The Jewish WWI Soldiers Who Fought in Gaza in 1917

During the First World War, the British Army waged three bloody battles to capture the city of Gaza from the Ottoman Turks. Many of the soldiers who fell were buried in the British Gaza War Cemetery, and among them were Jews with names such as Morris, Wilfrid and Hyman. We set out on a journey to share their stories.

The ruins of Gaza City after its occupation by the British. This photograph is part of the Archive Network Israel project and is made available thanks to the collaboration of Yad Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage, and the National Library of Israel

As is the way of world wars, World War I took place not only in Europe where it broke out in 1914, but also in the Middle East and even right here in the Land of Israel. The main role of the British military force stationed in Egypt was to protect the Suez Canal, the vital sea passage between the British colonies in the East and the European continent, via the Mediterranean Sea. In 1916, the British force that fought in the region expanded into a multinational military force under British command called the Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF).

In order to keep the Turks and their German allies away from the Suez Canal, and also to step up the pressure on the Turks and thus prevent them from diverting any forces to fight in other arenas of the war, the British decided to advance north towards the Land of Israel – then still Ottoman Palestine.

The British started the year 1917 with their first success along these lines. The city of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip was conquered in just one day, on January 9, 1917. But the British command realized it would be difficult to defend Rafah from the Turks, and thus the British Army would have to conquer the largest city in the area – Gaza City itself. In fact, Gaza City was seen as the key to conquering the entire Land of Israel from the south.

But Gaza has never been easily conquered. In March and April 1917, two British attempts to conquer Gaza from the south failed. These costly failures led to the replacement of the EEF’s commanding officer. General Edmund Allenby, who until then had been commanding the Third Army in France, was appointed to the position. His mission was to conquer Jerusalem before Christmas 1917, as a gift of encouragement to the British people whose spirits were low after three long years of war.

Allenby, who would go down in history as the celebrated conqueror of the Holy Land who put an end to 400 years of Ottoman rule, chose a surprising strategy including a series of deceptive maneuvers. He understood that Gaza must be cut off from Be’er Sheva and that the series of outposts connecting the cities must be demolished.  While the Turks were expecting an attack on Gaza, Allenby decided to first capture Be’er Sheva and then surprise the Turks by attacking Gaza from the east, thus hindering their ability to bolster their forces there.


The Australian cavalry charge on Be’er Sheva

Zero hour was set for October 27, 1917. The Third Battle of Gaza began with a heavy artillery bombardment of the city using 68 large-caliber artillery guns firing from British and French ships. In the meantime, and as secretly as possible, many forces advanced towards Be’er Sheva, which the Turks had not yet finished fortifying. Apart from the trenches on the southern and western borders, most of the city was without any effective defense. The British surrounded the southwest part of the city with 24,000 soldiers and began shooting and capturing enemy positions.

In the meantime, cavalry units from Australia and New Zealand (ANZAC) and other mounted forces, comprising 11,000 soldiers, headed east of Be’er Sheva. They all reached their destination on the night between October 30-31.

Turkish soldiers prepare for the arrival of the British. This photograph is part of the Archive Israel Network project and is made available thanks to the collaboration of Yad Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage, and the National Library of Israel

The British planned to take Be’er Sheva by beginning with a mounted assault by the Australian cavalry from the east.

The attack began at 4:30 PM from a distance of about 6.5 kilometers from the city. The horsemen slowly increased their speed until they charged the Turkish defenders, who were not properly armed and were also in the midst of fleeing the city. The forces of the 4th Light Horse Regiment jumped over the Turkish positions; the soldiers dismounted their horses and began face-to-face combat. Meanwhile the 12th Light Horse Regiment moved on to take over the city. Within a short time, Be’er Sheva had fallen.

The deployment of the forces (British in red, Turkish in green) following the occupation of Be’er Sheva. Amir Kahanovitz Collection

The Third Battle of Gaza

After taking some time to rest and water the horses, Allenby began to advance the infantry and cavalry forces westward from Be’er Sheva. But the Turks still held several positions between Be’er Sheva and Gaza, and there was substantial resistance. One of the challenging targets was the military logistics center at Tel a-Sheria (today Tel Shera near Rahat). After fierce battles, the position and the nearby railway station were finally captured by the brigades of the 60th London Division with the help of additional forces.

