Some 20 kilometers from Jerusalem, topping high hills between Bethlehem and Hebron and amid numerous Arab villages, were the four kibbutzim of Gush Etzion. The target of attack from the beginning of the campaign, they were reinforced by Haganah and Palmah combatants. Arab attack forces numbered as many as a thousand people at times, and the situation deteriorated. The armed convoys of food, petrol and equipment headed for the Etzion Bloc drew fire and suffered casualties.
On January 15, 1948, 35 Haganah members under the command of Danny Mas made their way on foot from Har Tuv (near Beit Shemesh) to resupply Gush Etzion, but there were not enough hours of darkness to get them to their destination. Arab shepherds from Tzurif spotted them at dawn and summoned a large group of armed locals to block their way. The battle lasted all the next day and the soldiers fought to the last bullet until the last of the group was killed at about 4:30 p.m. The Arab attackers mutilated the bodies of “the 35.” A British soldier who took pictures of the mutilated bodies of the “Lamed Hey convoy” and left his roll of film to be developed in Jerusalem and never came back for it. Several decades later the negatives were discovered, but it was decided not to publish the atrocities.
On May 12, 1948, two days before the proclamation of the State of Israel, thousands of Arabs and Arab Legionnaires attacked the Etzion Bloc. The fighting went on for three long days, and 30 defenders were killed. On Friday, the day that the state was proclaimed, they could no longer hold out. They surrendered. In the massacre of Kfar Etzion, the Arabs murdered 127 men and women. Bodies lay in the fields for a year-and-a-half, until Transjordan allowed Israel to retrieve the corpses and bury them at Mount Herzl. The remainder were taken prisoner to Transjordan. The four kibbutzim were totally destroyed. Two hundred and forty settlers, Haganah and Palmah fighters were killed at the Etzion Bloc during five-and-a-half months of war.
Nineteen years later, in the Six-Day War, the Israel Defense Forces recaptured the area, the settlements were rebuilt and new ones added. For half a year the battles of the four Etzion Bloc kibbutzim on JNF land, 20 kilometers from Jerusalem, preoccupied large Arab forces from all over the Hebron Mountains - forces that consequently were unable to turn their attention to Jerusalem and join the battles against the city's Jews. The battles of the Etzion Bloc thus helped save Jewish Jerusalem.
Sources: Shmuel Even-Or Orenstein, “A Crown for Jerusalem,” JNF, 1996.