The Hebron Mountains
In the mid-1940s, four kibbutzim were established on JNF land, some
20 kilometers to the south of Jerusalem,
between Bethlehem and Hebron.
Jewish settlement in this area, however, in the heart of Arab settlement,
dated back much earlier.
At the start of the 1920s, Jerusalem Jews had purchased
land near Kfar Nahlin in the vicinity of Hebron.
In 1927 some 20 families settled at the site, calling it by the ancient
Hebrew name for the region - Migdal Eder. The settlers included immigrants
from Yemen and Iraq,
as well as native Jerusalemites. In August 1929, at the outbreak of
the Arab riots, the settlers
were forced to abandon the site and the settlement was destroyed by
nearby villagers. Hebron, the city of the Patriarchs, where Jews had
lived for hundreds of years, was also abandoned, and it was many years
before a Jewish presence was to be restored there. The attempts of the
founders of Migdal Eder to return to the settlement failed, and they
began to look for a buyer for the lands. They found one in 1933.
Shmuel Zvi Holtzman, a native of Jerusalem was a colorful
figure, an adventurer and builder, who left his mark on an entire region
- Gush Etzion and Kfar Etzion
- the Hebrew translation of Holtzman.
At the end of the last century, Holtzman, aged 15,
set out to explore the world, dabbling in odd and assorted occupations.
He returned to the country at the turn of the century and settled in Rishon LeZion,
where he developed a large plantation, importing tropical plants and
seedlings from Singapore.
In 1912 he also imported ostriches from South
Africa, established a farm in Rehovot and dreamt of exporting the feathers to world markets. His businesses
apparently failed and, in 1914, he again set out for Australia,
to prospect for gold. Thirteen years later he was back once more and
now set up a company called El HaHar (to the hills), which was to be
based on rural villages.
In 1933, Holtzman bought the abandoned lands of Migdal
Eder, as well as additional areas. He advertised the establishment of
a "wooded summer town," called Yaar Etzion, along with an
agricultural settlement, Kfar Etzion, "rising 1,000 meters above
sea level." Several dozen people poured in to prepare the site
for settlement, but the outbreak of further disturbances in 1936 forced
them to return to Jerusalem. The hilly lands were abandoned. The settlers
lost money and tried to sell the lands, which were in danger of 'ailing
into Arab hands. In 1939 the British published a series of laws prohibiting
Jews from buying land in most parts of the country, including Jerusalem.
Joseph Weitz had or many years dreamt of developing hilly agriculture;
this was his opportunity to realize the dream and buy large tracts of
land for the national fund in a new region of the country.
Holtzman's lands, as well as others owned by Jews in
the area, a total area of some 8,500 dunams,
came into JNF hands, and the national institutions decided to establish
four kibbutzim there to lay claim to a large new Jewish settlement area
on the road from Hebron to Jerusalem. Three of these - Kfar Etzion (established
in 1943), Massuot Yitzhak (named after Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Herzog, 1945)
and Ein Tzurim (1946) - were affiliated with the Religious Kibbutz Movement.
In early 1947 the fourth rose, Kibbutz Revadim, settled by members of
HaShomer HaTza'ir. The four indeed developed hilly agriculture. They
also built guest houses and prospered. At the start of 1948, upon the
outbreak of the War of Independence,
some 500 people lived in these four settlements in the Hebron Mountains.
Sources: Shmuel Even-Or Orenstein, "A Crown for Jerusalem," JNF,