Nostalgia Sunday – Pillbox
Throughout my childhood, I, along with countless other children living in or visiting Jerusalem, was enchanted by a funny round building at the junction of Tchernichovsky, Azza and Herzog Streets. The “Pillbox” stood at the entrance to a playground and I took it for granted that the structure was there for anything else but entertainment.
Later on, I discovered there were other funny round pillboxes dotting the city and the country. And when I grew older, I found out what a pillbox really was.
Pillboxes, as defined by Wikipedia, are “guard posts (with loopholes through which to fire weapons) made from concrete… The originally jocular name arose from their perceived similarity to the cylindrical boxes in which medical pills were once sold… The Oxford English Dictionary’s earliest record of the use of the word pillbox in connection with a defensive post is from 13 September 1917, after the German withdrawal onto the Hindenburg Line.” The Hebrew Wikipedia entry places their use even earlier, at 1887.
Israel’s original pillboxes, according to a Ynet article, “were built by the British after the 1936 Arab riots. They were built to protect the main roads, and were made of concrete with a steel door, a slit from which to fire, and a flat roof.” The Hebrew Wikipedia entry states, “The Mandatory pillboxes are important historical sites, but most have been neglected and only some are tourist or museum sites.”
The sign at one preserved pillbox reads: “During the riots of 1936-1939, ‘pillbox’ defensive posts were constructed on Afula’s borders. Haganah members went out, night after night, to protect the town’s entryways from these positions which were connected by trenches.”
Some years ago, the municipality of Jerusalem announced that it would preserve the structures as “mini-museums”. It would be nice to see this happen – particularly the mini pillbox on Radak Street, which was once a position at the British military court.
Pillboxes continue to be constructed to this very day, and Israel holds the dubious distinction of having contructed the world’s tallest pillbox, 54 meters high, on Route 443 to Modi’in.
The word “pillbox” entered our vernacular with the British Mandate, along with some other wonderfully colorful military terms still in use today such as mesting (“mess tin”), jerrikan (“Jerry can” fuel container), gooznik (“gooseneck” — tied ropes dipped in kerosene and used for flares) and — most famously — bek ex (meaning the “back axle” of a vehicle). And yes, Israelis have no idea where these phrases came from and even less of an idea of how to use them properly. Hence, the most famous misnomer of them all: bek ex kdmi, the front back axle. (Take a minute to figure it out).
Some mispronunciations, stemming from a local tendency to substitute “f” instead of “p”, include “pillibox” fillibox” and “feelbux”. But last year may have marked a new low in language bastardization when the “Feelbox” grocery opened on Azza Street. Either the owners thought they were being clever by naming it after the nearby landmark. Or, worse yet, they were making a play on the words “fill box”. I guess they do deliveries. Sigh. Will someone go in and tell them they are idiots? I don’t have the strength.
Credits: With the exception of Feelbox and Azza St. Pillbox, pictures from today’s article come from Wikipedia and are published under Creative Commons License.