In southern Gaza, the Turks had dug in a series of trenches that reached the Mediterranean Sea, with a number of control posts between them. The British forces captured part of their fortifications and went up along the coastline into Turkish territory as far as the village of Sheikh Hassan (today the area of ​​the Al-Shati refugee camp), but they were stopped, and the capture of Gaza was delayed. The Turks realized that Gaza could no longer withstand the shelling and stop the advancing British forces, and on November 6, 1917, they evacuated the city. When the British entered Gaza, they found it abandoned and in ruins. The road north to the Land of Israel was now open. The British forces advanced towards Jaffa, and within a few weeks they reached Jerusalem and liberated it from the Turks without a fight.

Most of the British soldiers who were killed in the battles for Gaza were buried in the military cemetery that was established there after World War I, in the area that is now the Tuffah neighborhood near Saleh al-Din Road. The cemetery has 3,691 graves, most of them belonging to soldiers who fell in the three attempts to conquer Gaza.


The Jewish soldiers who fell in Gaza

About one and a half million Jews fought in World War I. Of these, about 50,000 were Jewish soldiers from the British Empire. Some fought in the Land of Israel. 8,600 Jewish soldiers from the British Army fell during the war. It is safe to assume that some of them took part in the battles for Gaza.

As of the writing of this article, IDF soldiers are currently fighting in Gaza as part of the Swords of Iron War. The fierce battles and heavy, heartbreaking losses made me think of the Jewish soldiers of the British Army who fell in Gaza in 1917. I decided to try to delve deeper into some of their stories.

The names of Jewish soldiers who fought in the British Army were collected after the war and published in the British Jewry Book of Honour, which also includes a list of those who fell. About a year ago, I had a conversation over Zoom with a Jewish couple from London who researched the book, how it was edited, and the soldiers listed in it. It is not possible to search for a fallen soldier by date or place of death in the book, so I tried my luck on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website.

I didn’t know the fallen Jewish soldiers’ names, ID numbers, or the units in which they served, so in the advanced search, I typed in “Gaza War Cemetery” and got 2,696 results. The only method, albeit not a scientific one, for finding a Jewish soldier is by looking for a name that sounds a bit Jewish. I tried “Cohen” first. One result came up: Lance Corporal Frederick Arthur Cohen, who fell during the Second Battle of Gaza, in April 1917, but his name wasn’t listed in the British Jewry Book of Honour. I then tried “Levy” and got one result: Sgt. J. Levy, but his name wasn’t listed in the book either. It’s possible that there are some inaccuracies in the book and that they hadn’t managed to collect the names of all the Jews who had fought. It’s also possible that despite the names, these people weren’t Jewish.

So, I started going through the list of 2,696 names of people buried in the British military cemetery in Gaza.

After a while, I came across a soldier with a Jewish name: Hyman Goodfriend. It’s likely his original name was Haim Godfried. He fell on November 7, 1917, on the last day of the Third Battle of Gaza. The location of the grave is listed by plot, and on the website, you can download an old map of the cemetery. Hyman is buried near the front of the cemetery on the right. His name also appears in the book, but with a different date. The date on the site, as also appears on his tombstone, is probably the correct one.

A few years ago, there was an initiative to collect information about British Jews during World War I. The initiative, called “We Were There Too”, became a website where you can search for names of soldiers, among other things. I found Hyman with a photo of him in uniform and the names of his family members. His date of death was taken from the book and not from the tombstone. He was 25 years old when he fell in battle.

Hyman served in the 17th Battalion of the London Regiment, which was attached to the 180th Brigade of the 60th Division and which fought here in the Sinai and Palestine Campaign, among other campaigns. During the Third Battle of Gaza, their mission was to work together with other forces to conquer Tel a-Sheria. The battalion stormed Turkish machine gun positions and it was probably during this battle that Hyman fell.

From the grave numbers, I could see that next to Hyman’s grave is the grave of a Jewish officer named Wilfrid Gordon Aron Joseph. He was killed during the Second Battle of Gaza in April 1917. He was 21 years old when he fell and was survived by his wife.

Private Sam Bernstein, a 40-year-old soldier who worked as a tailor in Leeds, England and served in the 39th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers, is buried not far from them. Although buried in Gaza, he was killed in Egypt a year after the battle, in October 1918.

The home page of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website, features a large, pastoral image of the cemetery and its well-kept lawns. Above the picture, there’s currently an unsurprising announcement:

“November 2023 – This cemetery is currently closed to visitors.”

At the right end of the photo, there’s a tombstone with a Jewish star.


You can’t make out the soldier’s name in the picture, but by comparing the picture with the map, I discovered that this is grave no. XIV B 1.

