Herbert Belkin
Hert Belkin is a historian who lectures and writes on modern Jewish history.

The German Attack on Palestine

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In 1941 the German Africa Korps, commanded by General Rommel, was racing across northern Africa pushing the British back to Egypt. Conquering Egypt was important for the Germans because northeast of Egypt were the Middle East oil fields necessary for their war machine and, before the fields, 500,000 Jews in Palestine. The capture of British-controlled Palestine would enable the Germans to continue Hitler’s demonic promise to kill Jews wherever he found them and Palestine was no exception. If the Germans continued their military drive, the industrialized murder of Jews during the Holocaust would extend from Europe to the Middle East.

As the Germans advanced, Palestinian Jews were faced with the same genocidal fate as their European relatives. Their leader, David Ben Gurion, was acutely aware of this impending disaster and he met it with a unique, even radical solution. Ben Gurion’s proposal: If the Germans army reached Palestine, he called for the 20,000 Jewish soldiers fighting in the British army to desert their posts taking their weapons with them. Desertion at a time of war could result in a firing squad, but Ben Gurion called for this extreme action to enable Jews to defend themselves in a life or death struggle. Extreme, yes, but with annihilation facing them, Palestinian Jews could fight for their lives, an honor denied their European cousins.

Ben Gurion’s plan was to move Jewish soldiers to Palestine and station them in defensive positions on Mount Carmel in northern Palestine where other Jews would join them. The rocky cliffs of Mount Carmel would make an excellent defensive site to resist the invading German army. But Ben Gurion was well aware that Jewish resistance could not survive against German tanks, artillery and planes. Against this military power Jews would wage a desperate but losing fight. But unlike suicide that the Jews of Masada chose to avoid Roman capture, Jews now could mount a heroic resistance.

Providentially, the impending threat to the Jews ended with the defeat of Rommel. In 1942 British General Montgomery stopped the Germans from invading Palestine at the Battle of El Alamein and German extermination squads were denied their bloody work. There would be no Holocaust in Palestine.

About the Author
Historian Herb Belkin writes and lectures on the epic events of the last two hundred years of Jewish history. His field of study covers Zionism, the Jewish Diaspora and the critical struggle for a Jewish homeland. Herb has taught courses on modern Jewish history at Brandeis, Tufts and Salem State University. He is a columnist for the Jewish Advocate and was a speaker for the Israeli Consulate of New England.
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