Israel Sites and Places
Here you will find basic background information on over 20 sites and cities in Israel you may wish to visit or learn about.
Until the days of David and Solomon, “from Dan to Beersheba” was the customary designation for the entire area of the Land of Israel, Beersheba being regarded as the extreme southern point of the country.
According to the Bible, Abraham and Isaac dug wells at Beersheba and also formed alliances there with Abimelech, King of the Philistines. The origin of the name Beersheba is explained by the wells and by the seven ewes which Abraham set aside as a sign of the alliance (in Hebrew, be’er well; sheva, oath or seven).
After the Israelite conquest, Beersheba became a city of the tribe of Simeon and was later incorporated into the tribe of Judah. The biblical town of Beersheba is found at Tell al-Sab (Tell Beersheba), two and a half miles northeast of the new town, where remains from the Iron Age to the Roman period have been found in excavations.
Abandoned in the Arab period, Beersheba was not resettled again until 1900, when the Turkish government set up an administrative district in Southern Palestine and built an urban settlement in this purely nomadic region. In World War I, the town was the scene of many heavy losses to the British army; thus Beersheba has a British War Cemetery of about 1,300 graves. After the war, when its strategic role ended, Beersheba’s population dwindled and in 1931 the number of Jews had decreased to 11.
During the War of Independence in 1948, the invading Egyptian army made Beersheba its headquarters for the Negev. When the town was taken by Israel forces in the same year, it was totally abandoned by its inhabitants, but early in 1949 Jewish settlers, mostly new immigrants, began to settle it once more. From 1951 large new suburbs were built, extending mainly to the north and northwest, while to the east a large industrial area sprang up. By 1993 population was 122,000.
Today’s Beersheba is the capital of Israel’s Southern District, and a hub of communications linking up with the main roads and railroads. A pumping station of the Eilat-Haifa oil pipeline is located there, and its largest industries (ceramics, sanitary ware, chemicals, etc.) exploit Negev minerals. The city has several academic, scientific, and cultural institutions, among them the Negev Hospital, the Municipal Museum, the University of the Negev (now renamed Ben-Gurion University), and the Negev Institute for Arid Zone Research. In addition, Beersheba serves as a market center for the Negev Bedouin, a sight which delights tourists and brings back the flavor of the old nomadic town to a new and bustling city.
Entry reproduced with permission from “Junior Judaica, Encyclopedia Judaica for Youth” CD-ROM © C.D.I. Systems 1992 (LTD) and Keter.
Beersheva: Additional Material
The city of Beersheva is mentioned numerous times in the Bible, starting with Abraham, who is said to have dug wells and planted a tamarisk tree there. The site, however, was gradually abandoned after the First Temple period. During the British Mandate period, it served primarily as an administrative center for the Bedouin.
Since 1948, Beersheva has become one of Israel’s largest cities, with a population of over 200,000. Much of this growing population is made up of new immigrants, including many Ethiopian and Soviet Jews who have arrived in more recent years. While incorporating older buildings from the British Mandate era, most of Beersheva is brand new and comprises many decentralized neighborhoods, each with its own commercial center and public facilities.
The entire city as well as the surrounding areas, is served by Soroka Hospital, a large modern hospital, a Music Conservatory, a Municipal Theater company, the Sinfonietta Orchestra and other cultural institutions. Beersheva is also home to the Ben Gurion University of the Negev, which grants undergraduate and advanced degrees in a wide range of disciplines. Attached to the university is the unique Arid Zone Research Center which conducts studies on the desert and, in particular, on means of utilizing this large region productively. Finally, Beersheva has become a center for local industry connected mainly with desert mining operations, and for the shipment and marketing of agricultural produce from surrounding kibbutzim and moshavim.
By Pinchas Baraq © The Jewish Agency/WZO
Moshav on the southern Coastal Plain of Israel
In 1887, a group of First Aliyah newcomers from Bessarabia founded a moshava, which they named Quastina, after the neighboring Arab village.
Although supported by Baron Edmond de Rothschild, the moshava did not prosper due to lack of water, distance from other Jewish centers, attacks by neighboring Arab villagers and strained relations between the settlers and the Baron’s administration. The village was almost abandoned, but in 1896, the association of Hibbat Zion in Odessa purchased the land and new settlers came. Quastina became Be’er Toviyyah – an adaptation of the site’s Arabic name, “Bir Ta’abya.”
