enabled Palmach to expand its numbers and recruit more people to its lines.
Basic training included
physical fitness, small arms, mêléeand Kapap, basic marine training, topography, first aidand squad operations. Most of the Palmach members received advance training in one or more of the following areas: sabotageand explosives, reconnaissance, sniping, communications and radio, light and medium machine guns, and operating 2-inch and 3-inch mortars. Platoon training included long marches, combined live-fire drills with artillery support and machine guns and mortars.
Palmach put emphasis on training independent and broadminded field commanders who would take the initiative and set an example for their troops. Palmach trained squad commanders and company commanders. The major commanders training course was in the Palmach and many
Haganahcommanders were sent to be trained in the Palmach. The Palmach commanders' course was the source for many field commanders which were the backbone of Haganah, and, later, the Israeli Defense Forces.
Between 1945 and 1946, Palmach units carried out attacks against British infrastructure such as
bridges, railways, radarstations and police stations. Such activities ceased, however, after "Black Sabbath" ( June 29, 1946), when British forces carried out mass arrests of Palmach and Haganah leaders.
Palmach units took a major part in the
1948 Arab-Israeli war. At the beginning of the war, Palmach units were responsible for holding Jewish settlements (such as Gush Etzion, Kfar Daromand Revivim) against Arab militias. Although inferior in numbers and arms, Palmach soldiers held out long enough to let Haganahmobilise the Jewish population and prepare for war.
After the establishment of the
Israeli Defence Forces, the Palmach was dissolved into two IDF brigades - the Negev Brigadeand Yiftach Brigade. The Negev and Yiftah Brigades fought in the Negevagainst the Egyptian armyand managed to stop and later repulse them into the Gaza Stripand Sharm El Sheikh. Yiftah Brigade later was transferred to the north.
The Palmach was organised into regular companies (six in 1943), and five or six special units.
Palmach special units included:
* Ha-Machlaka Ha-Germanit: the "German Department", (aka the Middle East Commando) it performed covert operations and sabotage operations against Nazi infrastructure in the
Middle Eastand the Balkans.
* Ha-Machlaka Ha-Aravit: the "Arab Department", it performed covert operations and espionage missions against Arab militias, which frequently attacked Jewish settlements. It was the base for the
Israeli Defense Forces's and the Border Police's "Mistaarvim" units.
Palyam: (Sea Companies)the naval force of the Palmach was formed in 1943, attached to the Palmach's Staff Battalion (the 4th Battalion). They were in charge of underwater demolition and maritime activity units. The majority of their activities were related to the escorting of ships of Aliyah Bet, immigration ships (66 of them in all) bringing Jewish refugees from Europeby boat, despite the British White Paper of 1939which introduced restrictions on Jewish immigration to Palestine.
* Sabotage Units: explosives experts who became the basis for the
Israeli Engineering Corpsin the IDF.
Palavir(The Air Companies): made up of Jewish pilots, the Palmach air force was the basis for the Israeli Air Force. They did not have any aircraft until 1948, when they obtained light planes for scouting operations.
The Palmach put an emphasis on training field commanders (מפקדי שטח) and became the basis for the Israeli army.
During the 1948-49 War of Independence the Palmach was expanded to form three infantry brigades commanded by
* Yiftach, with three battalions operating in Eastern Galilee
* Harel, with three battalions operating in the Jerusalem area. Yitzhak Rabin (then age 26) commanded the Harel Brigade.
* HaNegev, with four battalions, one of which was the jeep mounted "Negev Beasts"
There was also the Headquarters Battalion which controlled naval, air and commando companies. The
battlecryof the Palmach commander was "!אחרי" ("Aharei"), which literally means "after me!" or "follow me!". It refers to the commander leading his troops instead of sending them out and staying behind.
The Palmach in Politics and Culture
The Palmach was a left-wing organisation, associated with left-wing parties. Its members trained and lived in
Kibbutzim, which were generally left-sympathetic. The political tendencies of its leaders such as Yigal Allonand Yitzhak Sadeh, was towards Mapama left-wing party in opposition to David Ben-Gurionand the Mapairuling party. Those tendencies caused Ben-Gurion to order the dissolving of Palmach in 1948.
Palmach members were not, however, a unified, homogeneous collective with a single ideology. In the early years of the state of Israel they could be found in all political parties.
Yigal Allon, considered by many to be the representative of the Palmach generation, never properly reached a position of national leadership, although he was Prime Minister for a few days between Eshkol's death and Meir's appointment in 1969. He died in 1980.
The best known Palmachnik in Israeli politics was Yitzchak Rabin of the Israeli Labour party. Others included
Moshe Dayan, Chaim Bar-Levand Mordechai Gur.
Palmachniks can be found everywhere in Israeli politics. Besides left-wing activists such as
Mattityahu Peled, Yair Tsabanand Shulamit Aloni, Palmach veterans include Israeli nationalists such as Rehavam Zeeviand Rafael Eitan.
Besides military contributions, the Palmach had great influence over the Israeli "Tzabar" culture. Palmach activities included "Kumzitz" (sitting around a fire at night, eating, talking and having fun), public singing and cross-country walking trips. These often took on mythical proportions and have become favorite activities for Israelis.
The Palmach also contributed many anecdotes, jokes, "chizbat" (short funny tales, often based on exaggerations), songs and even books and stories.
Notable Palmach cultural figures include:
Netiva Ben Yehuda- journalist, writer, radiohost
Haim Hefer- poet, writer
Haim Guri- poet, writer
Naomi Polani- singer, actor
Moshe Shamir- writer, playwright
Hannah Szenes(Senesh) - poet
Dahn Ben Amotz- writer, journalist
Shayke Ofir- actor
Zohara Levitov- Diarist
Alex Braverman- Sculptor
* Shaike Ofir - Comedian
* High command:
Eliyahu Golumb- general commander of Haganah
Yitzhak Sadeh- general commander of Palmach
Giora Shanan- lieutenant general deputy commander of the Palmach
David Nammeri- lieutenant general commander of the Palmach
Yohanan Retner- strategy officer
Moshe Bar-Tikva- training officer
* Special units commanders:
Shimon Koch Avidan- commander of the "German Department"
Israel Ben-Yehuda- commander of the "Arab Department"
Yigal Allon- commander of the "Syrian Department"
* Company commanders (as of 1943):
Yigal Allon, Zalman Mars- Pluga Aleph commanders
Moshe Dayan, Meir Davidson, Uri Brener- Pluga Beth commanders
Uri Yafeh- Pluga Gimel commander
Benjamin Goldstein Tzur- Pluga Dalet commander
Abraham Negev- Pluga Hey commander
Israel Livertovski, Shinon Koch Avidan- Pluga Vav commander
** Yehuda. L. Ben-Tzur - Palyam commander
Shmuel Yanai- Palyam commander
* [http://www.palmach.org.il Official Website of the Palmach in Hebrew]
* [http://www.palmach.org.il/show_item.asp?itemId=8572&levelId=42850&itemType=0 Official Website of the Palmach in English]
* [http://www.palyam.org Official Website of the Palyam in Hebrew]
* "The Palmach - Its Warriors and Operation" by
Uri Brener, special edition for Palmach national convention, 1978
* [http://catalog.loc.gov/cgi-bin/Pwebrecon.cgi?Search_Arg=palmach&Search_Code=SUBJ_&PID=21583&SEQ=20060429214057&CNT=25&HIST=1 Library of Congress (U.S.) subject tracings]
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