Israel Shochat was born in 1886 in Lyskovo, in the Grodno Governorate of the Russian Empire (present-day Belarus). As a child, he had tutors for Hebrew and Russian. At age 18, he was involved in a Jewish defence group and in Poale Zion. He went to Germany to study agronomy but left his studies after only three months and immigrated to Palestine with his brother, Eliezer, in 1904. They worked as field hands in the fields and orchards of Petah Tikva. He moved to Rishon LeZion to work in the winery. There Israel met Alexander Zaïd and shared with him his radical socialist ideas. Zaid received them enthusiastically and declared "I'm with you, for life or death, let's start as of now!" In Rishon LeZion, he suffered the first bout of fever, which was to plague him for the remainder of his life.
Israel Shochat moved to Jerusalem to persuade the yeshivot leaders to join the efforts to create a national workforce. His attempts failed. To support himself, he shined shoes at Jaffa Gate. As a result of ill health, he was forced to give up manual labour and worked as Israel Belkind's assistant. He became interested in the Circassians living in Palestine, as an example of how a small minority could preserve its identity and pride in an often hostile environment. The key for Shochat was that they cultivated their land and protected it with their own hands.
Along with Israel Giladi, Alexander Zaid and Mendel Portugali, he convinced some of the Jewish farmers to let them help with guarding the fields. It was a modest start. Israel represented Poalei Zion in the Zionist Congress of 1907, which took place in the Hague in the Netherlands. He was his party's first representative from Palestine. He was unable to present his idea to the assembly and in a private conversation, Menachem Ussishkin told Israel that he was much too young to succeed in achieving the goal of a national defence. Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, a representative from the United States [mistake, YBZ was from Russia and emigrated to Palestine that very year, 1907; somebody please figure this out], was receptive and they travelled back to Palestine together, working along the way.
In 1907, Israel Shochat was one of the 10 people who, in Yitzhak Ben-Zvi's Jaffa apartment, founded Bar-Giora, a clandestine organisation which sought to create an armed Jewish force. It took its name from one of the leading Jewish rebels of the First Jewish–Roman War. Manya Wilbuszewicz, the leader and founding member of the collective at Sejera, convinced Shochat to join the agricultural settlement there. He accepted, becoming the second leader of the community which he used as a base for training Jewish guards. In May 1908, Israel and Manya got married. The next year, Israel and Manya Shochat were among the leading founders of Hashomer (lit. The Watchman"), a more ambitious enterprise than Bar-Giora, being the first attempt to provide an organised defence for all the Jewish communities in Palestine.
In 1914 the Ottoman Empire entered World War I. The Turkish authorities viewed the Jews of Palestine with a great degree of distrust, particularly Russian nationals like the Shochats; after the Shochats were found hiding weapons for the Hashomer organisation, they were deported to the Anatolian city of Bursa, in Turkey. While their first-born soon, Gideon ("Geda"), had been born in Palestine during their first years of marriage, their daughter Anna was born in Anatolia in 1916.
The Shochat family returned to Palestine around Passover, 1919, after attending the Poalei Tziyon convention in Stockholm. They both joined the Ahdut HaAvoda, a workers' party led by David Ben-Gurion. At first Israel Shochat worked the land in Kfar Giladi, but soon became involved in founding the famous Work Battalion and in organizing the defence of the Galilee. In 1920 the Ahdut HaAvoda decided to replace the existing Hashomer militias with a new organisation, the Haganah, established as the paramilitary arm of the Histadrut. During the riots of 1921, Israel Shochat took an active part in defending Tel Aviv and Jaffa. The same year his wife left for the United States on mission to collect money for the Histadrut and, rather on her own initiative, for the Haganah. Due to political opposition within the Jewish community, she only managed to raise several thousand dollars, which she sent to Israel Shochat who was waiting in Vienna, where he oversaw the purchase and shipment of weapons to the now British-administered Palestine.
In the years 1921–26, Israel Shochat was on the Jewish National Council. He was also instrumental in forming Hapoel. In the 1930s, after a long conflict with the Histadrut, he retired from political life. He died in 1962 and is buried in Kfar Giladi alongside his wife.
- "Anshei Hashomer" Gershon Gera
- Peri, Yoram. "Between battles and ballots. Israeli military in politics." Cambridge University Press. 1983. ISBN 0-521-24414-5. Page 26.
- "Anshei Hashomer Bechayeihem Ubemotam" (Members of Hashomer in life and in death) Gershon Gera.