Israeli lawmaker wants to name IDF base after pre-state Christian Zionist officer

Lieut. Col. John Patterson is considered “one of the founding fathers” of the IDF, says the chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Member of Knesset Zvi Hauser has requested that the IDF honor Lieut. Col. John Patterson, who led the first official Jewish military force in 2,000 years, by naming a military base after him 74 years after his death.

In his letter to Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Hauser noted, “Patterson was one of the founding fathers of the Hebrew Defense Force in Israel, and the first commander of a Jewish, organized and official military force since the days of [Roman Empire-era Jewish Revolt leader] Bar Kochba.”

“Patterson was an enthusiastic Zionist until his last day and a man who worked for the establishment of Israel and a force that would ensure its security,” he added. By naming a base for him, “his memory will be honored and his legacy will be passed on to future generations of soldiers as the founding father of the Hebrew Defensive Force.”

Patterson founded the British Army’s first all-Jewish force during World War I together with Revisionist Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky and Joseph Trumpeldor, a legendary Jewish fighter who eventually fell while defending the settlement of Tel Hai in 1920. The transport auxiliary unit, called the “Zion Mule Corps,” was a water and ammunition supply force.

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Later in the war, hundreds of veterans joined Patterson again after he successfully petitioned his superiors to form a combat battalion called the Jewish Legion that eventually consisted of 5,000 men. The soldiers fought the Turkish forces in the Jordan Valley and in the Battle of Megiddo that was decisive in wresting Palestine away from Ottoman control.

Many of the troops remained in Palestine after the war ended and became the backbone of the underground forces that defended Jewish villages and agricultural settlements against Arab rioters, evolving into the nucleus of the IDF.

After the war, Patterson pushed together with Jabotinsky in diplomatic and political circles in Great Britain and then in the United States for the establishment of a Jewish state. He died in Los Angeles, California in 1947, the year before the State of Israel was declared.

Hauser, now chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, is no stranger to the story of the non-Jewish Zionist officer. Patterson’s grandson, Alan, had asked the Jabotinsky Institute in 2010 whether the ashes of both his grandparents could be reburied in Israel, writing, “It was my grandfather’s wish to rest … alongside his subordinates from the Hebrew Battalion, and I very much want to fulfil this dream.” The request went to Hauser, who was then Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet secretary.

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In 2014, Netanyahu honored the request and spoke about his own family’s close connection to Patterson at the state ceremony in a cemetery in Avihayil, where several Battalion fighters are buried.

‘The godfather of the Israeli army’

The former British officer worked closely the Netanyahu family to promote the idea of a Jewish state, he said.

“It was a tremendous partnership. My parents spoke with admiration, appreciation and great warmth about [Patterson] and the depth of his commitment to our people, his unique character. They were so attached to him that they decided to name their eldest son, our brother, Jonathan, after John Henry Patterson and after my grandfather, Rabbi Natan Milikowski.”

Jonathan, aka Yoni, was the only fatality in the daring Israeli raid, which he led, on the Entebbe Airport in 1976 that freed Jewish hostages being held by German and Palestinian terrorists.

Netanyahu called Patterson “the godfather of the Israeli army.”

The Christian Zionist soldier was “well versed in the Bible” and “immediately recognized the great potential inherent in those Jewish warriors,” Netanyahu said. “He taught them. He himself planted in them the spirit, he said to them: You are the descendants of Joshua, you are the descendants of the Maccabees.”

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“He instilled in them a change, a belief in their ability, in our ability to grasp the sword of David and defend ourselves. This is the groundbreaking change in our history. This is the godfather of the Israeli army.”