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S - עבור לתוכן העמוד
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הצהרת נגישות

Gush Etzion - Heritage Center

 - GUSH ETZION -
HERITAGE CENTER

SOUND AND LIGHT SHOW
"LETTERS FROM THE WAR"

The sound and light show unfolds in a network of halls and passageways surrounding the ruins of the "bunker" where the last defenders of Kfar Etzion fell. It is located in the Garden of the Settlers and the Fighters, at the top of the hill on which present- day Kfar Etzion is situated, alongside the ruins of the settlement that was destroyed in 5708-1948.

The Hebron hills are the cradle of the Jewish people- the fathers of the nation, kings and prophets, vine growers, farmers, and shepherds, fighters and rebels all of them passed this way. They form the backdrop to the story of Gush Etzion, nestled between Jerusalem, the Holy City, and Hebron, the City of the Fathers. They are the unbroken Jewish chain from father to son.

The heritage of Gush Etzion symbolizes the history of the Jewish people and its attachment to its homeland. Four waves of Jewish settlement came to Gush Etzion. Three of them shattered against its hostile, stony hills. The fourth is thriving and prospering. In the words of the prophet Haggai: "The glory of this latter house shall be greater than that of the former one. And in this place, I will grant peace (2:9).

In 1947-1948 Gush Etzion was the site of blood-drenched battles when a small number of fighters and settlers took a heroic stand in the defense of Gush Etzion and Jerusalem. The four settlements were under siege. Convoys attempting to relieve the blockade were ambushed, and many fighters were killed. Between the 12th and 14th of May 1948, on the eve of the establishment of the State of Israel, Gush Etzion fell. Some 240 fighters died in battle and the rest were taken captive.

For 19 years the survivors could only look towards Gush Etzion from afar, but in 5727 (1967) the children of Kfar Etzion were able to return to their ruined home, redeem it from the wilderness, and rebuild it.

"…I do not know of a more glorious, tragic and heroic struggle in all the valiant battles of the Israel Defense Forces than that of Gush Etzion...Their sacrifice, more than any other war effort, saved Jerusalem... The Gush Etzion campaign is the great and terrible epic of the Jewish war... If a Hebrew Jerusalem exists... the gratitude of Jewish history goes first and foremost to the fighters of Gush Etzion."
David Ben-Gurion, Prime Minister and Minister of Defense
Gush Etzion Heritage Memorial Site

"If you wish to know the source of all settlement in the Land of Israel, come to the Gush Etzion Visitors Center in the heart of the hills and the heart of the nation. There you will see the return to Zion in all its glory the heroic battles, working the land, and the remarkable homecoming. An exciting journey in time and place for all the family. Very highly recommended!"
Gen. (Res.) Uzi Dayan

"The story of Gush Etzion mirrors the history of modern-day Israel It is the story of the Jewish people and our long connection to the land and its people. It is the story of bravery, sacrifice and hope It is our past, our present and our future and upon us lays the responsibility to cherish and to preserve this site Jewish National Fund will always honor and remember those who gave their all to call this place home".
Russell F. Robinson, CEO, Jewish National Fund-USA

"l am excited to visit Kfar Etzion's innovative and fascinating sound and light show It relates the story of Gush Etzion from the War of Independence to the homecoming in the Six Day War This journey empowers the Jewish people in this place and holds great symbolism for the settlement of the land"
Danny Atar, former MK and KKL World Chairman

"The film is a masterpiece from every aspect, both cinematically and in terms of writing. Well done"
Dr. Avshalom Kor

 

 


 

The Etzion Block  - in the Hills of Judea

 

Written by Aryeh Routtenberg
Kfar Etzion Field School

Edited by Sandy Amichai
The Etzion Bloc Survivors Organization

 

Early History

The Etzion Bloc, or Gush Etzion as it is called in Hebrew, is located on the "Path of the Patriarchs" in the heart of the historic homeland of the Jewish people. Nestling in the Judean Hills, the Etzion Bloc is situated on the ancient mountain route midway between Jerusalem and Hebron the city of David, the city of the Patriarchs. A short distance to the west of Gush Etzion, a different geographic area is readily distinguished. It is com- prised of low hills and valleys, and is known as the "Shfela" or Lowlands of Judea. The Bible relates that it was here in the Valley of Elah that David defeated Goliath. Several miles to the east of Gush Etzion the scenery again changes radically as one is confronted by the magnificent Judean desert. It was at nearby Tekoa overlooking this desert that the great prophet Amos was born. Subsequently, Herod, built a lavish palace-fortress in this area and called it Herodium.

The Etzion Bloc is thus surrounded by significant historical sites. This area played a central role in Jewish history for nearly two thousand years, from the period of the Patriarchs until the Bar Kochba rebellion. The leading tribe of Judah, prophets and kings, the Maccabees and other Jewish freedom fighters, scholars and saints they all left their mark in these Judean Hills.

Thriving Jewish communities flourished in the Southern Judean Hills during the Talmudic period and until the Moslem conquest of the Land of Israel in the 7th century. Thereafter, Jewish presence was maintained in the city of Hebron almost without interruption throughout the Middle Ages and until the 20th century. The continuous flow of Jewish pilgrims to Jerusalem and the surrounding holy sites of Judea serve as further evidence to an ongoing link.

  • "Two thousand years ago these slopes reverberated with the sounds of a multitude of trees and life that teemed all about. Today they stand bleak and desolate. We have taken this oath upon settling in Kfar Etzion: We shall not rest nor know no peace until we cast off the shame of barrenness from these highlands, until we shall cover them with fruit and forest trees which together shall give forth a seng of rebirth which the Prophet Ezekiel foresaw: "But you, mountains of Israel, you shall shoot forth your bran- ches and yield your fruit to my people, Israel".

