The life and times of Eliyahu Golomb

Israeli solder's looking over a valley

When we think of the influences on Krav Maga, especially on it’s early development, we need to give credit to the contributions of the brave men and women of the Haganah.

Born in 1893 in Belorussia, Eliyahu Golomb was to become a prominent leader of the Haganah and one of the influential organisers of Jewish defence efforts in Palestine.

Picture of Eliyahu Golomb

Having immigrated with his family when he was 16 years old, Eliyahu completed his high school education, and then moved with a group of students (which he organised), to Degania Alef the first kibbutz established in Israel.

At the time Palestine was part of the Ottoman Empire and when WW1 broke out Eliyahu was against any Jews enlisting in the Turkish army.

He believed that the Yishuv(Jewish Community in Palestine) should form it’s own defensive units. He would condemn members of the Yishuv who encouraged Jews to volunteer for the Turkish army.

His sentiment for Jewish autonomy was exacerbated after seeing his father whipped in public for refusing to operate the family owned flour mill for the Turkish army on the Sabbath.

Then in 1917 Britain took control of Palestine. That same year Eliyahu became one of the first volunteers for the newly established Jewish Legion. The term Jewish Legion is an unofficial name used to refer to the 5 battalions of the Royal Fusiliers in the British Army. These battalions were made up entirely of Jewish volunteers, who signed up to fight against the Ottoman Turks.

One of the realities of life for Jews living in Palestine was the ever looming threat of violent attacks by Arabs on their farms and villages. This lead to the founding of small defensive organisations like Bar-Giora in 1907 and the Ha’Shomer in 1909, which were contracted to protect Jewish interests.

Golomb believed that the Yishuv would be better served by a single defensive body rather than a bunch of small scale organisations like the Ha’Shomer.

Historic meeting at Eli Golomb's home
The life and times of Eliyahu Golomb 4

It was also becoming very apparent that the British had no desire to protect Jewish settlements from Arab attacks. So in 1920, Eliyahu helped found the Haganah. He served on its Command Council, which would often hold meetings in his home.

In 1922 Eliyahu was put in charge of procuring weapons for the Haganah. He travelled all over Europe raising funds and purchasing weapons to send back to Palestine.

Golomb believed that all Jews must be involved in their own defence and saw the Haganah as an integral part of the Zionist Movement.

He advocated active confrontation and retaliation against Arab aggressors, but he was opposed to indiscriminate attacks on the general Arab population.

Thus, he objected to the existence of more radical defence organisations like the Irgun(1931), which he viewed as terrorists.

Palmach soldiers training on machine gun
The life and times of Eliyahu Golomb 5

Eliyahu also helped found and train officers of the Palmach in 1941. The Palmach was the elite commando arm of the Haganah.

Palmach officers would go on to form the backbone of the IDF in 1948 as well as greatly influence Israeli culture and politics for many years to come.

Eliyahu Golomb died on June 11, 1945 of heart failure. His home in Tel Aviv, where the command council of the Haganah typically met, is now the home of the museum of the Haganah.

In 1946 a ship was named after him, which was used to transport Jews from Italy to Palestine. Eliyahu also authored a book called “The History of Jewish Self-Defense in Palestine, 1878–1921”

It’s clear that Eliyahu Golomb helped pour the foundations for modern Israel. His contributions to the Haganah would have both a direct and indirect impact on the philosophy and attitudes regarding self defence found in Krav Maga today.

He believed that everyone had the right and obligation to defend themselves and abhorred the idea of reliance on others to do it for you. This is a foundational belief of Krav Maga. That each person has the right to self protection.

He also didn’t believe in reprisals on innocent populations. He believed in attacking the attacker.

This is right in line with the ‘Get home safe’ attitude and attack the attacker philosophy in Krav Maga.

You take whatever measures are necessary and to what you need to do to your attacker in order to get home to your family safe.

Where Eliyahu Golomb isn’t considered one of the founders of Krav Maga, I believe that he’s at the very least owed a small debt of gratitude for everything he has done for the state of Israel and by extension for modern day Krav Maga as well.

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