Saving Ramat Rachel in the War of Independence a Personal Memoir

By Ayal, Eliezer B. | Midstream, July-August 2008 | Go to article overview
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Saving Ramat Rachel in the War of Independence a Personal Memoir

Ayal, Eliezer B., Midstream

Those who have read my "Bomb Chuckers" story may recall that a significant number of the cadets in the first IAF flying course in Israel were technically "deserters" from their previous units. The main reason was that many of those who met the stringent standards expected by the IAF had already performed well elsewhere in the defense forces, which caused the commanders of their units to be very reluctant to let them go. I was one of them and what follows describes my most important contribution to the saving of Jerusalem in 1948.

To put it bluntly: I saved Ramat Rachel. This kibbutz was erected almost adjacent to the south side of Jerusalem on a strategic hill overlooking to its southwest the Jerusalem-Bethlehem main road. The decision-makers on the Arab side understood its strategic importance. They therefore kept attacking in the hope of securing this strategic location, which would have spelled a disaster to Jewish Jerusalem that was already under siege. It changed hands six times. Our unit was sent there during what turned out to be the final Arab attack largely because of what I did. Sounds preposterous? Read on.

It was not clear what, if any, was the strategic thinking on the Israeli side. Our unit was placed somewhat away and behind the actual front on the northwestern down-slope of the hill. Those who defended the main building on our (western) side of the kibbutz belonged, believe it or not, to the right wing Irgun, who were not yet an official part of the Israel Defense Forces. Although they were ready to sacrifice their lives, if necessary, they were at the time in a very sad shape, exhausted and with barely any supplies left.

Our unit, by contrast, was relatively refreshed and better supplied. A significant number were from the "elite" of the Jewish Yishuv, related to institutions like the Hebrew University, the broadcasting authority etc. The rest were from various parts of Jerusalem. The commander was an experienced, solid Hagana type. When I asked him what is our task there, it turned out that it was not made entirely clear to him by the high command. I told him that I had doubts whether the Irgun people would be able to withstand another attack; an assessment that was confirmed in notes they left behind. I also told him that we would be at a serious disadvantage if we stayed behind at the down-slope should the main part of Ramat Rachel be conquered by the Arabs.

I therefore volunteered to head a group of seven to go up to positions on the western side of the Arab attack route and shoot at them from this new direction, thereby surprising and scaring them because they still did not know about us. Although his deputy objected, the commander agreed and provided six people to go with me for the task. I took them up the hill, and we did not have to wait long for the Arab attack to materialize. Many of the attackers were Iraqi "volunteers" as was evidenced by the presence of Iraqi flags among them. Our plan worked very well: They were completely surprised, and after we caused some casualties, they speedily withdrew and their attack was repulsed.

This, however, was only the first chapter. Not many people know that units of the Egyptian army, most of whose units were advancing north near the Mediterranean seashore toward Tel Aviv, also deployed units toward Jerusalem, passing through Beer Sheva, Hebron, and Bethlehem. So, shortly after the collapse of the above ground attack, I redeployed my small unit to prepare for a possible attack from the Bethlehem-Jerusalem road. Now that the Arabs knew that we were there in the open fields, they started shelling us. The fire came from mortars mounted on and near Egyptian Army vehicles. Our deployment was primarily behind a stone terrace, very common in Asia and the Middle East. Downhill to our fight (west) there was a wooded area where I placed two "scouts" whose duty it was to inform me in case they saw enemy units advancing towards us.

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