On the Find a Grave website, you can search for graves in about 250 countries, also by grave number. With the help of this database, I found the name of the person who is buried in grave XIV B 1 in the picture from Gaza. His name was Maurice Magasiner and he served in the 11th Battalion of the London Regiment. This battalion was attached to the 54th Division that General Allenby placed near the coastal strip south of Gaza. The soldiers of this battalion moved up along the coast amid heavy fighting with the Turks, until they were stopped at the village of Sheikh Hassan. The Turks responded by shelling the area on November 2, and it appears that that is how Morris fell. He was born in Berdychiv, Ukraine and immigrated to England at the age of 4. He was 21 years old when he died and was survived by his wife.

It’s safe to assume that there are other Jews buried in the British military cemetery in Gaza, as well as the other military cemetery in Deir al-Balah. It’s hard to imagine the last time a Jewish memorial service was held for them.

Many battles have been fought in Gaza since the three fought by the British in 1917. May the Swords of Iron War be the last war in Gaza.

The State’s Watchful Guardians: Female Field Observers on the Border

IDF field observer war rooms are spread across Israel’s borders, working 24/7. The soldiers and officers who operate the systems contained within know that the security of their entire sector often depends on their judgment calls. On October 7, dozens of field observers were killed by Hamas terrorists who broke into Israeli army outposts. This is the story of the IDF’s field observers – the eyes that protect Israel’s borders.

An IDF field observer on duty, never taking her eyes off the screen for a moment. Photo: IDF Spokesperson's Unit

It’s July 2020, in the early hours of the morning. The observation war room of the southern Golan Heights is relatively quiet, but dramatic events are about to unfold. Noa, a veteran tatzpitanit, or field observer,  scans her sector on her screen. She knows the area like the back of her hand, even when it’s dark out. She knows the farmers who pass by every day, the shepherds, the nearby villagers.

But this time she identifies four suspicious figures – bent over, moving cautiously. To the untrained eye, they look like wild animals in search of a meal. Noa identifies them as human figures carrying large brown bags and moving towards Israel’s border fence.

She declares an ongoing incident. Additional field observers, a sergeant and the officer of the war room, are called in, while elite Maglan soldiers prepare an ambush near the fence for the uninvited guests. Meantime, the four can be seen splitting up on screen, with three of them moving towards the fence and one staying behind to watch their back. They place the explosives and quickly retreat, certain that they’ve succeeded in their mission – when IDF forces open fire on them. Noa the field observer and the southern Golan war room managed to prevent four Hezbollah terrorists from carrying out their hostile plans.

This is just one of thousands of stories that exemplify the critical role played by field observers in protecting Israel’s borders – by stopping terrorism, weapons and drug smuggling.

Field observers during an exercise. Photo: IDF Spokesperson’s Unit

Field observers are part of the IDF’s Border Defense Corps, which includes combat battalions alongside male and female combat intelligence collection soldiers. The field observers are charged with the duty of endlessly surveying their respective sectors, across all of Israel’s borders. Oftentimes, observers will be the first to identify suspicious activities and be the first to have to make the judgment call of whether to call in combat forces.

Combat intelligence collection soldiers in training. Photo: IDF Spokesperson’s Unit

Field observers are combat support troops, who work from observation war rooms in the most dangerous of areas. We received tragic confirmation of this fact on October 7, when dozens of field observers were killed trying to protect their outposts and war rooms. They were also among the first to identify the danger and attempt to warn of it. They serve in the Border Defense Corps alongside light infantry units like the Karakal, Bardelas and Lions of the Jordan battalions – all containing male and female soldiers fighting side by side.

In the 1990s, the IDF began to seriously consider how and when to integrate women into combat roles in the IDF, though there were earlier cases as well. There are still voices that oppose the integration of women into these roles, but recent events have shown that female combat soldiers are up to the task. In recent years, the IDF has become one of the most interesting armies in the world when it comes to women in combat and combat support roles. While many armies around the world integrate women in their combat array, Israeli female combat and combat support troops take part in real time fighting on a nearly unprecedented scale in modern times, turning them into an interesting test case and the subject of many studies.

Moshe Dayan as IDF Chief of Staff, 1950s. Photo: Dan Hadani Archive, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel. In 1940, Moshe Dayan commanded a team of Australian and Jewish soldiers who fought the Axis powers. as part of the British Army. While carrying out observation of a bombing target in the Beirut area, he was shot through his binoculars, losing an eye. When he returned to Mandatory Palestine, he became famous as a war hero, developing into one of the most influential public figures in Israel

46-Foot-High Observation Towers

Observation is one of the most important, and most ancient, methods of intelligence gathering. The first Zionists to develop what would become the Israeli intelligence doctrine belonged to the NILI underground led by Aaron Aaronsohn, which provided the British Army in WWI with information on Ottoman forces stationed in the Land of Israel.

