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The Battle for Yerushalayim: Exploring the Castel

(Much of the information for this article is culled from material put out by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.)

In celebration of Israel’s 76th anniversary, let’s explore a key site in Israel’s War of Independence. Prior to the war, there were about 100,000 Jews living in Yerushalayim. With the onset of the war, the Arabs besieged Yerushalayim and completely cut off its Jewish population from the rest of the country. Jews living in Yerushalayim were left without food and medical supplies.

The Jewish forces attempted to send convoys and armored trucks full of food and supplies to Yerushalayim but they were constantly attacked by Arab snipers along the main road to Yerushalayim. One famous incident is the attack on the Hadassah Convoy, where doctors and nurses carrying medical supplies were brutally massacred.

It was then that the Jews realized they needed to take control of the roads leading to Yerushalayim. As long as the Arab villages surrounding the main road to Yerushalayim could ambush the Jewish supply trucks, the siege could not be broken. In April 1948, Operation Nachshon was launched and Jewish fighters took over various key sites, including the Castel.

The battle for control of the Castel contained a few phases, and the Castel changed hands a few times between the Jewish and Arab forces. Initially, the Arab village of al-Qastel was not well-defended and the Jewish forces took it over easily. The Arab forces led by Abd al Qader al-Husseini then retaliated fiercely, and the Jewish defenders retreated to their outposts. One morning, al-Husseini and one of his officers were walking around the area and mistakenly ended up at an outpost of the Etzioni brigade, where he was shot by a Jewish soldier who didn’t even realize that he had killed the Arab leader. At that point, the Arabs retaliated in full-force to avenge the death of their leader. The Jewish forces reached a point of exhaustion, and a retreat became necessary. It was then that the famous order of Shimon Alfasi: “the privates will retreat, the commanders will stay behind to cover them” was issued. All of the Palmach soldiers who remained behind were killed. The Arabs once again gained control of the Castel.

The next morning, Jewish forces returned to re-capture the Castel. They found the Arab village empty since most of its inhabitants had gone to attend the funeral of al-Husseini on the Temple Mount. They easily retook control. Since then, the Castel has stayed in Jewish hands. This was a key battle in breaking the siege and bringing supplies to Jewish Yerushalayim.

The Castel National Park is a beautiful place to walk around and learn about Israel’s War of Independence. Various interactive activities have been placed throughout the trail where kids (and adults of course) can learn and practice some of the values of the soldiers who fought there, such as leadership, comradery and determination.

The trail then continues into trenches that were dug by Israel after the War of Independence to protect the road to Yerushalayim from Jordanian attack. The trenches lead into a bunker where a quiz game has been placed. You can test how much you’ve learned while exploring the Castel! As one leaves the trenches, one can see a memorial rock with the names of the soldiers who fell in the battle for the Castel. In another bunker one can view a film about the battle for the Castel as described by a survivor.

At the peak of the mountain is the remains of the Mukhtar’s house, all that is left of the Arab village of al-Qastel. From there one can enjoy an exquisite view of the mountains surrounding Yerushalayim. A model has also been set up there which depicts the roads leading to Yerushalayim. One can see from the topography of the model how critical it was for the Jewish forces to gain control of the Arab villages that overlooked the road. This was key for opening the route to Yerushalayim.

Today, we are once again forced to fight for our basic survival. May God help us to eliminate our enemies and may we soon bear witness to the ultimate rebuilding of Yerushalayim.


Hava Preil is an enthusiastic Licensed Israeli Tour Guide. She grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and holds an MA in Judaic Studies. Hava has developed and taught accredited courses in Tanach and Jewish Ethics for Naaleh/Woodmont College and Cybersem. She currently lives in Givat Ze’ev, Israel with her family. Hava can be reached at IL:054-844-1579, USA: 845-391-0438 or at [email protected] Visit her new website Home – Hava Preil Tours havapreiltours.com! Hava is currently offering virtual tours of various sites in Israel- a perfect activity for your school, synagogue, or youth group!

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