The moshava was practically destroyed during the 1929 Arab Riots and had to be abandoned. In 1930, it was founded anew as moshav. After water was discovered, Be’er Toviyyah became one of the most prosperous moshavim in the country.
After 1948, the moshav became the center of a densely settled farming area. In the early 1990’s, the population of Be’er Toviyyah numbered some 650. The moshav’s economy is mainly based on citrus and intensive farming.
Entry reproduced with permission from “Junior Judaica, Encyclopedia Judaica for Youth” CD-ROM © C.D.I. Systems 1992 (LTD) and Keter.
The Nahal Hermon Reserve (Banias)
A beautiful Nature Reserve and archeological site.
The Hermon River
The Banias springs begin at the foot of Mount Hermon where the water rushes with great force though a canyon-like channel, losing 190 meters in altitude over the course of 3.5 kilometers to form the Banias waterfall, one of the most beautiful in Israel. Nine kilometers further, the Hermon River meets the Dan River and the two flow into the Jordan River at an altitude of 80 meters above sea level. The drainage basin of Nahal Hermon covers an area of about 150 square kilometers. This includes the northern part of the Golan Heights and the mountainous area of Mt. Hermon inside Israel. Nahal Hermon’s principal tributaries are Nahal Sa’ar, Nahal Si’on and Nahal Govta. Nahal Hermon cuts through the lower western tip of Nimrod Fortress mountain range and races along a steep river bed. The Nahal Hermon canyon has rapids and waterfalls, the most elevated from a height of 10 meters. Nahal Hermon flows year-round and its annual rate of supply is approximately 125 million cubic meters of water. In the rainy winter months it is swollen by flood water from the mountain tributaries running into it.
The river bed is lined by varied and dense vegetation. Plane trees, willows and poplars grow along the waterline on both banks. There are also trees which were planted there intentionally, including fig, citrus, walnut, eucalyptus, matgosa date palm and mulberry trees. The vegetation found higher up is different. Kermes oak, terebinth, Mt. Tabor oak, storax, calycotome and laurel – trees typical of a Mediterranean scrub forest – can all be seen on the slopes. Seasonal plants and flowers found in the reserve are hyacinth & squill, (February – April). Every nook and cranny is filled with lush cliff vegetation. Navelworth, pellitory, ferns (including rock fern and scale fern), as well as ricotia and a variety of other spring flowers flourish there. In the fall, one finds the small-leaved pancartium, the crocus and the autumn crocus flower. Burweed grows in the pools.
Sometimes, rock hyrax can be found, lying on the piled-up rocks, and flocks of rock doves nest in depths of caves. You can occasionally spot Neumayer’s Rock Nuthatch, which flies from Mount Hermon, and black sweet-water snails (melanopsis praemorsa) lie on the floor of pools.
The ruined city was known as Dan or Mivzar Dan by the Jews (“the Fort of Dan”; a suggested identification with the biblical Beth-Rehov is uncertain). It stood over a cliff with a grotto dedicated to the Greek god Pan and the nymphs hence the name Panias (Banias being an Arabic corruption). In 198 B.C.E., Antiochus III conquered Palestine from the Ptolemies in victories near this location. Later, the city belonged to the Itureans, from whom it was transferred by Augustus to Herod, who named it Ceasarea in honor of Augustus and to whom he erected a temple there. In his “Wars of the Jews”, Josephus discusses Herod’s temple at Panias, “And when Ceasar had further bestowed upon him another additional country, he built there also a temple of white marble, hard by the fountains of Jordan…”. Philip the Tetrarch (Herod Phillipus), Herod’s son, developed the city, resided there, and struck coins with images of its buildings. It was generally known as Caesarea Phillippi, to distinguish it from the better-known Ceasarea-by-the-Sea, but the area continued to be known as Panias. It is mentioned in the New Testament as Caesarea Phillippi (Matt. 16:13; Mark 8:27). In 61 C.E., Agrippa II renamed it Neronias in honor of the emperor Nero, but it kept this name only until 68. In 70, Titus held games there to celebrate his victory and many Jewish captives were put to death. In the Talmud, Caesarea Phillippi is called Keissariyyon (Little Caesarea); the Mishnah also mentions the cave of Pamias, referring to the same place. A statue of Hadrian which stood there was regarded by the early Christians as representing Jesus healing a women. The Talmud refers to the Emperor Diocletian’s oppression of the people of Panias. In Roman-Byzantine times, Caesarea belonged to Phoenicia; its bishops took part in Church Councils from 325 to 451. In Crusader times, it was called Belinas and a strong castle (Qal’at al-Subayba) was erected above it. Since Banias was situated on the main road from Palestine to Damascus, it served as an administrative center to a district with the same name in the Middle Ages. During the 11th century, there was a relatively large Jewish community, whose members were called the Baniasites. They were frequently mentioned in *Geniza documents. A document of 1056 shows that the Banias community was well organized and had a **Bet Din.
