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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Rechov Hanevi’im 1: Davidka Square©

Rechov Haneviim mirrors the great battle that engulfed Eretz Yisrael for the Land itself and for the soul of each and every Jew within the Land. This clash took place in Jerusalem, from about the middle of the 19th until the middle of the 20th century. During this period, each of the worlds great empires was trying to get as big a foothold as possible in the Holy Land and the story of Rechov Haneviim portrays, among other things, the war that the Christians waged to wean the Jews from Hashem.

The final retreat of the Crusaders from the Holy Land in 1291 marked the diminishing of interest among the European powers in the region. The Mameluks, who then occupied and ruled the country from Cairo, destroyed all its ports to prevent another Christian invasion. An economic decline resulted, which persisted throughout the period of Turkish rule (1516 to 1917). Being at the edge of the Ottoman Empire, Eretz Yisrael had no part in the progress that occurred in metropolitan Constantinople.

From the beginning of the 19th century, European interest in the Holy Land gradually increased. This was both for religious and political reasons. Consulates, missions, schools, and hospitals were established in Eretz Yisrael by various European powers.

In the second half of the 19th century, starting in 1855, new suburbs were set up and Jerusalem started spreading out beyond the walls of the Old City. The citys main thoroughfare was Jaffa Road, and along it on both sides there developed Jewish residential neighbourhoods close to the Old City. Mishkenos Shaananim (1855), Machane Yisrael (1866), Nachalas Shiva (1869), Even Yisrael (1875), Beis David (1877), and Ezras Yisrael were examples of the neighborhoods being built.

The same period also saw the development of Jewish suburbs in the area of Meah Shearim (built in 1874), north of Jaffa Road. Between these two developing areas, a street, Rechov Haneviim which had a completely different character came into being.

Many of those who built on Rechov Haneviim were trying to block the development of Jewish housing and the joining and consolidation of the Jewish districts on both sides of the road.

At the beginning of the British Mandate, this street was given its present name of Rechov
Haneviim by the Governor of Jerusalem, Ronald Storrs. (He was the one who passed the law that Jerusalem buildings should have an outer stone covering.) At that time, the street was paved and infrastructure for water and electricity were installed.

Until this point, the street had been known as the street of the consulates due to the numerous foreign consulates and missions located there. It also was referred to as the street of the hospitals, because of the many hospitals flanking it.

Today Rechov Haneviim is one of the most interesting urban entities in Israel, containing well-preserved historic sites a treasure trove of historic buildings. The graceful 19th-century structural designs give the street the title of most beautiful street outside the Old City.

Running from Hacherut Square (Davidka Square) on the corner of Haneviim and Jaffa Road, until it bisects the neighborhood of Musrara (at Rechov Haayin Chet and Rechov Heleni Hamalka), it then goes on to intersect with Kvish Chail Handasah (Road Number One). Continuing in this line, it eventuallyreaches Damascus Gate.

Davidka Square

To explore, let us start from the side of Rechov Haneviim that reaches Rechov Yaffo Davidka Square. The public square in the center of Jerusalem popularly known as Kikar HaDavidka is at the intersection of Rechov Haneviim, Rechov Yaffo, and Rechov Kiach. Officially named Kikar Hacherut (Freedom Square), it contains a small memorial to the Davidka and a Davidka itself, the curious, homemade mortar used to defend Jerusalem and other cities during the
1948 War of Independence.

The English left Palestine in May 1948. At that point, five Arab nations declared war against the
Yishuv. (This was besides the unknown number of local, irregular forces who were already combating the Jews.) The Jewish forces needed to be ingenious, for they were poorly supplied in weapons and woefully outnumbered in the face of these 50 million Arabs who intended to drive the Jews into the sea.

This lack of sufficient arms inspired improvisation, which led to the development of the Davidka. It was a mortar in name only, even though its shell was far wider than its barrel. Instead of explosives, it was loaded with whatever metal pieces the soldiers who were using it had on hand.

Also, being grossly inaccurate in hitting its targets, the Davidka was more of a specialized popgun than a weapon of destruction. However, the impressive pop it made was so great that it caused the panicked, terrified retreat of more than one Arab force.

The Arabs were sure that Jewish American scientists (e.g., Einstein and Oppenheimer) had given their Israeli brethren the know-how of manufacturing the atom bomb. They had no doubt that the humble Davidkas thunderous roar was the beginning of nuclear payloads. This misunderstanding, clearly planted in their heads by Hashem, contributed to the Palmachs victory in Tzfas, Jerusalem and other places. The Israeli army used the Davidka only until July 1948. The army then acquired conventional artillery such as cannons, mountain howitzers and
field guns.

The inventor of this peculiar Davidka weapon was David Leibowitch who lived in the Bukharim section, hence the name Little David (Davidka). The name also alludes metaphorically to the Biblical battle of David and Goliath (Shmuel 1, 17): In 1948, the tiny state of Israel (little David) was forced to defend itself against the giant British-trained and British-led professional Arab Legion and other Arab forces (Goliath).

In all, six Davidkas were manufactured and were used in the battles for Haifa, Ein Zeitun, Tzfas, the Abu Kabir neighborhood of Jaffa, Biddu and Jerusalem.

Sometimes made in USA was imprinted into these and other wholly Israeli-made contraptions. The USA stood for the Yiddish acronym Unzer Shtikel Arbet (our piece of workmanship). The boys of the Palmach called the Davidka, HeRMaN Harbeh Rash, Meat Nezek (A lot of noise, little damage).

In 1956, architect Asher Hiram designed a memorial to the Davidka and to the Harel Brigades participation in the battle for Jerusalem. A Davidka used by that brigade was mounted on a stone platform engraved with part of the passuk from Melachim II, 19:34: I will protect this city, to save it. The monument has rounded protrusions that are meant to memorialize the berets the Palmach wore.

The Jerusalem Light Rail project required revamping work on all three squares (Tzahal, Zion and Davidka) on Jaffa Road. In 2009, Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta was commissioned to redesign Davidka Square. To emphasize the historical importance of the site, the square was enlarged for pedestrians and to grow trees and then paved with reddish stones. A blue trench (lit up at night) water element with a fountain was added, as well as stone benches.

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