THE TEN-DAY BATTLE

The four-week truce ended on July 8, 1948. When the fighting resumed, there was a marked shift in the mood of the Jews of Jerusalem, both civilian and soldier. Throughout the truce, large quantities of food and supplies had poured into the city, and a pipe carrying much-needed water to the capital had been installed. The stifling atmosphere of the siege was eased as people no longer lived with the specter of hunger and thirst, or the fear of imminent shelling. The renewal of contact with the coastal plain had restored confidence and faith in Jewish solidarity.

The dispatch of weapons and military equipment to Jerusalem via the Burma Road reversed the balance of power in the city. Military units underwent reorganization, and new volunteers from the coastal plain swelled the dwindled ranks. The weary fighters were able to regain strength and underwent intensive training with the newly arrived weapons.

To grasp fully the significant improvement in the equipment situation, it is useful to compare weapons strength before and after the first truce. The number of rifles doubled and the number of machine-guns increased from 28 to 150. But the addition of heavy weapons made the most dramatic impact: from 6 medium machine-guns (on May 15) to 16 (on July 8); four 3" mortars in May as against 13 in July; and 2 Piats on May 15 compared to 17 on July 8.

JERUSALEM WEAPON STRENGTH1

15.5.1948 8.7.1948

Rifles 1011 1800
Sub-Machineguns 502 1020
Light Machineguns 28 150
Medium Machineguns 6 16
2" Mortars 24 25
3" Mortars 4 13
Davidka 2 7
Piat 2 17



While the Jewish forces were being reinforced, the reverse was going on in the Arab Legion. Heavy losses had led to a significant reduction in trained fighters and new recruits were being brought in. Moreover, the Legion was suffering from a grave shortage of ammunition for its heavy weapons. When the hostilities began, the British had sent a ship to Aqaba with military equipment intended for the Arab Legion. However, when the ship passed through the Suez Canal, its cargo was confiscated by the Egyptians and never reached its destination. The many shells, which fired at Jerusalem, had severely depleted the Legion's reserve. Since Britain had guaranteed to observe the UN resolution, it had no choice but to join the arms embargo on the area of fighting in Palestine.

In his reports of June and July, Nahum Goldman (Jewish Agency representative in Great Britain) noted that senior Legion officers had arrived in London to persuade the Government to send shells to the Legion. The British Government remained adamant, and no shells were dispatchedIn a cable to the State Department in Washington, the US Ambassador to London reported that according to information, which had reached him, Abdullah had stated that the Legion had sufficient supplies and ammunition for only a few days of fighting.2

When fighting broke out on July 8, 1948, the Legion in Jerusalem had no plans to attack. They adopted defensive tactics and toned down the shelling of the city. But David Shaltiel, despite clear military advantage, considered his main task to be the passive defense of the city. With the exception of limited local initiative in the Arab villages of Malha and Ein Karem, Shaltiel's primary concern was to maintain the status quo. He rejected any proposal for all-out military action in the north and east of the city, and thereby helped to realize Ben-Gurion's plan for the partition of Jerusalem. In his testimony to the History Section of the IDF, Zion Eldar, Operations Officer for the Jerusalem District, said:
I know of no operational orders to our sector, handed down by the general staff. I for my part received no instructions of this type from the district command, and hence no all-out operational plan was drawn up in Jerusalem in anticipation of the renewal of the fighting.
The Irgun's plans were very different. The organization wanted to prevent the partition of Jerusalem, and aspired to capture the Old City, and thus to reunify the city. Before the end of the truce, Irgun leaders consulted with Shaltiel in order to draw up a joint plan for the conquest of the Old City. At their meeting he explained that the Old City was of no strategic importance, and was not a major priority. More immediately pressing operations needed to be carried out in the south of the city and only afterwards would he find the time for the Old City.

In light of Shaltiel's hesitation, the Irgun discussed the idea of capturing the Old City by itself, without the co-operation of the Haganah forces.

