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Sunday, January 16, 2005

The ‘35’

I live in a part of Israel 20 kilometers south of Jerusalem called Gush Etzion (the Etzion Block). To my way of thinking there is no more beautiful area in the country. The Judean hills with their ancient terraces all around... the clear cool air (even in July and August one sometimes needs a sweater in the evening)… the rich Biblical/archeological history tying nearly every hilltop and valley to a person or event in Jewish history... all combine to make me feel very much at home here.

However, today marks a sad chapter in the more recent history of this region, and as a journaler living within walking distance of where these events took place I would be remiss if I didn’t take time out from my 'navel-gazing' to pass along a brief description of this tragic story:

During Israel’s War of Independence, the area responsible for protecting Jerusalem’s southern flank was Gush Etzion. This small collection of agricultural settlements were themselves quite vulnerable due to the difficulty in maintaining supply lines, and the Arab armies took full advantage of the Etzion Block’s relative isolation to lay siege to the four kibbutzim; Kfar Etzion, Masuot yitzhchak, Ein Tzurim and Revadim.

On Wednesday January 14th, 1948, under cover of darkness, the Palmach (the elite strike force of the Haganah) sent a group of 40 reserve soldiers (mostly students from Hebrew University who were seasoned veterans) on foot from Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem neighborhood towards kibbutz Ein Tzurim. In their 30-40 kg packs they carried first-aid supplies, plasma, weapons and ammunition.

Unfortunately, the steep terraced hillsides made for such slow going that they were less than half way to their destination as dawn approached. The commander, Danny Moss, made the difficult decision to abort the mission and return to Jerusalem.

However, despite the soldier’s fatigue it was decided to make a second attempt the next night... but from a different direction. The new plan called for the unit to travel by armored vehicle to the village of Hartuv, and from there attempt to climb approximately 25 km up to kibbutz Massuot Yitschak. Of the 40 original soldiers, two were sent back to Jerusalem because there weren’t enough weapons for them, and quickly another one had to turn back with two escorts because of a severely sprained ankle... leaving 35.

The march began near midnight, but by dawn they were only approaching Surif, the last Arab village on the way to Gush Etzion... less than 7 km from Massuot Yitzchak. At this point an Arab shepherd detected them and they came under fire.

They had no radio with which to call for help and it was nearly impossible to push on during daylight so Danny split his unit into two and began climbing what is today called Givat HaKrav (battle hill)... a very high position that was somewhat defensible.

Hundreds of Arabs from neighboring villages surrounded the hill and took up positions on neighboring ridges and laid siege to the small group. In a few short hours the supply of ammunition that the group had been carrying ran out and the last of the 35 was killed.

Because the final battle had taken place so far from any Jewish settlements, there was no way for anyone to know exactly what had become of the overdue unit. However, a day or two after the battle a British policeman interviewed a few wounded Arabs and was taken to the site of the battle. Though he didn’t immediately relate the full scope of what had happened to the Jewish leadership (out of fear of reprisals), after a short delay he did arrange for the bodies to be transported to Jerusalem for burial.

In the end, the Etzion Block fell and the last 240 men and women were executed by the Jordanians at Kfar Etzion. However Gush Etzion had done its job and had distracted enough of the Arab legion that Jewish Jerusalem was able to hold on until the end of the war.

David Ben Gurion said, "I can think of no battle in the annals of the Israel Defense Forces which was more magnificent, more tragic or more heroic than the struggle for Gush Etzion... If there exists a Jewish Jerusalem, our foremost thanks go to the defenders of Gush Etzion."

It wasn’t until after the Six Day War that this British policeman returned to Israel and agreed to show representatives of the army exactly where the battle of ‘The 35’ had taken place and to relate all he knew about the events of that day. It had always been assumed that the hill where the battle took place had been in Jordanian hands from 1948 until 1967. But using his notes from that period, the policeman was able to clearly identify a high hill that had been on the Israeli side of the border all along! He also was able to show exactly where all of the bodies had been found, and in what condition.

Today is the anniversary of this terrible battle. May the memory of ‘HaLamed Hey’ (The 35) be a blessing for my beautiful Gush Etzion, and for all Israel.

This coming Thursday night I hope to take part in the annual all night march along the route of ‘The 35’. There will be a break part way for a lecture /kumzitz, and the journey will culminate with morning services at the top of Givat HaKrav. If anyone would like information on joining this inspirational 25 km hike, you can call the Field School at (02) 993-5133.

