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Overseas Volunteers in the War of Independence


David Ben Gurion visiting Machal troopsComing soon: “Overseas Volunteers in Israel's War of Independence” Exhibition

Volunteer soldiers from around the world who dropped everything to volunteer in the Israeli army in 1947 and defend Israel in battle are being honored in a new exhibition at Beit Hatfutsot. The exhibition "Overseas Volunteers in Israel's War of Independence", set to open on Thursday, May 31, 2012 explores the stories of the Machal troops who responded to the immediate need and came to fight for the fledgling Jewish state.


In November 1947, following Britain's decision to submit the question of Palestine to the UN, the General Assembly decided to divide it  into two states – Jewish and Arab. 


Jerusalem, it was decided, would remain an independent and international city. Subsequent to Arab objection to the partition, war broke out –  in its initial stages considered a civil war.  After the declaration of the establishment of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948, it was called "The International War." The armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq invaded and advanced to the heart of the Hebrew settlement (the Yishuv).

Establishment of a professional army was one of the goals facing David Ben-Gurion, Chairman of the Board of the Jewish Agency and an architecht of the state-in-the-making. However,  there were not enough soldiers in the Yishuv who had fought in the Underground and in the Palmach who were at the level needed.  The Haganah helped Ben-Gurion recruit Jews with military experience and capability throughout the world. They were called Machal – Volunteers from Abroad – mostly veterans of World War II, who responded to the challenge and came to join the Zionist struggle.

Most of the volunteers were from English-speaking countries.  There were Jews and non-Jews among them, and they included individuals with Air Force or naval experience. Some had been in medical service units, infantry, tanks and artillery.  Some volunteered for humanitarian reasons, as an expression of anti-Imperialist activism or came seeking adventure. 


Out of more than 4,500 Machalniks, 123 were killed, including four women and eight non-Jewish volunteers. After the war, most of them returned to their countries of origin, and approximately 500 of the volunteers remained and settled in Israel.

The exhibition is displayed in partnership with MACHAL, Association of Overseas Volunteers, 1948.