September 27 1967
September 5 2007
Jewish Renewal in Gush Etzion
The Return to Gush Etzion
The events of the Six Day War led to the fulfillment of the dream of nineteen years. On the day of the liberation of the Western Wall and the Old City of Jerusalem, Israeli forces advanced southward along the Path of the Patriarchs toward the Etzion Bloc. They met no opposition after the Mar Elias monastery on the outskirts of Bethlehem. The Jordanian Army fled from the Judean Hills. The Jerusalem Brigade of the Israel Defense Forces entered the abandoned Jordanian army camp that had been constructed on the ruins of Kibbutz Kfar Etzion. Gush Etzion was liberated by the Israeli Army on June 7,1967.
The news of the liberation of Gush Etzion spread quickly among the survivors and children. Visits to the Etzion Bloc were organized soon thereafter. It was difficult to detect any tangible evidence of the labor of love which had been performed in the pioneering days prior to 1948. The destruction of the homes and uprooting of the trees by the Arabs had left almost no signs of the dedicated efforts of the original Jewish settlers. The large, lone oak tree which had been viewed from a distance was one of the only familiar objects.
Lone Oak Tree 1967
"I wanted to visit immediately, to be there at Gush Etzion but the area was still closed by the army. The whole Sabbath was spent reviewing the map of the area, learning every detail. On Sunday morning I began my journey back to the Etzion Bloc. The entrance was restricted to soldiers on duty. I was still a soldier in uniform and my duty was – to return home! Permission was granted to proceed.
We passed by the familiar sites which I had read about - Rachel's tomb, Bethlehem, King Solomon's Pools - and then began the steep climb in the beautiful hill country. Behold we had arrived at the entrance to Gush Etzion. The Russian hill on the left, the "lone tree" on the right and beyond Rocky Hill - Kfar Etzion! Where were the fruit trees, the homes, the cultural hall, the German monastery? Nothing remained. Everything had been destroyed.
I stood rooted to the ground. All that I knew about Kfar Etzion was racing through my mind. I had asked to visit and now found it impossible to leave as I looked about and tears of grief mingled with tears of joy."
Yohanan Ben Yaakov, A returning son, Kfar Etzion
The sons and daughters of Kfar Etzion requested permission from the Israeli government to return to their liberated home. The late prime minister, Levi Eshkol, was very moved by their plea but he nevertheless refrained from giving an immediate reply. Considerable pressure was exerted upon him by a strong lobby which enthusiastically supported the return to Gush Etzion. After carefully considering the political implications of settlement in the newly-gained territories, Prime Minister Eshkol gave his consent and blessing - "Children, you may return home".
With the granting of government approval, final preparations were hastily concluded. On September 27, 1967, the 22 of Elul, one week before the holiday of Rosh Hashana, the group was ready. Its members first visited the Military Cemetery in Jerusalem where the defenders of the Etzion Bloc had been buried after Israel's War of Independence. Appropriate prayers were recited by the children who pledged to continue the work of their fathers. A convoy of cars set out on its course to Gush Etzion. The same armored car which had evacuated the children in 1948, led the way past Rachel's Tomb and up through the Judean Hills.
Return to Gush Etzion 1967
The young settlers moved into the abandoned Jordanian army camp where they set up temporary living quarters. A provisional kitchen, dining hall and synagogue were established in the former barracks. The New Year was ushered in with prayers of thanksgiving and with a fervent plea for the success of this fourth attempt to settle Gush Etzion.
The holidays were joyously celebrated as many visitors came to express their solidarity with the returning sons and daughters.
In retrospect, this first period may be viewed as an endurance test which the returning sons and daughters were required to pass. Strong motivation led to success and gradually the abandoned Jordanian army camp was transformed into a kibbutz. Its economy was based both on agriculture and on industry. One of the earliest projects in which the members were engaged was the replanting of thousands of trees. The cultural and religious aspects of kibbutz life were also promoted. A field school, study-and-education center, was established. Nineteen years after its fall and destruction, Kfar Etzion was resurrected by the younger generation. The wedding celebrations and the sound of newborn babies strengthened the realization that Kfar Etzion was alive once again in the Judean Hills.
Replanting of trees
Additional members joined Kfar Etzion from Jewish communities throughout the world. Many had been brought up on the story of Gush Etzion. They felt privileged to become partners in the rebuilding of the kibbutz, for here was an unprecedented story, unique in Israeli society. In miniature form, it reminded the new settlers of the unparalleled covenantal relationship of the People of Israel to the Land of Israel - a relationship marked by relentless faith, painful exile and joyous return.
The children of Kfaer Etzion today
Based on material written by Ariyeh Ruttenburg and edited by Sandy Amichai, The Etzion Bloc in the Hills of Judea,Kfar Etzion: Kfar Etzion Field School, 1997
Kfar Etzion Field School
Kfar Etzion Visitors Center