Perspectives on the Battle of Latrun

GIDEON ALTSCHULER, Veteran
Latrun is unique. I don't know if there are many other places which left wounds as Latrun. It's a wound up to now.

ZVI HASHIN, Veteran
We didn't lose, we won. The battle of Latrun as itself failed. But if you take it as part of a big picture, I'm not sure it failed. Because we established communication with Jerusalem. Wasn't that the purpose?

ANITA SHAPIRA, Historian
From the vantage point of today, Latrun seems a very straightforward battle. But from the point of view of the War of Independence, or the '48 war, it was one of the more complex and more mysterious battles.

ILAN PAPPE, Historian
Israel is a very ideological society, a very nationalist society. And a nationalist society cannot survive as such if it is not fed by myth, especially foundational myth. Myth and reality get mixed in Israel. It's much more a country of mythology than of history.

SHLOMO SHAMIR, Commander, 7th Brigade
I think every community of people, state or group, whether it's rational or not, builds its legacy. Its inheritance. So now when you go back to the War of Independence, I think our aim is to try and get it into a legacy which is a source of power that you can be proud of even if you had losses. It is in that texture that I put it to you, the Latrun Battle. The battle for Jerusalem.

ANITA SHAPIRA, Historian
There is no other battle in which the role of the survivors is so crucial to the story as the Battle of Latrun. The more the impact of the Holocaust on Israeli imagination, the stronger the story of Latrun became. And in a way Latrun became this central battle of survivors in the War of Independence.

SHLOMO SHAMIR, Commander, 7th Brigade
We didn't have enough people, so here come the immigration. A big discussion, should the new immigrants take part in the battles or not? God forbid that if we didn't take them in to take part of it there would have never been recreation of the unity of the Jewish people.

ILAN PAPPE, Historian
The leadership felt that indeed immigrants, in order to become part of the community, have to take part in the military effort, whether they were able to do so or not didn't interest anyone. What was interesting, what was important for them is to show this is the highest level of commitment. I remember one sentence of David Ben Gurion who said, "There is a problem with the holocaust survivor. They haven't yet sacrificed anyone in the defense of the homeland." He wanted them to have martyrs, people who died defending the homeland. He thought this would put them on par, on an equal level with the veteran Sabras, the heroic soldiers of the Haganah.

BENNY MORRIS, Historian
Immediately after the first battle of Latrun a rumor surfaced saying that a large number of the participants, why had the battle failed? Because a large number of the participants had been non-veterans, Holocaust survivors who hadn't fired a gun before and so on. And therefore, they threw in raw troops against hardened Arab Legion troops and therefore they lost.

ANITA SHAPIRA, Historian
Those who wished to attack Ben Gurion and to attack Shlomo Shamir and the like, they found in Latrun a case study to show how those people did not know how to lead the army in a decisive battle that decided the future of the road to Jerusalem and in which so many people died. This was how they wanted to blame Ben Gurion for the defeat. Not only for the defeat, for causing the death of survivors of the Holocaust in a battle that was in vain. What can be worse than that?

ANITA SHAPIRA, Historian
It started with a few hundred and with, with time people talked about thousands of casualties, escalating from one decade to the other. Even in the 80's members of the Knesset talked about 2,000 dead from the battle of Latrun. It's unbelievable that people could have considered Latrun to have such a number of casualties. This is only to show you the influence of the myth in creating the image of Latrun as a monstrous battle, a monstrous defeat.

BENNY MORRIS, Historian
The great sacrifice in Latrun can be turned on its head and used as a myth to propagate being a nation willing to sacrifice, and an image of a nation which is unwilling to make concessions because of the sacrifices it has made and so on. Because we paid such a large price, we'll retain territory, we'll prevent the refugees from coming back, because we paid in blood for all of this. And Latrun, in some sense, was part of that, that was one part of the payments in blood, one of the large payments. So, there was sort of an interest even in exaggerating the numbers in Latrun.

ILAN PAPPE, Historian
I think the Latrun myth served several functions. One function was that it was a proof for the myth of the few against the many. The general balance of power was not reflected in the Latrun battle. But it was very important for the Jewish state and for those who constructed the collective memory to turn Latrun into the war itself and to claim that the balance of power there was the balance of power elsewhere. Because that created another myth, the myth of moral superiority. How can a smaller David defeat a huge Goliath if he is weak in every military aspect. The answer is very clear, because it has a moral superiority, because it is the just party in the conflict, because it has history on its side, or if you want God on its side and so on.

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