219

Posted by David Bogner on January 16, 2005 | Permalink

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» HY"D then and now from Israpundit
Treppenwitz writes about "The 35", defenders of the Etzion Bloc who were slaughtered by the Jordanians. The discussion in the comments is very worth reading too. Israelly Cool! remembers Nancy Morgenstern who was killed 9/11/2001 and was finally buried... [Read More]

Tracked on Jan 21, 2005 7:49:17 AM

» HY"D Then and Now from Soccer Dad
Treppenwitz writes about "The 35", defenders of the Etzion Bloc who were slaughtered by the Jordanians. The discussion in the comments is very worth reading too. Israelly Cool! remembers Nancy Morgenstern who was killed 9/11/2001 and was finally buried... [Read More]

Tracked on Jan 21, 2005 7:49:27 AM

» Haveil Havalim Are Here!! from Willow Tree
So good morning everyone, hope you have your cup of joe, and are ready to kick back and see what's what this week in the Jewish blogverse. First because mornings are always confusing to me (what day is it?) I... [Read More]

Tracked on Jan 23, 2005 11:20:11 PM

» Haveil Havalim Are Here!! from Willow Tree
So good morning everyone, hope you have your cup of joe, and are ready to kick back and see what's what this week in the Jewish blogverse. First because mornings are always confusing to me (what day is it?) I... [Read More]

Tracked on Jan 23, 2005 11:20:54 PM

» Haveil Havalim Are Here!! from Willow Tree
So good morning everyone, hope you have your cup of joe, and are ready to kick back and see what's what this week in the Jewish blogverse. First because mornings are always confusing to me (what day is it?) I... [Read More]

Tracked on Jan 23, 2005 11:21:14 PM

» Haveil Havalim Are Here!! from Willow Tree
So good morning everyone, hope you have your cup of joe, and are ready to kick back and see what's what this week in the Jewish blogverse. First because mornings are always confusing to me (what day is it?) I... [Read More]

Tracked on Jan 23, 2005 11:25:48 PM

» If ... you must 08/18/09 from Soccer Dad
If you haven't read Welcome home, Scott Speicher at Ocean Guy ; you must. If you only read one item in this list, read it. It's that good. If you haven't read Here's your chance to be a giver at Treppenwitz; you must. This request is more for those who... [Read More]

Tracked on Aug 18, 2009 2:42:49 PM

Comments

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At last I understand who were "the 35" after which Jerusalem's Rehov Halamed Heh- The Thirty-Five Street-- was named.

Posted by: Sarah from Israel | Jan 16, 2005 11:07:26 AM

I first learned the story on Israel tour at 16. In the army they addressed the moral issue of whether or not they should have killed the shepherd who discovered them.

A great illustration of Gvurah.

Gilly

Posted by: gilly | Jan 16, 2005 1:36:25 PM

Sarah... There is a 'Rechov HaLamed Hey' (The 35 Street) in nearly every town to commemorate this tragedy. I wish there were more happy things after which to name streets.

Gil... The 'shepherd question' is a valuable ethical problem with which to challenge soldiers... I'm curious how you answered.

[for those unfamiliar with this part of the story... apparently when the 35 encountered the Arab shepherd there was a debate over whether to kill him or let him go. Ultimately he was released after swearing not to sound the alarm. Obviously the first thing he did was go sound the alarm. So the 'shepherd question' presented to the soldiers is: Without foreknowledge of how the story turned out... would you have killed the shepherd or let him go?]

Posted by: David | Jan 16, 2005 5:32:05 PM

Without foreknowledge of how the story turned out... would you have killed the shepherd or let him go?]

Questions like this are heart rending and while I think that they are important to ask, I think that it is most important to ask yourself in advance of situations.

That is, you can make yourself go meshugeh with the "what-ifs" in life. Decisions are made and then we must live with them. It doesn't mean that you can or should not have regrets, rather that you should minimize the stress of worrying over spilled milk.

Learn from the past and try not to repeat it.

All told I remember hearing this story on my first trip to Israel and I still find it to be significant now as I did then.

Posted by: Jack | Jan 16, 2005 6:12:16 PM

Well, I'd like to know what happens to officer aspirants who opt for "bond-and-gag the shepherd"? I never liked either-or questions. :|

Posted by: mademoiselle a. | Jan 16, 2005 6:42:47 PM

Kol hakavod on reaching 219. My wife is insulted.

Posted by: Ben | Jan 16, 2005 8:12:51 PM

Ben beat me to congratulating you on your progress.

I don't think I've ever heard the story of 'the 35' before. I hope that in the intervening 57 years we've learned enough about the enemy's character and motives to allow Israeli soldiers across the political spectrum to answer the shepherd question without hesitation. If not, we may have chosen to become the most ethical of extinct people.

If there are any treppenwitz readers in Hollywood, this story would make a great screenplay, and deserves a wider audience, no?