I was subsequently summoned to battalion headquarters, together with the other company commanders, to discuss the possibility of occupying the Old City. Shimshon (Nathan-Niko Germant), the battalion CO, presented the problem, and Zeev (Menahem Shiff), the battalion's Operations Officer, described the meetings with Shaltiel and his refusal to give a clear answer regarding a joint all-out offensive against the Old City. Although our battalion was at full strength and well equipped, the danger of independent action was too great. We could launch a daring surprise attack on the Old City, but there was no way of anticipating how the fighting would develop. We lacked the necessary reserves for an all-out battle, and hence felt it too much of a risk to attack the Old City without Shaltiel's help. We were very eager to capture the Old City from the Arab Legion, and did not easily give up the idea of going into battle alone. However, we were loathe to give up the idea entirely and decided to convene again before arriving at a definitive decision.

Word of our discussions reached Shaltiel, who feared that we would carry out the attack on the Old City by ourselves. He suddenly changed his tone at our meetings and explained that he had decided on the joint occupation of the Old City. He requested that we first conquer the Arab village of Malha, to the south of the city, and then attack the Old City in a concerted effort. He also asked us to hold on to the fortified positions at Mount Zion and the Pagi buildings in the north of the city. This effectively immobilized one of our companies and prevented us from attacking the Old City on our own.

Raanan agreed to Shaltiel's requests, albeit unenthusiastically, in the hope that after we had carried out the missions assigned to us, we would finally be allowed to tackle the large-scale operation which we had so long anticipated: the occupation of the Old City. On this matter Shaltiel commented:3
The Irgun and the Lehi were assigned to the southern sector (Malha and Bet Mazmil)... they still constituted a fighting force and I was obliged to honor the agreement with the 'dissidents'. If I had sufficient forces, I would have put them in a concentration camp; but I was ordered by the general staff to make them part of the operation. The Irgun had not carried out an independent action since Deir Yassin. It seemed preferable to use them in the framework of our own plans than to allow them to carry out independent operations at their own discretion. (Italics mine, Y.L.)
When fighting resumed, my company was assigned the task of defending Mount Zion, and I was obliged to dispatch two platoons to the Mount. Contact with Mount Zion was maintained under cover of darkness, since the Legion controlled the approach to the Mount during the day from their positions on the walls of the Old City. At nightfall I ascended the Mount with my men, and we toured the area. After visiting the positions, I climbed up to the minaret of the mosque, with its panorama over the whole of the Old City, and gazed sadly at the Jewish Quarter, which had been totally destroyed by the Arab Legion.

Heavy losses were incurred during the fighting on Mount Zion since both sides were easily within the range of hand-grenades. One day I was holding discussions at headquarters, in the underground room where David's tomb was located, when one of the soldiers suddenly came in, white as a sheet and too upset to speak. I tried to calm him, but he stammered just one word: "Arab." I guessed that Arabs had infiltrated the position he was guarding, and I immediately ran with Yifrah (Yosef Ronen-Frankenthal) to see what had happened. When we reached the post, we learned that the men on guard duty had been drinking coffee when an Arab Legion soldier suddenly appeared. He had lost his way and, realizing his mistake, had turned back. We went over to the firing position, and were in time to see the Legionaire climbing a stone fence to reach his own post. Yifrah, who was the first to see him, turned to me and I knew what I had to do. I aimed my rifle, but found myself unable to pull the trigger. I suddenly forgot the terrible war and saw before me a man who had lost his way and stumbled onto our positions without violent intent. I continued to gaze at him until he had disappeared from sight. Yifrah fixed his gaze on me but said nothing.

The Irgun was exerting increasing pressure on Shaltiel to open the offensive, but only on July 13, about a week after the fighting began, was the order given to capture Malha. Participating were an Irgun company, reinforced with two platoons of the Haganah, and a mortar unit stationed at Bayit Vagan. The attack began early on July 14, starting with heavy mortar and gun barrage. The force then stormed the village and by dawn the village was in our hands.