Kfar Etzion
Plantation Scroll
January, 1944

 

Jewish Settlement - Three Trials

MIGDAL EDER (1927-1929)

The first attempt in mod- ern times to settle this particular area was made in 1927 by a group of pious Jews from Jerusalem. Land was purchased from the local Arabs by the Zichron David Company in order to establish an agricultural settlement. The original pioneers, who included Jews of Yemenite origin, intended to establish a dairy farm and to plant orchards. A Biblical name "Migdal Eder" (Genesis 35:21) was given to the village, reflecting a strong religious and historical connection to the area. During the Arab riots of 1929, Migdal Eder was abandoned and completely destroyed. The settlers who found refuge in the nearby Russian monastery and subsequently in the Arab village of Beit Umar were ultimately evacuated by the British to Jerusalem.

KFAR ETZION (1934-1936)

The second attempt to establish an agricultural settlement in this area was launched by the El Hahar Company. It purchased considerable lands and founded a village called Kfar Etzion. It was named in honor of Shmuel Tzvi Holtzman, one of the founding fathers of the community. (Etz in Hebrew like Holz in German and in Yiddish means wood.) This village suffered the same fate as Migdal Eder, and during the Arab riots of 1936-1939 was abandoned and destroyed.

THE ETZION BLOC (1943-1948)

The third attempt by the Jewish people to gain a foothold in this part of the Judean Hills was launched in April, 1943. It coincided with the uprising of the Warsaw ghetto. A group of idealistic pioneers accepted the challenge to establish a permanent settlement in this problematic area. They were fully aware of the rocky nature of the terrain, the shortage of water, the stormy and bitterly cold winters and the precarious security situation. Nevertheless, in true pioneering spirit, they elected to move to this significant area despite the difficulties which it presented. They were determined to found a kibbutz on the site. Many had acquired initial training in the new and revolutionary way of life as members of the Bnei Akiva religious Zionist youth movement in Poland. Several years of agricultural work in temporary quarters in the Hadera area provided further preparation for this most difficult venture.

  • "For us this day marks the end of one period and the begin- ning of another - a period of conquest and settlement. We know that the task we have assumed is a difficult one... In Kfar Etzion we shall be opening up a new and exceedingly difficult area for Jewish settlement. We shall have to dedicate all our spiritual and material resources to strike sturdy roots in this area... It is a terrible period we are living through. Our relatives and our fellow-Jews are experiencing a horrible fate in Europe. Great Jewish communities are being totally annihilated. We can only seek consolation in our efforts to rebuild our country, to develop a secure homeland, which can serve as a haven for those who survive."

Kfar Etzion Journal

April, 1943

An abandoned German monastery building served as living quarters for the first members of Kibbutz Kfar Etzion. Here they began their labor of love and here they welcomed the holy Sabbath with joy. Their major efforts were directed at first toward the physical development of the area. This included the arduous task of clearing boulders in order to cultivate the land. The hill-country proved to be eminently suited for the planting of fruit trees and vines. After four years of dedicated care, the first fruits were picked. A meaningful ceremony marked this event in which the joy and gratitude of the settlers was expressed. Other development projects included the building of modest homes, a dining hall, children's quarters and a cultural hall. A guest house was opened for those who wished to enjoy the cool summer weather in the Judean Hills. A large water cistern was hewn out to collect the winter rains and light industry was introduced.

In addition to the physical development of the area, the members of the kibbutz did not neglect the social, cultural and religious aspects of kibbutz life. New immigrants were absorbed including holocaust survivors. A school was established for the older children and kindergartens were opened for the younger ones. Classes and various clubs further enriched the lives of the pioneers. The Sabbath and holidays served as a strong source of spiritual inspiration. As the population of kibbutz Kfar Etzion grew to some 220 inhabitants including 57 children, there was a feeling of satisfaction among the members. Their dream was becoming a reality in the Judean Hills.

  • "Is it not so, that this was our dream for many years before arriving at this site? To build, to plant, to conquer the waste- land... to awaken in the heart of each member a sense of security and a love for creativity, to implant him firmly in the national homeland. We constantly prayed for such a settlement and behold it is developing before our very eyes. It has become a reality thanks to the young dreamers, who though lacking in experience are both enthusiastic and courageous... Blessed is the Lord who has sustained us and enabled us to reach this season in this place."

Kfar Etzion Journal
Summer 1946

The isolation of Kfar Etzion was relieved in October, 1945 with the establishment of another Jewish settlement in the area, Kibbutz Massuot Yitzchak. Its founders were young pioneers, principally from Hungary and Czechoslovakia who had escaped the horrors of the holocaust. Upon arrival, they immediately undertook the difficult task of building terraces and planting thousands of trees. A small, local spring, served as a primary source of water. The kibbutz, which was named in honor of the Chief Rabbi Yitzchak Halevi Herzog, numbered some 111 inhabitants including 12 children. In a short time, they made significant strides in strengthening their community as they transformed a desolate site in the Judean Hills into a promising agricultural settlement.

  • "Perhaps you have seen my mother? My sister?... I have survived in order to mourn for my family... in the daytime I see their faces and in the evening I am troubled by them in my dreams... Let us begin everything anew. We shall believe in solemn faith that this was all the will of God. We must continue the way of life which our parents of blessed memory led, but not here! Let us move to the Land of Israel to build up our homeland and to make a new beginning. I heard of a group of young settlers in the Judean Hills, on the path between Hebron and Jerusalem, the path taken by Abraham and Isaac on their way to perform the great sacrifice. Their sacrifice was to serve as a symbol for all ages. I was drawn to the path of the great sacrifice and felt privileged to join this community."
  • B'leyvav Shalem
  • Nahum Levavi of Massuot Yitzchak

Two additional pioneering groups took up the challenge of establishing settlements in the Judean Hills. Kibbutz Ein Tsurim was founded in October, 1946 by a group of idealistic native-born Israelis of the Bnei Akiva youth movement. It was followed by Revadim in February, 1947. The members of this kibbutz, also Israeli born, were inspired by the ideology of the Hashomer Hatzair secular Zionist youth movement. These settlements also began to contribute to the development of the barren hill-country. Land reclamation and reforestation were the major pursuits of the young, dedicated pioneers. They also succeeded in establishing neighborly relations with the nearby Arabs of Hirbet Zacharia as had the members of Kibbutz Kfar Etzion with the Arabs of the village Beit Umar. There were fifty-five members in Kibbutz Ein Tsurim and eighty in Revadim.

