Bab El Wad / Haim Gouri: A Newly Published Translation From the Late, Great Israeli Poet

Haim Gouri, one of the most renowned intellectuals in Israel's history, died aged 94. Read his poem 'Bab el Wad,' published here in English for the first time

The shells of armored vehicles at Sha'ar Hagai / Bab el Wad
Tomer Appelbaum

Haim Gouri, considered one of the most renowned intellectuals in Israel's history, died Wednesday at the age of 94. Below is a never-before published translation of his poem "Bab el Wad."

Bab el Wad

Here I’m passing by. I stand beside the rock,
A black asphalt highway, mountain ridges, stones.
Evening darkens slowly and a sea breeze blows.
Over Beit Mahsir, the first starlight glows.

Bab el Wad,
Remember our names for all time. 
Where convoys to the city broke through 
Our dead lie sprawled by the roadside.  
The iron skeleton, like my comrade, is mute.  

Here tar and lead baked in the sun
Here nights passed with fire and blades
Here grief and glory dwell side by side
A scorched armored car and unknown men’s names.

Bab el Wad...

And here I walk by, making no sound
And I remember them all, remember each one.
Here together we fought on cliffs and harsh ground 
Here as one family, each to each bound.

Bab el Wad...

A spring day will come and cyclamens bloom
Anemones redden the hilltop and slope.
You who will walk here, on the path that we trod
Never forget us – we are Bab el Wad. 

Bab el Wad...

Translated from Hebrew by Vivian Eden

Haim Gouri
\ Daniel Tchetchik

Bab al Wad, the Gate of the Valley – in Hebrew, Sha’ar Hagai – is that place familiar to travellers on the main Tel Aviv-Jerusalem road where hills meet flatlands and drivers shift gears. In 1948 the Palmach (pre-state military organization) Harel Brigade commanded by Yitzhak Rabin waged bloody battles on its strategic terrain to enable passage of supply convoys to blockaded Jerusalem.  The Palestinian village of Beit Mahsir is now the religious Moshav Beit Meir. 

Arab fighters scan the hills of the Bab El Wad area on May 10, 1948. Arab and Jewish Forces clashed in a battle for control of the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway in Palestine.
Jim Pringle / AP Photo

Haim Gouri was the doyen of native-born Hebrew poets. When he expressed his changing views of the country he always loved, Israelis listened. In 1948 he fought as a deputy company commander in the Palmach Negev Brigade and wrote this poemcommemorating the fighters who accompanied the convoys and fell at Bab el Wad. To this day, iron skeletons of scorched armored cars from the convoys line the roadside as a memorial to them. 

The poem, as sung by Shoshana Damari to music by Shmuel Fershko, is a beloved classic always heard on occasions like Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers.