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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Palestine Siege

This is what a real siege looked like in Palestine: No convoys, no humanitarian aid. Those who tried to break the siege could meet a very bad end.

Palestine Siege: Jerusalem's Desperate Hours - March 29, 1948



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

Within the Jerusalem command, though outside the city of Jerusalem, there were several Jewish villages, inside the part of Palestine destined by the UN partition plan to be part of an Arab state. To the north of Jerusalem lay Neve Ya'akov and Atarot (Kalandia). To the south, on the road to Jerusalem, lay Gush Etzion, on the road to Hebron. The head of the Zionist Executive in Palestine, David Ben-Gurion insisted initially that each such outpost must be held at all costs. Gush Etzion; (the Etzion bloc) consisted of four kibbutzim. It was totally isolated from Jerusalem. The situation grew desperate.

On March 27 1948, the Haganah attempted to send a large relief convoy to the Etzion Bloc, throwing in virtually all of its meager supply of armored vehicles, including some that had just arrived in a convoy from Tel Aviv. This came to be known as the Nebi Daniel Convoy. The convoy reached Gush Etzion, but tarried there due to a recalcitrant bull who would not get on the truck. This delay gave Arabs a chance to gather forces for an ambush, at a bend in the road near an abandoned house called Nebi Daniel. Though the British eventually rescued most of the Haganah people under a truce agreement, the Haganah lost all of armor and a great deal of weapons. It also became evident that no more convoys would get through from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem unless the road to Tel Aviv was cleared of the Arab irregulars and village people who were carrying out ambushes. On the same day, the Haganah also suffered another serious setback in the north, when a convoy to Kibbutz Yehiam was ambushed. (See Yechiam Convoy). The letter below describes the somber mood of those days.  The Haganah and the political leadership understood that the situation was desperate. Zipporah wrote:

The Arab plan is not only to strangle our communication lines and destroy our outposts but to lay siege to the city and starve us into submission -- with a little help from the British...

Everyone knows there is no defending the city from a strategic point of view. Our only hope is international intervention in some form -- a UN militia or some other neutral force. I can't believe the entire world would abandon the Holy City without making provisions for safeguarding the sacred places or trying to prevent an outright attack.

Unbelievably, the world abandoned Jerusalem to its fate. The UN was powerless against the will of the British. No convoys of humanitarian aid were forced through the Arab blockade. No resolutions condemning human rights violations were passed. Hospitals ran out of medicine. People were hungry and ill, and some died.

Equally unbelievably, however, West Jerusalem was saved for the Jewish state by its Jewish defenders, without international intervention. Jerusalem paid a terrible price - over a thousand dead, and the Jewish quarter of the old city was lost for 19 years, but the city was saved.  

More at Palestine Siege: Jerusalem's Desperate Hours - March 29, 1948


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