Under the cover of night, three men drove a military jeep along a rough track. Only days before, Israeli forces had suffered great losses in an attack on the fortress of Latrun, which was held by the Arab Legion and effectively blocked the road to Jerusalem. Latrun commanded the Jerusalem road, exposing to attack by the Arabs the Israeli convoys bringing vital supplies to the Jewish population of Jerusalem.

Convoy returning to Tzrifin from Burma Road, 1948

The three men: Amos Chorev; American Colonel David “Mickey” Marcus and Vivian Herzog, had set out on a night patrol from Tel Aviv in search of an alternative route that would bypass the fortress of Latrun and open the way to Jerusalem.1 In view of the desperate situation in the city, it had been suggested that building a road sheltered from the gun fire from Latrun would allow supplies to reach Jerusalem safely.

When British forces withdrew from Latrun on May 15, 1948, the fort was initially taken by the Israeli Palmach’s Harel Brigade. But a few days later it was lost to the British-led Arab Legion force from Transjordan, and subsequent Jewish attempts to retake Latrun failed.

Arab forces also had control of the hills overlooking the road to Jerusalem making it almost impossible for convoys to bring food, weapons, and medical supplies to the Jewish population of the city. Heavy losses were sustained by the convoys, and far too many did not survive the journey to Jerusalem.

Following the steep, narrow, twisting shepherd’s path to find an alternative route to bring supplies to Jewish Jerusalem, Chorev observed that if only they could find a way through the rough track, the problem would be solved. “Could it be done?” Herzog asked. “Why not?” Marcus said.“We got across the Red Sea, didn’t we?”2

About half way along this rough track, it seemed almost a miracle that the three men met a jeep coming in the opposite direction from Jerusalem. It was clear that a road had been discovered that would save Jerusalem. A day later, the first convoy of jeeps arrived in Jerusalem with supplies from Tel Aviv. It was only the beginning, but relief was on its way to the besieged city.

At this time, supplies had not arrived in Jerusalem for over a week and the people were starving. Rationing had placed the population under severe stress, with food and ammunition almost exhausted. The Jewish Quarter of the Old City had fallen to the Arab Legion. With the situation growing more and more serious each day, morale was low amongst the defenders of the city. Unless there was a miracle, the Jews of Jerusalem would be forced to consider surrendering.

The miracle came with the discovery of the steep, narrow, twisting shepherd’s path that linked Jerusalem with the coast. It became known as the Burma Road. Unusually, the Burma Road was one of the few Israeli projects not to be given a biblical name, but was named after the road built by the Allies during World War II.3 That road followed seven hundred miles of dangerous mountain ridges to link Burma with Southwest China to avoid the Japanese blockade of the Chinese coast.

Construction of the road was slow, with a very steep section at the beginning of the ascent a major problem for transport vehicles. Initially, some two hundred and forty men aged in their fifties, recently arrived in Israel from the detention camps in Cyprus, volunteered to carry supplies over one difficult section. Each man carried an extremely heavy load and made two trips a night, over five nights.4

With vehicles only just managing to survive the difficult conditions, bulldozers were brought in to speed construction, but supplies were still well below what were required to support the Jewish population of Jerusalem. Shelling by the Arab Legion from Latrun was mostly ineffective as the Burma Road was out of their view, but enemy snipers were a hazard to road workers and the convoys.

By June 10, construction of the road had progressed to allow trucks to travel through to Jerusalem, and by the end of the month, one hundred tons of supplies were being delivered to the city each day. Finally completed on June 14, the road was Jerusalem’s only supply route for several months. During construction, water and fuel pipes had also been laid alongside it.

Seventy years later, Jerusalem is in Jewish hands and has become the key point of contention in the Arab-Israel conflict: “a burdensome stone for all people”, as Zechariah terms it (12:3). But let the nations beware. For Yahweh declares that He “will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem” (Zech 12:9). Then Jerusalem shall be “safely inhabited” (Zech 14:11) and “a rejoicing, and her people a joy” (Isa 65:18).

References:

“Burma Road (Israel)” in Wikipedia [online] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burma_Road_(Israel)

“The Burma Road Saves Jerusalem”, Milestones Israel, 11 June 2013 [online] http://www.milestonesisrael.com/2013/06/11/the-burma-road-saves-jerusalem/

Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre, O Jerusalem! London: Pan Books, 1973.

Ami Issero , “Burma Road – Israel”, in The Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Zionism and Israel [online] http://www.zionism- israel.com/dic/Burma_Road.htm

D. Thomas Lancaster, “The Burma Road”, First Fruits of Zion, 20 December, 2016 [online] https://oz.org/discover/israel-history/the-burma-road.html

Harry Levin, Jerusalem Embattled: a Diary of the City under Siege, March 25th, 1948 to July 18th, 1948, London: Victor Gollancz, 1950.

  1. Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre, O Jerusalem! London: Pan Books,1973, p. 515.
  2. Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre, O Jerusalem! p. 516.
  3. Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre, O Jerusalem! p. 520.
  4. Harry Levin, Jerusalem Embattled: a Diary of the City under Siege, March 25th, 1948 to July 18th, 1948, London: Victor Gollancz, 1950, p. 235. Levin says the men each carried a 60 pound load (about 27 kilograms), which seems incredible. “Burma Road (Israel)” in Wikipedia [online] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burma_Road_(Israel)