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20 Questions about Israel: Take the Quiz

May 1, 2022 | by Shlomo Blass

In honor of Israel's 74th Independence Day, test yourself on some less-known facts about Israel's war of independence and learn something new along the way.

1. Did China vote for or against the Partition Plan in 1947?

China originally planned on voting against the plan. However, Morris (Moishe) Two-Gun Cohen managed to convince the head of the Chinese delegation to abstain from the vote instead. Two-Gun Cohen was a Polish-born British and Canadian adventurer who became a major general in the Chinese National Revolutionary Army. Jews worldwide did everything to convince ambassadors to the UN to vote in favor of the Partition Plan – just as Arabs attempted to sway the vote in the other direction. Several countries changed their votes at the last minute because of the intense lobbying from both sides.

2. What symbolic act did the Jews of Rome perform at the Arch of Titus after the UN voted for a Jewish state?

When Titus exiled the Jews of Judea in 70 CE, he took captives and riches back with him to Rome. The Arch of Titus was erected to honor this event, upon which appears the famous image of the defeated Jews carrying the Menorah. The Jews of Rome maintained a tradition never to walk under the Arch of Titus as a sign of defiance for the man who exiled them. On November 30, 1947, after the vote for the establishment of the state, the Jews of Rome marched through the arch in the opposite direction, south, to the Land of Israel.

3. Where was David Ben Gurion during the UN vote?

While most Israelis and scores of Jews worldwide were glued to their radio sets listening to the broadcast from the UN, David Ben Gurion was resting in the Kalia Hotel by the Dead Sea. Ben Gurion recalled looking out the window and seeing the rejoicing crowds after being informed about the achievement in the UN. His joy was tempered by knowing what was to come: "Every Jew in Jerusalem celebrated and danced…And I was perhaps the only Jew who did not dance…I knew what awaited us before the state would arrive…who knows if some of the dancers here will not fall in battle."

4. How many languages did David Ben Gurion know?

Nine languages. Russian was his mother tongue, and he learned Hebrew from his grandfather from birth. Latin and German were both taught in his school. Ben Gurion learned Ancient Greek during the Blitz in London, and Turkish and French were languages he acquired while he was a law student. In the 1950s, Ben Gurion learned Spanish to read Don Quixote in the original. However, Ben Gurion said that English was the foreign language he felt most comfortable with, despite never having studied it in an organized manner.

5. What percentage of the Jewish fighting force were Holocaust survivors?

Approximately 50% of the fighting force and the fallen soldiers in the War of Independence were Holocaust survivors. There were so many new immigrants in the Jewish armies, in fact, that there were difficulties issuing orders that everyone would understand. Various troupes and platoons would give instruction in Yiddish in addition to Hebrew or would employ translators to deliver orders in real-time.

6. What was "The Monster on the Hill" during the War of Independence?

The "Monster on the Hill" was a British Tegart Fortress built in 1940 and strategically located at a critical crossroads in the South of Israel. Two days before the end of the Mandate in May 1948, the British handed the fortress over to Egyptian forces, who then used it to attack Israel. The fortress became known as "the Monster on the Hill" because of the difficulty required to capture the landmark. It became a central landmark in the war, and it took Israeli forces eight attempts before they were able to capture it.

7. How did Frank Sinatra help the Israeli forces in the War of Independence?

Frank Sinatra helped Teddy Kollek in 1948 transfer money to a ship full of munitions for Israel. Kollek, then a member of the Haganah, knew he was being watched by the FBI, so he couldn't risk going near the vessel with the funds. Kollek went to Sinatra's bar in New York, and when he ran into the singer, he divulged his mission. Sinatra came to Kollek's aid; he left the club's back door with a paper bag full of the money and brought it to the pier.

8. How many fighter planes did Israel have at the beginning of the war?

When the United Arab Army launched the attack on Israel on May 15, 1948, Israel didn't have a single fighter airplane. As a result, Israel suffered significant losses, including hundreds of civilian casualties in Tel Aviv. Due to the weapons embargo, planes had to be smuggled into Israel, sometimes in pieces, and assembled on the ground. The first four fighter planes went on their first mission on May 29, taking out Egyptian ground forces. While the Arab Army began the war with control of the skies, Israel was quick to catch up.

9. Did Israel shoot down British airplanes during the war?

Yes. The British became concerned with Israel's military successes and sent several reconnaissance flights through Israeli airspace, ignoring Israeli requests to refrain from doing so. One British plane was shot down over the ocean slightly south of Tel Aviv. Five more British aircraft were shot down when trying to obtain data about the Israeli infiltration of the Sinai. The air battles began when Israeli forces mistakenly identified those planes as enemy Egyptian craft since both the British and Egyptian air forces flew the same similar planes.

