The Road Of Courage

A commemorative stamp is issued each year to mark Memorial Day (Yom Ha'Zikaron) – Israeli Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terrorism Remembrance Day. Yom Ha'zikaron is observed on the day just before Independence Day. The featured stamp is from 1980, featuring the Road of Courage monument.

When the War Of Independence started, the main road from the coast to Jerusalem went via Ramleh, Sha'ar Haggai and the Kastel. It passed through a number of Arab settlements including Ramleh, and on the outbreak of the war (the day after the United Nations decision of November 29, 1947) Jewish traffic through these settlements became impossible.

In order to by-pass these Arab settlements, Jewish traffic to Jerusalem was diverted to alternative routes. But between Latrun (the place where the mountains on the way to Jerusalem begin) and Jerusalem, however, there were no alternative routes and traffic moved in convoys accompanied by Haganah fighters armed with light weapons which had to be hidden from the eye of the British who would have confiscated defensive arms from the Jews while turning a blind eye to the Arab gangs who operated quite openly.

However, the use of alternative routes, travel in convoys, the armed escorts and at a later stage, the use of vehicles equipped with armor plating, failed to solve the problem of protecting the convoys against Arab attacks. A particularly dangerous section was the narrow stretch of road around Sha'ar Haggai and the sharp bends winding up to the Kastel, but the rest of the road was by no means free of dangers.

The Arab attacks cost the lives of many of those brave defenders of the convoys and threatened to cut the life-line to Jerusalem. The situation became critical in March 1948 as the Arabs intensified their attacks. The convoy which left for Jerusalem on March 31 was attacked near Huldah, 17 of its defenders were killed and the convoy had to turn back and Jerusalem was effectively cut off.

A way had to be found of reopening the road to Jerusalem. Operation "Nachshon" was mounted from April 3-15,1948 and marked a turning point in the war. For the first time a force of brigade strength was assembled and given the task of conquering the Arab strongholds along the road to Jerusalem and holding them in order to keep the road to Jerusalem open.

There was fierce fighting, particularly around the Kastel, which changed hands a number of times, but the road to Jerusalem was opened and a number of convoys reached Jerusalem.

Operation "Harel"(April 15-21, 1948) followed operation "Nachshon" and three giant convoys consisting of hundreds of vehicles got through to Jerusalem. However, because of the difficult situation in Jerusalem itself, the "Harel" brigade had to break off the operation and take up positions in Jerusalem. So once again the road was closed.

Operation "Maccabi" (May 8-18, 1948) was then mounted in order to clear the road but the troops had to take up positions in anticipation of an attack by the regular Arab armies and it was only on the last night that a single convoy got through to Jerusalem - that was the last convoy to reach the Holy City and Jerusalem remained isolated until the "Burma Road" was constructed.

The Arab Legion took Latrun and closed the road to Jerusalem. The Latrun fortress then became the prime target for reopening the road to Jerusalem and, in fact, for deciding the very fate of Jerusalem itself. A new brigade - the 7th - was put together for the attack on the fortress, but two attacks made at the end of May ended in failure.

However, the capture of several Arab villages in the vicinity enabled the force to make contact with the defenders of the Jerusalem corridor, and made it possible to improvise an alternative route to Jerusalem hidden from the eyes of the Arab Legion. This road was called the "Burma Road" (after the road that the Allied troops built in the north of Burma during World War II in order to get supplies through to the Chinese in their fight against Japan). The road went from Dir Mukhsin, cut the Hartuv Sha'ar Haggai road and reached Jerusalem near what is now Sho'evah.

At the beginning, only jeeps could use the road, and at one point it was necessary to unload the vehicles coming from the plain and carry them by mule and on the backs of porters to meet the vehicles coming from Jerusalem. But thanks to the efforts of hundreds of workers from Jerusalem and the coastal plain the road was improved and opened to traffic. By the time of the first cease-fire (June 11, 1948) the new road to Jerusalem was an established fact.

As the war continued, the corridor to Jerusalem was widened and Ramleh and Lod (Lydda) were captured.

However, three further attacks on Latrun were thrown back and the section of the road near the Latrun fortress remained in the hands of the Arab Legion until the Six-Day War.

Later in the war a more convenient path was found for constructing a road to Jerusalem - the "Road of Courage." This road began at Huldah, joined the Hartuv Sha'ar Haggai road at the Shimshon junction and continued to Jerusalem. This road was inaugurated on December 7, 1948 and served as the main road to Jerusalem right up to the Six-Day War.

In inaugurating the new road, David Ben Gurion, then Prime Minister and Minister of Defense, recalled the battles to open the road to Jerusalem and in referring to the "Road of Courage" talked about "a permanent road along which there will spring up a string of settlements to form a living link between the center of Jewish settlement and the Jew's eternal capital – Jerusalem."

He continued, "As we inaugurate this road, let us remember with gratitude all those fighters of the infantry, the armored corps and the artillery, the road-builders of the engineering corps who laid the water pipes, the workers of Solel-Boneh, the workers of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and the brave drivers from all parts of the country who played a part in this military and colonizing effort which will always have a place in the history of the redemption of Zion. This road is a monument to Jewish valor and labor which will always prevail."

The stamp depicts the Road of Courage monument. The monument stands next to Kibbutz Mishmar David near the beginning of the "Road of Courage," and it commemorates those fighters and road-builders who kept the road to Jerusalem open during the War of Independence. The tab inscription is: "Memorial Day for the Fallen of Israel's Defense Army 1980."

The stamp was issued in 1980.