view from central park: tehilla r. goldberg

Israel’s survival, on a wing and a prayer


We all know, at the very least, the bare bones story of Israel’s 1948 Independence War: the UN partition plan that the Arab nations rejected, the ensuing war in response to said rejection, the Haganah’s role, and so on.

I never thought about the technical aspect of how Israel was able to win this war, how the Haganah fought with primitive rifles against the Arabs’ sophisticated aircraft. No country supported Israel; the new state was literally alone in this fight, many of its fighters recovering WW II refugees. How Israel won remains a miraculous story.

In the truly stirring documentary film, “Above and Beyond,” you feel the miracle of it all in your bones.

A handful of US WW II veterans — young twenty-somethings who, after the devastating horror of the Holocaust, felt the call of history, and in rag tag fashion clandestinely flew a couple of planes to then-Palestine to help the new Jewish State fight off the oncoming Arab onslaught.

One of the pilots says something to the effect: “We arrived there with just these two low-level junk planes, but they were the strongest pieces of equipment in the whole land.” They were German, Nazi aircraft, an irony not lost on anyone.

This is a story of young American pilots with everything to lose — from their American citizenships, to jail time, to ultimately their very lives — who were fueled not only by their youthful male adrenaline and sense of adventure, but most especially, by the sense of historical clarity and purpose they carried for their beaten down yet resilient people. 

Tragically, some of the pilots did in fact pay the ultimate sacrifice, killed on their first flying mission, protecting Israel from seemingly certain destruction. 

I never quite realized the proximity and sophistication of the threat bearing down on Israel. The Arabs, backed by their full-fledged military, were six miles from Tel Aviv. It was a matter of: win this war, or within three years of the end of WW II, further mass destruction of Jewry.

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