Tower and stockade

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Stockade and Tower settlements (Homah U-Migdal in Hebrew) were a means by which Zionists settled land which Palestinians disputed or might dispute. A bulletproof wall surrounded a small compound containing living facilities. A tower carried a dynamo powered spotlight with which approaching forces could be illuminated and defended against.

The system is first recorded in Nov 1936 at the time of the Arab revolt. Between 52 and 57 (sources vary) of the settlements were built in the subsequent three years. Despite the concept being an important part of the Israeli founding narrative and one of the original "stockade and tower" settlement having been saved and re-erected as a museum, details of the locations and land-holdings of the settlements is sketchy or non-existent.

Background

The settlers believed they were the owners of the fertile Beit She'an Valley, either purchased by the Jewish National Fund or allocated to them by the British Mandate authorities, and this led them to settle it with a new technique that was later practiced all over Palestine

Fifty-six of this new form of settlement were built as far north as Metulla and as far southwest as the area of Ashkelon. Six settlements were erected east of the Sea of Galilee and Jordan River. Despite some resistance, none were lost during the Great Arab Revolt.

Construction

The settlements were built under armed guard and at high speed in order to take the natives by surprise. Their positions were selected to be on high ground, within a reasonable distance of another settlement for access and communication. The construction was pre-fabricated at a nearby settlement and the defences were erected in a single period of 12 hours (either night or day). Since existing settlements, at least in theory, only had arms sufficient for their own defence, the additional and illegal arms required were concealed in hiding places known as "slicks".

The design used double wooden plank walls to form a 35 meter square stockade. An 8 inch gap between the walls was made bullet-proof by being filled with gravel. Within the walls there was a dining-kitchen area, 3 or 4 huts for living areas, a shower room, a wash area and a place for animals.[1]

In the middle of the stockade stood a 12m tall tower with a dynamo and a searchlight to prevent surprise attack. This tower also enabled communication with other settlments.[2]

Protection

From the start of the Mandate after WW1, the British had sought to disarm the natives and arm the settlements, sometimes directly and often indirectly by preferentially recruiting Jews as policemen. Though technically illegal, the Haganah was tolerated but was not very active.

In 1936 Capt. Charles Orde Wingate, a "mystical Christian philoZionist who hoped one day to stand at the head of an apocalyptic Jewish army"[3] arrived in Palestine[4] and was a "major influence on the Haganah's switch to an aggressive defense doctrine"[3] He helped train the police units known as Notrim which were used to protect the settlers in the critical 12 hours while the settlements were being erected.[1]

Tel Amal

Tel Amal was the first of these new settlements and was built in the Beit Shean Valley, a continuation of the eastern part of the Jezreel Valley. The new settlers had been accomodated and were assisted by nearby Kibbutz Beit Alpha.[2]

One of the pioneers of Tel Amal, Yehoshua Lurie, recorded the sequence of events around its building:

November, 1936. Last night there was a stormy meeting. The kibbutz members refuse to accept the delay. Some see only one option: to erect the settlement in one day, surprise the Arabs and create a fact, even at the cost of human lives.

"And meanwhile, the rainy season approaches. Once the road is waterlogged, we shall not be able to transport the building materials. A decision must soon be reached.

"According to the latest plan, a stockade must be built in a single day with small living quarters within its walls, and a tower with a dynamo-powered searchlight in its center. Preparations will take awhile, but we must tackle it immediately and vigorously.

"The Havarim (kibbutz members) are sitting up at night, carefully scrutinizing every detail. They have prepared a prefabricated double-wooden wall, into which gravel will be poured, making it bulletproof. Within the fortification, huts will be built to serve as living quarters, and a 12 meter wooden tower is being prepared, with a dynamo and a searchlight still to be purchased ...

"November 30th. Everything was set for today, but pouring rains turned the countryside into a quagmire and have ruined our plans. The trucks, loaded with gravel brought by rail, were not offloaded because of the mud, and had to be railed back to Haifa. The gravel was offloaded at Shaffa Station. Everything remained stuck in the mud. Everyone is walking around grief-stricken. The whole project has been postponed for ten days.

"A bright sunny morning dawned. Along the road, at the foothills of the Gilboa among the vineyards of Beit Alpha, the procession moved at a slow pace, step-by-step, acknowledging the seriousness of the moment... And so, silent and exhilarated, the settlers reached the site with their load. Everyone knew his job. There was no need for orders from the commander - offloading, digging the holes, inserting the poles, joining the prefabricated parts. Wall is joined to wall and then clamped tight - the stockade stands erect! Suddenly, the noise of an approaching tractor: the tower has arrived. It lies horizontal on the platform... Cables are tied to it; dozens of hands, supporting and pushing, hoist it.

The large wooden structure is raised very slowly and carefully ... And as dusk falls, the stockade is completed, the huts are ready, and the searchlight at the top of the tower beams into the darkness."

This first settlement was erected on 10th Dec 1936 and was never attacked, though it is recorded that 5 of its settlers were killed while farming nearby.

Subsequent building

57 (some accounts say 56 or 52) identical copies of this form of settlement were constructed in the three years of the Great Arab Revolt, and this established the Beit Sheían Valley as part of the Yishuv. Other new settlements of the same form were created in the far north at Metulla and as far southwest as the area of Ashkelon. Six settlements were erected east of the Sea of Galilee and Jordan River. Acording to the Church & Israel Forum account by Marilynn Ahlin, none of these settlements were lost and all are thriving communities to this day.[1]

The original stockade and tower of Tel Amal (modern day Kibbutz Nir David) was located on the banks of the Amal Stream, it was dismantled and moved to a museum at the nearby Gan Hashlosha National Park. It is maintained as though the workers might be coming in from the fields at any moment to their small living quarters with period furniture including beds covered in mosquito netting. In the communal dinning hall a 15-minute video of the riots is shown in English, Hebrew, Russian or German. Visitors pose in period clothing to have their picture taken. ‘Pioneer meals’ are served on replica plates and utensils of the day.[5]


References

  1. a b c Marilynn Ahlin is a free-lance writer presently living in Jerusalem ... working on a book "chronicling many of the miraculous ways in which God has and is fulfilling His promise to once again establish His people in their land". Wingate "helped train the police units known as Notrim" Church & Israel Forum. Date unknown.
  2. a b Stockade and Tower, Tel Amal Located in the Beit Shean Valley (the natural continuation of the eastern part of the Jezreel Valley), it was established by pioneers who had lived in nearby Kibbutz Beit Alpha. Jewish Virtual Library. 2000.
  3. a b Benny Morris Righteous Victims 2001 "A major influence on the Haganah's switch to an "aggressive defense" doctrine was Capt. Charles Orde Wingate, a young Scottish intelligence officer with the British Fifth Division." and "mystical Christian philoZionist who hoped one day to stand at the head of an apocalyptic Jewish army" p.148.
  4. " Ilan Pappé The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine 2006. In 1936 Capt. Charles Orde Wingate, an ardent Bible-believing Christian and Zionist, arrived in Palestine.
  5. Tel Amal Stockade and Tower Spotlighting Israel's Lesser Known Tourist Attractions and Travel Sites. Directions: The Tel Amal Stockade and Tower is located at Gan Hashlosha National Park off Route # 669. Visiting Hours: Sunday – Thursday & Saturday 10:00 AM – 2:00 PM, Friday (by prior arrangement only). Entry fees*: Adults/Children, 15 NIS/pp. Gems in Israel, March 2000 - Updated 2004.