That morning a unit was sent to capture the El Ras position just south of the village, opposite the railway line linking Jerusalem to the coastal plain. Before the unit had time to dig in, the Arabs launched had a counter-attack, accompanied by a heavy shelling. The commander gathered the casualties in a nearby cave, but they were discovered and the Arabs stabbed them to death. One man, shielded by a heap of corpses and taken for dead, survived. At nightfall he crawled towards the center of the village, and was found by his comrades lying in a field. He told them of the cruel fate of his fellow-fighters.

The Arab attackers advanced towards the village, but were checked by fire from the defenders. As word of the Arab counter-offensive spread, reinforcements were sent to Malha from the battalion in Katamon, together with a mortar unit headed by Chunky. After a brief exchange of fire, the Arab force retreated and the village was again in our hands.

The cost of the battle was heavy: 18 dead and many wounded.

OPERATION KEDEM
Even after the occupation of Malha, Shaltiel did not hasten to attack the Old City. Only when it was clear that the truce would come into effect within less than forty-eight hours, did preparations begin in Jerusalem for the operation aimed at liberating the Old City.

On Thursday July 15, 1948, Shaltiel convened the senior district officers and informed them for the first time of Operation Kedem. That same day, the Security Council decided on a ceasefire in Israel, and on July 16, Shaltiel received the following cable from Ben-Gurion:4
The Security Council has decided that tomorrow morning at quarter to six shooting will cease in Jerusalem, and, on Monday morning at the same time, throughout the country. The Consular Committee in Jerusalem has been made responsible for supervising the ceasefire. On receipt of this cable, contact them at once and inform them that by order of the Israel Government you are ceasing fire in accordance with the resolution, on condition that the Committee reports by midnight - or later at your discretion - that the Arabs have accepted the truce and have held their fire since quarter to six Israel time.
In another cable to Shaltiel, Yadin wrote. 5
Following on the cable from the Minister of Defense concerning the truce, you should consider what can be done tonight. The likely possibilities: Sheikh Jarrah or a bridgehead in the Old City. In the event that only one of the possibilities is feasible before the truce, implement the Sheikh Jarrah plan
In an intelligence report on the mood in the Old City, we read that:6
Fear has gripped the Arabs and many are leaving since they fear Jewish shells...The resentment is great. There is no prospect of livelihood... There is no shortage of water, but no way of paying for bread... The Arabs are in despair fear a Jewish invasion. The military situation is not good. Scattered guards around the Old City and nothing else. According to this neutral observer, the Arabs cannot hold fast if there is a serious attack.
The next day, Friday morning, I was summoned to battalion headquarters, where I was told of the decision to attack the Old City. The Bet Horon battalion of the IDF, commanded by Meir Zorea, would attack from Mount Zion and the Irgun battalion would attack New Gate. A Lehi force would try to breach the wall between New Gate and Jaffa Gate.

We immediately set out for the Notre Dame monastery, our chosen assembly point, where we were to receive briefing on the action from Gidi (Amihai Paglin), who had been sent from Tel Aviv, accompanied by two senior Irgun officers Hayim Toit (Shraga Alis) and Yerahmiel (Yitzhak Segal), for this specific purpose. We went up to the observation point on the top floor, from where one can see the Old City displayed in its time-honored glory and beauty. The Armenian Quarter concealed the Jewish Quarter, but behind it the Temple Mount could be seen as clearly as ever. I gazed at the sight, imagining that the following day the whole thing would be in our hands. After the briefing, someone raised the question of the Security Council resolution to cease-fire on Saturday at 5:45. We were informed explicitly that it had been agreed with Shaltiel that were hostilities to continue, we would not hold fire at the appointed hour.

It was decided that I was to head the spearhead unit (some 45 men), whose task was to break into the Old City and to hold the bridgehead to enable the remaining forces to enter. I would be followed by Yishai (Zvi Koenig) and his company, whilst Kabtzan (Eliezer Sudit), whose company had suffered heavy losses during the occupation of Malha, would remain in Notre Dame in reserve.

