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Metzudat Koach - Camaraderie Under Fire

  • 31.12.2017
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  • Mordechai Naor
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Metzudat Koach (The Nabi Yusha police building) is one of the most widely known buildings from the time of the independence war. The building and its surrounding area were the site for three battles in the April and May of 1948, of which the most well-known is the battle that took place on the night of April 20th, 1948, where 22 Palmach warriors from the 3rd battalion fell.

The story of the Nabi Yusha police building begins ten years before the battles of 1948. During the Arab Revolt (1939-1936), Arab terrorists (then called “gang members”) infiltrated from Syria and Lebanon to Upper Galilee. The British rule decided to put an end to these incursions and set up a defense system designed to prevent them. Called in from India to manage the project was Charles Tegart, a British counter-terrorism expert.

The fence stretched for many kilometers, from Rosh HaNikra in the west to the Hula sea in the east, and from there south to the north of the Kinneret sea and to its southern shore. It was built by Jewish workers and guards – about 1300 – over several weeks. “Pillbox” fortifications were built in order to defend the fence, as well as five police stations which are still standing today. Nabi Yusha was the easternmost of these police stations, looking over the Hula Valley.

During the second world war these pillboxes and police stations filled an important part in defending the northern border from a possible invasion of the pro-Nazi Vichy French army, which held Syria and Lebanon until it was defeated by the British. During our war of independence one of those five police became especially famous – the Nabi Yusha police station.

As was mentioned before, three battles took place around and at the building. Before pulling their forces out of the country the British handed control of the fortified building over to the Arabs. “Haganah” (which would later form the IDF) forces tried to take the station from the Arabs in order to remove the Arab threat from the Galilee Panhandle, for whoever controlled the station controls the only road going north from Rosh Pinna. The first attack, which took place on April 15th 1948, was comprised of two Golani platoons and one Palmach platoon, did not succeed , and the force took four casualties.

Five days later, on the night of April 20th, forces from the Palmach’s third battalion attacked the station from two sides. This assault also did not succeed, and the attackers took heavy casualties – 22 dead and dozens wounded. During the fight and the difficult evacuation many acts of heroism and sacrifice took place, and one of them merited a Hero of Israel military decoration, given after the end of the war to Yizhar Armoni, who fell in the battle.

One month later, on May 17th, 1948, the station was conquered by a force from the Palmach’s third battalion. Two soldiers lost their lives during the battle, bringing the total casualties is the three battles for the Nabi Yusha police station to 28. These 28 fallen soldiers are the reason the name of the building has been changed to Metzudat Koach (Metzudah – the Hebrew word for “Fort”, Koach – Strength, and also the number 28 in gematria). Another name for the place is Metzudat Yesha. The casualties of the second battle are buried in a mass grave near the station building, where a monument stands today, commemorating the fallen of the three battles. Today the building is under the care of the Israeli Border Police.

The Camaraderie Museum
The founding of the museum was initiated by Yehuda Dekel of blessed memory (1929-2008) who served for many years as chairman of the Society of Preservation of Israel Heritage Sites. Yehuda was a soldier in the Palmach and a member of the Hatzofim Hakhshara in Kibbutz Dafna, which lost 12 of its members and three of its commanders in the second battle for the police station. The fallen were Dekel’s close friends, many of them going back to school and kindergarten. After the third battle he arrived at the station with his friends to collect the fallen, whose bodies they found in pairs – evidence of the extraction efforts of a healthy fighter trying to save his wounded friend, and killed alongside him.

Since that battle in 1948 Yehuda Dekel has not let go of his dream, his vision: to commemorate the fallen in the battles for Nabi Yusha in a museum, where the central theme will be camaraderie, for – as he wrote in his book ‘A Drop of My Own’ – “Camaraderie overpowered them”. It was he who made every effort until he had the fort named a “National Commemoration Site”. After years of research he had published the book “Metzudat Koach – Camaraderie Under Fire”. This is also the name that was chosen for the camaraderie museum, which will include four sections. This main display will be dedicated to the heroic battle of April 20th, 1948.

In the spirit of Yehuda Dekel’s vision and will, people and institutions banded together to found the museum: Stef Wertheimer, the Dekel family, the Israeli government’s Morshet project lead by Tsvika Hauser, member of the Kibbutz Dafna Hakhshara, the surrounding Kibbutz’s and the Society for Preservation of Israel Heritage Sites, lead by CEO Omri Shalmon.

