05 Mar A British General Who Became ‘The Friend’ of the Jews of Israel
British Maj. Gen. Orde Wingate (1903-1944) is one of the more legendary figures in the period of the British mandate in Palestine for his role in leading Jewish forces fighting Arab marauders who were attacking fledgling Jewish communities.
Born to a religious Christian family and a firm believer in the Bible, Wingate passionately embraced the prophetic vision of Jewish redemption and the Jews’ ultimate return to the Land of Israel. During his service in the Land of Israel, he worked to help realize that ideal.
Wingate arrived in British-mandated Israel in 1936 as an intelligence officer at a time when Arab rioters were regularly attacking not only Jews but also the British. To counter this offensive, Wingate organized and trained “Special Night Squads,” comprised primarily of Haganah (pre-Israel Defense Forces) fighters. Their tactics were based on the strategic principles of surprise, mobility and night attacks, successfully pre-empting and resisting the Arab attacks.
Wingate maintained good contacts with the heads of the Jewish community and the Haganah. Recognizing the need for a working military force, he dreamed of heading the army of the future Jewish state. Because of his efforts and support, he was called in Hebrew “Hayedid,” the friend. To a very large extent Wingate shaped both the fighting tradition of the Haganah and the Israel Defense Forces.
Wingate’s intense support for the Zionist viewpoint, however, was controversial, and in 1939 the British succumbed to Arab pressure and transferred Wingate from the Land of Israel. His passport was stamped with the restriction that he not be allowed to re-enter the country. His personal involvement with the Zionist cause was thus curtailed, but many of those he trained became heads of the Palmach (Jewish commando forces) and, later, the Israel Defense Forces. One of those he trained and who remained deeply indebted to him was Moshe Dayan, who went on to became Israel’s chief of military staff and later defense minister.
Wingate was killed in an airplane crash while with British forces in Burma in 1944, and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. His friendship for the Jewish community of the Land of Israel and his contributions to its defense have been recognized through several places in Israel named for him, including the College of Physical Education near Netanya.