British & Commonwealth Orders of Battle

The Arab Legion ] TJFF ] [ Palestine ]
Up ]



An Introduction
Campaigns & Battles
The Burma Campaign
UK Book Store


Palestinian Jews Who Fought for Britain

Throughout the Second World War many Palestinian Jews fought for Britain against the Axis.  Many units were raised including pioneer and transport companies.  Some Jews served with the TJFF and  an infantry brigade was raised and fought in the latter stages of the Italian campaign.  Special, commando type units were also raised and played an important role in Operation Exporter, the British invasion of Vichy French Syria in 1941.

On 15th May 1941, the leadership of the Yishuv (the Jewish community in Palestine), in consultation with the British military command in Palestine, established nine pelugot machaz ("strike companies") and so the Palmach was born.  Palmach is the Hebrew acronym for pelugot machaz.  These nine companies were comprised of experienced guerrilla fighters, most of them veterans of the 1936-39 Arab rebellion and many of them had been trained by Captain Orde Wingate, later commander of the Chindits in Burma.  These new units were trained and armed by the British Army in Palestine.  

The intention of the Jewish community was for the Palmach to fulfil two objectives.  Firstly, to create a standing brigade of shock troops to protect Palestine from an invasion by Axis forces in Egypt, Lebanon or Syria, in support of British war aims.  Secondly, to train an army of Jewish commandos who would eventually serve as the backbone of the Israeli Army.  Many Palmach veterans of Operation Exporter did go on to serve with the post-war Israeli Defence Force, notably Yitzhak Rabin and Moshe Dayan.

Six hundred Palmachniks participated in the invasion of Syria.  Others also supported the invasion of Lebanon.  Forty hand-picked men, including Yitzhak Rabin, went in to Vichy held territory on June 7th 1941, the day before the invasion proper, to reconnoitre the western approach from Palestine and to sabotage transportation and communications infrastructure.  They blew up bridges and rail lines and cut telephone and electricity lines.  
The rest of the Palmachniks went in the next day to serve as pathfinders or guides for the Allies.  The frontier country was well known to the Palmachniks for many had operated along the Syrian frontier.  Captain Orde Wingate's Special Night Squads engaged in counterinsurgency actions during the '36-'39 Arab rebellion, striking at Arab insurgents in the Syrian and Lebanese border villages they used as jumping off points.  
Operation Exporter forced the surrender of Vichy forces in Syria after only six days.  Several Palestinian Jews, all Arabic speakers, served on during the occupation with the British Special Operations Executive or SOE.


Thanks to Carrie T. Jacobsohn for providing the above summary of Palmach involvement in Operation Exporter.


17 February 2002


Contact Steve Rothwell with comments and additional information