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Meir Meivar, shortly after the 1948 War
|Born||January 30, 1918
|Died||November 11, 2000
Meir Meivar (Hebrew: מאיר מיבר, born Meir Meiberg; Safed, Palestine, 1918 – Jerusalem, Israel, 2000), was the commander of the city of Safed during the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, its former mayor, and a businessperson.
Meir Meivar was born as Meir Meiberg. His parents, Yehuda and Tova, were Orthodox Jews. Tova was born in Safed to Yosa’le Libman and Yehuda did Aliyah from Bessarabia. Yehuda served as a member of the Municipal Council of Safed.
When Meivar was only 11 years old, he witnessed, first-handed, a murder of a Jewish resident in Safed, which was part of the 1929 massacres. That event shaped his life, according to his memoirs.
When his was 15 he turned to secular education institution, which is generally broader. He studied in the Scottish College in Safed with students coming from all over the northern region of Palestine, the majority were Christians and Muslims. Thanks to this mix he got acquainted with the diverse population of Palestine. He graduated at the year of 1938.
After serving during the 1948 War as the leader of Haganah in Safed, he turned to civil life, and during the late 1980s he moved to Jerusalem.
At the age of 14 Meivar was accepted into the lines of Haganah. Initially he was a runner-up boy, but even then he imagined himself as a commander relaying messages to his soldiers. At the time, several youth movements offered underground activities for teenagers. After a short while in Maccabi Hazair he moved to serve with Betar. After a couple of years he was assigned as the commander of the local branch, and he managed to also command the Etzel in Safed, until 1940, when it split into Etzel and Lehi. In his book, Meivar describes the various youth movements as character building, and he emphasizes that being involved in multiple organizations, sometimes with contradicting ideologies, did not interfere with his evolvement as a future commander.
At the year of 1938 Meivar formally joined the forces of Haganah; his first commander was Miriam Stern. A short while after the Arab revolt and massacres of Tiberias, he was sent to a commanders’ course. Most of his activities included evading the colonizing British troops, and helping Safed acquire ammunition and weapons. The overall goal was to prepare for future revolts and battles. However, in 1939, upon the beginning of World War II, the Arab revolts in Palestine ceased. Although Haganah recommended assisting the British by providing them with some troops, Meivar refused. In his book, he justifies this decision based on him being already during four various military courses, and dealing with the tension between Etzel and Haganah, which peaked at 1940. Eventually, Meivar’s meeting with Avraham Stern (founder of Lehi) was one of the key influences leading to his departure of Etzel. In 1944, Meivar was appointed the commander of Safed by Giora Shanan, the Deputy Palmach Commander. According to Meivar’s book, at the time the Haganah forces in Safed had approximately 100 troopers. One of his immediate goals was to recruit more people. His motivation was the prevalent conflict and the imminent battles. One of his advantages as a commander growing in the lines of Etzel was adding those fighters to Haganah’s trainings. Later, in the 1948 War, those fighters integrated completely with Haganah, resulting in a better ability to defend the city.
The 1948 War
Preparations for the war were commenced more than 10 years before it begun. In 1936, an overall defense plan to protect Safed’s Jewish quarter was devised. Meivar’s role included setting the positions, stocking them with ammunitions, defining sectors and conducting mental preparations of his forces. These arrangements, made with Mordechai Leibovitz (Ben-Ari), were the cornerstone of defending the Jewish quarter of Safed, and later they proved themselves useful. Back then, Yitzhak Sadeh said that the one to control the city’s fortress, will control the rest of the city. Hence Meivar titled his book, “At the Shadow of the Fortress” (In Hebrew: בצל המצודה).
On December 1947, Haganah forces in the Jewish quarter counted for about 250 fighters. On the other side, the Arab forces had 3,000 forces, according to Colonel Wasfi al-Tal, one of the leaders of the Arab Liberation Army. It is worth mentioning that the Jewish leadership did not know the size of their opponents, thus the panic and sense of urgency during the period before the war was increased.
The battles over Safed begun in January 2nd, 1948, and their frequency increased until a siege was declared, on April 1948. Without civil authorities in charge, the military sector commanders have become “civil governors” de facto, led by Meivar. He had to continuously make both civil and military decisions. Among his notable decisions as a leader was his choice to invest resources in improving the Jewish citizens’ morale. Through “The Voice of Safed” (Hebrew: קול צפת), a leaflet printed and distributed using underground methods, he tried to maintain a cohesive community. Another major decision, in the field of battle, was his instruction to his fighters to detonate a grenade upon themselves and the enemy, in case they are being kept captive. Although this was a military instruction, this was not given as a military command.
On April 16th, 1948, the British forces, which were in charge of Palestine at the time, started evacuating the city. The Arab forces tried to surprise by striking the Jewish side while they are defenseless; Syrian, Lebanese and Iraqi flags were posted on the local Police station. The Jewish retort was posting a blue-and-white flag on “Merkazi” hotel. When it became dark, Meivar led a complex operation. That operation resulted in the blasting of the Scottish Church of Safed by the Arab forces and the blasting of the Police station by the Jewish forces. Since the electric generator was damaged, the whole city was blacked-out.
Thanks to emergency telegrams, Palmach forces were sent to the city. It was liberated on May 10th, 1948. The Palmach’s major contribution were the Davidka mortars supplied with the special units. Throughout the battles Meivar maintained his composure, except on May 8th, when a bomb shell entered the bedroom of his wife Sarah and his two kids, Yair (four year old at the time) and Drora (only two months old).
Yigal Alon, the commander of the Palmach and Meivar’s closest friend, wrote in his book that the liberation of Safed was complex due to its topography: flanking the Arab forces was practically impossible. However, the wise identification of the city’s key strategic points, the fortress, the police station and Bet Shalva, helped focus the firepower to gain strategic advantage.
For several years Meivar was in Safed’s municipal council as a representative of ]]Gahal]]. During the 1960s he was elected as mayor of Safed; it was the first time a non-Mapai member was acting mayor. However, his coalition did not last until the end of his term.
Later in his life Meivar worked as local a branch manager for the First International Bank of Israel. In the early 1970s he founded Motel Zefat on the mountain of Canaan. After almost twenty years of successful operation, the motel was sold and converted in the dormitories of Zefat Academic College.
Meivar was also involved with the community. He was among the founders of local Freemasonry branch, and he was its first president. He was also the president of Safed’s branch of Rotary International.
During the 1990s, although he lived in Jerusalem and not in Safed, he still received the honour of Yakir Safed (“honorable of Safed”). It was given for his vast contributions during the 1948 War, and the more recent achievements he had as a local business owner and particularly his success with Motel Zefat.
Meivar has changed his surname in 1948 from Meiberg to Meivar. He was married to Sarah, a Safed native too, and he fathered three children: Yair, a navy engineer, Drora, a psychologist, and Ruth, Insurance consultant. He had seven grandchildren: Yael (killed in a terrorist attack on 1998), Jonathan, Boaz, Ariel, Yoav, Galia, Ehud and Alon.
- מאיר מיבר-מייברג; גרשון ריבלין (1989). בצל המצודה. מלוא. Retrieved October 10, 2012.