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Siege of Jerusalem (1948)

Siege of Jerusalem (1948)

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The Battle for Jerusalem occurred from 30 November 1947 to 11 June 1948 when Jewish and Arab population of Mandatory Palestine and later Israel
The State of Israel is a parliamentary republic located in the Middle East, along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea...

i and Jordan
Jordan , officially the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan , Al-Mamlaka al-Urduniyya al-Hashemiyya) is a kingdom on the East Bank of the River Jordan. The country borders Saudi Arabia to the east and south-east, Iraq to the north-east, Syria to the north and the West Bank and Israel to the west, sharing...

ian armies fought
1947–1948 Civil War in Mandatory Palestine
The 1947–1948 Civil War in Mandatory Palestine lasted from 30 November 1947, the date of the United Nations vote in favour of the termination of the British Mandate for Palestine and the UN Partition Plan, to the termination of the British Mandate itself on 14 May 1948.This period constitutes the...

 for the control of the city.

Following the Partition Plan of Palestine, the city was to be placed under international rule in a corpus separatum. Fights nevertheless immediately broke in the city between Jewish and Arab militias with bombings and attacks coming from both sides. Starting February, Abd al-Qader al-Husayni blockaded the road West of the city to prevent the supply of the Jewish population. This was broken first mid of April following Operation Nachshon and Operation Maccabee. On 14 May and the following days, Etzioni and Harel brigades supported by Irgun troops launched several operations aiming to take over the Arab side of the city. In the meantime, Arab Legion had deployed in the area dedicated to the Arab state refraining to enter the corpus separatum but massively garrisonning Latrun to blockade the Jewish city once again. Israeli victories against the Arab militias in the city pushed Abdallah of Jordan to order the Arab Legion to intervene. It deployed in East Jerusalem, fought the Israelis and took the Jewish quarter of the Old city. The population was expelled and the fighters taken prisonners to Jordan. The Israeli forces launched 3 assaults on Latrun to free the road to the city but without success. Anyway, they could build an alternative road leading to this city before the truce imposed by UN on June 11, leaving the blockade. During the period called the First truce the Jewish city was supplied with food, ammunation, weapons and troops. Fights didn't resume during the remaining months of the 1948 War and the city was shared between Israel and Jordan after the war, Israelis ruling West Jerusalem and Jordanians ruling East Jerusalem with the Old City.


Following the outbreak of disturbances at the end of 1947 the road between Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv , officially Tel Aviv-Yafo , is the second most populous city in Israel, with a population of 404,400 on a land area of . The city is located on the Israeli Mediterranean coastline in west-central Israel. It is the largest and most populous city in the metropolitan area of Gush Dan, with...

 and Jewish Jerusalem became increasingly difficult for Jewish vehicles. Ambushes by Palestinian Arab irregulars became more frequent and more sophisticated. In January 1948 the number of trucks supplying Jewish Jerusalem had fallen to thirty. By March the daily average number of lorries reaching Jerusalem was six. On 1 April The Times
The Times
The Times is a British daily national newspaper, first published in London in 1785 under the title The Daily Universal Register . The Times and its sister paper The Sunday Times are published by Times Newspapers Limited, a subsidiary since 1981 of News International...

estimated that the Jewish population of Jerusalem require a minimum of 50 lorry loads per week. On 3 April the Scotsman
Scotsman may mean:* a man from Scotland, in common parlance - see also Scottish people.* No true Scotsman, a common logical fallacy.*The Scotsman, a national newspaper based in Edinburgh, Scotland....

 newspaper reported that a spokesman at a meeting of Arab military leaders in Damascus had announced that Jerusalem would be "strangled" by a blockade.

One estimate of the size of the opposing forces at the beginning of March gives the Arabs 5,300 men in Jerusalem and surrounding district, including 300 Iraqi irregulars and 60 Yugoslav Moslems. David Shaltiel
David Shaltiel
David Shaltiel was an Israeli military and intelligence officer, later also diplomat, and was most well known for being the district commander of the Haganah in Jerusalem during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.He was born in Berlin into a Portuguese orthodox Jewish family settled in Hamburg.At 16,...

 commanded the Etzioni Brigade
Etzioni Brigade
The Etzioni Brigade , also 6th Brigade and Jerusalem Brigade, was an infantry brigade in the Haganah and Israel Defense Forces in the 1948 Arab–Israeli War. It was founded in late 1947 as the Field Corps unit responsible for the defense of Jerusalem and its surroundings, where it operated during...

