John Henry Patterson, Friend of Zion

One of the men highlighted at the new Friends of Zion Heritage Center and museum is John Henry Patterson, godfather of the late Jonathan Netanyahu, brother of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  In the elder Netanyahu’s home a silver cup with the inscription, “To my Godson, Jonathan Netanyahu,” held a special place.

Patterson was born in Ireland in 1867, and was among those conservative Protestants whose Zionist leanings made him the perfect commander for the Zion Mule Corps (ZMC). His familiarity with the Bible ¾ its stories, laws, geography, prophecies, and morals ¾ stood him in good stead when his army superiors chose him to take over the ZMC. The group formed would be the first Jewish fighting force to take to the field of battle since 135 ad with noted Jewish commander Bar Kochba.

When the Jewish volunteers were sworn in, Patterson offered the invitation, “Pray with me that I should not only, as Moses, behold Canaan from afar, but be divinely permitted to lead you into the Promised Land.” Of the training camp, he wrote, “Never since the days of Judah Maccabee had such sights and sounds been seen and heard in a military camp ¾ with the drilling of uniformed soldiers in the Hebrew language.”

Formed during World War I, the Zion Mule Corps originated in Egypt among displaced Jews fleeing the Turkish stranglehold on Palestine. The plan for a corps to help liberate Palestine from the Turks had been proposed by Russian journalist Vladimir Jabotinsky. The British, however, were opposed to the idea of having Jewish recruits fight on the Palestinian border. Patterson and his group of 300 volunteers were sent instead to the Gallipoli front. They landed at V Beach, east of Cape Helles.

In his book With the Judeans in the Palestine Campaign, published in the 1930s, Lieutenant Colonel Patterson wrote in his journal of his experiences with the ZMC. The Jewish Chronicle published an article on September 15, 1915, in which Patterson revealed, “These brave lads who had never seen shellfire before most competently unloaded the boats and handled the mules whilst shells were bursting in close proximity to them.”

Patterson, who later commanded the Jewish Legion, was such an ardent supporter of Zionism, he believed that Lloyd George and Sir Arthur Balfour had been elevated to positions of power just as Esther had been in ancient Persia — “for such a time as this.” His excitement was said to have been palpable as he watched unprecedented events taking place before his very eyes, precursors to the Jewish people returning to the land that had been promised to Abraham and his offspring for all eternity. Patterson wrote, “All down the centuries from the time of the Dispersion it has been the dream of the Jew that one day he would be restored to his ancestral home. In his exile the age-long cry of his stricken soul has ever been “next year in Jerusalem.”

Patterson said of the Balfour Declaration, “A friendly Palestine today is of immensely more importance to the peace and prosperity of the British Empire. Our statesmen were, therefore, but following in the footsteps of the greatest men of the past when they issued the world-famous Balfour Declaration pledging England to use her best endeavors to establish a National Home in Palestine for the Jewish people.

Patterson felt he had a front-row seat to the fulfillment of prophetic scriptures and promises from God. He died on June 18, 1947, almost a year before his vision for the rebirth of Israel was fulfilled on May 14, 1948.


Michael D. Evans is the founder of the Friends of Zion Heritage Center in Jerusalem. The museum tells the stories of non-Jewish people who, throughout history, aided the Jewish people and the nation of Israel.

Patterson became a close friend of Benzion Netanyahu and was the godfather of Jonathan Netanyahu who was the only casualty of the raid on Entebbe, Uganda.


Dr. Michael Evans is a #1 New York Times bestselling author. His book, Friends of Zion, John Henry Patterson and Orde Charles Wingate, is available at

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