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Hadassah Convoy Massacre, 1948


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This letter by Zipporah Porath, from her book, Letters from Jerusalem, 1947-1948, was written from Jerusalem under siege in the Israel War of Independence.

Zipporah had come to Jerusalem to study in the Hebrew University. The university campus on Mt. Scopus was distant from the main Jewish area of Jerusalem. Transportation became too perilous and studies were soon cancelled. Nearby Hadassah hospital was likewise cut off from the city, and was served by periodic convoys. The Arab irregulars had made plain that they were planning to  attack these convoys in order to isolate the hospital and force it to close.

On April 9, 1948, the Irgun and LEHI underground groups attacked the village of Deir Yassin, at the entrance to Jerusalem, and killed over a hundred people, most of them women and children. Though the Irgun and LEHI vehemently denied it, Arabs claimed there had been a massacre. The Jewish Agency apologized for the attack, but the Arabs seized upon the Deir Yassin attack as an excuse for "reprisals." The first such reprisal was carried out on April 13, 1948, on a medical convoy to Hadassah hospital.  Evidently, it had the tacit approval of the British authorities. About 80 persons, mostly medical personnel and injured patients were killed in an ambush. It seems that most were killed because the British were purposely tardy in sending forces to stop the fighting. Colonel Jack Churchill arrived on the scene and pleaded with his superiors to send reinforcements and to allow him to fire on the Arab positions, but these were refused. Pleas with the Jews to leave the convoy likewise were to no avail. The Haganah was dealing with a convoy that had arrived from Tel Aviv, and could spare only three vehicles. One of them got through to the hospital, one turned back and the third was trapped in the ambush. Eventually, the British sent troops and fired on the Arabs, allowing rescue of a few survivors.

The Hadassah Convoy Massacre cast a pall over Jewish Jerusalem. This letter captures the mood of the city.

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


April 14, 1948

Dearest Mother, Dad and Naomi,

Where to begin and how to say it? It is more or less quiet for a day or so and you start to breathe freely, look up at the sun, glad it is shining and happy that the world is existing -- and then BANG.

The horrible Hadassah convoy massacre. The whole city is in mourning. So many friends, so many doctors, nurses, patients, university scientists, administrative staff, such a heavy loss, so damn much of everything.

The funeral is this afternoon -- a MASS funeral. All of Jerusalem is walking around asking itself: "Is there no end to it?"

A couple of hours later the sun is still shining and you are kept so busy with the things that you have to do you seem to forget -- forget until the next tragedy -- and so it goes.

I haven't seen the entire death list yet. Some seventy people, among them Dr. Yassky, the head of the hospital, plus scores of wounded. The convoy was attempting to reach Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus when they were ambushed passing through Sheikh Jarrah. Only a few people were killed outright; the rest could have been saved if the British Army convoy, which people claim was seen less than a hundred yards away, had responded to their call for help. Instead, it continued on its merry way, leaving our wounded lying helpless in immobilized ambulances so that the Arabs could come in for the kill.

Forgive me for being so downhearted. But, God, you do get depressed in the moments when you have time to think -- thank goodness, that's not very often. Aside from the physical inconveniences -- lack of water, food, electricity, mail, security in any form -- the constant awareness of the political situation and the oppressing world picture are enough in themselves. And, when in a free moment you take stock, the result is devastating. The "comforting" thought is that it COULD be much worse than it is and no doubt will be before long.

Another "comforting" thought: I'm glad I'm not in America. I think I'd go bats if I had returned to the States with those who left and had had to read in the papers about what was happening here. No frustration on that score. For once, both my conscience and I are precisely in the right place.

The British Mandatory government is intent on leaving the country in chaos. They've announced that as of April 30th ALL postal services -- air-mail, cables, phones, local and foreign -- will be discontinued.

If they do pull out, the General Post Office will remain right in the heart of the Arab section. Even today, I imperil my life every time I go there to get your packages. Not only that, but I have to pay as much as two or three pounds [about $10.00] for taxes, transportation, etc... No matter what you have prepaid on it. This is not America.

Air Freight is even more of a headache; you don't deal with the post office but through an agent, who also takes an exorbitant sum for his fees and trouble and is also in an in accessible place. So, though I would love to have your packages, forget it. Times have changed.



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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