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 Settling Gush Eztion

 The Third Attempt to Renew Settlement

 The demand to redeem the mountain area from its desolation and restore the Jewish character to Mount Hebron as in days of yore did not abate.   The task of renewing the Jewish community in Etzion was entrusted to the “Kvutzat Avraham” members of HaPoel HaMizrahi. They were veterans of the HaShomer HaDati movement and Bnei Akiva in Poland, who had immigrated to the land of Israel and had established a training group near the religious Moshav Kfar-Pines. Most of the group’s members had emigrated from Poland during the Nazi reign in Germany. Many of them had defied the British blockade and boarded the “illegal” immigration ships, while members of their family were being exterminated. After many discussions and internal difficulties, the group decided that it would agree to the settlement institutions’ demand to settle the mountain despite the expected difficulties of which they were fully aware.  The main reasons prompting this decision were: (1) the inherent importance of renewing Jewish settlement in the Hebron Hills; (2) recognition of the pioneering-Zionist value inherent in  the objective of settling this Jewish region; (3) the ardent desire to redeem Jewish lands that had been purchased previously on the mountain; (4) the apprehension that these lands could again revert to Arab ownership; and (5) the aspiration to develop a new settlement area to absorb Holocaust refugees from Europe.

 

On 25 Nisan 5703 (4.30.1943), the members of “Kvutzat Avraham” accompanied by Palmach members ascended the mountain for the third time, and founded the religious Kibbutz Kfar Etzion.

 

Aside from the inherent historical value of resettling the area, this measure had immense political importance.  The Zionist-political policy had already been determined in the Tel-Hai era: The future boundary of the Jewish state would be determined by the place where the Jewish plow tilled the last furrow. Tel-Hai and Hanita had demonstrated the success of this policy in the battle to determine the boundaries of the Galilee. The stockade and watchtower communities for their part established the boundaries of the Beit Shan Valley and the Western Galilee; Gush Etzion, was similarly expected to link the Hebron Hills, replete with hostile Arab villages, to the boundaries of the State of Israel in the making.

New Communities 

The desire to expand Jewish settlement, redeem the mountainous lands from their ruin and Kvutzat Kfar-Etzion from its isolation, as well as the security peril inherent in maintaining an isolated Jewish community in the heart of a wild and hostile Arab region, led to the establishment of three additional communities: Massuot Yizhak – 28 MarHeshvan 5706 (11.4.1946) established by a Bnei Akiva settlement group, was composed of Holocaust refugees from Eastern Europe; Ein Tzurim – 27 Tishrei 5707 (10.22.1946) was established by native born members of a Bnei Akiva settlement group who were veterans of the original settlement in Biriya in the upper Galilee – both were religious kibbutzim. The third kibbutz, Revadim – settled on the land on 21 Shvat 5707 (2.11.1947), was established by the Misela settlement group of HaShomer HaTzair of the Kibbutz Ha’Artzi.

  

 

Kibbutz Ein Tzurim settles on the land

 

The other communities followed in the footsteps of Kfar Etzion and engaged in planting fruit orchards through difficult and backbreaking site preparation, establishing livestock branches, making preparations for establishing industrial factories, while simultaneously developing a rich and vibrant cultural and social life. The kibbutzim absorbed native born and new immigrants - refugees of the death camps; they expanded and consolidated themselves. As a result the entire area of Gush Etzion became a flourishing and prosperous Jewish region that could look forward with hope and confidence to a rosy future.

 

At the beginning of 5708 (October 1947) Gush Etzion totaled 450 people:

 

Kfar Etzion - 163 members, 57 children.

 

Massuot Yitzhak - 111 members, 12 children.

 

Ein Tzurim - 55 members.

 

Revadim - 80 members.

 

 

 

Gush Etzion extended over a land area of 20,000 dunams, half of which was Jewish owned.  Most of the lands in Jewish hands were of inferior quality, because the Arabs were unwilling to sell the few areas of prime land in the region.  Preparations were made to set up industrial plants jointly owned by the Gush Etzion kibbutzim and to establish a fifth settlement point in the region.

  

 

The War of Independence thwarted all these plans; in a single stroke it altered the contours of reality.  Together the pioneer-farmers obeyed the call of the hour “beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears” (Joel IV: 10), not willingly but by dint of circumstances they became fighters.

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