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