Celebrating liberation in Gush Etzion

In September of this year, Israel plans to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Judea, Samaria, Jerusalem and the Golan heights. The main event will be held at Kibbutz Kfar Etzion, in the Gush Etzion area of Judea, south and slightly west of Jerusalem.

Zahava Galon, the leader of the Meretz party, which represents approximately 4% of Israeli voters with its 5 Knesset seats, and Chemi Shalev, writing in the left-wing Ha’aretz newspaper expressed their outrage that anyone would celebrate what they consider an oppressive and evil occupation of “Palestinian” land, and that Israel would add insult to injury by holding the ceremony in what they insist on calling the “West Bank.”

I know it’s a little thing and that most of my readers already know this, but I can’t say it too often: it was called Judea and Samaria from biblical times until 1948 when Jordan occupied it, ethnically cleansed it of Jews, and renamed it the “West Bank.” We really ought to stop calling it that.

Let’s talk a little about the Gush Etzion area, and specifically Kibbutz Kfar Etzion. Here is a summary of its early years by Ami Isseroff, z”l:

The Etzion Bloc, or Gush Etzion as it is called in Hebrew, is located on the main road from the south to Jerusalem, northwest of Hebron. The Etzion bloc was settled and resettled three times, on land purchased by the Jews, beginning in 1927. Each time, residents were forced to abandon their homes in the face of Arab violence. The final saga of the Etzion bloc included two separate massacres and a prolonged and stubborn defense against hopeless odds. The bloc was finally overrun by soldiers of the British armed and officered Jordan Legion, who were responsible for the final massacre of surrendered defenders, a war crime.

The first settlement in this area was called Migdal Eder, built on land purchased from local Arabs by the Zichron David Company. It was founded in 1927. The pioneers included orthodox Yemenite Jews. During the Arab riots of 1929, Migdal Eder settlers were evacuated to the Russian Orthodox monastery and thence to the Arab village of Beit Umar, from which they were evacuated to Jerusalem by British mandate police. The British made no attempt to guard the settlement or safeguard property, and it was completely destroyed.

Additional lands were purchased by the El Hahar Company, which founded a kibbutz called Kfar Etzion in 1934. Like Migdal Eder, Kfar Etzion was abandoned during the Arab violence of 1936-1939 and destroyed by the Palestinian Arabs.

A third settlement attempt was made beginning in 1942 under the auspices of the Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemet). Kfar Etzion was re-founded in the Spring of 1943. In October 1945, a second kibbutz, Massuot Yitzchak, was added. Its members were Holocaust survivors from Eastern and Central Europe. A third Kibbutz, Ein Tzurim, was founded in 1946 by Israeli members of the Bnei Akiva religious Zionist movement. All three kibbutzim belonged to the religious Zionist movement, but in February 1947, a fourth kibbutz, Revadim, was established by the Marxist Hashomer Hatzair Youth Movement.

On May 13, 1948, the area was overrun by the Jordanian army. The remaining defenders of Kfar Etzion surrendered to the Jordanian Legion, who together with Arab irregulars, massacred some 128 (all but five) of them. The defenders of the other three kibbutzim surrendered in the presence of the International Red Cross, and were taken to Jordan as prisoners of war.

After Israel liberated the Gush in 1967, Kfar Etzion was rebuilt yet again. The other three, Revadim, Ein Tzurim and Massuot Yitzchak were reestablished within the Green Line shortly after the original kibbutzim were destroyed. I lived in Revadim in 1980-82 and worked in the musach (garage), where my boss told me about being forced to repair Jordanian military vehicles as a war prisoner.

There are many stories of heroism around the area, including the “lamed hay” (thirty-five), members of the Palmach (an elite force part of the Hagana) who were massacred trying to bring supplies through hostile Arab villages to the kibbutzim of the Gush.

So the complaints about holding a celebration in the “Palestinian West Bank” ring false to me. The land upon which Kfar Etzion stands was purchased dearly, with Jewish money and not a little Jewish blood.

It is true, as the kapos of +972 Magazine write, that the area of today’s Gush Etzion Regional Council is larger than that of the original land purchased in the 1920s and 30s. But they accept – as they did in the case of the settlement of Amona – the fanciful ownership claims of Arabs without verification, and do not accept Israel’s right to adjudicate land as state land.

Their uncritical acceptance of Arab claims is why they object to any celebration of the liberation of Judea and Samaria (they are quiet about the Golan and about Gaza, for different reasons), no matter where it is held. They believe that all land outside of the 1949 lines belongs to the Palestinians, simply because the Palestinians and their supporters say so, and despite the fact that the armistice agreements explicitly declare that the Green Line is not a political boundary.

They will tell you over and over that it is forbidden to acquire territory by war, as Israel did in 1967, but apparently do not object to Jordan’s conquest and annexation of Judea and Samaria in 1948 – areas that had been designated in the Mandate as the site of a future Jewish national home.

They will ignore the geostrategic imperative that says that our state cannot be defended without the high ground and the Jordan Valley. They will forget or ignore the fact that the hills and deserts of Judea and Samaria are the place where our people became a people. They will talk about the need of the newly-created “Palestinian people” for self-determination, but abandon the Jewish people.

Legal and political arguments may go on forever, but what will ultimately determine the ownership of the land will be who lives in it – who settles it and controls it. The original settlers of Gush Etzion, who put their bodies on the line for the land understood that.

The strategic and spiritual value of these lands is more important today than ever. Celebrating their liberation is appropriate, because they both make our country defensible and give us something important to defend, the historical heartland of the Jewish people.

And what better place to celebrate it than Kfar Etzion?

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One Response to Celebrating liberation in Gush Etzion

  1. Shalom Freedman says:

    Israeli governments have repeatedly stated that in any future Peace Agreement Gush Etzion will remain part of Israel. The overwhelming majority of the people of Israel agree with thi

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