One of the twelve Heroes of Israel, Zerubavel Horowitz was born in the town of Zhezhmariai (Russian Zhizhmory), 40 kilometers from Kaunas, then capital of Lithuania. His father, Shmuel Halevi-Horowitz, was known to the Zhizhmors as a teacher of the Jewish school and a person who possessed deep knowledge of the Tanakh and the Hebrew language. Horowitz's Jewish scholarship coexisted with socialist convictions, which were fully shared by his wife, Hana Batya. The question of returning to Eretz Yisrael in the family was resolved long ago - the Horowitzes were just waiting for the children to grow up a little.
Zerubavel attended an elementary Jewish school, where his father taught the Tanakh and Hebrew. From childhood, he was distinguished by a delicate nature and a thirst for adventure.
At the age of 9, Zerubavel and his family arrived in Mandatory Palestine. Horowitz Sr. decided to settle in Kibbutz Tel Yosef. As staunch socialist Zionists, the Olims decided to live in a place founded by the leftist movement Gdud Havoda and work in agriculture. In the kibbutz, the family was already met by the elder brothers of Zerubavel, who had arrived in Eretz Yisrael a few years earlier.
At the Emek Harod School, Zerubavel was one of the first sportsmen. He especially loved athletics, and also defended the honor of the school in the basketball team. Zerubavel also attended flute lessons from childhood, and there was no holiday in the kibbutz that he did not play with the local brass band.
At the age of 16, Horowitz decided to leave school and join his friends who embarked on the path of an open struggle for Eretz Yisrael. Kibbutz youth almost without exception went to the Palmach, devoting all their free time to training and preparation for future battles for the independence of Israel.
At first, Zerubavel and his friends went on long hikes in Palestine, including those places where the British strictly forbade Jews to appear. Then the young men began training in the ranks of the underground military organization "Haganah". On June 14, 1942, Zerubavel Horowitz became a soldier of the Aleph Company, stationed in Kibbutz Kfar Giladi. As Rommel's German Afrika Korps moved towards Egypt, the company was transferred to Kibbutz Negba, east of present-day Ashkelon. The Jewish youth was to become a barrier on the path of Hitler's hordes. Zerubavel was in Negba for about four months until the threat was over.
When Operation Season began in the country at the beginning of 1945, Zerubavel was involved in anti-terrorist actions against the radical Jewish underground organizations of the Zionist revisionists Etzel (Irgun Zvai Leumi) and Lehi. But Horowitz did not like this kind of service - he did not want to raise his hand against the brothers and often told his comrades-in-arms about his disappointment with the withdrawal of the members of "Etzel" and "Lehi" from the fighting for the country's independence. The second disappointment for Zerubavel was the passivity of the Yishuv leadership and the British in organizing aid to European Jews.
Despite strong opposition from the Palmach command, Horowitz in March 1945 enrolled in the Tzrifin camp in the Jewish Brigade, which consisted of Palestinian residents and fought as part of the British Army. Most of the soldiers from this unit were already in Europe by that time, but Zerubavel decided that he could take revenge on the Nazis later.
He served the British for about a year and a half. An excellent sniper, he won second place in the shooting competition among the British Army, held in Egypt. From the British, he also mastered the skill of shooting from heavy machine guns and other types of weapons.
In early November 1945, Zerubavel was transferred to Austria, where he spent about two months helping Jewish refugees and their organizations. Before his demobilization, he also served in Belgium, the Netherlands and France. On June 29, 1946, he returned with his friend to Egypt, and on September 1, 1946, he left the ranks of the British army.
With the outbreak of the War of Independence, without hesitation, he took up the arms again. As his friends and relatives later recalled, he did not want to fight again, but the 23-year-old veteran felt responsible for the young recruits.
Due to his unauthorized entry into the British Army, Zerubavel was expelled from the ranks of the Palmach long ago, so he had to contact his former commanders directly. Thanks to the support of the entire kibbutz, Zerubavel was returned to the service and offered to escort trucks to Afula.
He decidedly refused to sit away from the main events. Not listening to friends who insisted that he serve near his home, in early January 1948, he secured a transfer to the Jerusalem area.
Bavel, as his fellow soldiers called him, joined the 6th regiment of Palmach's Harel brigade operating in the Jerusalem area under the command of Yitzhak Rabin. Upon arrival in Kiryat Anavim, Zerubavel was assigned to a unit providing transportation between the mountains of the Jerusalem District.
