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Gush Etzion

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Tunnel to Gush Etzion

Tunnel to Gush Etzion

Gush Etzion (Hebrew: גּוּשׁ עֶצְיוֹן‎, lit. Etzion Bloc) refers to a group of Jewish villages established from the 1920s south of Jerusalem on the northern part of Mount Hebron in the southern West Bank, and destroyed during the 1948 Arab–Israeli War: Kfar Etzion, Massu'ot Yitzhak, Ein Tzurim and Revadim. The first three were aligned with the religious orthodox, and Revadim was aligned with Hashomer Hatzair (Young guards).[1] It also refers to the four Israeli settlements re-established following the 1967 Six-Day War, and those settlements that have expanded the area of the Etzion Bloc.[2]


First Attempts

The first modern Jewish attempt to settle within the area known today as Gush Etzion took place in 1927 by a group of religious Yemenite Jews who founded an agricultural village called Migdal Eder (Hebrew: מִגְדַּל עֵדֶר‎), in reference to a biblical quotation (Genesis 35:21).[3] The location had been purchased in 1925 by a group called Zikhron David (lit. Memory of David),[4] because it was roughly equidistant from Bethlehem and Hebron, and thus fell between the zones of influence of the local Arab clans. This early community did not flourish, mainly due to economic hardships and escalating tension with neighboring Arab communities. Two years later, the 1929 Palestine riots and recurring hostilities forced the group to flee. The inhabitants of Migdal Eder were saved by the villagers of the neighboring Arab village of Beit Umar but were not able to return to the land they left behind.[5]

In 1932, Jewish businessman Shmuel Holtzmann provided backing for another attempt at settling the area, through a company named El HaHar ("To the Mountain").[6] The initial kibbutz was created in 1935 and named Kfar Etzion, in his honor ("Etzion" being a Hebraization of "Holtzmann").[7] The 1936–1939 Arab revolt made life intolerable for the residents, so they returned to Jerusalem in 1937.

The Jewish National Fund organized a third attempt at settlement in 1943 with the refounding of Kfar Etzion by members of a religious group called Kvutzat Avraham. Despite the tough soil, shortage of potable water, harsh winters, and constant threat of fatal attacks, this group managed to succeed. Their isolation was somewhat relieved by the establishment in 1945 of Masu'ot Yitzhak and Ein Tzurim, populated by members of the religious Bnei Akiva movement. Against the backdrop of an impending struggle for Israeli independence and as a show of solidarity, the secular Hashomer Hatzair founded a fourth kibbutz, Revadim. A religious center, Neve Ovadia, was also founded by the bloc's members. By the start of the 1948 Palestine War, the Etzion bloc numbered 450 residents and stretched over an area of 20,000 dunams (20 km2).[7]

Civil war

On November 29, 1947, the United Nations approved the Partition Plan. The bloc fell within the area allotted to a proposed Arab state. The Haganah command decided not to evacuate the bloc. Arab hostilities began almost immediately, and travel to Jerusalem became exceedingly difficult. For five months the bloc was besieged, first by Arab irregulars, and then by the Jordanian Arab Legion. Throughout the winter hostilities intensified and several relief convoys from the Haganah in Jerusalem were destroyed in ambushes. For 47 days the armed conflict was intense.[8] In January, the women and children were evacuated with British assistance. An emergency reinforcement convoy attempting to march to Gush Etzion under cover of darkness were discovered and killed. Despite some resupply flights by Piper Cubs out of Tel Aviv onto an improvised airfield, adequate supplies were not getting in.[9]

On March 27, land communication with the Yishuv was severed completely when the Neve Daniel Convoy was forced to retreat back to Jerusalem. In the following months, Arab irregular forces continued small-scale attacks against the bloc, which the Haganah was able to effectively withstand. At times, the Haganah forces, commanded by Uzi Narkiss, ambushed Arab military convoys, (and, according to Morris also Arab civilian traffic and British military convoys[10]) on the road between Jerusalem and Hebron. The defenders of Gush Etzion and the central command in Jerusalem mulled evacuation, but although they had very few arms, a decision was made to hold out due to their strategic location as the only Jewish-held position on Jerusalem's southern approach from Hebron.[11]

On May 12, the commander of Kfar Etzion requested from the Central Command in Jerusalem a permission to evacuate the kibbutz, but was told to stay. Later in the day, the Arabs captured the Russian Orthodox monastery, which the Haganah used as a perimeter fortress for the Kfar Etzion area, killing twenty-four of its thirty-two defenders. On May 13, a massive attack involving parts of two Arab Legion infantry companies, light artillery[10] and local irregular support commenced from four directions. The kibbutz fell within a day, and the Arab forces massacred the entire population of Kfar Etzion, soldiers and civilians alike, the total number of killed during the final assault, following massacre and suicide was between 75 to 250. Only three men and one woman survived.[11] The following day, the three other kibbutzim surrendered, on the day of the declaration of independence. The prisoners were taken as POWs by the Arab Legion and held in Jordan for a year before being released.[12]

