The two most powerful words in the English language Israel and Israelis unfortunately too frequently find difficult to say – Thank you. For a tiny country with few friends, not saying Thank you to the friends she has, has meaning… If Israel fails to thank those who helped in the past and is not very open about thanking her friends in the present, what will be Israel’s future when she, inevitably, asks for help tomorrow…
Officially Machal did not exist. There was not an official unit designated as Machal, volunteers who came from outside of Israel to fight for her during the War of Independence 70 years ago. There were nearly 5,000 of them; many were recruited, most with extensive and vitally needed military skills learned in WWII. They were spread out where their skills could do the most good. The closest thing to a Machal unit was the Air Force. In the early months of fighting, when Israel’s odds of survival were much poorer than a coin toss, 95% of the Air Force was Machal. They proved to be beyond crucial for Israel. The Air Force Museum today in Beersheba and its docents have almost never heard of them. Not even a memorial or an exhibit is there.
When the largest fighting unit that Israel could muster was brigade strength, about 1200 fighters under Haganah, the Irgun, Lehi and others could not or would not coordinate with them. Ben Gurion knew he needed a leader that could cobble together an army, not a brigade. Ben Gurion reached out to Machal.
Mickey Marcus, a West Point grad and one of the fathers of American Special Forces, became the first General of the IDF. Ben Gurion called him to lead because Marcus could do what no Israeli could do. He could unify the Jewish fighting forces. Marcus did it because he was a Jew. Others, Paul Shulman, Ben Dunkelman, Lou Lennard, and thousands more including a significant number of non-Jews, did their part too as Machalniks for Israel.
Their rewards were negligible, the chance to help the Jewish people, maybe a few dollars, maybe a piece of soil to rest in if they fell. 123 of them did fall. Many, many more were wounded.
Time and Israel has taken its toll. The men and women of Machal who stood so tall once, are now old and bent but still proud of their service. The gray and graying mist is drawing more and more of them every year.
70 years on, Israel is celebrating the incredible story of survival and the War of Independence. 70 years on Israel has yet to officially recognize Machal existed, to say Thank You to those who came to serve.
April 29, at the United States Military Academy, the American Veterans of Israel Legacy Corporation is joining with the United States Army to honor the memory of Mickey Marcus. It is an extraordinary opportunity for Israel to present, at long last, an official “Unit Citation” signed by the Prime Minister and the Chief of Staff to Machal.
Efforts to reach Prime Minister Netanyahu and the IDF leadership have resulted in silence. The Consul General in New York referred to the Embassy in Washington, again, so far, silence.
Abba Eban wrote, “The Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”
All Israel is being asked to do is officially say Thank You. The message is not lost on the world if it can be said, Israel too has increasingly never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity.