The JTown Times Fringe History

Jerusalem Art by Anonymous Artist

Our ombudsman Zvi Besser takes a look at some crazy past that we don’t all know about

The Great Israeli Commando

Zvi Besser

Meir Har Zion (left) with Ariel Sharon. Credit: Wiki Commons

Today, Fringe History commemorates the life of Meir Har-Zion, one of Israel’s greatest commandos; who died March 14, 2014 from natural causes at 80 years old.

Har-Zion served in the elite Unit 101 under Ariel Sharon commanding its troops. His exploits on the battlefield earned him a deep respect from Moshe Dayan and Sharon, known to many as “The Bulldozer.” Sharon, who would later become prime minister, described him as “the elite of the elite” and Dayan called him “the finest of our commando soldiers, the best soldier to ever emerge in the IDF.”

But who was this man who I can only describe as a certifiable badass – a modern day Maccabi?

Meir Har-Zion fought for our country Israel in the 1950’s in multiple high-level operations like Operation Black Arrow or Operation Elkayam. He commanded soldiers through hell and high water, proving time and time again that our little country was not to be messed with.

In 1955 Har-Zion’s sister and her boyfriend were abducted, tortured, and killed by Bedouins from Wadi Al-Ghar.

This man of war responded by the only way he knew how. Along with comrades of his, veterans of battalion 890, he went to the Israeli-Jordanian armistice line.

Eir Har-Zion. Credit: Wiki Commons

Crossing into the Wadi, he and his men captured six Bedouin men. They interrogated and then killed 5 of them, leaving the sixth man to go back and tell the tale. I like to call that some Middle-East frontier justice.

It is important to note that the men killed likely did not commit the atrocity against his sister but they were members of the same tribe. This may seem to the modern day outsider in 2022 as criminal. But in understanding Jewish post-Holocaust and Bedouin culture/mentality, such a price can be understood. The frontier had its own rules. Har-Zion paid a price as well, albeit a lesser one.

Har-Zion was detained by the IDF for 20 days for his actions but was released and recommissioned to his unit. In the words of Ariel Sharon, a man feared by Arab enemies of the Jews, this was “the kind of ritual revenge the Bedouins understood perfectly.”

Meir Har-Zion served in active duty until sustaining an injury in his arm and throat, almost killing him. He was discharged in 1956 at the rank of captain, having received the Israeli Medal of Courage.

But this would not be the last that we see of this formidable warrior. Fast forward to 1967, the Six-Day War.

Meir Har-Zion (far left). Credit: Wiki Commons

Jerusalem. 1967.

Despite his injuries, which left him unable to use his arm, he joined the fight as a reservist. He linked up with the famous Tzanchanim, or Paratroopers, brigade and helped take the Old City of Jerusalem from the Jordanians.

In a remarkable feat he hunted down a Jordanian sniper across rooftops and killed him with grenades. He would later serve in the Yom Kippur War before finally retiring from combat to live on a farm and write about Israeli politics.

While people today may have varying opinions on Har-Zion and his varying actions, there is no doubt that he was a true Judean warrior. He left his heart in this land, spilling his own blood if it would bear fruit for the Jewish people. He was a truly a soldier’s soldier.

To Meir Har-Zion I say cheers, to you my readers, good tidings.

Meir Har-Zion (top left). Credit: Wiki Commons

The Zion Mule Corps

Fringe History
Zvi Besser
JTown History Correspondent

Welcome to the second installment of Fringe History! In this column we bring you little known facts and tidbits of history that you may not know about. Now let’s go back in time to the early 20th century . . .

Many of us know of the Jewish Legion also known as the Judean Regiment, a local military unit that helped secure Jerusalem for the British from the Ottoman-Turks during the First World War. Did you know, though, that they were not the first unit of Jews to be incorporated into the British Army?

They had forefathers, so to speak, called the Zion Mule Corps.

The year is 1914 and the Turks have entered the war fighting alongside the Central Powers; Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Bulgaria.

