Israel Sites – Castel – Har Meoz
Castel – Har Me’oz (Getting Israel Together)
Mount Castel rises to the height of 790 meters above sea level, and is situated beside the road to Jerusalem, 2 km. from the Kibbutz Kiryat Anavim and some 10 km. before Jerusalem. The source of the name is from the Roman period, when there was a fortress (castilium). In the Crusades period a road fortress was erected on the ruins of the Roman fortress. Later an Arab village perched on the hilltop, that commanded the main road to Jerusalem.
When it was captured by the “Hagana” in 1948, the road to the capital was opened. And this is the story of the battle that was fought there:
In March 1948 the war intensifies in the Castel – Zuba region. Mt. Castel is the vital area. The mountain and the village on it are in Arab hands. The “Hagana” forces hold the Zuba quarry to the south and the Motza and Arza at the foot of the hill to the east. On April 1st the Arabs attack the quarry and for two days a battle rages in the area. On the night of April 2-3 the “Palmach” force (a pioneers army unit within the “Hagana”) conquers the Castel. The mountain is handed over to a company from the “Moria” battalion. Local Arab forces launch counter-attacks, which continue for three consecutive days. The small force on the Castel becomes steadily weakened. On the evening of April 5th the enemy captures the entire Castel heights. With an intense effort a platoon is put together from the “Etzioni” brigade and goes up to the Castel as a reinforcement. It barely suffices to replace the fallen and wounded and take place of exhausted fighters.
The “Jihad Elmukaddas” command conducts the largest “Phazaa” (call to arms) in the war of independence. Thousand of armed villagers swarm to the battle area. On April 6th the Arab commence attacking the Castel. The assault goes on into the darkens and continues the following day. On April 7th. the Arab commander Abd Elkadir El Husseini arrives the Castel, to take personal command of the battle. On arriving he launches an attack. After a heavy barrage of fire the assault begins at 23.00. Towards 03.00 the Arabs captured several houses in the village and reach close to the command post. They are thrust back with grenades. At dawn Abd Elkadir and two of his men advance towards the “Etzioni” command post. They are discovered. A company sergeant major kills Abd Elkadir with a burst from a sub-machine gun. On the morning of April 8th, heavy fire is opened on the Castel from three directions. The Arabs believing that their commander has been taken prisoner, launch a massive assault in an attempt to release him. The defender’s situation is critical. A “Palmach” platoon is assembled and sets out to their aid. At 13.30 the Arabs conquer the southern part of the village. Simultaneously the reinforcement arrives. The advance party reaches the Castel command post. Now the position at the house of the “Mukhtar” (village head) falls. Some of the defenders fall back. The “Palmach” force covers the retreat of the infantry and then retreats itself. During the retreat the company commander and his deputy order: “The privates will retreat. The commanders will stay behind to give them cover”.
The Arabs do not exploit the success of their victory, most of them go to the Old City of Jerusalem to attend the funeral of their commander (Abd Elkadir Elhuseini).
Toward dawn on the 9th of April a company from the 4th “Palmach” battalion captures the Castel.
Today the Castel is a national site. The National Parks Authority, together with the committee for commemoration of the Castel Battles, prepared the site for visitors and constructed a model of the battles with signboards explaining the story.
In cooperation with the Jewish National Fund, an approach road and a carpark were laid out, and trees planted on the site.
Our gratitude to the Authority for Nature reserves and National Parks for their permission to use the text from their folder for our “Live” site.
The pictures by: Pinhas Baraq