Dec 1947-April 1948
Pages in Section 13
Gush Etzion 1948
i. December 47 - Strikes and Riots
ii. Massacres at refinery and Balad al Sheikh
iii. Battle for Jerusalem 1
iv. Ben Yehuda Street bombed
v. Jewish Agency bombed
vi. 1948 Views of a Traffic Policeman
vii. Battle for the Roads 1 - Jerusalem
viii. Battle for the Roads 2 - Mishmar ha Emek
ix. Battle for the Roads 3- Deir Yassin
x. Haddassa Hospital Convoy
xi. Battle of the Roads 4- Gush Etzion
Seated on top of high hills between Bethlehem and Hebron amidst numerous Arab villages similarly situated, the four settlements of Gush Etzion overlooked the road running between Bethlehem and Hebron. Some of the land had been bought before the 1939 when it became illegal for Jews to buy land from Arabs in this area. The Jewish settlements built before the war had been destroyed twice by Arabs, once in the 1929 riots and again in the 1936 rebellion. The rest of the land was acquired in 1943 by a scheme that managed to by-pass the existing regulations. Since the soil on the rocky hillsides was too poor for the settlers to make a living from agriculture they diversified into crafts and renting out their houses during the holiday season.
Opinion differs as to who made the first aggressive mood after the UN passed its partition plan. The Israeli historians claim it was the Arabs, but the Arabs and a French historian claim the Jews struck the first blow by destroying an Arab village early in December. Be that as it may, before long both sides were attacking each other's vehicles.
The road between Bethlehem and Hebron was important to both Arabs and Jews in 1948, The Holy Arab Army needed it to bring supplies to their members besieging Jerusalem. Haganah needed it to bring men and supplies to the aid of settlements under attack in Galilee District. Both Arabs and Jews attacked each other's vehicles as a matter of routine.
At first the Police ordered Haganah not to use armoured vehicles escorted by their own armed men when sending supplies to Gush Etzion as that would only increase the Arabs' fervor, so the initial convoys to Gush Etzion used open pickup trucks. The trucks were accompanied by uniformed Notrim. The convoy of 11th December was the first failure of such convoys. Its four vehicles were ambushed on the main road north of King Solomon's pools. Of the 18 people on board, ten were killed, four injured. Only four escaped unhurt.
Three days later, a convoy was attacked again with another person killed, Haganah command decided that, despite police orders, from then on it would use armored "sandwich" vehicles in the convoys escorted by armed Haganah men. They also reinforced the settlements defenders with trained Haganah members.
Ex B/C Barry Forrester was stationed at Hebron until the thirteenth of January 1948. He has written this about the Gush Etzion massacre:
"I never realised what a shocking event it was. I do remember hearing about a convoy being attacked and and all those in the convoy being killed and their bodies mutilated in horrific fashion. I was told that the convoy had been stopped by a light air plane dropping hand grenades on it. Whether this was true or not I have no idea but it is feasible. I cannot remember the source of the story but it was probably information from Arab policemen and stories in the town of Hebron. I expect many local Arabs took part. The scene of this attack was not very far from Hebron Police Station so I do not know why were not involved although reading all about it I'm thankful we were not. Maybe it was thought that our contribution would be too small? Our role in Palestine was coming to an end and what could we do? Regarding the attack on an Arab village I never heard of any. I am sorry but I do not have photos of the Hebron Tegart. Its difficult to realise that very few of us had a camera- the war was just over and they were in short supply even if we could afford one."
On January 15th, 1948, two days after the British police had left Hebron tegart, thirty-five Haganah members set out on foot from Har Tuv to supply the defenders of Gush Etzion with arms and ammunition. Because they were carrying illegal weapons they made a detour to avoid detection by the British police who were still stationed at the Artouf tegart three miles from Latrun. They had intended reaching their destination before daybreak but because of the delay caused by avoiding Artouf they were still a long way off when dawn broke. Arab shepherds saw them and summoned a mob of armed locals to block their path. Greatly out-numbered, the Jews fought all day until their ammunition ran out. Despite the fact that the Haganah group had deliberately kept their route secret from the British police in Artouf, Haganah blamed the British for not coming to their rescue. Once every Jew was dead, the Arab attackers again mutilated their bodies in a horrific fashion.
On May 13th the day before the end of the mandate, when the British had transferred the responsibility for keeping order in the Arab section of the partitioned Palestine to Jordan's Arab Legion, thousands of local Arabs attacked the four kibbutzim of Gush Etzion. One of the kibbutzim, Kfar Etzion, fell that day , and the Arabs massacred the kibbutzniks who surrendered. The Arab Legion claim they were not yet present when Kfar Etzion fell but the Israelis claim they took part in the massacre. Altogether, 127 Jews, including 21 women, were killed in battle and the subsequent massacre. Only three men and one woman survived. The following day, the other three kibbutzim surrendered to the Arab Legion. The able-bodied men and boys were treated as POWs by the Arab Legion and held in Jordan for a year before being released.
Next Section - Evacuation
Text Copyright Margaret Penfold, BA Hons, Dip Ed, British Palestine Police Association