The 35… and two more

The Lamed-HeyIn the Winter and Spring of 1947-48, Palestinian Arabs and Jordanian troops maintained a siege on several Jewish kibbutzim southeast of Jerusalem in the area known as Gush Etzion. Ultimately, after five months, Kibbutz Kfar Etzion was overrun, and 250 inhabitants — soldiers and civilians — were massacred. The other kibbutzim surrendered.

Early in January 1948, a detachment of Jewish soldiers numbering 35 tried to walk the twenty kilometers from Jerusalem to Gush Etzion to bring them needed supplies. Supposedly they were seen by an Arab shepherd, whom they captured.

The story is that they considered killing him but decided to release him because he was a noncombatant. This story is told to recruits in the Israeli army, where it is presented as correct behavior, an illustration of the concept of tohar haneshek (purity of arms).

Of course the shepherd reported what he had seen, and a large force of Arabs was sent against them. All 35 were killed. They are remembered as the “lamed-hey” (the 35).

Ahikam Amichai (L) and David RubinThis Friday, almost exactly 60 years after the deaths of the lamed-hey, three young Israelis, Na’ama Ohion, Ahikam Amihai and David Rubin, were hiking in a place called Nahal Telem, near Hebron. Here is how Na’ama Ohion described what happened:

Ohion told her friends that, at the beginning of the hike, an elderly Arab passed them, and they began to recall the story…

Ohion told her friends they were making black-humor jokes about the historical incident. “We could never imagine that our hike would end up like theirs,” her friends said she told them.

About an hour later, she said, a gray Land Rover appeared and drove toward the three hikers, with a rifle barrel sticking out of the window. A Palestinian sitting in the back seat sprayed the three with bullets. Amihai and Rubin were hit, and Ohion ran to hide behind bushes above the trail. When she heard the shooting die down and the terrorists’ vehicle drive away, she came out of her hiding place.

Ohion saw her friends’ bodies riddled with bullets. After her attempts to resuscitate them failed, she climbed out of the wadi to a high point where she could use her cell phone, and waited there until help came. — Nadav Shragai, Ha’aretz

Amihai and Rubin, both sons of rabbis, were off-duty soldiers, and they were armed. Before they died they managed to kill one of the terrorists and wound another. The Islamic Jihad, the Fatah al-Aksa Brigades, and Hamas have all claimed ‘credit’ for the murders.

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