“Above and Beyond” is a documentary directed by Sarah Spielberg about the founding of the Israel Airforce. What has become perhaps the premier airforce in the world, according to its victories and successes in combat, was founded in very modest circumstances. In 1947 war was imminent between the Jewish population of British Mandatory Palestine, numbering only ca. 650,000, and the Arab populations of Palestine and the surrounding Arab States, Egypt, Transjordan, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, with populations numbering ca. 35 million. At that time the Jews had no airplanes that could be used in combat. David Ben Gurion, the leader of the Jewish settlement (the Yishuv) sent out emissaries, mainly to America, to try to find donors and to buy post-war munitions, tanks and planes, that were being sold-off by the US Government at junk metal prices, and to have them smuggled into Palestine (to do so was illegal both for the US and the UK).
The first two small planes that were purchased were flown in May 1948 from Brindisi in Italy to Palestine by two American former combat pilots. They flew for 11 hours, without radio contact, because what they were doing was strictly illegal. When the planes arrived the Haganah put our flares as a runway, and as soon as they landed the planes were hidden in hangars. The next day the planes took off for action against the invading armies of Egypt, Syria and Iraq. This was the beginning of the vaunted IAF.
The film gives details of the around 50 or so foreign volunteers that made up the nascent IAF with only two native Israelis, Moti Alon, who was the commander and died later in a crash, and Ezer Weizmann, who had flown Spitfires for the RAF during WWII and later became President of Israel. The film tells how an American Al Schwimmer set up a fake airline based in Panama, and then flew planes there illegally that he had purchased in the US. From there they flew on to Brazil, then Africa and from N. Africa to Europe.
In Europe after WWII most countries would not help the new Jewish State, but surprisingly Czechoslovakia did. The reasons for this are complex, but mainly it was because the Communist bloc was very short of real money, and so the hard cash the Jews were prepared to spend on armaments and planes was needed. Also, the Czechs had a heavy industry that the Germans had taken over to make their armaments. Now after the end of the War the Messerschmitt planes that the Czechs had stockpiled were worthless, except to the Jewish State. So ironically the mostly American Jewish pilots found themselves training in Me-109s that they had been fighting against only a few months before. Of course, behind it all was the Soviets and Stalin undoubtedly hoped that the Jews would make life difficult for the British in Palestine, that they did.
These volunteers were part of a group of ca. 4,500 known by the Hebrew acronym of Machal (meaning foreign volunteers in Israel) consisting mainly of Jewish former combatants in WWII, plus a smattering of non-Jews. Some Machalniks died in the Israeli War of Independence, but most of those that survived left after the war to go home, to America, Canada, S. Africa and Australia. But, some also stayed and became part of the new State. One of those was Murray Greenfield, who after serving in the US Navy during WWII volunteered to man ships that were taking the Jewish DPs from Europe to Palestine and then Israel. He spoke briefly at the AACI about his experiences and mentioned that there are very few of his former Machal friends still living.
How did the tiny State of Israel not only manage to survive, but also to defeat the professional armies of 6 Arab States? One of the reasons was that soon after its formation the IAF started to receive planes such as the Spitfire and the Arab airforces were no match for the few but experienced WWII veterans and Israel has always had control of the air. The Arab armies invading Israel quickly realized that they were vulnerable to aerial attack. The Egyptian Army was stopped only ca. 30 km south of Tel Aviv. It was the battle of the few against the many and the Machal volunteers definitely swung the balance. You must see this film “Above and Beyond.”