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Monday, June 02, 2008

The truth about the 1948 battle for Jerusalem

As many of you know, Sunday night and Monday are Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day, the 28th day of the Jewish month of Iyar. On this day in 1967, Israeli forces liberated the eastern half of Jerusalem, including the Old City and the Temple Mount.

The Old City of Jerusalem was occupied by Jordan from 1948-67. During that period, all of the Old City's synagogues were destroyed and the city's Jewish quarter was razed. But it didn't have to be that way.

During Passover, I wrote a post about a day our family spent in Jerusalem's Old City. In that post, I wrote:
We went to a museum which shows how the Jews in the Old City were defeated in 1948, and were expelled from the Old City.


Most of the history that you read about the 1948 War gives the impression that the Haganah - which is what eventually became the IDF - fought to retain the Old City. The movie presentation we saw in the museum today indicates that wasn't exactly the case. The Old City's defenders - mostly a ragtag group of kids - at one point captured the highest British lookout point in the Old City from which they could dominate it. The Haganah ordered them to give it up, because it was a church. Once it was given up, the situation of the Jews in the Old City deteriorated until their eventual defeat. That attitude continued in the 1967 War. In Michael Oren's seminal work Six Days of War, he describes how Defense Minister Moshe Dayan opposed capturing the Old City. Dayan wasn't the only one. Much of the country's leadership did not want to have to 'deal with' the Holy City. But until today I did not know that the Haganah had actually ordered the City's defenders to worsen their position in 1948.
In honor of Yom Yerushalayim, Treppenwitz has published an amazing interview with Moshe Rusnak, who was the commander of the Haganah forces in the Old City. Rusnak passed away within hours after he gave the interview. But the story he tells is amazing. Here's a small excerpt.

Q: Can you explain what was happening? Didn’t the Jewish leadership care what happened to the Jewish quarter of the old city? The commanders disappear, supplies and reinforcements don’t get through, there is almost no contact between you and HQ, what gives ?

Your description is correct. There was no real intention to capture the old city by our leadership. Every effort was made not to succeed. I’ll give some examples:

During the waiting period, I devised a three-stage plan to take over the old city. First stage was to take over all the fortified positions belonging to the British as soon as they withdrew. Second stage was to incorporate these positions with those we had constructed, to form an integrated defense line. The third stage was for forces from the new city to force their way into the quarter by making a decoy attack on Jaffa gate, while the main force entered via Zion gate.

The divisional commander, Shaltiel, only authorized stage one, he wouldn’t allow stages two and three.

Even stage one wasn’t allowed to succeed. One of the operations was to take control of the “Cross” position, this was the tower of the Armenian church which controlled the road between Zion gate and the Jewish quarter. This was the most important position in our area. We captured the position in the morning as planned, but shortly afterwards I received a cable from Shaltiel, which ordered me to evacuate the position by 1:00 that afternoon. I knew that as soon as we left the Arabs would take over, but I had no choice but to obey the order. Sure enough, within a half hour of our leaving, the Arabs took over, and used the position as a snipers lookout into the Jewish quarter.

Another example was the breakthrough into the old city by the Palmach on 2 Iyyar (May 11th, 1948). According to the plan of the divisional commander, the main force was to enter by Jaffa gate, while a decoy force attacked Zion gate. The main force at Jaffa gate was hit by superior fire and took heavy casualties. The small force, led by “Dado” Elazar and Uzi Narkis, attacking Zion gate met with no opposition, and walked into the Jewish quarter. We were completely surprised, we saw the arrival of Moshiach [ed. The Messiah]. After months of being outnumbered and outgunned by the Arabs, we saw the end of the suffering of the 1,800 residents and defenders of the quarter.

The Palmach commanders then informed me that they now intended to capture the whole of the Old city. Our happiness was beyond description. I personally went to each position to tell our fighters of the developments.

While I was making my way through the city I saw a river of Arabs leaving the city carrying their households in bundles, they were escaping the victorious Jewish army.

On my way back to the Palmachniks, I met Benny Marshak who told me that Shaltiel had ordered the Palmach force to withdraw from the city. They were going for R+R at kibbutz Ma'ale Hahamisha. After the war I found out that Shaltiel had called Abdulla E-Tal, the commander of the Jordan legion and told him that Israel didn’t want to capture the old city, and he should persuade the fleeing Arab residents to return.

There were no words to describe our feelings, we had been betrayed.

For 60 years (or more), Israel's leftist politicians have been snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Indeed, if Moshe Dayan had his way, they would have done so 41 years ago on this day with respect to Jerusalem and 41 years ago from a few days from now regarding the Golan Heights.

Read the whole thing.


At 1:48 AM, Blogger Thermblog said...

Fascinating and disturbing history.

I read recently that one synagogue was spared from the Jordanians. A local Muslim disguised the front so they would not know what it was.

At 1:49 AM, Blogger Don P said...

I have long felt this way about the return of the Temple Mount to the Wakf; If there is anyplace on earth that belongs to the Jews, the temple should be it. handing it to the palestinians to use as an ammo dump, and eventual staging ground for terrorist attacks was indeed a betrayal.How do you suppose that demolishing the dome of the rock to build a new temple would make people who want to kill you hate you more?

At 2:21 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

Israel's Left even today would like to give the Old City back to the Arabs, sure it would deal a death blow to its adversaries in the National Religious Zionist movement. The problem of course is the religious parties will never cede the Western Wall and such a move could only be implemented by force of arms. In any case, it bears witness to the sordid betrayals Jerusalem's Jews have suffered at the hands of past governments and may suffer again unless they remain vigilant. That's the key to making sure Jerusalem remains the united and eternal capital of Israel.

At 6:54 AM, Blogger heroyalwhyness said...

Carl, you state " Indeed, if Moshe Dayan had his way . . ."

I recently viewed the video "Farewell Israel" (the title sounds extremely offensive, but the content is quite educational explaining 1400 years of historical context to Islamic animosity to Jews & Zionism).

In the chapter devoted to the Yom Kippur War it states:
"October 6th, 1973, equipped with Soviet weapons, Muslim soldiers from Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Palestine began the onslaught on the Jewish holy day, Yom Kippur. Early October 1973, Israeli intelligence advised Israel's Prime Minister, Golda Meir that Israel would be attacked. She telephoned Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger who ordered her not to pre-empt the attack and Meir acquiesced. For the first few days of the war Israel lost half of her 1700 tanks and 51 fighter jets - more than 10% of her air force. Defence Minister, Moshe Dayan broke down and cried and suggested that Israel surrender to Egypt."

If accurate (this is the first I've heard this) then it's a good thing Israel didn't follow through with Moshe Dayan's way.

At 10:23 AM, Blogger treppenwitz said...

Hi Carl,

Thanks for the link and for your excellent (as usual) commentary.

One thing worth pointing out though: There is no one true version of the vents of that battle (or any battle). There are certainly false versions... but all versions are essentially flawed by virtue of the fact that they tell the story from only one side.

For instance, here is a link to the same events as told by the brother of the Arab Legion commander that accepted Moshe Rusnak's surrender. Many points agree but many are new and strange to our ears.

My point is that I shared the story because it was worth sharing... not because I felt it was the only correct version of the events.

At 10:40 AM, Blogger treppenwitz said...

Just realized I neglected to add the link:



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