Since Babylonian Jews had also settled in Banias, the community split into Palestinians and Babylonians, who differed in their version of prayers. These two sections existed through to the beginning of the 12th century. A Karaite pseudo-messiah is reported in 1102; however Benjamin of Tudela mentions no community in Banias in 1170 and it is possible that it had ceased to exist during the Crusades. Later, Banias was re-inhabited by Jews. Even during the early Ottoman period, Jews still lived at Banias, as attested by a document from 1624 which mentions the murder of a Jewish physician, by the name of Elijah ha-Kohen of Banias, by an Arab sheikh. From 1948 to 1967, Banias served the Syrians as a base for attacks on Kibbutz Dan. In June 1967, it was occupied by the Israel Defense Force.
*The Fustat (Old Cairo) archive with documents and scriptures from the Middle Ages.
**A Jewish religious court.
The Banias Cave
Long ago, the spring actually bubbled from the cave itself. The five niches hewn in the nearby cliff are the relics of a temple to the Greek god Pan. Inscriptions were carved to Echo, the mountain nymph; Diopan, the god who loved music; and Galerius, priest to Pan. The Banias cave is about 15 meters high and 20 meters wide and water sometimes collects on the floor. Outside the cave are the remains of a temple build by Herod.
The ancient bridge
Beyond the modern bridge under the Banias-Kiryat Shemona road, you reach an ancient bridge which arches over the junction of Nahal Govta and Nahal Hermon. This bridge was built during the Roman period from large chiseled stones. The interior is covered with travertine, chalky spring water deposits. Exquisite small stalactites of travertine hang from the roof.
A hydroelectric plant once provided electricity to the Banias Druze village.
The only water-powered flour mill still-operative in Israel. An aqueduct carries water from Nahal Hermon to the roof of the mill. From the edge of the aqueduct, the water drops down a stone “chimney” and, as it falls, it turns three driving wheels attached to millstones. Today, two of the wheels are still in use; the third, which was used to press olives, is no longer operational. The residents of Massadeh and Ein Kinia, nearby villages, grind their grain at Matruf Mill. A bakery was built alongside the mill, and the mother of the family who runs the mill demonstrates how she bakes large pita bread.
The destroyed flour mill
Originally a large mill, today the only remnants are the driving wheel chambers, the floor of the milling room, with the millstones and the waterfall “chimney” which powered it. On the remaining walls, you can see the extensive secondary use of large hewn stones and sections from Roman and crusader pillars.
Officers’ Pool (Ein Khilo)
Ein Khilo’s water is warmer than the Banias, so the Syrian officers who served in the area and wanted to bathe there built a concrete pool to catch the warm spring water. The bubbles rising from the pool floor indicate the origins of Ein Khilo.
Pinhas Baraq with permission, from the following sources: Banias Reserve leaflet.©
The Banias page of the site of the Nature Authority and National Parks.©
Additional background: “Banias” in the Encyclopedia Judaica Photographs 2-5 Pinhas Baraq © The Jewish Agency/WZO
Avdat (Getting Israel Together)
Reproduced from “Getting Israel Together”, 1986, © The Jewish Agency/WZO
During the period from the 4th century BCE to the 2nd century CE an empire was established in the Negev by a group of former nomads known as Nabateans. In their early stage, the Nabateans were shepherds, caravaneers and bandits. Later, however, they settled down in cities which stretched across the Negev and into Jordan, where they established the city of Petra.
One of their cities was Avdat, named for the Nabatean king who battled with Herod, in the 1st century BCE. In addition to serving as a caravan station along the spice route to southern Arabia, Avdat was an agricultural center – for the Nabateans developed techniques for farming the desert without the presence of local springs or rain! By channeling the water of flash floods and collecting soil, these former nomads managed to produce extensive crops in the barren wastes.
