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In the winter of 1943, a decision made by a few idealistic and brave pioneers impacted the very future of Israel. In Kfar Pines, members of the religious Zionist youth movement Bnei Akiva mulled over a recommendation by the Jewish Agency that they resettle Kfar Etzion, an abandoned kibbutz located about two miles east of the Jerusalem-Hebron road. They all understood that the task at hand was immense – the area was isolated and heavily populated by Arabs – but they courageously decided to accept the challenge.
The hilly Gush Etzion region is located several miles south of Jerusalem near the city of Bethlehem. Efforts to populate the area with Jews were thwarted during Arab riots in 1929 and 1936. This third return of Jews to the region was heralded throughout the Yishuv.
As expected, conditions were rough, but the young pioneers persisted and their ranks increased. Within a couple of years a kibbutz, Massuot Yitzchak (named in honor of Chief Rabbi Yitzchak Herzog) was established, and others soon followed. By 1947 the region’s Jewish population had risen to 457. Once again, the biblical hills surrounding the “path of the patriarchs” were inhabited by Jews. The greatest challenges were still to emerge, however.
United Nations Resolution 181, passed on November 29, 1947, provided for the partition of the Land of Israel. But the proposed borders excluded the Gush (bloc) Etzion region. In total, thirty settlements were affected by the vote, and the city of Jerusalem would be internationalized.
Along with the rest of the nation, the builders of Gush Etzion celebrated the news of an imminent Jewish state – though they faced the grim reality that their community would be located within the borders of the proposed new Arab state. Despite the precariousness of their situation, they planned to abide by the Jewish Agency’s dictate that they remain where they were.
War appeared inevitable; the Arabs had every intention of attempting to prevent the creation of the Jewish state. Due to its location within the boundaries of the newly proposed Arab state and its proximity to Jerusalem, the Gush Etzion region was a priority target for Arab forces. Jewish convoys transporting supplies to the area were regularly attacked. One attack, near Neve Daniel, resulted in many casualties.
By early January, most of the women and all the children of Gush Etzion were brought to safety in Jerusalem while the men, along with soldiers of the Haganah, prepared the defenses. All the settlements of the area were besieged, but they managed to repel the enemy. Thirty-five members of the Haganah en route to reinforce the settlements were ambushed and killed. They were immortalized as the “thirty-five.”
The residents and soldiers obstructed the movement of Arab Legion forces en route to Jerusalem by firing on their convoys. In order for Arab fighters to join the fight in Jerusalem, the main road had to be clear and thus the Bloc had to be completely defeated. The kibbutzim were under continual attack by forces under the regional command of Abdul Khader al-Husseini, brother of the infamous Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini.
Thousands of Arab Legion troops launched repeated attacks on the settlements of Gush Etzion. The defenders managed to keep the enemy at bay. By blocking the main road linking Hebron and Jerusalem, they significantly contributed to a vital victory in the Jerusalem Katamon neighborhood as thousands of Arab troops were kept out of that battle.
The last commander of the defense of Kfar Etzion, Moshe Silberschmidt, termed the mission “Netzach Yerushalayim” – Jerusalem Eternal. One of the defenders wrote in his diary, “Our readiness for self-sacrifice will preserve the six-hundred thousand Jews of this country.”
The final Arab assault on Kfar Etzion began on May 12. The carefully planned attack severely weakened the kibbutz’s defenses. Supplies were quickly depleted and manpower was short due to the many casualties.
As the battle for Kefar Etzion raged, its defenders found it increasingly difficult to hold out. On May 13, Kfar Etzion was forced to surrender. Yet the white flag did not prevent enemy troops from continuing to fire, adding to the Jewish casualty count. In the final two-day battle, 151 defenders of Kfar Etzion fell; only a few survived.
The day after the fall of Kfar Etzion, the other kibbutzim of Gush Etzion also surrendered.
The Haganah radio station, Kol HaMagen HaIvri, reported. “Today at 1:00 a.m., the enemy took Kfar Etzion by storm. The defenders fought a courageous hand-to-hand struggle until they were overwhelmed.”
