Battle for Jerusalem (1948)
|Siege of Jerusalem|
|Part of 1948 Arab-Israeli War|
Jordanian artillery bombarding the old city
Before May 1948
Jewish militias: (Haganah, Irgun, Lehi, Palmach)
After May 1948
Army of the Holy War
|Commanders and leaders|
| David Shaltiel
| Abdullah el Tell
General Sir John Bagot Glubb Pasha
|10,000 men||6,000 Jordanian troops
2,000 Egyptian troops
500 Palestinian militia
|Casualties and losses|
|700 military dead, up to 600 civilians||unknown|
The Battle for Jerusalem occurred from 30 November 1947 to 11 June 1948 when Jewish and Arab population of Mandatory Palestine and later Israeli and Jordanian armies fought for the control of the city.
Following the Partition Plan of Palestine, the city was to be placed under international rule in a corpus separatum. Fights nevertheless immediately broke in the city between Jewish and Arab militias with bombings and attacks coming from both sides. Starting in February, Abd al-Qadir al-Husayni blockaded the road West of the city to prevent the supply of the Jewish population. This was broken first mid-April following Operation Nachshon and Operation Maccabee. On 14 May and the following days, Etzioni and Harel brigades supported by Irgun troops launched several operations aiming to take over the Arab side of the city. In the meantime, Arab Legion had deployed in the area dedicated to the Arab state refraining to enter the corpus separatum but massively garrisoning Latrun to blockade the Jewish city once again. Israeli victories against the Arab militias in the city pushed Abdallah of Jordan to order the Arab Legion to intervene. It deployed in East Jerusalem, fought the Israelis and took the Jewish quarter of the Old City. The population was expelled and the fighters taken prisoners to Jordan. The Israeli forces launched three assaults on Latrun to free the road to the city but without success. Anyway, they could build an alternative road leading to this city before the truce imposed by UN on June 11, leaving the blockade. During the period called the First truce the Jewish city was supplied with food, ammunition, weapons and troops. Fights didn't resume during the remaining months of the 1948 War and the city was shared between Israel and Jordan after the war, Israelis ruling West Jerusalem and Jordanians ruling East Jerusalem with the Old City.
Following the outbreak of disturbances at the end of 1947 the road between Tel Aviv and Jewish Jerusalem became increasingly difficult for Jewish vehicles. Ambushes by Palestinian Arab irregulars became more frequent and more sophisticated. In January 1948 the number of trucks supplying Jewish Jerusalem had fallen to thirty. By March the daily average number of lorries reaching Jerusalem was six. On 1 April The Times estimated that the Jewish population of Jerusalem require a minimum of 50 lorry loads per week. On 3 April the Scotsman newspaper reported that a spokesman at a meeting of Arab military leaders in Damascus had announced that Jerusalem would be "strangled" by a blockade.
One estimate of the size of the opposing forces at the beginning of March gives the Arabs 5,300 men in Jerusalem and surrounding district, including 300 Iraqi irregulars and 60 Yugoslav Moslems. David Shaltiel commanded the Etzioni Brigade of 1,200 with another 1,200 second line troops. In addition there was a Jewish Home Guard of 2,500 and 500 members of the dissident organisations, Irgun and Lehi.
In December 1947 the Jewish Agency set up the Jerusalem Emergency Committee which had begun stockpiling food and fuel. In January the Committee estimated 4,500 tons a month was needed. They were given 50,000 Palestinian pounds credit with the Histadrut's wholesalers Hamashbir Hamerkazi. By the end of March it was clear that food supplies for civilians in Jewish Jerusalem would run out. In early April the Haganah were ordered to launch an offensive to clear the strategic hill top villages along the last few miles of the road to Jerusalem. At the same time a series of massive armoured convoys, involving hundreds of vehicles, forced their way through.
The intention of the besieging forces was to isolate the 100,000 Jewish residents of the city from the rest of the Jewish inhabitants of Palestine and, in the case of the Jordanian forces, to conquer East Jerusalem (including the Old City). Aside from the large Jewish population, Jerusalem held special importance to the Yishuv for "religious and nationalist" reasons. In particular, the Arab forces tried to cut off the road to Jerusalem from the coastal plain, where the majority of the Jewish population resided. The Arabs blocked access to Jerusalem "at Latrun and Bab al-Wad," a narrow valley surrounded by Arab villages on hills on both sides. The Arabs also fired off shells indiscriminately into West Jerusalem. The breaking of the siege on Jerusalem and the annexation of the captured areas to the Jewish state became primary goals for the Israelis in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.
The fighting led to the evacuation of the Jewish villages of Neve Yaakov, Atarot, Kalya and Beit HaArava, and the expulsion of the Jewish inhabitants of the Old City of Jerusalem. Before the war, the Jews of the Old City had friendly relations with their Arab neighbors and were sorry to have to leave.
Dov Joseph, head of the Jerusalem Emergency Committee, listed the problems faced in relieving Jewish Jerusalem as:
- the lack of heavy war materials such as planes or artillery.
- the nature of the terrain.
- the density of Arab population.
- no Jewish settlements in the area.
