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Remembering the Road of Heroism on Yom Yerushalayim

In the 14-day old state of Israel, the future of the “New City” of western Jerusalem was threatened. The situation was dire. It was a week since vital supplies had arrived. However, one road would supply the people of Jerusalem.

A hastily constructed makeshift bypass road saved the city and perhaps also the newly reborn State of Israel.

Following the passage of U.N. resolution 181 on Nov. 29, 1947, which divided the land into a proposed Jewish and Arab state, irregular Arab forces took control of the hills overlooking the road to Jerusalem from the coast and often fired upon convoys causing heavy losses and preventing the flow of supplies into Jerusalem. Food shortages were critical. There was a shortage of medicines. Water and supplies were severely rationed. Weapons were needed to prevent the constant attacks. From April 4-20, the Haganah launched Operation Nachshon which succeeded in forcing through convoys of supplies. On May 8, and for the following week, the Haganah launched Operation Macabi against Arab irregular troops occupying towns along the road threatening convoys.

Following the establishment of Israel on May 14, the situation facing the supply line to the New City of Jerusalem became even more perilous.

Three days after British forces exited on May 15, the strategically vital area of Latrun and its fortifications, which overlook the road to Jerusalem, was seized by the Jordanian Arab Legion.

Costly attempts by Jewish forces to regain the strategic site over the next two weeks failed.

Jerusalemites who stayed in their city despite the possibility of its internationalization as called for by the 1947 U.N. partition and braved the enemy threats and severe shortages of supplies over the past six months, now wondered what lay ahead.

The danger was averted by an ingenious and bold plan to construct an alternative road that would serve as a lifeline. United States Col. Mickey (David) Marcus, who arrived as a volunteer advisor in January 1948 to assist the war effort, was named to the position of lieutenant general by Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and helped plan and oversee the construction of a new connecting road that would bypass Latrun.

Marcus named it the Burma Road, after a 700-mile road between Burma and China when Burma was a British colony during the Sino-Japanese war of 1937. Over 200,000 Chinese and Burmese workers constructed the road, which was also used by the British during WWII to transport supplies to China.

The classic novel “O Jerusalem” by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre, stated, “They (the Israelis) were going to try to achieve with sweat, ingenuity and mechanical skill what they had failed to accomplish with arms—opening a road to Jerusalem.”

The road was 16 miles long, linking Jerusalem and Kibbutz Hulda detouring southward from the main road. Soldiers and civilian volunteers labored in the steep Judean hills. At one point, there was a hill that no jeep could pass so food and supplies were loaded upon the shoulders of hundreds of volunteers and carried to trucks waiting on the other side.

Arab sharpshooters spotted and targeted road workers. On June 9, eight volunteers were killed.

With a United Nations negotiated cease-fire approaching on June 11, which would forbid the construction of roads, time was of the essence.

On June 11, the road was ready. Motor vehicles could now complete the run. On June 14, U.N. inspectors pronounced that the road was completed. By the end of June, sufficient daily supplies were brought to Jerusalem.

It was a thin, hazardous dirt road so when winter’s rains arrived it would no longer be usable. The next task was to adequately secure the area and rebuild the road, which would be paved five meters wide. The road was renamed the Kvish HaGevurah (Road of Heroism).

The road’s completion was an astonishing feat. Despite all difficulties, it took only eight weeks for poorly equipped soldiers and volunteers to finish.

On Dec. 7, 1948, a parade of those who participated in the road’s construction marched past Ben-Gurion. It consisted of troops who had captured Arab towns and hills near the roadside making its construction possible, the volunteers who had labored long hours in its building, the bullet-pierced jeeps, along with Egged buses and donkeys which carried supplies when the jeeps were unable. Ben-Gurion addressed the crowd, “This road, embodies the summit of our war for a homeland and independence, and the most heroic and tragic campaign since we were forced to stand up against our many enemies—the campaign over Jerusalem.”

Today, many of the armored cars sit alongside the road as a memorial to the actions to those who supplied Jerusalem. A plaque at the location reads, “To our comrades who blasted the rock, routed the enemy and made this road … If I forget the O’ Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its cunning.”

In 1967, the Old City of Jerusalem was liberated by the Israel Defense Forces. In 1948, a road was completed which helped save the besieged new city of Jerusalem.


Larry Domnitch is the author of “The Impact of World War One on the Jewish People” by Urim Publications. He lives in Efrat.

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