LATRUN


LATRUN, historical site and crossroads in the southern Ayalon Valley, Israel, where the Judean Hills and the Shephelah meet, about 1 mi. (c. 1½ km.) S.W. of *Emmaus. Latrun Hill contains ruins of an Arab village and a 12th-century crusader fortress erected evidently on earlier foundations. On the slope a large French Trappist monastery was built about 1890 and is known for its wines. At the foot of the hill is one of the most important historical crossroads in the country, where the ancient road from Jerusalem to Lydda, Ramleh, and Jaffa meets the road leading from Gaza and Ashkelon through the ascent of Beth-Horon to the northern Judean Hills. Slightly northwest of Latrun, the British Mandatory government erected a police fortress which dominates the crossroads as well as the adjacent pumping station of the Rosh ha-Ayin–Jerusalem water pipeline. During World War II the British established a prisoner-of-war camp next to the pumping station, and along the Gaza road they set up the "Latrun Camp" where Jewish underground fighters and leaders of the yishuv were interned, including members of the Jewish Agency Executive (1946).

The name Latrun is a distortion of Le Toron des Chevaliers ("The Tower of the Knights," in old French) which was the designation given the crusader fortress on top of the hill. In the 14th century the Christians called the place domus boni latronis – "house of the good thief," i.e., St. Dimas, the thief who repented and was crucified together with Jesus (Luke 23:40–43). The mistake originated in the similarity between Le Toron and latro (Lat. for "thief "). Although the name Latrun was coined by the crusaders, the hill may have been the site of an earlier fortress belonging to the neighboring city of Nicopolis, which is identical with Emmaus. The Latrun area has been the scene of fighting from earliest times. *Joshua there fought the Canaanites and there the *Hasmoneans battled the Greco-Syrians. It was a Roman base during the war which led to the destruction of the Second Temple and in the *Bar-Kokhba Rebellion; later it became a Byzantine center and again, in the seventh century, an important military base for the Arabs in their conquest of southern Palestine. The crusaders and Richard the Lionhearted fought on this site, and *Saladin destroyed the Latrun fortress. In 1917 the advancing British army launched a two-pronged attack from Latrun (one by way of Bāb al-Wād (Sha'ar ha-Gai) and the other by way of Beit (Bayt) Liqyā, near Beth-Horon, which resulted in the capture of Jerusalem.

In 1948, during the Israel *War of Independence, the Latrun police fortress and crossroads were a key position in the fight for Jerusalem, and the Israel forces made several unsuccessful efforts to capture it to get supply convoys through to the besieged capital. Although the main road to the capital was thus cut off at Latrun, the Arab Legion failed to achieve its aim of closing the ring around beleaguered Jerusalem. At the beginning of June 1948, while the fighting was still in progress, a new route, the "Burma Road," was laid out, passing through Beit (Bayt) Jīz 2 mi. (c. 3 km.) from Latrun, but out of sight. This was turned into a road running parallel to the blockaded main road, enabling the Israel forces to supply the besieged capital with reinforcements of men and arms.

Under the armistice agreement with Jordan (1949), the entire Latrun area, including the monastery and the police fortress, remained in the hands of Jordan as an enclave linked by a single road with the Arab rear, a strip of no-man's-land interposing between the Jordan and Israel positions. The pumping station, situated in no-man's-land, was blown up by the Arabs to deprive Jewish Jerusalem of its water supply (in violation of the agreement reached under UN auspices). The crossroads also remained in no-man's-land, but the plan to have supply convoys pass through it under UN protection was given up after an attempt to pass a trial convoy through resulted in the murder of several Israelis. On the other hand, the fields in no-man's-land were cultivated by both sides, on the basis of local arrangements. During the *Six-Day War, on June 6, 1967, Latrun and the Latrun crossroads fell into the hands of the Israel Defense Forces almost without fighting, and subsequently the main and shorter road from the Coastal Plain to Jerusalem was reopened.

[Walter Pinhas Pick]


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.