Bab-el-Wad (Shaar Hagay in Hebrew) means "Gate of the Valley." It is a place on the road to Jerusalem, originally the Roman Via Maris (the way to the sea) and today Israel's route 1, and it played a crucial and tragic role in the history of modern Israel.

Palestine war - Bab-el-Wad locator mapBab el Wad is the Arab name of the entrance to the Wadi Imam Ali, a narrow defile where a monument to the Imam Ali. The Wadi was called the Wadi Imam Ali. The defile began not far from the monastery of Latrun, where, on the main road, an inn, the Khan, had been built in the 19th century. The road itself was built in the 1860s and was opened in honor of the visit of the Austrian Kaiser Franz Joseph, who was returning from the inauguration of the Suez Canal.

Palestine Map of Bab-el-Wad Road

Because the road at that point was a narrow defile between a series of ridges, it could be blocked quite easily. The French traveler Victor Guerin wrote that at this point, a few determined men could stop an army. Bab el Wad is near the intersection of Route 38 coming north from Bet Shemesh and Route 1 (Shaar Hagay Junction), not far from Latrun, and the problematic section of the road stretches from there, 6 kilometers eastward to Beit Hashoeva.

During the Arab uprising  of 1936-39, the Arabs first realized the potential of this narrow part of the road for ambushes. In the War of Independence they began blocking the road there with the goal of preventing any supplies from reaching Jerusalem, including food, water and medicine. They sabotaged the pumping station that was near Bab el Wad and later the one near Ras el Eyn (Rosh Ha'ayin) to cut off the running water supply entirely.

Palestine war crimes - Israel war of independence: convoy is attacked

Attack on a convoy

The Palestinian irregulars recruited volunteers to ambush and loot convoys from all along the Jerusalem road. In particular, the villages of Beit Mahseir and Saris close by as well as some others such as Susin on the south side of the road, and further up the road, the Qastel and Qoloniyeh, served either as reservoirs of manpower or strongpoints. On the northern side of the road, the Palestinian Arab gangs of the Mufti Hajj Amin Al Husseini led initially by Abdel Khader el Husseini and later by Emile Ghory, held the road with the help of villagers from Emaus (Imwas) and others.

The attacks on the convoys began while the British were still in Palestine and were supposedly responsible for the well being of its inhabitants. The British studiously ignored the fact that the Jewish population of Jerusalem were starving to death. Every day they sent through a convoy of their own, which the Palestinian Arab gangs refrained from attacking. This was sufficient for the British to say they were keeping the road open. The Haganah, or more properly the Palmach, organized convoys accompanied by armored cars to force a way through to Jerusalem. The "armor" consisted of a thin "sandwich" layer of tin sheeting and plywood that was not effective against heavier weapons. The Palmach convoys were organized from the office of a man named "Furman" in the Jewish Agency building in Jerusalem, and the unit of escorts organized in Jerusalem came to be called the "Furmanim." Those in Tel Aviv were called "Zehavi." The armored cars and the defenders are shown in the photos below.

Palestine war - Convoy escortsPalestine war - Convoy escorts

Palestine War - armored car used to convoy through Bab-el Wad

The convoys originally travelled through Ramla. When this became impossible, they traveled from Tel Aviv to an assembly point in Jewish Hulda, not far from Rehovot. Jewish Hulda was not far from Arab Khulda as well, and from there, the Arabs could raise the alarm and call out the people to man the ambushes. The Palestinian Arabs organized a system of alerts, to muster masses of people to "greet" the convoys with murderous fire. After the death of Abdel Khader al Husseini in the battle of the Qastel, a different method was adopted, of barricading the road. The first vehicle would be stopped or blown up by the barricade, creating a traffic jam and allowing the ambush.

The road from Bab-el-wad to Shoeva became the scene of numerous tragedies, as marauders murdered convoy defenders and drivers and carried off the precious supplies. The armored vehicles were left at the side of the road as a monument to the bravery of the men and women who saved Jerusalem from certain starvation. Neither the British, nor the Arabs, nor the United Nations, which had supposedly guaranteed the international status of Jerusalem, showed any humanitarian concern for the civilian population of Jerusalem. All supplies were looted by the Palestinian Arab raiders. The role of the British was generally to search the vehicles for illegal weapons, if they caught them.

