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Palestine Siege: Jerusalem's Desperate Hours - March 29, 1948

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Introduction

This letter by Zipporah Porath, from her book, Letters from Jerusalem, 1947-1948, was written from Jerusalem in the Israel War of Independence.

Within the Jerusalem command, though outside the city of Jerusalem, there were several Jewish villages, inside the part of Palestine destined by the UN partition plan to be part of an Arab state. To the north of Jerusalem lay Neve Ya'akov and Atarot (Kalandia). To the south, on the road to Jerusalem, lay Gush Etzion, on the road to Hebron. The head of the Zionist Executive in Palestine, David Ben-Gurion insisted initially that each such outpost must be held at all costs. Gush Etzion; (the Etzion bloc) consisted of four kibbutzim. It was totally isolated from Jerusalem. The situation grew desperate.

On March 27 1948, the Haganah attempted to send a large relief convoy to the Etzion Bloc, throwing in virtually all of its meager supply of armored vehicles, including some that had just arrived in a convoy from Tel Aviv. This came to be known as the Nebi Daniel Convoy. The convoy reached Gush Etzion, but tarried there due to a recalcitrant bull who would not get on the truck. This delay gave Arabs a chance to gather forces for an ambush, at a bend in the road near an abandoned house called Nebi Daniel. Though the British eventually rescued most of the Haganah people under a truce agreement, the Haganah lost all of armor and a great deal of weapons. It also became evident that no more convoys would get through from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem unless the road to Tel Aviv was cleared of the Arab irregulars and village people who were carrying out ambushes. On the same day, the Haganah also suffered another serious setback in the north, when a convoy to Kibbutz Yehiam was ambushed. (See Yechiam Convoy). The letter below describes the somber mood of those days.  The Haganah and the political leadership understood that the situation was desperate. Zipporah wrote:

The Arab plan is not only to strangle our communication lines and destroy our outposts but to lay siege to the city and starve us into submission -- with a little help from the British...

Everyone knows there is no defending the city from a strategic point of view. Our only hope is international intervention in some form -- a UN militia or some other neutral force. I can't believe the entire world would abandon the Holy City without making provisions for safeguarding the sacred places or trying to prevent an outright attack.

Unbelievably, the world abandoned Jerusalem to its fate. The UN was powerless against the will of the British. No convoys of humanitarian aid were forced through the Arab blockade. No resolutions condemning human rights violations were passed. Hospitals ran out of medicine. People were hungry and ill, and some died.

Equally unbelievably, however, West Jerusalem was saved for the Jewish state by its Jewish defenders, without international intervention. Jerusalem paid a terrible price - over a thousand dead, and the Jewish quarter of the old city was lost for 19 years, but the city was saved.  

Palestine Airletter 1948

Zipporah ("Zippy") arrived in Mandatory Palestine in Oct. 1947, as an American student, for what was intended to be a year of study at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.  But, caught up in Israel's War of Independence, she served first as a medic in the underground Haganah defense forces, and then in the nascent IDF and the fledgling Israel Air Force. These volunteers from abroad were later recognized as part of the MACHAL volunteer corps.

The letters Zippy wrote to her parents and sister capture the historic events as they occurred. They are compiled in the book, Letters from Jerusalem 1947-1948. You can order it from zip(at)netvision.net.il (Israel) or click here for review and order information

Jerusalem Palestine Air mail letter, 1947


Jerusalem,

March 29, 1948

Dearest Each of You,

Jerusalem has been holding its breath for two days. A shayarah [convoy] returning from Kfar Etzion was ambushed in the hills of Hebron by thousands of Arabs lying in wait all along the road. For thirty hours our boys fought for their lives before the British Army made any effort to get through to liberate them. Many of my friends and fellow students were trapped in the ambush.

To welcome some of them back, we had an old-fashioned shindig in my room tonight -- Itzhak, Yossi and Dov were the guests of honor. In between mouthfuls of hot coffee, they gave us accounts of the battle which made our skins crawl. But despite the horrible ordeal and their frustration at having had to abandon precious vehicles and arms, as loot to the Arabs, they are in good spirits.

After shaving, they actually looked like human beings, in contrast to the gorillas who had marched in an hour before. When they came to say good bye two months ago, they had been told they would be gone for only a week. Who can make plans these days?

The people in this country are simply made of iron. It is unbelievable what they have to endure and how much they'll yet have to endure before this is over. I am not alone in my feeling of foreboding. Everyone senses that there are very difficult days ahead.

The Arab plan is not only to strangle our communication lines and destroy our outposts but to lay siege to the city and starve us into submission -- with a little help from the British. The British don't believe for a moment that we'll be able to withstand an invasion by SEVEN ARAB STATES so the Mandatory policy calls for us to surrender the city to Abdullah, the King of Transjordan, when the Mandate ends on May 15th.

We aren't fooling ourselves. Jerusalem and its 100,000 Jews are in for it. Everyone knows there is no defending the city from a strategic point of view. Our only hope is international intervention in some form -- a UN militia or some other neutral force. I can't believe the entire world would abandon the Holy City without making provisions for safeguarding the sacred places or trying to prevent an outright attack.

Any way you look at it, the picture is already grim. There have been no convoys out of the city for a week and, worse yet, none have arrived in Jerusalem. Food and water supplies are getting critically low and our worst nightmare, isolation from the Jewish State, may ensue. But, believe it or not, spirits are high. Everyday life goes on...with a minimum of the depressing atmosphere you would expect with everyone fully aware of what is in store.

I look at it this way. I am not a better or a worse person, a braver or a weaker person than anyone else here. As long as they can take it, I should be able to and, perhaps, then some. I like living in Palestine. I love Jerusalem. It is my "home" for now. I don't see why a person should pick up and leave his home because a dangerous madman has gone beserk next door. There is no running away. A couple of miles isn't going to make a difference. You'd have to run thousands of miles and keep on running the rest of your life.

Love,

Zippy


From  Zipporah Porath,Letters from Jerusalem, 1947-1948. Order it from zip(at)netvision.net.il (Israel) or click here for review and order information

Other letters from the book: Israel: This is my home - 1948; Palestine Partition - November 29, 1947 Palestine: Ben Yehuda Street Bombing


Notice

Letter copyright 1987 by Zipporah Porath. Introduction copyright 2008 by Zipporah Porath and Zionism-Israel.com. All rights reserved. This document may not be reproduced without express permission of the author and the publisher.


See also:Palestine Partition - November 29, 1947 Memoirs of a Palmach volunteer, 1948 , Was there Ethnic Cleansing in Palestine in 1948?
Israel - Birth of a Nation - The struggle for Israel's independence 
1948 Israel War of Independence (First Arab-Israeli war) Timeline (Chronology) MACHAL In Israel's Wars MACHAL in Israel's War of Independence MACHAL - in illegal immigration to Palestine and Israel War of Independence

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