British General Edmund Allenby, who ultimately took the region from the Ottomans, would later write of Aaronsohn’s contribution to the British victory: “He was mainly responsible for the formation of my Field Intelligence organisation behind Turkish lines.” In 1917, the NILI underground members were caught. Many were imprisoned, tortured, and executed. Sarah Aaronsohn was captured, cruelly tortured, and died from her wounds three days after shooting herself.

NILI underground members Sarah Aaronsohn and Avshalom Feinberg, Damascus, Syria, 1916. This photo is part of the Israel Archive Network (IAN) and is made available thanks to the collaboration of Yad Yitzhak Ben Zvi, the Ministry of Heritage, and the National Library of Israel

During the War of Independence, the first observation war rooms were established near the country’s borders, and these were tasked with gathering and analyzing intelligence information based on observation, aerial photos, and more. The intelligence units would accompany the combat companies, and the intelligence gathered served the higher-ups to prepare for future hostilities. From that time until about the 1990s, observation was conducted mainly from towers established at IDF outposts and along Israel’s borders.

Soldier looking out at the Jordanian border, 1971. Photo: Boris Carmi. Source: the Meitar Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

“The soldiers ask that we protect them”

In the early 2000s and especially due to the establishment of the Separation Barrier, the IDF began to develop the field of observation on a visual-technological basis. This was the period during which the first female field observers began operating their systems in the border region war rooms. In the past few decades, thanks to technological innovations, the field of visual intelligence has evolved considerably. Today, field observers work with technology allowing for far greater movement, in-depth observation, detailed imagery, and of course the endless monitoring of the area on a scale that was not possible before.

Although they have been doing their job for over twenty years, public awareness of the importance of their role hit the headlines as a result of that terrible day in October. Field observers were a significant element among those who suspected, identified and gave warning of Hamas’ plans ahead of time. Not only that but as soldiers stationed on the borders, tasked with monitoring dangerous areas, they were the first to see the attack coming in real time, before anyone else.

Field observers know today, more than ever, just how important their work is. Stav, who served as one, says: “The field observers know their sector the best. People can’t understand just how intimately. We identify the people who live in the area, identify every tree, every rock. We can identify if people have bad intentions based on their body language.”

Field observers in the northern sector. Photo: private album

Thanks to technological progress and the tactical benefits of their work, the responsibilities of the women serving in these roles have changed and expanded over time. Beyond warning of suspicious activities and scanning the border, field observers also observe active IDF operations in real time, watching over the combat soldiers as they move through terrain and helping to protect them with their knowledge of the area.

Gal, a field observer serving in the reserves, added that “for us as young women aged 18-19, to take part in such sensitive operations, with special units, to look the enemy in the eye and be one step ahead of them, this is a powerful sense of mission”.

Every field observer has a wealth of hair-raising events to tell of, few of which hit the headlines.

Eden, another field observer serving in the reserves, said: “In one of the operations, for which we even received a citation from the brigade commander, we directed forces inside a hostile city during the night hours. I identified an ambush that was set for the soldiers about a hundred meters away from the force, of course I announced an immediate stop to the advance. And thanks to our discovery, the forces ended the mission without casualties and of course while catching those who tried to harm us. In that moment, when you’re in the war room and you know there’s a threat a few meters from the force, you’re the one who makes the decision that we’re not advancing and the force listens to you. The soldiers know what we can do and want us to protect them.”

Five years ago, on October 7 2018, a terrorist murdered two Israeli citizens – Ziv Hajbi and Kim Levengrond Yehezkel. The two worked together with the terrorist at the Alon Group factory near the city of Ariel, where Jews worked alongside Palestinians in what was supposed to be a symbol of coexistence.

After tying Kim up, shooting her, as well as shooting Ziv and wounding other workers, the terrorist got away. For two whole months, the hunt was on for him. The soldiers of the observation war room in the Shechem (Nablus) area were an inseparable part of the operation – “One day, we identified him with new clothes on, for instance, this proved he had help,” Stav says. After a two-month manhunt, the terrorist was captured, to the joy of the field observers who helped capture him with their hard work.