Interim period (1949–1967)

Alon Gush Etzion

"The lone oak"

The women and children who had been evacuated from the bloc before the battle were moved to Petah Tikva. Some 135 were eventually resettled in a neighborhood called Jebaliya in southern Jaffa, later renamed to Giv'at Aliyah by the residents, who organized it like a kibbutz. Four years after Giv'at Aliyah was founded, the returning POWs of the bloc founded Nir Etzion in the Mount Carmel area near Haifa. Nir Etzion sought to accept the bulk of the bloc's children into it, but despite wishing to unite in a new place of residence, the issue of joining Nir Etzion was a matter of debate among the children, many of joined the Nahal military unit. The survivors of Masu'ot Yitzhak, Ein Tzurim, and Revadim founded their communities anew in Israel proper.[13]

The interim period saw the rise of two movements designed to commemorate the fall of Gush Etzion, through songs, poetry, prose and cultural activities.[13] During the Jordanian rule of the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 1949–1967, all the buildings were destroyed and the thousands of trees planted in Gush Etzion were uprooted, save a very old one known as the "lone oak" or "lone tree". Both the land of the bloc, and the events that transpired there in the war of 1948, became sacred to the descendants of the original participants. Some compared the story of the yearning to return to the bloc to the story of the Jews yearning to return to the Land of Israel.[14] For 19 years, some survivors would gather on the Israel–Jordan frontier and gaze at the tree in remembrance of what was. This was also done after each annual Independence Day ceremony. Poems and stories were written that humanized the lone tree. However, this trend was criticized by the novelist Haim Be'er, who called the bloc's settlement movements a "fervent cult" and compared them to the Canaanites.[14]


As a result of the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel controlled the area of the former Etzion Bloc. A loose organisation of Bnei Akiva activists, who later coalesced into Gush Emunim, led by Hanan Porat, whose parents had been evacuated, petitioned Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol to allow the reestablishment of Kfar Etzion.[15] Among the supporters were Ra'anan Weitz, head of the settlement department in the Jewish Agency, Minister of Internal Affairs Haim-Moshe Shapira, and Michael Hazani of the national religious movement. Supporters of the Allon Plan in the government were also in favor of settling the bloc. This caused Eshkol to finally give a green light to the plan. He was not decisive however, and the settlement movement did not immediately being to build in the entire bloc, but only on the location of Kfar Etzion. Construction began in September 1967. According to Ra'anan Weitz's plan, Kfar Etzion was meant to be one of three settlements in the new bloc, from it to Aviezer. The middle village would be established on Jewish National Fund land purchased in the 1940s.[16]

Weitz's plan of creating a line of settlements based on territorial continuity, however, had a number of opponents: the descendants of the original residents of the bloc and the settlers on the ground, the Religious Kibbutz Movement, and the Israel Defense Forces. The IDF surveyed the land and stated that "Kfar Etzion B should be founded near the existing Kfar Etzion, and not near the former Green Line". This eventually found the support of Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, who envisioned five settlement points in the West Bank, one of them being the Etzion bloc. On September 30, 1968, the government gave permission to create a regional center and Hesder Yeshiva in Kfar Etzion, a major demand of the settlers and the final departure from the continuity plan.[17]

In the same decision, the government appointed a committee for planning the settlement of the bloc. In accordance with the committee's recommendations, the settlement of Rosh Tzurim was founded on the former site of Ein Tzurim and Revadim in July 1969, and Alon Shvut in June 1970.[17] Many other settlements and two municipalities (Efrat and Beitar Illit) have been founded in the area of historic Etzion bloc, and its name was taken for the greater Gush Etzion Regional Council.

Today there is a moving museum about the history of Gush Etzion.[18]


The following is a list of communities in modern Gush Etzion. The Israeli population in the entire area approaches 60,000 residents.

