Gush Etzion

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Gush Etzion in the 2018 OCHA OpT map, showing both the modern definition and the area of the original 1943-48 settlements
Beitar Illit, the largest city in Gush Etzion, was founded in 1985

Gush Etzion (Hebrew: גּוּשׁ עֶצְיוֹן, lit. Etzion Bloc) is a cluster of Israeli settlements located in the Judaean Mountains, directly south of Jerusalem and Bethlehem in the West Bank. The core group includes four Jewish agricultural villages that were founded in 1943–1947, and destroyed by the Arab Legion before the outbreak of the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, in the Kfar Etzion massacre.[1] The area was left outside of Israel with the 1949 armistice lines. These settlements were rebuilt after the 1967 Six-Day War, along with new communities that have expanded the area of the Etzion Bloc.[2] As of 2011, Gush Etzion consisted of 22 settlements with a population of 70,000.[3]

The international community considers Israeli settlements in the West Bank illegal under international law,[4] but the Israeli[5] and US governments[6] dispute this.


The four kibbutzes of the Gush Etzion at the time of the 1948 war (Kfar Etzion, Ein Zurim, Massuot Yitzhak, Revadim) overlaid on a 1943 Survey of Palestine map. The land area is shown as being within the village boundaries of Khirbet Beit Zakariyyah.
1943 Survey of Palestine map, shortly prior to the re-founding of Jewish settlements in the area. “Kefar Etsyon” is shown as abandoned (top left), referring to the 1935-37 failed settlement. No other Jewish settlements are shown in the area.

The four core original settlements of Gush Etzion were Kfar Etzion (founded in 1943), Massu'ot Yitzhak (1945), Ein Tzurim (1946) and Revadim (1947); the land area of all four were located within the village boundaries of Khirbet Beit Zakariyyah.[7] From November 29, 1947, Kfar Etzion was under siege and cut off from Jerusalem. On May 13, 1948, when the village surrendered, 127 Jewish inhabitants were massacred by local village irregulars, with the possible involvement of the Arab Legion.[8][9] The other villages surrendered the next day. The inhabitants were taken prisoner and the homes were plundered and burned.[10]

The establishment, defense and fall of Gush Etzion have been described as "one of the major episodes of the State of Israel-in-the-making", playing a significant role in Israeli collective memory.[11] The motivation for resettling the region is not so much ideological, political or security-related as symbolic, linked in the Israeli psyche to the massive loss of life (1% of its total population) in the 1947–1949 Palestine war.[12]

Settlements in Mandatory Palestine

Revadim, December 1947
Kibbutz Masu'ot Yitzhak, May 1947

In 1927, a group of religious Yemenite Jews founded an agricultural village they named Migdal Eder (Hebrew: מִגְדַּל עֵדֶר), based on a biblical quotation (Genesis 35:21).[13] The land had been purchased in 1925 by Zikhron David, a private Jewish land holding company[14] at a site between Bethlehem and Hebron that fell between the zones of influence of the local Arab clans. This early community did not flourish, mainly due to economic hardships and escalating tension with neighboring Arab communities. Two years later, during the 1929 Palestine riots and recurring hostilities, Migdal Eder was attacked and destroyed. Residents of the neighboring Palestinian village of Beit Ummar sheltered the farmers, but they could not return to their land.[15]

In 1932, a Jewish businessman of German extraction, Shmuel Yosef Holtzmann, provided financial backing for another attempt at resettling the area, through a company named El HaHar ("To the Mountain").[16] The kibbutz established there in 1935 was named Kfar Etzion, in his honor (the German word Holz means "wood", which is etz עץ in Hebrew).[17] The 1936–1939 Arab revolt made life intolerable for the residents, who returned to Jerusalem in 1937. The Jewish National Fund organized a third attempt at settlement in 1943 with the refounding of Kfar Etzion by members of a religious group called Kvutzat Avraham. Despite the rocky soil, shortage of potable water, harsh winters, and constant threat of attack, this group managed to succeed.