 of 1,200 with another 1,200 second line troops. In addition there was a Jewish Home Guard of 2,500 and 500 members of the dissident organisations, Irgun
The Irgun , or Irgun Zevai Leumi to give it its full title , was a Zionist paramilitary group that operated in Mandate Palestine between 1931 and 1948. It was an offshoot of the earlier and larger Jewish paramilitary organization haHaganah...

 and Lehi
Lehi (group)
Lehi , commonly referred to in English as the Stern Group or Stern Gang, was a militant Zionist group founded by Avraham Stern in the British Mandate of Palestine...


In December 1947 the Jewish Agency set up the Jerusalem Emergency Committee
Jerusalem Emergency Committee
The Jerusalem Emergency Committee was a seven man group set up in December 1947 by the Jewish Agency to take over the civil administration of Jewish Jerusalem as the British mandate over Palestine came to an end. Originally Golda Meyerson was to have been a member...

 which had begun stockpiling food and fuel. In January the Committee estimated 4,500 tons a month was needed. They were given 50,000 Palestinian pounds credit with the Histadrut's
HaHistadrut HaKlalit shel HaOvdim B'Eretz Yisrael , known as the Histadrut, is Israel's organization of trade unions. Established in December 1920 during the British Mandate for Palestine, it became one of the most powerful institutions of the State of Israel.-History:The Histadrut was founded in...

 wholesalers Hamashbir Hamerkazi. By the end of March it was clear that food supplies for civilians in Jewish Jerusalem would run out. In early April the Haganah
Haganah was a Jewish paramilitary organization in what was then the British Mandate of Palestine from 1920 to 1948, which later became the core of the Israel Defense Forces.- Origins :...

 were ordered to launch an offensive
Operation Nachshon
Operation Nachshon was an Jewish military operation during the 1948 war. Lasting from 5–20 April 1948, its objective was to break the Siege of Jerusalem by opening the Tel-Aviv - Jerusalem road blockaded by Palestinian Arabs and to supply food and weapons to the isolated Jewish community of...

 to clear the strategic hill top villages along the last few miles of the road to Jerusalem. At the same time a series of massive armoured convoys, involving hundreds of vehicles, forced their way through.

The intention of the besieging forces was to isolate the 100,000 Jewish residents of the city from the rest of the Jewish inhabitants of Palestine and, in the case of the Jordanian forces, to conquer East Jerusalem (including the Old City). Aside from the large Jewish population, Jerusalem held special importance to the Yishuv
The Yishuv or Ha-Yishuv is the term referring to the body of Jewish residents in Palestine before the establishment of the State of Israel...

 for "religious and nationalist" reasons. In particular, the Arab forces tried to cut off the road to Jerusalem from the coastal plain, where the majority of the Jewish population resided. The Arabs blocked access to Jerusalem "at Latrun
Latrun is a strategic hilltop in the Ayalon Valley in Israel overlooking the road to Jerusalem. It is located 25 kilometers west of Jerusalem and 14 kilometers southeast of Ramla.-Etymology:...

 and Bab al-Wad," a narrow valley surrounded by Arab villages on hills on both sides. The Arabs also fired off shells indiscriminately into West Jerusalem. The breaking of the siege on Jerusalem and the annexation of the captured areas to the Jewish state became primary goals for the Israelis in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War
1948 Arab-Israeli War
The 1948 Arab–Israeli War, known to Israelis as the War of Independence or War of Liberation The war commenced after the termination of the British Mandate for Palestine and the creation of an independent Israel at midnight on 14 May 1948 when, following a period of civil war, Arab armies invaded...


The fighting led to the evacuation of the Jewish villages of Neve Yaakov
Neve Yaakov
Neve Yaakov also Neve Ya'aqov, , is a neighborhood located in northeastern Jerusalem, north of Pisgat Ze'ev and south of al-Ram. Established in 1924 during the period of the British Mandate, it was abandoned during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War...

, Atarot
Atarot was a moshav in Mandatory Palestine, north of Jerusalem along the highway to Ramallah. The village was captured and destroyed by the Jordanian Arab Legion during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War...

