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ISRAEL: In Abraham’s Bosom

3 minute read

More than 3,000 years ago the Egyptians pursued the Jews out of Egypt northward into the desert. Last week in the midst of Succot, or Feast of the Tabernacles (which commemorates their ancient exodus), the Jews were again on the move. This time they were headed south, driving the Egyptians before them. With their occupation of Beersheba,* traditional southern boundary of the biblical kingdom of David and Solomon, the Jews felt they had really come home. Cabled Israel’s Ben-Gurion to the forces on the southern front: “With your blood you have reforged the link with our forefather Abraham.”

He might also have sent (he didn’t) a cable of thanks to the U.N. in Paris. The Security Council’s first cease-fire cable to the Israeli government was ambiguous; it read like a suggestion rather than an order. Ben-Gurion and his ministers took a leisurely day and a half and four cabinet sessions to “study” the document and take full advantage of their luck. By the time U.N. got around to sending a clear cease-fire order, Beersheba had fallen and the control of the Negeb desert was solidly in Israeli hands.

Other results of the eight days’ fighting were the decisive defeat of the Egyptian army (now reduced to half a dozen pockets), the encirclement of Gaza, chief Arab supply base on the coast, and the flight of the Mufti’s Arab Palestine government from Gaza to a Cairo suburb, where it declared itself ready to cede “its” territory to Transjordan’s King Abdullah. By routing the Egyptians and their stooge, the Mufti, the Israelis had greatly strengthened the hand of Abdullah, the one Arab leader with whom they thought they might successfully talk peace. By the same token, they had increased the dissension between him and his jealous Arab rivals.

At week’s end the U.N.’s third truce in Palestine was being vigorously violated by both sides. The Jews stood accused by the U.N. Truce Commission of reopening hostilities in the Negeb and at Gaza. The Egyptians were fighting desperately to escape from their pockets. On the northern front, in Galilee, which had seen no major fighting since July 18, the Lebanese and Syrians opened a belated offensive.

Arab-Israeli hatred was still rising. In hand-to-hand fighting around Huleiqat Israelis complained that Egyptian soldiers were biting them in the necks.*

*For Arabs, too, Beersheba had deep historical and religious significance. It was here that Abraham drove out into the wilderness his Egyptian servant Hagar, and Ishmael, the son she had borne him. Ishmael, according to Mohammedan tradition, became the father of the Arab race.

*Not forbidden by the Hague Convention (Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land).

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