Changes in the Jewish population
inside and outside the Old City of Jerusalem
|Total Jews in Jerusalem
David Ben-Gurion, the future Prime Minister, who arrived in Palestine in 1906 and during the next decade thoroughly explored the entire country, from Galilee to the south, mostly on foot, seems to have avoided Jerusalem almost deliberately. In his diaries and letters, so rich in impressions of other sites, there is hardly a word about Jerusalem. Like most pioneers of his generation, Ben-Gurion was more interested in building a new socialist society of free men and women than in national icons and religious relics.The Zionist pioneers, writes Anita Shapira, a leading historian of the period, regarded sentiments for Jerusalem as simply 'reactionary.' The Irgun, on the other hand, was profoundly attached to Jerusalem, and perceived it as the heart of the country and the people, with the Old City as its core. During the 1936-1939 riots, the Irgun established the 'Wall squadrons' which defended the Jewish Quarter against Arab rioters and enabled prayers to proceed at the Western wall. The national poet, Uri Zvi Greenberg, wrote in the squadrons' logbook: "Those who rule the Old City, will rule the entire country."
On the morning of that day, I was sent by my mother to buy something in the store. As I left the house, I saw a man standing at the end of the alley - blond, blue-eyed, dressed in a suit and with a short, British-army haircut. I was sure he was an Englishman in civilian clothing, who had come to spy on the armed forces in the Quarter. I hastened to carry out my errand and ran to the Irgun headquarters to warn my friends about the 'Englishman' who was wandering around. To my amazement, I saw him sitting in the command room, and before I could say anything, one of the comrades introduced him: 'This is our new commanding officer'.In the Old City, Gideon met Avraham Halperin, who had been appointed Haganah commander of the Jewish Quarter, having been district commander several years before. Halperin succeeded, by force of his personality, in winning the trust of all those around him. He introduced order and discipline into the Haganah units and even succeeded in organizing the somewhat problematic civilian population. After re-organizing the Haganah units, Halperin recruited a reserve force from the civilian population, and prepared the remainder for the imminent emergency situation. Displeased by his activities, the British expelled him from the Old City on March 3. Before leaving, he handed over command to Moshe Rosnak.
Weapons in the Old City on May 13, 1948 5
1. The seizing of British army positions evacuated when the British left Jerusalem (most of these positions had been in Jewish hands before the army entered the Old City).When the British left the Old City, Shaltiel sent the following cable to the commanding officer of the Jewish Quarter: 6
2. The capture of key defense positions on the borders of the Quarter.
3. The blowing up of houses around the Quarter to create open terrain, thus hampering enemy efforts to occupy the Quarter.
Occupy the army positions, but do not shoot and do not be the first to open fire. The army positions, which are in the Jewish area, are undoubtedly ours by right. Observe the ceasefire rules since the continuation of convoys under Red Cross protection depends on this. For the time being you cannot have reinforcements of weapons and manpower. In all your actions, take the size of your strength into consideration. (Italics mine. Y.L.)How could the commander of the Quarter execute the various stages of the operation when his hands were tied? He was not only banned from capturing Arab-populated areas, but also from opening fire. This in effect meant that Shaltiel sanctioned only the occupation of positions evacuated by the British.
In reply to the request for auxiliary fire for the Old City, in light of the negotiations now being conducted, your request cannot be granted for political reasons. Take action yourselves with what you have at your disposal.From the evening of May 15, the ceasefire in the Old City ceased to exist.
The Jewish forces have no intention of continuing their attack within the Old City and we therefore request the resumption of the ceasefire in the Old City.This morning we met with the Belgian Consul [Chairman of the Truce Commission]...and conveyed to him a proposal in writing originating from the district commander [Shaltiel] saying that once our forces had achieved their military objective in the Old City - to make contact with the Jewish Quarter - we were renewing our offer of a ceasefire there, on condition that the Arabs did not try to disrupt our communications line with the Old City and did not attack us from the Arab neighborhoods. (Emphasis mine. Y.L.) The request for a ceasefire was conveyed to the Arab commander in the Old City, who rejected it outright. His sole offer to the Jews was unconditional surrender on their part.
The same day Cohen sent the following cable to Ben-Gurion: 11
Word of the break-in through Zion Gate passed like wildfire among the posts. When the first Palmachniks entered the Old City, the defenders gazedat them and did not believe their eyes. The joy and enthusiasm were boundless. At last, the longed-for reinforcements had arrived. Dozens of young men were coming in through Zion Gate with crates of ammunition on their shoulders. We would no longer have to count each bullet fired from a rifle or Sten gun. We could rain down bullets on the enemy and silence their positions. We could evacuate the wounded to proper hospitals in town and operate on them in modern operating theaters. And the civilian population could be evacuated and all efforts would be directed against the enemy. The Palmach instilled renewed hope in the hearts of the defenders and the feeling was that after the reinforcements rallied, massive counter-attacks could be launched, and we would no longer have to confine ourselves to defensive action from our positions.
Only a few hours lapsed and everything was turned upside down. Zion Gate was closed again, and the stifling sense of siege returned to plague us. The terrible shelling, the worst since the fighting had begun enhanced this feeling. The great hopes gradually dispelled, gave way to despair. Who knew if the Palmach would succeed in breaking in again? Was the Jewish Quarter to suffer the same fate as the Etzion Bloc?When the Arab Legion entered the city, enemy tactics changed. Abdullah el-Tel, Commander of the Arab battalion, which fought in the Old City, refrained from attacking the Jewish positions in the Quarter. He preferred to take advantage of the heavy weapons at his disposal and to shell the Quarter day and night. This greatly hampered the movement of the defenders and had a highly detrimental psychological impact on civilian.. After the shelling by cannon and mortar, the Legion sappers crept up close to Jewish positions, laid explosive charges and detonated them. They then attacked the positions and captured them. Thus they blew up house after house and post after post. Their progress was slow, but the method greatly reduced the number of Legion casualties.