Some trees are more than just trees. If you think back, maybe there is a tree that has special meaning to you – a tree that you climbed as a kid, a tree that you planted yourself, or maybe the tree outside the home you live in today. Some trees hold our most cherished memories and our dearest hopes for the future. In Israel, deep in the Judean hills lives one such tree: The Lone Tree. Here is its story. Just a few days before the State of Israel was officially declared on May 14, 1948, Gush Etzion fell. Gush Etzion is Jerusalem’s southern gateway sitting on the main road between Jerusalem and Hebron. It consisted of 4 kibbutzim (collective farms) and was well on its way to become a thriving area before it was attacked by the Jordanian Legion and Arab irregulars. After repeated attacks, the decision was made to send the women and children away from their homes into the city of Jerusalem where they would be safe. In early May, only the men and a few women remained to defend their homes and the hills of Judea.
On May 11, 1948 the remaining fighters were rounded up by the Jordanian Legion and told that they would be photographed in order to document the Jordanian Legions victory. The remaining men gathered together on the lawn where instead of being photographed, they were met with a hail of bullets and 127 men were murdered in cold blood with only four survivors. Instantly, the women and children who had been evacuated became widows and orphans from their fathers. It was a sad and tragic end to that chapter in history.
For the next 19 years the mothers and children would gather every year on a hilltop in Jerusalem where they could gaze out towards Gush Etzion. The most identifiable landmark was a huge 700 year old oak tree that marked the skyline. That tree had been an integral part of the place the families used to call home. It sat between the four kibbutzim and was the meeting point of the road. People would often ‘meet at the tree’ as it was the most accessible point for all. For the widows and orphans of Gush Etzion, the tree symbolized what was and what was yet to come. As they would stare at the tree they dreamed of returning to build again.
For nearly two decades, the old oak tree stood all alone in the barren hills of Judea. It became known as the ‘Lone Tree.’ There she stood waiting for her children to return to her. And they stood in the distance dreaming of coming home.
Though it seemed like the end of Gush Etzion it was not. In June of 1967, during the Six Day War, Gush Etzion was finally liberated. Many of the of Gush Etzion children who were now grown men and women returned to once again cultivate the roots that had been planted in the area by their murdered fathers. New settlements were founded including Alon Shevut which means “Oak of Return”. They had returned to the towering oak tree which for nineteen years served as an anchor for their faith that they would once again return-----and they did. Today, the Lone Tree is not alone. Gush Etzion is currently populated by more than fifty thousand people and growing. In addition, thousands of people visit her from all over the world every year. The Lone Tree is a symbol of hope and resilience in the face of adversary. In many ways, she embodies the spirit of the Israeli people, and she symbolizes the heart of Gush Etzion.