The Etzion Bloc in the autumn of 1947 was composed of four Jewish settlements in various stages of development. Its total population was slightly more than four hundred inhabitants. There were approximately 2,500 acres of land in Jewish ownership in the Etzion Bloc region. The pioneers had begun to strike roots in their ancient homeland. Plans for the future included the introduction of light industry, the planting of additional orchards and the further construction of permanent quarters. The possibility of founding a fifth community was under serious consideration. The Etzion Bloc was growing and its future appeared promising in November of 1947.

 


The Turning Point - November 29, 1947

The resolution passed by the United Nations Assembly on November 29, 1947, provided for the partition of the Land of Israel. Three new political entities were to be established upon the termination of the British Mandate:

1) A Jewish state of minimal proportions

2) A new Arab state

3) An "international zone" consisting of Jerusalem and her immediate surroundings.

Many Jews sang and danced through the night as they rejoiced over the prospects of the founding of a Jewish State. The residents of Gush Etzion joined in the national celebration despite the fact that their communities, located in the Judean Hills, were to be included in the new Arab state. The United Nations decision was totally rejected by the Arabs who opposed the founding of a Jewish State.

Their immediate response included attacks on Jewish traffic and the burning of Jewish stores in the mixed commercial areas. A charismatic leader by the name of Abdul Khadr El-Husseini returned to the Land of Israel from which he had been expelled by the British. He came to the village of Surif, a few miles west of the Etzion Bloc, to lead the struggle against the implementation of the United Nations decision and the establishment of a Jewish State.

The new political situation demanded of the settlers of Gush Etzion to become its defenders. Defense measures took precedence over agricultural work. The kibbutz members began digging trenches and building defense posts. The first phase of Israel's War of Independence had begun.

Reactions to the United Nations decision among the Etzion Bloc members

  • "There is the sound of rejoicing and salvation among the hosts of Israel. The dream of many generations is being realized before our eyes. The State of Israel will soon become a reality, transforming the very foundations of our life in this country and our standing among the nations of the world... "
  • "Throughout the Sabbath we were all in a state of suspense, waiting for the decision of the United Nations to be made at Lake Success... About midnight we heard the first news of how the voting had gone. A wave of joy swept through the village. We sang songs of rejoicing on the surrounding hillsides and danced in the farmyard..."

Kfar Etzion

 

  • "Since last Saturday evening we sense that we are living in historic times. Throughout the night following the United Nations decision we celebrated in song and dance. A longing for redemption was strongly felt. Sunday evening we made a festive party which began outside with the hoisting of the flag. One of the members said the traditional blessing of gratitude ("Shehecheyanu") and spoke of our responsibilities at this time. We sang the national anthem, "Hatikva", blew the Shofar and then went inside for the party. There we sang songs and heard relevant readings. It is interesting to note that no one feels that he has been cut off from the Land, despite the fact that there is no way of knowing what the future will bring. Our hopes are high.."

Massuot Yitzchak

 

  • "The United Nations decision of November 29, 1947 has special significance for us. We accept it with mixed feelings and with concern. Our kibbutz is one of more than thirty Jewish settlements which have not been included in the borders of the Jewish state which is to arise... We will be a Jewish settlement in the Land of Israel, of course, but in an Arab State. This is clearly not a simple matter but we believe that it will be possible... We urge the immediate acceleration of the kibbutz development, more funds, additional members and an increase in defensive weapons. No thoughts or considerations of retreat to the borders of the proposed Jewish state have entered our minds. This is due perhaps to the fact that there is no time for contemplation. The day after the United Nations decision we already were under siege and were occupied with questions of defense."

Revadim

 

  • "There is rejoicing in our hearts, but our joy is not complete. The painful partition of the Land causes every faithful Jew to feel a sense of distress in his heart. Jerusalem, the capital city of the Land of Israel, which has through the generations been the object of the yearnings and hopes of Israel, remains outside the borders. Judea, Samaria and the territories in the north (i.e. Western Galilee) are an integral part of our ancient historic homeland. It was here that our kings and prophets traversed. These areas are now going to be cut off from the Jewish State. Our people will not be able to reconcile itself to the fact that the Land has been divided up and that our rights to settle in the majority of the historic areas of the Promised Land have been denied. It will be necessary to spend the next few years strengthening our independence in the small Jewish State. Similarly we will be preoccupied by the absorption of a vast number of Jews, coming from the exile. Nevertheless, we will not forget Jerusaiem, nor Hebron nor Shechem nor hundreds of other Biblical sites that must be redeemed."

Shalom Karniel Kfar Etzion

 

 

 

The Siege and Fall

The celebrations had no sooner ended but the struggle for survival began. The entire country became a battleground with the Etzion Bloc serving as one of the focal points of the conflict. Warnings of the possibility of an Arab attack were received as early as December 3, 1947. Danny Mass of the famous Palmah fighting unit arrived on December 7 with a platoon for reinforcement. He became the first commander of Gush Etzion and supervised its fortification.