Horowitz's last fight took place on Saturday, March 27, 1948. Early in the morning, a large convoy moved south to deliver supplies to the besieged Gush Etzion, a Jewish settlement founded in the 1920s in the northern Hebron Highlands.
The Arabs did not expect such a daring action on Shabbat, and the convoy arrived at Gush Etzion without incident. According to the original plan, the convoy was to leave Jerusalem at four in the morning and, even before dawn, at half past five, to leave. While the teams were unloading the vehicles, 4 armored personnel carriers were supposed to prevent the Arabs from setting up checkpoints on the road leading to Bethlehem. The operation was carried out with the support of a light reconnaissance aircraft. But the dispatch from Jerusalem and the unloading of food was delayed. We were able to leave Gush Etzion only at 11:00.
During this time, the inhabitants of the surrounding Arab villages managed to call for reinforcements. On their way back, Jewish soldiers stumbled upon a network of stone rubble and numerous ambushes. Despite skirmishes and breaking through the barricaded areas, a column of 51 vehicles managed to break through to the city of Al-Khadra, about two kilometers south of Bethlehem, where the fighters stumbled upon the seventh and largest barricade.
The crew of Zerubavel Horowitz went first, followed by four more armored personnel carriers under the command of Arie Tepper. They were moving 200 meters ahead of the rest of the vehicles, and the main task of Horowitz - the commander of the "barricade destroyer" (Hebrew "porets ha-makhsomim") - was to ram the stone barricade, clearing a passage in it for the rest of the column. The Barricade Breaker was a steel-clad heavy truck with a plow blade welded to the front. Every time the car managed to pass the blockage, Horowitz reported on the radio: the road is clear, you can move on.
However, the seventh checkpoint turned out to be the most impregnable. After unsuccessful attempts to clear the passage under heavy fire, Zerubavel’s car ran into an obstacle and failed.
Intense sniper fire was coming from all sides on the convoy. The commander of the column, Zvi Zamir, ordered the remaining drivers in the ranks to retreat to Gush Etzion. Four "sandwich" armored cars and seven trucks were able to turn around, pick up people from the damaged vehicles and drive to Gush Etzion. The convoy commander himself was among those who returned. Command of the remaining vehicles passed to Aria Tepper, who withdrew with everyone to a large house by the road. In this only shelter, the fighters held a perimeter defense for almost a day until the British rescued them.
Zerubavel Horowitz and his crew stayed in the disabled grader right on the road. Help was sent to them, but the Arab militias, entrenched at the tomb of Rachel, forced the rescue vehicle to return.
Meanwhile, there were 14 fighters inside the armor, most of them were wounded. Those of them, whose wounds were not very serious, took up defensive positions and continued to shoot from the loopholes at the enemy who was trying to approach.
By 18:30 the Arab detachment came close to the car. Molotov cocktails flew into the armored personnel carrier. Two bottles hit the engine compartment, and a third set fire to the rear wheel of the car. Zerubavel, together with one of his comrades, tried to extinguish the fire that engulfed the car, but the flames flared up more and more. It became almost impossible to breathe in the car. One of the fighters, Yakov Dror, who knew the road to Kfar Etzion well, offered to break through with a fight back. Zerubavel agreed and ordered everyone who can move independently to leave.
Three warriors got out through an evacuation hatch in the floor, crawled under the cover of fire, which was led by Zerubavel, into a ditch on the side of the road and in the darkness were able to go out to their own. After their departure, Zerubavel continued to fight an unequal battle with the enemy. While retreating to their home, the surviving members of the crew heard a terrible explosion and saw a pillar of fire.
There are several versions of the last minutes of the life of Zerubavel Horowitz. Perhaps the car exploded by itself, but the generally accepted version is considered to be different: when the Arab militias approached the car and opened the armored door, Zerubavel detonated a grenade. In any case, it is known that not only the commander of the crew and the wounded soldiers were killed, but also the Arabs who surrounded the armored car.
Zerubavel Horowitz died a heroic death, not leaving his wounded comrades in a burning car to be abused by the enemy.
After the end of the War of Independence, for covering the retreat of his comrades, Zerubavel Horowitz was posthumously awarded the title of Hero of Israel, the highest military award in the country. The ceremonial event, held in Tel Aviv on July 17, 1949, was attended by the mother of the hero Khan Batya, Israeli President Chaim Weizmann, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, Chief of the General Staff Yaakov Dori, representatives of foreign embassies and members of the Knesset.
Lieutenant Zerubavel "Bavel" Horowitz is buried in the military cemetery on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem.
1924 – 1948