Ynet article, 13.12.2018. Screenshot from the Historical Jewish Press Collection at the National Library of Israel

Day-in and day-out, Israel’s borders are protected by brave, intelligent, and highly motivated women. Their eyes scan the border looking for danger wherever it lurks. Even today, after suffering the trauma of October 7 in the most personal, painful manner, these dedicated soldiers continue to occupy the observation rooms and serve as the eyes of the whole country.



I would like to wholeheartedly thank the field observers who shared their fascinating stories for this article: Gili Yuval, Tal Grazi, Stav Ref, Gal Sharabi, and Eden Gorevitch.

Women who served as field observers are currently working on founding a memorial association for the field observers who fell defending IDF posts during October 7.

May their memory be a blessing.

Nir Oz Will Blossom Again: The Story of a Legendary Kibbutz Gardener

In the early days, members of Kibbutz Nir Oz suffered from terrible sandstorms that made it difficult to move, see and even eat. Ran Pauker, the kibbutz’s legendary landscaper, was called to solve the problem, and along the way, Nir Oz became a green, ecological gem. When asked about the future of the kibbutz that suffered a fatal blow on October 7 - he says the vegetation will be restored within a year, as for the community: “We’ll have to wait and see”

Ran Pauker, who has worked as Kibbutz Nir Oz’s gardener and landscaper for decades, next to the sign at the entrance to “Green Spot,” the kibbutz’s botanical garden that specializes in vegetation requiring little irrigation. Photo from a private album.

“I’ll just finish trimming the garden and call you right back,” Ran Pauker, the 86-year-old evacuee from Kibbutz Nir Oz, answered when I called to speak with him about his life’s work. It seems you can’t take the gardener out of the garden, even when he’s far away from home. Pauker and his wife Carmelit have been evacuated to Kibbutz HaSolelim in the Lower Galilee. Both were members of the first pioneering Hashomer Hatza’ir groups that founded Kibbutz Nir Oz in the 1950s. The couple was forced to leave their home behind after the awful attack on October 7. They happened to be staying with their daughter in Sderot that Saturday, and so were saved.

Like many kibbutzim that were established along Israel’s borders, Kibbutz Nir Oz also faced many challenges throughout its history. If you had gone there in the 1950s and looked around, you would have seen wilderness and sand stretching from one end of the horizon to the other.

Kibbutz Nir Oz, around 1960. Photo: Ran Pauker, from the Kibbutz Nir Oz archives


‘Nir Oz’, a New Kibbutz Near Nirim” – a report from Herut, September 30, 1955

“When we settled here, there were unbearable sandstorms in the area. I couldn’t see a few meters in front of me,” Pauker says. “I remember one sandstorm when we needed to eat in the kitchen storeroom because … the dining hall had filled with sand and dust. The storeroom was small, so we ate in shifts.”

Looking back, Pauker may have been exactly the solution that the sand-swept kibbutz needed. Upon his arrival there, although he hadn’t planned on doing so, he took it upon himself to manage Kibbutz Nir Oz’s landscaping and be responsible for all the plants and vegetation in the public sphere. On a bus from Tel Aviv to the kibbutz, he bumped into an old friend, Meir Lavi (Mayor), who was the kibbutz secretary at the time, and told him, “Ran, we don’t have a gardener. You’re the son of a gardener, you’re a graduate of Kadoorie [a well-known Israeli agricultural school], you’re done being a farm coordinator and you have no job right now. Come work as a gardener for two or three months until we can find someone else.”

Pauker agreed. “They say nothing’s more permanent than the temporary. They’re right. I’ve been a gardener ever since.”

Cover of a book published in 2015 to mark 60 years of Kibbutz Nir Oz. The photo features a well-known Hebrew slogan coined by Meir Ya’ari that has accompanied the kibbutz throughout its history and which can be translated as: “We are not road-weary, rather we are trailblazers


A sign hanging on the Nir Oz silo following the October 7 attacks, featuring the same slogan that appears on the cover of the book above. Photo: Moshe Yolovich.

The sandstorms made him realize that his role was much more important than he thought. It wouldn’t only change his life but would also turn him into a guru of green, economical, and ecological planning.

At the start of his journey, Pauker faced a challenge that was two-fold: How could he make life bearable in the hot, dusty desert while also saving money and water, as the expenses were costing the young kibbutz a fortune? Industrious as he was, Pauker figured out how: He carefully and cleverly planned his tree plantings and deliberately chose vegetation that was suitable for desert conditions. The green that dominates Kibbutz Nir Oz became its hallmark, and even after the October 7 tragedy, the plants still stand alongside the destroyed, burnt homes. Pauker says his secret is a combination of patience, a willingness to learn from mistakes, constant attention to conditions, and finding the right plants for the terrain.

