by Steve Kramer (www.encounteringisrael.com)
THE ARABS’ UNDECLARED WAR against the Jews had already started when Natan Alterman, the influential Israeli poet, journalist, playwright and translator, penned his most famous poem, indelibly inscribing the image of Israel’s soldiers in the Israeli psyche. Below is the conclusion of his poem, “The Silver Platter,” which was published by Davar newspaper, December 19, 1947:
- Then a nation in tears and amazement will ask: “Who are you?”
And they will answer quietly, “We Are the silver platter on which the Jewish state was given.”
Thus they will say and fall back in shadows
And the rest will be told In the chronicles of Israel
The IDF, short for Israel Defense Forces, is known as a very formidable fighting force, perhaps the strongest army in the entire region. But it only came into existence in 1948, after Israel’s Declaration of Independence. It was formed by Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion from three groups: Haganah, Irgun (or Etzel), and Lehi (sometimes derogatorily termed Stern Gang). This union was not formed without tragedy. The most egregious example was Ben-Gurion’s order to attack the Altalena, the Irgun munitions ship attacked in Tel Aviv waters because Ben-Gurion believed Irgun’s independence would scuttle his vision of a united IDF. The ship was shelled, casualties resulted, and survivors were shot in the water!
On Independence Day 2013, we visited the Lehi Museum in Tel Aviv, which is dedicated to this most radical of the three groups. To put Lehi into context, let’s first examine the other two components of the IDF, especially Haganah, which was founded in 1920 in response to Arab pogroms and attacks against the Yishuv (pre-state Israel). Egged on by Arab leaders, especially the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Mohammad Amin al-Husseini, Haganah (meaning self-defense) was a loose organization of local defense groups located in large towns and in some settlements. Haganah was under the authority of the Histadrut Trade Union Movement allied with Ben-Gurion. Nevertheless, one of its most significant founders was Ze’ev (Vladimir) Jabotinsky, who for a time headed Haganah’s Jerusalem branch and was the leader of the Revisionist party which opposed Ben-Gurion and the labor movement.
The Haganah adapted itself in 1929, when the horrendous Arab Riots, especially those in Hebron and Jerusalem, made it obvious that a much more organized defense force was necessary. The result was an enlargement of forces to include nearly all the youth and adults in the settlements, as well as several thousand members from each of the cities. A comprehensive training program for members and officers was initiated, central arms depots were built to contain light arms from Europe, and the basis was laid for the underground production of arms.
During the Arab Revolt of 1936-39, what was already a strong, organized militia became a true military force. Although there was little overt cooperation with the British Mandate forces, in 1938, Special Night Squads (SNS) were established, under the command of Captain Orde Wingate. A fervent Christian Zionist, Wingate was an …read more