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Palestine: "Grim Restraint and Fierce Dedication"


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This letter by Zipporah Porath, from her book, “Letters from Jerusalem 1947-1948”, was written from Jerusalem, right after the  Ben Yehuda Street Bombing. Over 52 people were murdered in the bombing by British mercenary deserters and Arab "militants" of those days. Zipporah describes the reality of life in Jerusalem and why it was so easy for these acts of sabotage to take place. 

In addition to the Ben Yehuda Street bombing, Zipporah also refers to the Palestine Post Bombing of February 1, 1948, in which one person had been killed and about twenty wounded. The paper still managed to put out a one - page edition in the morning. Both bombings were the work of Fawzi Kuttub and involved the same two British deserters. In the Ben Yehuda bombing, Zipporah used her newly acquired nursing skills to care for the wounded. She tells about it here:  Palestine: Ben Yehuda St. Bombing 1948.

Jerusalem 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, February 22, 1948

Dearest Family,

I was awakened by a shattering explosion at about 6:45 a.m. this morning, turned over and dreamed the noise into a restless dream. Then, the awareness that it was real hit me full blast. I hopped out of bed, pounded down the stairs to the telephone and got through to a friend who was in such a state of shock she could hardly tell me what had happened.

It seems the damn British, or Arabs dressed in British uniform, drove up in three lorries filled with explosives which they set off in the center of Jerusalem's downtown section, Ben Yehudah Street, the busiest and liveliest street in town. This, at an hour when people go to work or are still at home, in an area crammed with crowded apartments, office buildings and shops.

Everyone coming from town assures me that it's better to stay home because you can't get within a yell of the place and only interfere with efforts to clear the debris and find survivors. No way of knowing yet the number of casualties. [It was reported later that there were over fifty dead and some hundred and seventy wounded.]

Later the same day...

I went to town this afternoon. What devastation! What destruction! Even several blocks away, on King George V Street, the roofs are a shambles, entire store fronts are blasted away, the streets are a mass of glass and debris. Standing in the middle of one pile was my groceryman, collecting Mazal Tovs for being alive. Not a window, not a sign, not an undamaged building in the entire area. It is frustrating to think that these are the very same windows and the very same buildings that were repaired barely two weeks ago after the blasting of the press room of The Palestine Post, not three blocks away.

Every main street, with the exception of two blocks on Jaffa Road, is cut off to the public by the linked arms of Mishmar Haam, volunteer Jewish Home Guard units, who form a cordon to protect the striken area. This is one day when British soldiers and policemen scarcely showed themselves in the streets of the city. They would have been attacked by mobs of furious people. I might have been among them myself.

What kind of a crazy war is this? Who are we fighting? Who is neutral? Who is on our side? How much provocation are we supposed to take before retaliating? We know the price of paying back, but how long can it restrain us? We are like sitting ducks in a shooting gallery. And there is so little we can do about it. Not even permitted to protect ourselves. The people who live here have superhuman guts and patience to absorb blow after blow -- from the Arabs, from the British, from all sides. I know that on shmirah (guard duty) tonight I'll be gripping the Sten gun just a little bit more firmly, for it is events like this that ignite the kind of burning anger which can transform even a peace-loving person into a fighter, a soldier.

Jerusalem is very small, so that anything that hits, hits everything indiscriminately -- residential, commercial areas, hospitals and schools. If you glance at a map of the city, you'll notice that Jerusalem proper, the new city, is only ten or twelve blocks in circumference.

It is bounded to the south by "Bevingrad," -- nick-named after Britain's Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin. This is a huge compound, encircled by barbed-wire, containing not only all the important British administration offices, police headquarters, the courts, the prison, hospital, banks, the broadcasting station, but also, the Jewish commercial area, the Arab sector and the General Post Office, which services everybody.

To the west is Rehaviah, a lovely residential quarter, where the Jewish Agency building is located. To the north is Mahane Yehudah, the less affluent part of the city where there is a bustling marketplace that overflows into the orthodox and ultra- orthodox communities. Continuing further in this direction, is Romema, a mixed Jewish/Arab sector -- previously predominantly Arab -- and then round the bend is Kiryat Moshe, New Montefiore, where we live and Bet Hakerem, where other student quarters are.

Map: Jerusalem - Palestinian terror - 1948 - Ben Yehuda Street bombing

Spread out behind Kiryat Moshe, there are two Arab villages, Deir Yassin and Lifta and the Jewish suburb, Givat Shaul.

Come to think of it, we are actually closer to the center of the city than our house on 83rd Street is to Times Square. Only passing through Romema on the bus -- at least, until recently was a nerve-racking hit-or-miss affair, spiked by snipers. It bore no resemblance to a Fifth Avenue bus ride.

Strategically, we are more or less safe. The only thing we have to fear is an out-and-out full-scale attack by the Arabs which isn't likely because they know how strong and united we are and we know their every movement.

I am stressing the geography so that when you read all sorts of disturbing and frightening news about Jerusalem, you should realize that the city is made up of a hundred or more suburb- like communities and, at this stage, only some of them are under constant or sporadic fire. It doesn't necessarily mean that we students are in the thick of things all the time.

Map: Jerusalem - Palestinian terror - 1948 - Ben Yehuda Street bombing

Jerusalem is a difficult city to live in and to protect. The Jewish sections are not exclusively Jewish, nor the Arab sections entirely Arab, nor the British zones strictly British. The hardest part is getting about from one section to another and trying to protect the Jewish inhabitants who happen to live in a mixed section. And, a major overall problem is to protect ourselves from the British who are free to come and go as they please.

Jewish Home Guard roadblocks can stop and examine a car or a truck that looks suspicious but they cannot intercept a British army or police vehicle, even if there were proof positive that it contained explosives destined for detonation in a Jewish area. And, that's the background on how The Palestine Post building and Ben Yehudah Street got bombed.



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


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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