One of the impressive Ficus trees that are spread throughout Nir Oz. Photo: Ran Pauker.
A list of contributors to the book published by the kibbutz’s founders to mark its 60th anniversary. A number of these people were abducted on October 7. Some have been released, and we are waiting anxiously for the rest to come home.

Over the years, Pauker saw that his work methods offered additional advantages: By saving money, time and labor resources, he was able to work in a more ecological fashion, better suited to a planet that is gradually becoming warmer. His ideas and developments turned Nir Oz into a role model for cultivating natural space in a way that allows for a pleasant and comfortable life, but that also takes ecological and economic concerns into account:

“I realized that if I didn’t gather the clippings [from the lawn mower] and if I used a recycler lawn mower [which leaves what was mowed on the field], I’d save on sweeping expenses and fuel. I’d also be leaving minerals in the ground and wouldn’t need fertilizer. We brought in plants that are highly resistant to dryness; we created drainage collection basins throughout the relatively flat kibbutz, and we used water from the air conditioners to water the plants. This paid off financially and environmentally.”

Experiments with different grass varieties inside a flower-shaped plot in front of the dining hall, which is still there to this day. Photo: Ran Pauker, from the Kibbutz archives.

Ran inherited his love of gardening from his father. He was born in Nahariya to parents who were among the founders of the city. His father also worked as a gardener and garden planner, and even as a child, just four-years-old, Pauker helped his father out at work. His dad gave him a small bucket of lime and sent him off to whitewash the tree trunks.

When he began working on the landscaping for Kibbutz Nir Oz, he asked his father to come help him with the planning. The experienced, German-born gardener offered him orderly, methodical work practices. When Ran was first starting out as head of landscaping, he had a vision and clear plans, and he made sure to document his work so that he’d be able to present his achievements to the community members, and later, to the wider public. Inside the lush, green kibbutz, Ran established a botanical garden named Nekuda Yeruka, or “Green Point”, which has become a plant research center visited by experts and students from all over the world.

And how did he meet his wife, Carmelit? When the two were working together in the rose nursery, of course. They bred different species on the rose bushes, and their collaboration blossomed into love, which led them to a happy marriage and a big, supportive family.

Carmelit Menashe and Ran in Kibbutz Nir Oz’s rose nursery in 1964. Photo from a private album.

On October 10, Pauker was set to celebrate the publication of his autobiography, Sipuro shel Tzabar BeHafrachat HaMidbar (“The Story of a Sabra Who Made the Desert Bloom”). The book covers his significant contributions to the kibbutz as well as to the fields of gardening and environmental studies, as experts still come to the kibbutz to learn from him to this day. Along with all of us, Pauker hopes that one day, when all the hostages including those from the kibbutz are returned home and the community begins rebuilding itself, he’ll be able to celebrate the release of his book.

The back cover of Ran Pauker’s autobiography, set to be published soon.

The botanical garden and the lush greenery of Nir Oz is a success story about making the desert wasteland flourish. When asked about the future, Ran says, “The kibbutz itself is destroyed, the homes are destroyed, but the plants still stand and the irrigation is still working, thanks to Na’amit who is responsible for the landscaping now, and the amazing kibbutz members who have been coming to help. If they’ll let us, we’ll get all the landscaping back the way it was within a year. But the big question is the Nir Oz community; what will the community choose to do and how can we rehabilitate it? As for that, we’ll need to wait and see.”

Lush, green Kibbutz Nir Oz, seen from above, 2019. Photo from the Kibbutz Nir Oz archives


This article is part of our special series: “Life on the Border: A Tribute to the Communities of the Gaza Border Region”

Click here to see all of the articles and stories

Those Who Dream of Givati: The Many Lives of the Purple Brigade

The IDF's Givati Brigade came into being during Israel's War of Independence, even before the Jewish state was officially established. This is the story of one of the Israeli army's leading infantry brigades, and the famous fighting spirit bequeathed to it by its founder, Shimon “Givati” Avidan

Givati soldiers setting out on an ambush, 1948-9. Photo: Museum of the History of Gedera and the Biluim. This item is part of the Israel Archive Network and is made available thanks to the collaboration between the Museum of the History of Gedera and the Biluim, the Ministry of Heritage, and the National Library of Israel

On November 29, 1947, the UN adopted the resolution creating a Jewish state alongside an Arab state in the lands of the British Mandate of Palestine. The Jewish population, collectively known as the Yishuv, as well as Jews around the world, finally had good reason to dance in the streets. In Rome, Jews even celebrated in front the Arch of Titus, with its engraving of the tragedy of the last Jewish exile, two thousand years before.

