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Machal Definition

Machal - (or Mahal - Hebrew acronym for Mitnadvei Hutz La'aretz -) Machal is the name given to volunteers from abroad. Chiefly, it refers to those who fought in Israel's War of Independence, and who previously helped to organize Aliya Bet illegal immigration from European DP camps after World War II. The 3,500 volunteers included Jews and non-Jews from at least 46 countries, of whom at least 120 lost their lives in the fighting. Among the dead are eight non-Jews and four women. The volunteers included allied soldiers, adventurers, British deserters and foreign volunteers like Esther Cailingold, who had volunteered to teach in the Old City of Jerusalem. The countries of origin included:

Algeria • Argentina • Australia • Belgium • Brazil • Bulgaria • Canada • Chile • China • Colombia • Costa Rica • Cuba • Czechoslovakia • Denmark • Ecuador • Egypt • Ethiopia • Finland • France • Great Britain • Greece • Holland • Hungary • India • Ireland • Italy • Kenya • Libya • Mexico • Morocco • New Zealand • Nicaragua • Norway • Panama • Paraguay • Peru • South Africa • Spain • Spanish Morocco • Sweden • Switzerland • Tunisia • Turkey • United States • Uruguay • Venezuela

About 1,200 of the volunteers were Americans and Canadians.

A MACHAL 2000 program continues the tradition of foreign volunteering in the IDF.

Some first hand accounts of Machal service and experiences in that period by Machal volunteers:

Memoirs of a Palmach volunteer, 1948

Was there Ethnic Cleansing in Palestine in 1948?

Palestine Partition - November 29, 1949

MACHAL and Aliya Bet

In 1939, the British had ended Jewish immigration to Palestine with issuance of the White Paper, responding to Arab pressure. This trapped millions of Jews in Europe, helpless before the advancing armies of Nazi Germany. Though it was impossible for anyone to foresee the murder of European Jews in the Holocaust, it was manifest that the Jews were in grave danger. Prior to and during World War II, the Jewish Agency organized immigration from Europe, called Aliya Bet. They managed to bring tens of thousands of Jews to Palestine in rickety death trap ships, though most were caught and interned for the duration of the war.

Following the World War II, about 250,000 Jews were interned in various displaced persons (DP) camps. Most of them did not want to return to their countries of origin, where anti-Semitism was rife and there was nothing left for them but contemplation of the destruction of their homes and lives. Many of these countries were behind the Iron Curtain. Western European countries and the United States refused admission to these Jewish refugees, most of whom in any case wanted to go to Palestine.

The illegal Aliya was renewed, as much to demonstrate the inhumanity of Britain's policy as to bring immigrants to Palestine. 68 aging ships were purchased abroad and refitted to carry immigrants. Many sorts of craft helped to form this fleet - old cruise liners, freighters, coast guard cutters... Ten of these ships, the largest, were purchased in the United States, refitted, and manned primarily by American and Canadian crews consisting of about 240 volunteers. They brought about 32,000 of the over 70,000 postwar illegal immigrants to mandate Palestine. They were pursued by British navy destroyers and hunted by the RAF. Many were caught and their passengers interned in Cyprus and elsewhere.

The most memorable of these craft was the Exodus, formerly the President Warfield, a a Chesapeake Bay excursion liner. It loaded 4,530 passengers at Sete, France.  It was intercepted near Haifa after being rammed by a British destroyer on July 18 1947. Machal volunteer Bill Bernstein was beaten to death by British soldiers, defending the wheel house. Its passengers were returned to France, where almost all refused to disembark. They were taken to Hamburg, Germany and were forcibly removed from the ship by British soldiers and jailed. This spectacle helped to convince world public opinion that the British mandate for Palestine had to be ended, and the Jews deserved a state of their own.  After the Israel War of Independence, the Exodus was  moored in Haifa harbor. However, it caught fire in August 1952 and burned to the waterline and eventually was scrapped.

