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Hadassah in the Ethnic Cleansing of Jerusalem - 1948

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Ethnic Cleansing of Jerusalem - 1948

This page gives eye-witness accounts of the ethnic cleansing of Jerusalem. The entire world acquiesced in this war crime of the lackeys of imperialist powers, because of the interference of powerful lobbying interests. This war crime took place in Palestine, in 1948, when the Transjordan Legion, directed and financed by British imperialism, expelled the Jews of the old city of Jerusalem, depriving them of their legitimate rights.

The expulsion of the Jews was part of the racist genocidal Arab plan for ethnic cleansing of Jerusalem and Palestine in 1948. This was announced by the Arab league, but it was instigated and planned in part by the Nazi Grand Mufti Hajj Amin Al Husseini, and his able relative, Abdel Khader Al-Husseini. The strategy included ambushes such as this one, constant shelling and sniper fire, a blockade of the Jerusalem road that resulted in near starvation, and invasion by armies of the Arab states. Over a thousand Jewish civilians were killed in Jerusalem during this campaign.

Jews had been expelled by force from Jerusalem in the past by Christian Roman emperors and by the crusaders, only to return to the eternal capital and national and religious center. The expulsion of the Jews was the culmination of the Arab plan for ethnic cleansing of Jerusalem in 1948, planned by the Nazi Grand Mufti Hajj Amin Al Husseini, and his able relative, Abdel Khader Al-Husseini. The strategy included ambushes such as the convoy massacre, constant shelling and sniper fire, attacks of Irregulars and of the Jordan legion on the Jewish quarter and a blockade of the Jerusalem road that resulted in near starvation. Over a thousand Jewish civilians were killed during this campaign.

The Jewish Quarter had been under attack by Arab irregulars for many months and in desperate straits. Following the invasion by the Transjordanian Arab Legion, pressure increased. Despite the empty propaganda statements of anti-Zionist historians, the fledgling Jewish army was no match for the Jordan legion with its artillery, armored vehicles and British officered troops. Those who insist on Jewish superiority in numbers must explain why there were no soldiers available to rescue the Jews of the old city of Jerusalem. Troops that were sent to its defense were either so battle weary that they fell asleep on duty, or so unfit for battle that they didn't know how to use their weapons. For many months a tiny Haganah force tried to defend inhabitants of the Jewish quarter, who numbered over 2,000 - mostly religious Jews and many non-Zionist. A large part of the original Jewish community of 5,000 had fled in the pogroms of 1936. These were Jews whose families had lived in Jerusalem for many generations. They had built some 59 synagogues and a rich tradition. On May 28 the defense of the old city finally collapsed, and Abdullah Al-Tell, commanding the Transjordan Legion, evacuated the Jewish civilians to West Jerusalem, taking the Haganah defenders prisoner. Al Tell had no choice, because otherwise Arab mobs would have murdered the civilians. So he claims. Of course, al-Tell had the choice of not conquering a defenseless civilian position, and of course he had the obligation, having conquered it, of ensuring the safety of its civilian residents, their belongings and their holy places. But nobody examines such issues if an Arab army is involved. 

No "right of return" was invoked for these refugees, expelled from homes where their families had lived in peace for hundreds of years. Nobody in the world protested this ethnic cleansing. Nobody protested the fact that the Jordanians destroyed 58 of the 59 synagogues of the Jewish Quarter, or that they used the headstones of graves in the Mt. Olives cemetery to pave walkways for their latrines.

In the Six day war of 1967, East Jerusalem fell to Jewish control for the first time in almost 2,000 years. Every Israeli felt that we had completed the task left undone in 1948.

A summary of the Hadassah convoy massacre only, is provided here: The Hadassah Convoy Massacre

The detailed account is provided on these pages:

Hadassah Convoy Massacre-Prologue

Hadassah Convoy Massacre-Preparations

Hadassah Convoy Massacre-The Attack

The Ethnic Cleansing of Jerusalem

Conclusion - Later Phases of the war and Armistice

A similar genocidal campaign was planned and announced in 1967. However, instead of resulting in the ethnic cleansing of the Jews, it brought on the Six day war which liberated Jerusalem from the longest occupation in history, and returned it to its rightful historic owners.

 

Massacres and Ethnic Cleansing in Palestine

The massacre of the Hadassah convoy and the expulsion of the Jews from the Old City of Jerusalem, continued a well established pattern in the land of Israel, that began even before there were Zionists, and reflected the relations between the Arab community and their Jewish subjects.

