Gush Etzion Revisited
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Gush Etzion Revisited

Background I - The History of Gush Etzion

Jewish Settlement in Gush Etzion

The first attempt to settle the Gush Etzion was made in 1927 by a group of Yemenite Jewish agricultural pioneers. The Arab riots of 1929 there were forced to flee from their homes.

In 1932 Shmuel Holzmann purchased lands in the area. The kibbutz which he later founded was named in his honor "Kfar Etzion" (Etz in Hebrew is a translation of Holz in Yiddish - meaning tree). The Arab hostility - the riots of 1936-39 made living very dangerous; the settlers had no choice but to abandon their village in 1937.

In 1942 the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael (Jewish National Fund) offered a group of pioneers the opportunity to return to Kfar Etzion. Fully aware of the difficulties facing them (the poor soil, the shortage of water, the hard winters and the security problem) the first representatives of the pioneering group arrived to resettle Kfar Etzion in the spring of 1943.

In October 1945, a second kibbutz, Massuot Yitzchak, helped to relieve the isolation felt by the members of Kfar Etzion. A third kibbutz, Ein Tzurim, was founded a year later. In February 1947, a fourth kibbutz by the name of Revadim was established by pioneers of the Hashomer Hatzair Youth Movement (the earlier three settlements were established by young orthodox pioneers associated with Hapoel HaMizrahi).

The Conflict

In November 1947, the total population of the four kibbutzim in Gush Etzion was 450 persons. Kfar Etzion included 163 adults and 57 children; Massuot Yitzchak, 111 adults and 12 children; Ein Tsurim and Revadim numbered 135 younger and still unmarried settlers.

The decision of the United Nations on November 29, 1947 in favor of the Partition Plan proved to be a crucial turning point in the history of the Gush Etzion settlements as it was for all of Israel. After a night of jewish rejoicing over the prospects of the establishment of the State of Israel, Arab attacks on Jewish traffic opened the first phase of the Israel War of Independence.

The four kibbutzim of Gush Etzion were among some thirty odd Jewish settlements to be included in the new Arab State under the Partition Plan; however the Jewish authorities decided not to abandon any settlement, but to defend them all against Arab aggression until the evacuation of the British and the establishment of the proposed Jewish and Arab states.

Gush Etzion, uncertain of its future upon the termination of the British Mandate, found itself under siege almost immediately : the settlers, along with reinforcements which were sent in by the Hagana, became the defenders.

The siege dragged on for five trying months. Knowledge that their effort was helping to save a besieged Jerusalem gave the defenders additional strength to endure in their struggle. Vastly outnumbered and possessing limited amounts of light arms and ammunition, they hoped that aid would come from some other source.

The major events of this heroic period are outlined below :

November 29-30, 1947
Rejoicing in Gush Etzion over the U.N. decision to establish a Jewish State.
December 3, 1947
News of Arab attack on the Jerusalem commercial centre. Gush Etzion warned of the possibility of an attack.
December 11, 1947 (Hanukka)
A convoy of four vehicles is attacked on its way back to Gush Etzion. Ten members are killed in the battle which ensued. The siege begins.
January 5, 1948
Mothers and children are transferred to Jerusalem with the aid of a British military escort.
January 13, 1948
A convoy is attacked on its way to Jerusalem and two more losses are recorded.
January 14, 1948
First major attack on Gush Etzion. Hundred of local Arabs are driven off. Many Arab casualties. Three Jewish losses. A great victory for Gush Etzion.
January 16, 1948
A detachment of 35 (Lamed Hey) men is detected while attempting to bring supplies by foot to a besieged Gush Etzion. All 35 fall in battle.
February 8, 1948
First plane lands on an airstrip which is intended to bring some relief to the besieged defenders.
March 26, 1948
The largest convoy organized to bring aid to Gush Etzion is attacked on its way back to Jerusalem. Fourteen men are killed in a 24 hour battle on the road. It becomes clear that no further land communication with Gush Etzion is possible.
May 4, 1948
Gush Etzion is attacked by the Arab Legion, British troops and large numbers of local Arabs. Twelve men are killed and many others wounded. Valuable ammunition is used up. Shelling causes considerable damage to Gush Etzion.
May 12, 1948
The Arab Legion, supported by thousands of local Arabs, launches a carefully planned attack on Gush Etzion, which finds itself divided. Its commander, Moshe Silberschmidt, is among those killed in battle.
May 13, 1948
The Arab attack continues and its major force is directed at Kfar Etzion. All but four of the defenders are massacred.
May 14, 1948
Massuot Yitzchak, Ein Tzurim and Revadim surrender to the Arab Legion. Its members are taken as prisoners of war. The State of Israel is declared.

The Return

Gush Etzion was detroyed by its Arab conquerors. Buildings were looted and then razed to the ground. Hundreds of thousands of trees were uprooted.

The members of Massuot Yitzhak, Ein Tsurim and Revadim, upon their retrun from prisoner-of-war camp, suceeded in retablishing their villages in a new location in the lowlands of Israel. Members of Kfar Etzion established the community of Nir Etzion in the Carmel region.

On June 7, 1967, the Jewish people rejoiced upon hearing the news of the liberation of the Western Wall and the Old City of Jerusalem. There was further joy in the hearts of the survivors of Gush Etzion upon learning that day of the success of the Israeli forces in liberating Gush Etzion as well.

In the summer of 1967, the sons and daughters of Kfar Etzion turned to Prime Minister, Levi Eshkol and requested permission to return to their home. After carefully considering the political implications of settlements in the newly-gained territories, Levi Eshkol ave his consent. Kfar Etzion was reestablished in September 1967.

Progress in the development of Gush Etzion since the Six Day War has been steady. Additional members from Israel and from Diaspora have joined the founders of the kibbutz. A large turkey industry and a factory for metallic parts have been established. Other projects of the kibbutz include a greenhouse and a candle factory. A field school for the intensive study of the Hebron Hills area and a youth hostel are sponsored by the kibbutz.

A second chapter in the reestablishment of Gush Etzion was begun with the founding of another kibbutz by The Religious Kibbutz Movement. It is called Rosh Tsurim and is located on the site of Ein Tsurim. A third community has been founded which is located between the two kibbutzim near the famous "lone tree". It is call Alon Shvut ("return to the tree") and is a non-collective settlement. Its original settlers were Yeshiva students whose study program is carried out in conjunction with their military duty. A magnificent campus for the Yeshiva has been constructed in Alon Shvut.

Today, Gush Etzion counts 14 settlements and about 6,800 Jewish settlers, with another 4,000 in the city of Efrat.

Source : Gush Etzion and the Hebron Hills Booklet from the Keren Kayemeth Leisrael (Religious section) and Educational Center Kfar Etzion - Jerusalem, 5735

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