Machal Illegal Immigration (Aliya Bet) ship The Kibbutz Galuyot (Pan York), a converted banana ship shown at left was typical of conditions on these MACHAL Aliyah Bet ships. 7,800 passengers were crammed into its decks. The "chimneys" housed ventilator shafts containing fans that forced air into the below- deck area. The upper deck was reserved for babies and children, because the air in the lower decks was considered unhealthy. The Kibbutz Galuyot made two voyages. At least one of these was from Burgas, Bulgaria, where it took on mostly Romanian survivors of the Holocaust and transported them directly to Cyprus by agreement with the British, on January 1, 1948. By that time, the British had announced they were leaving Palestine. With the similar, Atzmaut the Pan York became one of the first merchant ships  of Israel’s state-controlled Zim line.
Kibbutz Galuyot - Pan York - Photo by Frank Perlman. Source: http://israelvets.com/pictorialhist_rescue_fleet.html  

Other MACHAL Aliya Bet Ships:


“Atzmaut” (Pan Crescent), along with  the “Kibbutz Galuyot” (Pan York), Atzmaut had also been a banana carrier. According to Benny Morris, it was sabotaged and damaged in port, in Venice on the night of August 30, 1947, by agents of MI6 (Righteous Victims, page 183). After taking on passengers at Burgas, Bulgaria, it too sailed directly to Cyprus by agreement with the British, arriving there on January 1, 1948. After independence, it became part of the ZIM merchant marine.

“Haganah” (Norsyd) was a former Canadian corvette. Its nearly 1,000 passengers embarked at Sete, France and were transfered at sea to the Biryah, (Akbel II), which was intercepted and towed to Haifa on July 1, 1946. Its 999 passengers were interned in Haifa. In a second voyage, Haganah took 2,678 passengers from Bakar, Yugoslavia, on July 24, 1946. It was intercepted July 29 and escorted to Haifa by the British. Its passengers were interned. Eventually, it joined the Israel Navy as warship K-20.

“Josiah Wedgwood” (Beauharnois) was a former Canadian corvette like the Haganah. It took on 1,257 passengers near Savona, Italy, and arrived at Haifa on June 27, 1946. It was intercepted by the British, and its passengers were interned at Athlit. After Israel became independent, it joined the Israel Navy as the warship “Hashomer,” K-18.

“Haim Arlosoroff” (Ulua) had previously been a revenue cutter and a U.S. Coast Guard ship. It loaded passengers at Trelleborg, Sweden and Metaponte, Italy. After a battle with the British, it ran onto a reef at Bat Galim, Haifa, and 15 of its passengers and crew were interned at Atlit and 1,348, including 20 stretcher cases, were deported to Cyprus. The vessel was eventually sold for scrap.

“Ben Hecht” (Abril), a private yacht, had carried out smuggling operations in the Spanish civil war and later served the U.S. Navy in World War II on coastal patrols. It loaded about 600 passengers at Port de Bouc, France, and was intercepted and taken to Haifa on March 8, 1947. It became IN  “Maoz,” K-22.

“Hatikvah” (Tradewinds), was a revenue cutter and had served as an icebreaker on the St. Lawrence River and later as a Coast Guard cutter.  It loaded 1,414 passengers  at Portovenere and Bogliasco on the Italian Riviera. It was intercepted and taken to Haifa on May 17, 1947. Its passengers were interned in Cyprus. It served the Israel Navy very briefly and was then sold for scrap.

“Geulah” (Paducah) was originally a gunboat and then a Coast Guard cutter. It took on 2,644 passengers at Burgas, Bulgaria. It was intercepted and taken to Haifa on October 2, 1947. Its passengers were interned in Cyprus. After the establishment of the state it was sold for scrap.

“Jewish State” (Northland) had been an icebreaker in the service of the Coast Guard. It took on about 2,600 passengers at Burgas, Bulgaria, and was intercepted and taken to Haifa on October 2, 1947. Its passengers were interned in Cyprus. It became the Israel Navy’s principal training ship, the “Eilat,” A-16.

