Memory is a chain that weakens and kinks with every added link, or generation. In a few decades the legendary of a region is only its most stubborn opinions, right or wrong. The truth may have been crushed by accumulative errors.
– California historian William Lawton Wright, 1961
Kfar Darom was crushed five years ago – on August 18, 2005, to be exact. That day, its population of 400 – among them bereaved families of five Kfar Darom inhabitants murdered in terror attacks and others maimed in these same incidents (like the three Cohen family children whose legs were blown off while they were seated in their school bus) – were forcefully ejected from their homes.
The IDF later razed these homes to the ground. Kfar Darom’s synagogue was subsequently despoiled and demolished by gleeful Gazans. Physically, the community was ruthlessly crushed by the accumulative errors of the 2005 disengagement.
Kfar Darom’s truth was crushed by the accumulative error that callously defamed it as an “illegitimate settlement” on usurped Gazan land, one that Israel would be better off without. Stubborn opinion-molders imperiously perpetuate this narrative.
This was Kfar Darom’s third crushing. But the first two blows were dealt by enemies who were eventually, even if belatedly, repulsed. Twice Kfar Darom came back to life.
Sadly its chances of recovering from the third blow, the mercilessly fatal one inflicted by a seemingly friendly force, appear nil. With the passage of time and the addition of new links to the chain of history, memories of Kfar Darom are already fading from most Israeli minds, save those with the “most stubborn opinions.”
KFAR DAROM shared much in common with such legends of the Zionist endeavor as Yad Mordechai, Nitzanim and Kfar Etzion. All the aforementioned succumbed to invading Arab forces during the vicious existential war imposed on the newborn Jewish state in 1948. All were eventually won back, all resettled and reclaimed from the utter ruin to which unbridled hate had reduced them.
The first to fall, and perhaps the most emotively remembered, was Kfar Etzion on the Jerusalem-Hebron road. Its area was purchased by Jews in 1927 but the small settlement founded there was devastated in the 1929 murderous Arab pogroms, which also eradicated Hebron’s ancient Jewish community. The settlement was resurrected in 1932 and named Kfar Etzion for the orange grower who owned the holding. It was redestroyed in the bloody Arab insurgency of 1936. The JNF restored it in 1943 when it became a religious (Hapoel Hamizrahi) kibbutz.
Kfar Etzion was defeated on May 14 – the day Israel declared its independence. Its captured defenders were cold-bloodedly massacred.
Next in the tragic chronology came Yad Mordechai, bordering the edge of today’s Gaza Strip, named after the Warsaw Ghetto uprising’s heroic leader Mordechai Anilewicz. The Hashomer Hatza’ir kibbutz straddled the strategic invasion route by which the Egyptian army strove to penetrate all the way to Tel Aviv. It was therefore pounded with the full might and ferocity of the Egyptian army. A small besieged band with scant light weaponry held back tanks, artillery and infantry regiments, but finally on May 23, after a six-day battle in which 24 defenders were killed, Yad Mordechai was overwhelmed. Its survivors escaped under the cover of darkness.
The story of more northerly Nitzanim is similar.
Founded by Ha’oved Hatzioni on JNF land, it too took the brunt of Egyptian attacks. Again it was a persevering resistance of the few against the many until the Egyptians overpowered the defenders on June 8. There were casualties, POWs, MIAs, atrocities, sadistically mutilated corpses and ghastly gang rapes.
Kfar Darom held out the longest but its plight was identical and every bit as hopeless. Its western Negev plot was acquired by citrus farmer Tuvia Miller in 1930.
His groves were ravaged repeatedly during the 1936-39 Arab riots. In 1945 the JNF bought him out and Kfar Darom was established as another Hapoel Hamizrahi kibbutz. It was named after a Talmudical-period village in the vicinity.
Kfar Darom too constituted an obstacle on the Egyptian penetration path into the Coastal Plain, inviting brutal battering and interminable shelling.
A major offensive on May 10 was thwarted at close range by besieged pioneers, none of whom emerged unhurt. Seventy Egyptian dead were left behind and Kfar Darom’s incredible stand became legend. A relief convoy, which barely broke through on May 15, only made things worse. Its men, many of them injured, were entrapped in the blockaded kibbutz as well. The few leftover provisions now had to stretch further. Nevertheless – outnumbered, hungry, thirsty and bleeding – the defenders foiled another large-scale Egyptian onslaught that very day.
Kfar Darom hung on by sheer grit for two months.
There was no way to evacuate the wounded, relieve any beleaguered fighters, deliver ammunition or replenish severely dwindling supplies.
Attempts to parachute food failed. Another rescue convoy was ambushed and managed to sneak out only eight days later with some walking-wounded and women. Before sunrise on July 8 the remaining defenders clandestinely retreated along with stretcher-borne wounded, their few guns and two Torah scrolls.
There was an epilogue, however.
