Rep. Luce: Palestine Jews fight fiercely for freedom, revenge (4-2-45)

The Pittsburgh Press (April 2, 1945)

Rep. Luce: Palestine Jews fight fiercely for freedom, revenge

Volunteers for most dangerous jobs are those who suffered most under Hitler
By Clare Boothe Luce, written for combined U.S. press

WITH BRITISH EIGHTH ARMY, Italy (UP) – On the British Front I visited the Palestine brigade commanded by Brig. Ernest F. Benjamin. The brigade is on a small sector of the Italian ruined country. Its members, who fight for the first time in this war under their own flag, are all Palestinians, though many of them were once refugees from the hinterlands. Their senior officers are all British professional soldiers of Jewish blood.

The formation of the brigade was announced last September 20. On November 1, it sailed for Italy. It had been in the line only a matter of days when I went to see it. Many British officers with whom I talked before and after that visit said there was no more grim and determined unit on the whole Italian front.

After all, many of them have some very bloody personal scores to settle. I certainly never have seen men more eager to do so, or so fiercely glad that when their hour to strike comes they will be fighting as every free man has a right to fight, armed like the enemy and fighting under his own flag for a homeland where his wife and children are.

To return to Palestine

I talked to a young, Jewish non-com., Sgt. Channan Levi of Tel Aviv. He was six feet tall, had blue eyes and blond hair and had been born in Berlin. His English was very poor. I tried a few words in German, and he said very quietly:

I talk Hebrew or English now. I forgot my German when I was driven from my home in ‘39. I do not wish to speak it again except to the German prisoners we take. I never will go back to Germany except with this army. When we have won, I shall return to Palestine and to my farm.

The Jews in Palestine are good farmers. We shall prove here that we are good fighters.

Chaff at delays

A few of the men I talked to at brigade headquarters were unhappy about only one thing – that political pressure had so long prevented the formation of overseas Palestine forces.

They wish that their Jewish military history had not begun so late in this war. They felt that if political action had been taken long ago by Great Britain and the United States at the beginning of the war, Palestine could easily have put, not a brigade, but divisions into the battle against Germany. They know, as well as informed Jewish opinion on the American home front knows, what occasioned this long delay in calling Jewry to arms.

They point with considerable pride to the part that Jewish units have played in British forces all through the bad days of the North African campaign. There has been no conscription in Palestine. Nevertheless, since 1939, Palestinians and refugee Jews coming into Palestine volunteered in many numbers to join the British forces.

50,000 volunteer

I was told that upwards of 50,000 Palestine Jews, men and women, so far have voluntarily enlisted for armed service in the British Army, Navy, Air Force and women’s auxiliary services.

If an American volunteer army had been raised in proportion to the population of Palestine, the USA today would have a volunteer army of about 12 million. Since the war began, Palestine units with the British Eighth Army have seen service in France, Libya, Egypt, Syria and Iraq.

Tales of heroism

In Palestine brigade headquarters, as in all headquarters everywhere in this war, you can hear many stories of heroism in battle. Here they tell of Jewish commando units selected by British officers in the Mediterranean battles for particularly dangerous jobs because the volunteers were all men whose families had suffered horribly at the hands of Adolf’s hordes.

The story of the Jewish part in the war effort in the Near East is one which they feel has never been told successfully. They hope the record of this brigade in battle will draw some attention to that story.

What are these Jews fighting for? Revenge? Yes, but also, like the Poles, for freedom of their homeland and the liberation of an ancient people – the right to work in peace in shop or field. That’s what Sgt. Channan Levi of Tel Aviv – once Hans Levi of Berlin – is fighting for anyway.

Not to be distracted

I did not talk to Sgt. Levi about how he thinks the other Hans Levis of the world would like Madagascar or Eritrea, or British Guiana, or San Domingo for a “homeland” if the white paper policy should remain in force in Palestine.

I did not ask him for two reasons:

  • His primary task is to kill Nazis, and he is in no mood to be distracted.
  • I think I know how he might answer, anyway.

I have been part of the great miracle of the rebirth of Palestine. I have been among those who have made the desert bear fruit and the swamp yield a rich harvest, who have blasted rocks and crushed them to make roads to ancient, forgotten soil on the frontier, who have worked to make the soil of the Valley of Jordan free of the Dead Sea salt so it would bloom, who have built universities and schools and there worshipped the god of the Jews who gave us this task to do in the land that he promised us: Our home.

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