For information about pre-war Aliya bet and other non-Machal immigrant ships see: Aliya Bet, Exodus  Mefkure Patria Struma Salvador

Machal and the Israel War of Independence

Following the decision of the UN to partition Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state (UN General Assembly Resolution 181) war between the Jewish Yishuv and the Palestinian Arabs was only a matter of time, and the Arab League had declared its intention to rid Palestine of the Jews as well. In fact, the Israel War of Independence broke out almost immediately, beginning with Arab attacks on transportation, riots and strikes. The British did nothing to stop the violence, and in fact, actively aided and abetted it in places like Gush Etzion.

The Jews had a total of about 20,000 - 30,000 men under arms, but few had battle training and they had virtually no weapons. Volunteers from abroad, the Machal, played a crucial role both in arms purchases and in providing trained personnel, particular air pilots for the new state. Because of the presence of the British, it was almost impossible to bring arms into the country until independence. In contrast, the Arabs had free access to British arms that were given to the Jordan legion, as well as the arms of "Salvation army" of the Nazi Fawzi al Kaukji, which the British had allowed to enter Palestine in January of 1948. Once the British left and the Arab armies invaded the new state of Israel, the cause seemed hopeless: the Arab states had aircraft and tanks and artillery. The Jews had none of these at first.

Below are a few of the stories of individual heroism and contributions in different fields.

Esther Cailingold - Esther Cailingold was a young British Zionist schoolteacher who died in defense of the Jewish quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem. You can read her story here: Esther Cailingold

MACHAL in the Israeli ground forces

Overseas volunteers served on all fronts during the War of Independence; many fell in battle - at Ramat Rachel, Sejera, at Latrun, on the road to besieged Jerusalem, and in other places. Some units were almost exclusively MACHAL. Overseas volunteers also served on armored corps tanks, including two Cromwells which had been "borrowed" from the British army by two non-Jews who threw in their lot with the Jewish forces.

Almost every army unit - artillery, engineers, communications and radar and other technical groups - included MACHAL. There were MACHAL soldiers, in the fighting brigades Alexandroni, Golani, Givati, Etzioni, the Seventh, the Eighth and Ninth (Oded) Brigades, as well as in the Palmach brigades Harel, Yiftach and Hanegev.

The 7th Armored Brigade eventually had about 250 English-speaking MACHAL. It was commanded by Ben Dunkelman, a decorated WWII Canadian veteran who had previously been involved in the preparations of the "Burma Road" to Jerusalem and organized mortar support in the battles for the relief of besieged Jerusalem.

The 79th Armored Battalion, part of the 7th Brigade, was commanded by Canadian Joe Weiner. The 72nd Battalion included the non-Jewish company commander Derek Bowden, who, as a paratroop officer, had been taken prisoner and sent to Bergen-Belson concentration camp, because of letters found in his pockets from Palestinian Jewish friends.

Having been involved in battles at Latrun and Nazareth, the 7th Brigade also participated in Operation Hiram which included the capture of Meron, Gush Halav, Sasa, Malkiya, and Tarshiha.

Not all the MACHAL volunteers were Jewish. Some were British soldiers who defected. A ship's captain who piloted an Aliya Bet Ship decided to stay in Israel. The man shown at right is Jesse Slade of Oklahoma. Jesse was the only Native-American to serve with MACHAL. A member of the 4th Troop, 1st Anti-Tank, 421st Artillery Regiment, Negev Brigade, he said he joined because of his respect for a Jewish officer during World War II. “He was the first guy to treat me like a white man.”


Some outstanding officers were:

Col. David "Mickey" Marcus [also known as Michael (Mickey) Stone], a West Point graduate, was recruited at the end of 1947 as military adviser to Ben-Gurion and the Hagannah. Marcus had parachuted into Normandy on D-Day in 1944. A Pentagon planner during WWII, Marcus had been commandant of the US army's Ranger school which developed innovative tactics for jungle fighting in Japan. He urged the clandestine Hagannah to deal with the practical side of military organization, and personally wrote the training manuals for officers' courses for the army-to-be.