Their isolation was somewhat relieved by the establishment in 1945 of Masu'ot Yitzhak and Ein Tzurim, populated by members of the religious Bnei Akiva movement and Religious Kibbutz Movement. Against the backdrop of an impending struggle for Israeli independence, the secular Hashomer Hatzair movement founded a fourth kibbutz, Revadim. A religious center, Neve Ovadia, was also founded by the bloc's members. By the start of the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, the Etzion bloc numbered 450 residents and stretched over an area of 20,000 dunams (20 km2).[17]

Civil war and Arab–Israeli War

Jewish prisoners in Jordan, after the fall of Gush Etzion, May 1948

On November 29, 1947, the United Nations approved the Partition Plan. The bloc fell within the area allotted to a proposed Arab state. The Haganah command decided not to leave the bloc. Arab hostilities began almost immediately, and travel to Jerusalem became exceedingly difficult. For five months the bloc was besieged, first by Arab irregulars, and then by the Jordanian Arab Legion. Throughout the winter hostilities intensified and several relief convoys from the Haganah in Jerusalem were destroyed in ambushes. For 47 days the armed conflict was intense.[18] In January, the women and children were evacuated with British assistance. An emergency reinforcement convoy put together by the Haganah and attempting to get to Gush Etzion under cover of darkness was discovered; all 35 members were massacred. Despite some resupply flights by Piper Cubs out of Tel Aviv landing onto an improvised airfield, adequate supplies were not getting in.[19]

On March 27, land communication with the Yishuv was severed completely when the Nabi Daniel Convoy was ambushed on its return journey to Jerusalem. In the following months, Arab irregular forces continued small-scale attacks against the bloc, which the Haganah was able to effectively withstand.[citation needed] At times, the Haganah forces, commanded by Uzi Narkiss, ambushed Arab military convoys—and, according to Morris, also Arab civilian traffic and British military convoys[20]—on the road between Jerusalem and Hebron. The defenders of Gush Etzion and the central command in Jerusalem mulled evacuation, but, although they had very few arms, a decision was made to hold out due to their strategic location as the only Jewish-held position on Jerusalem's southern approach from Hebron.[21]

Gush Etzion massacre

On May 12, the commander of Kfar Etzion requested from the Central Command in Jerusalem permission to evacuate the kibbutz, but was told to stay. Later in the day, the Arabs captured the Russian Orthodox monastery, which the Haganah used as a perimeter fortress for the Kfar Etzion area, killing twenty-four of its thirty-two defenders. On May 13, a massive attack began, involving parts of two Arab Legion infantry companies, light artillery[20] and local irregular support, attacking from four directions. The kibbutz fell within a day; the Arab forces massacred 127 of the 133 surrendering defenders. The total number of dead during the final assault, including those killed in the massacre and those who committed suicide, was estimated to be between 75 and 250. Only three men and one woman survived.[21] The following day, the day Israel declared its independence, the three other kibbutzim surrendered. The Arab Legion took 320 persons as prisoners of war and held them in Jordan for a year before releasing them.[22][23]

Interim period (1949–1967)

"The lone oak", one of Gush Etzion's symbols

In May 1948, the women and children evacuated from the bloc before the battle were taken to the Ratisbonne Monastery in Jerusalem. In June 1948, when the road to Jerusalem was opened, they were moved to Petah Tikva for two months. The refugees lived at the Netzah Yisrael school until the school year began,[24] later resettling in Giv'at Aliyah, a neighborhood in Jaffa organized like a kibbutz.[25]

Four years later, the returning prisoners of war of the bloc founded Nir Etzion in the Mount Carmel area near Haifa. Nir Etzion sought to accept the majority of the bloc's children into it, but despite wishing to unite in a new place of residence, the issue of joining Nir Etzion was a matter of debate among the children, many of whom joined the Nahal military unit. The survivors of Masu'ot Yitzhak, Ein Tzurim, and Revadim founded their communities anew in Israel proper.[26]

The interim period saw the rise of two movements designed to commemorate the fall of Gush Etzion, through songs, poetry, prose and cultural activities.[26] Both the land of the bloc, and the events that transpired there in the war of 1948, became sacred to the descendants of the original participants. Some compared the story of the yearning to return to the bloc to the story of the Jews yearning to return to the Land of Israel.[27] For 19 years, some survivors would gather on the Israel–Jordan frontier and gaze at the giant oak tree there in remembrance of what was. This became an annual gathering following the Independence Day ceremony (independence day was one day after the bloc had fallen). Poems and stories were written that humanized the lone tree. This was criticized by the novelist Haim Be'er, who called the bloc's settlement movements a "fervent cult" and compared them to the Canaanites.[27]


Alon Shvut winery
Bridge and tunnel on Highway 60, leading from Jerusalem to Gush Etzion

