Our new friends, Liz and Paul, recently took us on a tour of Gush Etzion.
Known as the southern gateway to Jerusalem, this strategic area comprises the block of communities that defended the southern approach to Jerusalem against the invading armies in the 1948 Israel War of Independence.”
Siege in the Hills of Hebron, by Dov Knohl, is a documentary account of what some have called a massacre and others a great victory. The capsule summary is this: in 1948, during the third attempt since 1920 to establish a Jewish community south of Jerusalem in the Hebron Hills, Kfar Etzion, the largest of the four communities in the settlement bloc, was besieged by the Arab Legion. All but a few of its defenders were eventually killed and the site utterly razed; buildings, trees, crops.
We visited Kfar Etzion (reestablished after the 1967 war) last week where we watched a movie commemorating both the rebirth of the Etzion Bloc and the fatal struggle there in 1948. After the movie, the curtain went up and we were able to step forward and look directly into a small bunker where, according to one of the few Jewish survivors of the struggle, the legionnaires tossed grenades to finish off their enemy.
As mentioned, after the fall of Etzion Bloc in 1948 the victorious Arabs destroyed all the trees planted by the Jewish settlers. Following is an entry from Dov Knohl’s book, a segment from a settler’s letter dated February 6th, 1948. By that time, according to several other journal entries, most of the residents of Kfar Etzion seemed to understand that they would likely not survive.
The men are continuing to work on the construction of defense posts… The saplings for the forest have been distributed among the settlements and have already been planted. We have begun late with the pruning of the trees, and it is doubtful whether we shall manage to prune the vineyard.”
Throughout the blended accounts, among repeated concerns for fortifying settlement defenses, are repeated references to disappointment regarding the inability to properly care for crops.
Life is being influenced to an increasing extent by our military responsibilities… Everyone has been given personal arms… We are beginning to dig pits in the orchard and have already planted two thousand fruit trees.” [Journal Entry, January 26]
The image up top is of the notable “Lone Oak,” the only tree left standing after the fall of Gush Etzion in 1948. It is surrounded by trees and greenery again thanks to the reestablishment of the Jewish communities that encircle it. Although the West Bank is now under the governance of the Palestinian Authority, its security remains the responsibility of Israel. There seems to be a popular notion that the Arabs are victimized as prisoners “in occupied territory,” but the Jewish settlements seem to be the only ones that are without exception surrounded by tall fences topped with barbed wire.
Arab villages and homes surrounding the Jewish communities seem to have no similar need.
Before our return to Jerusalem we stopped at the Gavna restaurant. (The food was excellent.) The owners are friends of Liz and Paul and they visited with us while we ate. Business is good, they say. They are a young couple, parents of a beautiful baby boy and live in a pleasant home not far from their restaurant. They feel quite safe living as Jews on the West Bank yet non-Arab visitors to the area are routinely advised to be cautious as they travel from point to point.
Gush Etzion is only about 11 miles south of Jerusalem. It seems like an entirely different world–and it is.
An interesting link.
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