Ein means spring and Ein Avdat is a beautiful spring located in between the city of Avdat and Sede Boker. It is a beautiful, steep waterfall where one can find ibex at morning and evening hours.
The Background of the Clandestine Immigration:
Both before and after the Holocaust the British Mandate authorities limited the number of Jews that could come to Palestine. This was seen by the Jews both in the country and outside of it as directly inhibiting the fulfillment of the Zionist enterprise. Free aliyah was a central Zionist value both in theory and in practice. Therefore, the Yishuv struggled against this part of British policy (which was spelled out in a number of documents known as Therefore, the Yishuv struggled against this part of British policy (which was spelled out in a number of documents known as “White Papers”) actively and without ceasing.
In 1939 the British issued a “White Paper” that stipulated that His Majesty’s Government has decided to limit Jewish immigration to 75,000 in the coming 5 years. Between May and September 15,000 “illegals” arrived. As a result, British policy hardened.
During WW II the Jews, for the most part (the Hagana) ceased their struggle against the British and volunteered on the side of the Allies.
The illegal immigration continued during the war. One of the most poignant stories is that of the Sturma, a ship carrying mostly Rumanian refugees. Refused entry by a number of countries, and sent back out to deep water by the Turks, this ship sank in February, 1942, and most of its 770 passengers drowned .
After the War, the struggle continued against the British. On Oct. 10, 1945 the Palmach broke into the illegal immigrant detention camp at Atlit and freed its inhabitants in a bold operation. The Escape from Atlit Before the British established their policy to send most of the Jewish refugees to Cyprus, they often held them at detention camps in Palestine, included Atlit. As mentioned above, the attack here was made in response to British rejection of the call of the Anglo-American Committee to immediately allow 100,000 Jewish refugees into Palestine.
The plan was set and a number of Palmach soldiers were placed in the camp as Hebrew teachers and sports instructors.
At 01:00 on the Palmach entered the camp. Their entry was made with such stealth that many of the Jews who had been warned of the break had to be awaken. Yitzhak Rabin Z”l, acted as a company commander in the operation. (mem-peh )
There were three roadblocks placed to prevent British reinforcements from arriving. At one of them, a squad of three British policemen pul led up and began shooting. The result of the confrontation was classic: The Arab policeman was killed, the British pol iceman wounded, and the Jew — unscathed.
In any event, the population of the camp, just over 200 inhabitants, was freed and made their way up Nasal Oren near by, on their way to Beit HaOren. A convoy of Palmach trucks which was to serve as a decoy made a navigat ional error and drove right into a convoy of British soldiers. The British thus discovered quickly that the escapees were in K. Belt HaOren, and sent police and army to surround the kibbutz and prevent their continued escape.
Meanwhile, word of the escape reached the Jews of Haifa and the surrounding areas, and many of these came and surrounded the British circle. This caused enough confusion that the former prisoners were able to slip through and make their way on foot, largely through Nahal Yagur to Kibbutz Yagur, 5 kms away.
Again, the psychological and military success were tremendous. The Jews had had no casualties, and had only killed one policeman. The entire camp had been freed. The international press went the distance with the story of the plight of the Jewish survivors of the camps, so that the story was once again international front-page news.
A city in the southern coastal plain of Eretz Israel
Presently a modern industrial city and important seaport, Ashdod is also significant because of its rich past history. In fact, archaeological excavations have revealed 22 strata which testify to continuous settlement of Ashdod dating back to the 17th century b.c.e. Among these finds are Canaanite and Israelite fortifications, a musicians’ stand and a Hellenistic plant for extracting purple dye from murex, a purple shell. In the late Canaanite period, Ashdod served as an important harbor city as is shown by archaeological finds and references to its maritime trade in the archives of Ugarit.
According to biblical tradition, it was a town of the ancient Anakim (“giants”). After its conquest by the Philistines, it became one of their five chief cities and they erected there a temple dedicated to the god Dagon. Uzziah, king of Judah, breached the fortifications of the town and built in the area. In 734 b.c.e. the city surrendered to Assyria and in 712 b.c.e. Ashdod became the capital of an Assyrian province.
