From the day the British left and the Arab armies invaded the country, tremendous efforts were invested by the Truce Committee in achieving a ceasefire, but with singular lack of success. On May 22, the Security Council decided on an immediate ceasefire in all the combat areas in Palestine. Israel undertook to respect the Security Council resolution, but the Arabs rejected it and the fighting continued in full force. On May 29, the Council decided again on an immediate ceasefire, but again the Arabs refused to observe it. As long as the Arabs believed themselves able to defeat the young Jewish state, they rejected all proposals to lay down their arms. It was only when victory eluded them and the Jews seemed likely to inflict a defeat on them, that they agreed to the Security Council proposal to observe a truce for a period of four weeks. The negotiations between the parties were conducted by the Swedish statesman, Count Folke Bernadotte, who had been apppointed by the UN as mediator between the Jews and the Arabs.
In the wake of his talks with Arab representatives, Bernadotte formulated a plan, and on June 8 he conveyed a memorandum to the Israel Government specifying the conditions for observance of the truce, which was fixed for June 11, 1948. As regards supply arrangements to Jerusalem, Bernadotte wrote: 1
Aid to the populations on both sides in areas which have suffered severely from the clashes, such as Jerusalem and Jaffa, will be provided by the International Red Cross Committee in such a manner as to guarantee that the reserves of vital supplies will not be considerably larger or smaller at the end of the truce than they were before the truce.
The people of Jerusalem, both civilians and soldiers, welcomed the truce, fixed for June 11th, with relief. The soldiers, particularly those serving in combat units, were exhausted and emotionally traumatized by the sight of so many wounded and killed comrades. Tension was heightened by the sense of frustration and impotence stemming from the constant shortage of weapons and fighters. Even though I had remained optimistic throughout the battles, and had believed implicitly that we would win the war, I was nevertheless haunted by the question: Why hadn't we been ready for the big battle? Was the severe shortage of weapons really unavoidable?
Civilians, who had been in a state of severe anxiety throughout the fighting, emerged from the dark shelters and joyfully greeted the convoys of jeeps loaded with food. The shelling, which had exacted a heavy price from civilians as they stood in line for water and other necessities, had finally ceased. It was possible to go out into the fresh air, to take the children for a stroll and to visit friends and relatives, without fear of a stray shell. There was great hope that the truce and renewed contact with the coastal plain would herald a return to normal life in Jerusalem. There would be water in the taps, electricity at the flick of a switch, and a varied, substantial diet.
Immediately after the truce began, Count Bernadotte placed his men in key positions to supervise the implementation of the ceasefire. The opening of the main road to Jerusalem for the transportation of foodstuffs was under the control of the Truce Commission, and it encountered considerable difficulties. The Arabs employed delay tactics and prevented the passage of the convoys. The main problem, however, was their demand to supervise the convoys passing along the Burma Road, and until this matter was settled, they did not permit the passage of vehicles along the main road. The IDF had anticipated this problem and, well in advance, a UN representative had been driven along the Burma Road to see for himself that it had been completed before the truce and was therefore not under UN supervision. The Arabs then raised another objection, claiming that the main road had been sabotaged during the fighting and was not traversable. Dov Joseph sent workers from Jerusalem to Bab el Wad to mend the road. But the main road was opened to traffic only on June 19 - eight days after the truce began - and two supply convoys set out for Jerusalem under UN supervision. UN observers examined the convoys during loading and the entire load was meticulously recorded. They were examined again superficially at the Bab el Wad check post.
While the convoys were proceeding along the main road, lengthy discussions were taking place between Dov Joseph and the mediator regarding the amount of food, which it was permitted to bring into Jerusalem. As mentioned, Bernadotte's guideline was that:
"The reserve of vital supplies should not be considerably larger or smaller at the end of the truce than they were before the truce".
This meant that the Jews of Jerusalem had to continue to make do with the meager rations they had received during the siege. Dov Joseph argued that the inhabitants should be supplied with rations commensurate with Western standards. A petty discussion ensued on the number of daily calories the Jews of Jerusalem were entitled to receive, with Dov Joseph arguing in favor of increasing the daily calory intake, while Bernadotte argued for reducing it. When Dov Joseph argued that the average daily intake in the US was 3,900 calories, Macdonald (Bernadotte's representative) replied that in China millions of people lived at starvation level. To which Dov Joseph retorted: 2
We prefer to live according to the US not the Chinese model.
The number of Jews in Jerusalem was also the subject of debate - the Truce Commission giving a low estimate so as to reduce the quantity of food to be brought into the city. Finally, a compromise was reached whereby each of the 108,000 Jews in western Jerusalem would receive 3,100 calories daily. Supply of fuel to Jerusalem was also permitted.
Once the road was opened and traffic to the coastal plain renewed, many Jerusalemites wanted to leave the city - some to visit relatives, others to escape the suffering and danger. Thus, as soon as the truce began, special measures were adopted to prevent a mass exodus. Anyone who wanted to travel to Tel Aviv required a special permit from the Jerusalem Committee, and such permits were very hard to obtain. Despite these difficulties, a considerable number of Jerusalem residents managed to leave the city.
