In the Jezreel Valley, located in the Lower Galilee in Israel, there is a small kibbutz called Ein Harod. The kibbutz — a type of communal agricultural settlement — is one of the oldest in the country, established in 1921 and now split into two distinct halves. Located on a hill opposite Mount Gilboa — where Saul and his sons perished in battle against the Philistines — Ein Harod Meuhad commands a spectacular view of the valley, evergreen in what many who have never visited imagine to be an entirely desert country. The kibbutz is known for its art museum, the first rural museum in Israel and famed for its use of natural light. A smaller museum, however, called Beit Shturman (“the house of Shturman”), is perhaps more fascinating. Amidst a hodgepodge of displays focusing on kibbutz life, history and regional culture, one particular exhibit stands out from the crowd to those for whom military history is of interest: It is a corner honoring the life of British officer Ordge Wingate, better known to the early Jewish community as ha’yedid — “the friend.” 

A Brief History of the SNS

Orde Charles Wingate was born in India in 1903, in British-controlled India, to a military family. After receiving his commission in 1923 with the Royal Artillery, he passed an Arabic language course at the School of Oriental Studies in London in 1926 and served in the Sudan, seconded to the Sudan Defense Force, from 1928 to 1933. He then spent three years in Britain, retraining with British artillery units as they became mechanized, and was promoted to the rank of captain.

In September of 1936, Wingate was posted to Palestine as an intelligence officer with the British Mandate. His obsession with the Bible had a profound effect on his views during this posting, turning him into an ardent Zionist and supporter of the idea of a Jewish state. His arrival couldn’t have come at a more consequential time: The “Arab revolt” in Palestine had just begun that April, an inflection point in which the local Arab population, fed up with both constant Jewish immigration into the country and the Mandate government, rose up in opposition and, increasingly, in violence. 

Wingate quickly conceived of a joint military unit, staffed by both colonial and local Jewish troops, to protect Jewish and British interests, and took the idea to Lieutenant-General Archibald Wavell, the commander of British forces in Palestine. Wavell, intrigued, granted Wingate his permission to set up such a unit. Wingate then pitched the unit to the Jewish Agency and directly to the Haganah (“the defense”), the pre-state Israeli military. The Agency, which originally opposed the idea, eventually had a change of heart, and in June of 1938, the Plugot Ha’Layla Ha’Meyuchadot, the Special Night Squads, were born. They based themselves in a building at a small kibbutz in the Jezreel Valley where Gideon, the Biblical Jewish hero, had fought against his enemies — Kibbutz Ein Harod.