But as is always the case in Jewish history, happiness became mixed with sadness. Mobs of angry Arabs who resented the UN decision, both in the country and in neighboring lands, did not wait for the celebrations to subside. On the day after the resolution was passed, seven Jews were killed in retaliation.

This was the start of the War of Independence. Fighters and members of all the Jewish underground movements, alongside new immigrants drafted right off the boats docking at Haifa port, got together to begin building and organizing the young army that would soon be fighting five larger ones.

Shimon Avidan was a veteran fighter in the Palmach, a branch of the Haganah which was the Yishuv’s best-trained force. He was commander of the company in which Yitzhak Rabin got his start as a young officer. Avidan was tasked with establishing a trained infantry brigade to protect Jewish settlements from attack. In early December 1947, the 5th Brigade was officially launched and given the name “Givati”, which was Avidan’s underground code name.

Maj. General (Aluf) Yitzhak Sadeh (right) and Shimon Avidan, Givati Brigade commander, 1948. Photo: Nadav Man, Bitmuna, the Yitzak Sadeh Collection. Collection Source: Yoram Sadeh, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

The soldiers of this new brigade had no time to celebrate. The situation was dire. Fighting began immediately and once the Arab states invaded in May of 1948, the Jewish Yishuv was under attack from all sides. The 5th Brigade was sent to the most difficult fronts, taking part in some of the most significant battles in the War of Independence, such as Operation Yoav in October 1948, the conquest of Julis, as well as the famous battles for Kibbutz Nitzanim and Kibbutz Negba.


The Battle for Negba


Kibbutz Negba member at work, 1947. Kibbutz buildings visible in the background. Photo: Nadav Man, Bitmuna. Kibbutz Negba – Early Days Collection. The Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

In 1939, a new kibbutz was founded by settlement groups formed by the Hashomer Hatza’ir movement. At first it was called Givat Ganim. A year later, the name was changed to Negba. At the time, Negba was one of the southernmost Jewish settlements, between Kiryat Gat and Ashkelon. It sits near the border with Gaza, and it was across this border that the Egyptian forces came, reinforced by mercenaries from Sudan and militia fighters representing a new religious-political movement, the Muslim Brotherhood.

Michah Netzer, a soldier in the Givati Brigade’s 54th Battalion, recalled: “North of Negba was Ibdis Hill, on which there was a large outpost belonging to the Egyptian Army. From this hill, on a clear day, you can see across the country, at least as far as the Gederah area. On the night the soldiers of the 53rd Battalion raided Ibdis, they surprised the Egyptians. And despite the surprise, fewer than half the soldiers made it back on foot. There were many wounded and dead. But they succeeded. They succeeded in conquering the hill and also seized a lot of equipment.”

Soldiers of the Givati Brigade’s 51st Battalion seize Egyptian military equipment at the abandoned Ibdis outpost, 1948. Photo: Benno Rothenberg. From: Benno Rothenberg Archive, the Israel State Archives, the Meitar Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

“When we arrived the night after to replace them, we established ourselves on the ground and many volunteers arrived from settlements in the area at lightning speed and began helping us dig communication trenches and defensive positions protected from shells and artillery. That night, Yisrael Galili, who was the Deputy Defense Minister, arrived and he told us – ‘I saw the thin ranks, but the spirit fills in the breaches. That spirit is the spirit of Givati.’ Thanks to that nighttime operation, my platoon suffered fewer losses.”

Yisrael Galili, volunteering to help dig trenches along with civilians and soldiers, 1948. Photo: Aryeh Peck. From the Aryeh Peck Collection, Kibbutz Na’an. The Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

Despite the fighting spirit and overall effort of the Yishuv, the young State of Israel suffered many losses, including soldiers and civilians. Some 6,000 were killed in the war, a full percent of the total Jewish population of the country in 1948.