The major events which transpired in the Etzion Bloc during the transition period between the passing of the United Nations resolution and the founding of the State of Israel are outlined below. These were five trying months of siege and battle. The endurance of the defenders was tested daily. Knowledge that their efforts were helping to save a besieged Jerusalem provided additional strength to continue the struggle. Vastly outnumbered and possessing limited amounts of light arms and ammunition, hope was maintained that aid would come from some other source. This hope was shattered on the eve of the founding of the State of Israel. The well trained and superior equipped Jordanian Legion diverted its course from Jerusalem and directed its attack on the outposts of Gush Etzion. In the three-day battle which ensued, the Etzion Bloc fell, and 151 of her defenders were killed. A great sacrifice was offered up on the altar of the State of Israel.

December 11, 1947 (Hanukka) - The fall of the "Convoy of the Ten". Less than two weeks after the United Nations decision, four vehicles from Gush Etzion were ambushed and attacked by local Arabs. In the battle which raged on the main road above King Solomon's Pools, ten Jewish defenders lost their lives. These were the first casualties in the struggle for Gush Etzion. The prolonged siege had begun, as it became clear that the Arabs were in control of the only road leading to and from Gush Etzion.

  • "Mourning. The sound of weeping is heard in the settlement. Two of our children have lost their fathers. Kfar Etzion's first orphans... Psalms were recited. The grave diggers had performed their task. At evening we laid our fellow-members to rest. We hurried to wash before the Sabbath. The glow of the Sabbath candles and the knowledge that it was Hanukka seemed to lesson our grief a little..."
  • Journal of Kfar Etzion

January 5, 1948 - Mothers and children from Kfar Etzion and Massuot Yitzchak were evacuated to Jerusalem with the aid of the British.

"The departure of the mothers and children has left an aching void in the village. The family quarters are sad. Everything recalls the life of the families that have now been rent in two... Kfar Etzion, humming with activity, thriving with its stone buildings, its gardens, now has the appearance of a fortified military camp."

Letters from Kfar Etzion

January 8, 1948 - Danny Mass was assigned to a new command in Jerusalem. He was replaced by Uzi Narkiss.

  • "We gave a farewell party for Danny Mass who spent the decisive weeks since the beginning of the siege with us. All those at the party expressed the admiration and friendship they hold for him and thanked him for his work. Danny always conveyed the impression of a quiet modest fellow. He won us over by his smile, by his courage, and by the self-confidence that he displays in everything that he does. During the day he would be constantly on the move. from one seltlement to the other supervising the construction of fortifications, inspecting the strategic points, organizing the various military courses. Danny was invited to come back as a guest when peace is restored."

Kfar Etzion diary

January 13, 1948 - Another Arab ambush took place on the main road. A small convoy was attacked on its way to Jerusalem near King Solomon's Pools. Two more losses were recorded.

  • "The medic Ovadia Zerubavel jumped from the truck in order to treat Hanoch Zilberstein of Revadim who had been wounded. Both lost their lives and to this day the body of Ovadia Zerubavel has not been found."

Gush Etzion archives

January 14, 1948 - Hundreds of local Arabs under the command of Abdul Khader El-Husseini penetrated the Etzion Bloc with the intention of destroying the settlements. This was the first major attack on Gush Etzion. The Jewish defenders staged a counter attack. The surprised Arabs fled in a very disorderly retreat. A great victory for the Gush Etzion defenders was marked, though another three losses were recorded.

  • "The battle was the biggest and fiercest fought in the country since the outbreak of hostilities."

Summary of District Commander

January 16, 1948 - The "Lamed Hey" or "Detachment of the Thirty Five" under the command of Danny Mass was detected while attempting to bring supplies by foot to a besieged Gush Etzion. After a heroic battle near the Arab village of Surif, all thirty five fell including the respected commander Danny Mass. They later became legendary heroes of Israel's War of Independence.

  • "Behold, our bodies are laid out
  • in a long, long line...
  • There was no betrayal, our guns are still strapped to us empty of bullets.
  • They tell of our fight till the end.."
  1. Guri

February 8, 1948 - The first small plane landed on an airstrip which had been prepared near Kibbutz Kfar Etzion thus bringing some relief to the besieged defenders.

  • "The plane approached the landing strip, flying low and rising again as if seeking a suitable place to land. We watched its efforts anxiously. Would it succeed? Then I" flew over the strip again, flying low, and then suddenly it was taxiing. We ran to the strip with shouts of joy."

Kfar Etzion diary

February 24-26, 1948 - A general meeting convened at Kibbutz Kfar Etzion. on the agenda was a proposal by the settlement department of the Jewish Agency to transfer the married men to another settlement where they could reunite with their families and continue with their civilian activities. Following a three-day discussion and heated debate, the proposal was not adopted.

  • "...And now, my dear, a bit about politics. Discussions regarding our future are taking place this entire week. At the general meeting two basic approaches were expressed. The first favors the acceptance of the proposal. Its supporters claim that we should unite the families wherever possible at a new site where the political and economic future are more promising. The second approach disapproves of the very discussion. Its proponents insist that as long as Kfar Etzion exists we must remain and under no circumstances are we to consider evacuation.
  • I also participated in the debate and this was my position:
  • 1) I am critical of those who claim that Kfar Etzlon is everything and that without Kfar Etzion we have lost our raison d'etre. The very opposite is the case, for precedence is to be given to the people over the land, to the community rather than to the dwelling site. I recalled the prophecy of Jeremiah who took issue with the false prophets for predicting doom to the Israelites who went into exile. In certain exile may be the preferred position. We must situations, consider this matter without being overly romantic. It is mistaken to adopt the position that it is forbidden under all circumstances to leave one's home. The subject should be logically considered - where is our social unit, the kibbutz, going to be best preserved?
  • 2) Since the political situation is so unclear, it would be wrong to decide now to leave this place, nor should the founding of an alternative site be discussed at the moment.
  • 3) The opportunity of founding a new site will present itself in the future as well, if Heaven forbid, it will become necessary to evacuale.
  • 4) The unification of the families is not a sufficient reason to accept the proposal to evacuate. This is a time of war and it is to be expected that soldiers will be separated from their families. This was the position I took at the public meeting and though I do reject the proposal nevertheless my stand is considered moderate. How do you feel about this, my dear?.."

