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 Last Battles and the Fall of the Gush
The Last Battle the Third, Fourth and Fifth of Iyyar 5708 (12-13-14.5.1948) 

 

The Third of Iyyar 5708 (12.5.1948)

The decisive battle for Gush Etzion began.  Fighters of the Arab Legion and irregular Arab forces assisted by howitzers and armored cars were concentrated in advance and deployed that night for attack. At dawn, they stormed the outposts of Gush Etzion and the communities. Wave after wave, the Arabs attacked a small and exhausted handful of defenders that remained fighting with their remaining strength.

 

Fighting against forces superior in numbers and in arms, the outer outposts were conquered and the defenders retreated to the communities themselves. The Russian Monastery,  the Mukhtar's Saddle, Hirbet Sawir, the Hill of the Tree, the Yellow Hill, and the small airstrip field at its feet all fell into the hands of the enemy on the first day of the fighting.  Gush Etzion was split into two - Kfar Etzion and Massuot Yizhak in the south and Ein Tzurim and Revadim in the north.  At night the last preparations were made for continuing the battle in the morning. The wounded with the medical staff were secretly transferred under the cloak of darkness from Kfar Etzion to Massuot Yizhak, which was better protected and concealed.  Attempts were made to restore contact between the communities that had been severed during the day but the attempts failed. Contact with the command in Jerusalem was still preserved, but no outside assistance and aid arrived for the communities.

Towards the next day of battle the defenders of Gush Etzion were split into two blocs, without contact and support. When the commander of the Bloc, "Mush"(Moshe Zilberschmidt, May the Lord avenge his blood) was killed in the battle for the Russian Monastery there was no longer a central command for Gush Etzion.  Most of the outposts were in Arab hands, the quantity of arms and ammunition that remained in the hands of the defenders was ineffective.  Against howitzers and armored cars they positioned a 3 inch mortar and a modicum of small arms.  Many of the defenders were wounded on the first day of battle. Outside assistance did not arrive.

The Fourth of Iyyar 5708 (13.5.1948)

At dawn, the attack was renewed when the objective of the attacking force was to conquer Kfar Etzion.  After many attempts were repulsed by the defenders and by a group of fighters from Massuot Yizhak who defended the outskirts of Kfar Etzion, the enemy's armored cars broke through the gates of Kfar Etzion during the afternoon hours and penetrated it.  At first the defenders tried to continue fighting from within the kibbutz, but the Arab forces, enjoying tenfold superiority in numbers decided the battle. The last message from Kfar Etzion to Jerusalem announced "Malka has fallen" - Kfar Etzion fell in battle!

After the fall of Kfar Etzion a cruel massacre of its defenders took place.  One hundred and twenty-seven fighters fell on that day, only four remained alive.

Gush Etzion fell, crushed in battle on Thursday, the fourth of Iyyar 5708 (13.5 .1948) on the threshold of the State of Israel's rebirth.  Two hundred and forty settlers and fighters fell in the battle for Gush Etzion. Subsequently, the Knesset would set the day that Kfar Etzion fell as the general Memorial Day for the IDF war dead.  On the next day, Friday, the fifth of Iyyar 5708 (14.5.1948) the State of Israel was proclaimed.  Due to the fall of Kfar Etzion, the national governing institutions, in coordination with the Red Cross arranged for a cease-fire. The members of Massuot Yizhak, Ein Tzurim and Revadim together with fighters from the conscripted units were taken prisoner by the Arab Legion to Transjordan. The captives were housed in the town of Al-Jamal, where the men were held for nine months, the women having been freed after six weeks.

In a frenzy of revenge and destruction, the Arabs brought ruin and devastation to Gush Etzion. Only a few small remnants remained from a bloc of flourishing and prospering communities that all went up in flames.

 

"We have deemed you, oh men of Etzion, as priests of labor in the temple of the homeland. You sprouted and grew between the stones, men of the mountain. On the path of sacrifice between Hebron and Jerusalem you marched alone. You made the ancient hills bloom and flourish until you were sacrificed on them as innocent offerings. A sacrificial offering for the entire public was bound on the altar. On the threshold of the state and on its behalf they fell in battle. With the sword of Israel in their hands and eternal Jerusalem on their lips" (Rabbi Moses Zvi Neriah, founder of the Bnei Akiva movement).

 

“The defenders of Gush Etzion saved Jerusalem.  Four points in the heart of enemy territory did not allow them to approach the gates of the city. Many, too many for us, fell there. But if a Hebrew Jerusalem exists, if the death blow to the Jewish community that was in the palm of the enemy's hands, was not delivered,  then the gratitude of Israeli history and of the entire people is due first and foremost to the fighters of  Gush Etzion."

David Ben Gurion  5709 (1949)

 

The burial ceremony for the dead of Gush Etzion on

 Mount Herzl, Jerusalem,

25 Marheshvan 5710 (17.11.1949)

 

A Map of the Final Battle

Those Who Fell in the Last Battle

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