During the fighting in the Negev, the hit-and-run night raid tactics he initiated kept the Egyptian army off balance. He was in the forefront of the effort to build the "Burma Road" to Jerusalem, circumventing the Latrun salient held by the Arab Legion. Appointed Commander of the Jerusalem Front by Ben-Gurion, with the rank of Aluf (Major-Gen.), he led four brigades and planned the strategy for a combined operation which eventually freed the beleaguered capital and changed the outcome of the war. However, on June 11, 1948, two weeks after his appointment, only hours before a UN negotiated cease-fire went into effect, Marcus was mistakenly killed by a sentry because he did not know any Hebrew and could not answer the challenge.

Captain Thadée Difre (Teddy Eytan), a French Catholic, joined the IDF after a long career as an officer in the French army under Generals De Gaulle and LeClerc. He established the French Commando unit, which took part in the battles in the south of the country during the War of Independence. Among the unit's successes were a battle against the Egyptians on the Rafiah-El Arish road, paving of the way for Israel's tanks northeast of Be'er Sheva.

Sgan Aluf (Lt. Col.) Shaul Ramati, born in Poland, served as a Captain in the British Army and the Jewish Brigade between 1943-47. He arrived in Israel in 1948, served as a company commander, and was twice wounded.

MACHAL in the Israel Air Force

The Haganah had begun its "air service" as early as 1940. By November 1947, it had set up Sherut Avir (Air Service), a forerunner of the Israel Air Force. Though many Palestinian Jews had volunteered and fought in British units against the Nazis, few had been accepted by the RAF for aircrew training. Some pilots had been trained in the United States at the Jabotinsky flight school, and some had been trained in Palestine. However, there were few fighter or bomber pilots with combat experience. The Haganah and the IDF had no combat aircraft either. British Austers had been purchased on the excuse that they would be used for agricultural purposes or as passenger planes, and these served as the initial "airforce."To overcome these difficulties, Aharon Remez, a young Jewish Palestinian who had served in the RAF, came up with a plan: Recruit pilots and buy aircraft abroad. The pilots would bring their own aircraft whenever possible. 

MACHAL volunteers served as pilots, navigators, radio operators, bombardiers, air gunners, aerial photographers and bomb-chuckers. After Sherut Avir became the Israel Air Force in May 1948, some 70% of its aircrew personnel throughout the war were MACHAL. MACHAL crews often brought their own aircraft. Given the arms blockade, this was not an easy accomplishment. Stratofortresses took off with an official innocent designation, disappeared from flight tracking and landed in Israel. B-17s made a similar trip, bombing Cairo on the way. Beaufighters were bought for a movie production, took off and never returned to Britain. In Czecholsovakia, Messerschmidt aircraft were disassembled and loaded into civilian aircraft for transportation to Israel.

During the War of Independence, 19 MACHAL aircrew members were killed or went missing in action. Six of the seven IAF fliers who were taken prisoner by Egypt were MACHAL volunteers.

Some of the earliest and most outstanding air force volunteers were:

Harry (Freddy) Fredkins, an ex-RAF pilot, was sent to Europe in late 1947 on Ben-Gurion's instructions to acquire aircraft. His acquisitions included the light transport airplanes which later provided the crucial air link to isolated Sodom on the southern end of the Dead Sea.

Jack Freedman (Freddy Ish-Shalom) of Great Britain covertly gave assistance to Sherut Avir while still a member of the RAF. In February 1948, he joined Sherut Avir and provided essential expertise in airplane engineering, maintenance and overhauling. He managed to restore most of the 20 ex-RAF Auster planes which had been bought as scrap, and initiated and supervised a team which built the IDF's first Spitfire from scrap left behind by the British. He also trained many of the young aircraft mechanics who later assumed key positions.

Boris Senior, an ex-South African Air Force World War II pilot, joined Sherut Avir in December 1947 and soon after was sent to South Africa to recruit air and ground personnel and to acquire aircraft. He purchased DC-3 medium transports and other aircraft; set up a dummy airline to facilitate the transfer of planes; test-flew the IAF's first Spitfire; served as a fighter pilot with the 101 Squadron; and held important staff positions.

