Operation Nachshon (Na'hshon) (April 3-8, 1948) was a military operation of the Haganah in the 1948 Israel War of Independence. The Arabs had succeeded in blockading the road to Jerusalem, preventing essential humanitarian supplies as well as ammunition from entering the city. At the end of March, convoys were no longer able to get through at all, and the situation in Jerusalem became critical. Plan Daled, a Haganah plan originally intended to be implemented when the British had left the country, was moved up in desperation. Ben-Gurion, David insisted on the largest possible operation, forcing Haganah commanders to plan and execute the first brigade sized operation they had ever undertaken. Operation Nachshon was named for Nachshon, son of Aminadav. According to the Bible, he was the first person to enter the parted Red Sea when the Jews escaped from Egypt. The operation was commanded by Shimon Avidan and involved about 1,500 troops (a very under-sized "brigade") taken from the Givati and Alexandroni brigade and some others, including Gadna youth cadets.
The objective of the operation was to clear the road to Jerusalem of enemy-occupied strongpoints from the vicinity of Ramleh and particularly from Bab El Wad to the Qastel, approximately the route shown on the map below.
The Haganah had insufficient arms. Purchasing agents in Europe had acquired arms from the Czechs, but these could not be brought in to the country because of the British blockade. Ben Gurion now insisted that at least some of the arms must be brought to Israel. A large shipment was put on the freighter SS Nora, but this would not reach Palestine in time. Therefore, on April 1, a transport plane (either a DC-4 or a C-54 skymaster) landed in an abandoned RAF airstrip in the south in the dead of night (operation "Hasida") bringing 40 light machine guns, 200 rifles and sufficient ammunition for initial stages of the operation.
Action in the village of Qastel began coincidentally before the beginning of operation Nachshon. The village was abandoned on April first, and Arab irregulars were going to occupy it. A small force sent to hold the area against them was inadequate however.
In preliminary phases of Operation Nachshon on April 2 and 3, a Haganah commando blew up the headquarters of Hassan Salameh, area commander of the Mufti's army of Salvation. This ensured that preparations on the coast could proceed unimpeded (Herzog and Gazit, 2005 page 30). At the same time, Haganah forces mounted their first attack on Qastel (or Kastel), a key point overlooking the blockaded Jerusalem road. The attack was repulsed. The subsequent phases of operation Nachshon were made possible by the docking of the SS Nora in Haifa on April 3.
The Nora brought 10,000 Czech rifles, some light machine guns and a large supply of ammunition. These were rushed to Haganah units and hastily degreased and assembled. From April 5 to 8, the Haganah conquered Arab Hulda, Deir Muheisin (near Latrun) and Beit Machsir (near Bab El Wad) as well as Wadi al Sarrar, an abandoned British army camp near Bab el Wad.
The major see-saw battle was conducted at Qastel, however, which had been denuded of its original inhabitants and occupied by Arab irregulars who were led by Abd-El-khader Al-Husseini (photo at right) at Qastel. The positions changed hands several times. Husseini had been in Damascus begging for arms. He hurried home when the fighting broke out. He arrived at Qastel, confidently approached a sentry and hailed him. The sentry was a Haganah soldier however, and he shot Husseini. Husseini was the only universally respected Palestinian Arab military leader. His death was probably the most significant effect of operation Nachshon. The Arabs raised a large levee and recaptured Qastel searching for Abd-el-Khader, but then they abandoned it when his body was found. 39 Jews and 31 Arabs were killed in this battle. (Levi, 1986, p 447).
Thanks to operation Nachson, several large convoys were able to get through to Jerusalem, like the one shown at right. The Arabs could no longer count on large levees ("Faza") from surrounding villages near Bab-el-Wad to ambush the convoys. However, by April 20, Emile Ghori had adopted a different strategy, blocking the road with rocks and physical barriers and using a small force of armed men. The road was closed again. It would not be reopened until the "Burma road" was built, circumventing Latroun and Bab-el Wad by June 10.
Collins, Larry, and Lapierre, Dominique, O Jerusalem!, Pan Books, N.Y. 1973.
Herzog, Chaim and Gazit Shomo, The Arab Israeli Wars, Vintage Books, N.Y. 2005.
Levi, Yitzhak, "Tisha Kabin" (9 Measures) (Jerusalem in the War of Independence, (in Hebrew) Maarachot - IDF, Israel Ministry of Defense, 1986.
Synonyms and alternate spellings:
Hebrew/Arabic pronunciation and transliteration conventions:
'H - ('het) a guttural sound made deep in the throat. To Western ears it may sound like the "ch" in loch. In Arabic there are several letters that have similar sounds. Examples: 'hanukah, 'hamas, 'haredi. Formerly, this sound was often represented by ch, especially in German transliterations of Hebrew. Thus, 'hanukah is often rendered as Chanuka for example.
ch - (chaf) a sound like "ch" in loch or the Russian Kh as in Khruschev or German Ach, made by putting the tongue against the roof of the mouth. In Hebrew, a chaf can never occur at the beginning of a word. At the beginning of a word, it has a dot in it and is pronounced "Kaf."
u - usually between oo as in spoon and u as in put.
a- sounded like a in arm
ah- used to represent an a sound made by the letter hey at the end of a word. It is the same sound as a. Haganah and Hagana are alternative acceptable transliterations.
'a-notation used for Hebrew and Arabic ayin, a guttural ah sound.
o - close to the French o as in homme.
th - (taf without a dot) - Th was formerly used to transliterate the Hebrew taf sound for taf without a dot. However in modern Hebrew there is no detectable difference in standard pronunciation of taf with or without a dot, and therefore Histadruth and Histadrut, Rehovoth and Rehovot are all acceptable.
q- (quf) - In transliteration of Hebrew and Arabic, it is best to consistently use the letter q for the quf, to avoid confusion with similar sounding words that might be spelled with a kaf, which should be transliterated as K. Thus, Hatiqva is preferable to Hatikva for example.
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