After the briefing, I hastened to the Katamon base to organize my men. It will be recalled that at the beginning of the fighting, two platoons from my company had been assigned to Mount Zion and one company had been sent to the Pagi buildings, but that Friday morning one of the units had come down from Mount Zion for a brief furlough. I held a parade, and told my men that at night we were going to liberate the Old City. I explained to them that they were entitled to go on furlough and that only volunteers would be attached to the attacking force. There was a hush, and then a cheer as the boys volunteered in unison to go in with the spearhead unit to establish the bridgehead in the Old City. They considered it a great privilege.

After a short rest, another meeting was held for briefing and allocation of weapons. Since we were to breach the walls in a row of shops behind New Gate, it was decided that we would take a Piat, generally used as an anti-tank weapon. I recall that after the distribution of the individual weapons, I asked for a volunteer to carry the Piat, which was heavy. Jackson (Yona Davidovitch) came forward. He was a tall, broad, young man, armed with a Bren gun. I explained to him that it would be difficult to carry two relatively heavy weapons. But he insisted that he could manage. We boarded the vehicles and, singing at the tops of our voices, set out for Notre Dame. Raanan wished me success and we bade farewell with the traditional Irgun blessing 'Abi Gezunt' (stay healthy).

We reached Notre Dame towards evening and settled into the cellar of the building. The artillery bombardment was due to start at 20.00 and two hours later we were scheduled to breach New Gate. However, to our surprise, the shelling did not begin at the scheduled hour, and shortly afterwards I received word by wireless that the zero hour had been postponed from 22:00 to 24:00. This news came as a great disappointment, since it left us less time to fight under cover of darkness and reduced the prospect of our creating a bridgehead inside the Old City before dawn. There was, however, nothing we could do and we waited patiently for the deadline. At 23:00 our guns began to bombard the Old City, but the shelling petered out very quickly. When I radioed and asked why, I was told that the zero hour had again been postponed, this time indefinitely. The exhilaration we had felt earlier gave way to disappointment and despair. It seemed as if we were about to miss an historic opportunity to liberate Jerusalem.

We remained on the floor of the monastery cellar, some of us napping and others chatting. Suddenly, at 02:30, I received orders to set out. At the same time, heavy bombardment began aimed at silencing the enemy fire and enabling us to breach the gate. We trod cautiously among the debris of buildings, until we were close to the wall. But the barrage did not cease, and shells fell not far from us. I radioed a request that the shelling be suspended to enable us to carry out our mission. I was informed that the Lehi and the Bet Horon battalion had already broken in and that I was to follow their example.

Close to 03:00, the sappers, led by Avni (Yosef Avni-Danoch), approached the gate and laid the explosives. Shortly afterwards there was a mighty explosion as the gate was blown open. Avni approached the gate and found a stone fence behind it, which he also proceeded to blow up. I radioed that the gate had been breached and asked how far the other force had advanced inside the Old City. This information was vital since, according to the plan, the Lehi was to seize the Freres College building, which overlooked New Gate. If we did not occupy this building, the enemy could fire at the gate and prevent us from bringing forces into the Old City. I was asked to wait for a reply and several minutes later was informed that Lehi had not in fact succeeded in breaking in and that the Bet Horon battalion was still at Mount Zion. It transpired that we were the sole force to have breached the wall. I ordered my men to try and enter the Old City through the open gate.

The enemy had recovered in the meantime and fragments of grenades thrown at them from the wall were now hitting the fighters I had sent in. I informed Irgun headquarters that in the short time remaining to us before dawn, we had no chance of establishing a bridgehead inside the Old City. The reply was that I had to continue at all costs. I asked to speak to Gidi, the Senior Commander at Irgun headquarters, and explained to him that if we broke into the Old City, it would be a death trap. "Gidi" I said over the wireless "if we carry out your order, none of us will return alive and there will be nobody to report our conversation. I leave our fate to your conscience." Gidi asked me to wait, and after a brief consultation at headquarters, informed me that the decision was in my hands - a an unfair response from a senior command that should have been able to accept responsibility.

Meanwhile, Avni had appeared and, in great excitement, said: "the gate is open! Why don't you give the order to move in?" I related my wireless conversation. I assembled the unit in a ruined building near the wall, and waited. The decision was difficult and painful. I did not want to retreat, and could not give the order to advance, since I wanted to spare the lives of the young fighters. Thus we sat until dawn. At 5:45 in the morning I received the order to retreat because the ceasefire had come into effect.

