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Israel Defense Forces: Operation Betzer


On August 22, 1948, the IDF initiated Operation Betzer (Strength), which took place during the “Second Truce” in Israel's War of Independence (a truce organized by the UN from July 18 – October 15, 1948). The target of the operation was not one of the invading Arab armies, but rather citizens in Tel Aviv, or more accurately: shirkers and deserters.

The existence of draft dodgers, while the Yishuv was literally fighting for its life, was regarded as a threat to the cohesion of the Jewish population. The story began in December 1947, when the “Center of the Census for Popular Service” was formed. This institution spelled the end of voluntary enlistment to the different underground movements and the beginning of compulsory enlistment, and the formation of a large conscript army. This center was responsible for the fact that the Yishuv managed to build an army of 100,000 soldiers out of a population of 650,000 in 1948, a force that was augmented with an addition of 15,000 volunteers from MAHAL (Jews from other countries, many WWII veterans from the USA, South Africa, Britain and Canada) and GAHAL (Foreign enlistment – Jews from the displaced camps in Europe and the internment camps in Cyprus).

On August 22, 1948, Operation Betzer commenced. It was executed by troops from the “Kiryati” brigade (a Haganah brigade formed from recruits from the Tel Aviv area), soldiers of the military police, the Women's Corps, the Guard Force (a stationary military unit of the Haganah that was responsible for guarding the Jewish villages), navy sailors and volunteers from the civil guard. The Tel Aviv area was put under curfew, roadblocks were erected and everyone entering and leaving Tel Aviv had to present their papers to the soldiers. All men 17-50 and women 16-35 were called to present themselves at different identification posts, which were spread across Tel Aviv. More than 150 search details scanned the city in search of shirkers and deserters.

A total of 2,794 citizens were arrested in the operation (1,044 men and 1,720 women); 652 men and 352 women were sent immediately for mobilization; 189 men and 1,365 women had their induction postponed, and 203 men and 3 women were arrested as deserters. The operation sparked criticism in Tel Aviv because the operation reminded people of the British army sweeps during the British Mandate’s war against the Jewish underground movements and because it made the city appear to be the home of draft dodgers. There was also concern that the public would be alienated by using the army for this kind of operation.

Source: Israel State Archives.