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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Canyon Derech Burma©

Written by Vardah Littmann           Photos by Rimonah Traub

In a verdant park near the Beit Shemesh-Jerusalem road, majestic, old carob trees shade the sweet smelling, clover- covered landscape.  This is a wonderful spot for a family outing with plenty of room for the kids and grandkids to romp around as the adults sit and relax at the strategically placed picnic tables. As you enter the park to the left, there’s a yellow-orange road which is the famous Derech Burma that brought life-giving supplies to the residents of Jerusalem in 1948.

On the 29 of November 1947, HaSh-m smiled on Am Israel (quoted in the name of the Brisker Rov) and the United Nations voted in favor of the partition plan for Palestine. The Arabs rejected the plan outright.  With control of most of the high hills surrounding the Jerusalem Corridor, they started a siege on Jerusalem on December 1st.    Ambushes by Arabs became more and more frequent, as well as more sophisticated.

Fewer supplies were able to reach the holy city, and its 100,000 beleaguered inhabitants lacked basic necessities. Food and water were scarce, and had to be rationed. There was a severe lack of fuel. The only place in the whole city which had proper food  was  Shaarei Tzedek Hospital where Dr. Wallach kept cows  and chickens to provide milk and eggs for his patients.  

Many in Jerusalem were reduced to eating the wild growing mallow (chalmit mzoeyah or chubezeh)  whose leaves were used to prepare salads, fritters, and soups. Children would hold contests, competing to see who could collect the most of this plant’s bread-like, edible leaves. The Jerusalem radio station, Kol Hamagen, broadcast instructions for cooking mallowThe Jordanians picked up the broadcast and it sparked off  victory celebrations. It was announced on Radio Amman that the Jews were dying of starvation and were eating leaves, which was food for donkeys and cattle. Surely, they would soon surrender.As Pesach approached, there was a real fear that there would be no food for the chag.  

Operation Nachson briefly opened the road to the city and supplies were brought in for the holiday. Each family was rationed: two pounds of potatoes, half a pound of fish, one pound of meat, four pounds of matzah, half a pound of matzah meal, and one and a half ounces of dried fruit. This made it possible to celebrate Pesach with a "feast."

Unfortunately, by April 20th, the Arabs had regained control of the road. Again, Jerusalem was cut off, and for two months no supplies could get through. Some boys stationed at Kiryat Anavim asked for leave to visit their families in Tel Aviv. They took a jeep and set off. On the way back, they discovered a route where one could reach Jerusalem by foot or jeep. As a result, many individuals from the Old Yishuv came down this road and climbed back up by foot with bags of flour on their backs.  

The Burma Bypass Road was built in lightning speed – it took less than three weeks.  It circumvented Latrun, which was in Arab hands, as well as hostile Arab villages which dominated the road to Jerusalem. The water problem was solved by joining the well at Beit Susin  with pipes - though Beit Meir and Givat Shaul - to the Romema Water Tower. On July 10, 1948, water started streaming again in Jerusalem taps..

On a visit to the park, for a view of the Burma Road, those wanting a more strenuous hike can start at Beit Meir and walk down to the picnic park. This hike is only for only those who are physically up to it. Bring lots of water and a hat.

To reach the park, drive on Highway One and enter the Beit Shemesh Bypass. Turn off onto Highway 38. After 100 meters, you’ll see a sign for Canyon Derech Burma, the park which at the end of the Burma Road. Egged buses to Beit Shemesh also stop near there.

Published in 'The English Update' 17 February 2011 

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