As a result of the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel controlled the area of the former Etzion Bloc. A loose organisation of Bnei Akiva activists, who later coalesced into Gush Emunim, led by Hanan Porat, whose parents had been evacuated, petitioned Israeli prime minister Levi Eshkol to allow the reestablishment of Kfar Etzion.[28] Among the supporters were Ra'anan Weitz, head of the settlement department in the Jewish Agency; minister of internal affairs Haim-Moshe Shapira; and Michael Hazani of the national religious movement. Supporters of the Allon Plan in the government were also in favor of settling the bloc. Eshkol was finally persuaded to give a green light to the plan. He was not decisive however, and the settlement movement did not immediately begin to build in the entire bloc, but only on the location of Kfar Etzion. Construction began in September, 1967. Since the government initially decided not to establish civilian settlements in the captured territories, the settlement was falsely portrayed as a Nahal outpost.[29] According to Ra'anan Weitz's plan, Kfar Etzion was meant to be one of three settlements in the new bloc, which also included Aviezer. A new middle village would be established on Jewish National Fund land purchased in the 1940s.[30]

Weitz' plan of creating a line of settlements based on territorial continuity, however, had a number of opponents: the descendants of the original residents of the bloc, the settlers on the ground, the Religious Kibbutz Movement, and the Israel Defense Forces. The IDF surveyed the land and decided that, "Kfar Etzion B should be founded near the existing Kfar Etzion, and not near the former Green Line". This eventually was supported by defense minister Moshe Dayan, who envisioned five settlement points in the West Bank, one of them being the Etzion bloc. On September 30, 1968, the government gave permission to create a regional center and Hesder Yeshiva in Kfar Etzion, a major demand of the settlers and the final departure from the continuity plan.[31]

In the same decision, the government appointed a committee for planning the settlement of the bloc. In accordance with the committee's recommendations, Revadim and the settlement of Rosh Tzurim were founded on the former site of Ein Tzurim in July 1969, and Alon Shvut in June 1970.[31] Many other settlements and two municipalities (Efrat and Beitar Illit) have been founded in the area of the historic Etzion bloc, and its name was taken for the greater Gush Etzion Regional Council.

Today there is a museum about the history of Gush Etzion.[32]


Here is a list of communities in modern Gush Etzion.

Name Founded Population
(EOY 2008)[33]
Alon Shvut 1970 3,400 Community settlement
Bat Ayin 1989 900 Community settlement
Beitar Illit 1985 38,800 Independent municipality[34]
Efrat 1983 8,300 Independent municipality[34]
Elazar 1975 1,706 Community settlement
Karmei Tzur 1984 700 Community settlement
Kedar 1984 960 Community settlement
Kfar Eldad 1994 120 Community settlement
Kfar Etzion 1967 820 Kibbutz
Gevaot 1984 75 Community settlement
Har Gilo 1968 570 Community settlement
Ibei HaNahal 1999 50 Outpost
Ma'ale Amos 1982 270 Community settlement
Ma'ale Rehav'am 2001 40 Outpost
Metzad 1984 380 Community settlement
Migdal Oz 1977 440 Kibbutz
Neve Daniel 1982 1,883 Community settlement
Nokdim 1982 1,300 Community settlement
Pnei Kedem 2000 100 Outpost
Rosh Tzurim 1969 560 Kibbutz
Sde Boaz 2002 90 Outpost
Tekoa 1975 1,600 Community settlement

Gush Etzion Junction

The entrance to the Gush Etzion bloc is the Gush Etzion Junction, which is located just west of the intersection of Route 60 and Route 367. The junction is located between Efrat and Alon Shvut and very close to Migdal Oz. It is the site of the Gush Etzion visitors' center,[35] a gas station,[35] an automotive repair shop, a Rami Levy discount supermarket,[36] an electronics store, the Gush Etzion Winery (one minute towards Alon Shvut on the north side of the road),[37][38] a bakery, natural foods store, eyeglass shop, clothing store and pizza / felafel / shawarma stands. Across the street are a nursery and car dealership. The junction is a popular hitchhiking post, both south to Hebron / Be'er Sheva and north to Jerusalem, as well as west towards Bet Shemesh and the coast) which has frequently been the site of attacks by Palestinians against Israeli citizens.[39]

2014 "State land" classifications

2014 Declarations of "State Land" in Gush Etzion settlement bloc[40]

On 6 April and 25 August 2014, the Israeli Civil Administration declared 1,000 and 3,799 dunums of land respectively in the Bethlehem Governorate within the boundaries of Surif, Nahalin, Husan, Jab'a and Wadi Fukin villages as "state land".[40] According to Peace Now, it was the largest confiscation of Palestinian land in three decades.[41]

The United States responded to the announcement by rebuking Israel for taking measures that were 'counter-productive' to the two-state solution in peace talks.[42] The expropriation was also condemned by the United Nations, the United Kingdom[43] Egypt, France,[44] Spain,[45] Russia,[46] European Union, Turkey, Norway, Japan[47] and Amnesty International.[48]