Although the city was situated on the via maris, the trade route near the sea, it was not directly on the coast but possessed an ancient port which was called Ashdod Yam (“Ashdod-on-the-Sea”). With the decline of Assyrian power, Egypt conquered the city after a siege of 29 years. In the sixth and fifth centuries b.c.e., Ashdod was the Philistine capital, so that in the days of Nehemiah, an “Ashdodite” was synonymous with a “Philistine.” Nehemiah fought against Ashdod’s influence which extended as far as Jerusalem.
The town continued to be a district capital in the Hellenistic period when it was known as Azotus and it served as a Greek stronghold down to the days of the Hasmoneans. Its suburbs were burnt by Jonathan and the city was captured by John Hyrcanus. Ashdod then remained in Hasmonean hands until its conquest by Rome, and later changed hands numerous times, eventually becoming the property of Herod I, who gave it to his sister Salome; she bequeathed it to Livia, the wife of Augustus Caesar, from whom it was inherited by the emperor Tiberius. From the time of the Hasmoneans until the second century c.e. Ashdod appears to have been a Jewish town. Moreover, the discovery of a synagogue at Ashdod-on-the-Sea with a Greco-Jewish inscription gives further evidence of a Jewish community there in the sixth century c.e.
Entry reproduced with permission from
“Junior Judaica, Encyclopedia Judaica for Youth” CD-ROM
© C.D.I. Systems 1992 (LTD) and Keter.
The Desert (Getting Israel Together)
Reproduced from “Getting Israel Together”, 1986, © The Jewish Agency/WZO
“The State, the nation, the youth, the men of science now confront the supreme test in the history of our progress toward independence and the renewal of our sovereignty. Only through a united effort by the State in planning and execution, by a people ready for a great voluntary effort, by a youth bold in spirit and inspired by a creative heroism, by scientists liberated from the bonds of conventional thought and capable of probing deep into the special problems of this country, shall we succeed in carrying out the great and momentous task of developing the south and the Negev.
Since the 1950’s, close to 20 kibbutzim and moshavim (as well as an industrial center) have been established for the purpose of farming the Negev. But it hasnt been easy. Agriculture needs land (fertile if possible), water, sun, and a number of other factors (drainage, minerals, suitable crops).
In the desert there is limited amounts of land suitable for farming and there is constant erosion of that which is available by wind and flooding. In order to create new farmland for the settlers evacuated from Sinai as a result of the Peace Treaty with Egypt, the Jewish National Fund has conducted large-scale land reclamation in the northern Negev, by means of flood control and massive landscaping. The lessons of this project may now be applied to other regions of the Negev, just as the use of drip irrigation and hot houses which was developed in the Negev (in order to maximize the use of water) has spread throughout the country – and even to Jordan!
Agriculture and industry also require large amounts of water. Even more critical is the need for cheap energy, in order to make mining the earth’s riches cost effective. Three directions are being followed today regarding energy:
- The search for natural gas and petroleum
- Research and development of solar power
- The Mediterranean – Dead Sea Canal, first envisioned by Herzl.
Despite the hardships there has been development in the Negev and the Arave valley. Yotvata, the oldest Arava settlement, has a dairy that’s become famous throughout Israel. Immigrants from English speaking countries are well-represented in the Arava: Kibbutz Ketura was founded by members of HaShachar-Young Judea, and Kibbutz Yahel is affiliated with the American Reform Movement. They face a great challenge, not only in their attempt to make the desert bloom, but also in adjusting to desert life in small, relatively isolated communities, and in a difficult natural environment. It really is a heroic undertaking.
The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the
desert shall rejoice and blossom;
Like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice
with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of
Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the Lord,
the majesty of our God….
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears
of the deaf unstopped;
Then shall the lame man leap like a hart, and the
tongue of the dumb sing for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and
streams in the desert;
The burning sand shall become springs of water; The
haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall
become reeds and rushes.
And a highway shall be there,
and it shall be called ‘the holy Way”….
No lion shall be there,
nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
They shall not be found there,
but the redeemed shall walk there.
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to
Zion with singing;
Everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain joy and gladness,
And sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
Thoughts to Ponder….
The desert seems to have always exerted a deep influence on the feelings and senses of man. What is it that makes us so meditative in the desert?
Is it the great expanse? Is it the loneliness and quiet?
As far back as prehistoric times the desert was apparently a holy area – as it was for Moses and the people of Israel, for the Sectarians at Qumran, for the Byzantine monastics.
