The 35: Israel’s legend of The Alamo

How did the mighty fall in battle — Samuel II 1:25

There are many stories of the creation of Israel that are left unknown to the general American public. The parallel to American history is sometimes strikingly similar. Both nations built on immigrants, both violently disconnected themselves from British imperialism, and both were completely dedicated to establishing democracy as their system of government.

One of these stories is the remarkable similarity about the legend of the Alamo and of The 35, Ha lamed hey, in Hebrew. Both are folklore valiant stories with a touch of mythology surrounding their patriotic heroism in battle.

Here is a shortened version of The 35’s story.

From the time of the Palestine Partition vote on November 29th, 1947 to the day the British left Palestine and Israel declared its independence, on May 14th 1948, the Jews became locked in a violent struggle for survival against the Arabs both inside Palestine and the nations surrounding it. Rejecting the U.N. partition of creating an Arab State alongside a Jewish State, Arabs both inside and outside Palestine were determined to squash the Jewish community before a country could be realized.

One of the losses Zionism was forced to endure during what E. O’Balance has termed the first phase of the war was a series of four settlements just south of Jerusalem called the Etzion Bloc. Strategic for its location, militarily it was needed to protect the underbelly of the Jewish capital, Jerusalem. Consisting of only around 400 inhabitants the Arab high command knew that its defeat was essential for their cause.

On December 11th, Arab irregulars seized control of the only road leading to the Etzion Bloc by attacking a convoy of trucks bringing supplies to the settlements. Ten Haganna soldiers were killed during that fight. The Arab Palestinian commanders tightened their hold on access to the settlements so nothing could get through. In subsequent weeks the settlements resisted attack after attack from the Palestinian Arabs and their irregular allies.

The Jews courageously defended their homes but without reinforcements, food, medicine and ammunition they were not able to hold out indefinitely.  The Jordanian Legion, backed by Arab Irregulars mostly from Iraq had a tight grip on the road. Measures to break through failed time and again during the month of December.

Desperate, in January Haganna leaders tried to bring the needed supplies in by foot. Thinking to bypass the one access road, soldiers hidden by the dark of night, hiking around troublesome areas might be able to make it without the Arabs, (or the British) knowing about it.

On January 13th, an attempt by foot failed to get through because they didn’t have enough time before daybreak to complete their mission. Disappointed and frustrated the Haganna mission commander Daniel Mas, ordered his troops to return to base. Exhausted but determined, they tried again the next night taking a different route for security reasons.

38  young men, most still in their teens volunteered to hike into the city in the dead of night taking the back trails off the main roads  to bring in those supplies.

Starting out from Hartuv with 100 lb. packs they headed out on the night of January 15th and expected to be in Kfar Etzion, before daybreak stealthily bypassing hostile Arab villages. The 15 mile mission would travel by way of Massu‘ot Yitzhak and was troubled from the start. One of the boys turned an ankle and could not go on. He was helped back to base by two other soldiers. The remaining thirty five continued in their single minded mission to get supplies through. Miscalculations led to them not making the settlements by dawn and were subsequently discovered by Arab sheep herders outside of Surif, the last Arab town before reaching the Gush.

This sounded a general warning to the surrounding Arab community which alerted the irregular Arab militias stationed in nearby towns. Under attack The 35 took refuge on a hillside several kilometers from the settlements and defended themselves as best they could against hundreds of armed Arabs who had in a very short while surrounded them.

The battle raged throughout the day. As the Jews fell one by one, more and more Arabs alerted to the gunfight joined the fracas. Finally at four o’clock in the afternoon the last three Jewish soldiers, out of ammunition and defiantly not wanting to be taken prisoner decided on an ultimate act. With their hands on a hand grenade they killed themselves in full view of their enemy.

By the time the British got to the site the next morning, body parts were strewn everywhere. The Arabs mutilated The 35 after death thinking that it would be impossible to bury them according Jewish law.

Most of the dead could not be identified and are today buried in a common grave in Mount Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem. Like the Alamo, The 35 became a battle cry to struggle harder than ever before in the following months. How much this incident played on Israel’s total victory in that war is hard to say but memory, the hallowed ground on which they fell, the testament to the courage of the Jewish people was unmatched with The 35 in a history that is filled with those kinds of remembrances.

See maps and pictures explaining more of this story here.

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About the Author
Larry Hart has been writing and commenting on Jewish issues since 1985. His body is in the U.S., but his heart is in Israel.