At Haganah's West Point, Veterans Lament Their Deeds 'Have Been Forgotten'

It took a while, but ultimately Zvi Amir and Aryeh Halevy recognized one another. The two, who had not seen each other for decades, were in a platoon commanders' course together in 1947 in the pre-state army of the Jewish community of Palestine, the Haganah, which was founded 90 years ago.

Haganah ceremony Hagai Frid 13.9.2010
Hagai Frid

Yesterday a conference was held for all the graduates of the Haganah commanders' courses over the years, on the same spot where the original courses were given, between Kibbutz Ginegar and Kibbutz Sarid in the Lower Galilee. The courses were later hastily moved to Juara, after the British found out what was going on there.

Halevy and Amir reminisced about the four exhausting months they and 1,418 others spent in the prestigious course, which at last night's meeting was referred to as "the West Point of the army-in-the-making."

Musa Yarkoni, Yaakov Maoz and Yoska Halevy were there yesterday too, pleased to see their old comrades-in-arms.

"Among the graduates of those courses there were ultimately six chiefs of staff and 27 major generals of the Israel Defense Forces, as well as the entire senior command of the IDF until after the Yom Kippur War," said Zvika Levanon, chairman of the Association of Haganah Veterans, who organized yesterday's conference, underlining the importance of the Haganah to the state's establishment and defense.

"The Haganah provided the foundation for the IDF and for a generation that experienced it, there is a feeling for its achievements that is so clear there's no need to talk about it, but their deeds have been forgotten," Oren Dagan noted with some pain. Dagan, who has been active in the education division of the Society for the Preservation of Israel Heritage Sites, distributed a plaque to each conference participant with an enlarged platoon commander pin, similar to the ones the graduates of the Haganah course received. The pin's design is the same as the pin conferred upon young IDF officers to this day.

Last night Dagan proclaimed with confidence: "We will return the Haganah to its rightful place in history," lamenting, he said, that the story of the Haganah is not sufficiently taught to the younger generation, as if they were incapable of studying complex material. "That's a mistake," he said.

David Golomb, whose father Eliyahu Golomb was uncrowned leader of the Haganah, does not believe the pre-state underground organization has been forgotten, but does complain: "What they remember today is that there were three underground groups [the Irgun, or Etzel, and the Lehi, or Stern Gang, were the other two] and that's it. The Haganah was much more than that. It was a force subject to popular democratic rule and constituted the foundation for the fledgling army."

At the conference the words of Moshe Sneh, who headed the Haganah's national headquarters from 1941 to 1947, were recalled: "The Haganah is the first Jewish army since the period of the Bar Kokhba revolt [in the 2nd century] that is not beholden to a foreign army."