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After 75 years: new details about the battle in which the fighters of the Israelite convoy fell are revealed | Israel Today


The Jewish platoon became a symbol of heroism of the Jewish settlement, when 35 of its men fought to the last bullet before falling on their way to the besieged Gush Etzion • 75 years after that heroic battle, a first-of-its-kind study allows us to obtain - through 3D mapping - a comprehensive picture of the events of the battle • "We can say where the concentration of the wounded was and where the fighters were scattered and located in relation to them; We also discovered more personal and very exciting findings - a real blow to the stomach"

"We found the crucible of the Polish grenade that was used by our fighters," recalls Dr. Rafi Lewis. "You read the testimony of the Arabs that the last fighter who was lying next to the wounded threw a grenade at them and then picked up a stone, and suddenly you realize that maybe it was the last grenade .

You try to think of the last shot, followed by an eerie silence.

It's a blow to the stomach."

Next week will be the 75th anniversary of one of the founding battles of the struggle for the state that is underway.

35 fighters, whom they later defined as tremendous unrealized potential, left the Har Tov settlement (near today's Beit Shemesh) on their last journey to the besieged Gush Etzion.

On their way they encountered hundreds of Arabs, and fought a heroic battle for many hours.

At approximately 5:00 p.m., when the sun set behind them and the lights of Kibbutz Mishuat Yitzhak came on in front of them, the last fighter was killed.

Of the 35 fighters, none returned.

The mystery of the battle, which became part of the Israeli ethos of sacrifice and war to the end, has not yet been fully resolved.

Despite many studies and books published about the tragic affair, there are still questions about what happened to the fighters in the last hours, how they defended themselves against hundreds of their attackers, and if there really was a shepherd who exposed them or if it is a myth.

"There are a lot of puzzles regarding what happened in the battle of the Lord.

We still don't know 100 percent what happened, especially in the last moments," says Dr. Nadav Frankel, an instructor and researcher at the Sde Kfar Etzion Field School, who has been focusing research on that battle for decades.

Not all questions will ever be answered, but it is amazing to discover that even 75 years after the battle, findings are still being discovered - some of which are revealed in this article - that shed light on what happened in those days of mid-January 1948.

A shaky start

"Telegram to Gush Etzion - 15.1.48. The reinforcements left for Kfar Etzion by traveling in armored vehicles to Mount Tov and walking to Gush Etzion."

It was the second attempt in two days to go out into the besieged area, which suffered a short time before from an Arab attack.

The previous day, the fighters tried to leave from the Beit Vegan area in Jerusalem, but returned after hearing several shots and feared that they would be discovered.

Since the Arab attack on Gush Etzion could be renewed, it was decided to leave the next day by a different route and arrive from the west - from the Beit Shemesh area of ​​today.

"It is impossible to know 100 percent what happened."

From the right: Ben Yaakov, Dr. Frankel, Dr. Lewis and Marco, photo: Oren Ben Hakon

The fighters, 40 in number, about half of them Palmach fighters and half of them IDF personnel, were equipped with many weapons, which included four machine guns with 800 bullets, 16 rifles, 20 submachine guns, two pistols and 70 hand grenades.

In addition, they carried ammunition for machine guns, batteries for Gush Etzion's radios and dressing materials and plasma.

They did not have a walkie-talkie in their hands, because at that time there were no portable walkie-talkies in the Jerusalem district.

The preparations were not without mistakes: among other things, the force arrived late at Har-Tov, and they set out only late in the evening, even though they could have left under the cover of darkness long before.

"They took a lot of equipment, weapons and ammunition that were intended for the Gush Etzion, and the dozens of fighters themselves were also a significant reinforcement for the Gush. That is why the insistence of Danny Mas, the commander of the department, to try and leave despite the late hour was understandable," says Dr. Eldad Harubi, who served for 18 Shana Director of the Palmach Archives.