From the letters of Yoseph Damast
of Kibbutz Kfar Etzion
to his wife in Jerusalem

March 26, 1948 - The Nebi Daniel Convoy fell in the outskirts of Bethlehem on its way back to Jerusalem. This was the largest of the convoys, numbering fifty one vehicles. It was the last to bring supplies to Gush Etzion. In the course of a thirty hour battle on the road, fourteen defenders were killed including the commander of the blockbuster, Zerubavel Horowitz.

  • "No one could reach the men trapped in the barricade-buster. All afternoon its crewmen, several of them wounded, held off the steadily advancing Arabs...
  • Toward sunset a pair of Molotov cocktails thumped against the car. Calmly, Zerubavel Horowitz, the ccmmander, told his men they were free to make a break for safety any way they could. He would stay behind with his wounded... Seconds later the burning vehicle exploded... For Yigal Yadin who had ordered the Jerusalem command to put everything available into the Nebi Daniel Convoy, the convoy's loss would always be "the darkest moment of our struggle".

O Jerusalem!

Collins and Lapierre

Chapter 18

May 4, 1948 - The Arab Legion aided by the British and by a large number of local Arabs launched a major attack on the Etzion Bloc. Their object was to punish the Jews for their offensive measures which were taken on behalf of Jerusalem. Twelve Jewish defenders were killed. A key outpost at the entrance to the Etzion Bloc fell to the Arabs during the day of the battle. It was retaken at night upon the withdrawal of the enemy. This preliminary battle served as a dire warning. The defenders prepared themselves for a last stand even if it must be another Massada. Their great hope was for the arrival of reinforcements.

  • "What are we and what are our lives? Nothing at all. Meaning is to be found in the life-project to which we dedicate our efforts. We will strike the enemy wherever we can reach him, we shall not permit him to carry out his designs. Our steadfast reply is - "the eternity of Jerusalem".

Moshe Silberschmidt
Last Commander of Gush Etzion
Eulogy of the 12 Defenders

May 12, 1948 - The Jordanian Legion supported by thousands of local Arabs launched a carefully planned attack on the Etzion Bloc. The object of the attack this time was the conquest and destruction of Gush Etzion. The outer positions were captured in this first day of battle. The Arabs progressed to the "lone tree", thus dividing the Etzion Bloc. Moshe Silberschmidt, the beloved and respected commander, was killed.

May 13, 1948 - The Arab offensive continued. Its major force was directed against Kibbutz Kfar Etzion. Attack upon attack was rebuffed by the Jewish defenders in the course of the morning. At about noon the Arabs finally succeeded in penetrating the northern gate of the kibbutz. As the armored vehicles stormed into Kfar Etzion, the local commander realized that all was lost. After many months of siege and battle, no further possibility of maintaining the village existed. A cease fire was sought in order to save the lives of the defenders.

The exhausted Jewish soldiers left their defense posts and handed over their ammunition as directed. They assembled in the heart of the kibbutz near the former German monastery where they were to be photographed before being taken as prisoners of war. They were suddenly fired upon. In the desperate struggle which ensued, only four survived. Following the heroic battle and terrible massacre, Kfar Etzion was pillaged and destroyed.

Last moments at Kfar Etzion

  • "A photographer dressed in European clothes and wearing a white kaffiyeh came on the scene and photographed us... When the photographer had finished, fire was suddenly opened upon us from every direction. Most of the assembled members were hit... I jumped into a ditch near the school... It was an officer of the Legion who saved me. He solemnly promised that he would do me no harm. When the battle subsided, the officer took me back to the village and demanded that I show him where the arms caches were. When we passed by the doorway of the shelter under the German Monastery, he put a grenade in my hand, pulled out the pin and ordered me to throw it into the shelter. I held the grenade in my hand, for I was prepared to kill myself rather than to obey this order. The officer took it from me and threw it himself into the shelter..."

Aliza Feuchtwanger Palmah

May 14, 1948 - The three remaining villages, Massuot Yitzchak, Ein Tsurim and Revadim had no alternative but to submit to the Arab Legion. Their members were taken as prisoners of war. These villages were also then pillaged and destroyed.

Last moments at Ein Tsurim

  • "At about ten o'clock the representatives of the Red Cross came to the settlement. Two of our members met them... In the distance we could distinguish thousands of Arab irregular troops approaching the Zachariah outpost. At the sight of the rabble, some of the members fled to Revadim and Ein Tsurim while one blew himself up with a grenade. All of us at the kibbutz rushed back to our positions and took up our weapons. A settler of Ein Tsurim pressed the trigger and fired a long volley. The mob fled. Many Jews owed their lives to that single volley.
  • At noon representatives of the Legion came. They wanted to disarm us. We refused to allow them to do so and declared that we would hand over our rms only when we got onto the trucks. We asked them to keep the rabble back... We took our bundles and marched in single file through the gate... the Legionaries escorting and guarding us..."

Last moments at Revadim

  • "...our men began to get into the trucks. Hundreds of Arabs were already crowding around the fences of the farmyard, waiting for the moment to break in. As the members began to climb into the trucks with their little bundles in their hands, the rabble rushed into the farmyard. The villagers went frantic in their lust for loot..."

