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.