In this excerpt from the book, "Eyes of the Beholder," the author, Colonel David Teperson, relates how he deserted the Alexandroni Brigade to join the Negev Beasts, and how the
unit "organized" its equipment in typical Palmach fashion - by swiping jeeps wherever they could be found.
Teperson also explains how ordinary jeeps were converted to "mine-proof" commando vehicles by the simple expedient of
sandbagging the bottoms, and mounting machine guns on them.
Alan Lipman – another South African – and I left our equipment with a letter on the beds, took our belongings and ran
away to join the Palmach at their headquarters in Tel Aviv. We told them that we wanted to join the Palmach. I met Yuval
Green, the driver of Israel Karmi who was in charge of the Hayot Ha’Negev (9th battalion) of the Palmach Negev brigade.
Yuval told us to meet him at six o’clock in the morning on the steps of the Habima Theater.
My reason for joining the Palmach was because the Palmachnikim who were in charge of “Aliya Bet” in Marseille, had
influenced me to join the unit if I wanted to see lots of action. After I deserted Alexandroni, three other South
Africans from Alexandroni also joined us. Nearly all Machal volunteers in the 9th battalion Palmach were deserters like
myself from other units in the IDF, including; Alexandroni, Artillery, Air-Force and Navy. Because of the long truce,
they deserted, they wanted to see action and the only place of continued action was the Negev. This was at the end of
July. The whole 9th battalion and Negev brigade were rotated out of the Negev and returned to the camp in Beer Yaakov.
There they got new jeeps and equipment and more recruits so as to rebuild the Negev brigade. The Palmach Yiftach
battalion took over from us. We were flown out of the Negev, to the north, received new vehicles, guns, new recruits and
started training. We became an international band of brothers as we were a small unit and operating mostly by ourselves
away from the battalion. We became very close. The Israelis learnt English, but the Machal volunteers had a hard time
learning Hebrew. We learned to recognize the orders given out in Hebrew by their sound. Following the war we stuck
together, as my wife said when I was courting her, she never went out with me, she went out with the boys. As we, the
Machal boys, had no families in Israel, our brothers in arms became our family.
We remained in Beer Yaakov in August and September training and preparing to go back to action in the Negev. During the
months of August and September there was a United Nations ceasefire. This gave the Israeli Army time to re-equip and
train for the next fight. The Palmach was integrated into the Army, even though the officers still ate with the soldiers
in the same mess hall and would not wear any rank insignia.
The Negev Brigade had at its disposal two battalions (the 7th Infantry and the 9th Mobile Semi-armor Battalion). The
9th included the French Commando Company made up of French-speaking volunteers (from France and North Africa), as well
as the Jeep Company (60% Machal volunteers) and the Armored Car Company (50% Machal volunteers). Most of the orders were
given in a mixture of French and Hebrew, which the Machal volunteers learnt very quickly. The French Commando was led by
a Foreign Legion officer called Teddy (Christian volunteer). The 9th Commando Battalion was made up of a nucleus of the
Negev Beasts, who had gained much experience in long-range raids since May. The Jeep Company was based on the Negev
We were waiting for jeeps and other armored vehicles to arrive for re-equipment. The Palmach was not very much liked
by the Army Headquarters. They wanted us to go back to the Negev at the beginning of October, but the equipment we
needed, including new jeeps, had not yet arrived. Our Battalion Headquarters sent us out one night with half-tracks
fully armed to confiscate any jeep that we found. My group went to the Yarkon Hotel in Tel Aviv, which was Air Force
Headquarters, and at the parking lot opposite the hotel, they had 4-5 brand new jeeps. We had practically nothing. We
tied up the guard, broke into the jeeps, and drove away with them. We then fixed the lock on any jeep on the road, all
the way from Tel Aviv to Netanya. We even took parked UN jeeps. That night we collected 10-20 jeeps and took them to our
base. The idea was to paint them green and take them to the Negev. At the exit of Tel Aviv, the Air Force sent their
fire engine truck with armed soldiers to stop us from going south. When they saw us on the half-track fully armed,
following the jeeps, and after we had shot in the air a few times, telling them to clear the road, they got out of our
way very quickly. The same was done by other platoons, as far as Netanya. The Military Police did not come out that
night, but in the morning they went looking for the missing jeeps.
This method worked – we gave the UN their jeeps back and kept the rest. Within two days we received all the jeeps we
needed from the army, which realized we couldn’t go back with the equipment we had. We even stole one private car for
our Battalion Commander (then Israel Carmi, later replaced by Haim Bar-Lev when we moved into the Negev). Any vehicle
that we brought to Be’er Yaakov was painted brown and given an army number. Those that we didn’t manage to do that with
were given back, including the UN’s jeeps. Now that we had the jeeps, we fixed, armed and prepared them to take us back
to the Negev. That’s when I learned that you have to wake the Israeli army up to give you what you need. I know they
didn’t like the 3 Palmach Brigades, but they were a quarter of the Israeli Army, which had 9 more Brigades which were
not Palmach. They needed us more than ever. As I said before, nearly all the new recruits to our units were Machal
(overseas volunteers), runaways from all the other army units.
We looked upon our jeeps as our sturdy transport and treated them as if they were our horses, as we knew we depended
on them for all our movements. They became part of our family. Each jeep crew was proud of his jeep. Later, I remember
when jeeps landed on mines, and the crew would remark “she was a good jeep, gave us good service, we’re going to miss
her”. This is the way the crew looked upon the jeeps. You must remember that we lived, slept, ate and fought all the
time with the jeeps near us or next to us. They carried our food, water, guns, ammunition, beddings, and all our needs.
We always slept next to them and did most of our fighting from them.
The 9th battalion of the Palmach was an armored battalion made up of the following; one company of mobile infantry and
twelve halftracks, one company of Israeli made white armored cars with two MG 34 machine-guns; they also had one
halftrack with a 20mm anti-tank gun. Close to half of the armored car platoon was made up of English speaking overseas
volunteers (Machal), mostly from South Africa, USA, Canada and England.
The Jeep Company was made up of twelve jeeps; each jeep was fitted with two MG 34 machine guns, the springs of the
jeeps were reinforced to carry the extra weight. We were equipped with fuel, water, food (to sustain us for a few days
away from our main base) and the equipment we captured from the Egyptians (including 52cm hand mortars, “Bren” machine
guns and hand grenades). The floor of the jeep was covered with sand bags which prevented the shrapnel from land mines
from entering the jeep through the bottom. Our platoons often operated for days behind enemy lines on reconnaissance or
actions such as ambushes and blowing up railway lines.
There were approximately 45 soldiers in our company, all the officers and corporals were Israeli. About 60% were
English speaking Machal, of which almost all had deserted from other units in the Israeli Army looking for action. These
were mostly South Africans, English, Americans, Canadians and one Frenchman, a very compact group of comrades in arms.
There was also a company of French commandos that included French-speaking Jews and a Christian officer, Teddy, an
ex-French Foreign Legion officer in WWII.
Normally an operation consisted of one platoon of four jeeps, but sometimes there were two platoons of eight jeeps
involved in an operation. Together with the three companies of the 9th Battalion, there was the Headquarters unit that
consisted of every available facility; such as scouts, logistics, engineers, etc. In 1948, the 9th Battalion was
considered an armored battalion....