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April 17, 2018 7:13 am

Walking in the Footsteps of Those Who Fought in 1948

avatar by Yaakov Lappin / JNS.org

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Graves of fallen IDF soldiers at the Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem. Photo: IDF via Wikimedia Commons.

JNS.org – Members of the Israel Defense Forces and Israeli civilians are jointly commemorating the decisive battles of the 1948 War of Independence ahead of national celebrations of Israel’s 70th anniversary.

“When you study the War of Independence, which is fascinating, in an in-depth manner, you see that the IDF was born in this war,” Education Officer Lt.-Col. Shuli Ben Moha, who is running the commemoration tours, told JNS.

“In this war, the IDF built itself up. Its values were born in it. Its DNA was formed. This is the incredible aspect of the War of Independence. The things that were born in it can be seen to this day. It is moving to learn and read about this,” she added.

Ben Moha said that the walking tours took place in Israel’s north, central, and southern regions on consecutive days in early April, with each day containing four routes for civilians to choose from.

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Those who walked down the routes heard about the battles that raged there seven decades ago, as the newly born Israel fended off an attack by the states of the Arab League and local militias.

Participants of the tour learned about acts of bravery that turned the tide and left a major mark on Israeli history, added Ben Moha.

“We are using this wonderful opportunity of marking 70 years since the War of Independence, which was a seminal event of great significance, to bring people closer to the war’s legacy. We have a real opportunity to do that,” she said.

The war’s most significant and unique battles were chosen for the tours, Ben Moha said, describing them as having the most influence on the outcome of the conflict. These include the site of Ramat Yochanan, east of Haifa, “where the Druze sect sealed its blood pact [with the Jews of Israel] that exists to this day. We remember a significant battle there.”

In central Israel, the IDF and civilians walked along the Convoys Ridge, which is located on the approach to Jerusalem from the coastal plain. This is the site where convoys of armored supply vehicles broke through the Arab siege on Jerusalem and entered the city, rescuing its Jewish inhabitants.

In the south, tourists heard “the incredible story of how southern communities stood firm [in the face of assaults by Arab League forces],” said Ben Moha.

Members of IDF brigades will, on some of the routes, walk along the sites where soldiers from the same brigades fought 70 years ago for independence.

Lt. Guy Shtuser, Squad commander in the 401st Armored Corps Reconnaissance Company, spoke to JNS from Metzudat Koach, near Kiryat Shmona. This was the site of significant War of Independence clashes, which resulted in Israeli control of this strategically important area. Some 150 civilians joined 30 military personnel from the Armored Corps, the Paratroopers, and the Engineering Corps on the tour.

“We see this, first of all, as something that the military is doing for civilians. It is creating a bond that is a little different from the daily routine,” said Shtuser. During the walking tours, civilians also asked the military personnel about their current activities and heard about the fateful events of 1948.

Shtuser’s squad is a part of the reconnaissance unit of the 401st Brigade — a unit whose members travel on foot in front of tanks, setting up lookouts and securing the territory.

Shtuser, who has been a squad commander for almost a year and a half, noted that the message of the 1948 war resonates with him to this day. “We know we have to safeguard the borders because if we will not be there, if we will not be ready, what we are defending won’t be there for us.”

Yaakov Lappin is a research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. He specializes in Israel’s defense establishment, military affairs, and the Middle Eastern strategic environment.

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