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March 25, 1988 - Image 40

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-03-25

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World Zion ist Press Service


An Israeli air force unit. The military had no insignia until a soldier failed to recognize his commander.

The IDF: A Fighting Force
With Egalitarian Beginnings


erusalem — The in-
formality which is an
Israeli trademark often
takes visitors by surprise. In-
deed, even official IDF
ceremonies generally lack
military pomp. On casual in-
spection, for instance, there is
little difference between the
"brass" on the uniform of an
active general and that of a
lieutenant in the reserves.
Appearances aside, there is a
unique history behind Israeli
military emblems.
Before the establishment of
the State of Israel in 1948,
the underground Hagana was
responsible for the defense of
the country's young settle-
ments. It had only about
1,500 full time soldiers and
rank was granted on the basis
of merit, irrespective of time
in active service or previous
rank. The Hagana had a for-
mal command structure up to
the brigade level, with
members generally serving
close to home. Because most
of its members knew each
other by name and rank, out-
ward insignia seemed irrele-
vant. In addition, uniforms
generally came from the
home: those who had served
in the British Army wore
British uniforms, while those
who had served in the French
Foreign Legion dressed
But shortly before in-
dependence, there was a
massive influx of survivors
from Europe. Almost over-
night the Hagana's intimate
character changed. In fact,
the formal insignia in the
Hagana were created only
shortly before the War of In-
dependence, following an in-
cident in which a soldier fail-


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ed to recognize his battalion
commander, Chaim Laskov.
Laskov, later to become IDF
chief-of-staff, reported the in-
cident to his superiors and
steps were promptly taken to
rectify the situation.
With the country still
under British rule, it was
logical that their insignia
would serve as the Hagana's
model. In the beginning,
however, commanders and of-
ficers of all ranks were given
small bands of blue ribbon to
wear on their epaulets. This
was the first distinguishing
mark to be worn in the IDF.
Still, the uniforms remained
a hodgepodge of various
foreign armies.

The first attempt to stan-
dardize IDF uniforms came
during the siege of Jerusalem
in 1948. During the fighting,
the fledgeling army managed
to capture from the Arabs a
warehouse stocked with
British uniforms. To
distinguish itself, the IDF
had its own unique hat which
bore a slight resemblance to
the French Foreign Legion's
hat, the kepi.
When the state was
established, the IDF began to
formalize its structure. The
ground forces and the air
force based their ranks on the
British model, but establish-
ed fewer ranks in the higher
echelons. The officer's ranks
for the ground forces includ-
ed second lieutenant (single
shoulder bar), lieutenant (two
shoulder bars), captain (three
shoulder bars), major (single
fig leaf), colonel (two fig
leaves), general (three fig
leaves) and lieutenant
general (fig leaf surrounded
by olive branch).
At the time, it was decided
that all those who had held

the rank of platoon com-
mander in the Hagana would
hold the rank of captain in
the IDF. But Israel's first
prime minister, David Ben-
Gurion, who wanted to en-
sure a Jewish character in the
IDF, was not willing to adopt
the English names for the
A Hebrew purist, Ben-
Gurion called in some of the
greatest Hebrew Literary
figures, including Natan
Alterman and Avraham
Shlonsky, and asked them to
give Hebrew names to the
ground forces ranks. The Bi-
ble became the main inspira-
tion and thus, the modern
Israeli army adopted many of
the same military ranks
which appear there, including
seren (captain) and aluf
The IDF underwent
tremendous changes in its
first decade. Progressing from
a clandestine underground to
an established army, it not
only had to defend the im-
periled nation's borders, but
also absorb tens of thousands
of new immigrants and create
social, educational and
military infrastructures. The
IDF was compelled to revise
its concept of dress and
discipline. This period, known
as the "great change," saw the
addition of the ranks of col-
onel and general as well as
numerous changes in the
ranks of noncoms.
The air force adopted the
same ranks and insignia as
the ground forces, using silver
on a blue background as
distinguished from the
ground force's brass on red.
The navy, which had
previously used the U.S.
Navy's ranks and insignia,
chose to adopt the same in-
signia as the rest of the IDF,

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