, Kalya and Beit HaArava
Beit HaArava
Beit HaArava is an Israeli settlement and kibbutz in the West Bank. Located near the Dead Sea and Jericho at the eponymous Beit HaArava Junction, the intersection of Highway 1 and Highway 90, it falls under the jurisdiction of Megilot Regional Council...

, and the expulsion of the Jewish inhabitants of the Old City of Jerusalem. Before the war, the Jews of the Old City had friendly relations with their Arab neighbors and were sorry to have to leave.


Dov Joseph
Dov Yosef
Dov Yosef was an Israeli politician and statesman. Yosef served in a variety of ministerial positions during the first two Knessets and was the country's second Minister of Justice, serving twice .-Background:...

, head of the Jerusalem Emergency Committee, listed the problems faced in relieving Jewish Jerusalem as:
  • the lack of heavy war materials such as planes or artillery.
  • the nature of the terrain.
  • the density of Arab population.
  • no Jewish settlements in the area.

In addition there was the British ban on the carrying of weapons. On 17 March six members of the Palmach
The Palmach was the elite fighting force of the Haganah, the underground army of the Yishuv during the period of the British Mandate of Palestine. The Palmach was established on May 15, 1941...

 accompanying a convoy were killed in a clash with the British Army. At the end of March the decision was taken to resist arms searches.

On 17 March a 16 vehicle convoy reached the city without incident. But the following week a two mile long, eighty vehicle convoy came under attack and five of its occupants killed. Dov Joseph refers to a convoy being "wiped out", 27 March, but gives no details. Two days later a 60 vehicle convoy came under attack at Hulda
Khulda was a Palestinian Arab village located south of Ramla in the Mandatory Palestine. Known as Huldre to the Crusaders, it is also mentioned in documents dating to the periods of Mamluk, Ottoman, and Mandatory rule over Palestine. During the 1948 war, the village was depopulated as part of...

 and was forced to turn back with 5 Arabs and 17 Jews killed. Five captured vehicles were driven to Ramle. A food convoy escorted by the Palmach reached the city on 6 April without casualties despite being ambushed at Dir Muhsein
Dayr Muhaysin
Dayr Muhaysin was a Palestinian Arab village in the District of Ramla located 12 km southeast of Ramla and 4 km west of Latrun. It was depopulated during the 1947–1948 Civil War in Mandatory Palestine on April 6, 1948 during Operation Nachshon....

 by a force of "150 Arabs ... joined by 80 Arabs from Abu Shushe
Abu Shusha
Abu Shusha was an Arab village in Palestine, 8 km southeast of Ramle which was depopulated in 1948.Abu Shusha was located on the slope of Tel Jazar, which is commonly identified with the ancient city of Gezer....

." It also survived a second road block at Kolonia
Kolonia is a coastal town and the capital of Pohnpei State in the Federated States of Micronesia . It was also the former FSM capital before being replaced by Palikir in 1989, located nearby to the southwest in the municipality of Sokehs.-Description:...

 taking six hours to reach its destination.

To coincide with Operation Nachshon
Operation Nachshon
Operation Nachshon was an Jewish military operation during the 1948 war. Lasting from 5–20 April 1948, its objective was to break the Siege of Jerusalem by opening the Tel-Aviv - Jerusalem road blockaded by Palestinian Arabs and to supply food and weapons to the isolated Jewish community of...

 Dov Joseph was given 100,000£P and the authority to use the Haganah to conscript as many men and lorries as he needed. He proceeded to assemble three large convoy's at Bilu Camp
Kfar Bilu
Kfar Bilu is a moshav in central Israel. Located between Rehovot and Kiryat Ekron, it falls under the jurisdiction of Gezer Regional Council. In December 2010 it had a population of 1,318....

 with a stockpile of 10,000 tons of supplies. He obtained 150 trucks from Solel Boneh - Shelev Transport Co-operative. A Haganah field force requisitioned a further 150 trucks with their drivers and conscripted 1000 men as labourers. On 15 April 131 trucks with 550 tons of food reached the city without being attacked. The supplies included 230 tons of flour and 0.4 tons of chocolate. Two days later 300 trucks arrived in the Jewish enclave with 1000 tons of supplies also without incident.
The third convoy on 20 April had a harder time. Consisting of 300 trucks with 2000 Haganah and Irgun troops, the convoy battled all day to get through. Twenty lorries were knocked out, ten Jews were killed and 30 wounded. Also during Operation Nachshon there was a secret convoy that brought 1500 members of the Palmach into the city.
After this Jewish Jerusalem was cut off from the outside world for seven weeks with the exception of a dozen trucks which brought army supplies on 17 May.