Some of the findings that were recently revealed, photo: Rafi Lewis

Before leaving, it became clear that two of the fighters had no weapons, and Mas refused to let them go.

"Nothing helped," Yigal Botramovitz, one of the two fighters, later said, "With no choice, we accompanied them to the breach in the fence and saw them leave. We both remained at Har-Tov, sullen and grumpy, really, really in a bad mood like no other."

A few hours later three fighters returned.

It turned out that Israel Gafni, one of the platoon's soldiers, sprained his leg, and two accompanied him back.

Uri Shoham, one of the two fighters who accompanied Gafni, told of the separation from the 35 fighters who continued to Gush Etzion: "One of the guys had a pain attack and couldn't walk," he repeated to Yehoshua Cohen, the legendary Lehi man who researched the issue on behalf of the Sade School Kfar Etzion, in a testimony that is currently in the Palmach archive.

"We parked for a while, and he still tried to continue. It was already 1:10, and it was decided that we had to return him. Since this person (Gafni) was not fit, I asked that they give me another person, so that if there was a collision - one could support the other and the third could defend yourself".

It was the last time that any Jew saw the members of the HL department alive.

"A collection of fantasy stories"

At around 6 o'clock in the morning, the IDF unit arrived at the outskirts of the village of Zurif, and according to information, scouts were ahead of the main force by a few hundred meters. Herein lies one of the greatest myths of the IDF battle.

According to the familiar story, a shepherd recognized the warriors, but they let him go because he was innocent.

The shepherd ran back to the village, called the residents, and they announced a "panacea", a mass mobilization.

Crowds of Arabs attacked the Jewish fighters and in the battle they were all killed.

Today it is quite clear that this is a description that is not true to reality, but it is interesting to find out what led to a story that took hold over the years.

"To say categorically that it didn't happen? It's impossible to know 100 percent what happened," says Yohanan ben Ya'akov, a man from Kfar Etzion, who supported his father and uncle in the battles for the defense of the block.

As one of the founders of the Kfar Etzion Field School, he has been researching the issue for years, and in 1965 he spoke with Hamish Dogan, the Hebron Police Chief, who arrived at the scene of the battle a few hours after it ended.

Dogan investigated the incident, and provided Ben Yaakov with an explanation of what really happened in the morning hours of January 16, 1948.

"Dogan recounts that he met two Arab women who encountered fighters when they were gathering twigs. He sat with them, heard a detailed description, and on Saturday night delivered a detailed report that was intercepted by the Haganah. The women told about two young men with caps on their heads who tried to mislead them and shouted in Arabic that they were from the Arab Haganah. They They didn't believe, they threw the twigs and shouted 'Yahud, Yahud,'" says Ben Ya'akov.

In his estimation, since it was first light, the rangers decided not to open fire 300 meters away from the Arab village.

"It can be estimated that this would have violated their rights, and they realized that by the time they caught them and tied them up, the screams would reach the heavens. They looked at each other and didn't have time to do anything until the rest of the force closed the gap, and meanwhile the women were already running to the village and shouting 'Yahud, Yahud' ".

The screams of the women reached the shepherds, and one of them ran to a training camp that was there, and reported what had happened.

The commander, according to the evidence, did not necessarily believe the report but decided to send out a scanning squad just to be sure.

"The Arabs' fear was that the defense would send a force to attack Zurif, as revenge for the failed attack against the Gush Etzion bloc a few days earlier. The squad went out, discovered the HLA, opened fire - and so the battle began."

So how did we get to a situation where every child hears the story of the Shepherd, who probably did not exist and was not created?

For this, one must dive into the Hebrew press of those days.

30 days after the battle, a column was published under the signature of "Y. Nodad", which dealt with the story of the fallen.

It was Yitzhak Sade, "the old man", the commander of the Palmach, who relied on dubious testimony that came into the Hagana's news service and was published by David Ben-Gurion at a Mapai conference.

