The Old Man of Israel

The Fellowship  |  November 30, 2018

Dated image of a man walking through rows of soldiers.
The Old Man of Israel

Yitzhak Sadeh

Lived: August 10, 1890 – August 20, 1952

Why you should know him: Known as “The Old Man,” General Sadeh was the commander of the Palmach, the elite fighting force that came before the IDF, which he helped found upon Israel’s establishment.

Born Izaak Landoberg to a Jewish family in what was then the Russian Empire, he was the grandson of a rabbi and studied under another rabbi before joining the Imperial Russian Army in World War I. During the war, Yitzhak saw much action and was decorated for his bravery. After the war, he helped Joseph Trumpeldor found the HeHalutz (Pioneer) movement, and made aliyah (immigrated to the Holy Land) in 1920.

Once in the Holy Land, Sadeh’s military experience was put to use, first as a Haganah (the precursor to the IDF) commander in the Holy City, Jerusalem. In 1929, Arabs rioted and began carrying out attacks against Jews. Sadeh took part in the battle defending Haifa during this violence. He again defended the Jewish people during the 1936-1939 Arab Revolt, establishing the Nodedet, or Wandering Troop, in Jerusalem. During this same period, he was commander of the Jewish Settlement Police and founded the commando arm of the Haganah, the Jewish people’s elite strike force.

As World War II took place, Sadeh continued his work protecting the Holy Land. In 1941 he founded the Palmach, the elite Haganah unit that prepared for guerilla war in case the Nazis and their Axis partners invaded what was still British-mandate Palestine.

Sadeh commanded the Palmach until the end of the war, after which he led operations to bring Jewish immigrants (many of them Holocaust survivors) to the Holy Land.

Although older, Sadeh continued his service as Israel fought for her independence in 1948. He first defended his kibbutz from a full-scale Arab attack, then counter-attacked with his troops, conquering much of the Jezreel Valley. In June of that year, Sadeh established the IDF’s first armored brigade, which not only captured Lod Airport (now Ben Gurion International Airport) but opened up the road to the Negev Desert. Later, his forces in the Negev crossed into Egypt and Gaza.

When Israel had at last won her independence, the Palmach was disbanded and Sadeh retired from the military. In his later years, he wrote stories, plays, and essays, promoted sports, and Israel, and became known as a beloved and colorful character in the Jewish state before passing away in Tel Aviv in 1952. In his memory, the Yitzhak Sadeh Prize for Military Literature is given each year, while many kibbutzim and streets throughout Israel have been named for him.