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Latrun (Hebrew: לטרון, Latrun; Arabic: اللطرون, al-Latrun) is a strategic hilltop in the Latrun Salient in the Ayalon Valley. It overlooks the road to Jerusalem, located 25 kilometers west of Jerusalem and 14 kilometers southeast of Ramla. Following the Six-Day War, the Latrun Salient is controlled by Israel, but it was never officially annexed, and is technically a part of the West Bank.
The name Latrun is ultimately derived from the ruins of a medieval castle. There are two theories regarding the origin of the name. One is that it is a corruption of the French, Le toron des chevaliers (The Castle of the Knights), named by the Crusaders. The other is that it is from the Latin, Domus boni Latronis (The House of the Good Thief), a name given by 14th century Christian pilgrims after the penitent thief who was crucified by the Romans alongside Jesus (Luke 23:40-43).
In the Hebrew Bible, the Ayalon Valley was the site of a battle in which the Israelites, led by Joshua, defeated the Amorites (Joshua 10:1-11). Later, Judah Maccabee established his camp here in preparation for battle with the Seleucid Greeks, who had invaded Israel/Judea and were camped at Emmaus. According to the Book of Maccabees, Judah Maccabee learned that the Greeks were planning to march on his position, and successfully ambushed the invaders. The Jewish victory in what was later called the Battle of Emmaus led to greater Jewish autonomy under Hasmonean rule over the next century.
Little remains of the castle, which was held by the Templars by 1187. The main tower was later surrounded with a rectangular enclosure with vaulted chambers. This in turn was enclosed by an outer court, of which one tower survives.
In December 1890, a monastery was established at Latrun by French, German and Flemish monks of the Trappists, from Sept-Fons Abbey in France, at the request of Monseigneur Poyet of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. The monastery is dedicated to Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows. The liturgy is in French. The monks bought the 'Maccabee Hotel', formerly called 'The Howard' from the Batato brothers together with two-hundred hectares of land and started the community in a building which still stands in the monastic domain. In 1909 it was given the status of a Priory and that of an Abbey in 1937. The monks established a vineyard using knowledge gained in France and advice from an expert in the employ of Baron Edmond James de Rothschild from the Carmel-Mizrahi Winery. Today they produce a wide variety of wines that are sold in the Abbey shop and elsewhere.
The community was expelled by the Ottoman Turks between 1914–1918 and the buildings pillaged.
The Latrun monastery was rebuilt in 1926. The crypt was completed in 1933 and the church in 1954. The monastery was designed by the community's first abbot, Dom Paul Couvreur, and is an example of Cistercian architecture. Much of the stained-glass windows were produced by a monk of the community.
A Juniorate, a school for young boys, ran from 1931 until 1963 and provided many vocations for the community, especially of Lebanese monks.
Following the 1936–39 Arab revolt, the British authorities built a number of police forts (named Tegart forts after their designer) at various locations; Latrun was chosen due to its strategic significance, particularly its dominant position above the Tel-Aviv-Jerusalem road. Many members of the Yishuv who had resisted the British administration were imprisoned in a detention camp at Latrun. Moshe Sharett, later Israel's second Prime Minister, and several other members of the Jewish Agency's Executive Committee, were held at Latrun for several months in 1946.
The road from the coastal plain to Jerusalem was blocked after the British withdrew and handed the fort of Latrun over to the Arab Legion. The Arab Legionnaires used the fort to shell Israeli vehicles traveling on the road below, effectively imposing a military siege on Jerusalem.
On 24 May 1948, ten days after Israel's declaration of independence, the fort was assaulted by combined forces of Israel's newly created 7th Armored Brigade, and a battalion of the Alexandroni Brigade. Ariel Sharon, then a platoon commander, was wounded at Latrun along with many of his soldiers. The assault, codenamed Operation Bin Nun Alef (24–25 May), was unsuccessful, sustaining heavy casualties. On 1 June 1948, a second attack against the fort, codenamed Operation Bin Nun Bet, also failed, although the outer defenses had been breached.
Many of the Israeli fighters were young Holocaust survivors who had just arrived in the country and had minimal military training. The official casualty figure for both battles was 139.
To circumvent the blocked road, a makeshift camouflaged road through the seemingly impassable mountains towards Jerusalem was constructed under the command of Mickey (David) Marcus. This bypassed the main routes overlooked by Latrun and was named the Burma Road after its emergency supply-line namesake between Kumming (China) and Lashio (Burma), improvised by the Allies in World War II. By 10 June 1948, the road was fully operational, putting an end to the month old Arab blockade.
On 2 August, the Truce Commission drew the attention of the Security Council to the Arabs' refusal to allow water and food supplies to reach Jerusalem. After much negotiation, it was agreed that United Nations convoys would transport supplies, but the convoys often came under sniper fire. Towards the end of August, the situation improved. The destruction of the Latrun pumping station made it impossible for water in adequate quantities to flow to Jerusalem, but the Israelis built an auxiliary water pipe-line of small capacity along the "Burma Road" which provided a minimum amount of water.
After Operation Danny, Israeli forces anticipated a Jordanian counterattack, possibly from Latrun, but King Abdullah remained within the bounds of the tacit agreement made with the Jewish Agency and kept his troops at Latrun.
In the 1949 Armistice Agreements, the fort remained a salient under Jordanian control, which was in turn surrounded by a perimeter of no man's land. Under the cease-fire agreement, Jordan was not to disrupt Israeli travelers using this road; in practice, constant sniper attacks led Israel to build a bypass road around the bulge.
In the Six-Day War in 1967, Latrun was captured by the Israeli Defense Forces, and the main-road to Jerusalem was re-opened and made safe for travel. The villages of Imwas, Yalo and Bayt Nuba were razed, their residents taking refuge in the West Bank and Jordan. Canada Park was established on the land. The Latrun monastic community allowed two Neve Shalom -Wahat as-Salam and the Jesus-Brudershaft to be established on its land.[broken citation]
The Tegart Fort became the Yad La-Shiryon memorial for fallen soldiers of the Israeli Armored Corps and a Museum was established there. The outdoor display includes 110 tanks and other armored fighting vehicles, including the Merkava and T-72 tanks. Other notables in the outdoor area include a large tank successfully mounted high atop a former British water tower, a collection of innovative mobile bridges constructed by the IDF, captured enemy vehicles (tanks, self-propelled guns, modified WW2 material by Egypt), a tank with a blown up gun, and a long, engraved commemorative wall bearing the names of Armored Corps soldiers killed in defense of the country. The deeply pocked outer walls of the actual fort, itself, are a reminder of the building's wartime past and its use by the Arab Legion. The museum also features a large amphitheater, an auditorium, and has photos, poetry, paintings and cartoons on display, as well as a synagogue.[broken citation] Screenings are held regularly, showing both historical film footage and more recent tributes to Israelis injured and fallen. There is also an accessible computerized record of all the fallen Israeli tank soldiers.
Mini Israel, a park with scale models of historic buildings around Israel is located in Latrun. Neve Shalom (Oasis of Peace) is a joint Jewish-Arab community on a hilltop south of Latrun. The International Center for the Study of Bird Migration (ICSBM) is in Latrun, adjacent to Yad La-Shiryon.
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