Al Shwimmer, an ex-TWA flight engineer and licensed pilot, was responsible for buying planes and recruiting airmen in the US. He acquired a number of C-46s and other heavy transport planes; played a key role in organizing the IAF's Air Transport Command and its air bridge from Czechoslovakia to Israel. He then served as O.C. of the IAF's Engineering and Maintenance Wing. He was forced to pay a fine of $10,000 by the US government and lost his civil rights in the US for 50 years.

MACHAL In the Israel Navy

The new State of Israel needed a Navy to protect its Mediterranean coast and insure access of supply vessels to its ports. Israel had no experienced naval officers. MACHAL volunteers were vital in founding Israel's navy. They also brought some of the first boats, which were Aliya Bet boats. 

Most notable among the founders was Paul N. Shulman, a US Naval Academy graduate with WWII combat experience in the Pacific. In 1947, he resigned from the US Navy and joined the Aliya Bet staff, assisting in purchasing and refurbishing vessels. Then, in May 1948, David Ben-Gurion asked Shulman to come to Israel to assist in the organization and establishment of the Navy. Shulman was appointed Commander of the Israel Navy in October 1948 and served in that capacity until March 1949, when he was appointed Naval and Maritime Advisor to the Prime Minister.

Among other MACHAL naval officers were:

David Baum, a US Merchant Marine Academy graduate, an Aliya Bet veteran, was Engineering officer on K18 and K28; Marvin Broder, a US Navy officer, was active in damage control training; Allen Burke, a former Corvette commander, became commander of one of Israel's first frigates; David DeLange, former skipper of British motor torpedo boats, organized Israel's coastal patrols; Ben De Roy, a US Navy officer, was active in shipboard communications and radar; Saunder Finard, a US Navy submariner, became chief of operations; Jonathan Leff, an experienced gunnery officer, graduated from Annapolis, the US Naval Academy; Harvey Miller was a former R.N. Destroyer captain and radar expert; Dick Rosenberg, an experienced US Navy combatant communication and operations officer, headed the communications and electronics section at Israel Navy HQ.

Machal in the Medical Corps

The ratio of physicians to population in the yishuv in 1948 was exceptionally high; but most of these doctors were no longer young, and only a few had military experience.

Seventy-four doctors came to the newly founded state as MACHAL volunteers. The largest number was from South Africa; others came from Britain, the USA, Canada, South America, Switzerland and Spanish Morocco. They served as commanders of wartime field hospitals, as specialists in trauma, orthopedics and plastic surgery, as internists and as psychiatrists. Most brigade and battalion medical officers were MACHAL. In addition to the doctors, some 25 nurses, and pharmacists, dentists, physiotherapists and bacteriologists served in the Medical Corps.

Among the outstanding MACHAL in the Medical Corps were:

Dr. Leo (Arye) Bornstein was the first MACHAL physician to arrive. As an experienced battlefront surgeon, he commanded Military Hospital No. 2 in the Galilee, before the establishment of the State, and later served as a surgeon in Military Hospital No. 10.

Dr. Menachem Brand, a Lt. Col. in the British Army, founded and commanded the Hygiene Training School of the IDF.

Dr. Norman Cohen, who had served in the RAMC (Royal Army Medical Corps), was the senior psychiatrist of Military Psychiatric Hospital No. 1.

Dr. Jack Medalie, a South African, was surgeon to the Third Battalion, and to the Palmach's Yiftach Brigade.

Dr. Lionel Meltzer, who had been a Colonel with the South African Army and was awarded the Military Cross, was in charge of planning and personnel at Medical Corps HQ.

Dr. Louis Miller, a South African, established the Israel Air Force Psychiatric Service.

Dr. Solomon Morley-Dahan, of Spanish Morocco, served as a doctor in a battalion of Druze and Circassian troops in 1948. In October 1948, he was killed by enemy fire while caring for a wounded soldier.

