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(photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)
Hamalka Nafla. "The queen has fallen." The code words informing the army command that Kibbutz Kfar Etzion had fallen into Jordanian hands, broadcast over the radio a day before the Declaration of Independence in May 1948, were heard once more last week in the hills of Gush Etzion on the 59th anniversary of its fall, according to the Hebrew calendar.
Under cloudy skies threatening rain, hundreds of veterans, friends and family came to Kfar Etzion to remember those who fought in Gush Etzion during the War of Independence, when Israel lost the settlement bloc, and in the Six Day War, when it was recaptured after 19 years.
Today's generation of IDF soldiers sat humbly as the warriors of old praised their successors for carrying on their legacy.
Veterans and their kin stood in front of a banner saluting the fighters, the settlers and the fallen of 1948. They shared personal moments from the war, and then descendents of the fallen spoke about growing up without a father or a grandfather.
Gush Etzion Council head Shaul Goldstein, whose father served in the Palmah and fought in the battle for Gush Etzion, said, "I remember him telling me that there was no alternative but to fight. Not winning meant another Shoah."
"They wanted to kill us, but they could not succeed in that, or in killing our dream," said veteran Yehuda Neuman, who shared some of his experiences with The Jerusalem Post. "We had a dream that finally came true on the 29th of November, 1947 [when the UN approved the partition plan and the creation of a Jewish state]. We had made good on the opportunity for a state."
Shortly after the partition vote, Neuman, along with other members of Gush Etzion's Kibbutz Ein Tzurim and kibbutzniks from around the country, fought to defend the area.
Neuman spoke of May 12, 1948, when Jordan's Arab Legion and Arab irregulars launched the final assault on Kfar Etzion. The Legion had armored cars and artillery, to which the Jewish defenders had no effective answer. After a two-day siege, all 250 people there - including those who tried to surrender - were killed, except a girl and three men, he said.
Neuman's unit arrived three days later.
"We fought for three days when we got here. It was hard, but even hard things in life must be done. I could talk forever about what we saw, what we did and what we witnessed, but the most important thing is that we did something for future generations," he said.
Yair Wolf, the ceremony's director, said the event was needed to highlight the sacrifice the soldiers had made to create a Jewish homeland. He delighted in the fact that children were able to play under the same trees that provided shade for their grandparents resting from the battle.
"It's been 40 years since we came back to Gush Etzion. We want to honor the soldiers the way they honored their children and grandchildren by giving them a home here," he said.
After the Six Day War, then-prime minister Levi Eshkol allowed the reconstruction of Gush Etzion, which is now home to 50,000 Israelis.