Is this because of the seeming purity of the desert? Is there something inherently mystical or spiritual about the desert?
The remains of a Crusader breakwater and the massive Ottoman seawalls still protect the ancient city of Acre from the ocean rollers of the Mediterranean.
Acre is situated 14 miles north of Haifa and is built on the Bay of Haifa. Its geographic position has caused it to be occupied by every army waging campaigns in Syria and Erez Israel. During the conquest of Canaan under Joshua, Acre was in the territory of the tribe of Asher who could not conquer it, and it therefore remained an independent Phoenician city. When conquered by the Persians, Acre served as an important military and naval base in their campaigns against Egypt. It had its own coinage: gold and silver coins were minted there in 332 b.c.e. When an association of citizens loyal to the Greek tyrant Antiochus was living there, the city became hostile to the neighboring Jews in Galilee. In 164 b.c.e. Simeon the Hasmonean had to beat off its attacks, and his brother Jonathan was treacherously taken prisoner there in 143 b.c.e.
In the Middle Ages Jewish scholars arrived in Israel through the port at Acre and some settled in the town. In 1211, 300 rabbis from France and England arrived, and in 1260 Rabbi Jehiel ben Joseph of Paris remained in the town together with his son and 300 pupils, and promptly founded a yeshivah. Scholars of Israel and Babylon addressed their questions to the “scholars of Acre.” The town became a center of study and attracted many scholars, such as Rabbi Abraham Abulafia and N|ahmanides. In time the community dwindled but was revived again in the 18th century. It became a political and military center strong enough to resist Napoleon’s advance in 1799, and cause the collapse of his Middle Eastern expeditions.
During the British Mandate, a fortress in the town served as a prison where members of the Haganah including Moshe Dayan, as well as Vladimir Jabotinsky, were imprisoned.
Today Acre has been rebuilt as a modern industrial center with some 40,000 residents, but still contains an Old City with remains from the Ottoman period (I516–1918) which include the double wall of the city, the citadel, and a beautiful mosque still used by Acre’s Arab population.
Entry reproduced with permission from “Junior Judaica, Encyclopedia Judaica for Youth” CD-ROM © C.D.I. Systems 1992 (LTD) and Keter.
Acco (Getting Israel Together)
Acco is a pleasant coastal town, less than an hour’s drive from Haifa. It is a city of contrasts; it has an old city and a new city, a long and rich history, and a mixed Arab and Jewish population.
Looming over large sections of the town is a great Crusader fortress, its presence threatening and forbidding in the evening light. Even today, the fortress, nearly a thousand years old, has something of the gloom of a prison. This is quite understandable, for just 40 years ago, it was a prison. Indeed, it served as one of the main bases for the British during their attempt to break the will of Jewish groups who fought them with armed struggle.
In this fortress, the British imprisoned people suspected of anti-British activities. Into its tiny cells the detainees were crammed – 20, 25, 30 to a cell. They slept on floors covered with flimsy rags to keep out the cold. Acco jail soon became a by-word for all that was hated in British rule of Palestine – especially when the British started executing Jewish captives. Today, you can still see the gallows where the British hung Jews convicted of terrorist activity. The first hanging took place in March, 1942. In all, 12 members of Etzel and Lechi were hung.
Dov Gruner was one of the men hung on April 16, 1947. In a letter to Menachem Begin he wrote:
“Of course I want to live. Who does not? But if I am sorry I’m about to “finish” it is mainly because I did not manage to do enough. I too could have let the future fend for itself – taken the job I was promised or left the country and lived securely in America. But that would not have given me satisfaction as a Jew and certainly not as a Zionist….That should be the way of the Jewish people in these days, to stand up for what is ours and be ready for battle even if in some instances it leads to the gallows. I write these lines 48 hours before the time fixed by our oppressors to carry out their murder and at such moments one does not lie. I swear that if I had the choice of starting again I would choose the same road, regardless of the possible consequences to me.”
The ‘underground’ responded quickly. On May 4, 1947, the Etzel staged its most daring operation. Its members attacked the seemingly impregnable fortress at Acco, and organized a prisoner escape. Some 20 Jews succeeded in escaping. Although the British carried out immediate reprisals, the escape caused a tremendous loss of face.
