Monday, May 13, 2013

The Battle of Hanita 3

'The Attacking Force Must Be a Thousand Strong'

"For worse, it seems! At midnight the colony is attacked by a large guerrilla band. The prowlers are spotted by the revolving searchlight when they are only 200 yards distant and in the act of dividing themselves into 3 columns for the assault on the colony. The watchmen shout the alarm. Instantly the night is filled with the warcry of the Bedouin. It comes from all sides. The attacking force must be a thousand strong.* The searchlight beats down on the white-cloaked figures now running at top speed. They are coming from 3 sides and firing their rifles. But the Jews have manned the barricades. They are holding their fire. Suddenly the searchlight goes out. The attackers are too near now to let the light burn: it would give away the position of the defenders. The Bedouin blaze away aimlessly. But now there are short spurts of flame from the rocks of the barricade: the Jews have held their fire till their targets are unmistakably clear. Two, three, four salvos - and then stillness.

"The searchlight goes on and slowly turns its beam on the surrounding country: the Bedouin are streaming back. The firing has stopped altogether. Nothing is heard but the moaning and whimpering of the wounded. The beam points fiercely at a fallen Bedouin who is trying to raise himself on one hand while keeping the other convulsively clumped over his abdomen. When he becomes aware that the light keeps him in focus, he turns his face in the direction of the camp and cries out in a whimpering voice: Don't kill me, baba! Don't kill me, I am your brother! The light moves abruptly away from him. It sweeps, without stopping, over what appear mere bundles of white rags and then peers into the distance, lighting up the bluish hills opposite.

"The Bedouin are assembling for a new assault. The 3 columns are now merging into one solid phalanx. There is to be a mass attack this time. It is to come from the north side of the colony, the side where the barricade has not been completed. The first attackers have discovered the colony's weak spot. They now come running forward en masse, filling the night with their unearthly screeching. The searchlight beats down on them. When they are 400 yards away they drop to the ground and begin to disperse, crawling on hands and knees, taking advantage of every clump of shrubbery and of every boulder. Whenever the searchlight is turned in a southerly direction for a moment, to see that no enemies are sneaking up from the rear, the attackers in front, taking advantage of the temporary darkness, dash forward a few yards. The whole plain is filled with creeping, crawling figures.

"At a shout from one of the leaders they get to their feet and rush for the opening in the fence. The first men are 50 yards away when once more they drop to the ground. Now they fire their guns. The searchlight is bespattered with bullets. In a flash the Bedouin are up and running again. They are only 20 yards off. Their faces can be clearly distinguished. Many carry a knife between their teeth. That will be for throat-cutting and mutilation when they get within the colony. But now with a simultaneous crash the colonists' rifles spit fire. The foremost ranks of the attackers go down with a terrifying shout, the second and third waves push on over the bodies of the fallen. Another salvo from the colony, as deadly as the first. It is immediately followed by a third and a fourth. The Jewish fire is sustained. Some Bedouin are right on top of the barbed wire fence. One of them shouts to his followers: We are in! as he flourishes a long knife. At the same moment he grabs his throat and falls. A Jewish girl has shot him through the mouth. The bodies of 3 or 4 of his immediate followers fall on top of him, a writhing cluster of wounded and dead.

"The others still out in the field begin to waver. They fire their rifles and run back; first, individuals only, then the entire band runs and flees. The Jewish fire keeps up relentlessly. Every shot finds its mark among the retreating guerrillas. Dozens of white-cloaked figures slump forward. They do not rise again. Soon the night is still, except for the cry of wounded men.

"Once more, just before dawn, the horde returns. But again it is bloodily repulsed. When a British police patrol arrives at 7 o'clock, the colonists are watering the donkeys and rigging up the rest of the barricade. Others are busy putting the roof over the tool shed.

"What happened here last night? asks the officer commanding the patrol.

"We were attacked! replies one of the colonists.

"That's rather obvious, says the officer The whole plain is covered with dead men. We surprised the last Bedouin carrying off their wounded... Have you any casualties?

"The colonist points in the direction of the tent where the scroll of the Law was placed the previous afternoon. Eight dead, one wounded; he is dying too!*

"Well, this is no place for a colony anyway, says the officer shaking his head. What will you do if they come back tonight?

"We will be ready for them! says the Jew quietly, as he drives a stake into the ground.

"The officer looks into the tent where the dead lie and takes out a notebook. He writes something down in it, walks out, swings back into the saddle, and rides off with his men.

"Thus ends the first day in the life of Hanita, the name by which the colony is to be known. Hanita means spearhead, a pointing arrow." (pp 214-217)

[*Now recall that line of J.M.N. Jeffries': "The strategic character of Hanuta was endorsed by an attack upon it, in which one of its defenders was killed and one of the assailants." (See my 12/5/13 post Israel: The Movie?)]

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