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At 60, Israel's never-ending struggle for security

On May 7, Israelis began celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Jewish state. Soon, Palestinians will mark the nakba, or catastrophe.

By Ilene R. PrusherStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / May 8, 2008

Maj. Gen. Amos Horev

Debbie Hill/Special to the Monitor

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It's a letter that Maj. Gen. Amos Horev says is one of his most telling artifact from Israel's six decades of independence. "Please give to Amos two guns and one mortar from Jerusalem," reads the note to another commander from a Jewish US Army colonel who, after World War II, came to help the Jewish army in Palestine.

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To Mr. Horev, himself a leader in the army called the Hagana, Hebrew for defense, it's a reminder of how low on guns and bullets his fighters were. "The most crucial war we ever fought was the War of Independence. We asked every day, 'Are we going to make it or not?' It was a very difficult time. We didn't know if we could protect Jerusalem, where we had 100,000 people. My parents were there." That period of time was the most difficult, he says, because of a scarceness of arms. "We could hardly buy anything. We were so poor in weapons, and afterwards, we said, never again can we suffer from this kind of shortage," he says, sitting on the sofa in his home in this quiet Tel Aviv suburb he's lived in for half a century. "We felt the world had granted us a state without giving us the means to defend it."

It is a common theme that Arabs and Jews who fought in 1948 express: a sense that the world supported the enemy, and that the British, as the rulers of Mandatory Palestine, sat back and let the other side do as it wished. "The British were there but they didn't give us any protection," says Horev. "It was a battle of the roads, of the highways, and of communications. We suffered from a total embargo."

Beginnings of a new Jewish state

Both of his parents had immigrated here from Warsaw, in 1919, two years after the Balfour Declaration stating Britain's support for the creation of a Jewish state in Mandatory Palestine, previously a province of the Ottoman Empire. They came as Zionists who hoped to build a new state in their old homeland, but also to escape anti-Semitism. Had they not left, his parents later realized, they would likely have been killed by the Nazis, like many of their relatives who stayed. Of Poland's prewar Jewish population of 3.3 million Jews, more than 90 percent were killed, according to figures from Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust remembrance authority.

Horev was born in Jerusalem in 1924, and at the age of 17, he left high school to join the Palmach.

"We worked to finance our training, so we would work two weeks a month and train two weeks a month," he says. By 1943 he was commissioned as an officer, and soon promoted to platoon commander and then company commander.