Six months after Yad Mordechai and Nitzanim fell, the IDF liberated them. The same happened to Kfar Etzion and Kfar Darom – but after a 19-year delay. The Six Day War returned both to Jewish hands.
All four once-lost settlements were lovingly revived.
In 1970, at the avid prodding of then-PM Golda Meir, Nahal pioneers were sent to the ruins of old Kfar Darom, which lay desolate. The Gazans never rebuilt them and never settled there. In 1988 then-Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin turned the Nahal outpost into a civilian village.
Nobody nowadays would imagine ceding Yad Mordechai or Nitzanim. By historical happenstance only, their earlier liberation placed them within the Green Line. Nonetheless, this confers on them no greater intrinsic legitimacy than on the unfortunate Kfar Darom.
Even beyond-the-Green-Line Kfar Etzion got luckier.
For now, the vast majority of Israelis consider it sacrilege to even suggest giving up Kfar Etzion. Its bloodletting and courage still remain part of our national lore.
But phoenix-like Kfar Darom – twice destroyed and twice arisen from its ashes – was heartlessly surrendered.
It wasn’t because of battlefield disasters but because an Israeli government decided, though hardly coerced, to unilaterally sacrifice it. That’s all which differentiates Kfar Darom from Kfar Etzion (also liberated from Arab occupation in 1967) or from Yad Mordechai and Nitzanim (fellow victims of genocidal Egyptian aggression).
What has the sacrifice of Kfar Darom proven? Only that trendy defeatist dogma considers Jewish losses irretrievable, while Arab losses are inherently reversible and mandate a return to Square-One.
Jews are portable. They can never legitimately regain territory forcibly wrested from them. If they do, they’ll be branded unlawful occupiers. This is something for all the good folks in Yad Mordechai, Nitzanim and Kfar Etzion to lose sleep over.
Dear Ms Honig,
with all respect for your good memory and love for Israel, you need to follow more sincerely the advice of Mr William Lawton Wright chosen by you as epigraph to your article,
Without forgetting the real tragedy happened “a few decades” ago (Mr Wright), more precisely, almost thirty years ago: the giving up of Sinai, uprooting cities, excellent military base, newly found oil fields, the natural military buffer space against our future enemy.
And accepting (just for good marks from American and European governments – not happy anymore) the unacceptable: Israel’s full responsibility for Gaza, the product of Egypt’s utmost cruelty during 20 years of THEIR occupation.
The feeling of the self-inflicted disaster pushed Sharon, who had no integrity and courage to stand publicly against this peace, into the “mother of all Israeli disasters of the last thirty years”, the invasion of Lebanon.
Before the “peace” agreement and Sharon’s Lebanon mayhem “occupied” Palestinians were in the mood of looking at Israel as the mentor of their future democratic freedom. After – not anymore.
This should be the topic of a profound soul-searching for all of us. When we will publish the results of it, we might keep the epigraph chosen by you and the “requiem” title — with a warm reference to this “Another tuck” of yours.
Dr Edouard Belaga
Thanks for another great article.
I recall a famous study in which two groups of people were told they were going to be shown a very interesting film.
One group got to see view it for free while the other group had to pay $1.00.
The “interesting” film was, in fact, a dry and decidedly uninteresting documentary.
Predictably, the group that payed $1.00 gave the film very good reviews.
The group that saw it for free gave honest feedback and thrashed the film.
So it goes with the Israeli left.
The more Israeli’s have had to pay for their strategic blundering (in lives, resources, and international standing), the more shrill their cheer-leading becomes.
The more adamant they are that we got “a good deal”.
Common sense to the contrary, the more rockets that fall from Gaza, the more arms that arrive in Lebanon, the more our Elites – who paved the way for these debacles – will dig their heels in and come up with evermore rationalizations as to why their actions were correct.
As for the future of Kfar Etzion, as long as our policy makers maintain their strategic blindness, and the leftists cliques that under mind Israeli democracy hold sway, nothing will surprise me.
Although this article was written 6 1/2 years ago, there’s a timeless quality to it. That, I believe, has something to do with this idea that Sarah writes about, I.e. “Jews are portable.” That is, they generally go wherever their government tells them to go, swallowing their frustration, hardly ever seen by the world outside Israel. However, this article brought to mind a scene from the 1966 movie, “Cast a Giant Shadow.” Lt. Col. Mickey Marcus(played by Kirk Douglas) is on an armored bus, riding through a bad section of town, with snipers shooting at it. Marcus advises the Israelis to get out of the bus, invade the town and take out the snipers; “at least you’ll die standing up,” he said. Just then, the camera focused on a dead Israeli, who was in fact, standing up. Asher, the Israeli commander(Yul Brynner), replied, “Sometimes we do.” Americans don’t remember what it’s like to be “portable,” because, (with the exception of Japanese-Americans put in internment camps in WWII) the last time that was an issue was during the Indian wars of the 19th century; a long-ago time that most Americans know nothing about. The trick is to get more people to pay attention to their history; as Sarah does quite well.