In addition there was the British ban on the carrying of weapons. On 17 March six members of the Palmach accompanying a convoy were killed in a clash with the British Army. At the end of March the decision was taken to resist arms searches.
On 17 March a 16 vehicle convoy reached the city without incident. But the following week a two mile long, eighty vehicle convoy came under attack and five of its occupants killed. Dov Joseph refers to a convoy being "wiped out", 27 March, but gives no details. Two days later a 60 vehicle convoy came under attack at Hulda and was forced to turn back with 5 Arabs and 17 Jews killed. Five captured vehicles were driven to Ramle. A food convoy escorted by the Palmach reached the city on 6 April without casualties despite being ambushed at Dir Muhsein by a force of "150 Arabs ... joined by 80 Arabs from Abu Shushe." It also survived a second road block at Kolonia taking six hours to reach its destination.
To coincide with Operation Nachshon Dov Joseph was given 100,000£P and the authority to use the Haganah to conscript as many men and lorries as he needed. He proceeded to assemble three large convoy's at Bilu Camp with a stockpile of 10,000 tons of supplies. He obtained 150 trucks from Solel Boneh - Shelev Transport Co-operative. A Haganah field force requisitioned a further 150 trucks with their drivers and conscripted 1000 men as labourers. On 15 April 131 trucks with 550 tons of food reached the city without being attacked. The supplies included 230 tons of flour and 0.4 tons of chocolate. Two days later 300 trucks arrived in the Jewish enclave with 1000 tons of supplies also without incident. The third convoy on 20 April had a harder time. Consisting of 300 trucks with 2000 Haganah and Irgun troops, the convoy battled all day to get through. Twenty lorries were knocked out, ten Jews were killed and 30 wounded. Also during Operation Nachshon there was a secret convoy that brought 1500 members of the Palmach into the city. After this Jewish Jerusalem was cut off from the outside world for seven weeks with the exception of a dozen trucks which brought army supplies on 17 May.
Breaking the siege
According to Dov Joseph the turning point of Operation Nachshon was the killing of Abd al-Qadir al-Husayni on 8 April. 30,000 people attended his funeral at the Haram al-Sharif and subsequently the morale of his forces collapsed. The end of the siege came with the opening of the Burma Road in June. In Joseph's words "by the time the first truce (11 June 1948) came it had already broken the siege." This alternative route had been conceived in April after the failure of Operation Nachshon to secure the entrance to the road to Jerusalem at Latrun. Work started on 18 May using bulldozers and several hundred quarrymen from the city. The major problem was a very steep section at the beginning of the ascent. After two weeks some supplies came through using mules and 200 men from the Home Guard (Mishmar Ha'am) to cover the three miles which were impassible to vehicles. These men, mostly conscripts in their fifties, each carried a 45 pound load and made the trip twice a night. This effort lasted for five nights. Three weeks later, 10 June, the steepest section was opened to vehicles, though they needed assistance from tractors to get up it. By the end of June the usual nightly convoy delivered 100 tons of supplies a night. Harry Levin in his diary entry, 7 June, says that 12 tons a night were getting through and he estimated that the city needed 17 tons daily. On 28 July he notes that during the first truce, 11 June to 8 July, 8,000 truckloads arrived. This remained the sole supply route for several months until the opening of the Valor Road (Kvish Hagevurah).
In late May and early June the Israeli launched several assaults on the Latrun salient but without succeeding in taking the position from the Arab Legion. During Operation Dani they launched two other attacks on Latrun, again without success and attacked several Arab villages to widen Jerusalem corridor that was 2 km wide in the area of Latrun.
In March an attack on a convoy returning from a settlement south of Jerusalem left Jews 15 dead. In April, shortly after an attack on an Arab village west of Jerusalem, Arab forces attacked a Jewish medical convoy on its way to Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus. The British had provided no escort (as they had in previous months) and they failed to intervene during the attack or help the Jews. After seven hours of fighting, 78 Jews (mostly unarmed medical personnel) had been killed.
Starting in early 1948, the Arab forces had severed the supply line to Jewish Jerusalem. On 31 March, the head of the Jerusalem Emergency Committee, Dov Yosef, introduced a draconian system of food rationing. The bread ration was 200 grams per person. The April Passover week ration per person was 2 lb potatoes, 2 eggs, 0.5 lb fish, 4 lb matzoth, 1.5 oz dried fruit, 0.5 lb meat and 0.5 lb matza flour. The meat cost one Palestinian pound per pound. On 12 May, water rationing was introduced. The ration was 2 gal/person/day, of which 4 pints was drinking water. In June the weekly ration per person was 100 g wheat, 100 g beans, 40 g cheese, 100 g coffee or 100 g powdered milk, 160 g bread per day, 50 g margarine with 1 or 2 eggs for the sick. The mallow plant played an important role in Jerusalem history at this time. When convoys bearing foodstuffs could not reach the city, the residents of Jerusalem went out to the fields to pick mallow leaves, which are rich in iron and vitamins. The Jerusalem radio station, Kol Hamagen, broadcast instructions for cooking mallow. When the broadcasts were picked up in Jordan, they sparked victory celebrations. Radio Amman announced that the fact that the Jews were eating leaves, which was food for donkeys and cattle, was a sign that they were dying of starvation and would soon surrender.