Breaking the siege

According to Dov Joseph the turning point of Operation Nachshon was the killing of Abd al-Qadir al-Husayni
Abd al-Qadir al-Husayni
Abd al-Qadir al-Husayni was a Palestinian Arab nationalist and fighter who in late 1933 founded the secret militant group known as the Organization for Holy Struggle, , which he and Hasan Salama commanded as the Army of the Holy War during the 1936-1939 Arab Revolt and during the 1948...

 on 8 April. 30,000 people attended his funeral at the Haram al-Sharif and subsequently the morale of his forces collapsed. The end of the siege came with the opening of the Burma Road
Burma Road
The Burma Road is a road linking Burma with the southwest of China. Its terminals are Kunming, Yunnan, and Lashio, Burma. When it was built, Burma was a British colony.The road is long and runs through rough mountain country...

 in June. In Joseph's words "by the time the first truce (11 June 1948) came it had already broken the siege." This alternative route had been conceived in April after the failure of Operation Nachshon to secure the entrance to the road to Jerusalem at Latrun. Work started on 18 May using bulldozers and several hundred quarrymen from the city. The major problem was a very steep section at the beginning of the ascent. After two weeks some supplies came through using mules and 200 men from the Home Guard (Mishmar Ha'am) to cover the three miles which were impassible to vehicles. These men, mostly conscripts in their fifties, each carried a 45 pound load and made the trip twice a night. This effort lasted for five nights. Three weeks later, 10 June, the steepest section was opened to vehicles, though they needed assistance from tractors to get up it. By the end of June the usual nightly convoy delivered 100 tons of supplies a night. Harry Levin in his diary entry, 7 June, says that 12 tons a night were getting through and he estimated that the city needed 17 tons daily. On 28 July he notes that during the first truce, 11 June to 8 July, 8,000 truckloads arrived. This remained the sole supply route for several months until the opening of the Valor Road (Kvish Hagevurah).

In late May and early June the Israeli launched several assaults on the Latrun salient
Battles of Latrun
The Battles of Latrun were a series of military engagements between the Israel Defense Forces and the Jordanian Arab Legion on the outskirts of Latrun between 25 May and 18 July 1948, during the 1948 Arab–Israeli War. Latrun takes its name from the monastery close to the junction of two major...

 but without succeeding in taking the position from the Arab Legion. During Operation Dani they launched two other attacks on Latrun, again without success and attacked several Arab villages to widen Jerusalem corridor that was 2 km wide in the area of Latrun.

In March an attack on a convoy returning from a settlement
Gush Etzion
Gush Etzion is a cluster of Israeli settlements located in the Judaean Mountains directly south of Jerusalem and Bethlehem in the West Bank, Palestinian territories. The core group includes four agricultural villages that were founded in 1940-1947 on property purchased in the 1920s and 1930s, and ...

 south of Jerusalem
Neve Daniel
Neve Daniel is an Israeli settlement and communal settlement located in western Gush Etzion in the southern West Bank. Located south of Jerusalem and just west of Bethlehem, it sits atop one of the highest points in the area - close to 1,000 meters above sea level, and has a view of much of the...

 left Jews 15 dead. In April, shortly after a massacre at an Arab village
Deir Yassin massacre
The Deir Yassin massacre took place on April 9, 1948, when around 120 fighters from the Irgun Zevai Leumi and Lohamei Herut Israel Zionist paramilitary groups attacked Deir Yassin near Jerusalem, a Palestinian-Arab village of roughly 600 people...

 West of Jerusalem, a Jewish medical convoy
Hadassah medical convoy massacre
The Hadassah medical convoy massacre took place on April 13, 1948, when a convoy, escorted by Haganah militia, bringing medical and fortification supplies and personnel to Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus was ambushed by Arab forces....

 on its way to Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus
Mount Scopus
Mount Scopus , جبل المشهد , جبل الصوانة) is a mountain in northeast Jerusalem. In the wake of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Mount Scopus became a UN protected Jewish exclave within Jordanian-occupied territory until the Six-Day War in 1967...

 was attacked. The British had provided no escort (as they had in previous months) and the they failed to intervene during the attack or help the Jews. After seven hours of fighting, 78 Jews (mostly unarmed medical personnel) had been killed.

