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The Road of Heroism

Larry Domnitch

On the twenty-eighth day of the month of Iyar 1967, the Old City of Jerusalem was liberated by Israeli troops.

Nineteen years earlier, during the War of Liberation, the Israel Defense Forces fought tenaciously to hold on to the Old City, which was under a prolonged siege by trans-Jordanian forces. Eventually the survivors of the fierce battles were no longer able to hold out and surrendered along with the Old City's remaining Jewish population.

During the war, West Jerusalem, the modern section, with a population of one hundred thousand Jews was besieged by Arab armies and faced the possibility of loosing vital supplies. Without ample food supplies the people would starve. Without ammunition, the city would become more vulnerable to an Arab attack. But the threat was averted and the city was saved by an ingenious and courageous plan to construct a road that would serve as a lifeline to Jerusalem.

The operation was named, "Operation Nachshon" after the Biblical hero who entered the Reed Sea just before it parted. Operation Nachshon was described in the classic novel, "O Jerusalem" by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre, "They (the Israelis) were going to try to achieve with sweat, ingenuity and mechanical skill what they had failed to accomplish with arms -- opening a road to Jerusalem."

The Road of Heroism was a sixteen-mile road that linked Jerusalem to a road leading from Tel Aviv. For four weeks soldiers and civilian volunteers labored in its construction. They worked under the cover of night while within range of Arab mortar. The work was grueling as workers maneuvered through the steep Judean hills. Diversionary tactics were used to draw the enemy's attention. Rocks on the hills were blasted to clear the road so supplies could be moved. At one point, there was a hill too steep for any jeep to pass, so food and supplies were loaded upon shoulders and carried to trucks waiting on the other side for transport to Jerusalem.

Upon its completion, which took eight weeks, on June 11, the Road of heroism also known as the Burma Road ( named after a 750 mile road constructed by the Chinese in Burma ) -- a thin, hazardous dirt road -- was the lifeline to the residents of Jerusalem. But it could only be temporary. When winter's rains arrived, it would no longer be usable. Thus the next task began of clearing Arab forces from the area and then rebuilding the road, which would be paved and five meters wide.

The completion of the Road was an astonishing feat. It took the Turks eight years to construct a highway that linked Jerusalem and Jaffa. During the British mandate, a similar highway was built in two years. But it took only eight weeks for poorly equipped soldiers and volunteers of elderly and young students, professionals, ear-locked Orthodox, and members of the friendly Arab Village Abu Gosh to build this road.

In the official ceremony marking the road's opening, many of those responsible for its construction were present. A strange parade marched past David Ben Gurion, who stood upon the reviewing stand. It consisted of soldiers of the Hagannah who had captured Arab towns and hills near the roadside making construction possible. The young and elderly who had slaved long hours in its building, and the bullet pierced jeeps, along with Egged buses which carried supplies and donkeys that were used to carry supplies when the jeeps could not.

Today, many of the armored cars remain alongside the road as a memorial to the actions of those who saved Jerusalem. A plaque upon the location reads, "To our comrades who blasted the rock, routed the enemy, and made this road… If I forget thee O' Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its cunning"

The day of the completion of the road was the twenty-eighth day of the month of Iyar -- the same day that Israeli troops would liberate the Old City of Jerusalem nineteen years later.

In 1948, on Yom Yerushalayim, (Jerusalem Day), a road was completed which saved West Jerusalem. On the same day in 1967, the Old City was liberated. Thus, it can truly be said that on Yom Yerushalayim, all parts of Jerusalem were united.


from the May 2003 Edition of the Jewish Magazine




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