Why Do We Celebrate Yom Hazikaron Today? The 1948 Massacre at Kfar Etzion


At 8 pm this evening, one hour from now, sirens will wail in every corner of Israel announcing the somber beginning on Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day.

This year Israel is remembering 23,169 soldiers who have given their lives defending the country.

You might ask yourself how the date of Yom Hazikaron was chosen. Allow your humble servant to share with you the story of Kfar Etzion.

Travel back to May 4, 1948–nine days before modern Israel declared its independance.

The place was Kfar Etzion, a kibbutz strategically located on the southern approach to Jerusalem, 2 km east of the road  between the city and Hebron. According to the United Nations’ partition plan published on November 29, 1947, the kibbutz had been placed entirely within the boundaries of the new “Palestinian” state. The kibbutz had been built on land purchased by Jews in 1928 or acquired according to Mandatory law in 1942.

213 Jews lived on the kibbutz: 163 adults and 50 children.

From late 1947 until May 4, the kibbutz had been the scene of continuous skirmishes between the soldiers of the Haganah and Palmach, and those of the Arab Legion and surrounding Arab settlements as Jewish fighters attempted to stop the resupply of Arab soldiers within Jerusalem.

On May 4, 1948, combined forces of the British Army, Arab legion, and residents of surrounding Arab settlements launched an attack on the Jews of Kfar Etzion. The attack was initially resisted, at a cost of 12 Haganah soldiers killed and 30 more wounded.  Nevertheless, during the next week the fighting continued as the Arab Legion and its friends regrouped.

On May 12, elements of the British Army and two companies of the Legion began a final assault. Dozens more Haganah and Palmach fighters were killed as they grimly tried to hold off the attack. 24 fighters were killed at the Russian Orthodox monastery alone. On May 14, the Arabs broke through the final defenses and surrounded the remaining 107 defenders.

Those fighters surrendered in the courtyard of the kibbutz where they lay down their weapons and were ordered to sit down. No sooner had they done so than the Legionnaires and Arab “irregulars” opened fire with machine guns slaughtering all but four. 20 kibbutz women who had been hiding in a cellar were also slaughtered.

Only 7 Jews at the kibbutz survived. 

The bodies of those who were killed and murdered laid in the fields of the kibbutz for almost two years as the Arabs refused to allow them to be buried. At the beginning of November 1949, their bones were collected and buried in a communal grave during a military funeral on Mt. Herzl on November 17, 1949. Theirs was the first grave in the military cemetery on Mount Herzl.

The memorial to those killed and murdered at Kfar Etzion on Mt. Herzl. The name of each person who gave his or her life in there inscribed.

A section of the memorial to those killed and murdered at Kfar Etzion on Mt. Herzl. The name of each person who gave his or her life in there inscribed.

The Kfar Etzion massacre quickly became a symbol of Israeli heroism. The date of the massacre on the Hebrew calendar was forever commemorated as the date of Israel’s Yom Hazikaron. This year that date ironically falls on May 4th.

Your humble servant encourages you to stand for one minute in silence today to remember the brave fighters of Kfar Etzion as well as all of the other soldiers who have fallen in the defense of Israel.  




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