Food rationing

Starting in early 1948, the Arab forces had severed the supply line to Jewish Jerusalem. On 31 March, the head of the Jerusalem Emergency Committee, Dov Yosef
Dov Yosef
Dov Yosef was an Israeli politician and statesman. Yosef served in a variety of ministerial positions during the first two Knessets and was the country's second Minister of Justice, serving twice .-Background:...

, introduced a draconian system of food rationing. The bread ration was 200 grams per person. The April Passover week ration per person was 2 lb potatoes, 2 eggs, 0.5 lb fish, 4 lb matzoth, 1.5 oz dried fruit, 0.5 lb meat and 0.5 lb matza flour. The meat cost one Palestinian pound per pound. On 12 May, water rationing was introduced. The ration was 2 gal/person/day, of which 4 pints was drinking water. In June the weekly ration per person was 100 g wheat, 100 g beans, 40 g cheese, 100 g coffee or 100 g powdered milk, 160 g bread per day, 50 g margarine with 1 or 2 eggs for the sick. The mallow
Malva is a genus of about 25–30 species of herbaceous annual, biennial, and perennial plants in the family Malvaceae , one of several closely related genera in the family to bear the common English name mallow. The genus is widespread throughout the temperate, subtropical and tropical regions of...

 plant played an important role in Jerusalem history at this time. When convoys bearing foodstuffs could not reach the city, the residents of Jerusalem went out to the fields to pick mallow leaves, which are rich in iron and vitamins. The Jerusalem radio station, Kol Hamagen, broadcast instructions for cooking mallow. When the broadcasts were picked up in Jordan, they sparked victory celebrations. Radio Amman announced that the fact that the Jews were eating leaves, which was food for donkeys and cattle, was a sign that they were dying of starvation and would soon surrender.

United Nations reaction

Part of the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine, which the Jews of Mandatory Palestine accepted and the Arabs of Mandatory Palestine and neighboring states rejected, was that Jerusalem would be a corpus separatum, meaning that the United Nations would assume responsibility for the city and it would not be a part of either the proposed Arab or Jewish states. Israel argued that the partition plan regarding Jerusalem was "null and void" due to the UN's "active relinquishing of responsibility in a critical hour" when the UN did not act to protect the city. The Arabs, who had been against Jerusalem's internationalization all along, felt similarly. The appointment of Dov Joseph as the "Military Governor of the Occupied Area of Jerusalem" on 2 August closed the door on the possibility of Jerusalem being Internationalized.

Associated military operations

Operation Nachshon
Operation Nachshon
Operation Nachshon was an Jewish military operation during the 1948 war. Lasting from 5–20 April 1948, its objective was to break the Siege of Jerusalem by opening the Tel-Aviv - Jerusalem road blockaded by Palestinian Arabs and to supply food and weapons to the isolated Jewish community of...

Operation Yevusi
Operation Yevusi
Operation Yevusi was a Palmach military operation carried out during the 1948 Arab Israeli War to assert Jewish control over Jerusalem. The operation, commanded by Yitzhak Sadeh, lasted two weeks, from 22 April 1948 to 3 May 1948. Not all objectives were achieved before the British enforced a...

Battles of Latrun (1948)

Operation Danny
Operation Danny
Operation Danny was an Israeli military offensive launched at the end of the first truce of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. The objectives were to capture territory east of Tel Aviv and then to push inland and relieve the Jewish population and forces in Jerusalem...

Operation Kedem
Operation Kedem
Operation Kedem was an action planned and carried out in July 1948, during the 1948 Arab–Israeli war. Its purpose was to capture East Jerusalem . After the first cease-fire of the Arab–Israeli war, which lasted for four weeks, the balance in power in Jerusalem had shifted dramatically...

External links

  • Yehuda Lapidot
    Yehuda Lapidot
    Yehuda "Nimrod" Lapidot is an Israeli historian and former professor of biochemistry. Lapidot was a member of the Irgun and an officer in the Israel Defense Forces. In 1980 he was appointed head of Lishkat Hakesher by former Irgun commander and then Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Lapidot...

    , Jerusalem 1948, History of an Irgun Fighter Besieged History of an Irgun Fighter