The battle for Jerusalem

What was it like fighting for Jerusalem six decades ago?

israel 60 224 promo (photo credit: )
israel 60 224 promo
(photo credit: )
What was it like fighting for Jerusalem six decades ago? David Kimche, a Jerusalem Post columnist who is currently president of the Israel Council for Foreign Relations, gives a detailed account of his service in the Hagana's Moriah Battalion, beginning in 1947, when the fighting broke out, and concluding in the Six Day War. Here are excerpts from his article, "Jerusalem, 1948," first printed in this paper 40 years ago: "We were up at the university on Mount Scopus when the first disturbances broke out. From our vantage point near the National Library, the city stretched below us in beautiful panorama. But we could see the smoke rising over the city, and even from that distance hear the shouts of the mob," Kimche wrote. "The news flashed quickly round the university buildings. Within minutes students were racing up from the Science buildings on the other side of the road; soon several hundred students were staring down in silence at the city below. But not for long. Our Hagana commanders soon sought us out. Quickly the word was passed around: all Hagana members to report in town immediately for duty. But the order was not really necessary. Even those who had not yet joined "the Organization" were now clamoring to be included in the arrangements that were being rapidly made," he continued. "In town itself the violence was working itself up to a terrifying pitch. A large crowd had gathered at the borderline of the Jewish and Arab areas near Princess Mary Avenue [today Rehov Shlomzion Hamalka]. From there we could plainly hear the noise of the frenzied Arab mobs as they looted and burnt the old commercial center. In Princess Mary Avenue itself a Kafkaesque scene was unfolding. Human chains of Hagana men armed with cudgels and pistols were formed nearby the Rex Cinema to prevent the Arab and Jewish mobs from getting to grips with each other. Youths with eyes distended with hate or fear pushed against the Hagana men. Rocks and stones flew across from both sides. Shrieks and howls rent the air. Women ululated in the long, plaintive, frightening sound of the East. We were sent to this scene of pandemonium to strengthen the human chains. The first thing I noticed were the British armored cars parked nearby, their crews taking snapshots of the turmoil, but none attempting to intervene," Kimche wrote. "Those were romantic days, without thought of danger or death. We were a group of youngsters, of boys and girls, living and sleeping in a filthy, small room, eating primitively without plates or cutlery, living with firearms by our sides and hunted by a hostile British Police. Our imaginations were fired with the thought that we had at last taken up arms in open defiance of the British, and by the fact that we were defending our rights in full partisan fashion," he wrote. "January was a black month for the student group in Moriah Battalion. We consisted of then two platoons - one stationed on the outskirts of Katamon and the other in Beit Hakerem. Several members of our Katamon platoon asked for and received transfer to Beit Hakerem in January, for the constant patrolling and lying in ambush along the border with Katamon was a nerve racking business. We were never to see our friends of Beit Hakerem again." he continued. "For us, too, there was a change this month. For the first time, we were sent out of town into the hills beyond. From there we could guard that stretch of the vital Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway. The Judean hills were already at their best." "Below us in the valley Arab women toiled in the sun, while their menfolk clustered in the village square of nearby Beit Nekofa. It seemed difficult at first to realize that we were at loggerheads with these seemingly peaceful people. Yet we barely needed the help of our weak binoculars to discern the fact that those villagers were all well armed, and that they were training in the use of those arms," Kimche wrote. "As it was, trouble did not take long in the coming. The hills around us appeared to be alive with the comings and goings of armed Arabs. The reason for this unusual amount of activity soon became apparent - Arab bands swooped downed from the hillsides about a mile away and ambushed one of the incoming convoys to Jerusalem. Had the Arabs assaulted the hill, they might have easily overrun us, for we were outnumbered by probably one hundred to one."