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Israel Shochat

(1886 - 1961)

Israel Shochat was born in Byelorussia to a family of landowners. He received a traditional Jewish education and then went to Warsaw to study commerce. Although his parents urged him to go to Germany to study agronomy, Shochat, who was a member of Poalei Zion, decided instead to move to Eretz Yisrael, arriving in 1904. He worked first in the orchards of Petach Tikva and the winery in Rishon LeZion, but poor health forced him to replace manual labor with desk jobs. In 1908 he married Mania Wilbushewitch, six years his junior, who shared many of his ideas on Jewish settlement.

From his arrival in Eretz Yisrael, Shochat argued for the need for Jewish defense. Jewish settlers whose property was generally guarded by Arabs, he insisted, ought to rely on Jewish defense, rather than Arab protection. In 1906 Shochat organized the first group of Jewish guards in Zikhron Yaakov, and the following year he established Bar Giora, a secret society that introduced Jewish watchmen into settlements, beginning in the Galilee. In 1909, the society expanded and became Ha-Shomer, and sent Jewish watchmen to settlements all over the Yishuv. Shochat was named head of Ha-Shomer from its inception until its dissolution in 1920.

In addition to Jewish defense, Shochat was a staunch supporter of the idea of Jewish labor. Influenced by ideas of Communist Russia, he also hoped to establish a Labor Legion, which would join the ideals of labor, communal life, and discipline, but the idea was met with insufficient enthusiasm to materialize.

In 1912, Shochat, along with David Ben-Gurion and Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, went to Constantinople to study law. Returning to Eretz Yisrael during World War I , he suggested the establishment of a Jewish brigade to help the Turks defend the country. The Turkish authorities, however, were suspicious of the idea, and Shochat was deported to Turkey. He remained abroad for the duration of the war, attending the Poalei Zion convention in Stockholm and then returning to Eretz Yisrael.

Following the war, Shochat was active in various labor organizations and the Ahdut HaAvodah party, as well as the Haganah. HaShomer at this time was pressured to be subsumed by the Haganah, but following disputes with Haganah leadership over the organization’s structure, Shochat resigned from its command. Shochat attempted to form other defense societies, but with little support. Convinced that the British were the Jews’ primary enemy, he traveled to Moscow in 1925 to enlist Soviet support against the British and establish ties between his defense group and the Soviet secret service. This project, too, amounted to nil.

Shochat’s various activities aroused much controversy in the Yishuv establishment, and he was removed from positions of authority in Yishuv organizations. He continued to work as a lawyer, and later defended Haganah prisoners during the Mandate.

Following the establishment of the State, he served as director of the Police Department.

Sources: The Pedagogic Center, The Department for Jewish Zionist Education, The Jewish Agency for Israel, (c) 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, Director: Dr. Motti Friedman, Webmaster: Esther Carciente