Ben Dunkelman in October 1948, during Operation Hiram
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
|Died||June 1997 (aged 83–84)
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Benjamin "Ben" Dunkelman (1913 – June 11, 1997) was a Canadian Jewish officer who served in the Canadian Army in World War II and the Israel Defense Forces in the 1948 Arab–Israeli War. In Israel, he was called Benjamin Ben-David.
Benjamin Dunkelman was the son of Polish-Jewish immigrants. His father was David Dunkelman, the founder of the Canadian men's retailers, Tip Top Tailors and his mother was a committed Zionist. Dunkelman and his siblings grew up on an estate, Sunnybrook Farm (now the site of Sunnybrook Medical Centre), northeast of Toronto. He attended Upper Canada College in Toronto.
At 18 Dunkelman went off to work on a kibbutz in Palestine, at that time still under a British mandate. He returned to Toronto in 1932 to assist his father, but went again to Palestine in the late 1930s to develop new settlements.
He was back in Toronto in 1939 when the Second World War broke out. He attempted to join the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN), but anti-semitism in the RCN at the time precluded a naval career. Instead Dunkelman enlisted as a private with The Queen's Own Rifles of Canada; as the war progressed he rose from Private to Major. He was in the second wave to land on Juno beach, the Canadian beach in the Normandy landings on D-Day 6 June 1944. During his career with the regiment he earned numerous commendations and a Distinguished Service Order (DSO) for his service in the Hochwald campaign. He also fought in the difficult earlier campaigns in northern France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany, including bloody battles at Caen, Falaise, and the Battle of the Scheldt Estuary that led to the critical port of Antwerp.
After the war, he was offered command of the Queen's Own Rifles but declined owing to business interests at home. Dunkelman returned to Canada, but again decided to travel to war, this time to fight for Israel in the spring of 1948. He arrived there at a time when the Israeli army was short of officers with combat experience. Initially, he took command of a mortar unit in the Mahal, the legion of Jewish and Christian foreign volunteers fighting for Israel.
Dunkelman's skill with mortars brought him to the attention of the Israeli High Command, and he was instrumental in the breaking of the siege of Jerusalem. Shortly afterwards, he became the commander of the 7th Brigade, the country's best-known armored brigade.
In his autobiography, called Dual Allegiance, Dunkelman tells the story of how, between July 8 and 18, 1948 during Operation Dekel, he led the 7th Brigade and its supporting units as it moved to capture the town of Nazareth. Nazareth surrendered after little more than token resistance. The surrender was formalized in a written agreement, where the town leaders accepted to cease hostilities in return for solemn promises from the Israeli officers, including Dunkelman, that no harm would come to the civilians of the town.
Shortly after the capture, Dunkelman received orders from General Chaim Laskov to expel the civilian population from the town, which he refused to carry out. Israeli journalist and translator Peretz Kidron, with whom Dunkelman collaborated in writing Dual Allegiance, reproduced his record of Dunkelman's account of the capture of Nazareth in a book chapter entitled "Truth Whereby Nations Live":
- "[less than a day later] Haim Laskov [came] to me with astounding orders: Nazareth's civilian population was to be evacuated! I was shocked and horrified. I told him I would do nothing of the sort—in view of our promises to safeguard the city's people, such a move would be both superfluous and harmful. I reminded him that scarcely a day earlier, he and I, as representatives of the Israeli army, had signed the surrender document in which we solemnly pledged to do nothing to harm the city or its population. When Haim saw that I refused to obey the order, he left."
12 hours after Dunkelman had refused to expel the inhabitants of Nazareth, Laskov had appointed another officer as military governor.
- "Two days after the second truce came into effect, the Seventh Brigade was ordered to withdraw from Nazareth. Avraham Yaffe, who had commanded the 13th battalion in the assault on the city, now reported to me with orders from Moshe Carmel to take over from me as its military governor. I complied with the order, but only after Avraham had given me his word of honour that he would do nothing to harm or displace the Arab population. [....] I felt sure that [the order to withdraw from Nazareth] had been given because of my defiance of the evacuation order."
Dunkelman's defiance of the evacuation order forced Laskov to attempt to obtain sanction from a higher level. However, David Ben-Gurion finally vetoed the order; the Arab inhabitants in Nazareth were never forced to evacuate.
During the war, Dunkelman met and married Yael Lifshitz, a fellow volunteer in the Israeli Army.
After the war Dunkelman was offered, but refused, a commission in the peacetime Israeli Army; the Dunkelmans returned instead to Toronto where he went into the family business, which he expanded then sold to Dylex Limited in 1967. He later became a developer. Among his developments were the Cloverdale Mall and the Constellation Hotel, later renamed the Regal Constellation Hotel. He and his wife also ran the Dunkelman Gallery in Toronto as well as several restaurants. He was also one of the founders of the Island Yacht Club.
Dunkelman lived in retirement in Toronto until his death.
There is a bridge on the Lebanese border called Gesher Ben in Dunkelman's honor. His story is told in the film Ben Dunkelman: The Reluctant Warrior.
- Hammond, Karen; Old Times: Leaders and Legends; Winter/Spring 2007; p. 32
- biographical entry in http://www.encyclopediecanadienne.ca/index.cfm?PgNm=TCE&Params=A1ARTA0009972
- Dunkelman, Ben (1984). Dual Allegiance: An autobiography, Goodread Biography. ISBN 0-88780-127-7
- According to Ben-Gurion's War Diary, Vol. II, these orders came from Moshe Zalitzky (Carmel), quoted in Gelber, Yoav (2006), Palestine 1948, Sussex Academic, Brighton, ISBN 1-84519-075-0, p. 166.
- Kidron, Peretz (1988). Truth Whereby Nations Live. In Edward Said and Christopher Hitchens (Eds.). Blaming the Victims: Spurious Scholarship and the Palestinian Question Verso. ISBN 1-85984-340-9, p. 87.
- Morris, Benny (2004). The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-00967-7 , pp. 419–20.
- Kidron, Peretz (1988). Truth Whereby Nations Live. In Edward Said and Christopher Hitchens (Eds.). Blaming the Victims: Spurious Scholarship and the Palestinian Question Verso. ISBN 1-85984-340-9, pp. 86, 87.