The rebuilding of Gush Etzion, a Jewish settlement bloc in the Judean hills, after decades of destruction, devastation and death, represents not only a literal fulfillment of Biblical prophecy, but the continuing presence of God’s word in the land.
Between 1943 and 1947 Jewish pioneers, many who had escaped Nazi Europe, founded four kibbutzim in Gush Etzion, a cluster of Jewish settlements located in the Judean hills, directly south of Jerusalem. They were willing to overcome the rocky terrain, shortage of water and blistering cold winters to build the communities of Kfar Etzion, Masuot Yitzhak, Ein Tzurim and Revadim.
This was the third attempt to settle the Gush; two previous efforts had failed due to harsh weather conditions and attacks by neighboring Arabs. By 1947 there were more than 400 Jews in Gush Etzion.
But tragedy struck.
When the UN in 1947 announced plans for a Jewish state alongside an Arab one, the Arabs put the Jewish communities under siege, eventually forcing families to separate. The women and children of Gush Etzion traveled to Jerusalem for safety while the men stayed on to defend their land.
In May of 1948, members of the Jordanian Legion joined thousands of local Arabs and stormed into Kfar Etzion. Jewish fathers and brothers surrendered to save their lives. However, as they gathered in the center of Kfar Etzion, the Arabs did an about-face and fired on the crowd, killing 127 defenders and devastating the Jewish town. Only four survived.
Masuot Yitzhak, Ein Tzurim and Revadim were also demolished and some 260 men taken into captivity. All that remained of the bloc was a lone oak tree, which sat high at a critical junction in Gush Etzion.
For 19 years, Gush Etzion was under Jordanian control. Every year, after the traditional Israeli Remembrance Day ceremony, the wives and children of the Gush Etzion defenders would gather on a hilltop in Jerusalem where they could see the lone oak tree from the mountain perch. That tree came to symbolize all that was lost and the living and breathing desire to return to Gush Etzion and rebuild.
Then, in 1967, everything changed in an instant when the Israeli army recaptured Gush Etzion during the Six Day War. The children – now young adults – who had been evacuated so many years before led a public campaign to resettle their land. In September 1967, Kfar Etzion was re-established – the first Israeli town in the Judean Hills after the war.
Today, there are roughly 75,000 people living in Gush Etzion, according to a recent report by the Central Bureau of Statistics. The government projects there will be half-a-million people within the next decade. The lone oak sits across from the entrance from one of the area’s largest communities, Alon Shvut, the name literally meaning “the tree of return.”
The story of Gush Etzion became a microcosm for the story of the Jewish people and its relation to the Land of Israel, said Mordechai Shvat, a Gush Etzion historian, former tour guide and resident of Rosh Tzurim religious kibbutz in Gush Etzion.
“For 2,000 years, Am Yisrael yearned to return to Eretz Yisrael,” Shvat told Breaking Israel News.
Tour guide Eitan Levy said one can look at the Jewish return to Gush Etzion as the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy.
Genesis 35:20 teaches that Rachel was buried on the side of the road in Beit Lechem, right outside the Gush Etzion community of Efrat. Rabbi Tuly Weisz, founder of Israel365, explains in his commentary on the Book of Genesis, published in The Israel Bible, that Rachel was buried there, rather than in the family plot in Hebron, because years later this would become the side of the road on which the Jews were forcibly marched into exile following the destruction of the first Temple.
“At that devastating moment in Jewish history, the downtrodden people found comfort in Rachel’s holy resting spot as she entreated God’s mercy towards His people,” writes Rabbi Weisz.
This story is alluded to in Jeremiah’s prophecy:
A cry is heard in Rama – wailing, bitter weeping – Rachel weeping for her children. Jeremiah 31:14
Rabbi Weisz said that according to the Zohar, the foundational book of Kabbalah, the Messiah will likewise lead the devastated people of Israel along this same path, past Rachel’s grave, as they fulfill Jeremiah’s prophecy.
And there is hope for your future —declares Hashem: Your children shall return to their country. Jeremiah 31:16
Similarly, noted Levy to Breaking Israel News, the prophet Amos, whom the Bible teaches hails from Tekoa, a city in Gush Etzion, prophesied that God would rebuild Israel’s ruins and make the land flourish once more.
I will restore My people Yisrael. They shall rebuild ruined cities and inhabit them; They shall plant vineyards and drink their wine; They shall till gardens and eat their fruits. Amos 9:14
In Gush Etzion this prophecy comes to life – literally – in its many wineries, including the well-known, award-winning Gush Etzion Winery.
Levy said that the people of Gush Etzion “have a certain tenacity” in how they live, responding to tragedy with hope instead of despair.
He pointed to the aftermath of the horrific 2014 kidnapping and murder of three teenage boys – Naftali Frankel, Gilad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach – by Arab terrorists. Instead of giving into sadness, the people of Gush Etzion erected Oz Ve’Gaon park in their memory.
“The only appropriate response to those who want to stop us is to build,” said Levy. Quoting the late Abraham Isaac Kook, the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of British Mandate Palestine, he said that a righteous person doesn’t complain about darkness. Rather, he adds light.
“When you look out over the land in Gush Etzion, you see the writing of the Bible,” said Levy. “The Bible never ends – it is still going on. And here, in Gush Etzion, we are writing the next chapter.”
The story of Gush Etzion’s rebuilding appears in Then & Now: 16-Month Jewish Calendar and Holiday Guide 2017/2018 by Israel365. Click here to learn more and purchase.