Museum Sections:
a.    Constructing the Nabi Yusha police building and the rest of the Galilee police buildings (as opposed to Tegart’s other police buildings throughout Israel) in the late 30s – as part of the British deployment in the north.
b.    The fight for the Galilee Panhandle in the first six months of the ’48 Independence War, including the effort to capture the police stations evacuated by the British, and specifically the Nabi Yusha station. Special attention will be given to the settlements’ fortitude, the fight for transportation and the roles of the fighting forces, mainly from Palmach and Golani.
c.    The tale of one Palmach Hakhshara – Hakhsharat Hatzofim in Kibbutz Dafna  as an example for this kind of Hakhshara. Members of Kibbutz Dafna played an important role in assaulting on the Nabi Yusha polica building that took place on April 20th. Out of the 22 casualties in this battle, 12 were members of the Dafna Hakhshara and another three – their commanders.
d.    The three battles for Nabi Yusha, including the central and most well-known battle – that of April 20th, 1948. Special emphasis will be put on the heroism, boldness, loyalty, and the camaraderie to the very last moment.

This section will feature stories, photos, and video and audio segments from, and of, the fighters. One of the casualties, Yizhar Armoni, is counted as one of the 12 “Heroes of Israel” of the independence war, and his Medal of Valor scroll will be part of the exhibition. Another tale of heroism and camaraderie is that of Amnon Ben-Yehuda, who was mortally wounded in his head in the battle on April 20th. His friends and members of the near-by Ramot Naftali community treated his wounds for two days, until he was transferred on a stretcher on a rough, mountainous road, in a trip lasting 8 hours to Ayelet HaShahar. From there he was rushed to the Beilinson Hospital where his life was saved.

A prominent spot in the display will be dedicated to “Dudu”, the famous poem  written by Haim Hefer and composed by Alexander Uriah Boskovich. The poem was written about David (Dudu) Cherkesky from Kfar Azar, commander of the breach squad tasked with detonating the police station and who fell in the second battle. A special spot will be dedicated to the 28 casualties, including their pictures, biographies, and their part in the battles in which they fell.

At the conclusion of the museum’s tour, visitors will be invited to watch a short film made in the tradition of mass-battle scenes, recreating the second battle for the fort. Books, booklets, articles, pictures, and audio-visual material dealing or mentioning the battles of Nabi Yusha will be kept in a special wing. Visitors will be able to use computer screens in order to get details and information on the fallen fighters, the battles, and all other information pertaining to the site.

The purpose is for the museum to fill three roles: describing the battles, commemorating the fallen, and praising the camaraderie amongst the fighters  during battle. Alongside these, we hope the Camaraderie Museum will be a center for teaching the legacy of the 1948 battles in the galilee, and a home base for trips and tours of the surrounding area.

Planning, Design, and Implementation
The origin point for planning the Camaraderie Museum was a search for a central motif connecting the natural surroundings, the fort, historical events, camaraderie, the unparalleled sacrifice under fire, and communion with the fallen. After much thought and studying of all these elements, the motif of camaraderie was chosen to lead the museum’s planning and design. The fight to breach the station during the second battle and the eastern sector where the force which aided the assault was located, were chosen to represent this motif.

According to this plan Museum will span 300 square meters and will be located several meters from the fort’s northern wall. This wall was the second assault’s main objective, and through it the building was to be breached. In the collective historical Israeli memory this historical event has received two treatments. On the one hand this is a story of a foiled assault and of a retreat from the battlefield, while on the other hand this event gave birth to amazing tales of sacrifice and camaraderie. The meeting between these two sides to the events dictated the design of the museum’s exhibition path.

And so, according to the plan the visitor must walk quite a distance before entering the museum. He will walk on a path going around the fort’s eastern side, past the mass grave of the fighters who fell during the battles, and into the museum itself. In the museum the visitor will find the main, diagonal, path, made of shining marble, with a ceiling above it, parallel in its shape to the path. The white marble is meant to contradict the dark wooden deck floor covering the entire museum. The contrast between the white and the black is being aided by spot lighting, accentuated by the dark space around it. The contrasts between forms as well as between light and dark, black and white, will serve the story and the drama included in it, emphasizing the presence of both life and bereavement, side by side.  The exhibition elements will be placed perpendicular to the white marble path, creating an open flow between the areas composing the museum’s space and telling the tale of this historical time and the battles that took place in it.

The design approach which emphasizes the contrast matches the historical tale and the memory left behind, intensifying the experience for prospective visitors from the different target audiences the Camaraderie Museum is intended for.

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