Later I learned what had been happening elsewhere. The Bet Horon battalion was ready at Yemin Moshe and when darkness fell, it had gone up to Mount Zion. The battalion was equipped with a special cone bomb supposed to breach the wall. It was very heavy and the sappers could not carry it up Mount Zion in its entirety. They were forced to dismantle it and transport it in two parts. The result was that the bomb reached Mount Zion only at three in the morning. There were also problems transporting the cone to the wall, and in the end it was detonated only at five in the morning. The explosion was loud but left only a scorch mark on the wall.

This failure raises several grave queries. The weight and dimensions of the cone were no secret. Why, then, was it not brought to Mount Zion the night before the attack? How could an entire action be based on a bomb, which had never been tried out? Or was it all done so that the Bet Horon battalion would not be able to break into the Old City?

The Lehi forces were also equipped with a cone bomb but a shell near the Anglo-Palestine Bank, not far from the wall, hit the vehicle conveying it. A fire broke out which also damaged other vehicles nearby. The ammunition exploded and the bullets flew in all directions. The Lehi received another cone and the sappers succeeded in carrying it on foot and attaching it to the wall. But in this case too, the explosion was loud but the bomb merely scorched the wall.

When the operation began, Shaltiel's operations officer ordered the Irgun to position its mortars in the Russian Compound and to shell the Old City from there. Chunky vigorously objected to this, arguing that the Russian Compound was too close to the front, and that his men might be injured. His protests were ignored and his fears were borne out when an enemy shell hit the mortar battery in the Russian Compound, killing two of the personnel, Joe (Yosef) Cohen and Zvi Krinsky. Shrapnel seriously injured Chunky himself.

Dov Joseph, who cannot be accused of Irgun sympathies, casts light on the question of the ceasefire at 5:45 that morning. He writes:7
Another question arises when we examine our failure to recapture the Old City. From a memo I wrote then it appears that we had the legal right to continue the onslaught, which was proceeding to our advantage, even after 5:45 on Saturday morning. At six in the evening Colonel Shaltiel and I met with the chairman of the Truce Committee and informed him that Shaltiel had received orders from our government to cease fire at 5:45 next morning, on condition that by midnight we received word from the Truce Committee that the Arabs also agreed to a ceasefire... In practice, the Truce Committee received no official answer from the Arabs... It is clear that if we had continued fighting that morning, the Security Council could not have justifiably blamed us... When I asked Shaltiel why our forces had held their fire at 5:45, he replied that these were the orders he had received.
The planning of Operation Kedem was clearly aimed at preventing the occupation of the Old City. Firstly, the operation was postponed to the last night of the fighting. Then the zero hour was postponed from 22:00 to midnight, and from midnight indefinitely; finally the order to go into battle was given at 2:30 in the morning. Then there were the delays in transferring the cone bomb to Mount Zion, so that it was used only at 5:00 am. Then the two cones (one at Mount Zion operated by the Bet Horon battalion sappers and the other by the Lehi) malfunctioned, and merely scorched the wall instead of breaching it. And finally, when it transpired that the Irgun had succeeded in breaching New Gate, and Shaltiel had the impression that a bridgehead had been established in the Old City, he ordered a general retreat and even threatened to leave the spearhead unit in the Old City (thereby sealing their fate) if the Irgun dared to continue fighting.

Dan Shiftan sums up the operation in his book "The Jordanian Option" as follows:8
[...] That day [July 15, 1948] the possibility of capturing the Old City was first suggested to Ben-Gurion, and his attitude was cool. He himself did not initiate a discussion.

Only when it was already clear that the truce would come into force within less than forty-eight hours did preparations begin in Jerusalem for an operation for the liberation of the Old City. Only a few hours were allocated for the operation, on the night between July 16 and 17, when the truce was due to come into effect in Jerusalem at 05:45 on July 17. Instead of the indirect approach, which characterized the original planning (a three or four day operation) a frontal attack was undertaken, because of pressure of time.