The raid on the Acco prison was a large and complex operation. Menachem Begin, the leader of the Etzel and subsequent Prime Minister of Israel, remembered it this way:The ‘underground’ responded quickly. On May 4, 1947, the Etzel staged its most daring operation. Its members attacked the seemingly impregnable fortress at Acco, and organized a prisoner escape. Some 20 Jews succeeded in escaping. Although the British carried out immediate reprisals, the escape caused a tremendous loss of face. The raid on the Acco prison was a large and complex operation. Menachem Begin, the leader of the Etzel and subsequent Prime Minister of Israel, remembered it this way:
“Acco was not just a town inhabited only by Arabs. It was surrounded by a ring of military camps. Our commando unit was not operating behind the enemy line. It was right in amongst the enemy lines. And the attack could not succeed unless the enemy were prevented from bringing reinforcements, and unless the line of withdrawal for the attackers was kept open. The operation had been planned in great detail and was carried out precisely. One unit rained down mortar sheds on the nearby army camp – at once a diversionary and a preventive action. Other units planted mines.”
Hours had been spent going over the ground. Many eyes had ‘reconnoitered’ the terrain before the 4th of May. Sometimes they appeared to be ‘Arab’ eyes, sometimes ‘British.’ But always they were eyes of our fighters. Thanks to this very thorough reconnaissance, a second ring was built inside the ring: inside the belt of army camps was fashioned a ring of Etzel security posts. Thus Acco was surrounded.
Now the main force turned towards the fortress. Built by the Crusaders, restored by the Turks, it had withstood the artillery of Napoleon Bonaparte. Now our men had come to break the walls open and to bring freedom to their prisoners.
Behind the walls the prisoners waited impatiently. They had a quantity of explosives introduced into the prison by the underground in various ways. There was not much of it, but sufficient to blow up, from within, the heavy iron bars separating the long dark corridor from the assault group who had pierced the wall outside.
The really decisive explosion, however, was effected outside the fortress. The walls of rock, which had remained unbreachable through the centuries, submitted finally to the assaults of our unit. There were more than one hundred and fifty armed police guarding the fortress, apart from the indirect defense provided by the police post close by and the military camps in the neighborhood. The high towers of the fortress were manned by guards, armed with machine guns and rifles, to whose fire the attackers were fully exposed. The attack was carried out by daylight, for the liberated prisoners had to be brought to safety before the hour of the night of the curfew on the roads.”
A struggle developed and three prisoners were taken. Before their execution one of them, Avshalom Haviv, made this statement to his captors:
“You tyrants will never understand the spirit of Lechi men going to their death, with a song springing from their hearts. And this too you will probably never understand. l, a young Jew, facing the sentence of death, lift my heart to my God and give praise and thanks for the privilege of suffering for my people and my country and say, with all my heart: Blessed art Thou, 0 Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has kept us alive and maintained us and enabled us to reach this time.”
It was this spirit that finally caused the British to raise their hands in defeat. Even before the raid on Acco jail, the British were having trouble controlling the situation in Palestine. They returned the mandate they had received to the United Nations, but continued their administration of Palestine until an alternate arrangement could be made. The attack on the Acco jail emphasized their inability to deal with the situation and was a further blow to British prestige. In addition, the members of the Jewish Yishuv – even the majority who condemned violence against the British – wanted the British out. They wanted independence.
Three weeks after the Acco jail escape, the United Nations began to debate the future of Palestine. The discussions lasted several months. In November 1947, it was decided that Palestine should be partitioned into two states: one Arab and one Jewish. Although the plan envisioned a very small Jewish state which would exclude the entire Western Galilee from Haifa northwards, the Jews accepted the plan. It was, after all, something! And it provided Jews sovereignty in Israel for the first time in two thousand years.
The Partition Plan was rejected and the result was the War of Independence.
The Etzel (Irgun Tzvai Leumi ), was organized in 1937 by people who wanted to take an active policy against Arab attacks. In 1939 with the publication of the British White Papers (which severely limited Jewish immigration to Palestine), the Etzel started to operate directly against the British. With the outbreak of the Second World War, this activity was temporarily suspended. However, in 1944, anti – British activities were renewed, and continued until independence.
Lechi (Lochamei Herut Yisrael – Fighters for the Freedom of Israel) split from the Etzel in 1940, when they decided to suspend operations against the British for the duration of the war. The Lechi was a small group of only a few hundred members, but it carried out operations including the assassination of political figures whom it considered as jeopardizing the Jewish cause.