Last moments at Massuot Yitzchak

  • "In the early afternoon we were alone, the only settlement remaining in the Etzlon Bloc. The settlers of Ein Tsurim and Revadim had been taken off in an unknown direction... Hours passed and the Red Cross delegation had not come.. The sun was setting. Sabbath was approaching. One of the members came up and sald that Sabbath prayers would be held in the open. It was hard for me to attend a public service... I had not reconciled myself to the catastrophe that had overwhelmed us. The verses of the prayers seemed at odds with my pain and sorrow... but it was a religious duty, instilled in me since childhood and putting aside my hesitation, I joined the congregation... tears ran down my face and I felt that I was beginning to accept what fate had decreed. Together with the congregation I uttered: "To declare that the Lord is righteous..."
  • The previous evening we had decided to bury the Torah scrolls to prevent their violation. We dug a hole and were about to place the scrolls in it. Suddenly one of the members voiced his strong protest. He claimed that the pit must be enlarged so that the scrolls could be buried in the ark and thereby be preserved. "Some day we will return to this place" he concluded with great faith...
  • At half past seven that night, two Legion officers arrived with their men... We asked a Legion officer to permit us to take a Torah seroll with us and he consented.
  • At 8:00 P.M. the last signal was sent to the regional command in Jerusalem from Massuot Yitzchak. "The men and women are being taken to Hebron, the wounded to Bethlehem. Regards to the Massuot group in Jerusalem. Tonight we shall no longer be here. So ends the chapter of the Etzion Bloc."

From the accounts of survivors
The Etzion Bloc went up in flames at the historic hour of the declaration of the State of Israel.

 

Nineteen Years of Separation and Longing (1948 - 1967)

The Etzion Bloc lay in ruins for nineteen years after its conquest and destruction. However, it did remain alive in the hearts and memories of the survivors.

The members of Massuot Yitzchak, Ein Tsurim and Revadim were released after nine months of imprisonment in the Jordanian prisoner-of-war camp. Upon their return to the State of Israel, they found that the Etzion Bloc, like most of the Judean Hills, was outside the borders of the young state and under Jordanian administration. The settlers consequently turned to the coastal strip where they succeeded in reestablishing their villages.

The Kfar Etzion community was in a more difficult predicament. Following the loss of more than eighty of its members, its population now included numerous widows and orphans. Bravely, they strengthened one another as they maintained their kibbutz way of life in temporary quarters at Givat Haaliyah, on the outskirts of Jaffa. After four trying years, the adult population decided that it was impossible to continue to function as an independent kibbutz under such abnormal conditions. The proud, closely-knit group of children were deeply distressed by this decision. They were linked together by a strong bond which they desired to maintain.

A few of the courageous survivors founded the village of Nir Etzion in the Carmel region. The scenery in the hill-country was reminiscent of the beloved Judean Hills from which they had been cruelly uprooted. Other members of Kfar Etzion gradually reestablished themselves within the religious kibbutz movement as well as in other places in the country.

The memory of the Etzion Bloc was preserved and even strengthened as the years of separation continued. One moving reminder was the Memorial Day service which was conducted annually at the military cemetery on Mt. Herzl in Jerusalem. Here, the names of the two hundred and forty defenders who lost their lives in the various battles for the defense of the Etzion Bloc were recited. Following the service, excursions were taken to places from which the Etzion Bloc could be seen in the distance. Gazing across the border, it was the large oak tree which could be distinguished. It had stood in the heart of the once-thriving Etzion Bloc.

A second reminder was the unique summer camp experience which was shared each year by the children of Kfar Etzion. Various places in the camp were named after sites in the Etzion Bloc. Songs and other programs were dedicated to the theme of Gush Etzion. The spirit of Gush Etzion remained alive in these summer camps.

The Organization of the Survivors of the Etzion Bloc also contributed significantly to the perpetuation of the memory of the Etzion Bloc. All relevant information on the subject was carefully gathered and preserved in the Gush Etzion archives. Literature was published on the theme including the classic work, Siege in the Hills of Hebron, by Dov Knohl. Other activities were also sponsored by the organization. Weddings and other occasions served as pleasant opportunities for the survivors to meet and to recall the days of old at Gush Etzion.

The Etzion Bloc was beyond the border and inaccessable for nineteen years. The hope of returning, however, was never relinquished. The yearning continued until the dramatic events of the Six Day War.

  • "We the children of Etzion are founding a camp here...
  • Before us is the goal
  • To maintain the tradition of our fathers
  • And not to permit the glowing ember to become extinguished
  • To remain united
  • And to plan for the future..."

From the anthem composed by
the Kfar Etzion campers

  • "For nineteen years we looked longingly at Gush Etzion from a distance. Annually, on the date of the birthday of the kibbutz, we would take a trip to the Judean Hills. From the heights of Bar Giora, Abu Gosh or Maale Hachamisha re could see the tree. It symbolized the Etzion Bloc for us the place where our kibbutz was initially founded. We would look, relate stories and reminisce..."

Member of Revadim

 

The Six Day War and the Return to Gush Etzion

The events of the Six Day War led to the fulfillment of the dream of nineteen ears, On the day of the liberation of the Wall and the Old City of Jerusalem, israeli forces advanced southward along the Path of the Patriarchs toward the Etzion Bloc. They met no opposition after the Mar Elias monastery on the outskirts of Bethlehem. The Jordanian Army fled from the Judean Hills. The Jerusalem Division of the Israel Defense Force entered the abandoned Jordanian army camp that had been constructed on the ruins of Kibbutz Kfar Etzion. Gush Etzion was liberated by the Israeli Army on June 7, 1967.

The news of the liberation of Gush Etzion spread quickly among the survivors and children. Visits to the Etzion Bloc were organized soon thereafter. It was difficult to detect any tangible evidence of the labor of love which had been performed in the pioneering days prior to 1948. The destruction of the homes and uprooting of the trees by the Arabs had left almost no signs of the dedicated efforts of the original Jewish settlers. The large, lone oak tree which had been viewed from a distance was one of the only familiar objects.

