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.
Bab 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.
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.
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.
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:
A destroyed vehicle
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.
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)
Synonyms and alternate spellings: Sha'ar Hagay, Battle of the Roads
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.
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