Lt. Col. John Henry Patterson
The Christian godfather of the Israeli Army
The godfather of Yonni Netanyahu
By Jerry Klinger
A confluence of events was occurring in Alexandria, Egypt. The Turks were in control of Palestine. They had a deep disdain for the Arab peasants of Palestine. They had a deeper distrust even hatred for the Jews who had settled in Palestine, the Zionists. The Turks feared that the Jews would side with the British in the war. With a cold hearted decision, the Turks expelled the Jews of Palestine. Most of the desperate, starving, refugees escaped to Egypt.
Capt. Joseph Trumpeldor Lt. Vladimir Jabotinsky
As Patterson arrived, a young Russian firebrand, Vladimir Jabotinsky, together with a one armed former Russian Tzarist officer, Joseph Trumpeldor, were organizing the refugees. Both of the men wanted to fight for Palestine, they were Zionists. Palestine was their home and they had been expelled to Egypt. General Maxwell was in desperate need of men. The character of World War I fighting was a virtual butchery shop of men.
The Jews approached Maxwell to permit them to fight with the British army for Palestine. A decision to fight for Palestine had not been made yet. Winston Churchill, the first Lord of the Admiralty had instead decided to attack the soft underbelly of the Axis powers by invading Gallipoli. Churchills objective was Constantinople and to knock Turkey out of the War.
Maxwell offered to the men that Jabotinsky and Trumpeldor were organizing a special, separate unit. It would not be a fighting unit but a support and supply unit. They all understood they had to prove themselves as mule drivers hauling supplies to the fighting units and the front lines in the coming battle. Jabotinsky was insulted. Jews were not mule drivers. They were men who would and could fight. Trumpeldor was more pragmatic. Trumpeldor told Jabotinsky, "to get the Turks out of Palestine, we've got to smash the Turk, on which front you begin smashing is a question of tactics. Any front leads to Zion."
Jabotinsky refused to join the mule team unit. Trumpeldor accepted. However, there was a problem. Who was to lead the Jewish unit? It was unthinkable, unacceptable that a British military unit should be commanded by a Jew. Unless a suitable Christian British military officer could be found there would not be a Jewish military unit even a unit of mule drivers. It was precisely at that moment that Patterson presented himself and offered his services to Maxwell.
Maxwell needed men and officers. He was not the least interested or concerned with Pattersons alleged sordid past. Maxwell offered Patterson the command.
Patterson wrote about that moment in his book, With the Zionists in Gallipoli.
It was strange, therefore that I, so imbued with the Jewish traditions should have arrived in Egypt at the psychological moment when General Sir John Maxwell, the C-in-C in Egypt, was looking for a suitable officer to recruit a Jewish unit. A Jewish unit had been unknown for 2,000 years, since the day of the Maccabees, those heroic sons of Israel who fought so valiantly, and for a time so successfully, to wrest Jerusalem from the Roman Legions. It is curious that General Maxwell should have chosen me (to command a Jewish unit), because he knew nothing of my knowledge of Jewish history and my sympathy for the Jewish race. When as a boy I eagerly devoured the records of the glorious deeds of the Jewish military captains, such as Joshua, Joab, Gideon, Judas Maccabee, I never dreamed that I in a small way would become a captain of a host of the Children of Israel."
March 1915, Trumpeldor spoke to the Jewish refugees. In a simple message he exhorted them to volunteer.
History is giving us an opportunity which has not been given to us in almost all the centuries of our exile. We will be the first to fight with our blood for the liberation of our land. We will be followed by thousands of other Jews.
from the Winter 2015 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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