Wingate's Raiders: The Nucleus of a National Army

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  • Topic: Haganah, British Mandate of Palestine, Special Night Squads
  • Pages : 11 (3239 words )
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  • Published : January 25, 2011
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Captain Orde Wingate helped to shape the first effective Jewish defense against Arab attacks during the years 1936-1939. When Wingate arrived in Palestine as a British intelligence officer, the Jews were meeting these attacks with strictly defensive measures inherited from the Haganah, an underground resistance organization. When he left three years later, the Jews had learned to defend by preventive guerrilla attack. In bringing about this change Wingate provided a pattern for the creation of a unified Jewish national army.

The historical background of the Arab-Jewish conflicts with which this study is concerned may be summarized briefly. After World War I Palestine became the scene of a conflict between the Jewish drive for a national home and the Arab opposition to that drive. The conflict began with the Balfour Declaration of 1917 in which the British government supported the Zionist movement; it increased in intensity as Arabs rioted against the immigration of 100,000 Jews in the 1920's and another 150,000 between 1930 and 1935.1 In 1935 the Arabs demanded that Britain end its mandate over Palestine and recognize Arab sovereignty in that area.2 When this demand was refused., the Arabs, in 1936, began a series of attacks on the Jews which were to last four years and be known as the Arab Revolt.3

The Revolt quickly expanded into a guerrilla war. Organized into bands of 80 to 150 men,4 well armed with rifles left over from World Wax I or smuggled from Trans-Jordan,5 and led by men experienced in guerrilla tactics, the Arabs destroyed crops and property., cut telegraph lines., dynamited railway tracks and bridges, and ambushed trains and convoys.6 In 1937 alone they made 143 attacks on Jewish settlements, killing 32 civilians and wounding 83.7 In conducting this guerrilla war the Arabs had two great advantages. First, they were mobile and hence could wage a hit-and-run campaign extremely difficult to oppose with ordinary military procedures.8 Second, the bands could dissolve quickly when seriously threatened and mix with the civilian Arab population, who would hide them and their weapons. The members of the guerrilla bands were thus personally protected and their arms and supplies were easily concealed.9

In attempting to defend themselves against Arab attacks, the Jews were limited both in organization in strategy. They were not permitted by the British to have any organized fighting force or even to possess firearms. The nucleus of their defense was a semi-underground organization called the Haganah, which in Hebrew means "defense." The Haganah had its origin in pre-war Jewish settlers known as "watchmen," who protected themselves from Arab attack by patrolling their lands on horseback. After the Balfour Declaration, in response to the increasing Arab hostility, these watchmen were unofficially replaced by the Haganah, which operated relatively independently in each Jewish settlement.10 Its function was to defend the settlement against attack. To do this it smuggled in weapons and supplies, but its policy was limited to defense; it did not engage in counter or preventive attacks. Its own description of its policy was "Havlagah" or self-restraint.11 Because the British were unable to protect Jewish settlements and because they respected the policy of Havlagah, they established a Jewish Supernumerary Police Force.12 Haganah sent certain of its members to be trained as supernumeraries. These recruits were given military instruction, rifles, and Greener guns, and sent back to train other supernumerary police.13 This police force was the only legal part of the Haganah. It strengthened the Haganah, but it did not change its basic organization or concept of operation. In September of 1936, while the Revolt was in full...
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