As of September 2014, eight years after approving the 45 km stretch of barrier enclosing Gush Etzion, no progress had been made on it. The reclassified land would be on the Palestinian side of the barrier.[49] On 21 September 2014, the government voted to not reauthorize the barrier in the Gush Etzion area.[50]

See also


  1. ^ Between Jerusalem and Hebron: Jewish Settlement in the Pre-State Period, Yossi Katz, Bar Ilan University Press, pp. 8, 265.
  2. ^ * "An Overview of the Expansions in the Etzion Settlement Block". POICA. December 1, 2000. Archived from the original on July 28, 2012. Retrieved 2009-10-10.
    • Report of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People. By United Nations Publications, United Nations. Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, United Nations. General Assembly. United Nations Publications, 2003, ISBN 92-1-810275-3, p. 9.
    • Muna Hamzeh (2001). Refugees in Our Own Land: Chronicles from a Palestinian Refugee Camp in Bethlehem, Pluto Press, ISBN 0-7453-1652-2, p. 9.
    • SAIS Review by Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. Published by the School of Advanced International Studies of the Johns Hopkins University, 1985, p. 238.
    • Robert I. Friedman (1992). Zealots for Zion: inside Israel's West Bank settlement movement. Random House, ISBN 0-394-58053-2, p. xxv.
    • William W. Harris (1980). Taking Root: Israeli Settlement in the West Bank, the Golan, and Gaza-Sinai, 1967–1980. Research Studies Press, p. 53.
  3. ^ West Bank settlers shrug off Obama call Archived 2015-07-05 at the Wayback Machine Khaleej Times
  4. ^ "The Geneva Convention". BBC News. 10 December 2009. Retrieved 27 November 2010.
  5. ^ Retrieved 2019-12-03. {{cite web}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  6. ^ "Jewish settlements no longer illegal - US". 2019-11-18. Retrieved 2019-12-03.
  7. ^ Gorenberg (2007), p. 19
  8. ^ Hughes, Matthew (November 2019). "The Conduct of Operations: Glubb Pasha, the Arab Legion, and the First Arab–Israeli War, 1948–49". War in History. 26 (4): 539–562. doi:10.1177/0968344517725541. ISSN 0968-3445.
  9. ^ Benvenisti, Meron (2000). Sacred Landscape: The Buried History of the Holy Land since 1948. University of California Press. pp. 116. ISBN 9780520928824.
  10. ^ Between Jerusalem and Hebron: Jewish Settlement in the Pre-State Period, Yossi Katz, Bar Ilan University Press, p. 273.
  11. ^ ""Kfar Etzion: The Community of Memory and the Myth of Return", David Ohana, Israel Studies, volume 7, number 2, summer 2002, pp. 145-174".
  12. ^ Katz, Yossi; Lehr, John C. (1995). "Symbolism and Landscape: The Etzion Bloc in the Judean Mountains. Yossi Katz and John C. Lehr". Middle Eastern Studies. 31 (4): 730–743. doi:10.1080/00263209508701077. JSTOR 4283758.
  13. ^ "The History of Gush Etzion". Gush Etzion website. Archived from the original on 2009-07-30. Retrieved 2009-08-28.
  14. ^ Naor (1986), p. 235
  15. ^ "Palestine Media Center- (PMC)".
  16. ^ Vilnay (1976), pp. 3806–3809
  17. ^ a b Ohana (2002), pp. 146–148
  18. ^ Ben-Yehuda (1995), p. 130
  19. ^ "Moshe Moskovic, who had been abroad on movement business, returned to Tel Aviv in April 1948 and wrangled a place on a Piper flight. At the airfield, he was told that guns and ammunition-and matzah for Passover-would take his place in the airplane." — Gorenberg (2007), p. 20.
  20. ^ a b Morris (2003), pp. 135–138
  21. ^ a b Erickson et al., p. 149
  22. ^ Kremer (2003), p. 1266
  23. ^ Moshe Dayan, “The Story of My Life”. ISBN 0-688-03076-9. Page 130.
  24. ^ Kfar Etzion: the community of memory and the myth of return
  25. ^ The death and rebirth of Kfar Etzion, Haaretz.
  26. ^ a b Ohana (2002), pp. 149–153
  27. ^ a b Ohana (2002), pp. 153–160
  28. ^ Rosenzweig (1989), p. 203
  29. ^ Gershom Gorenberg (2012). The Unmaking of Israel. Harper Collins. pp. 73–75.
  30. ^ Katz and Reichmann (1993), pp. 145–149
  31. ^ a b Katz and Reichmann (1993), pp. 149–152
  32. ^ "Spiritual places and spots in modern Israel".
  33. ^ "Table 3 – Population of Localities Numbering Above 2,000 Residents" (PDF). Israel Central Bureau of Statistics. June 30, 2009. Retrieved 2009-10-10.
  34. ^ a b Peace Now Archived 2009-07-21 at the Wayback Machine • Settlements in Focus Gush Etzion – November 2005
  35. ^ a b Bar-Am, Aviva (17 September 2010). "Take a Tour of Gush Etzion". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 30 May 2011.
  36. ^ Rebacz, Mark (16 July 2010). "Cornering the Supermarket?". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 30 May 2011.
  37. ^ "Gush Etzion Wineries". Gush Etzion. Archived from the original on 8 July 2013. Retrieved 30 May 2011.
  38. ^ Fendel, Hillel (21 July 2010). "Gush Etzion Foresees 50 Percent Growth Rate". Arutz Sheva. Retrieved 30 May 2011.
  39. ^ Ben Gedalyahu, Tzvi (13 December 2009). "Arab Terrorist Stabs Jewish Woman at Gush Etzion". Arutz Sheva. Retrieved 30 May 2011.
  40. ^ a b "Large area in Bethlehem declared "State Land"". OCHA. 31 August 2014. Retrieved 22 July 2019.
  41. ^ Chaim Levinson, Jack Khoury, ‘Israel expropriates massive tract of West Bank Land,’ Haaretz 29 August 2014.
  42. ^ Jeffrey Heller (August 31, 2014). "Israel claims West Bank land for possible settlement use, draws U.S. rebuke". Reuters. Retrieved June 26, 2016.
  43. ^ 'Israel slammed for West Bank land expropriation,' CNN News 29 August 2014.
  44. ^ "U.K., France, Egypt Denounce Israeli Appropriation of West Bank Land". Haaretz.
  45. ^ "Spain Condemns Israel's Grab of 4000 Acres in West Bank".
  46. ^ Russia Urges Israel to Reconsider West Bank Land Appropriation
  47. ^ "Here's What The World Thinks Of Israel's Controversial Land Grab". HuffPost. September 3, 2014.
  48. ^ "Egypt slams Israel plan to seize Palestinian land". Al Arabiya English. September 1, 2014.
  49. ^ Israel to re-authorize security barrier route near West Bank historical site. Retrieved 19 September 2014
  50. ^ West Bank Battir barrier off the table for now – Retrieved 21 September 2014


