Monday, May 1, 2017

In the Negev

Today is Yom Hazikaron, the State of Israel’s official day of remembering the men and women who gave their lives to build and protect the Jewish homeland.

All wars are tragic and dramatic, but the battles fought in 1948 were all the more so given the differing sizes of the two warring parties. The day after Israel declared its independence, seven Arab countries attacked. Israel, at that time, was a country of tiny settlements filled with people trying to bring the land back to life. This was particularly true in the south, where several communities were trying to develop the Negev Desert. Unfortunately, these villages, which were populated with new immigrants, many of whom had come from war-torn Europe, were in direct line of the Egyptian army’s march north.

The fate of Kibbutz Nitzanim is typical of what these settlements faced. Founded in 1943, it was an agricultural community built around an old mansion (known as “The Palace”) on land purchased by the Jewish National Fund. By 1947, Nitzanim’s population was less than 200 people. On May 15, 1948, it was included in Operation Tinok (Baby), which evacuated children from several southern settlements.

The battle of Nitzanim began on July 7, at midnight, with a bombardment by the Egyptian troops encamped to the east. The kibbutz was defended by 141 combatants, 74 of whom were from the Givati Brigade’s 53rd Battilion. Try as the defenders did, the Negev’s small isolated settlements were almost impossible to defend. By the end of one day, Nitzanim was controlled by the Egyptians and nearly a quarter of its defenders had been captured or killed.

After the war, Kibbutz Nitzanim was reestablished 4 kilometers south. The site of the battle, used as a youth village from 1949 - 1990, is now a memorial tourist attraction and includes The Women of Valor Center, honoring Israel’s lost female soldiers, 3 of whom perished at the Battle of Nitzanim.

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