Palestine: Fight or Flight, 1948
Zipporah had come to Jerusalem to study at the Hebrew University. By February of 1948, it was apparent that the city was under siege and imperiled. Zipporah had already joined the Haganah. Most of the other foreign students faced the same decision that other students and tourists were to face in later wars and lesser periods of danger: to stay or to leave.
Most of the foreign students in Jerusalem left. However, the Zionist leadership had made the difficult decision not to evacuate women and children from the city, to increase the fighting spirit of the troops, who were mostly Jerusalemites. Evacuation of Jerusalem civilians would also have destroyed the morale of the rest of the country.
Zipporah and some other foreign students decided to stay as well. She wrote:
ventually, you can't help noticing that there is something special about this place and the people who live here. Even if you can't put your finger on it, you sense it. I wouldn't exchange this period in my life and this feeling of LIVING for all the comforts and security of America.
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
NOTE: The tension that gripped the city during that period was frightening. For the American students, it was a grim signal either to pack up and go home or join the forces being organized to defend Jerusalem. Those of us who remained, felt immense pride and privilege to be part of that heroic struggle.
Dearest Mother, Dad and Naomi,
This morning is truly biblical weather, the story of Noah's Ark and the flood reenacted. The rain has been falling all night slapping at the earth and stones. This morning it is still pounding at the doors and windows but with gentle stinging strokes.
Yesterday, was also a biblical day -- a grand EXODUS of American students back to the "Land of the free and the home of the brave." Mothers and fathers have suddenly developed critical heart attacks and are sending cables demanding the immediate return of their offspring. Those students who don't have any ideological ties are going. The rest of us are here to stay, come what may. It seems to me that WE have to make the decision -- to stay or to leave -- without parental pressure. I am very proud of you. Not a frantic word yet.
I know you are concerned and that distance and sensational news reports about the explosive security situation intensify your concern. I can only assure you that we are taking every precaution. Also, the Haganah is doing a terrific job of protecting us. If this is what it is capable of as an illegal defense force, imagine its potential as a national army.
I am aware that I constantly write in generalities. I am unable to be more specific -- in some cases, for reasons of security -- but, mostly, because I find it extremely difficult to talk about a situation which is impossible for you to relate to. Not being here, you cannot really understand what we are experiencing and the mind-picture you form will inevitably be blurred and distorted. So I confine myself to small talk. I, on the other hand, am too close to what's happening, too out of perspective to be able to properly evaluate events. Yet, they are indelibly etched into my consciousness.
Coming to the reality of Palestine with a Zionist background, you discover a sense of fulfillment you didn't think your life's days would contain. Sometimes, it doesn't hit you until your Americanisms have worn off a bit. Sometimes, personal problems in adjusting to the language, the people or the lack of physical comforts, cloud the picture. But, eventually, you can't help noticing that there is something special about this place and the people who live here. Even if you can't put your finger on it, you sense it. I wouldn't exchange this period in my life and this feeling of LIVING for all the comforts and security of America.
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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