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Mordechai Baron and Moshe Dayan
photo courtesy of Mordechai Baron


April 11, 2013

I recently found this item for sale on e-bay, a medal that Syria awarded for valour to those Syrians who fought in Israel’s war of Independence in 1948-1949 to eliminate the fledgling Jewish state. (see photo)

A picture paints a 1000 words, and this Medal of Palestine, which was made in France and instituted in 1951 certainly does.

The image of the swords near the top of the medal , the symbol of Christianity (the “Church of the Nativity”) and the Symbol of Islam (”The Dome of the Rock”) make for an arresting image. These images are at the top of a map of the entire area of what was British Mandatory Palestine, including land east of the Jordan River which the British gave to the Hashemite kingdom of Jordan in 1922.

Clearly, the medal is saying that there is not to be any State of Israel, nor any Jewish presence in the Middle East. The area is to be Islamic and Christian (hence no Magen David). I think the medal makes it pretty clear why in 1948, Jews fighting in Israel’s war of Independence, many having just survived the Holocaust, reasonably feared that had they lost that war, they would have been collectively slaughtered. The image on this medal would have been fulfilled very literally.

During Israel’s 1948 War of Independence, the Syrian army attacked the area south of the Sea of Galilee and readied to attack Degania, the first kibbutz founded in Israel, which was the birthplace of Moshe Dayan, who was born in Degania (his father Shmuel had been a founder of the Kibbutz). Dayan led Israel in the fateful battle against the Syrians over Degania.

As Mordechai Baron, in his 2012 book “Moshe Dayan, Israel’s Controversial Hero” writes, “For Dayan, retreat was not to be considered.”

“….In the nine-hour attack on both Deganya Aleph and Degania Bet, two Syrian tanks breached the fences but were stopped by a flurry of Molotov cocktails. As the stalemate continued into the afternoon, Dayan decided to introduce a battery of old field cannons into the battle. Though they were missing their sights, accuracy was not the priority; the Syrian soldiers were spread out. The cannons, the first used by the Jewish army, served their purpose and surprised the Syrians, who scattered in every direction.”

In his autobiography, Dayan recalled of the battle, which he referred to as hard, depressing and tragic: “Much young blood spilt. Not the blood of war-seasoned soldiers. Young blood, meeting death open-eyed. Casualties abandoned to moan at the roadside. Their friends, pursued by fire, unable to attend to them or gather them up. Defenders fighting with pathetic weapons against Syrian tanks, canon, and armored cars…It was valiant…desperate battle of no retreat, this battle for the Deganias.”

Looking back, I can only imagine that had the Syrians overrun Degania, the Jews of Degania would have all been slaughtered, as would others as the Syrians advanced. If one fast forwards to today, and considers the unbridled violence in Syria, it is hard for me to imagine that had the Syrian army succeeded in battle against Israel in 1948, there would have been any Jews left standing.

As it is, the 2,000-year-old Jobar Synagogue in the Syrian capital of Damascus was looted and burned to the ground approx. two weeks ago. The Jobar Synagogue, in the neighborhood of the same name in northeastern Damascus, was a relic of the area's once sizeable Jewish population. Not surprisingly, the Syrian army loyal to President Bashar Assad and rebel forces have been blaming each other for the destruction of the historic synagogue.

The synagogue fell out of use after the foundation of Israel in 1948 (many Syrian Jews fled to Palestine after the 1947 riots), and most of Syria's Jews left during the next few decades, given the antisemitism and discrimination they faced.

The heroic and secret work of a Canadian Jewish woman, Judy Feld Carr, enabled some 3,228 Jews emigrate from Syria. Feld Carr used funds from the Dr. Ronald Feld Fund for Jews in Arab Lands (established at Beth Tzedec Synagogue, Toronto in 1973), donated privately, both to negotiate ransom for the release of Syrian Jews, from prisons inside Syria and for passports and visas, permitting them to leave, as well as smuggling others across borders and out of that country. The process took over 28 years, in complete secrecy to protect the lives of those in danger, as well as to protect the whole process. The majority of the Jews who were enabled to leave emigrated to Israel, New York or South America. Feld Carr described the venture:

"We Were Buying Jews, One by One, from a Hostile Government. It was the best-kept secret in the Jewish World."


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