Other massacres and instances of genocidal violence, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing in Palestine include:

Palestine Massacre: The forgotten pogrom: Safed 1834:

The Kfar Etzion Massacre

Arab Riots and Massacres of 1929

Hebron Massacre

The Arab Revolt of 1936

Ami Isseroff

Following is adapted from http://www.hadassah.org/education/content/StudyGuides/Convoy_ITAD.pdf


Hadassah in the Ethnic Cleansing of Jerusalem - 1948

 

Desperate situation in Mount Scopus

The night before the massacre, Rose Halprin and Bertha Schoolman had flown home and heard the news on arrival in New York. Judith Epstein and Rebecca Shulman, who remained in Tel Aviv, were having dinner at their hotel when a newspaperman came up to their table: “I have terrible news for you. Yassky was killed today.” On her return to New York Rebecca told the Board in New York, “I doubt whether we will be able to use Scopus again soon. I recommend that we start building somewhere else.” To Ethel Agron and Eli Davis the Board cabled in May: “We dedicate ourselves to the task of maintaining services and rebuilding Hadassah.” The British reinforced Antonius House and warned both Jews and Arabs that they could countenance no further military activity in Sheikh Jarrah. Nevertheless, on April 25, the Haganah under a young Palmach officer named Yitzhak Rabin, occupied Nashashibi House. But the next day he was shelled out by the British. The Israelis would not return for good until nineteen years later when, under Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin, they occupied the entire Arab sector of Jerusalem.

Shelling and sniping made life on Scopus impossible and the road impassable despite the British presence. Fresh food and water were scarce. Davis had to find a way to get the more than 700 people down and contacted Major Jack Churchill: Major Churchill told me there was a slight chance of getting through to Mount Scopus, because the Arabs saw the British meant business. He agreed to make the trip up to Scopus and invited me along. The Major took a jeep and his driver. I sat while he stood in the jeep twirling his stick. He looked as though he were on parade in London. Nothing happened as we went through Sheikh Jarrah. On Scopus we were embraced. We had shown it was possible to get through.

Davis decided on the spot to risk a major evacuation because of the low morale. Ben- Gurion had told Hadassah and University representatives several days before the disaster that the hill was to be held at all costs. But Ahron Brezinsky, who was acting as medical director of the hospital, told Davis, “You cannot hold a front-line with sick people who do not want to stay. The atmosphere here is that of a refugee camp. With all the strategic importance of this place, we must get out with what we can.” Davis returned to town to organize the evacuation. A decision was taken to retain a 50-bed hospital on Scopus, demonstrating that the hospital was not being abandoned.

Davis scrounged the impoverished city for fuel for the partial evacuation. So empty was the city that he was reduced to collecting gasoline from private homes, institutions, friends--bottle by bottle. Four convoys made it. Brought into town were 200 patients, 100 student nurses and 300 staff members, as well and 600 tons of equipment and supplies. Not a shot was fired. Left behind were 150 persons, including eight student nurses who ran the kitchen and forty patients. In the university buildings were another 150 men.n.

On May 6, Haim Halevy, who administered Scopus, reported, “The hospital no longer exists for all practical purposes.” Water and flour were sufficient for two weeks, power was rationed to only four hours daily and “soon there won’t be any refrigeration.” Compounding the problem were intelligence reports that King Abdullah was about to shell Scopus before making a full-scale assault.

Hadassah “A” and Hadassah "B"

By the beginning of May, Davis and members of the Hadassah Council had managed to set up reasonably good facilities in Jerusalem’s Hadassah “A” and two blocks down the street in St. Joseph’s Convent, now known as Hadassah “B,” but the accommodations were hardly luxurious. St. Joseph’s, leased on April 29, had been a school for 600 Arab girls run by French nuns. After shells hit the converted hospital, the top floor was evacuated and patients were moved to the dank basements where there was neither water nor electricity. Shelves that stored potatoes were cleaned and became emergency beds. Nurses knelt on the stone floor to change bandages and physicians sat on the floor to examine patients. Together with “A” and “B,” the Straus Health Center and the Hasolel Street Clinic, Hadassah improvised 300 beds, nearly as many as it had on Scopus. Heroic volunteer work temporarily made up the difference. Nurse Madeline Lewin-Epstein, who had come with the AZMU in 1918, turned her large apartment into a twenty-bed hospital. She often braved sniper’s bullets and mortars to pick up the wounded in the streets and pull them into her home. Hers was the first military hospital in Jerusalem; many of her patients were wounded underground soldiers who could go nowhere else. British police officials would be sitting in a chair in the dental clinic of her popular husband, Sam Lewin-Epstein, while in the living room, only a few yards away, were the men they were hunting.

The fall of the Old City and Ethnic Cleansing

At the height of Hadassah’s problems, the Old City of Jerusalem fell to the Arabs on May 28.

Hadassah had staffed the hospital in the Old City’s Jewish Quarter early in the fighting, but the position of the Jews was hopeless against overwhelming numbers of Arabs. They fought until they were too few, too starved, too fatigued to go on. Avraham Laufer, one of the surgeons who was sent into the Jewish Quarter, reported that the top floors of the hospital had been shelled and seventy patients had to share mattresses and wooden benches in a synagogue and in basements. Laufer told of one young soldier who had shrapnel in an eye but refused to wait fifteen minutes for an operation to remove it because the situation at his post was desperate. “An hour later they carried him back. His handsome face was blown away by a shell.” About 1,300 women and children were evacuated to the Jewish side of the city, while the men were taken to a prison camp in the Jordanian desert. Three among the POW’s were Hadassah physicians: Egon Rys, Eli Peiser and Laufer. Two weeks later, while Rys was in the prison camp, his wife, Hava, a Hadassah nurse, was killed in the last pre-truce shelling of the city.