  • "I wanted to visit immediately, to be there at Gush Etzion but the area was still closed by the army.
  • The whole Sabbath was spent reviewing the map of the area, learning every detail. On Sunday morning I began my journey back to the Etzion Bloc. Entrance was restricted to soldiers on duty. I was still a soldier in uniform and my duty was - to return home! Permission was granted to proceed.
  • We passed by the familiar sites which I had read about - Rachel's tomb, Bethlehem, King Solomon's Pools - and then began the steep climb in the beautiful hill country. Behold we had arrived at the entrance to Gush Etzion. The Russian hill on the left, the "lone tree" on the right and beyond Rocky Hill - Kfar Etzion! Where were the fruit trees, the homes, the cultural hall, the German monastery? Nothing remained.
  • Everything had been destroyed.
  • I stood rooted to the ground. All that I knew about Kfar Etzion was racing through my mind. I had asked to visit and now found it impossible to leave as I looked about and tears of grief mingled with tears of joy."

Yohanan Ben Yaakov
A returning son, Kfar Etzion

In the spirit of their parents, the sons and daughters of Kfar Etzion made the courageous decision to return and rebuild their community. One month after the termination of the war, they met at the Military Cemetery in Jerusalem where a service was conducted in memory of their dear friend Meir Shnur. He was one of the children of Kfar Etzion who had been evacuated in 1948 and fell in the heroic battle on Ammunition Hill in 1967. "We shall return home" was the firm resolution taken at this meeting. Many were willing to terminate their studies, to leave important positions and to make other personal sacrifices in order to reestablish the community.

  • "To the Committee members: Congratulations and may God bless you! I personally was always interested in trying out the kibbutz way of life and for obvious reasons I would most prefer making the experiment at Kfar Etzion. As for the timing. I am currently studying at the Haifa Technion where I was planning to continue for the next three years. However, the settlement will be refounded in the near future, this does not mean that you are to count me out. The possibilities of deferring or even cancelling my studies do exist…
  • In conclusion, I would like to add a few words to explain my position. I attach primary importance to the resettlement of the site as soon as possible. This should be performed even before the weighing of serious considerations such as the question of whether or not this place will remain within the borders of the State of Israel or whether it will be a religious kibbutz or not. In my opinion the object is first and foremost to settle the spot..., to cast off its shame. I think that the children of Kfar Etzion are the ones best suited to fulfill this task. It has always been my opinion that the refounding of Kfar Etzion on the site where it fell would be its most significant memorial. For this I am prepared to make any sacrifice..."

Avinoam Amichai (Chaimowitz) of blessed memory
A returning son, Kfar Etzion.
Fell in battle at Suez Canal, Yom Kippur War.

The sons and daughters of Kfar Etzion requested permission from the Israeli government to return to their liberated home. The late prime minister, Levi Eshkol, was very moved by their plea but he nevertheless refrained from giving an immediate reply. Considerable pressure was exerted upon him by a strong lobby which enthusiastically supported the return to Gush Etzion. After carefully considering the political implications of settlement in the newly-gained territories, Prime Minister Eshkol gave his consent and blessing - "Children, you may return home".

With the granting of government approval, final preparations were hastily concluded. On September 27, 1967, one week before the holiday of Rosh Hashana, the group was ready, its members first visited the Military Cemetery in Jerusalem where the defenders of the Etzion Bloc had been buried after Israel's War of Independence. Appropriate prayers were recited by the children who pledged to continue the work of their fathers. A row of cars set out on its course to Gush Etzion. The same armored car which had evacuated the children in 1948, led the way past Rachel's Tomb and up through the Judean Hills.

The young settlers moved into the abandoned Jordanian army camp where they set up temporary living quarters. A provisional kitchen, dining hall and synagogue were established in the former barracks. The New Year was ushered in with prayers of thanksgiving and with a fervent plea for the success of this fourth attempt to settle Gush Etzion.

The holidays were joyously celebrated as many visitors came to express their solidarity with the returning sons and daughters.

Following the holiday season, a small, determined group of settlers remained to face the challenge of establishing a creative, self-sustaining community. They were confronted by problems similar to those which the older generation had struggled to solve. These included the lack of a dependable water source, the difficulties of farming in the hill country, the long, bitterly-cold winters and the security situation. Thus, in the initial stages of settlement, whenever the irregular supply of water from the Hebron municipality proved deficient, tankers were called into service to transport water to Kfar Etzion from afar. All farming was at first practiced in the Lowlands of Judea as the difficult task of cultivating the rocky-hill country was temporarily postponed. A major snowfall during the first winter caused the total isolation of the village from the rest of the country for several days. The threat of terrorist activity which arose shortly after the Six Day War resulted in the restriction of travel without military escort to the daylight hours.

In retrospect, this first period may be viewed as an endurance test which the returning sons and daughters were required to pass. Strong motivation led to success and gradually the abandoned Jordanian army camp was transformed into a kibbutz. Its economy was based both on agriculture and on industry. One of the earliest projects in which the members were engaged was the replanting of thousands of trees. The cultural and religious aspects of kibbutz life were also promoted. A field school, study-and-education center, was established. Nineteen years after its fall and destruction, Kfar Etzion was resurrected by the younger generation. The wedding celebrations and the sound of newborn babies strengthened the realization that Kfar Etzion was alive once again in the Judean Hills.

Additional members joined Kfar Etzion from Jewish communities throughout the world. Many had been brought up on the story of Gush Etzion. They felt privileged to become partners in the rebuilding of the kibbutz, for here was an unprecedented story, unique in Israeli society. In miniature form, it reminded the new settlers of the unparalleled covenantal relationship of the People of Israel to the Land of Israel - a relationship marked by relentless faith, painful exile and joyous return.

