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Palestine The 35 Fallen Heroes of Gush Etzion, 1948


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This letter by Zipporah Porath, was written to her parents from Jerusalem in January of 1948, during the Israel War of Independence.

In a previous letter, Zipporah had described her visit to the four kibbutzim (communal settlements) of Gush Etzion (see A visit to the doomed: Gush Etzion, 1947), and explained the difficulties of their situation, cut off from other Jewish communities. She noted:

The only problem is that they are smack in the heart of Arab territory. So what sense of security can there be? †

Indeed, that was the problem. The United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine, UN General Assembly Resolution 181, adopted on November 29, 1947, two months later, placed Gush Etzion in the area assigned to the Arab Palestinian state. The Etzion bloc kibbutzim† had to be supplied from Jerusalem, through hostile Arab territory. They were under constant and increasing attacks by Arab irregulars, later joined by the British officered and supplied Arab Legion. Convoys were ambushed regularly. Two of the largest ambushes were described by Zipporah in letters to her parents. The first one occurred in January of 1948. 38 Haganah (underground defense forces) fighters set out on foot from Hartuv, a small town near Jerusalem, at 11 PM on January 15, commanded by Danny Mas.† Three were sent back because of injuries. They had been late in assembling, and the delay proved fatal. The fate of the remaining 35 was reconstructed from British and Arab reports. The six hours of night did not suffice. About an hour before their destination it became light. They were detected by an Arab shepherd or women not far from Tzurif. They did not harm the Arab civilians, who hurried to sound the alarm, and a large group of armed Arabs gathered to block their way. The battle lasted the entire day. The last defender was apparently killed at about 4:30 PM on January 16. The British in the nearby police station did not interfere until the battle was over.

The Arab attackers mutilated the bodies of the defenders according to British soldiers who witnessed the aftermath of the attack. A soldier who took pictures of mutilated bodies left his roll of film to be developed in Jerusalem and never came back for it, but word of the atrocities had leaked out to the horrified Jewish public. Several decades later the negatives were discovered, but it was decided not to publish the atrocities.† The 35 fallen heroes are remembered as "Ha Lamed Heh" (Hebrew letter equivalent of 35) and a monument was erected to their memory. A later motorized convoy was ambushed at Nebi Daniel (see Nebi Daniel Convoy). Zipporah described that tragedy in a later letter (see Palestine Siege: Jerusalem's Desperate Hours).

A few months later, in May of 1948, the settlements of Gush Etzion were destroyed by the British-officered Arab Legion, aided by Palestinian Arab irregulars, in an orgy of massacre and ethnic cleansing. The inhabitants and defenders were massacred or expelled, and the settlements were looted even before the battle had finished. (see Gush Etzion Remembered - The Kfar Etzion Massacre).

Palestine Airletter 1948

Zipporah ("Zippy") arrived in Mandatory Palestine in Oct. 1947, as an American student, for what was intended to be a year of study at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.† But, caught up in Israel's War of Independence, she served first as a medic in the underground Haganah defense forces, and then in the nascent IDF and the fledgling Israel Air Force. These volunteers from abroad were later recognized as part of the MACHAL volunteer corps.

The letters Zippy wrote to her parents and sister capture the historic events as they occurred. They are compiled in the book, Letters from Jerusalem, 1947-1948. You can order it from zip(at)netvision.net.il (Israel) or click here for review and order information

Jerusalem Palestine Air mail letter, 1947


January 19, 1948

Dearest Everybody,

Jerusalem's face was sad today. It isn't easy to accept the fact of death, and even harder when you know personally many of those who died. But thirty- five boys is heartbreaking, all young wonderful people.

I can imagine that the death of Moshe Pearlstein from New York, my friend Marsha's brother, must have created a wave of shock. The first American to be killed here. I went racing around madly last night, trying to catch Donovan of NBC, who covers the Palestine scene for the News Round-Up. Someone tipped me off that he expected to give the details and name names, and as far as I knew, the family had not yet been notified. It would have been awful for them to hear it that way. Finally, an Associated Press friend saw to it that the report was made with as much discretion as possible. The American group here is very grieved. Moshe was a great guy.

Oded was also among the dead. You remember I mentioned him in earlier letters. He was one of the first sabras [native Palestinian Jews] to befriend me. In fact, when I first arrived he took me on an excursion to that very area and hiked me over those hills to visit the kibbutzim in Gush Etzion so I would learn to love the land as he did. Just before he left for this assignment he came to say "hello" and we talked at length as always arguing in earnest about... Oh hell, what's the difference now?

Your daughter,


From† Zipporah Porath, Letters from Jerusalem, 1947-1948. Order it from zip(at)netvision.net.il (Israel) or click here for review and order information

Other letters from the book: Israel: This is my home - 1948; Palestine Partition - November 29, 1947 Palestine: Ben Yehuda Street Bombing


Letter copyright 1987 by Zipporah Porath. Introduction copyright 2008 by Zipporah Porath and Zionism-Israel.com. All rights reserved. This document may not be reproduced without express permission of the author and the publisher.

See also:Palestine Partition - November 29, 1947 Memoirs of a Palmach volunteer, 1948 , Was there Ethnic Cleansing in Palestine in 1948?
Israel - Birth of a Nation - The struggle for Israel's independence
1948 Israel War of Independence (First Arab-Israeli war) Timeline (Chronology) MACHAL In Israel's Wars MACHAL in Israel's War of Independence MACHAL - in illegal immigration to Palestine and Israel War of Independence

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