Ezra Hirschfeld, a soldier in the Givati Brigade’s 54th Battalion, who died at the age of 18. Photo courtesy of the Haganah Heritage Organization website

One of the fallen was Ezra Hirschfeld, who was working as a young journalist for the Al Hamishmar newspaper when he was called to enlist in the Givati Brigade. He was barely 18. During the fighting, he kept a diary describing his feelings as well as the battles themselves. Here’s what he wrote on July 13, 1948:

“I don’t remember any other moment in my life in which I felt the insignificance of man. His incapacity and glaring helplessness. Over there, a kilometer and a half from me some Egyptian artillerist is adjusting the targeting device, coolly calculating the shift in wind, degrees, and distance, and operating the mechanism. Now the firing process begins: a cap is punctured, gunpowder set alight, gasses create pressure, the shell is released. 5 seconds later it will explode into 1000 sharp fragments, each of which alone can bring death, floating in the air. And all that time sit I, Ezra Hirschfeld, a civilized man more or less – ‘the apex of creation’ homo sapiens anyways, bent over in my trench with no influence whatsoever on the flight path of the shell, not even by so much as a millimeter, no ability to evade it, or defend against it, all I can do is bow my head covered in a thin steel helmet and…wait for the shell to explode. Whether this shell falls on my head and tears me into dozens of pieces or explodes at a distance of five meters from me and eliminates my friend without my being harmed at all, or explodes out there in the field without causing harm to anyone, or doesn’t explode at all – all these questions hang in the air, dependent on the wind.”

On July 28, 1948, Ezra was seriously injured on the battlefield, dying a few hours later. He was 18 years old.

A report on the death of Ezra Hirschfeld, a soldier and reporter for Al Hamishmar newspaper. Hatzofe, August 2, 1948

After 1948: Samson’s Foxes in the Field


Givati soldiers in training. Photo: Tzvi Redlich Collection. This item is part of the Israel Archive Network and is made available thanks to the collaboration between Yad Yitzhak Ben Zvi, the Ministry of Heritage, and the National Library of Israel

Despite the heavy loss of life, Israel succeeded in defeating the five armies that besieged it by the end of the War of Independence and even expanded its borders beyond the territory assigned it in the UN Partition Plan. In October 1948, Israel succeeded in conquering the southern Negev region from the Egyptian Army in Operation Yoav, after it had been cut off from the rest of the country, thus securing a significant military advantage for the remainder of the war.

Following the 1948 conflict, the Givati Brigade continued to serve as a significant force within the IDF. Its character was changed slightly and its activity, as a jeep patrol unit among other things, was expanded after the war. The brigade’s name was also changed and the unit now became known as Samson’s Foxes. This name was coined by Abba Kovner, then the brigade’s education and cultural officer.

“The soldiers of Givati are the successors of Samson”, Kovner wrote, making reference to the biblical hero who perished when he collapsed the Temple of Dagon upon himself and his captors, declaring: “Let me die with the Philistines”. Kovner continued – “And just as the Egyptians of today are not just the successors of the ancient Egyptians, but also the successors of the Philistines, so are the Givati soldiers the descendants of David and Samson and they must fight an uncompromising war against them and the company of jeeps at their head must be called ‘Samson’s Foxes.’”

But over the years the brigade was significantly pared down. A major change came in the mid-1980s. As part of the lessons learned from the First Lebanon War, Givati was reestablished as the brigade with the purple berets we know today.

In this second incarnation, especially since the early 1990s, Givati stood out as a unique infantry brigade, specializing in the Gaza Strip region. In the late 1990s, its popularity reached a peak thanks to the Israeli TV drama Tironut (“Basic Training”), which was a huge hit and which told the story of soldiers in a Givati Battalion.

The Givati anthem became well-known in Israel as a result of the TV show. In one famous scene, the trainees are asked by their sergeant to sing the song, with one of the soldiers changing the lyrics at whim and, of course, being punished for it. The anthem was written by Amos Etinger and put to music by Effi Netzer:

“At the sight of the sun rising, the sunsets of spring

I heard the voice of the spirit

A spirit which wanders about

A spirit we call Givati

Those who dreamed of Givati, those who breathed Givati

Those who walked the paths along with us…”

As opposed to the first version of the Givati Brigade, the second incarnation did not come about under emergency conditions stemming from the various pressures of war. Rather, this reformation was based on strategic thinking – the Givati Brigade was designated as a special infantry unit trained to carry out the most sensitive tasks. Since its original establishment, Givati’s soldiers and commanders have been known for their courage and bravery, as those who always take part in the most difficult and significant battles and operations.

From the War of Independence to the current war in Gaza, for seventy-five years, one thing has continued to accompany the Givati Brigade – that unique spirit which makes up for the lack in numbers, the spirit of Givati.