Historic Gush Etzion is deep in my heart. My army service in the IDF Engineering Corps brought me there after the Six Day War just as Kfar Etzion was being re-established. It gave me the feeling that I was participating in a chapter of History.
History of Gush Etzion
In 1927, a group of religious Yemenite Jews founded an agricultural village they named Migdal Eder. Migdal Eder (tower of flocks) is mentioned in the biblical book of Genesis 35:21 as near Bethlehem.Two years later, during the 1929 Palestine riots and recurring hostilities, Migdal Eder was attacked and destroyed. The first attempt was in 1927, but harsh physical conditions forced the settlers to abandon the settlement they had established southwest of Bethlehem. Scholars interpret Micah 4:8 as a prophesy indicating that the Messiah would be revealed from the “tower of the flock” (Migdal Eder). The Mishnah Shekallim state. ‘Flocks found all the way from Jerusalem to Migdal Eder, and in the same vicinity in all directions, are considered, if male, as whole-offerings, and if female as peace-offerings. R. Jehudah”. Some Christian scholars claim that Jesus was the “lamb” born in Migdal Eder.
Shmuel Yosef Holtzman
In 1932, a Jewish businessman of German extraction, Shmuel Yosef Holtzmann, provided financial backing for the second attempt attempt at resettling the area, through a company named El HaHar (“To the Mountain”) in 1935, and established the village of Kfar Etzion, named after Holtzmann (Holtz=tree=etz). The 1936–1939 Arab revolt made life intolerable for the residents, who returned to Jerusalem in 1937.
The third attempt was in 1943, after the JNF purchased Holzman’s property, different groups established four settlements, the rebirth of Kfar Etzion – a religious kibbutz, and the new kibbutzim Masuot Yitzchak (a religious kibbutz), Ein Tzurim (a religious kibbutz), and Revadim (HaShomer HaTzair). This location was excellent for intercepting Arab military traffic between Hebron and Jerusalem, so the Haganah and Palmach sent troops and supplies to do just that in the last days of the British Mandate. Known as the southern gateway to Jerusalem, this strategic area comprises the block of communities that defended the southern approach to Jerusalem against the invading armies in the 1948 Israel War of Independence.
On May 13, 1948, one day before the Israeli Declaration of Independence, all four settlements were totally destroyed. The Arabs massacred the entire population of Kfar Etzion, murdering 240 men and women, with another 260 being taken into captivity.The three other kibbutzim surrendered. All four settlements remained empty during the Jordanian occupation until the Six Day War in 1967.
Resettlement after the Six Day War
The orphans and survivors of the Kfar Etzion Massacre returned to re-establish the kibbutz. As it is said: “And there is hope for your future; your children shall return to their country” (Jerusalem. 31:17). There are 12 settlements in what is commonly known as the Gush Etzion bloc: Har Gilo,Neve Daniel, Keidar, Rosh Tzurim, El’azar,Migdal Oz, Alon Shvut, Kfar Etzion, Bat Ayin, Gva’ot, Beitar Illit, and Efrata.
Gush Etzion on Israeli Stamps
See: Gush Etzion Tourism