Tuesday, June 26, 2012

From Yad Mordechai to Beit El, written on June 26th

Forty years ago, between my freshman and sophomore year in university, I spent seven weeks in Israel on a summer tour. Those seven weeks were jam-packed with holy sites, museums, and nature preserves.  Parts I remember clearly but many were a blur once I returned to America. Now, after having lived in Israel for over a quarter of a century, I have revisited some of those blurry spots.
One of those is Yad Mordechai, a kibbutz near the Gaza Strip.
What I do remember from my visit in 1972 were metal silhouettes standing in a field to simulate the kibbutz defenders in the battle for survival in 1948. I also remember that it was very hot and that I was very tired and that the tour guide seemed to talk on and on and on. I probably would have never visited there again if my son had not been stationed in an army base nearby.
We arranged a visit to him on a lovely winter day two years ago. He was fairly certain that he would have free time in the afternoon so we packed a picnic lunch, a box of treats for him, and headed south. We made good time, arrived at his base earlier than we had planned, and enjoyed a nice walk along the beach. Then we waited to hear from our son.
Communication has come a long way in the last dozen years. If a soldier wanted to call home a generation ago he had to stand in line at the pay phone and hope his family would be around when he finally received his turn. Now, between cell phones and text messages, a soldier is just a press of a button away. However, that only works when the commanding officers let the soldiers use their phones.  On that winter day two years ago every call we made to our son was answered by his answering machine.
Not being a very patient person I was quite frustrated. My husband suggested that we use the time to sightsee in the area and I remembered Yad Mordechai. Many things were different from my visit years earlier. It was not too hot and I was not over tired. There was no tour guide to talk on and on and on. In fact, we did not see one human being at the historic site. Fortunately there were enough signs for us to understand how a tiny band of kibbutz farmers, many of them survivors of the Holocaust, were able to hold off the mighty Egyptian army for five days.
We also saw at the lookout point how close the Gaza Strip is. With sad hearts we remembered the thriving Jewish communities of Gush Katif. Without their buffer Yad Mordechai is once again a border settlement.
After our tour we still had not heard from our son and decided to give up. Listening to the news on our way home we understood why he had never called or answered his phone. Later that night, a call from him assured us that he was okay and we looked forward to seeing him the next time he got out for Shabbat.
Visiting our son had been a washout but we did have a nice outing. It inspired me to read the book I had taken from my uncle, The Six Days of Yad-Mordecai by M.Larkin. In 1963 the author, a non-Jewish woman, wrote a fascinating account of Yad Mordechai’s battle for survival. She gives a human face to each of the individuals who defended their kibbutz so valiantly. Although the kibbutz did fall into Egyptian hands the five days of battle made a big difference in the outcome of the war. And five months later Yad Mordechai was recaptured and the members came home. The kibbutz was rebuilt, flourished, and by 1960 had grown to almost three times the size it was. Where did Yad Mordechai get its land?
On page 256 M. Larkin wrote: As has happened all over Israel, the lands of the Arabs who left were taken over by the Jewish National Fund and leased to Jewish farmers.
Forty years ago, when I first visited Yad Mordechai, Jewish settlement was just beginning in the liberated lands of the Bible. Today, as I write, Jewish families are being evicted from their homes in the Ulpana neighborhood of Beit El. This is because their apartment buildings, built with permits and following government regulations, were built on barren land which recently became the focus of a land dispute. What has happened in the last fifty years? How did we go from letting the JNF take over abandoned Arab lands to evicting caring Jewish families who have done the same thing?
I have no answers to my questions but I do believe that the time will come soon when we will see hills of Judea and Samaria flourishing with Jewish homes that no one will object to. The Jewish settlements of Gush Katif will be rebuilt as Yad Mordechai was. Jews from all over the world will realize that they need to make their homes in the Land of Israel. And then, instead of fasting and praying for the rebuilding of the Holy Temple, in another twelve days we will have a day of joy and celebration.


Hadassa said...

Yad Mordechai had six days - K'far Darom had 222 days, before and during the War of Independence. Dr. Aryeh Yitzhaki, K'far Yam/Efrat, wrote a book detailing Kibbutz K'far Darom's initial founding by a Bnei Akiva group (one of the "11 Points of the Negev", the only one in the Gaza Strip) and unfortunately unsuccessful struggle for survival, "The 222 Days of K'far Darom".
A much quoted statement about the time, featured on the opening page of Dr. Yitzhaki's book, was made by Moshe Netzer, the Commander of the Second Palmach Platoon: "We knew that if K'far Darom couldn't endure, and the enemy reached Yad Mordechai, the Tel Aviv would be endangered. We valued the extreme resistance of this [kibbutz] that performed a difficult task. Only history will be able to accurately evaluate K'far Darom's contribution to our success in the War of Independence."
Then Yad Mordechai and the Palmach fought alongside K'far Darom and Bnei Akiva, literally: Palmach troops went eagerly to help defend K'far Darom.
Hadassa DeYoung, K'far Darom/Elon Moreh

Ester said...

That's very interesting. Thank you, Hadassa