Newly Released Footage Shows Traumatic 1948 Israeli Battle With Egypt

The Egyptian army captured Nitzanim, north of the Gaza Strip, in June 1948: Thirty members of the kibbutz were killed in and 105 people surrendered and were taken as prisoners

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First memorial service for the fallen of Nitzanim, 1949
First memorial service for the fallen of Nitzanim, 1949Credit: Yehuda Eisenstark, IDF archive, Ministry of Defense
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

To mark the 70th anniversary of the fall of Kibbutz Nitzanim to the Egyptians in the 1948 War of Independence, the Israel Defense Forces Archives has released a rare film on Sunday that was shot by the Egyptian army depicting the event. The first part of the film shows the kibbutz as well as a few buildings destroyed during the battles over the site.

The Israeli army trenches are shown, and in the next scene, Egyptian soldiers are seen saluting the Egyptian flag and saluting soldiers in the Egyptian army orchestra with trumpets from the base of the flagpole. An injured Jewish man is also shown receiving medical treatment. At the end of the film, female prisoners from the kibbutz are seen standing in a line going into a police station and accompanied by Egyptian soldiers.

The Egyptian army captured Nitzanim, north of the Gaza Strip between what are now the cities of Ashkelon and Ashdod, on June 7, 1948. Thirty leaders of the kibbutz were killed in battle and 105 people surrendered and were taken to Cairo as prisoners. To this day, the Battle of Nitzanim is considered a traumatic event. To many it has been perceived over the years as a humiliating surrender and a stain on the reputation of the kibbutz, whose members were sometimes called traitors. This attitude was reinforced in an article written by the former World War II Jewish partisan leader Abba Kovner entitled “The Fall of Nitzanim – a Failure.”

The Israeli army’s attempt in 1949 to rehabilitate the name of the kibbutz did not help its reputation, which had been struck a mortal blow. In a letter to the kibbutz members, army Chief of Staff Yaakov Dori wrote of the “defense [of the kibbutz] and the bitter struggle of its fighters” and of the “bitter loneliness of the fighters, who had lost contact with the home front, running out of ammunition and food.” He also mentioned the “large number of the fallen in that defense,” which he depicted as “true testimony to the desperate struggle that honors all those who fought there until the last bullet.”

Maj. Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Pundak, one of the commanders in that battle, who died a year ago at the age of 104, also came to the defense of the reputation of kibbutz members in recent years, pleading for “the mark of shame attached to Nitzanim without reason” to be removed. At his request, Pundak was buried at Kibbutz Nitzanim.

Evacuation of women from Kibbutz Nitzanim, 1948Credit: IDF archive at the Ministry of Defense

In addition to the Egyptian film, the IDF archive also released the transcripts on Sunday of phone conversations between fighters at Nitzanim during the battles showing the extent of their distress and those of the kibbutz residents.

“Nitzanim has been under attack since morning from mortars and machine guns. We have lost contact with you,” one call from the members of the 53rd Battalion of the Givati Brigade on April 20, 1948 said. In a call about 15 minutes later, the fighters of the 53rd Battalion said: “We report from Nitzanim that we have been under strong fire since the morning. Mortars are exploding in the center of the camp.” Later that day, there was a call from Nitzanim saying: “We have been fired on now for seven hours without letup. Send ammunition and weapons.”

Demolition of a British military camp near Nitzanim, 1948Credit: IDF archive at the Ministry of Defense

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