Posted by: Doctor Bean | Jan 16, 2005 9:46:07 PM

Jack... Talking about the correct action and actually carrying it out are two very different things. Soldiers in the IDF are faced with very similar situations all the time.

mademoiselle a. ... part of being a soldier is being able to create nuanced solutions in the field... but the kind of compromise you suggested isn't always practical or possible. I mean, tying up and gagging the shepherd on a remote hill is the same as cutting his throat except it would take much longer for him to die and he would suffer much much more.

Ben... Your wife's cooking had nothing to do with the new number. In fact it might have been 218 if not for her! :-)

Doctor Bean... If only the Jews controlled Hollywood we could get that movie made. Unfortunately the powers that be would never greenlight a script that painted the Israelis as ethical.

Posted by: David | Jan 17, 2005 6:55:44 PM

Hi David,
Thank you so much for sharing the story of Gush Etzion. My grandfather's brother was killed there while trying to defend it. He passed away the day before Independance day in Iyaar. I'm not sure how he featured in the above story, ( I heard the story when I was quite young )but I'll contact his daughter that still lives in that beautiful area, because I really would like to know. I've been there a few times and I absolutely loved it.

Love to Zehava,
Dini

Posted by: Dini | Jan 17, 2005 6:56:59 PM

Dini... I would love to know your great uncle's story. If you send it to me I will forward it to the archivist at the Kfar Etzion field school.

Posted by: David | Jan 17, 2005 9:09:14 PM

Hm. Your story says the shepherd detected them while they were approaching the Arab village; they only climbed the hill after they let the shepherd go and he traited them. The shepherd was probably out and guarding his flock. Hence, wouldn't have someone went looking for him after a day anyways. But I'm starting to count peas again.

Posted by: mademoiselle a. | Jan 17, 2005 9:38:25 PM

Jack... Talking about the correct action and actually carrying it out are two very different things. Soldiers in the IDF are faced with very similar situations all the time.

Of course, this is why the training is so important. But what this really reinforces is that there are some actions that fall into the gray areas no matter what you do.

If you kill the shepherd and save many lives there is something good in the knowledge of knowing how many lives you saved, but at the same time you had to end someone elses to do so.

I can support actions like this, but I hope that it is not lost upon those doing so that they are still dealing with life.

Posted by: Jack | Jan 17, 2005 11:05:22 PM

I had never heard this story before, so thanks David for re-telling it. Is it really true that the 240 inhabitants of Kfar Etzion were executed by the Jordanians?

Posted by: Geoff | Jan 18, 2005 5:31:15 PM

Mademoiselle a. ... The version of the sotry i wrote in the original entry is what is historically excepted as fact. The shepherd part is disputed by some so I only brought it up when Gil mentioned it. Whether or not it actually happened, it is admirable that this is the sort of ethical question that our soldiers are asked to consider as part of their training.

Jack... Every time a soldier makes the decision to fire or not fire he is making his best ethical decision. Hopefully the training will have prepared him to make the right one.

Geoff... Yes, most of the women and all of the children were evacuated from Kfar Etzion before the final battle, but when all hope was lost the last 240 men and women surrendered. They were then murdered by the Jordanian Legion.

Posted by: David | Jan 18, 2005 9:45:03 PM

Well, that makes it all the more interesting and infuriating that this story isn't more well known. We've all been beaten over the head with Deir Yassin, all the while this massacre has been ignored. Not that two wrongs make a right, but it shows that both sides committed wrongs.

Posted by: Geoff | Jan 18, 2005 10:25:26 PM

David: This is a very old post, so I'm sure no one's reading it, but I assume it'll come to your attention by email.

I watched "Saving Private Ryan" 2 nights ago with my wife. My wife had seen it before; I had purposefully put it off on several occasions. Wow. It was terrific, and powerful, and profoundly disturbing.

I don't want to give anything away if you or your readers haven't see the movie, but it deals very directly with the "shepherd" problem. The outcome in the movie seems so plausible that I'm surprised that the issue isn't considered closed.

Again, I don't want to be more specific and ruin anything for those who still want to see it.

Posted by: Doctor Bean | Feb 3, 2005 2:31:49 AM

Danny Moss and the 35.
When Moss went south from Jerusalem, he had 40 men and two women with him. It is claimed that the two women were girl friends of 2 men in the 40. When the 38 left Haratuv(?) the next night, some writers claim the two women were left behind.
However, two different Arab accounts of the battle, mention the presence of at least one woman who was acting as a nurse during the battle. These accounts specifically describe how the Arabs tried to shoot the nurse while she was helping the wounded.
Does anyone know the names of the two women?

Posted by: Mike Topliff | Jan 12, 2009 11:18:40 PM

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