The defenders of Gush Etzion selflessly took all risks to ensure that Jerusalem would remain in Jewish hands. For the next nineteen years, the Jewish section of Jerusalem thrived while the Gush Eztion region was abandoned and desolate. A Jordanian army camp was built on the ruins of Kfar Etzion.
As the Arab attack on Gush Etzion helped save Jerusalem in 1948, the Jordanian attack on Jerusalem in 1967 helped lead to the city’s liberation. Despite pleas from Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol not to attack Israel, Jordan’s King Hussein began shelling West Jerusalem on the first day of the war, forcing Israel to fight on another front.
Two days later, on June 7, as victorious Israeli soldiers stood in awe at the Western Wall, the hills of Gush Etzion were also liberated, giving the people of Israel additional reason to rejoice that day.
The sons and daughters of those who had sacrificed all on behalf of Gush Etzion, Jerusalem, and the newly created State of Israel during those fateful days approached Prime Minister Eshkol, who gave his consent to rebuild Kfar Etzion. Just months later, the first families returned to celebrate Rosh Hashanah and officially reestablish the kibbutz.
The sacrifices of Kfar Etzion’s builders resonate today, as thousands live their dreams building their lives on the area’s majestic hills that overlook the splendid city of Jerusalem, the eternal capital of Israel.
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The decision to not publicly light the Menorah in Sydney, epitomizes the eternal dilemma of Judaism and Jews in the Diaspora.
Am Yisrael is one family, filled with excruciating pain&sorrow for losing the 4 kedoshim of Har Nof
What is its message of the dreidel?” The complexity and hidden nature of history and miracles.
Police play down Arab terrorism as mere “violence” until the truth can no longer be hidden.
The 7 branches of the menorah represent the 7 pillars of secular wisdom, knowledge, and science.
Obama obtained NO verifiable commitments from Cuba it would desist from acts prejudicial to the US
No one would deny that the program subjected detainees to less than pleasant treatment, but the salient point is, for what purpose?
For the past six years President Obama has consistently deplored all Palestinian efforts to end-run negotiations in search of a UN-imposed agreement on Israel.
It’s not an admiration. It is simply a kind of journalist fascination. It stands out, it’s different from more traditional Orthodoxy.
For Am Yisrael, the sun’s movements are subservient to the purpose of our existence.
Israelis now know Arab terrorism isn’t caused by Israeli occupation but by ending Israeli occupation
Anti-Semitism is a social toxin that destroys the things that people most cherish and enjoy.
Amb. Cooper highlighted the impact of the Chanukah/Maccabee spirit on America’s Founding Fathers
Arab opposition to a Jewish State of any size was made known by word and deed in the form of terror
Germany’s The Jewish Faith newspaper ominously noted, “We Jews are in for a war after the war.”
Nearly two decades into the 20th century, Jews were suffering the horrors of pogroms, mass expulsions, starvation and disease in Eastern Europe while Jewish soldiers in various armies were enduring the carnage of the battlefield. Amid the horrors, however, a glimmer of hope appeared.
On November 11, 1918, at 11 a.m., an agreement signed between the Allies and Germany at Compiegne France, ended hostilities on the Western front and signaled the end of the First World War.
On the eve of the Six-Day War, Israel stood alone.
The events of June 1967 came just a decade after the 1956 Sinai Campaign waged by Israel, France and Great Britain to protect international passage through the Suez Canal.
Had Judge Richard Goldstone only issued a distorted litany of accusations against the Jewish state – dayenu.
Had the British government only issued an arrest warrant against Kadima leader and former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni – dayenu.
Last month, Israel lost a very close friend in Alexander Haig.
During his confirmation hearings in January 1981for the position of secretary of state, Haig reiterated his commitment to the existing U.S. policy of not dealing with the PLO or other Palestinians opposed to Israel’s existence.
Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/jerusalems-defenders/2007/05/16/
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