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Out of the Jerusalem Siege,  1948


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Zipporah Porath wrote this letter to her family from Tel Aviv in June of 1948, during the Israel War of Independence.

 On May 14, 1948 in Tel Aviv, when Ben-Gurion proclaimed the establishment of the State of Israel, Jerusalem was totally isolated from the rest of the country. Only during the first cease-fire were a privileged few Jerusalemites permitted to leave the besieged city. Zipporah was among them, accompanying a convoy of wounded for treatment in the nascent State of Israel.

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


Tel Aviv  

June 22, 1948

Dearest Mother, Dad and Naomi,

It is six o'clock in the morning and I've just awakened from a very bad nightmare in which there was shooting and shelling, hunger and thirst, blood and tension and unbelievable bravery.

I looked around and saw a cozy hotel room with a private bath and someone sleeping in the twin bed. I listened to the honking of bus horns and neighbors on a nearby balcony arguing. I stared at the ceiling. I'M IN TEL AVIV!!!.

Under the protection of the United Nations a convoy of wounded, which I accompanied for Magen David Adom, was allowed to leave besieged Jerusalem and to pass on the old Jerusalem‑Tel Aviv route as far as Latrun or what remains of it. Before letting us proceed, everybody checked and double checked us the Arab Legionnaires checked us, the American representatives checked us, the United  Nations representative checked.  For what I do not know we had only bona fide patients with unhealed wounds.

From Latrun we took to the hills, jockeying and rumbling our way to Kfar Bilu, a converted hospital camp,  formerly  a British Army camp. Most of the patients were amputees and lurching over the rugged terrain was sheer agony for them. How desperately I tried to be cheerful, efficient, to give whatever sympathy and comfort I could.

There, the pain‑weary and exhausted patients were given  tea and sandwiches with TOMATOES  and  CUCUMBERS after months of deprivation. Who could have thought a human being could get so excited about an honest‑to‑goodness tomato, but all of us did. It tasted of everything I had ever dreamed about eating during hunger pangs in Jerusalem ice cream, coffee, hamburgers with ketchup, whatever memory or imagination could conjure.

It suddenly dawned on all of us when we arrived that WE WERE ACTUALLY IN THE STATE OF ISRAEL. A wild and joyous moment, filled with relief and pain and overwhelming excitement. The patients banged their crutches and canes on the ambulance and bus doors. The din was deafening, the exultation uncontrollable.

The boys were sorted into two groups by an army doctor those to be kept for treatment and those to be sent for convalescence. I accompanied the convalescent group on to a Tel Aviv Rest Home. We had started out from Jerusalem at about noon, after much sitting around and waiting for approvals, but it was after 10:30 p.m. when we arrived at the outskirts of Tel Aviv‑ Jaffa, where the Rest Home was and I was able to deliver my patients. Everyone was in high spirits, singing loudly and boisterously, proud of having come from the battlefield of JERUSALEM and relieved  at being somewhere else.

I started walking the unfamiliar, blacked‑out streets, looking for a place to stay. I had brought with me all the money I possessed but that didn't help. Every room in every hotel I tried was either occupied or had  been  requisitioned by the army. Finally, bone tired, hungry  and on the verge of tears, I went to the Military Police, presented my leave pass, told them I had no relatives or friends in town, didn't know my way around and  demanded a bed.

When they heard I had come from Jerusalem, everything moved into high gear; they called a taxi, took me to the proper office, arranged for a bed at the Savoy Hotel and meal tickets at restaurants. One of the fellows even invited me for breakfast, to be followed by a sightseeing tour. I didn't like having to play damsel in distress but it was so good to have somebody worrying about ME for a change.

At the hotel, I felt so silly getting the thrill I did out of walking up carpeted stairs to a cream‑colored room with a tile bathroom then, turning on the faucet and watching  W A T E R stream out. It was so civilized, even the military set‑up, a far cry from primitive Jerusalem. There we are partisans; here, we are "soldiers".  My feelings were confirmed a few minutes later when a Palmach girl was brought in to share the room.  She had just come from Kiryat Anavim, near Jerusalem, and  was feeling very much the same way as I was. Incidentally, she had met up with Carmi and several other of my friends who are fighting in that area.  We both rumpled the crisp sheets and tried to relax with a whole cigarette each before going to sleep.

I woke up this morning wondering if all the comforts of Tel Aviv had dissolved during the night but they were still there, along  with  glorious sunshine.

I just looked out of the window and discovered that our room overlooks the Mediterranean Sea where people are actually swimming and sunbathing, like Palm Beach or  Florida.  Incredible.

Strangely, I suddenly longed to be with the boys I had come with. I wished I could have seen their faces, which had been  writhed  in  pain on the difficult journey, suddenly relax into smiles at the sight of plentiful water and  food and decent medical l equipment.

 My first stop this morning will be at the post office to send you a cable and mail this letter and the twenty other letters that people pushed into my hand as I boarded the convoy. Then I am going to have breakfast with my "date," order a tall glass of orange juice, an egg or two and enough coffee to drown in.  Off with the uniform.  A casual outfit and saddle shoes. Lady for a day.

Actually three days. Three whole days and nights of this paradise.



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


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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