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Wingate "The Friend" is Remembered, 65 Years Later

Former Def. Min. Moshe Arens will be the Guest of Honor at a memorial today for British Maj.-Gen. Orde Wingate, known in Israel as The Friend.
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 3/24/2009, 12:22 PM

Moshe Arens, a former three-time Defense Minister and Foreign Minister, will be the Guest of Honor at a memorial ceremony honoring the late Maj.-Gen. Orde Wingate of the British Army in Mandatory Palestine. 

The ceremony will take place on Tuesday afternoon at 2 PM, at the Ammunition Hill Museum in Jerusalem.

Wingate died 65 years ago today, on March 24, 1944. He is known in Israel as HaYedid, the friend, because of his devotion to the Jewish People and Zionism. This was a product of his upbringing in the Christian “Plymouth Brethren” movement, which believed strongly that the Jews must return to Israel. He carried a Bible with him at all times.

Wingate arrived in Palestine in 1936 as a British Captain in military intelligence. He quickly became known as somewhat of a curiosity for his appreciation and sympathy for the Jews; he himself later said that most British officers “disliked” them.

In light of the ongoing Arab intifiada campaign of riots, massacres and attacks organized against the Jews by Grand Mufti Hajj Amin Al Husseini, Wingate initiated a plan to fight back and deter the Arab attacks. In 1938, he submitted a report entitled, "Secret Appreciation of Possibilities of Night Movements by Armed Forces of the Crown - With Object of Putting an end to Terrorism in Northern Palestine." This plan became the basis for the British Special Night Squads (SNS).

The SNS was based primarily in Ein Harod in the Jezreel Valley – mainly because Wingate’s favorite Biblical figure, Gideon, had hand-picked a small army there with which he defeated a large Midianite enemy force.

The Wingate Strategy
Wingate’s strategy, later used in several important World War II battles, was to “carry the offensive to the enemy,” ambushing Arab saboteurs behind Arab lines and raiding border villages used as bases by the Mufti’s men. His methods and missions were generally crowned with success.

Wingate’s British forces worked together with the Haganah to fight the Arabs. Haganah commander Yitzhak Sadeh later said, "For some time we did the same things as Wingate, but on a smaller scale and with less skill. We followed parallel paths, until he came to us, and in him we found our leader." 

Wingate’s personality and military genius made a profound impact on the Jewish defense forces in the 1930’s, and these in turn became the basis for today’s Israel Defense Forces. His contribution to Jewish defense in the Land of Israel is considered enormous.

No Entry to Palestine
His pro-Jewish positions ultimately led to his undoing, and his political enemies managed to have him transferred back to Britain in 1939; his passport was stamped, “No Entry to Palestine.”  After leading World War II battles in Sudan, Ethiopia, India and Burma, and after being promoted to the rank of acting Maj.-Gen., he was killed in a plane crash behind Japanese lines in Burma. 

General William Slim, who commanded the British 14th Army, wrote that Wingate was a “man of genius… a truly dynamic leader who combined vision and action, one of the few men in this war who was irreplaceable, who designed, raised, trained, and inspired his force, and placed it in the enemy's vitals.”

Wingate and others who died in the air crash were ultimately buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Washington.  A memorial was erected to him in Britain, and The Wingate Institute in Netanya, Israel's National Center for Physical Education and Sport, is named for him. In addition, the Israeli youth village Yemin Orde was named for Wingate; founded in 1953 to accommodate Holocaust orphans and immigrant children, it is today home to more than 500 children from around the world.