"The defense fighters interrogated Arabs after the battle for operational interests, and one of the Arabs, Abd al-Rahman al-Azi from Beit Jobrin, who was not present at the battle, told about the shepherd," says Ben Ya'akov.

"I located these secret reports, he put in a collection of stories that were not made up, a real fantasy, for example about the fact that God captured half of Mzorif."

At the top of the report, by the way, were written the words "dubious source".

On February 16, 1948, an article was published in the newspaper "Al Hamishmer" by "Y. Honodad" in which the heroism of the warriors was revealed, based on the myth.

It was a myth that greatly helped the Israeli ethos, which was so important - the evils, the purity of weapons and the war to the last drop of blood.

"The astonished enemy brought us the last news: they fell heroically. As a statue of heroism stands before my eyes that wounded young man who, even after everything was lost, shook himself and recovered, a final recovery, and threw the bomb at his enemies. And that young man who took his life with a stone, his last weapon, in his frozen paw" , a field reporter.

"Arabs tell with awe and admiration about the supreme heroism of those who fell in battle, but they also explain why evil came upon them. An old Arab whom they met on the road and did not harm him terrified the village and called out the surrounding villages against them. There is no doubt that this was not how Arab armed avengers would have If they had met a Jew on the way. But our warriors are not only brave, they are also dear people and very humane. Because their war is a war for life and against death. And like them we will continue and fight: with strength of spirit and love for man. Many of us will fall in this war, dear and close ones We will get wise, but the road leads to victory, to life, to creation, to the future."

The horror on top of the mountain

Whether the story about the shepherd happened or not, the sequel is known: the Jews fought for long hours against hundreds of Arabs who at one point surrounded them from all sides.

At around 14:30 they climbed a hill, which was called by the Arabs "D'har al-Haja" - the back of the lady.

It is a topographically uncomfortable hill, without many hiding places, and some of the fighters were shot in the back while climbing.

The fighters' goal may have been to improve positions and then continue their journey to Gush Etzion at night, but then it became clear to them that they were surrounded on all sides.

They fought fiercely, using the ammunition they had to kill and injure many Arabs, but to no avail.

Six times the Arabs failed in the attack, and on the seventh they managed to climb the hill and kill the remaining Jewish fighters.

According to various testimonies, it is possible that some of the fighters tried to go down to Nahal Etziona around 4:30 p.m., but were killed on their way.

At 17:00 the last fighter threw the last grenade he had.

From one of the testimonies it is revealed that the same fighter threw a stone at them after his ammunition ran out, and then he was killed.

"Many hundreds were called to fight the Jews. They were shot at from all sides, and they returned fire and fought until their ammunition ran out," said one of the sheikhs who was there.

"The last one of them, and he was wounded, threw a grenade at his attackers. After the ammunition ran out, he threw a stone at them and then killed him. This was told by one who was injured by the grenade and iron shards penetrated his leg. He was operated on at the hospital in Beer Sheva. Whoever is sentenced to die - at least he gets to die the way he died These heroes of the army."

Although they were at a numerical and topographical disadvantage, the soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces managed to kill 17 of their enemies and wound another 40.

In Gush Etzion, they heard the shots, but did not link it to Leh, but after the fighters were hesitant to arrive, they began to fear the worst. The next morning, Dogan, a Hebron police officer, who had received information about "trouble in Zurif" the day before, arrived at the scene and was asked to approve the transfer of wounded Many Arabs to Be'er Sheva.

"At first the Arabs didn't tell us anything, except that there was trouble. But then they started to tell, and there were even two Arab shepherds who took us. We walked for about two hours between the mountains until we found the first body on the side of the mountain, so we knew this was the place. We continued in the wadi and I found another number bodies. After that we went up to the top of the hill. The place where the wounded were concentrated was here. Here were bandages soaked in blood."

A monument was later placed in this place in memory of the dead.

The bodies were discovered unharmed and moved to the top of the mountain, but on Sunday another incident occurred in Kfar Zurif.

Three British soldiers identified as Jews were almost executed.