Future first prime minister of Israel, David Ben-Gurion, and future Labor Zionist party leader and (longest-serving) President of Israel Yitzchak Ben-Zvi submitted a proposal to the Turkish General in Jerusalem for a Jewish fighting unit to aid the Turks, hoping this would aid in achieving the Zionist dream. Astonishing I know.

The proposal was accepted by the Ottoman military council of Jerusalem but, and fortunately many would say, it was scrapped last minute by Djemal Pasha, who was one of the three pashas ruling the Ottoman Empire and supreme commander of the Ottoman army in that region.

He was also a virulent anti-semite who persecuted and deported Jews in Ottoman-Turk Palestine, many of these refugees ended up in Egypt. This is where things take an interesting turn . . .

Jabotinsky and Trumpledor, the latter who was deported by Djemal Pasha, proposed a Jewish fighting battalion to aid the British in their Middle East campaign and fight the Ottoman-Turks. This is how the Zion Mule Corps was formed under the leadership of these two men.

The Jews of the Zion Mule Corps would be the supply line for British troops during the Gallipoli campaign, a military campaign with the goal of weakening the Ottoman Empire by seizing the Turkish straits, by bringing munitions to the battlefield via mules; hence the name Zion Mule Corps.

Of course, these men would still go above and beyond the call of duty. Six men were killed, twenty-five wounded, three received military honors, and one received the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

These brave men proved their mettle and fortitude in battle which inspired British General Ian Hamilton to say, “The men have done extremely well, working their mules calmly under heavy shell and rifle fire, and thus showing a more difficult type of bravery than the men in the front line who had the excitement of combat to keep them going.”

The Corps was disbanded after the Ottoman victory at Gallipolli but none the less these brave men paved the way for the creation of the Jewish Legion to fight under the British banner and later secure Jerusalem.

Cheers and good tidings.

Image credits: Public Domain, The Jewish Historical Society of England

The Singer and the Spy

Fringe History
Zvi Besser
JTown History Correspondent

Welcome to my segment, Fringe History! We live in one of the most historical cities in the world but how much do we know about her story? Embark with me as I revisit Jerusalem’s past and that of all her illustrious characters.

I thought why not kick off this segment with some truly fascinating and interesting history involving Jerusalem’s most famous mayor Teddy Kollek, the F.B.I., a weapons smuggling ring, and one of the most famous Italian-Americans to ever live – Frank Sinatra!

Teddy Kollek served as Jerusalem’s mayor for six consecutive terms, winning his last term this week in 1989! Not only did he serve the people of Jerusalem as best he could but he also served the Jewish people during the Independence War, working as a “representative” for the Haganah in D.C. securing funds and weapons through clandestine operations to help the war effort.

Now, this is where it gets interesting. In March of 1948 Teddy was in NYC and secured transport for weapons to British Mandated Palestine through an Irish ship captain. But for everything to go over smoothly he would have to pay them off.

As “smuggling” to Mandate Palestine was not exactly legal our future mayor had to be careful.

The Feds were hot on his tail and if he left port with that money it would have been seized by federal officers.

As the story goes, he returned to the bar to have a drink and mull over his predicament and as fate would have it a certain jazz legend and mob associate approached him and inquired about his gloomy state.

After learning about his predicament, Frank Sinatra jumped at the chance to help.

Together they out-witted the Feds and Teddy left the hotel with a decoy satchel, while Mr. Sinatra left with the cash in full to pay off the Irishman and secure the delivery of much needed munitions to the Israeli fighters.

Why?Sinatra was an ardent supporter of Israel’s right to exist and the Zionist dream. He would visit Israel and even has a student center dedicated to him at our city’s very own Hebrew University!

I hope you enjoyed this fascinating tidbit of our past as much as I have and until next time . . . cheers and good tidings!

Image Credit: National Library of Israel, courtesy of: Dan Hadani Collection, The Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, The National Library of Israel