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Palmach, the Haganah Elite Group


Moshe Dayan

Moshe Dayan, who led Israel's military between 1953 and 1957 before becoming Israel's defense and foreign affairs minister.

David Eldan/GPO via Getty Images
Definition: Palmach is a Hebrew acronym for Plugot Maḥatz, meaning "Strike Force" or "Strike Company." The Plamach was an elite group of volunteer commandos established in 1941 within the Haganah as the seed of a professional Israeli military corps.

Palmach members were involved in sabotage operations against Nazi Germany, especially in the Balkans, and were trained to undermine a potential Nazi occupation of Palestine. The training proved just as valuable when the Palmach turned against the British Mandate in the lead-up to 1948 the War of Independence--as well as against renegade Jewish militant and terrorist underground forces like the Irgun (it was the Palmach that captured the Irgun weapon ship Altalena during the War of Independence).

The Plamach's purpose was more than military. It had deep-seated ideological and cultural components that went a long way to define Israel's socialist, egalitarian and patriotic identity as well as the value placed on leadership and selflessness.

The Palmach was the training ground for several notable Israeli leaders who went on to command the Israeli military, or Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). They include:

  • Moshe Dayan (1953-57)
  • Yitzhak Rabin (1963-1967), who was also twice Israel's prime minister (1974-77 and 1992-95)
  • Haim Bar-Lev (1968-72)
  • David Elazar (1972-75)
  • Mordechai Gur (1975-78)
Also Known As: Plugot Maḥatz
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