Sources: Palestine Post, May 30, 1948, Genesis 1948, Kurtzman, O Jerusalem, Collins & Lapierre, Al-Tell, Abdullah, Karithat Falastin: Muthakkarat Abdullah Al-Tell (The Palestine Tragedy: Memoirs of Abdullah al-Tell) Cairo, 1959
On Nov 29, 1947, UN voted to partition Palestine into 2 states, Jewish and Arab. Follow events as they happen leading up to and during the 1948 Arab Israel war, 1947-49.
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During the 1948 war, while the Old City of Jerusalem was still under British control, the residents of the Jewish Quarter had many opportunities to flee and relocate. Most of the residents, nearly all religious Jews who had been living in the city for multiple generations, decided to stay as long as possible. Without electricity, and nearly out of food and water, the situation for the residents in the Old City was dire.
The Jewish Quarter had been under attack for two weeks and the Haganah troops were nearly depleted of ammunition. With 300 soldiers dead, most of the remaining fighters were injured but insisting on staying at their posts. The Jewish residents had spent the day before surrender, Lag B’Omer, praying for reinforcements. All attempts to stop the Arab Legion had failed, and with fighting now raging along a 20-mile front between Latrun and Ramallah, reinforcements were unavailable.
On Thursday, May 27, 1948 the Arab Legion gained control of the main street of the Jewish Quarter. Anticipating the arrival of King Abdullah, they immediately destroyed the Hurva Synagogue. By Friday morning, only a few synagogues and a yeshiva were still under Jewish control. Despite many civilians being killed, the garrison refused to give up. At the same time, the Jordanians were now refusing to allow civilians - who had taken refuge in the synagogues - to leave. The Jordanians were demanding a complete surrender.
In the meantime, the International Red Cross had been trying to convince the Arab Legion to allow women and children to leave. The Legion demanded a complete surrender of the Jews, and refused requests to allow any civilians to leave.
Seeing no other alternative, Rabbi Reuven Hazan and Rabbi Israel Mitzberg attempted to negotiate a surrender. Putting themselves in the line of fire, they were shot at a by members of the Haganah and forced back. Despite their efforts, the situation was hopeless. The Rabbis went back out to the streets half an hour later, carrying white flags, but this time were shot at by the Jordanians, who were only meters away from the Jewish positions.
“At 11:00am on Friday, Rabbis Reuven Hazan, 70, and Israel Mintzberg, 83, walked from one of the Jewish positions toward the Arab lines. They carried a white flag made out of a bit of once-festive tablecloth tacked to a stick. Although he was shot and wounded by a sniper, Rabbi Hazan called out in Arabic, ‘Good morning. We have come to talk to you, and we want to see your commander.’”
Rabbi Mitzberg was held hostage by the Legion, while Rabbi Hazan went to get the Haganah representative to negotiate the terms of the surrender. After two weeks of fighting in the Old City, which saw hundreds of civilians killed or wounded, the Jewish garrison accepted the terms of surrender from the Arab Legion.
That Friday afternoon, 290 men were taken prisoner. 1,200 women, children and elderly were evacuated outside the walls of the Old City, with the assistance of the U.N. and the Red Cross. The evacuation through the Zion gate began Friday evening and lasted until 2am Saturday. The soldiers and civilian men who were captured during the surrender were returned to the fledgling state of Israel several months later, in exchange for Jordanian prisoners.
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