The Jewish Battalions
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The Jewish Battalions

Demand for Jewish Army Not Relinquished

Statement by Moshe Shertok, Head of the Jewish Agency Political Department

Palestine and Middle East Monthly, Volume XIV, August 1942

 Since the beginning of the war the Jewish people has been in it both as a victim and as a fighter. But there were times when both its sufferings and its active part in the struggle appeared to be largely ignored. It seemed as if the agonies of destruction that the Jewish people went through were regarded as merely a private concern and not that of all humanity and civilization

In the counsels of the leaders of world democracy they appeared to have found no echo. The cries of despair of the Jewish victims appeared to be a voice calling in the wilderness. Similarly, the war services of the Jewish people in Palestine failed to be officially noted. It was the Jewish fate to fight anonymously, as the services of Jewish soldiers were not credited to the people in whose name and for whose sake they came forward to fight. All efforts made in those days to break down that wall of silence proved fruitless.

Prime Minister's Message

The message of appreciation, encouragement and sympathy recently addressed by the head of the British War Cabinet to a Jewish gathering in New York and several pronouncements made prior to it have put an end to this state of affairs.

Mr. Winston Churchill, the great leader of the British nation, not only recalled in his message that the Jewish people was in the front ranks of the sufferers from Nazi aggression, but also paid tribute to the part played by Jews on all fronts in the fight against Hitler. He emphasized in particular the volunteer enlistment of the Jews of Palestine with the fighting forces and their part in the country’s defense and war effort in general. His appreciation of the Yishuv’s military effort, addressed to the Jews of America, brings out the wider significance of that effort of the Jewish people as a whole.

In all other countries Jews are fighting as part of the armies of their respective countries, undistinguished from the rest. It is only in Palestine that they appear as a distinct national entity representing the Jewish people as such.

With the transition from Jewish infantry companies to Jewish combatant battalions which has just been announced by the Secretary of State for War, Jewish enlistment has entered a new and important stage. This change affects Jewish infantry units which were hitherto part of the British Regiment of the "Buffs”. They will now form part of the Palestine Regiment.

Significance of Jewish Battalions

It is worthy of note that in the British Army, the term "regiment” [synonymous with "brigade" – ed.] has a different connotation from that which it has in continental armies. A British regiment is not a fighting unit, nor has it a central command. It is an administrative unit; it has its designation, its service roll and its registry. But seen from the angle of command and of military action, it is not the regiment but the battalion which is a self-contained fighting unit. Battalions are combined into larger fighting units without reference to their origin, e. g. the regiments to which they belong.

The existing Buffs Companies and the infantry companies which are to be established will henceforth be formed into battalions of the Palestine Regiment — separate Jewish and Arab battalions. As the enlistment for Palestine infantry companies expands, the number of battalions will also increase. It is up to us to provide men for more and more Jewish battalions for the defense of Palestine and for the war on its frontiers.

The announcement of the formation of these battalions was made in response to prolonged efforts and continuous representations. Now that this has been conceded, the position has been reversed: it is of us that things are now demanded. Let us not be satisfied with what has so far been done in the matter of volunteer recruiting. We have to enlarge its scope considerably.

The fact that only the infantry companies have received this promotion justifies the special importance we have always attached to enlistment in that force. It is a reward and a justication of the hard work put in by the soldiers of these companies who in the past were engaged on day and night guard duty. The formation of the companies into battalions means that this condition of isolated service has come to an end, that there is going to be advanced training, more up-to-date equipment, more effective preparation for actual fighting, and a wider scope for all military activity.

The Jewish units in the other services have lost none of their importance. These units have gone through difficult times. They have rendered hard service and experienced the dangers of the front line. All the service branches to which they are attached are asking for more and more recruits. Yet, the new chance given to the infantry calls for a marked and speedy increase in the flow of recruits for this particular branch. Thousands of new volunteers for Jewish infantry battalions - that is the call of the hour. The increase in the number of Jewish battalions will raise the level of the Yishuv’s contribution to the military war effort and to the defense of Palestine.

In spite of the decisive importance of these military units, it must be emphasized that they alone do not suffice for the effective contribution of the Yishuv to the defense of Palestine.

Home Guard Formations

The Prime Minister in his message to the Jews of New York and the Secretary of State for War in his announcement in the House of Commons emphasized the importance of the local defense forces — the "local Jewish defense organization” to quote the words of the Minister on a previous occasion. These are the Temporary Additional Police and, more particularly, the. Jewish Settlement Police. The Secretary of State for War announced that this force was to be increased and that its training was to be improved. His statement on this point was not quite clear and. we have to wait for additional explanations.

In the meantime, we have to repeat our urgent plea that the Jewish Settlement Police be strengthened and that it be trained and equipped to render home guard duties, should a major emergency arise. The improvements recently introduced in the training must speedily be extended.

Jewish infantry battalions and the organization of an effective home guard (to be formed round the experienced nucleus of the Jewish Settlement Police) — this is the essential framework for the fuller cooperation of the Jews of Palestine in the country’s defense.

It is for the authorities to create this framework. It is for the Yishuv to fill them.

Right to Jewish Army

The Secretary of State for War recognized the claim of the Jews of Palestine to play their part in the defense of the country. He rejected, however, the demand of the Jewish People for a National Army of its own.

The demand for a Jewish Army can, like any other demand, be rejected by those in authority. The right of the Jews to have an army of their own, on the other hand, cannot: be denied. That right is rooted in the fact that there is a Jewish people in the world which is the object of aggression by the enemy. The Jewish people will not cease to stress that right and to plead for its recognition. Until this is conceded, Jews of Palestine will not cease to do their duty in the war against the enemy within the framework of such opportunities as are given to them, opportunities which are constantly expanding. The novel development in the announcement by Sir James Grigg, the Secretary for War, is not its rejection of the claim for a Jewish Army. It is the fact that Jewish battalions are now to be formed.

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