Monday, April 15, 2013

4th of Iyar - Gush Etzion's Last Stand

On the 4th of Iyar 5708--May 13, 1948--the day before Israel's declaration of independence, Gush Etzion fell. Gush Etzion, which consisted of the settlements Kfar Etzion, Massu'ot Yitzhak, Ein Tzurim and Revadim, was built between 1943-47. The majority of residents were members of the religious Zionist movement (with the exception of Revadim, which belonged to the secular Ha'shomer Ha'tzair movement). After clashes broke out following the UN partition resolution on November 29, 1947, the residents of the bloc found themselves in a hostile Arab region and under attack from the Arabs of Hebron and Bethlehem. The bloc was of strategic importance of the first order, since it controlled the axis of traffic from south to north towards Jerusalem, and held back large irregular Arab forces, which could otherwise have attacked Jerusalem.

Hagana headquarters in Jerusalem tried to bring supply convoys to the bloc, but this became impossible after the destruction of the "Convoy of the 35" (known by its Hebrew name – the Lamed Hey) in mid-January 1948, and the Nebi Daniel convoy on March 1948, which was attacked on the way back by irregular Arab forces; 14 of its fighters were killed and the rest surrendered their weapons and gear to the British, in exchange for free and safe passage to Jerusalem.

With the intensification of fighting in Jerusalem, the Jerusalem Command pressured the Gush Etzion force to prevent movement of Arab forces on the Hebron-Jerusalem road. Fighters from Gush Etzion attacked traffic on the road, including vehicles of the Arab Legion. The Legion, nominally part of the British army, but in fact an independent force under the orders of King Abdullah of Transjordan, started attacking the bloc with heavy fire. Attacks by an irregular Arab force, under the cover of the Legion, were repulsed on April 12 and on May 4. On May 13, a Legion force, along with hundreds of irregular Arab fighters, attacked and conquered the Etzion bloc in a fierce battle. After their surrender, more than a hundred defenders of Kfar Etzion were murdered by irregular Arab fighters. In other settlements, the Legion intervened and prevented further killing. Wounded prisoners were taken to Jerusalem and prisoners were taken to POW camps in Jordan and released after the Armistice agreement with Jordan in April 1949.

Below, we reproduce a handwritten report and a printed English report by the commander of the Jewish Settlement Police in Gush Etzion, Jacob Altman, on the repelling of a large Arab attack on January 14, 1948 (click to enlarge). Altman fell in battle on May 13, 1948, as the deputy commander of Gush Etzion. His children returned to Gush Etzion after the Six Day War and rebuilt Kfar Etzion, where they, and their descendants, live to this day.

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