 

Epilogue: THE ETZION BLOC TODAY

The First Four Settlements

Kibbutz Kfar Etzion existed as a single solitary Jewish settlement in the Etzion Bloc for two years. The addition of a neighboring Jewish settlement was welcomed in the autumn of 1969 when the kibbutz Rosh Tsurim was founded on the site of the old kibbutz, Ein Tsurim. Encouragement and support were granted by the original members of Ein Tsurim who guided the young settlers on the basis of their experience. Agriculture and industry were introduced including a poultry and dairy farm. The planting of thousands of fruit trees (cherries, walnuts, peaches, nectarines etc.) made for a significant change in the Etzion Bloc scenery.

The third settlement, Alon Shvut ("return to the tree"), was established nine months later near the famous oak tree. It was initiated by Moshe Moskowitz, one of the veteran members of Kibbutz Massuot Yitzchak. Its original settlers belonged to Yeshivat Har Etzion which functioned in temporary quarters for a year and a half in the abandoned Jordanian army camp at Kfar Etzion. This Talmudic Academy, whose students combine their studies with active duty in the Israeli army, moved to its new site in June of 1970. For more than a year the new settlement was comprised exclusively of students and staff members of the Yeshiva. Additional families joined the community in the fall and winter of 1971-1972. They formed the first noncollective "communal settlement" which became a model for many other settlements in the Gush Etzion area and in other parts of the country. TIhe Yeshiva expanded and built a magnificent campus in Alon Shvut. A very high standard has been maintained by the renowned faculty headed by Rabbi Amital and Rabbi Lichtenstein. The study of Torah which had begun in the previous attempts of settlement at Gush Etzion is thus continuing with the return of the Jewish people to this area.

North of Alon Shvut, the fourth settlement Elazar was founded in the fall of 1974. It was named after the brother of Judah the Maccabee, who sacrificed his life at nearby Beit Zachariah in one of the famous battles of the Maccabees, two thousand years ago. The original settlers were western olim who founded a collective community based on industry. In the course of its development, agriculture was also introduced, and it later became a noncollective "communal settlement".

Seven years after its liberation, Gush Etzion once again numbered four settlements.

 

 

Additional Settlements

Following the founding of the first four settlements, thirteen additional communities were established in the next fifteen years. They include two urban centers, Efrat and Beitar, nine smaller "communal settlements", one kibbutz and a para-military ("Nahal") settlement.

The urban center of Efrat was founded in 1982. It too was initiated by Moshe Moskowitz. He was aided by Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, formerly of New York City. Efrat features a lovely residential area, a growing commercial center, and several important educational institutions which were introduced by Rabbi Riskin.

The urban center of Beitar is named after the nearby ancient city of Beitar where Bar Kochba made his last stand against the Romans. Its rapidly growing population is strictly religious.

Five of the "communal settlements" are located on the edge of the Judean desert east of the original Etzion Bloc. They all enjoy a breath-taking view of the desert. Tekoa was the first community founded in this area. It is situated near the ruins of Biblical Tekoa where the prophet Amos was born. The other four villages are Maale Amos, Metzad, El-David (Nokdim) and Kedar.

In the heart of the hill-country between Jerusalem and Hebron four additional communal settlements were established. They include Har Gilo, Neve Daniel, Bat Ayyin and Karmei Tsur. Har Gilo began as a field-study-center immediately after the Six-Day-War and subsequently developed into an independent village. It is located on an impressive hill in the Bethlehem area and features a magnificent view of Jerusalem. The town of Neve Daniel is the highest in the area - close to 1,000 meters above sea level. It was named after the famous Nebi Daniel Convoy. Bat Ayyin is the newest of the Jewish settlements. It is located on the abandoned lands of Massuot Yitzchak. Karmei Tsur was developed by students and staff members of Yeshivat Har Etzion. It is located off the road to Hebron near the historic site of Beit Tsur where Judah the Maccabee fought two key battles.

Kibbutz Migdal Oz was established on the tenth birthday of Kfar Etzion, east of the original Etzion Bloc. Its name serves as a reminder of the Biblical Migdal Eder and of the first community which settled nearby in 1927. With the exception of the two urban centers, all of the communities are governed by the Etzion Municipal Council which was founded in 1979. Its offices are located in an impressive building near the famous oak tree. Other public buildings such as the large elementary school, the sports center, the indoor swimming pool and community center are also located near the tree.

The Etzion Bloc has continued to show remarkable signs of growth and development despite the painful terrorist attacks which were launched by the local Arabs in the intifada period. Thousands of new families that joined the various communities in recent years, have made for major changes in the Etzion Bloc. New roads have been constructed, new neighborhoods built, new educational institutions on all levels have been established, new synagogues dedicated, new commercial centers and tourist sites have developed and plans for the future growth of the Jewish community have been drawn.

The Etzion Bloc looks forward to the coming years, hoping for continued development and praying for peace.

The return to the Etzion Bloc and the surrounding Judean Hills is a process which is continuing to this day. Its deeper significance has best been expressed by the prophets of Israel in the context of the redemption of Israel. Thus, the motto of the returning sons and daughters of Kfar Etzion is taken from the prophecy of Jeremiah (31:16), "Your children shall return to their own land."

  • "Thus said the Lord:
  • A cry is heard in Ramah
  • Wailing, bitter weeping
  • Rachel weeping for her children.
  • She refuses to be comforted
  • For her children, who are gone.
  • Thus said the Lord:
  • Restrain your voice from weeping,
  • Your eyes from shedding tears;
  • For there is a reward for your labor
  • declared the Lord
  • They shall return from the enemy's land.
  • And there is hope for your future
  • declares the Lord
  • Your children shall return
  • To their own land."

(Jeremiah 31:1416)

 

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