The Old City refugees were put up in the abandoned houses of the Katamon quarter, a large neighborhood of Arab villas that had been conquered in bloody fighting by the Haganah . There, Jerusalem’s meager food supplies were tightly rationed by volunteers, who themselves were now on starvation diets. Under the supervision of Sara Bavli, head of Hadassah Nutrition, these 1,300 and twenty thousand others were given frugal daily meals in what was known as a “battle of the calories.” One of the Hadassah volunteers who cared for the Old City refugee mothers and children was Betty Levin. She was given charge of a three-room abandoned apartment in which each corner served as “home” for ten refugees--120 in all. Recalls Betty: They told me that at the end of the fighting in the Old City they fled to a synagogue where they huddled together until the Arab Legion found them.

The Legion expelled them with only the nightgowns and slippers they wore. My job was to feed them. In the morning, they got two slices of bread each and, for the children, four teaspoons of jam. One day, a distraught mother threw the bread down and cried, ‘My children are filthy: their heads are full of lice. I need soap.’ But there was no soap. Betty remembered that before the siege began, her absentee landlady had locked ten large blocks of laundry soap in a room. Disregarding the mortars exploding around her, she walked back to her apartment, a kilometer distant, broke into the locked room and took the soap back to Katamon. There she sliced each block into sixteen squares. The lice were subdued and peace was restored to the apartment.

A State is Born

In the turbulence of siege, Friday, May 14, 1948 was no more than just another day of hunger and death in Jerusalem. No street celebrations marked David Ben-Gurion’s proclamation of the State of Israel in the Tel Aviv Museum. Hardly anyone knew about it until the following day, for few in Jerusalem had electricity and news was passed by word of mouth. Only on Sunday, May 16, did The Palestinian Post t appear with its headline: STATE OF ISRAEL BORN.

The highway to Tel Aviv had been sealed again by the Arab armies. Daily rations were down to starvation levels. The Holy City’s only link with the outside world was a small one-engine plane that landed under fire in the Valley of the Cross. While great military advances were being made in the rest of the country, at the end of May, Jerusalem appeared to be doomed. The last of the British had left Jerusalem on May 14-- except for those officers who remained behind to command Abdullah’s Arab Legion.

Residents of the city knew these officers were in command because the merciless shelling would stop precisely at 4:00 pm daily, so British officers could enjoy their tea. It was during that hour that most Israelis dared to go outside for their rations. Scopus was no exception to the bombardment. The buildings suffered badly, but casualties were few because the underground tunnel between the nursing school and the hospital served as a perfect shelter.

In mid-April, after a British peace effort was rejected by the Mufti, the UN Security Council authorized the Consuls-General of the United States, France and Belgium to try to arrange a truce in Jerusalem. At the same time, American Consul-General Thomas Wasson, the most congenial and effective diplomat in the city, worked to secure Mount Scopus from attack. At the end of the month he was killed by Arab fire near his consulate.

Hadassah doctors fought twelve hours in vain to save his life.

Mt Scopus Comes Under UN Protection

Immediately after May 15, the British established a consulate in Jerusalem proper and appointed two consuls to handle Arab and Israeli affairs. Consul John Guy Tempest Sheringham applied himself to the Scopus problem and on May 31, a phone conversation with Hebrew University Administrator Dr. Werner Senator, he advised Israel to surrender Scopus. Senator left a record of the talk:

Sheringham: ‘The best way to safeguard the University and Hadassah buildings would be to accept King Abdullah’s offer to put them under the protection of the Arab Legion.’

Senator: ‘The best way it seems to me would be to advise King Abdullah not to shell the University and Hadassah.’

Sheringham: ‘Your military situation is not very bright. You have not succeeded in driving the Arabs out of Jerusalem.’

Senator: ‘The responsibility for the Legion’s acts against the University and Hadassah lay with the British Government.’

In Washington, innumerable pleas were made to every imaginable source to help relieve Scopus. The State Department was helpful in one respect: Secretary of State George Marshall agreed that cables from the National Board could be relayed through the consulate in Jerusalem to Davis and Ethel Agron.

In the end, an agreement was worked out whereby the United Nations would assume control of Scopus, over which it would fly its flag and provide observers to maintain the area as a demilitarized zone. Eighty-four Jewish police would guard installations at Hadassah and the Hebrew University while 40 Arabs would guard Arab property on Scopus. The UN agreed to supply and exchange the Jewish police in regular fortnightly convoys through the Arab Sheikh Jarrah Quarter.

Hadassah and the University were evacuated on July 6 and demilitarization was completed on July 7 when the first police, Israeli soldiers in police uniform, went up.

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