Dogan managed to save them, but the rumor that the Jews attacked the village resonated with the Arab residents.

These, in response, abused the corpses, smashed them on the rocks and dragged them down the slopes.

Dogan removed the Arabs, collected the bodies with his men, and then evacuated them using British army trucks to Kfar Etzion.

The mutilated bodies were identified by Rabbi Aryeh Levin and buried in Kfar Etzion.

A year later, after a diplomatic effort, Rabbi Shlomo Goren entered the abandoned and occupied Kfar Etzion, and brought the bodies of the fallen of Gush Etzion, including the soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces, for burial in the military cemetery on Mount Herzl.

Battlefield as an archaeological field

Last year, two researchers - Dr. Rafi Lewis, a research fellow from the University of Haifa and Ashkelon Academic College, and Il Marko, an inspector in the Judea District at the Antiquities Authority, who deal with the archeology of the area and battlefields - began researching the Battle Hill. The two, former combat officers, and now members of the Eitan - the missing persons unit - uses mapping and 3D photography to identify exactly where the battle took place and shed light on what happened in the last moments of the fighters.

So far, the vast majority of evidence has come from the Arab side, which can be unreliable, partly because they have sought to create their own image of victory.

Ibrahim Abu Daya, commander of the Arab forces, photo: Wikipedia

This is a relatively urgent study, among other things due to quarry activity near the mountain, which changes the topographical structure of the area.

On top of that, another challenge arose, which demanded that the research be carried out quickly - precisely because of a blessed activity.

Led by Sde Kfar Etzion School, thousands of teenagers and adults come to the place.

So, for example, in two weeks there will be a journey to those who follow the lost department.

The problem is that over the years bullets and other evidence from the battle were taken from the place by the visitors.

"The educational activity is welcome and great, but it is enough that one hundred out of 17 thousand come down from the hill with bullets - and we will lose the ability to find out what happened on the battlefield," explains Dr. Lewis.

Marco admits that at first he was afraid that they would find nothing.

"If we go by the myth of 'to the last bullet,' then they fired thousands of bullets there. The hill is supposed to be covered with copper, which is not the case. At the beginning of the project, due to the small number of finds, I wasn't sure that this was the hill. Something smelled bad to me. But then We started to find things and it proved that we are in the right direction. You have to understand, we won't find their tracks in the mud, but we can find out what happened there - lines of control, access routes.

"We don't want to disprove the myth, but to tell the untold story, which is not really known. We know it from rumors and testimonies of the enemy, not really what happened. That's why I built a 3D model of the entire area, and on that basis we do all the analyzes The spatial ones. Among other things, we look at the matter as combat officers and as commanders - what would we do here, where would we go - and try to understand the logic, the considerations and the constraints."

Dr. Lewis usually deals with the reconstruction of historical events from the Middle Ages, but this time he focused on a modern battle. "We mapped the entire area, and we are conducting ballistic and forensic research on the findings we discovered," he says. as an archaeological site.

"We found dozens of projectiles and pods that teach about firing positions, places where the fighters lay. We can say where the concentration of the wounded was in the last stages of the battle, and where the fighters were scattered and positioned in relation to them. In addition to that, we were able to recently find several enemy positions that weakened on the hill and trapped the fighters of the mountain to land department. We discovered more findings, more personal. These are very exciting findings, a real blow to the stomach.

"The picture of the battle, as it is received at the moment, is that the healthy soldiers of the platoon lay in positions in a kind of star ambush to create spatial protection for the wounded who were lying in a relatively protected hollow in the ground. This is a picture of brotherhood and evil, as also emerges from the published descriptions. Later we aim to find the point The first encounter, even though the chances of that are very low."

