This Week in Israeli History: Breaking the Siege of Jerusalem – Operation Nachshon and the Kastel

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
After the UN voted to partition the land on November 29, 1947, the Palestinian Arabs launched a civil war against the Palestinian Jews and took control of several key points along the Jerusalem – Tel-Aviv road, which severed the Jewish supply chain to Jerusalem and isolated the 100,000 Jewish residents from the rest of the Jewish population.
In response, David Ben-Gurion gave the order to launch Operation Nachshon, the first full scale military operation carried out by the Haganah during Israel’s War of Independence.
Named after the Biblical personage Nachshon Ben Aminadav who was the first to plunge into the Red Sea during the Jewish exodus from Egypt, Operation Nachshon aimed to break the siege of Jerusalem.
The operation began on April 5, 1948, and was the first implementation of Plan D – the Haganah’s plan to “gain control of the areas of the Hebrew state and defend its borders.” Some 1,500 Haganah troops from the Palmach and the Givati and Alexandroni Brigades took part in the operation, the largest organized Jewish fighting force to be gathered in Israel since the days of Bar Kokhba.
The most significant battle of the operation transpired at the Kastel, an Arab-controlled Crusader fortress that dominated the Jerusalem – Tel-Aviv road.
The special strike force of the Haganah, the Palmach, was put in charge of the mission and quickly gained control over the fortress. However, the Arab military leader Abd al-Qadir al-Husayni led a fierce counter attack that retook control of the area and left the Palmach forces in a battered state.
In the early hours of April 8, two Jewish guards spotted three figures approaching them, and, upon realizing that they were enemy troops and not reinforcements, shot them. The next morning, Jewish scouts went to scope out the area and to their surprise found that the Kastel was empty.
As it turns out, it was Abd al-Qadir al-Husayni himself who went to reconnoiter the area and happened upon the two Jewish guards who killed the Arab leader. Upon hearing the news of their slain leader, all of the Arabs defending the Kastel went to his funeral in Jerusalem and left the area undefended. The Jewish troops took the fortress without firing a single shot.
The capture of the Kastel was vital to the success of Operation Nachshon and enabled several large convoys to bring much needed aid to Jerusalem. Despite the operation’s success, Palestinian Arabs soon regrouped and set up additional roadblocks that effectively resumed the siege of Jerusalem. The road to Jerusalem would not be reopened until the building of the “Burma Road” several weeks later.
The city of Mevaseret Zion is now located in the area around the Kastel. At the Harel Interchange on Highway #1, there is a large symbol of the Palmach at the base of the Kastel, giving tribute to the brave soldiers who fought there.