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By Rinat Harash
GIVAT BRENNER, Israel (Reuters)

The cooing of pigeons fills the air once again in a secluded dovecot that was once part of a top-secret communications project during Israel’s war with its Arab neighbours 70 years ago

It housed carrier pigeons, which delivered critical messages from the battlefield to Israeli military headquarters during the 1948 war after the new state declared independence and was attacked by the armies of countries including Syria, Egypt and Jordan.

As Israel prepares for its Independence Day celebrations, starting at sundown on Wednesday, the recently restored dovecot in Kibbutz Givat Brenner is today an educational centre devoted to the winged warriors.

 

Pigeons stand on top of a cage in Kibbutz Givat Brenner
Pigeons stand on top of a cage in Kibbutz Givat Brenner, Israel, April 1, 2018. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

 

“This is the only thing that was left, and we thought that this is a great place to tell the story,” said Tal Ben Nun of The Society for Preservation of Israel’s Heritage Sites.

It has used 600,000 shekels (about $170,000) given by the defence ministry and Prime Minister’s office to restore the site. Kibbutz Givat Brenner was founded by Jewish immigrants from Europe in 1928. It lies between Ashdod and Tel Aviv, just north of where Egyptian forces reached after invading from the Sinai in 1948.

 

Pigeon handler Haim Wolf feeds carrier pigeons in Kibbutz Givat Brenner
Pigeon handler Haim Wolf feeds carrier pigeons in Kibbutz Givat Brenner, Israel, April 1, 2018. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

 

Lacking communication devices during the war, the Israeli forces relied on a clandestine network of 68 dovecots spread across the country, and ran ‘pigeoneer’ courses for soldiers, Ben Nun said.

Counting on the pigeons’ ability to return to their home dovecot, as armies have long done, the Israeli soldiers flew them from the heart of the battle – this time carrying messages written mostly in Morse code.

 

Pigeon handler Haim Wolf releases a carrier pigeon into the air in Kibbutz Givat Brenner
Pigeon handler Haim Wolf releases a carrier pigeon into the air in Kibbutz Givat Brenner, Israel, April 1, 2018. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

 

“It was the only way to communicate, to receive news of what’s going on with the troops – whether they succeeded or not, whether they were attacked, if they have wounded or dead, is there a need to send a vehicle to evacuate the wounded? It was all done through the pigeons,” said veteran military pigeoneer Shaul Sapir, 90, who still gets emotional when he reminisces about his birds.

“They were nurtured, so much that… a truck would be brought carrying food for the pigeons, when we remained very hungry.”

 

Carrier pigeons are seen in cages at Kibbutz
Carrier pigeons are seen in cages at Kibbutz Givat Brenner, Israel, April 1, 2018. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

 

After being deserted for decades, the restored dovecot in Givat Brenner now houses 60 carrier pigeons, some of which are descendants of those who were there during the war. They are trained daily by volunteers.

“I think it is a duty, a duty, to all the youths and especially those who will be enlisted to the Israeli army‘s communication or intelligence units, to come and see how we started from nothing, with a pigeon, and what is reached today, with satellites.”

 

Pigeon handler Haim Wolf holds a carrier pigeon in Kibbutz Givat Brenner
Pigeon handler Haim Wolf holds a carrier pigeon in Kibbutz Givat Brenner, Israel, April 1, 2018.REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

 

In the coming days and weeks Palestinians will also hold events marking what they call the “Nakba” or “Catastrophe”, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were driven from their homes during the violence that surrounded Israel’s creation.

 

(Reporting by Rinat Harash; Editing by Stephen Farrell and David Stamp)

 

 

Pigeons sit on top of a memorial for Israeli military carrier pigeons, in Tzrifin military base in central Israel
Pigeons sit on top of a memorial for Israeli military carrier pigeons, in Tzrifin military base in central Israel, in this October 4, 1950 file photo released by the Israeli Government Press Office (GPO) and obtained by Reuters on April 1, 2018. REUTERS/GPO/Fritz Cohen/Handout

 

An Israeli Communication Unit soldier trains carrier pigeons
An Israeli Communication Unit soldier trains carrier pigeons in this December 1, 1949 file photo released by the Israeli Government Press Office (GPO) and obtained by Reuters on April 1, 2018. REUTERS/GPO/Handout
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