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View of the Sea form the Carmel
photo by Rhonda Spivak

View from the Carmel
photo by Rhonda Spivak

The Carmel Plan: Ben Gurion and The Yishuv's Plan in the Event of a Nazi Invasion of Palestine

by Rhonda Spivak, June 2, 2016

During Jeffrey Herf's remarks for the Shindleman Lecture for the Canadian Institute for the Study of Antisemitism  on May 30, Herf mentioned had that had the Nazis had invaded Palestine in World War  II, Ben Gurion's plan was to have  the Jews of the Yishuv  flee to the hills of Haifa and hole up there in an effort to survive. I know the Yishuv worried about the Nazis overtaking Palestine but I hadn't heard of their plan to take all of the Jews to the Haifa area in this event.


I spoke to Herf more about this after the lecture and thought I would take a little time here to write about this subject. 


Italy joined Germany during World War II and attacked the British from their bases in Libya. Their plan was to move through Egypt, push out the Brits, take the Suez Canal, and then take the Mosul oil fields in Iraq. The Germans sent troops into North Africa to try to complete this strategy in Jan 1941. By June of 1942, the Germans looked poised at el Alamein to push the Brits out of Cairo and to capture the Suez Canal.


The Jews of Palestine recognized they would be a target of Hitler's SS if this were to happen. If Egypt fell to the German's then the British  would fall back, bypass Palestine, go to Iraq and fight to the last man saving the Iraqi oil fields if necessary.


The Jewish Yishuv would be left to deal with the Nazis and they were under no illusions as to what that meant. The Arabs had allied themselves with the Nazis. As early as 1937 there is documentation showing the proliferation of German Arab collaboration against Jewish interests in Palestine.


The British and the Jews of Palestine planned for what would happen in the event that Palestine would be occupied by Nazi Germany. Moshe Dayan, for example, rented an apartment in Jerusalem paid for by the British and  assisted British intelligence in establishing a radio broadcasting network for planning secret attacks behind enemy lines in case Palestine was occupied by Nazi Germany.



Ben Gurion and the Yishuv , with the blessing of the British,came up with the Carmel Plan,a proposal to take up the entire Jewish population of one half million people and build an enclave in the Carmel mountains, near  Haifa.  It had high ground stations for defense and was bounded on three sides by mountains and the fourth by the Mediterranean. Roads on these mountains could be guarded fairly easily be an inferior Jewish force. 


The Carmel plan was laid out by Yitzhak Sadeh, commander of the Hagannah, and Dr. Yochanan Ratner, a leading architect and the department head of Agriculture at Technion University. They thought the Yishuv could survive there months or even years if necessary assuming they could be resupplied regularly by Allied forces, through air drops, nightly submarines or by equipment brought in by plane.



The Haganah  planned to build and rebuild a temporary landing strip on the beach  for incoming/ outgoing airplanes. Assuming the airstrip would be bombed by Germans at night, the Jews would go back and rebuild it the next day, and so on and so forth. Once they got going with agriculture and proper defenses the Haganah with British assistance would launch guerrilla operations to disrupt communications, transport, intelligence gathering  and  would attack  German troops.


Moshe Dayan, ( who lost his eye when he joined the Haganah’s combat unit which cooperated with the British army in the conquest of Lebanon from the Vichy French regime)  proposed a plan for the training of Jews who could pass as Arabs or Germans. These Jewish commandos would spy for the British after a German conquest of Palestine. The British initially rejected Dayan's proposal , but after July 1942 they in effect accepted it, and it was used later in World War II.  Haganah members who could pass as Germans or Arabs in North Africa conducted operations behind enemy lines in Europe.


The Yishuv planned to use this type of Jewish commando if the German's took over Palestine. It planned full communities with farming and living as close to normal as possible. Hide outs in the mountain sides would be manned at all times and  would attack  Axis troops making their way on foot by surprise.  


Thankfully, we will never know if the Yishuv's plan for survival was at all realistic or not . Palestine never fell to Nazi control.


If you want to see the  only remnant of the preparations for the Yishuv's Carmel plan, go to the Dania Quarter of Haifa today. There you can see rusty iron train rails which  were driven into the ground like huge red spikes in order to stop German tanks from rolling through. 

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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