Postcard from Israel – Old Gesher


Here’s a story for any train-spotters among our readers. When Pinchas Rotenberg was constructing the Naharaiym power plant on the Jordan River in the years 1927 – 1932, his company purchased ten army surplus trains from the British Army. The engine pictured below was built in Leeds in 1917 by the Hunslet Company and its original number was 353. It was used by the British Army during the First World War on the French front. After it arrived in Israel its number was changed to H7 and the initials of the Israeli Electric Company (ח.ח.אי.) were added. Lost for many years, the engine was eventually found in the 1990s in the no-man’s land between Israel and Jordan and subsequently restored.

Today it is on display at Old Gesher – the site of the original Kibbutz Gesher in the Jordan Valley. Another reminder of the British Mandatory presence in Israel at Old Gesher is the Tegart Fort which served as a British police station. Jews had settled in Old Gesher as early as 1921, with the kibbutz being established in 1939 near the three bridges after which it was named – one Roman, one Ottoman and one British. 

At 5pm on April 27th 1948, the guard on duty at Kibbutz Gesher noticed that the British flag flying over the nearby police station was being hastily taken down and armoured vehicles were evacuating the site. The members of Gesher quickly took over the evacuated building and at 8pm heavy shelling of the police station and the kibbutz itself by the Jordanian Arab Legion began.  

The shelling continued throughout the next day too and on the night of April 28th, after 30 hours under attack, the kibbutz’s 52 children under the age of 6 and the wounded were evacuated to Ashdot Ya’acov. From there the children were taken to Haifa, where they stayed for almost two years. 

The Arab Legion continued to shell Gesher for a further two days. On the night of May 14th, Emil Brigg and two members of Kibbutz Gesher blew up the nearby bridges to prevent the advance of the approaching Iraqi Army into Israel. The next morning the Iraqis began shelling Gesher and the battle continued until late May when the Iraqi forces retreated, with the defenders holding strong but their kibbutz destroyed. 

The old police station is the site of a memorial to the ‘Gahal’ soldiers – Holocaust survivors newly arrived in Israel – who served there in 1948 and left writings in many languages – including Russian, Polish and Yiddish – on the walls of the building. Nearby – in the old Mandatory veterinary quarantine station which was taken over by the Arab Legion during the War of Independence – is the Rotenberg restaurant

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H7

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Bakery, Old Gesher

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“And in the night the children were evacuated from burning Gesher”

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The old railway bridge

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Gesher police station

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Memorial to the ‘Gahal’ soldiers

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Gesher police station

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Gesher police station

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Mandate-era veterinary quarantine station

8 comments on “Postcard from Israel – Old Gesher

  1. Pingback: Postcard from Israel – Old Gesher « Samlade saker

  2. As one of the children born in Gesher in 1989, I’d just like to say that everything written in this post is correct. It is worth noting that the armed kibbutznikim included man and woman. They were really just regular folks trying to protect the very little tht they had. I think only one man, an officer, had combat experience in WWII. Many kibbutznim north and south of Gesher have similar stories – lightly armed folks with no combat experience against an army with armor, artillery, etc.

    The new kibbutz is literally across the “street” but the vast majority of the agricultural fields surround the old fort. Sometimes, I think that the milluim, the Reservists, use the interior of the fort as a firing range sometimes. Hopefully the Jordanians finished blowing up all those land mines by now (the Jordanian border really is that close). It scared some tourists when they last did it.

    The Old Gesher is now a museum that covers some of the events mentioned above, the old power plant, and what was life like for the early kibbutzniks. It’s very nice.

    Like many kibbutzim at the time (when the kids came back), the children slept separately from the parents, guarded in the education/children’s wing. It wasn’t till my generation that we lived like normal families.

    Every one or few years, the children have this “activity” organized by the kibbutz where we re-take the steps of the children evacuated in 1948, in complete darkness and silence. The counselors act like it really is 1948. It was really exciting when I did it when I was 8 or 9 years old, and also a bit scared because of how real the counselors made it. It gives you a glimpse of a sliver of what many Jewish kids went through during HaShoah. It’s an experience that is impossible to teach in a museum
    though the Old Gesher museum might have a little bit more to say about the children’s exodus.

  3. This is a very important story to get out to the wider world. Deserves to be made into a movie.

      • So then you have a theme for the movie. Surely Israel has sufficient talent to put this together. It’s time to tell the story to combat the propaganda against Israel – not Hasbara, but a beautiful evocative movie with Oscar potential. Enough of such output as The Promise and Homeland. Polanski achieved this with his poignant movie The Pianist that not only told the story, but portrayed an eerie evocation of the current political atmosphere in which it is all happening again with different labels, under another guise, despite the promise of “never again”. It is also timely as the kibbutzim epitomise the current recessional issues in which we are all being encouraged to grow and source locally to survive in an an overburdened world, a world in which people even in the more affluent regions of the world are forming groups and organisations in order to survive, like the BarterCard. If I were a film maker I’d pounce on it, but sadly I’m not.

  4. Every Kibbutz does indeed have a story.especially in that area… i was on Kibbutz Beit Zera, next to Afakim and near to Gesher… i heard so many harrowing but inspirational first hand accounts of the amazing struggle to defend that land, after fighting so hard to turn it from malaria-ridden swamps. great post Hadar and yes Sharon.. this story does deserve a wider audience.

  5. Let me correct the name : it is Rutenberg and not Rotenberg.
    Pinhas Rutenberg was born in tsarists Russia (today Ukraine). His name written in the original Cyrillic spelling: Рутенберг.

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