10. How far into Israel did Egyptian forces get?

The Egyptian forces divided into two groups: one headed up Israel's coast to Tel Aviv, and the other went east towards Hebron and Jerusalem. Egyptian forces made it as far as Ramat Rachel, where they joined Jordanian troops for an attack on Jerusalem. During the fierce battle, the Kibbutz changed hands three times.

11. What was known as Malka (Queen)?

Malka was the codename given to the Kfar Etzion south of Jerusalem. The Gush Etzion settlements fell on the day before independence was declared after a heroic battle against the well-trained and fully armed Jordanian Arab Legion established by the British. Upon hearing the Declaration of Independence, which followed the fall of Gush Etzion, Chief Rabbi Herzog, who remained in the besieged Jerusalem throughout the war, declared, "the queen has fallen, but a kingdom has risen!"

12. Who was Israel's first General?

David Daniel "Mickey" Marcus was Israel's first general and the highest-ranking officer to be killed in the War of Independence. Marcus was killed by friendly-fire mere hours before the cease-fire. Mickey Marcus was a United States Army Colonel who served in World War II. He volunteered to serve as a military advisor to the Haganah during the War of Independence and was responsible for breaking the siege of Jerusalem.

13. What was used for transmitting messages during the War of Independence when other means failed?

A Heliograph: a system that signals by flashes of sunlight. This device was a large mirror with a shutter used to transmit messages in Morse code. These messages could be seen from 50 KM or 31 miles!

14. How long was the siege of the Old City?

Six months. The Jewish Quarter was under siege from November 1947 until May 1948. It was a siege within a siege since beginning in February 1948; Arab forces blockaded the corridor from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, preventing essential supplies from reaching the Jewish population. Eventually, Israel broke the blockade, but the Old City and Eastern neighborhood were taken over by Jordan. The Jewish Quarter remained under Jordanian control until 1967.

15. Where was there a secret cable car in Jerusalem?

At the Mount Zion Hotel, formerly the Saint John's eye hospital, there used to be a cable car that spans the 200-meters from the Hinnom Valley to Mount Zion. The cable car was designed to solve the problem of evacuating the wounded and sending supplies to the besieged Old City of Jerusalem. It operated only at night; during the day, the soldiers at each post would lower the cable into the valley to remain undetected by the Jordanian soldiers. The cable car remained a state secret until 1972.

16. What was given the term "Sandwich" during the War of Independence?

"Sandwiches" was the name given to the armored vehicles that led the convoys of supplies up the road to Jerusalem. Their name was derived from the type of armor used for the trucks: two pieces of iron were sandwiched around a thick, heavy piece of wood. Some of these armored vehicles are displayed on the side of Route 1 leading up to Jerusalem.

17. Which Jerusalem monastery was at the center of one of the most important battles?

The Monastery of San Simon. One of the most crucial battles in the War of Independence affected the fate of the entire city. By taking control of San Simon, Israel ensured that the Jewish neighborhoods in the southern part of the city were not cut off from the rest. The battle was difficult and brutal. Two of Israel's future Chief's of Staff fought shoulder to shoulder in the battle, David (Dado) Elazar and Rafael Eitan.

18. How old was the youngest soldier casualty in the War of Independence?

Ten-year-old Nissim Gini, a resident of the old city's Jewish Quarter, was part of the local defense force. Nissim would carry messages from one post to another, as other children did, to assist in protecting their homes and families from the Jordanian invasion. He was hit by sniper fire directed at an observation post he was at. Nissim was the youngest casualty of war in all of Israel's wars.

19. Which was the first country to recognize the State of Israel?

The United States and President Harry Truman recognized the State eleven minutes after its establishment. This was most probably due to President Truman's best friend and former business partner, Eddie Jacobson. When President Truman refused to speak to anyone regarding the "Palestine Affair," Jacobson traveled out to Washington to talk with his long-time friend and convince him to meet with Chaim Weizmann. Jacobson knew just what to say to the president, and Truman later stated that Weizmann was one of the wisest men he ever met.

20. Why is the Proclamation of Independence stitched together?

Israel's Proclamation of Independence is written on three rectangles later stitched together to create the entire document. Ben Gurion actually read a type-written copy of the proclamation because the calligrapher Otta Wallish was still writing out the complete and correct version, which, up until the last minute, had contested wording.

The Declaration of Independence. Source: WWW.IsraelGames.Online

Shlomo Blass is the producer and creator of the Ben Gurion Escape Room, an innovative online educational game about Zionism and Israel's history. The game is suitable for individuals and groups and does not require prior knowledge of Israel's history to be played.

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