The Arabs were displeased at the free flow of traffic on the Burma Road and demanded once again that UN supervision be imposed. They harassed convoys on the main road so as to force the Jews and the UN to extend supervision to the Burma Road. Finally, the Israeli government succumbed and announced that the Burma Road would be used only for transferring military supplies to the strongholds in the vicinity, while food supplies to Jerusalem would be transported along the main road under UN observation.
It will be recalled that the British had laid a pipeline to convey water from the Rosh Ha'ayin wells to Jerusalem through three pumps. After they left the city the Arabs, who controlled Rosh Ha'ayin and the pumps at Latrun, stopped the flow of water to Jerusalem. Although they were supposed to resume the supply through the pipeline, they refrained from doing so. On June 25, about two weeks after the truce began; the Israeli Government submitted a memorandum of protest to Count Bernadotte, stating that: 3
On June 7 you agreed that, in accordance with the truce conditions, the operation of the water supply to Jerusalem was to be guaranteed as part of the resumption of the supply of vital goods to the city. However, by means of a complex method of stoppages and postponements, the Arabs have succeeded in practice in preventing the implementation of this part of the truce conditions. First they claimed that the [pumping] machinery at Rosh Ha'ayin had been irreparably damaged. When we insisted that our experts be given the opportunity to examine them, they finally agreed that British engineers, serving in the Arab Legion, could carry out the check. After an additional postponement, they announced that the machines themselves were in working order, but were lacking several small parts. They also objected to us mending the sections of the water pipeline which had been damaged, saying that they themselves would do the job. Several days passed and nothing was done. At the same time, Jewish engineers were barred from checking the pumps at Latrun.
The Arabs, well aware of the importance of water for Jerusalem, did not renew the supply. (The pumping station at Latrun was blown up in August by Legion forces, shortly after Jewish engineers had mended it). In parallel to the discussions with Count Bernadotte, the Mekorot Company began to lay a pipeline along the Burma Road. It linked the wells in the Rehovot area with the pumping station at Sha'ar Hagai, which was controlled by our forces. After two months of work, on August 11, water began to flow through the new pipeline and Jerusalem was saved.
Despite the supervision of UN observers, reinforcements of equipment and troops flowed constantly into Jerusalem, above and beyond what had been agreed with the mediator. The forces fighting in Jerusalem and on the way to the city exploited the truce in order to recuperate and to replenish their ranks.
The Irgun in Jerusalem also received reinforcements of weapons and manpower. When I asked Raanan for a short furlough to visit my family in Ramat Gan, I was informed that my presence in Jerusalem was vital, because of Irgun reorganization in the city. It had been decided to concentrate all the bases scattered throughout the city, and to set up one large camp for the new battalion. I was assigned the task of finding a suitable location and, after a lengthy search; I chose the abandoned Katamon neighborhood, where several streets could easily be blocked off. In addition to the Jerusalem force which had fought in the city, the battalion was augmented by forces from the coastal plain.
It should be recalled that when the State of Israel was proclaimed, the Irgun announced its disbandment as an independent organization. The Irgun fighters joined the Israel Defence Forces, some as individuals and others in organized fashion. The formal enlistment process was slow, and the Irgun units, which the IDF had not yet had time to absorb, fought under orders from the general staff. Thus Irgun units were sent to capture the Arab village of Yahudia (near Petah Tikva), to attack the town of Ramle and to take part in halting the Egyptian column near Ashdod. When the truce commenced, many of the fighters had not yet enlisted in the IDF and preferred to join the Irgun forces in Jerusalem which had maintained their organisational independence. When Ben-Gurion heard about this, he instructed the troops holding the Burma Road to bar the way to Irgun and Lehi fighters. The Irgun troops, who had set out by car to Jerusalem, encountered the barrier near Kibbutz Hulda and were told that there were explicit orders not to allow them to continue their journey. Furious arguments broke out, accompanied by threats to open fire. Some of the Irgun force succeeded in slipping through by various means, but most bypassed the barrier and made their way to Jerusalem on foot through the hills with their equipment.
While the IDF was using the Burma Road to transfer military equipment to Jerusalem, the main road was being used to convey food supplies under the protection of the UN observers. This was not the case with the Irgun, which had to employ various stratagems in order to despatch weapons by the main road, since the Burma Road was closed to them. I recall that one day, Yosef Bajaio, driver of a truck carrying food supplies from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, arrived at the Katamon base. The truck, ostensibly loaded with sacks of onions, contained weapons of various kinds hidden beneath the onions. Yosef had passed smoothly through the UN observers' checks and we hastened to unload the weapons, so that the onions would reach their destination as soon as possible.
1. Political and Diplomatic Documents, vol I, p.135
2. Dov Yosef, Kirya Neemana, p. 236
2. Dov Yosef, Kirya Neemana, p.234