Dr. Isaiah Morris received the Military Cross while serving in the RAMC, and after the war, volunteered as a physician in displaced persons camps in southern France, where refugees awaited transport to Palestine. After a period of internment in Cyprus, he arrived in Israel in the spring of 1948 and was appointed Chief Medical Officer of the Golani Brigade. In June 1948, he was killed by a mortar shell while caring for wounded soldiers at Sejera.

Dr. Max Goldberg, a Swiss volunteer, was seriously wounded by the same shell. Dr. Goldberg had volunteered together with his wife Hilde, a qualified nurse, as a husband and wife team for Golani.

Mildred Schlumschlag of New York, a physiotherapist, arrived on board the Pan York. Released by the British after the establishment of the State, she set up and supervised Israel's first center for the treatment of paraplegics in Military Hospital No. 5, which later became the Haim Sheba Tel Hashomer Medical Center.

Dr. Ellis (Eliyahu) Vior, who had extensive RAMC experience, refined the IDF's procedure for clearing casualties from the front lines.

Dr. Simon Winter, who had served in the RAMC, became the IAF's Chief Medical Officer.


Over the years, a constant stream of volunteers from all over the world have continued to come to Israel to serve in all branches of the IDF, many in combat units; several have died in action.

MACHAL veterans living abroad maintain close ties with Israel through World MACHAL and its affiliates in many countries. World MACHAL affiliates built the MACHAL Monument at Sha'ar Hagai to commemorate the 119 overseas volunteers who lost their lives in Israel's struggle for independence. At the dedication ceremony, the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin acknowledged MACHAL's contribution to the successful outcome of the war. He said: "They came to us when we most needed them, during those hard and uncertain days of our 1948 War of Independence."

Machal's tradition is continued by Mahal 2000 - Overseas Volunteers for the IDF. MACHAL 2000 aims to help young Jews from all over the world to strengthen their relationship with Israel and the Jewish people by volunteering for the IDF. The MACHAL  2000 programs aim to contribute to the defense of Israel, and to provide knowledgeable and enthusiastic young leaders for Jewish communities. Over a thousand young people from more than 40 countries have already taken part in these programs.

Machal Sources and further reading:

MACHAL In Israel's Wars

MACHAL in Israel's War of Independence

MACHAL - in illegal immigration to Palestine and Virtual Museum of Israel War of Independence

Focus on Machal



Synonyms and alternate spellings: MAHAL

Further Information: 

Hebrew/Arabic pronunciation and transliteration conventions:

'H - ('het) a guttural sound made deep in the throat. To Western ears it may sound like the "ch" in loch. In Arabic there are several letters that have similar sounds. Examples: 'hanukah, 'hamas, 'haredi. Formerly, this sound was often represented by ch, especially in German transliterations of Hebrew. Thus, 'hanukah is often rendered as Chanuka for example.

ch - (chaf) a sound like "ch" in loch or the Russian Kh as in Khruschev or German Ach, made by putting the tongue against the roof of the mouth. In Hebrew, a chaf can never occur at the beginning of a word. At the beginning of a word, it has a dot in it and is pronounced "Kaf."

u - usually between oo as in spoon and u as in put.

a- sounded like a in arm

ah- used to represent an a sound made by the letter hey at the end of a word. It is the same sound as a. Haganah and Hagana are alternative acceptable transliterations.

'a-notation used for Hebrew and Arabic ayin, a guttural ah sound.

o - close to the French o as in homme.

th - (taf without a dot) - Th was formerly used to transliterate the Hebrew taf sound for taf without a dot. However in modern Hebrew there is no detectable difference in standard pronunciation of taf with or without a dot, and therefore Histadruth and Histadrut, Rehovoth and Rehovot are all acceptable.

q- (quf) - In transliteration of Hebrew and Arabic, it is best to consistently use the letter q for the quf, to avoid confusion with similar sounding words that might be spelled with a kaf, which should be transliterated as K. Thus, Hatiqva is preferable to Hatikva for example.

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