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The Palmach (Hebrew: , acronym for Plugot Macḥatz (Hebrew: ), lit. "strike force") was the regular fighting force of the Haganah, the unofficial army of the Yishuv (Jewish community) during the period of the British Mandate of Palestine. The Palmach was established on May 15, 1941. By the outbreak of the Israeli War of Independence in 1948, it consisted of three fighting brigades and auxiliary aerial, naval and intelligence units.

The Palmach contributed significantly to Israeli culture and ethos, well beyond its military contribution. Its members formed the backbone of the Israel Defense Forces high command for many years, and were prominent in Israeli politics, literature and culture.


Women of the Palmach at Ein Gedi, 1942
The Palmach was established by the British military and Haganah on May 15, 1941 to help the British protect Palestine from the Nazi German threat. They were also to assist Allied forces with the planned invasion of Syriamarker and Lebanonmarker, then held by Vichy French forces. 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 Alameinmarker in 1943, the British ordered the dismantling of Palmach. The whole organization went underground instead.

Since British funding had stopped, Yitzhak Tabenkin, head of the Kibbutzim union suggested the Palmach could be self-funding by having the warriors work in the Kibbutzim. Each Kibbutz would host a Palmach platoon and 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:
  1. Maintenance of an independent, easily mobilized military force.
  2. A force in which members' labor funded 80% of Palmach's budget. Money from Haganah was dedicated to weapons and training.
  3. The force would be hard to track down.
  4. Easier recruitment of people from Kibbutzim and Moshavim.
  5. The creation of groups of settlers, who could form the base for future settlements.
  6. Education of soldiers in Zionist values.

The program of combined military training, 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 "core group") would undergo training. This was the base for the Nahal settlements. The training enabled Palmach to expand its numbers and recruit more people.

Basic training included physical fitness, small arms, mêlée and Kapap, basic marine training, topography, first aid and squad operations. Most of the Palmach members received advance training in one or more of the following areas: sabotage and 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.

The Palmach put great emphasis on training independent and broadminded field commanders who would take the initiative and set an example for their troops. It trained squad commanders and company commanders. The major commanders training course was in the Palmach and many Haganah commanders 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, radar stations 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 Etzionmarker, Kfar Darommarker and Revivimmarker) against Arab militias. Although inferior in numbers and arms, Palmach soldiers held out long enough to allow the Haganah to mobilise 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 Brigademarker and Yiftach Brigade. The Negev and Yiftah Brigades fought in the Negevmarker against the Egyptian army and managed to stop and later repulse it into the Gaza Stripmarker and Sinaimarker. The Yiftah Brigade later was transferred to the north.

Military organization

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 East and 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 Europe by boat, despite the British White Paper of 1939 which introduced restrictions on Jewish immigration to Palestine.
  • Palavir (The Air Companies): made up of Jewish pilots, the Palmach air force was incorporated into the Sherut Avir (predecessor of the Israeli Air Force) upon the Sherut's foundation in late 1947.
  • Sabotage Units: explosives experts who became the basis for the Israeli Engineering Corps in the IDF.

The Palmach put an emphasis on training field commanders (מפקדי שטח) and formed the basis for the Israeli army.

During the 1948–49 War of Independence the Palmach was expanded to form three infantry brigades commanded by Yigal Allon:

  • Yiftach, with three battalions operating in Eastern Galilee (1st and 3rd)
  • Harel, with three battalions operating (4th, 5th and 10th) in the Jerusalem area comamnded by Yitzhak Rabin (then age 26).
  • Negevmarker, with four battalions (2nd, 7th, 8th and 9th), one of which was the jeep mounted "Negev Beasts"

There was also the Headquarters Battalion which controlled naval, air and commando companies.

The battlecry of the Palmach commander was "!אחרי" (Aharai), which literally means "after me!" or "follow me!". It refers to the commander leading his troops instead of sending them out and staying behind.

In politics and culture

The Palmach was a left-wing nationalist organisation, associated with socialist parties. Its members trained and lived in Kibbutzim, which were generally left-sympathetic. The political tendencies of its leaders such as Yigal Allon and Yitzhak Sadeh was towards Mapam, a left-wing party in opposition to David Ben-Gurion and the Mapai ruling 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.

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:

Notable Palmachniks

Palmach Museum

The Palmach museum is located on Chaim Lavon street in Tel Aviv, Israel. It is an experiential museum that covers the Palmach legacy through the stories of individuals and groups. Visitors to the museum join the group of young Palmach recruits from its establishment, and advanced through the story of the Palmach until the end of the War of Independence.

The manner of presentation is extremely innovative. There are no displays or documents, but rather an account of a fascinating personal story accompanied by three-dimensional decor, films and various effects incorporating documentary materials.The visit, which is conducted in groups, correlates with the structure of the presentation, set out as a series of events, and symbolizing the Palmach team spirit.

The tour commences and ends in the memorial hall for Palmach warriors who died fighting for establishment of the state of Israel.

See also

External links


  • The Palmach - Its Warriors and Operation, Uri Brener, special edition for Palmach national convention, 1978
  • Library of Congress (U.S.) subject tracings
  • Palmach: Plugot Hamahatz shel Hahaganah, 1941-1949 Meir Pa'il, Avraham Zohar and Azriel Ronen (Hebrew)

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