Practicing defense against ambushes

The following is a dramatization of one such ambush, in March of 1948, from "O Jerusalem," by Collins and LaPierre, page 208 ff:

Haroun Ben-Jazzi stared into the darkness towards the sound rising up the valley he had prowled a month before with borrowed sheep. It was the low, insistent rumble of motors. For hours Ben Jazzi and his followers had lain shivering in the last watches of the night, waiting for it. A message from their transmitter hidden in Hulda, the Jewish assembly point, had warned that the Jews would try today to drive a major convoy through Bab-el Wad to Jerusalem.

Ben Jazzi was ready for them. Three hundred men were hidden in the slopes above the barricade of stones and logs thrown up in the middle of the road. The closest of them were fifteen feet from the roadside, waiting to spring on the leading cars with grenades if the land mines hidden in the roadblock failed to stop them. On each side of the road a Vickers machine-gun was trained on the barricade.

Lieutenant Moshe Rashkes, riding in the armored car leading the convoy up the gorge of Bab-el Wad, contemplated the dark forms of the trucks trailing along behind him. There were forty of them strung out for almost a mile down the road to Hulda. Crammed into those trucks were hundreds of sacks of flour, thousands of cans of meat, sardines, margarine; there was even one truck whose panels were spilling over with a fruit the people of Jerusalem had not seen in weeks - oranges. For Rashkes' convoy represented far more than a series of meager meals. Their safe arrival would be proof that the lifeline on which they depended, the road to the sea, was still theirs, that it could still deliver to them the ingredients of their survival.

Ben Jazzi's first sight of the convoy was Rashkes' armored car lumbering slowly forward through the fading dawn. It was just half a mile beyond the pumping station marking the entrance to Bab-el Wad when he saw it. Inside the car, Rashkes heard the shots ring out, then a dull thump as the blockbusters moving up to thrust aside Ben-Jazzi's barricade hit one of his hidden mines. At that moment, over his car's wireless, Rashkes heard the convoy commander announcing to Hulda, "We are surrounded but continuing to move.

The cars were soon so close that Ben-Jazzi could see the Stens peeping through their steel slats firing into the hillside. With a whistle, he signalled his men hidden in the roadside ditch to rush the cars with grenades and force the windows shut.

It became suffocatingly hot inside the cars. The clang of bullets striking Rashkes' vehicle rose to a steady din. Through a narrow gun slit Rashkes strained for a glimpse of his attackers...Ahead of him Rashkes saw the blockbuster, tossed into the gulley by the force of the mine. A second truck moving up behind it had hit another mine. Spun at right angles to the axis of the road, it barred the way up to Jerusalem. From all along the column he heard the dull thump of exploding tires. As the morning sky lightened he could see white plumes of steam spurting out of half a dozen trucks whose radiators had already been hit....

Rashkes' 'sandwich' was ordered forward to evacuate the crew of the blockbuster. The five men managed to slip from their overturned vehicle and sprint to the safety of his car. Then they moved toward the second truck, which was lying on its side, the door to its armor-plated cab shut. From the bottom of the door Rashkes saw a thin dark stream of blood dropping onto the pavement. Its van was on fire and the flames were working their way toward the cab and the gas tank behind it.

Rashkes shouted to the truck's two drivers to open the door. There was no answer. The fire moved closer. "They're dead,' someone said. Then as his armored car started to draw away, Rashkes saw the doorknob of the cab move.

Two of the men in his car slipped out the emergency door and crawled to the truck. While the Arabs sent a stream of fire at them, they struggled to open the door. "Someone's tapping inside!" one of them shouted. Rashkes saw the horror and frustration contorting their faces as they tugged at the jammed door. Below the cab, the little maroon trickle continued to drop onto the pavement. The fire grew stronger, reaching out for the edge of the petrol tank. Finally Rashkes ordered his two men to flee the flames.

Horror-stricken, everyone in his car stared at the overturned truck. The thin stream of blood continued to seep onto the pavement. Once again, almost imperceptibly, the doorknob moved. Then the fire reached the gas tank and the cabin was engulfed in orange flames.

