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Ancient and not-so-ancient history meet in the blossoming Neve Ilan Forest

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Eliezer Schwartz was born in Germany in 1928, and moved with his family to France as a child. After Germany occupied France, he joined the Maquis, groups of young men who fled to the woods and mountains in order to avoid being conscripted into forced labor for Germany. Soon they became active members in the French Resistance, carrying out missions against the Nazis.

Schwartz survived the war and, in 1945, aged 17, headed for what was then British Mandate Palestine. A year later he became one of the founding members of a pioneer outpost called Kibbutz Neve Ilan in the hills above the narrow road leading to and from Jerusalem. Land for the outpost had been purchased by the Jewish National Fund from an Arab effendi after David Ben Gurion — later to become Israel’s first prime minister — deemed it prudent to establish a military presence above that all-important narrow byway.

The stony land made agriculture difficult and there was no electricity; water was brought in once a week by truck and poured into a cistern. And at the end of November 1947, after the United Nations approved a plan for Palestine that called for its division into one Arab and one Jewish state, relations that had been friendly with neighboring Arabs deteriorated. They immediately cut off the road to Jerusalem and supplies were only able to reach the Holy City in fortified convoys.

On January 15, 1948, Schwartz and some friends were walking near the outpost when they were ambushed. Nineteen-year-old Schwartz was shot and killed — Neve Ilan’s first fatality.

During the 1948 War of Independence, Neve Ilan came under heavy fire from Arab armies, and the outpost was severely damaged. But after the war ended, Neve Ilan began a speedy economic development by introducing poultry and dairy farms, and raising mushrooms.

Unfortunately, as the kibbutz expanded and thrived economically, relations between the members did not. In the early 1950s, members left the kibbutz, and it was finally abandoned in 1956.

The Neve Ilan of today was........

© The Times of Israel

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