Revenge of the friends

The Battle of Leh had a dramatic effect on all fighting against the Arab enemy in those days. "It is a defining event, like the Battle of Tel Hai or the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising," says Ben Ya'akov. "When we started the research, led by the late Yehoshua Cohen, almost no one knew Nothing. We wanted to find the route the fighters walked, to educate in their footsteps. All the time our fear was that we would discover all kinds of blunders, things they didn't do right. As the investigation progressed, we discovered that he was very faithful to what Chaim Guri wrote in his poem."

Guri, the Palmach poet, who was on a Haganah mission in Europe, saw in a British newspaper a news about the death of his friends, including his officer course mate Danny Moss and some of his trainees, including a blurry photo of the corpses. He wrote the poem in pain, but later regretted it and threw the The crumpled paper towards the fireplace that stood in his room.

Fortunately, the widow he lived with took the paper, straightened it, and returned it to him.

"We didn't cheat. Look, we kissed close and empty of bullets, our ashtray is empty," wrote Gori.

"He remembers our words to the letter. His spears are still hot and his blood is splashed on the paths above. We did as much as we could, until the last one fell and did not rise. Are we really to blame if we are left with a dead evening and our lips are close to the hard rocky soil?"

Words that turned out to be prophecy.

"When we finished the investigation," says Ben Ya'akov, "we also invited Haim Guri to the unveiling evening. He told how he wrote the song, and I told him: 'No one knows anything about this story, and you write the events in Hungary - one by one, with all the evidence that we heard from the Westerners and from the officer we brought especially.' Other".

Despite what has been discovered so far, difficult questions remain.

Thus, there used to be pictures of the bodies, but today no one knows where they are.

"I saw all kinds of pictures of the bodies of the fallen, but it was not certain that it was necessarily them," says Dr. Harubi. "Pictures came from all kinds of places.

I transferred some of them to the IDF archives. In some of the photos, you saw the bodies on the truck or on the road."

In a study conducted by Nadav Frankel, the first of its kind in relation to this operation, it emerged that many months after the death of the Lord, in the middle of the War of Independence, during a military operation in the area, items that might have belonged to the fighters were discovered. " - as the HLA department was called after its fall.

In October 1948, fighters and commanders of the Harel Brigade entered the villages of Deir Aban and Beit Natif, which were then considered to have participated in the murder, with the clear aim of avenging the death of their comrades who fell in battle.

Residents of Jerusalem during the funeral procession of the dead, photo: Palmach archive

The divisional engineering department was ordered to reach the two villages, which had been emptied of their inhabitants, to clear the loot and blow up all the buildings.

The unusual action was explained by the fact that "the people of these two villages participated in the murder of 35 from Jerusalem who felt the help of Gush Etzion."

One of the fighters said: "We arrived at the village. Its inhabitants were no longer there. They probably knew what was in store for them from the friends of Danny Mas and his men, and we will beware of revenge."

Before the explosion of the village houses, in their place are now being built the buildings of Ramat Beit Shemesh as well as Kibbutz Hala, the fighters located Hebrew items. "They found photos, a satchel with a Hebrew name and other items," says Frankel. This equipment never reached the family members of the victims. And it is not known what happened to it. The equipment joins the letters Dogan found on the bodies, which were apparently lost in Britain.

"These were friends of the fighters who were killed in Leh, and it is clear that the event was very significant for the fighters and commanders of the Harel Brigade.

They were looking for every detail about the event, looking for revenge for what happened to their friends.

"The order explicitly states that the goal is to avenge the death of God, before all the operative aspects of the operation," says Frankel.

Along with the national aspect and the myth of heroism, there is also the personal aspect of the story of the Jewish People, of those who were left behind. Major General (Res.) Amos Horev is 98 years old. Behind him is an extensive career in the defense and the IDF, he served as the president of the Technion and the chairman of the Israel Defense Award Committee, Peres, which he received himself in 2011. He asked not to comment on the details of the Hala case and only said: "I remember it to this day. I knew the people, it was a terrible disaster. My heart hurts to this day. The story is known and told, and to this day people cry about These people."

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Source: israelhayom

All news articles on 2023-01-12

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