Even this improvised action, whose prospects of success were minimal because of time constraints, was not undertaken, as far as we know, on the initiative of the supreme political or military leadership. Even when it was clear that only forty-eight hours were left till the truce, the Chief of Staff preferred immediate execution of another plan (Sheikh Jarrah).

Ben-Gurion's personal involvement was limited this time to warnings, to imposing restrictions on the action and to expressing doubts as to its outcome, rather than urging implementation or guaranteeing the political and strategic conditions for success, as he had done in other cases.
After Ben-Gurion received the report on the failure of the operation, he wrote in his diary:9 'Why did he flout our order to leave the Old City and capture Sheikh Jarrah?'. Did Shaltiel in fact flout Ben-Gurion's order? It seems strange that not only did Ben-Gurion not admonish Shaltiel, but even sent him a letter of praise for his actions as commander of the Jerusalem district.

Operation Kedem did not fail, since there was never any intention of conquering the Old City anyway. The operation was a brilliantly conceived and orchestrated ploy to lure the Irgun into a joint operation, as it were, and thereby preventing it from launching an independent operation for the occupation of the Old City.

The fate of the Old City was in fact politically, not militarily, determined. Ben-Gurion was set on partitioning the city and was not going to let Irgun military strength stand in his way.

Years later, before Operation Kadesh /Suez ( November 1956), the following conversation took place between David Ben-Gurion, then Prime Minister and Minister of Defense, and Moshe Dayan, the Chief of Staff of the IDF:10
Ben-Gurion: Our catastrophe is that we cannot permit ourself a defeat, since then it would be all over for us: they (the Arabs) can afford a defeat, once or twice. If we defeat Egypt ten times - that's nothing: if they defeat us once - it is over. We cannot equal them in weapon strength; there is no possibility of that. We must enhance the skills of each and every soldier. I don't know to what extent our skills are improving. Why are you looking at me like that, Moshe?

Chief of Staff: Do you think that's the problem?

BG: That's the problem.

Chief of Staff: All the places we did not occupy during the War of Liberation - could have been taken. Latrun, Gaza, Faluja and Jerusalem could have been taken.

BG: Why didn't they?

Chief of Staff: We were not resolute enough. In better armies than ours - a battalion goes in and if it has fifty percent casualties - they send another in its place! We didn't do that.

BG: As for Faluja, I insisted that the artillery force be concentrated there come what may, and they were afraid to do it. I'm not talking about Jerusalem - I know why we didn't take Jerusalem, not because we didn't have the strength... (Italics mine. Y.L.)
Over the years it has become clear that the policy known today as 'territorial compromise' with the 'Jordanian option' is not realistic and that even the partition of Jerusalem was not enough for the Jordanian ruler. In 1967, the IDF set out to vindicate the Arab Legion attack on Jewish Jerusalem, and what we had not been permitted to do in the War of Independence, we finally did nineteen years later. During the Six Day War, Menahem Begin was a minister in the National Unity Government under Levi Eshkol. It was he who initiated the cabinet discussion on the liberation of Jerusalem, and the decision to order the IDF to attack the Old City was finally taken in the cabinet by a majority of one. (Begin later told me, half jokingly, that it was his vote that tipped the balance at that meeting). Menahem Begin, and the entire Jewish people, had to wait nineteen years until the Israeli government was convinced by his policy on the liberation of the City of David.

COMMENTS
1. Izhak Levy, Jerusalem in the War of Independence, p.473
2. Foreign Relations of the United States Vol V, Part 2, p.1204
3. Izhak Levi, Jerusalem in the War of Independence, p.313
4. David Shaltiel, Jerusalem 1948, p.203
5. Head Operation Division of the General Staff, IDF.
6. IDF Archives, 54,500/48
7. Dov Yosef, Kirya Neemana, p. 254
8. Dan Shiftan, The Jordanian Option, p.142
9. Ben-Gurion's Diary, The War of Independence, p. 597
10. Moshe Dayan, Story of My Life, p.213