By now the convoy was hopelessly stuck. Half a dozen trucks had tumbled into the gulley trying to turn around. Ben-Jazzi's roadblock and the two vehicles cast up against it eliminated any hope of moving forward.

Swarms of villagers, alerted by the noise of the gunfire, had joined Ben-Jazzi's men. From the pine grove above, shrill and terrifying, the undulating war cry of their women drove them on. Rashkes could hear screams in broken Hebrew ringing down the hillside: 'Yitzhak, Yitzhak, today death will find you!'

One hour, two hours, six hours passed. The heat was unbearable. Inside the cars, men stripped to their undershorts. In Rashkes' vehicles the ammunition was almost gone.

Finally the order came over the wireless to withdraw. The trucks that could move began to roll back down the incline in reverse, most of them, tires shot out, riding on their rims. The armored car covered their withdrawal, pushing into the gulley the trucks that couldn't move, to clear the road. As his car inched back down the road to Hulda, Rashkes saw the Arabs swarm down the hillside. Shrieking their jubilant cries of victory, they flung themselves on the abandoned trucks, ripping them to pieces. Frantic hands grabbed at sacks of flour, cases of sardines, cans of meat. Bobbing and tumbling like pearls spilling from a broken necklace, dozens of oranges rolled down the hillside. Soon, like the industrious files of their ancestors carrying stones to erect some prehistoric citadel, long columns of villagers began twisting up the hillside, bent by the weight of the booty they carried away. Tonight in Beit Mahsir, Saris, Kastel, in all the poor villages clinging to the Judean heights above the road, there would be a rare and unexpected banquet on the food with Jerusalem's hungry Jews so desperately awaited.

The Haganah left along the road nineteen vehicles, almost half the number that had set out from Hulda...

Palestine Jerusalem war: Bab-el-wad road block

Roadblock at Bab El Wad

Bab-el-wad - vehicle destroyed in Palestine on Jerusalem Road

A destroyed vehicle

Remember our names forever,
Convoys broke through, on the road to the City.
Our dead lie at the sides of the road
The iron skeleton is as silent as my comrade

Operation Nachson in early April secured the Qastel and Qoloniyeh, and the Palestinian Arab commander Abdel Khader el Husseini was killed, but Emile Ghory adapted the method of using roadblocks and small numbers of men, and was soon able to close the road again. On April 20, a last convoy attempted to get through to Jerusalem. It included David Ben Gurion, Yitzhak Rabin and others. Most of the convoy was ambushed and lost. 45 vehicles were towed to Qiriath Anavim.

Further operations such as Maccabi and others that eventually eliminated almost all the ambush hideouts did not open the road either, because by that time the Transjordan Legion had taken over the police fort at Latrun and commanded the road from there. Eventually a "Burma Road" was cut through the mountains to avoid the Arab held areas and break the siege of Jerusalem.

The Palestinian Arabs attacked soldiers and civilian drivers in the convoys, but the object of the attacks, the real targets, were the 100,000 men, women and children locked in to the jail of Jerusalem.

Bab-el-Wad came to symbolize the heroism of the "generation of 1948" - the young men and women who were the "the Silver Platter" on which the Jewish people received their state.

A song was written to honor and commemorate the valor of those who died, and those who risked their lives to save the city of Jerusalem.


Hebrew Transliteration

Po ani ovehr, nitzav l'yad ha'even.
Kvish asfalt shachor, sla'im urechasim.
Erev at yored, ruach yam noshevet,
Or kochav rishon me'ever Beit Ma'hsir.

Bab-el-wad (refrain)
Lanetzach z'chor na et sh'moteinu,
Shayarot partzu baderech el ha'ir.
Betzidei haderech mutalim meteinu,
Sheled habarzel shotek kmo re'i.

Po shatzfu bashemesh zefet ve oferet,
Po avru leylot be esh vesakinim,
Po shochnim beyachad etzev vetiferet,
Meshurian charuch veshem shel almoni.

Bab-el-wad ... (refrain)  

Va ani holech, over kan cheresh, cheresh,
Va ani zocher otam, echad, echad,
Kan lachamnu yachad, al tzukim veteresh,
Kan hayinu yachad mishpacha achat.

