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Joining the IDF Negev Beasts,  1948


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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 Beasts.

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....

My jeep (David Teperson, South Africa), on a one-day patrol (no sleeping bags). On the left – Yehuda Ben-Zur, Eitan Jacobson – driver.

Typical jeep on a long patrol, break for lunch. Nissim, my lieutenant, and Arieh, the radio man.

"Negev Beasts" (Hayot Hanegev) was the original and informal name of the 9th battalion Jeep company motorized commando of the Palmach Negev Brigade (Hativat Hanegev), a unique military force that played a key role in liberating the Negev in the Israel War of Independence.

Eyes of the Beholder relates some of the exploits of this little jeep unit, composed of Machal (overseas) volunteers from all over the world, as well as young Israeli Palmachniks like Avraham Adan (Bren), later General Bren, Mordechai (Motta) Gur and Haim Bar Lev. These are the men who conquered Beersheva and who raised the famous ink flag in Eilat. The book includes priceless photos and maps. It is a valuable first person account of what really happened, as well as a memorial to the Machal volunteers and Israeli soldiers who fought to defend Israel in 1948.

Colonel David (Migdal) Teperson, author of Eyes of the Beholder, grew up in the South African veldt, lived in the Kalahari desert, and learned the ways of the wild from age 13. His learned survival skills were aided by his 6' 6" frame and restless iron-clad constitution. He volunteered to defend the new state of Israel, serving first in the Alexandroni Brigade and later in the Negev Beasts in 1948, and fighting in every war of Israel.

These excerpts from the book are presented to honor the Machal volunteers and others who served in the Israel war of Independence and to give a close-up look at the history of that war and at the young men and women who made the state of Israel possible. The patch at right is the symbol of the Motorized Commando Unit.


Eyes of the Beholder is copyright © by David Teperson, 2008. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, without permission. Material appearing in these Web pages is reproduced by permission. To obtain printed copies of the entire book, contact Colonel David Teperson, P.O. BOX 9590, KFAR SHMARYAHU ISRAEL. 46910  TEL: 972-9-9582718 FAX: 972-9-9560673 E-MAIL: DAVE_TEP(at)NETVISION.NET.IL


See also:Palestine Partition - November 29, 1947 Memoirs of a Palmach volunteer, 1948 , Was there Ethnic Cleansing in Palestine in 1948?
Israel - Birth of a Nation - The struggle for Israel's independence 
1948 Israel War of Independence (First Arab-Israeli war) Timeline (Chronology) MACHAL In Israel's Wars MACHAL in Israel's War of Independence MACHAL - in illegal immigration to Palestine and Israel War of Independence

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