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Battle of Nirim, 1948

 

Nirim is a Kibbutz of the Kibbutz Artzi Hashomer Hatzair federation, founded in 1947, originally at Dagur in the northern Negev, near the southern end of the Gaza strip. The map shows the location of Nirim in 1948. After the Israel War of Independence, it was moved twelve km to the north east.

The battle of Nirim in the Israel War of Independence was one of several that became paradigmatic of the valor and obstinacy with which Israelis defend our country.  In May of 1948, there were 39-45 kibbutz members in this barely established community. The buildings consisted of a "secure house," four wooden shacks,  two tin shacks for showers and toilet, a generator, a covered area for animals and a silo. Their weapons consisted of 10 rifles, 7 Italian carbines, four semi-automatic rifles: 3 Sten and one Thompson, a Czech MG.34 light machinegun, a Bren machine gun, a "Schwartzlose" heavy machine gun (Austrian weapon of pre-World War I vintage), a two inch mortar and a PIAT (Projector, Infantry anti-Tank) gun, an older anti-tank gun of unspecified model, some hand grenades and 1 kilo sacks of explosives.

For the May Day celebrations, a poster had been hung in the dining room proclaiming "The human will triumph over the tank." On May 13 a few Palmach people had come to give the Kibbutz members a "culture day." They worked far into the night digging a shelter for the infirmary.

According to various accounts Nirim was attacked by 1-2  Egyptian battalions   at 7 AM on the morning of May 15, 1948. According to Benny Morris (1999, p.238-239) Nirim was attacked by the Egyptian Sixth Battalion, whose operations officer was Gamal Abdel Nasser. The attacking force consisted of about 600 infantry supported by six armored cars with two and six pound guns, twenty armored Bren gun carriers, a battery of twenty-five pounder artillery, and a battery of 3 inch mortars. 

The attack began with a heavy artillery bombardment, and an attempted advance. This was repelled, but the Egyptians returned to shell the kibbutz in the afternoon for several hours.  Every building in the kibbutz was hit and most structures were burned down. Six people were killed including the commander and his replacement. However, the Egyptians eventually stopped the artillery shelling and could be seen holding a "victory" celebration near Rafah. The walls of the dining room remained in place, and on one wall, the May day banner:  "The human will triumph over the tank."

In his book, "Until the ink flag," General Adan ("Bren") wrote:

"Nirim absorbed nine measures of destruction and extermination. Everything that was above ground was destroyed and burned. The communication trenches were destroyed, about a third of the defenders were casualties, including the commanders. Most of the automatic weapons became useless, but nonetheless the attackers did not achieve paralysis [of the settlement].

The concentration in the little yard area and the personal example of of all those who, despite the heavy shelling continued to move about the grounds in order to see and be seen, accomplished their purpose. Men and women runners maintained unceasing contact between the positions and the shelters, the fighters did not quit and go into hiding, did not hide in the shelters. They continued to fight all the time. In the most difficult moments they did not contemplate withdrawal or surrender. The determination with which they acted tipped the balance. The enemy was made to feel their effectiveness at the crucial moments, when they were at close range,  the only place where the arms of the defenders could be effective. The small band of defenders was attacked by an Egyptian infantry battalion of about a thousand troops, a company of six armored cars, a company of 3" mortars (6 barrels) a heavy machine gun company and about 20 armored cars mounting automatic weapons. The attackers were backed by an artillery brigade and tanks."

The battle of Nirim had an important effect on morale, as well as buying precious time while arms could be brought into the country. Palmach commander Chaim Bar-Lev, commented:

If forty-five lightly armed Jews could best an expanded, well-supported Egyptian battalion, the the Yishuv would defeat the invading armies. (Morris, 1999, page 228).

Radio Cairo announced that the Egyptians had conquered Nirim. It was not so, but the isolated settlement continued to suffer the depredations of the enemy for many months.

The battle of Nirim, and the battles of Negba, Kfar Darom, Kibbutz Degania A and B, Yad Mordechai and others all bought precious time until arms could be brought into the new country of Israel and until the IDF could be organized and its soldiers trained to use those arms. The nature of these battles must be weighed against the claims of "New Historians" that Israel had superior arms and superiority in troops in the first Arab-Israeli arms. The battles of Negba are particularly significant because they took place in June and July, when the IDF was supposedly organized and had already imported comparatively large quantities of weapons. Clearly, no force was available even then to provide air support or artillery.

Comparing numbers of troops as some do is deceptive.  Near the end of the fighting, in January of 1949, Israel had  100,000 "soldiers." These included new trainees, people engaged in local defense of settlements and rearguard soldiers. But Israel had only 12 active combat brigades - about 35,000 active troops. At the peak, the Arab armies had over 55,000 active combat troops fighting  in Israel. 

References:

History of Nirim

Morris, Benny, Righteous Victims, Alfred Knopf, 1999.

Synonyms and alternate spellings: Dagor, Dagour

Further Information: 


Hebrew/Arabic pronunciation and transliteration conventions:

'H - ('het) a guttural sound made deep in the throat. To Western ears it may sound like the "ch" in loch. In Arabic there are several letters that have similar sounds. Examples: 'hanukah, 'hamas, 'haredi. Formerly, this sound was often represented by ch, especially in German transliterations of Hebrew. Thus, 'hanukah is often rendered as Chanuka for example.

ch - (chaf) a sound like "ch" in loch or the Russian Kh as in Khruschev or German Ach, made by putting the tongue against the roof of the mouth. In Hebrew, a chaf can never occur at the beginning of a word. At the beginning of a word, it has a dot in it and is pronounced "Kaf."

u - usually between oo as in spoon and u as in put.

a- sounded like a in arm

ah- used to represent an a sound made by the letter hey at the end of a word. It is the same sound as a. Haganah and Hagana are alternative acceptable transliterations.

'a-notation used for Hebrew and Arabic ayin, a guttural ah sound.

o - close to the French o as in homme.

th - (taf without a dot) - Th was formerly used to transliterate the Hebrew taf sound for taf without a dot. However in modern Hebrew there is no detectable difference in standard pronunciation of taf with or without a dot, and therefore Histadruth and Histadrut, Rehovoth and Rehovot are all acceptable.

q- (quf) - In transliteration of Hebrew and Arabic, it is best to consistently use the letter q for the quf, to avoid confusion with similar sounding words that might be spelled with a kaf, which should be transliterated as K. Thus, Hatiqva is preferable to Hatikva for example.


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This work is copyright 2008 by Ami Isseroff and Zionism and Israel Information Center and may not reproduced in any form without permission unless explicitly noted otherwise. This entry is copyright 2008. Quoted materials may be copyright by their authors and must not be used in commercial publications without permission.  Individual entries may be cited with credit to The Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Zionism and Israel

 

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