United Nations reaction
Part of the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine, which the Jews of Mandatory Palestine accepted and the Arabs of Mandatory Palestine and neighboring states rejected, was that Jerusalem would be a corpus separatum, meaning that the United Nations would assume responsibility for the city and it would not be a part of either the proposed Arab or Jewish states. Israel argued that the partition plan regarding Jerusalem was "null and void" due to the UN's "active relinquishing of responsibility in a critical hour" when the UN did not act to protect the city. The Arabs, who had been against Jerusalem's internationalization all along, felt similarly. The appointment of Dov Joseph as the "Military Governor of the Occupied Area of Jerusalem" on 2 August closed the door on the possibility of Jerusalem being Internationalized.
Associated military operations
- Emmanuel Sivan (1993). "To Remember Is to Forget: Israel's 1948 War". Journal of Contemporary History 28 (2): 341–359.
- Joseph, page 98.
- Kimche, Jon and David (1960) A Clash of Destinies. The Arab-Jewish War and the Founding of the State of Israel. Frederick A. Praeger. Library of Congress number 60-6996. Pages 132, 133. Quoting a report by Shaltiel to Haganah HQ.
- Joseph, page 26.
- Joseph, page 80.
- Joseph, page 153: 20 April 4 weeks supplies. Levin, page 22: beginning of March "only three weeks".
- See Morris, Chapter 5, "The Pan-Arab Invasion, 15 May—11 June 1948," pp. 180-263
- Gold, 48-51.
- Levenberg, Haim (1993). Military Preparations of the Arab Community in Palestine: 1945–1948. London: Routledge., p187
- Morris, 197
- Morris, 218
- Morris, 217
- Joseph, Dov. "The Faithful City. The siege of Jerusalem 1948. Simon and Schuster, 1960. Congress # 60 10976. Page 99.
- Levin, Harry. "Jerusalem Embattled. A diary of the city under siege." Cassel 1997, ISBN 0 304 33765. Page 49. "If we had 10 Jewish rural settlements protecting it, instead of only 3, the road would never have been closed."
- Joseph, pages 98,99.
- Rose, Pauline. "The Siege of Jerusalem." Patmos Publishers, London. No date. Introduction dated June 1949. Page 31.
- Levin, Harry. "Jerusalem Embattled. A diary of the city under siege." Cassel 1997, ISBn 0 304 33765. Page 20. 25 March.
- Joseph. Page 98.
- "records seventeen names". Palmach.org.il. Retrieved 2013-06-07.
- Joseph, page 98. The Times. 1 & 2 April 1948.
- Levin, pages 49,52. Joseph, page 100, says 'a few convoys' got through between 3 and 9 April during the battle for Kastel.
- Joseph, pages 40,41.
- Joseph, page 101.
- Joseph, page 101. The Times reported that 178 trucks reached Jerusalem 13 April. This appears to be inaccurate.
- Joseph, page 101. Levin, page 77.
- The Times, 21 April.
- Joseph, page 102. 3 killed and six trucks destroyed. "Can still be seen."
- Levin, page 83. "294 trucks."
- Joseph, page 132.
- Joseph, page 102, 105.
- Joseph, pages 100,101.
- Joseph, pages 155,156.
- Levin, pages 236, 273.
- Morris, 128
- Dov Joseph, "The Faithful City. The siege of Jerusalem, 1948" . Simon and Schuster, 1960. Congress # 60 10976. Page 34
- "Food rationing". Zionism-israel.com. 1947-11-29. Retrieved 2013-06-07.
- Harry Levin, "Jerusalem Embattled. A diary of the city under siege." Cassels, 1997. ISBN 0 304 33765. Page 34.
- Levin. Pages 88 ration for 22 April and page 91.
- Joseph, page 150.
- Levin. Page 142.
- Joseph. Page 148. Ration issued 11 June.
- Consumption of mallow
- "Jerusalem Day." The Knesset Website. 2003. 17 July 2011.
- Eban, Abba qtd. in Gold 51
- Medzini, Meron qtd. in Gold 52
- Tessler, Mark A. "A History of the Israeli-Palestinian ...." Google Books. 16 July 2011.
- "Life." Google Books. 9 February 1953. 16 July 2011.
- Joseph, page 319.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Jerusalem in 1948 Arab Israeli War|
- Carlson, John Roy (1951) From Cairo to Damascus. New York: Alfred A. Knopf
- Collins, Larry & Dominique LaPierre (1972) O Jerusalem. New York: Simon and Schuster
- Gold, Dore. Tower of Babble: How the United Nations Has Fueled Global Chaos. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2004.
- Joseph, Dov (1960) The Faithful City. New York: Simon and Schuster
- Levin, Harry Jerusalem Embattled. A diary of the city under siege. Cassels, 1997. ISBN 0 304 33765.
- Levi, Ytzhak, Nine Measures: The Battles for Jerusalem in the War of Independence, Ma'arachot, 1986 (Hebrew)
- Morris, Benny 1948: The History of the First Arab-Israeli War. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008