Friday, April 2, 2010

Bab elWad

Many shirim ivri'im deal with bereavement. The mother of them all is Bab elWad. Bab elWad is the Arab name for the narrow pass when the road to Jerusalem first enters the Judean Hills on its way up from the coast: a perfect place to block traffic, if you're of that mind. Which is precisely what the Palestinian's decided to do in the early months of 1948, as the British control of Mandatory Palestine was winding down: bring the Jewish majority in Jerusalem to starvation. I suppose the assumption was that they'd then pick up and leave or something like that. Today this would be a major breach of international law and all that, but in 1948 it wasn't anything special. The British allowed it to happen, but the Hagana didn't. Eventually a second road was paved, and then the Palestinians villages were conquered and the threat removed, but for a while in early 1948 100,000 Jewish civilians in Jerusalem were supplied by occasional convoys which managed to shoot their way through the pass. Remnants of the vehicles which didn't make it are still scattered along the roadside to remind us not to take things for granted.

Here I am passing, standing by the stone.
An asphalt road, rocks and ridges.
Day goes down slowly, sea-wind blows
Light of a first star, over Beit Maschir.

Do remember our names forever,
Convoys broke through, on the way to the City.
Our deads lay on the road edges.
The iron skeleton is silent like my comrade.

Here pitch and lead fumed under the sun,
Here nights passed with fire and knives.
Here sorrow and glory live together
With a burnt armoured car and the name of an unknown.


And I walk, passing here silently,
And I remember them, one by one.
Here we fought together on cliffs and boulders
Here we were one family.


A spring day will come, the cyclamens will bloom,
Red of anemone on the mountain and on the slope.
He, who will go on the road we went,
He will not forget us, Bab-el-wad.

Haim Guri (born 1923) wrote the song; we'll talk about him later. It has been sung over the years by lots of singers and groups, but here's an old recording by the original, Yaffa Yarkoni. Yarkoni, born in 1925, was widowed in WW2 when her husband, Yossef Gutstein, was killed fighting for the British. She eventually became famous as "the singer of all the wars", since she sang in and about all of them until the 1980s at least. (She remarried, and one of her daughters writes for Haaretz.

And here's a much later recording, by Shlomo Gronich. More about him some other day, when I write about the Ethiopian immigrants, perhaps.


Anonymous said...

Relevant wikipedia links with maps for those wishing to know more.

Building the bypass road is the subject of the 1966 movie "Cast a Giant Shadow" with Kirk Douglass (swoon), as Col. Mickey Marcus, an American volunteer and Topol, as a Bedouin chief.

Shabbat shalom everyone.

AKUS said...

"precisely what the Palestinian's decided to do"

No - "local Arabs"

At that time the Palestinians were the Jews. For example, my (Jewish) Israeli wife's birth certificate lists her as "Palestinian".

Bryan said...

I love the movie "Cast a Giant Shadow." We watched it for my "Images of Jewish Masculinity" class. Probably not historically accurate, but thrilling nonetheless.

Anonymous said...

the movie seems to have never made it into Germany - according to amazon the DVD is only!!! in English and Hebrew
- and that even though Senta Berger who is even today quite a (TV)star in Germany played a love interest in it - and wouldn't we have adored the thing in 1966 - what a pity
- another anecdotal evidence for my point that the pop culture pro Israel angle isn't well taken care of

- but at least I found an enticing list of quotes

- BTW the British led Jordanians/Arab Legion which figured in the movie was depicted in German National Geographics (years after the American issue) on a centerfold as a group of colourful camel riding Omar Sharif-look-alikes no 1948 weaponry in sight anywhere
- they sure know how to get the dreams going and that while I read again and again that Hollywood is firmly in Jewish hands ...

Anonymous said...

Nycerbarb - one more:

two or three years ago there were some (I remember two) books on the Berlin Blockade, the air bridge (Luftbr├╝cke) and the Candy Bombers (Rosinenbomber) - the way Yaacov described it it struck me immediately as something very alike - get food into a shut-off city
- and it is not just Germany that gets all sentimental on the story how Berlin was saved the Brits must care too quite a bit because one of the books seemed to claim almost all of the credit for the Americans - so it is still an issue
- and since Berlin is a capital again thanks to foreign help how much more has Jerusalem a right to that status ...

"they can spin all kinds of stuff, why not something like that also ..."