  • Ben-Yehuda, Nachman (1995). The Masada Myth: Collective Memory and Mythmaking in Israel. University of Wisconsin Press. ISBN 0-299-14834-3.
  • Erickson, Mark Daryl; Goldberg, Joseph E.; Gotowicki, Stephen H.; Reich, Bernard; Silverburg, Sanford R. (1996). An Historical Encyclopedia of the Arab-Israeli Conflict. Greenwood. ISBN 0-313-27374-X.
  • Gorenberg, Gershom (2007). The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967–1977. Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-8050-8241-8.
  • Katz, Yossi; Reichmann, Shalom (1993). Ginossar, Pinhas (ed.). The Jewish Settlement in the Etzion Bloc 1967–1970: Action with Prior Thought?. Studies in Zionism, the Yishuv, and the State of Israel, Volume 3 (in Hebrew). Ben Gurion University.
  • Kremer, S. Lillian (2003). Holocaust Literature: An Encyclopedia of Writers and Their Work. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 0-415-92984-9.
  • Morris, Benny (2003). The Road to Jerusalem: Glubb Pasha, Palestine and the Jews. I. B. Tauris. ISBN 978-1-86064-989-9.
  • Naor, Mordechai, ed. (1986). Gush Etzion from its Beginning to 1948. 7th of Idan Series (in Hebrew). Yad Ben Tzvi Publishers.
  • Ohana, David (2002). "Kfar Etzion: The Community of Memory and the Myth of Return". Israel Studies. Indiana University Press. 7 (2): 145–174. doi:10.2979/ISR.2002.7.2.145. ISSN 1084-9513. S2CID 144590489.
  • Rosenzweig, Rafael N. (1989). The Economic Consequences of Zionism. BRILL. ISBN 90-04-09147-5.
  • Vilnai, Ze'ev (1976). "Kfar Etzion". Ariel Encyclopedia (in Hebrew). Vol. 4. Tel Aviv, Israel: Am Oved.

External links

Coordinates: 31°39′28″N 35°07′15″E / 31.657778°N 35.120833°E / 31.657778; 35.120833