Synopsis of Is Jerusalem Burning?

In May, 1948, during the first week of the war, Jewish Jerusalem was under siege by the Jordanian Army. Latrun - a historic stronghold on the road from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem - was the Arab-held position that stood in the way of the relief the city so desperately needed. Israeli Prime Minister David Ben Gurion, despite the protestations of some of his advisors, gave the order to take Latrun, bring food and supplies to the city, and thereby lift the siege.

Given only a week to prepare a force of more than 2,000 soldiers, commander Shlomo Shamir led his 7th Brigade into battle, but was routed by a surprise garrison of the Arab Legion holding Latrun and blockading the road to Jerusalem. Five days later the attempt was made again...and again it failed.

While not the only significant losses in Israel's War of Independence (nor even at Latrun), these two battles had all the necessary ingredients for creating the myth of Latrun as a shattering defeat, a myth that was born almost as soon as the battles ended, and that survives to this day.

Over the years the myth of Latrun only grew: that thousands of soldiers were killed in the field; that new immigrants were sent straight from the ships to the battle to die as cannon fodder; that Ben Gurion's political machinations interfered with the efficient running of military matters. The only saving grace of the 7th Brigade was that an alternative road to Jerusalem was opened, known as the Burma Road, that ultimately lifted the siege on the city. But this was not enough to deflect the burden of loss.

Is Jerusalem Burning? explores the issues behind the decision to fight the battles of Latrun; what really happened in the field, and immediately thereafter; and how the Burma Road was built and the siege of Jerusalem eventually lifted. Perhaps most importantly, though, the film unravels the very myth of Latrun itself, ultimately to discover how it was born, why it still lives on.

More than fifty years after the 1948 War, Israel today is at a crossroads. The early myths that defined the birth of Israel still refuse to relinquish their hold on the collective memory of the country...and continue to shape the nation's policy in the unresolved conflict with the Palestinians. With the peace process in tatters, the fate of Jerusalem still bitterly contested, and the on-going violence taking an ever greater toll, the search for a solution becomes increasingly urgent. For Israel, that search must include an honest reckoning with its own history, coming face to face with all the myths that stand as obstacles to a just and lasting peace. It is in this context that the story of Latrun remains alive, relevant, and meaningful.

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