On a visit to Washington DC last week I made a pilgrimage to the sacred grounds of Arlington National Cemetery. One needs to see the pristine grounds, with over 300 000 graves, to comprehend the price that we have paid, and continue to pay, to defend our Democratic Western values, and leave a better world of peace and equality for our children to inherit. The purpose of my visit to Arlington was to pay my respects and Hakarat hatov to one of the greatest friends of the Zionist movement and the Jewish people, and one of the few British Army Officers buried in Arlington, Major-General Orde Charles Wingate (1903-1944) DSO and Bar, or as he was known among the Jewish community of Pre-State Israel by the sobriquet; HaYedid, “The Friend.”
As I stood in front of the tombstone, and took note of the stones placed on top by Zionist Jews who come to pay homage to this extraordinary Christian Zionist, my mind wondered back to the scene a month previously when I hiked on top of Mount Gilboa with my “Amazing Israel” Birthright group to the view Wingate himself had seen almost seventy five years previously with his friend, one of the pioneer Zionist leaders, David Hacohen and some of the soldiers from the Special Night Squads- an elite unit composed of regular British soldiers and local Kibbutznikim, founded, trained, and lead by Wingate himself to combat Arab terror attacks. There I shared with my group why Wingate has such a special place in the Zionist pantheon.
On top of the Gilboa, looking down on the beautiful patchwork of Jewish cultivated fields and fishponds in the valley below, Wingate suddenly shouted, “Saul was a bloody fool!” “Saul who?” asked Hacohen. “Why King Saul obviously,” replied Wingate, “he could have defeated the Philistines when he had his small mobile force behind his enemy the night before the battle, which would end the next day with the ignominious defeat of the Israelites, and the death of Saul and his sons in a disastrous frontal attack.” Cohen realized that for this pious British officer the Hebrew Bible was a living book and not a dusty document. To Wingate those ancient battles were as real as if they had happened yesterday! Who was this strange intense man, who Churchill referred to as a, “man of destiny,” and what was he doing training, fighting with, and quoting the Bible in Hebrew to a bunch of hardened Kibbutznikim?
Captain Wingate was sent to the British Mandate of Palestine as an intelligence officer. The British Colonial Office, and the majority of HM armed forces, where vehemently pro-Arab. Wingate with his intense Protestant background saturated in Bible study and family missionary activities, spent a few months observing and marveling at the achievements of the Jews since their return to the land after centuries of exile and meeting with leaders of the Yishuv. He swiftly came to the conclusion, in the words of Michael B. Oren, the current Israeli Ambassador to the US, that; “Jewish independence in the land of Israel was more than just a historical imperative. It was the driving force of his life.”
Wingate bucked the popular trends and was known as a brilliant, if somewhat eccentric, maverick officer. He is widely regarded as the founder of modern guerilla warfare and the creator of IDF military doctrine. He personally trained many of the men that would go on to be leaders in the IDF, including Yigal Allon and Moshe Dayan. His policy of small elite units bringing the battle to the enemy, and leading as an officer from the front by personal example, is still the raison d’être of the IDF to this day.
Above all, he followed his heart, and acted on his beliefs. In one of his last letters penned from Burma behind Japanese lines, before he was tragically killed in a plane crash in the midst a distinguished WWII career, he wrote to his wife Lorna; “If I forget thee o Jerusalem.” He dreamed of leading a renascent Jewish army in an independent Jewish State. We can all learn from this passionate humanist and theist who was emotionally, spiritually and actively committed for life to the Zionist dream. This was a cause he was prepared to fight for, and he did!