This Week in Israeli History: Golani Sheli, Amichai “Gidi” Peiglin and the Struma Disaster

Golani Brigade
On February 22, 1948, the fledgling State of Israel saw the creation of its first infantry brigade – the Golani Brigade. The “#1 Brigade” fought on many fronts and participated in numerous decisive battles of the War of Independence. They captured Nazereth, repelled Arab forces in the Battle of Tiberius and Safed, and liberated the Upper Galilee.
During the Six Day War, the Golani Brigade swept through the Golan Heights and Mount Hermon and bested the Syrian army in a mere two days. Tales of the Golani Brigade’s heroism spread like wild-fire throughout the country, prompting famous musician Yehoram Gaon's “Golani Sheli” (lit. My Golani), which transformed into the brigade's unofficial anthem and perhaps the most famous army tune.
During the Yom Kippur War, Golani soldiers reconquered the Hermon and advanced deep into Syrian territory. During the First Lebanon War, they defeated the PLO-held Beaufort Castle and participated in the siege on Beirut. In the Second Lebanon War, the brigade fought in the famous battle at Bint Jbeil where Major Roi Klein jumped on a live grenade and sacrificed himself for his troops.
Golani's emblem is a green olive tree on a yellow background. Its soldiers wear brown berets symbolizing the connection between them and the earth. There are 5 battalions in the Golani Brigade: #12 Barak, #13 Gideon, #51 First Breachers, Reconnaissance (special forces), and Egoz (anti-guerrilla special forces).
The “#1 Brigade” is the highest requested brigade in the IDF and has earned the reputation as one of the most decorated infantry units in the IDF.
Amichai “Gidi” Paglin - Chief Operations Officer of the Irgun
Amichai was born Tel Aviv in 1922 and at a young age joined the Haganah where he was immediately recognized for his military prowess.
During his years in the Haganah, Amichai started to grow uneasy and loathed the fact that the Haganah continued to help the British who still refused to open the doors of immigration to the Jews of Europe. He soon joined the Irgun (Etzel) where his talents were greatly welcomed; Menachem Begin later wrote about him: “this amazing young man, his military ability borders, without doubt, on the genius…”
After Eitan Livni (father of politician Tzippi Livni) was arrested in 1946, Gidi – as he was known in the underground - took over as Chief Operations Officer of the Irgun. He orchestrated and participated in over 200 operations, notably the bombing of the King David Hotel, the Jaffa prison break, and the battle for Jaffa during the 1948 War of Independence. Gidi also designed makeshift explosives that were used in countless operations against the British.
After the state was established Gidi opted to stay away from politics, but still served many defense and security roles, including Menachem Begin’s counter-terrorism adviser. He passed away on February 24, 1978, at the young age of 55. The Irgun Museum in Jaffa, “Beit Gidi” (lit. the House of Gidi), is named in his honor.
The Struma Disaster
In December 1941, 769 Jewish passengers boarded the MV Struma, a ship that was to set sail from Axis-allied Romania to seek refuge in Mandatory Palestine. The passengers each paid an exuberant amount and were promised a luxurious ship that would transport them to the Holy land; however, when they reached the boat, they discovered that the Struma was in fact an old dilapidated vessel containing one bathroom, no kitchen, and hardly any space.
After a three day journey filled with engine failures, the Struma arrived at Turkey, where they were told they would be going to pick up their immigration certificates – but there were no immigration certificates to be found. The Turks refused to let the ship board, and towed the broken ship to a quarantine section while they figured out what to do with them.
The British refused to let the ship sail to Mandatory Palestine, and Romania refused to allow them return. While Turkey was deliberating what to do, the boat remained anchored and isolated for ten weeks, its passengers suffering from starvation and inhumane conditions.
Reaching no agreement with Britain and Romania, the Turkish government decided to tow the Struma out of Turkish waters and into the Black Sea, where they left the inoperative ship and its passengers to rot with no fresh water, food, or fuel.
After just a few hours of drifting on February 24, 1942, a Russian ship torpedoed the Struma, killing all but one of the passengers on board.