Back to course catalogue

Before the IDF:
How the Jews Built an Army

In this class we will examine the ways Jews shook themselves out of their “apolitical” slumber to amass and assert military power. To approach this subject, we will look at Jewish military preparation before and during World War I, and in the three decades of British control over Palestine. We will concentrate on the establishment of institutions and mobilization of people, and also focus on the development of a nationalist mindset that realized the need for an army. Comparing the process of developing a Jewish army with armies of an existing country, we will underscore that Jewish fighting units emerged in different continents at the same time and from non-state institutions, such as self-defense units, clubs for youth (Betar), the Kibbutz movement (Shomrim and Palmach), and Aliyah Bet (illegal emigration to Palestine). Ultimately, we will see that the victory in the Israeli War of Independence did not occur “by chance,” but was built on the efforts of thousands of individuals who slowly, painstakingly contributed to a viable and effective Jewish, and then specifically, Israeli military.