Within hours of the inception of the State of Israel the Egyptian Army had mustered 10,000 men and together with forces from many of the surrounding Arab nations, invaded the fledgling state.
Under the cover of darkness, in the early hours before dawn, on the 19th of May 1948 a convoy of make-shift armoured vehicles inched its way, across land, away from Kibbutz Yad Mordechai and the imminent Egyptian onslaught. On board was the only treasure of the Kibbutz; its 92 children, from newborn babies to the eldest who where just seven years old. Accompanying the children was a handful of women, many of whom where nursing mothers. Left behind to defend its strategic location on the main route between Cairo and Damascus were 110 scantily armed men and women and 20 members of the Palmach (Israel’s volunteer defence force).
Inside information of the impending assault on the Kibbutz had fortuitously given the young families the opportunity to arrange the evacuation of their children to safety. Those left behind could concentrate their efforts on defending their newly founded homeland.
With 1 rifle between every two people, one machine gun and one anti tank weapon, their odds were low in the face of the onslaught of 1 armored battalion and 1 artillery battalion which included approximately 2,500 Egyptian soldiers; far outnumbering the commune’s 130 defenders.
The Egyptians attacked the communal village several times throughout May 19 and May 20, but failed to capture it. The Egyptian air force prevented a relief column from reaching the site. The settlement’s buildings were leveled and the defenders had become known as “inhabitants of caves and tunnels”.
Although out-numbered by almost 20 to 1 those brave kibbutz residents, aided by the twenty Palmach fighters, had managed to imposed a five-day delay on the Egyptian Army. This gave the Israeli forces time to prepare for the Egyptians’ northward advance, which they succeeded in halting less than a week later.
While the defenders’ casualties numbered over 50% with 26 killed and 46 wounded, the Egyptian’s suffered much higher casualties of between 300-400 killed or injured.
The final Egyptian attack on May 23 saw the Egyptians occupy a part of the settlement. After nightfall, the surviving Israeli defenders, exhausted from the fighting and low on ammunition, withdrew from the settlement. Their withdrawal was unknown to the Egyptians who, the following day, opened up with a four-hour artillery barrage on the now empty kibbutz. Yad Mordechai finally fell to the Egyptians on May 24 after hours of bombardment of the vacated kibbutz.
Before withdrawing, the survivors concealed the graves of their fallen comrades under mounds of dung from the nearby cowsheds which thwarted the Egyptians from desecrating the graves. Six month later, upon their return to the ruins of the Kibbutz the surviving settlers found the undisturbed graves intact and reburied their fallen with full military honours.
Among those gallant young fighters who lost their lives was a young man, Michal (Marek), who at the age of 36, died in defense of Kibbutz Yad Mordechai leaving behind a young wife, a six year old son, Gidon and a two year old daughter, who later in life went on to become our sister-in-law, Amira. Gidon and Amira had been among the 92 young children in that midnight convoy to safety.
Last week, together with Amira, we visited Gidon and his wife Hannah, who over 65 years later, still live on Kibbutz Yad Mordechai, where they raised their family and now enjoy their golden years watching their numerous grandchildren growing up on Kibbutz Yad Mordechai.
Am Israel Chai!