(EOY 2008)[19]
Alon Shvut 1970 3,300 Communal settlement
Bat Ayin 1989 Communal settlement
Beitar Illit 1985 34,800 Independent municipality[5]
Efrat 1983 8,200 Independent municipality physically located east of route 60 between Bethlehem and Hebron[5]
Elazar 1975 Communal settlement
Gva'ot 1984 Communal settlement/neighborhood
Kfar Etzion 1967 Kibbutz
Migdal Oz 1979 Kibbutz
Neve Daniel 1982 Communal settlement
Rosh Tzurim 1969 Kibbutz

See also


  1. Gorenberg (2007), p. 19
    • "An Overview of the Expansions in the Etzion Settlement Block". POICA. December 1, 2000. Retrieved 2009-10-10. 
    • Report of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People By United Nations Publications, United Nations. Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, United Nations. General Assembly Published by United Nations Publications, 2003, ISBN 9218102753 p. 9
    • Muna Hamzeh (2001) Refugees in Our Own Land: Chronicles from a Palestinian Refugee Camp in Bethlehem, Pluto Press, ISBN 0745316522 p. 9
    • SAIS Review By Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies Published by School of Advanced International Studies of the Johns Hopkins University, 1985 p. 238
    • Robert I. Friedman (1992) Zealots for Zion: inside Israel's West Bank settlement movement Random House, ISBN 0394580532 p. xxv
    • William W. Harris (1980) Taking Root: Israeli Settlement in the West Bank, the Golan, and Gaza-Sinai, 1967-1980 Research Studies Press, p. 53
  2. "The History of Gush Etzion". Gush Etzion website. Retrieved 2009-08-28. 
  3. Naor (1986), p. 235
  4. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Peace Now Settlements in Focus Gush Etzion - November 2005
  5. Vilnay (1976), pp. 3806–3809
  6. 7.0 7.1 Ohana (2002), pp. 146–148
  7. Ben-Yehuda (1995), p. 130
  8. "Moshe Moskovic, who had been abroad on movement business, returned to Tel Aviv in April 1948 and wrangled a place on a Piper flight. At the airfield, he was told that guns and ammunition-and matzah for Passover-would take his place in the airplane." —Gorenberg (2007), p. 20
  9. 10.0 10.1 Morris (2003), pp. 135–138
  10. 11.0 11.1 Erickson et al., p. 149
  11. Kremer (2003), p. 1266
  12. 13.0 13.1 Ohana (2002), pp. 149–153
  13. 14.0 14.1 Ohana (2002), pp. 153–160
  14. Rosenzweig (1989), p. 203
  15. Katz and Reichmann (1993), pp. 145–149
  16. 17.0 17.1 Katz and Reichmann (1993), pp. 149–152
  17. Gush Etzion museum information
  18. "Table 3 – Population of Localities Numbering Above 2,000 Residents". Israel Central Bureau of Statistics. June 30, 2009. Retrieved 2009-10-10. 


  • Ben-Yehuda, Nachman (1995). The Masada Myth: Collective Memory and Mythmaking in Israel. University of Wisconsin Press. ISBN 0299148343. 
  • Erickson, Mark Daryl; Goldberg, Joseph E.; Gotowicki, Stephen H.; Reich, Bernard; Silverburg, Sanford R. (1996). An Historical Encyclopedia of the Arab-Israeli Conflict. Greenwood. ISBN 0-313-27374-X. 
  • Gorenberg, Gershom (2007). The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977. Macmillan. ISBN 0805082417. 
  • Katz, Yossi; Reichmann, Shalom (1993), Ginossar, Pinhas, ed., "The Jewish Settlement in the Etzion Bloc 1967–1970: Action with Prior Thought?", Studies in Zionism, the Yishuv, and the State of Israel, Volume 3 (Ben Gurion University)  (Hebrew)
  • Kremer, S. Lillian (2003). Holocaust Literature: An Encyclopedia of Writers and Their Work. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 0415929849. 
  • Morris, Benny (2003). The Road to Jerusalem: Glubb Pasha, Palestine and the Jews. I. B. Tauris. ISBN 9781860649899. 
  • Naor, Mordechai ed. (1986). Gush Etzion from its Beginning to 1948. 7th of Idan Series. Yad Ben Tzvi Publishers.  (Hebrew)
  • Ohana, David (2002), "Kfar Etzion: The Community of Memory and the Myth of Return", Israel Studies, Vol. 7, #2 (Indiana University Press), ISSN 1084-9513 
  • Rosenzweig, Rafael N. (1989). The Economic Consequences of Zionism. BRILL. ISBN 9004091475. 
  • Vilnai, Ze'ev (1976). "Kfar Etzion". Ariel Encyclopedia. Volume 4. Tel Aviv, Israel: Am Oved.  (Hebrew)

External links

Coordinates: 31°38′40″N 35°09′27″E / 31.64432°N 35.15762°E / 31.64432; 35.15762bg:Гуш Ецион cs:Guš Ecion da:Gush Etzionfa:گوش عتصیونja:グーシュ・エツヨン no:Gush Etzion pt:Gush Etzion

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