This Week in Israeli History: The Father of Prisoners, Zerubavel Horovitz and Operation Defensive Shield

Rabbi Aryeh Levin – The “Father of Prisoners”
Rabbi Aryeh Levin was born in Poland in 1885. Already at a young age he was recognized as a Torah prodigy and excelled in his studies at the famous yeshivas of Volozhin, Brisk, Slonim, and Slutsk. At the age of 20 he moved to the Land of Israel where he earned his rabbinical ordination and continued his Judaic studies at Yeshivat Torat Haim, where he also served as the spiritual guide for the yeshiva’s students.
In 1931, Chief Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook appointed Rabbi Levin as the official Jewish Prison Chaplain, a position “Reb Aryeh” accepted on the condition that it would be without pay.
Aptly dubbed the “Tzaddik (Holy Man) of Jerusalem,” Reb Aryeh would walk from his Nachlaot home to visit the Jews who were imprisoned for their activity in the Jewish Underground against the British and pray with them, pass messages on to their love ones, and keep them company.
In addition to his visits to the prisons, Reb Aryeh made it a practice to go to the hospital and visit the sick every Friday. He would first find out from the nurses which patients had no visitors, and then would visit and cheer them up.
Rabbi Levin spent hours sitting at the bedside of the sick, doing everything he could to encourage and make them as happy and cared for as possible. Reb Aryeh passed away on March 28, 1969, at the age of 84.
Zerubavel Horovitz – Israeli Hero
Horovitz was born in Lithuania in 1924 and immigrated to the Land of Israel with his family at the age of 9. At 16 he left school in order to join the Palmach, where he excelled and became a commander in the Harel Brigade.
During the War of Independence, Arab forces had constructed sizable roadblocks to prevent Jewish forces from reaching the besieged settlements of Gush Etzion. “Bavel” was charged with the daunting mission of breaking through the roadblocks to provide the people with much needed aid.
On March 27, 1948, Horovitz’s lead vehicle successfully broke through many of the roadblocks that were set up, but the vehicle eventually struck a barrier that caused it to veer off course and tumble down the side of the road, injuring most of the crew.
The local Arabs began to advance and shoot at the vehicle, at which point Zerubavel, who was not injured, told all the lightly injured crew members to flee before the enemy arrived. When asked by his men why he was not joining them, he replied, “I will not leave the wounded men in the armored vehicle, I won’t!”
The able-bodied men fled while Zerubavel used the machine gun to cover their escape. When the Arabs finally enclosed on their vehicle and opened the door, Bavel exploded a bomb that killed himself, the badly wounded Israeli soldiers and the Arab attackers. By doing so, Bavel ensured that the wounded would not be tortured by their captors and allowed those who fled more time to reach safety.
For his bravery, Zerubavel Horowitz was posthumously awarded the Medal of Valor, Israel’s highest military decoration.
The Park Hotel Massacre and Operation Defensive Shield
On March 27, 2002, a Palestinian suicide bomber entered the crowded Netanya Park Hotel dining room during the Passover seder and killed 30 innocent civilians and injured 140 more.
Most of the victims of the attack, the deadliest of the Second Intifada, were senior citizens, a number of whom were Holocaust survivors.
In response to the attack, Israel declared a state of emergency and called up some 20,000 reservists to participate in what was to be known as Operation Defensive Shield, a large-scale military operation that aimed to crush the Palestinian Arab terrorist infrastructure in Judea and Samaria.
The first stage of the operation was an incursion into Ramallah, in which Yasser Arafat's compound was placed under siege, followed by several incursions into the six largest Palestinian Arab cities in Judea and Samaria.
In addition to the elimination and arrests of many terrorists, the IDF destroyed command centers of the Palestinian Authority that were home to terror networks, confiscated large quantities of illegal arms, and destroyed electronic databases. The IDF captured many important documents, notably a document proving that PA chairman Yasser Arafat had signed salary deals for known terrorists and had paid for illegal arms and explosives.
The month-long operation dealt a critical blow to the terrorist infrastructure and crippled the Palestinian terror networks, which until this day have not been able to return to their former standing. Thirty IDF soldiers were killed in the operation, the largest military operation in Judea and Samaria since 1967.