Bab-el-wad ... (refrain)

Yom aviv yavo, rakafot tifrachna,
Odem kalanit ba ar ubamorad.
Ze, asher yelech baderech shehalachnu,
Al yishkach otanu, otanu, Bab-el-wad.



Here I pass, standing by the stone.
An asphalt road, rocks and ridges.
Evening comes slowly, a sea-wind blows
Light of a first star, over Beit Ma'hsir.

Bab-el-wad (refrain),
Remember our names forever,
Convoys broke through, on the road to the City.
Our dead lie at the sides of the road
The iron skeleton is as silent as my comrade

Here tar and lead fumed under the sun,
Here nights passed in fire and knives.
Here sadness and glory live together
With a burnt-out armored car and the name of an unknown.

Bab-el-wad ... (refrain)

And I walk, passing here silently,
And I remember them, one by one.
Here we fought together on cliffs and boulders
Here we were one family.

Bab-el-wad ... (refrain)

A spring day will come, the cyclamens will bloom,
Red of anemone on the mountain and on the slope.
He, who will go on the road we went,
He must not forget us, Bab-el-wad.

Bab-El-Wad : Hebrew Words


Collins, Larry, and Lapierre, Dominique, O Jerusalem!, Pan Books, N.Y. 1973.

Hama'avak Al Haderech Leyushalayim (The struggle over the road for Jerusalem)

EGGED: Bab-el Wad Barech El Ha'ir

Synonyms and alternate spellings: Sha'ar Hagay, Battle of the Roads

Further Information: 

Hebrew/Arabic pronunciation and transliteration conventions:

'H - ('het) a guttural sound made deep in the throat. To Western ears it may sound like the "ch" in loch. In Arabic there are several letters that have similar sounds. Examples: 'hanukah, 'hamas, 'haredi. Formerly, this sound was often represented by ch, especially in German transliterations of Hebrew. Thus, 'hanukah is often rendered as Chanuka for example.

ch - (chaf) a sound like "ch" in loch or the Russian Kh as in Khruschev or German Ach, made by putting the tongue against the roof of the mouth. In Hebrew, a chaf can never occur at the beginning of a word. At the beginning of a word, it has a dot in it and is pronounced "Kaf."

u - usually between oo as in spoon and u as in put.

a- sounded like a in arm

ah- used to represent an a sound made by the letter hey at the end of a word. It is the same sound as a. Haganah and Hagana are alternative acceptable transliterations.

'a-notation used for Hebrew and Arabic ayin, a guttural ah sound.

o - close to the French o as in homme.

th - (taf without a dot) - Th was formerly used to transliterate the Hebrew taf sound for taf without a dot. However in modern Hebrew there is no detectable difference in standard pronunciation of taf with or without a dot, and therefore Histadruth and Histadrut, Rehovoth and Rehovot are all acceptable.

q- (quf) - In transliteration of Hebrew and Arabic, it is best to consistently use the letter q for the quf, to avoid confusion with similar sounding words that might be spelled with a kaf, which should be transliterated as K. Thus, Hatiqva is preferable to Hatikva for example.

Definitions of Zionism  General History of Zionism and the Creation of Israel   History of Israel and Zionism   Historical Source Documents of Israel and Zionism Israeli and Zionist Biographies

Back to main page: Zionism and Israel Information Center

This site is a part of the Zionism and Israel on the Web Project


This work is copyright © 2008 by Ami Isseroff and Zionism and Israel Information Center and may not reproduced in any form without permission unless explicitly noted otherwise. This entry is copyright © 2008. Quoted materials may be copyright by their authors and must not be used in commercial publications without permission.  Individual entries may be cited with credit to The Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Zionism and Israel


ZioNation - Zionism-Israel Web Log    Zionism & Israel News  Israel: like this, as if History of Zionism Zionism FAQ Zionism Israel Center Maps of Israel Jew Israel Advocacy  Zionism and its Impact Israel Christian Zionism

Zionism - Israeli Flag

Zionism and Israel - Encyclopedic Dictionary


Zionism maps history biography definitions e-Zion about issues Anti-Semitism inside Prisons Kosher Jobs links contact